Category: Travels

Santiago, Chile Feb 2020

We arrived at our Santiago hotel location, according to our sat nav, and I did not dare to stop. We had stayed in this hotel five years ago and had memories of a tree lined road with smart apartment buildings in the neighbourhood. The street that we were in looked like a war scene with graffiti on every building. I accelerated to get out of the area fast to a place where we could check the hotel name and address and rekey it into our sat nav. When the sat nav indicated that we should return to the street that we had left we found some young tour guides, who spoke English, and confirmed that our sat nav was correct. We returned carefully, to find a building in that street, with our hotel name. I was now convinced that I had made an error and had booked at the wrong hotel. We entered the hotel and before doing anything further I went looking for the dining room, patio and pool because I knew that I would recognise it. Sure enough, we were in the same hotel that we previously stayed in.

We were aware of the protests that have been happening across Chile against the current democratically elected government. The protests started with an increase in metro fares but then grew as people resented the fact that the politicians were seen as corrupt and that the wealth of the country is concentrated in a very small elite. We had seen a few signs of the protests, mainly in the form of boarded bank windows and light graffiti, in Punta Arenas and Valparaiso, but what we saw in the street of our hotel was extreme. It was explained to us that the Santiago protests started with gatherings in the Plaza Baquedano, three hundred metres from the hotel, and that the protestors erupted from there, blanketing the nearby streets with graffiti. We were assured that the protestors, like most people, were still on their summer holidays, and that we could walk safely in the neighbourhood. We did that carefully, and soon found the restaurants and shops that we had enjoyed last time.

The next day our guide took us first to the centre of the city, where the main square is surrounded by the cathedral and other major buildings. There was no graffiti here although most buildings, including the doors of the cathedral, were protected with boards and corrugated iron. Our guide explained that this area had been completely closed down by the police to prevent protestors reaching it. The gardens of another square had been closed off with temporary fencing to prevent defacement of the statutes.

And then as our tour took us to other parts of the city we saw beautiful parks, lovely boulevards, magnificent houses, the tallest building in South America (Costanero) and a shopping mall that extended to six floors of every name that you all see in your cities. Santiago is built in a valley at the foot of the Andes. There are several vantage points including hills, a cable car and the viewing platform at the top of Costanero which give beautiful views of the city, and on a clear day give a view of the snow tipped Andes. Unfortunately, during our visit, the smog hid most of the Andes.

Santiago was our favourite South American city after our last visit. Last time Chile was an easier country to travel in than Brazil and Argentina. Chile’s people are better educated and appear, generally, even now, to be better off than the neigbouring countries. Until a political solution is found to the current impasse Chile and Santiago will remain slightly uncomfortable for tourists. We were told that there are calls on the internet for the protests to restart with a big rally on 1st March. We will not be there to see it.

Casablanca Valley, Chile Feb 2020

Chile has a deservedly good reputation for their wines When we visited the country in 2015 we explored the Colchagua Valley and started our enjoyment of Chilean wines. This time we visited three wineries in the Casablanca Valley which is located between the Pacific Ocean and Santiago. The cooling affect of the ocean means that the Valley mainly grows white wines and Pinot Noir. Fortunately the wineries also have vineyards elsewhere and so we were able to taste a variety of wines. We visited and enjoyed William Cole, Indomita and Emiliana. A case of William Cole wines made it back to London with me.

Valparaiso, Chile Feb 2020

We stayed three nights in Valparaiso from 4th February 2020. Valparaiso was the principal port of Chile for hundreds of years and the government, navy and wealthy traders built several impressive buildings. The opening of the Panama Canal reduced its importance and recently San Antonio has been made the preferred port for imports. Valparaiso is now a gritty city perched on thirteen hills. The old established houses are now surrounded by thousands of lesser houses, including many that look like shacks, (apparently) precariously balanced on the steep slopes of the hills. Most houses are covered with corrugated iron sheets, apparently to hide the rough finish behind. Thirteen funiculars (there used to be more) transport pedestrians up steep cliffs. The roads twist and turn with sudden corners and steep ascents. Small municipal buses follow amazing routes. Residents have no need for gyms as their daily exercise of getting to their houses keeps their hearts in a healthy condition. Many houses have very long flights of stairs that pass their front doors. I have no idea how washing machines and fridges get delivered. This mass of hodge podge buildings await the next, inevitable earthquake and fight back the relatively common fires that attack from beyond the hills. A huge number of the houses are covered in the most amazing street art. Many houseowners pay artists to decorate their external walls. The street art has recently been added to with graffiti supporting the current wave of anti-government protests. We had dinner in three different restuarants, each with a spectacular view over the city.

We hired a car and ten kilometres north, on the coast, found Vina del Mar, a world away from Valparaiso. This is a holiday destination with thousands of smart apartments, beach side restaurants and up market shopping. No street art or graffiti is to be found. As we headed inland and east to Santiago on Saturday, the traffic to the coast was bumper to bumper with the workers of Santiago, heading, not for Valparaiso but to Vina del Mar.