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Monday, March 31, 2014

Travel - Valparaiso and Santiago, Chile,  March 20, 2014

Spanish explorers arrived in 1536, aboard the Santiaguillo, a supply ship sent by Diego de Almagro, who is considered the first European explorer, or discoverer, of Chile. The Santiaguillo carried men and supplies for Almagro’s expedition, under the command of Juan de Saavedra, who named the town after his native village of Valpara√≠so de Arriba in Cuenca, Spain.

However, for us, we stopped here to jump on a bus and move about two hours inland to Santiago, for some reconnaissance for what we hope will be an extended visit here in a couple of years.

Founded in 1541, Santiago has been the capital city since colonial times. The city has a downtown core of 19th century neoclassical architecture and winding side-streets, dotted by art deco, neo-gothic, and other styles. Santiago's cityscape is shaped by several stand-alone hills and the fast-flowing Mapocho River, lined by parks. Mountains of the Andes chain can be seen from most points in the city. These mountains contribute to a 

smoggy Santiago

considerable smog problem, particularly during winter. The city outskirts are surrounded by vineyards, and Santiago is within a few hours of both the mountains and the Pacific Ocean.

Initially John and I thought we had signed up for transport to Santiago so that we could just ride the bus for the two hour ride to Santiago and then walk around the downtown area. However, once we boarded the bus and begin our journey it becomes apparent that we were actually on an all-day organized bus tour of Santiago. So much for walking around Santiago on our own. Something we love to do. It is the best way to really get the feel of a place.

The ride to Santiago takes us through Valparaiso, which is a fairly large, fairly poor port town. I've never seen shanty town buildings built on top of each other four and five story high leaning against steep hills. The city itself reminds me allot of Daly City, California, except that the 

ticky tacky boxes on a hill side

“tacky boxes” on the hillside were “really tacky boxes” I can’t imagine how terrible it will be when an earth quake strikes. Just looking at the buildings, you hold your breath for fear they will all come falling down. I’ve included pictures, because otherwise you wouldn’t believe me.

Once out of Valparaiso we travel through dry rolling hills and slowly increase in elevation. A welcome potty stop half way there let us all stretch are legs. We didn’t know that would be one of the rare times we would get off the bus. Once in Santiago the tour guide points out the government buildings, parks, bankrupt train station (this seems to be a trend in South America). 

There is a lot of construction going on in Santiago. Currently they have a female president, (the tour guide was not too thrilled about). However, there does seem to be some progressive things going on. There is a new highway and rapid transit system being built in to the downtown area of Santiago and this has provided many new jobs. We also passed a fairly large protest of independent miners who do not want to be regulated or taxed. These independent miners are a large part of Chile’s water pollution problem high in the Andes.  

This construction and the protest in town did create some problems for our tour bus and slowed the traffic down. There were cars, police and people everywhere. We stop at two old churches for a while and take some pictures, 

Presidents office

Visit a government square where the president has an office and where President Salvador Allende “killed” himself as President Pinochet was taking over Chile. Interesting history! We also passed by the building where most of Pinochet’s prisoners were tortured.

Place of torture

The tour guide came around and asked if we had any questions. John asked when we were going to have a chance to go shopping. The tour guild just gave him a blank stare. Later the guide points out the shopping mall that all  

the tourists go to and we wiz on by. Obviously that was not on our agenda. There would be no money spent in Santiago or Valparaiso by this tour bus today. How strange that this was not part of the tour. Usually the guide are hooked up with a shop or mall and usually get some type of a kickback. 

We visit another church, the bus climbs one of the larger hills in Santiago to get a better view of the city then we all climb back into the bus. We are whisked off to a place for lunch …with the other ten tour buses on the same tour from the cruise ship. Yes, I feel like one of the herd…MOO… After an efficiently served lunch we all piled onto the bus again and head by to Valparaiso and the ship.

Comparing notes with some of the passengers who took other tours, there is wine country outside Santiago and those trips sounded enjoyable. Santiago was a large, smoggy, hectic city. We really didn't have the opportunity to enjoy any of the things that might make it unique. We might as well have been visiting  Los Angles. I’m not sure I’d put this on my must return list, then again, maybe I’m selling it short. Lots of poverty and lots of rich people with no one in between. My pictures may give you some insight on Santiago, then again, you may need to go visit it yourself to develop a fair opinion. One bus ride is not enough.

The adventure has many more stops.  My only problem at this point is the availability of the internet.  Please be patient.  As I have access the journey will continue.
Bye for now!!!

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