A Tale of Two Cities

After returning our hire car in Temuco, we took an overnight bus north.  We wanted to visit Santiago, the capital of Chile, and also Valparaiso, the nearby port city.  As it was possible to get a direct bus to Valparaiso, it seemed simpler to go there first.

Valparaiso is built on very steep hills surrounding the narrow downtown area and port.   According to our guidebook, it has three main attractions:

  • murals and other artwork on display everywhere, reflecting the city’s bohemian culture
  • the ‘ascensores’ (meaning lifts, but actually small funiculars) that transport people up and down the hills
  • the views from the top of the hills.

Having travelled 500 miles north, we had hoped the weather would be even better than in the Lake District, but in fact it was worse: cool, grey and decidedly murky.  So the views were disappointing, to put it mildly.  Some of the ascensores were not working, although others were a fun experience – like travelling in a large packing case.

Cerro Concepcion, one of many hills in Valparaiso

Going up the hill in an ascensor

The brightly-decorated Artilleria Ascensor

The artwork was certainly interesting, and much of it was extremely good.  It was a pity that some murals were spoilt by graffiti; indeed the whole city had a rather run-down, uncared-for appearance.

An example of street art

More street art - views of the city

Even the doors are painted

Sadly, we can’t include many pictures of murals, because Sandie’s camera was stolen towards the end of our stay in Valparaiso.  A man ran up and grabbed it as she finished taking a photo.  There was no hope of catching him or retrieving it.  We had to get a police report (for insurance purposes) which meant taking a taxi to a station up a hill some way distant.  But the police were very helpful, even arranging for a lift back to our hotel in a police van!  Luckily Ian had downloaded photos from Sandie’s camera the previous night, so only one day’s photos were lost.

We were not sad to leave Valparaiso on 10th April.   We had arranged to spend six nights in a flat in Santiago, which turned out to be as good as we had hoped: ideally located in the centre of the city, and with all the facilities we required, including wifi.  It was lovely to have more than just one room, and the flat quickly began to feel like a real home.  Much as we enjoy eating out, after travelling so long it made a pleasant change to be able to eat in!

We were aware that tourist attractions are relatively few in Santiago, but decided that staying put for a few days would give us time to catch up with things and plan the next stage of our travels.  (You’ve no idea how complicated and time-consuming this can be, especially trying to get information about bus journeys!)  We had an additional task – to buy a replacement camera – which fortunately was achieved without too much difficulty.  It was also a good opportunity to make contact with family back in the UK.  We have belatedly discovered the joys of Skype, and it’s been great to see as well as talk to all of our grandchildren.

We’ve had a couple of mostly warm and sunny days, but much of the time the weather in Santiago has been no better than in Valparaiso, so we have been happy to spend time in the flat.  However, we have of course ventured out to explore the city.  We visited the Plaza de Armas, with its impressive cathedral, and the Santa Julia hill with its baroque Neptune Terrace. One grey day we went to the Museum of Pre-Colombian Art, with striking sculptures from across the Americas. Another day – when there were hopeful hints of sun – we took the funicular up the San Cristobal hill to the statue of Mary, with extensive views over the (still very misty) city.

Santiago cathedral at night

The Neptune Terrace at Cerro Santa Julia

Mapuche carvings in the Museum of Pre-Colombian Art

Santiago from Cerro San Cristobal

One morning we watched the Changing of the Guard at the Moneda palace: a real performance which lasted some 40 minutes and involved two bands as well as hundreds of soldiers and a stray dog which was determined to get in on the act.

Changing the guard at La Moneda

"Come on, you lot, best foot forward!"

Last night we celebrated Sandie’s birthday in a vegetarian restaurant (recommended by our guidebook) located in an upmarket suburb of Santiago.  We were slightly disappointed with the food, partly because the soup arrived with the main course, which was therefore less than hot when we came to it.  However, the waitresses were very friendly, and even produced a birthday ‘cake’ (brownie plus ice cream) with a candle on top!

Happy birthday, Sandie

Tomorrow we are off to Easter Island, and the travelling and sightseeing begin again in earnest. We’ve seen a lot already, and had many interesting experiences, but we are not yet half way through our South America trip!

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