Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Chile Trip Nov 2007: Part 1

So obviously I am back from Chile. I had a great time and almost wished I could have stayed a few days longer so that I could have squeezed in a visit the hot springs in Pucon, but they will save for another trip, since Melissa and I certainly intend to return.

We started our trip on Friday 9th November, taking a late afternoon flight from Newark to Atlanta and then connecting to a 9.10pm flight to Santiago and landing in Chile around 8.30am on Saturday morning. The hotel check in wasn’t until 3pm, so we figured we’d drop our bags and explore the city, but luckily the people at the hotel, the Plaza San Francisco in downtown Santiago – highly recommended – were nice enough to let us check in early, 5.5hours early, so we were happily able to shower off the flight and change before heading out to see the sights. Our first stop was the Cerro San Cristóbal, a 485m high hill – that’s about 1591feet for you non-metric types - in the Bellavista neighbourhood on the north side of Santiago city centre, which both our guide books had indicated as an essential first stop, recommending either taking the steep walk that would take approx. an hour – ha, yeah right – or the funicular that lifts visitors to the summit for ‘exquisite views’ – smog permitting – of Santiago.

It took about half an hour to walk through the centre of downtown Santiago from our hotel and my first and as it turned out, unfair, impression of the city was that it was a bit run down and not very pretty. I think I was a little spoiled with my first trip to South America being to Buenos Aires which just smacks you in the face with its beauty, Buenos Aires really is the Paris of South America; it’s a stunning city; however Santiago definitely has its charms. You just have to work a little harder to find them. When we arrived at the park – Cerro San Cristóbal is located inside Parque Metropolitano, or maybe it’s the other way around and Parque Metropolitano is on Cerro San Cristóbal . Hmmm!! I’m not sure, but either way it’s a park on a huge hill – we bought tickets for both the funicular and the cable car, or teleférico as it’s known in those parts, and loaded into the funicular with about 20 or so other people to set out for the peak.

I quite enjoyed the ride at first. It was a lovely day; the breeze blew through my hair, it was really very pleasant, but then the damn thing just kept going up and up and up and up and up…

Jesus, were we ever going to STOP!!!!

I looked down at where we’d come from and whew, omigod it was a long way down. I felt dizzy as I envisaged a freak accident with the funicular tumbling off the side of the cliff – seriously it didn’t feel like a hill anymore, it was definitely cliff-like – and us plummeting to our deaths. The fact that the funicular had functioned perfectly well since 1925 did nothing to appease the knots in my stomach and I was close to hiding on the carriage floor until we reached the top. However there were children riding alongside me quite happily in the funicular, many many children, all of them acting a lot braver than me, and…well I have my pride, so I gritted my teeth tried to focus on our destination rather than sure fire death onto the ground below.

Oh yeah, so in case I’ve never mentioned it before, I’m afraid of heights and it was on shaky legs that I finally escaped the funicular to soak up the spectacular views of the city.

Breathtaking!! I’m so glad I was so brave :-)

Santiago has a quirky, but spectacular topography. It’s nestled, snug as a bug in a rug, in an enormous valley which has the Andes to the east and the Chilean Coastal Range, to the west, however in the middle it’s pretty much as flat as a pancake, save for a couple of enormous hills.

As for the summit, well the place was hopping. Cerro San Cristóbal is clearly the place to be of a Saturday afternoon in Santiago, it was also surprisingly full of cyclists in their clingy little lycra outfits. Ooh my eyes!! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I disapprove of this fashion practice I really do. I really don’t need to see their bits thank you very much, and it certainly didn’t seem appropriate with so many children present, but I did admire their gumption in cycling up that damn hill.

After a jamon y queso sandwich and a café con leche at the café atop the hill we headed over to catch the teleférico which connects the two sides of the park for a visit to the botanical garden, a trip that nearly didn’t happen since I almost bottled it when I noted the two to three hundred foot drop beneath the egg shaped cars as they swung off the lip of the teleférico station and made their way over the hills.


However I did it, not with any dignity this time though since there was only Melissa to witness my fear. I clung on to that little pole inside the car for dear life as Melissa quite happily moved around in her seat to take in the views all around us. I felt the little car sway on its wire each time she moved. It wouldn’t have been the best start to our vacation had I shouted at her to sit still, so I kept my mouth shut, but I have to say I was close.

