Adios Santiago

For our last night in Santiago we were taken to a club called Los Buenos Muchachos, which was quite a contrast to the previous evening. This one was to feature a dinner and a dance show by local performers celebrating Chilean folk music, or something like that. We, and hundreds of others, were seated in long rows,perpendicular to the side of the stage:

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Not only did this lend to a poor view of the stage (they had TV screens set up if you couldn’t see directly), but we were also packed in like leftist prisoners.

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And, these were very narrow tables also, so dining space was at a premium. Once again the dark Alan cloud started forming. But, the wine started flowing, the food started being served and pretty soon things began to look up. I should point out that a few in our party had been on this cruise before and liked it so much they were doing it again. One of those ladies spread the word to be sure to check out the bathrooms in this place. Well, it wasn’t long before that was more than just a novel idea so some of the guys and myself ventured down the hall. This is what we found:

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Soon some ladies took a similar path with my camera and came back with this:

Antarctica Part 1 149Clearly, this was a much classier joint than we had first imagined. We found dinner to be OK, but by the time it was over the stage show was in full swing, and, much to our surprise, people were up there dancing with the stars of the show. Some were on the stage and some were on the floor in front.

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Before long many of us in the group were up there with them. If at our age you are going to get up and dance there is no better time or place than to be among people you will never see again. It turned out that we had much more fun than we expected. Chalk up another one to Alan!

Now it was time to leave Santiago and we left with a very positive impression indeed. I could think of far worse places to be in January. If the price was right and the timing worked out we would gladly go back and really get to know the place. It was a very friendly city and very much up and coming. I would be remiss however, if I didn’t comment on one thing:

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Why the whole town doesn’t burn down is beyond me. Chile’, like almost all the countries we visit, operates on 220 volts AC. Somehow the idea of stringing high voltage lines and taking drops off them to individual homes and businesses has proven elusive. Instead, it’s like each house is connected to its own power generator and wires are strung for miles. I asked our guide about it. He said they are trying to upgrade things and even run power lines underground. However, given the number of earthquakes (lots!) they have around here, that solution appears to be problematic. Since Chile is one of the world’s leading producers of copper, I guess they figure, what the hell? I’ve never seen anything quite like it.

So, now it was off to Valparaiso to meet the ship. It was a roughly 2 hour trip by bus and we had plenty of time to kill since we couldn’t even begin boarding till 5. Between Santiago and Valparaiso you cross over two river valleys. Things start like this:

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Pretty much like a desert, complete with cactus. But the valleys have been irrigated using a very complicated system. The result is citrus and olive trees as well as an occasional winery.

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About half way we stopped at a quaint little tourist place for empanadas, a meat pie that is quite tasty.

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The flowers were spectacular!

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Soon we arrived on the coast, however we did not head straight for Valparaiso. Instead we visited the beach resort of Vina del Mar.

Here are a couple young Chileans enjoying their summer home on the coast!
Here are a couple young Chileans enjoying their summer home on the coast!

Like most coastal resorts, there’s some money here:

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Eventually, we came across this guy:

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Easter Island is part of Chile, and, naturally somebody decided they had to move some of the moai statues onto the mainland. So far they’ve moved three, Here, obviously, is one of them.

Eventually our travels finally took us to Valparaiso, and what a city it is!

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Before the Panama Canal, this was one of the busiest sea ports in South America. After the canal, though, it fell on hard times. Now it is starting to experience a resurgence as prosperity returns to this part of the world. It has been called the “San Francisco of South America” mostly by people who have never been to San Francisco. While it is hilly, that’s pretty much where the comparison ends. One guy we talked to in Santiago said he would much rather live here and what we have read suggests there is a lot going on and many cool places. We would have no more idea about that than you since our tour did not bring us even close to any of that. We’ll take their word for it.

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One thing that was not totally surprising, Valparaiso is home the the Chilean National Congress. Why? When the city was still experiencing hard times Pinochet built a congress building here and moved the whole bunch of them out of Santiago, the capital. Now they have to drive 2 hours one way every day to do their jobs. It may be great to be king, but it’s even better to be a dictator!

Soon we were at the port, much like the other ports we call on. Incredibly busy!

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At last it was time to board the ship! It took no time at all to feel right at home!

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Soon we were sailing off into the sunset, bound for Antarctica!

