The long drive from the port of Valparaiso to the capital city of Chile took us through countryside which was lush, green and filled with vineyards. These were interspersed with orange and lemon groves and with the high, snow capped Andes towering in the distance, the two hour drive was a visual delight.
Not so delightful was the entry into Santiago. I have never seen so much graffiti anywhere! There were political slogans, anti-police slogans, some dubious art work and then the hideous scrawls of kids just wanting to leave their mark. And these marks were everywhere. Statues, buildings, pavements…none were immune and it was difficult to look past and focus on something else.
It didn’t help that, in common with most cities in Catholic countries, everything was closed. Even the ubiquitous Mcdonald’s, Pizza Hut and KFC were resolutely shut. Not a coffee to be found anywhere. Therefore a visit to Constitution Square in the blazing sun and a long talk from our guide on the political and constitutional make-up of Chile could not be assuaged by the simple pleasure of ‘an Americano to go’. But at least the guards protecting the President’s formal residence (even though he only goes there on official occasions), smiled benignly as they indicated we should step no further forward.
So, onwards. We couldn’t go to the main square because there was a ‘demonstration’…no details given, but at least this was unlikely to have an anti-British flavour. However, the drive through the new part of Santiago, with its fabulous modern architecture (free from the graffiti which adorned places like the Opera House), was fascinating. So were the open spaces and lovely parks throughout the city.
I have to mention lunch at the partially open air restaurant. A traditional drink in Chile is ‘pisco sour’. This is made from distilled grapes and is ‘soured’ by lemon. Delightful! We were given this in Puerto Montt as an aperitif and it was definitely not strong. However….. Santiago wanted to leave a lasting impression. Bigger glasses and a punch like a swinging sledgehammer caused general noise levels to rise and loud laughter joined in when copious amounts of the local wine were added to the mix. I had visions of people sliding gently under the tables for an early siesta but fortunately everyone arrived back at the bus.
Those who were then sleeping (!) missed the joke about our next stop. The coach driver navigated his way through cyclists and walkers to take us up ‘Conception Hill’ for a panoramic view of the city. This is a local name given because it is a favourite place for young couples who cycle or walk to the top, watch the sunset and, eventually, come down again. Great views from a myriad of private viewing spots on this densely wooded hillside.
What day in Chile would be complete without a visit to a vineyard and a chance to simple the local wines? But it’s a great way to sell the products and people came away laden with cases of wine. Sadly, my baggage allowance is already tight and ‘getting tight’ on board by drinking in my room is not an ambition.
Back in Valparaiso we were in time to catch the local ‘flea market’. Stalls sold the usual goods that few people wanted or stopped to buy. I was amazed to see a huge number of second hand stalls (a bit like an English car boot sale) which attracted a lot of attention. I was even offered “nice relaxing smoke”. Time to sail off into the sunset! Next stop Easter Island.