Anyway here are a few photos from my journey of terror. From top to bottom: The view of Santiago as we ascended the hill in the funicular; the view from the summit – can you see the mountains in the distance? It’s a bit hazy, but if you squint you can make ‘em out; the 22m high (72ft) statue of the Virgin de la Inmaculada Concepción on the summit – after the trip up I said a few Hail Mary’s to her I can tell you; the detestable teleférico – so not terrifico fun for me; a cable car passing by the botanical gardens en route to the Estación Teleférico Oasis. Do you see how high up that is? I swear those skinny wires could snap like rotten twigs. I was expecting a visit from the Grim Reaper during that little trip I don’t mind telling you.

After descending from the summit we wound our way through the streets of Bellavista, to visit La Chascona, the former Santiago residence of Pablo Neruda, considered one of the greatest and most influential poets of the 20th century, a poet that I’d…um…ahem…cough….never heard of until this trip. This despite him winning a noble prize for literature in 1971 and there being an Oscar winning 1994 movie, Il Postino, loosely inspired by his political exile in Italy. A movie I’ve heard of but have yet to see. Rest assured I’ll be renting it sharpish!! I’ll also probably be investing in one of his books. I feel quite shamefaced about admitting to having never heard of him, but hey ho, you can’t know everything can you?

Neruda built La Chascona ("woman with tousled hair") in 1953 named in honour of Matilde Urrutia his secret lover until 1955 and later his third wife. Her hair was so crazy her friends nicknamed her Medusa according to our guide. La Chascona is a quirky, but charming house built on a steep piece of land and full of knick knacks Neruda collected over the years such as sea shells and giant advertising props, such as the shoes and the clock you can see in the photo on the far right.

These aren’t my photos. Melissa took quite a few, but we’ve yet to regroup and exchange pics, so I nabbed these from Flickr and from the Neruda Foundation website. Credit where credit is due, from L-R: Rogellex, Buitycakes, Kunstmann &

Less lengthy posts on Valparaiso, Vina Del Mar, Vineyards and Patagonia to follow.


thewishfulwriter said...

you can't see me...but i'm totally green. with envy.

bright green.

all over.

but i can still be the bigger person and tell you i'm glad you had a fabulous trip!!!!

fishwithoutbicycle said...

LOL thanks Heather. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

Amel's Realm said...

BRAVO, Fish, for your bravery!!! YOU DID IT!!! You conquered your fear of heights he he he...It does look SO VERY high indeed!!! WOW!!!

LOVE your description of the trip. As usual I LOVE your wit he he he he...;-D

Looking forward to other installments of this trip he he he...


fishwithoutbicycle said...

Thanks Amel, both trips were a whie knuckle ride for me, but I made it in one piece ;-). Fish

Agnes Mildew said...

Wow - it all looks so, so beautiful. So glad you enjoyed it all. I have been thinking of a more exotic, different holiday for some time now, and S America has had an appeal.

It's certainly one to put on my to-go list! I think my next holiday is going to be my very first ski trip. And I don't think I want to go...but if you can conquer your fear of heights, I reckon I can conquer my fear of appearing a total muppet!

Dan said...

Sounds like an awesome trip. You didn't mention the earthquake, I don't think. Were you over there when it happened?

fishwithoutbicycle said...

Hi Agnes, good luck with the skiing, I have never done that either - just a snow boarding lesson one time which was fun. I am sure you will love it.

I can definitely recommend S. America. I love Buenos Aires if you are looking for a city break, but if it's nature you are after Patagonia - which I will post on later - is incredible!! Take advantage of that strong pound and go while it's a bargain for you. It wasn't such a bargain for me being paid in dollars ;-)

fishwithoutbicycle said...

Hi Dan, you are right, I didn't mention the quake. I was there when it happened, but I was wayyyy south in Patagonia and the quake was all the way north, although I heard you could feel it in Santiago. We didn't actually know about the quake until a few days later I'm embarrassed to admit!!

Blur Ting said...

Beautiful pictures! I'm glad I popped by today. I'm green with envy too! It's such a long long way for me to travel to Chile from Singapore but it's in the cards..