The highs and lows of Santiago
13.03.2012 - 16.03.2012 30 °C
Earlier this week, I fled Patagonia for a scorching taste of summer in Santiago. It has been 32 Celcius for 3 days! I use the word "fled" because there had been 2 solid days of miserable rain. I felt enormous sympathy for the 4 or 5 people who I had met in Natales who were hiking/camping in Torres del Paine, but was oblivious to the broader implications. I arrived in Punta Arenas (the town from where I was catching my plane) on Monday. I got off the bus (in the rain) and with head down and heavy pack on, I started walking downhill towards the hotel I had picked out. I didn't get far. Muddy rain water was lapping at the curb at the end of the block. Then I looked up, and saw the waves of water coming down the street 3 blocks down. Apparently there has been a lot of rain in the Chile side of Patagonia this year and the 2 days of straight rain were the last straw. After finding a hotel on higher ground, I walked towards the river and discovered the source of the muddy water. The river had risen so high (licking the bottoms of the bridges), that at one point it had over flowed its banks and had diverted itself into one of the streets. The locals milled around in the rain, gawking and taking cell phone pictures as a couple of men with heavy equipment worked to re-divert the river back to its rightful place. Yikes!!
I was very glad to get to Santiago. After kayaking in the rain on day 1 (there were flamingos!) and getting thoroughly soaked wandering around Punta Arenas looking for a hotel and food on day 2, I was starting to get a cold (sniffle). I am happy to report that sun, orange juice and chicken broth work miracles.
Impressions of Santiago. I initially wrote it off as Buenos Aires' very poor cousin, but after a few days it has grown on me. Nevertheless, love I do not feel. Santiago has a number of lovely European-style buildings (interspaced with grubby street markets and run down office buildings) and there are wonderful walkways landscaped with shady trees and fountains (but the river which is framed is a muddy brown trickle). There are a couple of pedestrian areas with fantastic patios and restaurants, but the shopping is just plain bad. I have never seen so much badly cut (expensive) polyester in my life. I found a couple of nice items, hidden among the dowdy old lady tops and the revealing classless hooker clothes, but they were far from cheap.
As to highlights, I really liked Cerro Santa Lucia. Normally, parks with trees, yeah nice (yawn). In the early 19th century, a local mayor turned this hill into a welcoming park with shady trees and a castle! It isn't really a castle, but castle features have been built into the hill. There is a beautiful fountain and various stairways to landscaped terraces. There are even a couple of turrets with gorgeous views of the city. It is very cool! Apparently, 100 years ago, the park was the place to be. Families of all income levels would flock there on the weekend in their Sunday best to have picnics. Today, it is very popular with teenagers, who come to find a quiet corner (and there are many) to make out.
I am also enjoying the wine. I was told the wine-producing Maipo Valley was near to Santiago. No, not really. Santiago has grown fast that it has swallowed up parts of the Maipo Valley. Some of the local wineries which were actually in the country 40 years ago, not any more!! You can actually take the subway (and then a short taxi ride) to a couple of them. I gave this a go yesterday! I could see the vineyards from from windows of the subway car.
I arrived in charming Valparaiso a couple of hours ago. There is a spectacular view of the colourful buildings on Alegre Hill from my hotel room. I plan to do some sightseeing, eventually. I am starting to get tired. I think I will sleep in tomorrow.