Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Bright lights, BIG city!

What an incredible contrast Santiago has given us compared to our last few months of traveling! After visiting some of the most incredibly remote and untouched places in the world, we found ourselves smack dab in the middle of the largest city in Chile for 5 nights.

We expected a large, busy, dirty city, and were actually pleasantly surprised. While it is unmistakenly large and busy, it is also very clean, and quite beautifully lush. It is the most modern place we have been to on our travels, and could quite easily be compared to many cities in North America (except for all the signs being in Spanish!)

Best of all, we've had a fantastic tour guide and a free place to lay our heads - all thanks to my friend Dean who I used to work with at CPR (he moved to Santiago just about 1 year ago). It has been very nice to spend some time with a fellow displaced Canuck who knows the ins and outs of the city. When we arrived on early Saturday afternoon, Dean and Alejandra lept into action and took us out on the town. First (after finding a place to drop off our piece of crap laptop to be fixed), they took us to Cerro San Cristobal - a park overlooking the entire city, crowned by a 36m tall statue of the Virgin Mary. This location boasts some incredible views of the city:

There are 6.5 million people living in Santiago, which is 1/3 of the population of the whole country. The picture above is just one small section of the city - I think if we took about 10 side by side shots from what we could see, it still wouldn't even cover the breadth of it.

At the bottom of Cerro San Cristobal is the neighbourhood of Bellavista, which reminded us of Kensington in Calgary - although it was much bigger and more happening. We stopped for a quick drink on the sidewalk and were treated to a couple performances from a kid with a huge drum strapped on his back and an aspiring rapper.

On Sunday, Dean and Alejandra took us out of the city to see some of the beautiful countryside surrounding Santiago. We drove about an hour to a little town called Pomaire which is known for producing large quantities of inexpensive pottery. It was incredible how cheap it actually was - Pete and I bought a small, three piece set of decorative vases for the equivalent of $2 CDN, which I could easily see selling in a store at home for at least $50. (Dad, you'll be getting another package in the mail soon!) It was hard not to go crazy with the souvenir shopping, although I did also buy myself a small necklace as a souvenir.

From Pomaire we went in search of some fruit stands. And we searched. And we searched! We drove on some pretty narrow side roads for awhile, in search of a little town that we never found. Neither Pete or I minded though, when this is the kind of the scenery we were treated to along the way:

Back to Santiago and with Dean and Alejandra back at work on Monday, we were on our own to explore. We headed straight downtown to Plaza de Armas, the historical center of the city. There was some incredibly beautiful architecture (surrounded by modern high-rises!) and an insane number of people wandering through the shops surrounding the plaza. We ventured out a few blocks to search out some other noted plazas and buildings, also realizing that there is definitely no shortage of statues of dudes on horses, most of the dudes being important contributors to Chile's liberation from Spain.

Old and modern: yep, that's Santiago!

Tuesday was a much more mellow day for us. Tired of playing tourist, we decided to take advantage of being in the city and resorted to one of our favourite city past times - we went to a movie! A waste of time this movie was (don't go see 2012!!), but I got to enjoy some popcorn, which was all I really wanted anyways.

We got the call that our laptop is fixed, and 199,000 Chilean pesos later (roughly $400), we can head back out on the road and finally be consistently reconnected with the world. Today is our last day in Santiago which will be spent running errands and getting ready for an early bus ride tomorrow - 11 hours to Pucon, a small city in the Lake District of Chile which is a hot spot for vacationing Santiaguinos - thank goodness we will be there a few weeks in advance of tourist season! While we will be sad to leave our gracious hosts in Santiago, we are very excited to get back to exploring more corners of the continent...

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