January 12, 2003

Chile flagIt was 1 am by our watches, but 6 am in Chile, with dawn over the Andes. We touched down, finally in Chile. Customs and Immigration wasn’t much of a problem, but it was slow until 7 am when the day shift started. We did have to pay $55 US each to enter the country, though. This is retribution for Chileans having to pay that amount to enter Canada, apparently.

Paul went up to the sales desk to ask about our tickets, which were the old ones that had been printed before we redid our itinerary. The clerk said he would have to charge us $85 US to rewrite them. This didn’t sound right, since we had already been promised no charge for the itinerary change, which hadn’t been our choice.

Meanwhile Rosemary was still downstairs dealing with the taxi tout. We talked him into a taxi for 7000 pesos, which turned out to be pretty good because the regular fare for a shared mini-bus would have been 3200 pesos each. Anyway, shortly we arrived at SCS Habitat, a cheap hostel outside of downtown Santiago which Rosemary had tracked down on the Internet. We were both surprised at how run down it was. But Scott, the American who owns the place, was very nice and put us in our own room with a double bed. The cost was 4000 pesos per person per night.

Instead of going to sleep we opted to stay up and go sightseeing. Scott gave us some maps and directions, and we set off on foot. We were about an hour from the city centre that way, so we got to walk through some lower-class areas of the city. Santiago is quite a mish-mash; as you walk along the street you may pass people’s houses, then a box factory, then a church, then a lot full of wrecked cars. It’s also quite dirty, but it doesn’t have menacing-looking people sitting in doorways. Only stray dogs everywhere. We never really felt unsafe.

Shortly we reached the noisy main street, which is named after Bernardo O’Higgins, Chile’s national hero. It is a sea of continuous yellow buses hurtling down the road, three lanes wide, in both directions. From there we joined the walking tour we had copied from one of our guidebooks. It led us past La Moneda, which had been Pinochet’s residence but is now just offices, then past the cathedral to the Museo de Arte Precolombiano. Being Sunday, the museum was free. The exhibits were all very interesting, with explanatory text in Spanish of which half had been translated into English. It was an excellent display, but the darkness combined with our jet lag made the place very conducive to sleeping.

Back outside in the sunshine we followed the walking tour on past the Ministry of Justice. Outside it were people protesting on behalf of Peruvian refugees and other causes. Apparently that is the place to go if you want to protest something. Then we veered off from the walking tour and climbed Cerro Santa Lucia. This is a steep rocky hill in the city centre, which has a botanical garden around its base. On the way to the top there was a plaque that said that Charles Darwin had climbed there in 1834. The smog wasn’t too bad, so we had a pretty good view of some of the nearer Andean peaks.

After that we crossed the Río Mapocho to Cerro San Cristobal, which is a much larger hill. The riverbed was under construction, so the water was rushing through an artificial concrete channel of about one-fifth its normal width. Neither of us felt inclined to take the funicular up San Cristobal or to walk it, so we headed home.

Although the streets always seemed to make us turn right, eventually we found our way back to O’Higgins and followed it to the Central Station. We wanted to go there to find out about buses going up into the Andes. In the guidebooks we had seen bits about the Cajón de Maipo bus line, and we wanted to find out about it. Eventually we found the San Borja bus station; Scott had told us where it was, but it was hard to find because it was behind a large modern shopping mall. At the official information desk, the woman there told me that the bus to Baños Morales only ran on Saturday and Sunday, at 7:15 am. Oh well, we thought. We got some lunch fixings at a supermarket there; in Chile jam comes in foil pouches and not in jars.

By the time we got back to Scott’s we were quite dehydrated, from the long plane flight and from a day of walking in 32-degree sun. Scott and one of the Austrians staying at his place told us the bus information lady was wrong, and that the Baños Morales bus left San Borja every day at 7 am, probably going right past Scott’s shortly after that. So we decided to plan on that basis. We packed the pack, set Paul’s watch alarm for 6 am, and went to bed. We must have been asleep before our heads even hit the pillow that night!

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