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Santiago Continued

Santiago is home to over five million people, or about a third of the entire population of Chile. Of those five million, it appears that roughly a dozen live in actual homes. The rest live in high rise apartments such as these:

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The top picture shows the financial district, where our hotel was located. The Andes mountains are in the background. These are boom times for Santiago and all of Chile. It has the most stable government and, by far, the most stable economy in South America. And yet one US dollar is worth 616 Chilean pesos, a conversion rate that had my head spinning. The most commonly used currency is the 10,000 peso bill (worth about $16). I loaded up on these pesos, and those of the other countries we would visit as well, before we left home. In Chile, for about five hundred USD’s I was close to being a billionaire.  Alright, enough of the fun facts. Back to the tour.

After failing to overthrow the government we got back on our buses and headed out for lunch. For this purpose the bus pulls up on a side street which has a number of hot dog joints and the entrance to a dining plaza. The tour guide explains that inside the plaza we will find a many nice restaurants. And, we have a half hour for lunch.

I should also explain that, because so many people booked this cruise, Alan sent one of his staff, a woman who goes by the name NanSea, to manage things. Many of the people with us, we now learned, had done lots of Alan cruises before and were quite used to NanSea. We, of course, were not. So, the stage was set for the first (and not last) conflict we would have with group touring. Here is the aforementioned dining plaza:

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As you can see, it is clean and on this sunny day very inviting with the choice of multiple restaurants. It took us a little while to choose one, but we finally did. We also discovered that one of the people from our tour, traveling alone, was looking for a place so we invited him to join us. Before we even sat down, however, I found a waiter and made it as clear as I could that we were in a hurry and only had, by now, twenty minutes. There was a lady nearby who spoke English and she repeated what I said. His reply, of course, was “no problemo.”

Here is a customer looking stressed with the smiling waiter in the background:

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Well, it is close to time to be back on the bus. No food. No waiter. And, along comes NanSea advising us we need to get back on the bus NOW! I was finally able to get the waiter to give us our salads to go and that was that. We held up the bus by at least five or ten minutes. And so, for the first, but let me assure you, not the last time I found myself asking this question: “If you’re not going to give us time, why did you bring us here in the first place?” It turns out everyone else ate at the hot dog joints.

When we have traveled in the past, we first do our homework and settle on places we might like to visit. When we go there, we go for the experience and to enjoy the area. This will often involve restaurants or shops or whatever. When we’ve seen what we want to see and done what we want to do we move on. It was now very clear that none of this would happen on this trip. From the moment the bus stops we are on the clock and the clock never has more than thirty minutes on it. Often less. So, on day one there was reason for concern that traveling with Alan might have been a huge mistake.

After lunch, or lack thereof, we did some more touring and it was pretty clear that all of us were feeling the effects of long flights and a long tour. At last the bus pulled up in front of our hotel:

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It is a Best Western property located on a busy street in the financial district. And very near the subway, which I had already studied before we came here. This was a nice hotel, well located and more than suitable for our short stay. We were advised by NanSea to be in the lobby in three hours for our trip to a local restaurant, which was part of the package.

The rest did us good and by our appointed time we were in much more positive frame of mind. Here is the restaurant:

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It was located in a beautiful setting near one of the parks and we were seated outside on a gorgeous summer evening. Finally we had an opportunity to meet, and converse with, some of our fellow travelers, who were all very nice and interesting people. The service was buffet style with offerings of various meats, cheeses, side dishes and desserts. It was a feast. And, on this occasion we were treated to our first, and by no means last, introduction to the Chilean national drink: the Pisco Sour. Heavens! They were tasty! And, the wait staff made sure your glass of wine, or whatever, was never empty! We left in a festive mood indeed. Chalk one up to Alan, this was just what we needed!

The next morning we had to be in the lobby at something like 8:00 to go tour the Concha Y Toro winery. I should note that Chile is two hours ahead of Ohio time, so that wasn’t as grueling as it first seemed. We’ve been on a lot of winery tours, but this one was exceptionally nice, with a beautiful grounds and tasty samples, even though a bit early. (The winery opened just for us, another Alan perk.)

The beautiful Concha y Toro winery. Their wines are readily available in US as you no doubt know.
The beautiful Concha y Toro winery. Their wines are readily available in US as you no doubt know.
We were told a story that neighbors had been stealing wine from their cellars, so the family began spreading rumors that the devil was occupying the rooms. Then they put lighted figures up. Apparently that was enough to stop the pilfering (I'm skeptical). Now the wines stored there are sold as Casillero del Diablo, with which I'm sure many of you are familiar.
We were told a story that neighbors had been stealing wine from their cellars, so the family began spreading rumors that the devil was occupying the rooms. Then they put lighted figures up. Apparently that was enough to stop the pilfering (I’m skeptical). Now the wines stored there are sold as Casillero del Diablo, with which I’m sure many of you are familiar.

