Departure Day – Santiago

valdiva santiago

Pedro de Valdivia in Plaza de Armas

We were booked on a red-eye flight back to Miami.  That gave us the entire day to spend in Santiago. We heard that a free city walking tour begins each weekday in Plaza de Armas.  The literature said to meet in front of the Santiago Cathedral right at 10am.  We were skeptical but decided to go and check it out.  We were pleasantly surprised to find a twenty-something man wearing a red tee-shirt with large lettering advertising “Free City Tour” on it.  He allowed people to gather for about 15 minutes before leaving.  He provided us a map and told us that indeed the tour was free.  At the end, people would have the opportunity to give him a tip for his services. Nothing more was asked.

He was immensely knowledgable about the city and the history.  The first stop was right in Plaza de Armas.  Our tour guide explained that in opposite corners of the plaza were statues revealing the conflict of the earliest days in Santiago.  In one corner of the plaza Pedro de Valdivia rides his horse as if in victory. But, if you look closely, there are no reins in his hand. While he was the first governor of the new settlement of Santiago in 1541, ultimately he was defeated by the Mapuche Indians who destroyed the city and killed him.  So yes, he seems to be riding in strength, but he is not holding the reins of power or history.

Mapuche statue in Plaza de Armas

Mapuche statue in Plaza de Armas

At the other side of the plaza stands a stone statue of a Mapuche. The broken stone well expresses the experience of the Mapuche people who lived in brokenness through the colonial period continually fighting to preserve their land and heritage.  The fighting between the parties never really ended. Every people battle for place and significance, to protect what is theirs. This was the perfect place to start the walking tour and to learn the early history of the city.

From there our guide took us through the streets past the Pre-columbian Museum of Chile.  Sadly, it is closed on Monday, but it is a “must see” to take in the early history of Chile and the native peoples from Peru to Patagonia.  Around the corner from the museum were two cultural curiosities.  First, there is “the Rapid” sandwich shop that is the native fast food of Chile. (You can see a youtube video of what they do: ).  They serve sandwiches and empanadas, and yes, they do it very quickly!  Next door you will find Cafe Haiti. Remember, we learned that the people of Chile like sweet drinks! This makes selling coffee difficult.  The solution: they have established coffee shops around Santiago that our tour guide called “Coffee with Legs.”

Screenshot 2015-04-07 15.09.20These coffee shops have no places to sit. Visitors drink their coffee standing up.  You may wonder: how can coffee have legs?  The servers are beautiful women who wear outfits that show a lot of leg, hence the “Coffee with Legs!”  This is a new wrinkle on Starbucks baristas! Now of course, the way things work, there are more progressive coffee houses that show even more than legs, whose windows are darkened.  These are the lengths to which some will go to sell coffee in Chile!

From the museum area we walked through the financial district.  Our guide told us how the country changed under the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. Pinochet ruled Chile from 1973 to 1981.  He was swept into power following a U.S. backed coup against Salvador Allende, the socialist president elected by the people.  Apparently, the U.S. was concerned that in Allende they might have another communist country like Cuba arise in the backyard.

wall street chilePinochet and the military stormed the presidential palace in September 1973.  Allende committed suicide before he could be taken into custody. Early on Pinochet decided to reform the economy of the country.  Inflation in the early 70s had been 1000%.  He sent the “Chicago Boys,” about a hundred male Chilean economists, to the University of Chicago to learn how to create a market economy. They returned to bring about what has often been called the “Miracle of Chile.”  Pinochet provided them key positions in and outside of government so that they could reproduce an economy that reflected the U.S. The result was an increase in wages, and in general, a raising of the standard of living in Chile. Even today, Chile has the strongest and most stable economy in Latin America.

Here’s what was most interesting to us. We heard impassioned speeches from both sides of the Pinochet debate.  We heard people speak of the people he had killed to clear the decks for change in Chile. More than 1/2 million were arrested or detained at various times during his rule.  The nation lived for years under a curfew that meant you could be shot or arrested if found outside at night.  Then we heard people praising the advances Chile made during his dictatorship.  Even today, the people of Chile remain greatly divided over this man. Ultimately, he lost power in an election.

palaceInterestingly enough, the current President of Chile, Michelle Bachelet, is enacting policy that Allende had proposed all those years ago!

From the financial district we walked to the Presidential palace.  It is called La Moneda because the national mint is there.  We could see where the army arrived and the bullets flew when the coup took place. This is a very important place to visit to understand the modern history of Chile.

From the palace our tour wound through the streets of Barrio Lastarria, the place we visited the day before.  Passing through Bellavista, we were given an explanation of the favorite native foods of the people of Santiago. Our guide was kind enough to show us a few places we could get authentic food to sample.  We returned after the tour ended.

Sandy trying conger stew in Bellavista!

Sandy trying conger stew in Bellavista!

The last stop on the tour was the home of Pablo Neruda. He is the poet-diplomat of Chile and beloved of the people.  He has a number of homes in Chile, and this one on the outskirts of Bellavista belonged to his mistress that he later married.  The house is part history and part shrine to this man.  His words captured the hearts of the people of Chile when he was quite young because he brought together the common and the sublime.  For example, he wrote a now-famous “Ode to Conger Chowder.”  Conger chowder is an eel stew much enjoyed in Chile!  He also wrote an ode to his socks. (Yes, you read that correctly.)  His poems capture life as the people know it, but then add a beauty and familiarity that makes life experiences of every day more enjoyable.  Of course, he also wrote about the country he loved, politics and much more.  His writing has left an indelible impression on Chile. Each of his homes have nautical themes as he loved everything about boats and the sea.

Before our tour ended we tipped our guide, and also pumped him for information about the neighborhoods of Santiago.  Following our visit to the Neruda house and at the end of the tour, Sandy and I retraced our steps to a restaurant in Bellavista where we could sample the Conger chowder!

barrio brasilWe did not have much time before catching our flight home, but we wanted to follow a lead our tour guide had given us.  He recommended we take the metro to Barrio Brasil.  We emerged from the metro to this beautiful community built over a hundred years ago by the wealthy of Santiago.  The buildings retain their historic character, but some have fallen into disrepair.  This was the reminder we needed as we prepared to fly home to Miami. Each generation must love the city for it to be sustained and for it to thrive.  We see that with our city as neighborhoods change and as the city grows.

Along the way, God was reminding us to love the city he has placed us in, to invest in the developing of culture and tradition and life.  We came home longing for a growing sense of culture at home, and desiring to love and serve the city by contributing in the ways we can.

We were glad to be going home but appreciative of all that we had the chance to experience.  We were enchanted by the beautiful people and the culture of Latin America and we were looking forward to the day we could return.

One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Sandy on January 30, 2017 at 3:17 am



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