After the winery tour we returned to our hotel where we had the rest of the afternoon off. My plan was to take the subway to visit one of the barrios. Dianne had other things to do, so I went out to find the subway and get some day passes. Well, here’s the problem with my Spanish. If any more words are required than “por favor” or “gracias”, then the conversation comes to a grinding halt. A comedian on the ship noted that if you don’t know the local language then what you do is just speak your own language, but louder! Well, that didn’t work entirely. I left the station with two tickets, but not entirely sure if they were what I wanted. I’ve been in enough subways to know I was close, and they didn’t cost very much.

So, I went back and got Dianne and off we went. Santiago, as I read before we left, is divided into a series of barrios, or neighborhoods. Many of them are safe for tourists. A few, however have left tourists in much the same shape as leftists in the days of Pinochet. Those are the ones we wanted to avoid. The barrio we selected is called Bellavista, an arts area near the university. We quickly learned that the tickets I had bought for the subway were one way only. Not a problem and cheaper than a day pass. Off we went!

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In no time at all we found an artisan area with bargains galore which included some nice things to take home to the girls (close your eyes, Emily!) Then, even better:

Antarctica I Phone 025One of the most popular Chilean treats is called a “completo” which is a hot dog covered with every imaginable item, then slathered with, of all things, mayo! This is a tame version, but absolutely delicious! I mean who ever thought of putting shoe string potatoes on a hot dog! That’s why we travel, people! To find out this stuff!

We finished this side trip and a very nice little outdoor mall:

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Then it was two more subway tickets to buy and back to the hotel to get ready for another night out. Next day we leave Santiago and head for the coast.

Santiago

OK, so the Travel With Alan plan was, we leave for Santiago on the 27th, arrive on the 28th, do some sightseeing for a couple days, then take a couple hour bus ride to Valparaiso where we would meet our ship on the 30th. The day we flew out of Cleveland was the day the east experienced one of its string of blizzards. The positive effect this had on us was that the plane going to Dallas was 1/3 empty and, more importantly, the plane going from Dallas to Santiago was 1/3 empty also! The two seats behind us were empty so Dianne went back there and we both got something like sleep!

We arrived in Santiago about 10:30 am local time and were promptly met by Alan people who, after we got our bags, directed us to a tour bus. We were immediately impressed by how toasty warm it was. 

Because our hotel rooms were not ready, Alan booked us a four hour tour of Santiago right off the plane. And, while we were all excited to see the sites, none of us, regardless of the routes we took to get there, were quite up to another four hours of captivity. Yet off we went. That is, some of the buses went. Ours, unfortunately was involved in a matter of miscommunication and we sat on the bus for an hour waiting for it to be settled. Then, vamanos!

After cruising around a while we arrived at our first destination, the Plaza de Armas, or central square, which features the national historical museum, the post office and the Metropolitan Cathedral:

Yellow building is national museum, next the post office, then, to left, with scaffolds, a cathedral.
Yellow building is national museum, next the post office, then, to left, with scaffolds, a cathedral.

The cathedral, not much to look at on the outside is quite beautiful on the inside…

Inside the Metropolitan Cathedral
Inside the Metropolitan Cathedral

From there we were off to the center of government, La Moneda Palace and the Plaza de la Ciudadanía (Citizenry Square).

Here is a young military dictator planning to take over the government.
Here is a young military dictator planning to take over the government.

Some of you history fans will recall that back in the ’70’s Chile elected a guy named Salvador Allende’ as president. Well, as it turned out Salvador was quite the leftist and soon a close bud of Fidel Castro. As you might imagine, a certain Richard Nixon took a rather dim view of this arrangement and was not at all bashful about getting the CIA involved in local politics. Well, one day Salvador awoke to find a multitude of army tanks parked about where I’m standing in the above photo, with their guns pointed in his direction. Like most of these guys, it was not as if he hadn’t been warned. And, before the day was over he either, a) committed suicide, or b) was assassinated. The result was the same.

Where Allende spent his last hours under considerable stress.
Where Allende spent his last hours under considerable stress.

And, as is typical on this continent, Allende’s successor, Augusto Pinochet, wasted no time at all in rounding up, torturing and killing Allende’s supporters, sympathizers, and suspected supporters and sympathizers. Thousands simply disappeared. Note to self: stay out of South American politics.