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After a heart-warming stay in Valpo meeting Bernardita and experiencing the cultural core of Chile, Shay and I hopped a bus – OUR LAST BUS!! – to the capital. Santiago is a beautiful, modern city with around 5 million people. Buuut let me back track a second to a pretty important point. OUR LAST BUS!!!!! Since October we have ridden approximately (hmmm let me think here… some quick, mumbled calculations… 2-Otavalo add another 2 back to Quito then 4 round trip to Mindo which after coming back we left for Santa Ana for 7 hours then down another 4 to Guayaquil… even on the Galapagos now there’s a couple hours… then of course we booked it 52 hours from Guayaquil to Cusco, from which we rode in a van 22 hours but I’ll count it… river journeys I’d say about another half a day on that Madre de Dios they’ve got down there… then we started up over to Titicaca 8 hours then 4 hours then 8 hours and we found ourselves in La Paz… Left for CBBA on an 8 hour trip… then roundtrip journeys to Uyuni, Villa Tunari, Oruro, Torotoro, and Oruro, respectively, for journeys of 42, 8, 24, 17, and 8 hours. And then limped back to La Paz for an 8 hour slog. Then from there to OUR LAST BUS!! To Santiago, well that’d be about 41 hours… so…) 283 hours on buses, boats, and sleeping overnight in a train car. So that’s how Santiago looked soooooo beautiful!
Anyway, Santiago is the business heart of the Andes, as bustling as NYC, and even has a subway system. The jump from cobble-stone roads and piling 8 people in a taxi and bus drivers who take a nap while his passengers are trying to pile rocks to make a ramp into the river was still hitting us pretty hard with Chilean transportation. Their buses have reader boards that warn the passengers when the speed limit has been surpassed or the driver has worked longer than his/her Ministry of Transportation requirements.
Santiago. We came in the afternoon, checked in our bags, and headed downtown. I had arranged (successfully this time) to stay with a Couchsurfing couple and we wandered around town to kill time while they were out and about for the day. We got off the metro at the U. de Santiago and walked by all the Freshmen students’ hazing ritual; they are stripped of their clothes, painted and shaved, and forced to beg for money until they’ve raised enough for a proper party. We ran into these bums several times throughout the day as we made our way to the Plaza de Armas through a sunny, tree-lined pedestrian thoroughfare under glass skyscrapers. At the Plaza we saw local artists’ stands and tourist information booths attached to Seguays.
After a big city meal in an old diner we toured the National History Museum. My favorite part (other than a GIANT stuffed Great Dane – like 8 feet long!) was the newspaper articles about Pinochet’s coup de etât. Chile is a very democratic country. Being so, they were the first nation to freely elect a socialist head of state. Salvador Allende gained power in 1970 and started socialist programs that didn’t work too well. He hosted Ché and Castro, spurned the US, and found himself in 1973 with a contender to the throne launching a coup from an American-owned hotel as his headquarters. Allende surrendered after devastating defeat and immediately afterwards the Chilean newspapers announced that he had killed himself using the decorative gun that Castro gave him. The Argentinian newspapers were about the same, with the press in Madrid questioning his suicide. The British papers, however, outright denounced the suicide claim, put it straight about US involvement, and lamented the forced withdrawal and silencing of Allende’s supporters. In 1989 Pinochet was removed by a free election, the people could properly mourn the disappearances of thousands from political mass murder, and a journalist donated the crushed glasses of Allende she found the morning after he was killed.
They don’t like to talk about it.
We stayed with Alberto and his wife Inez. They just returned from a 17 month trip around the world living in Australia, riding a train across Mongolia, staying with friends in Stockholm and France, and going to Harry Potter’s Magical Wizarding World in Orlando. Their hospitality was incredible. We felt so comfortable and traded travel stories over Chilean wines.
Alberto came with us the next day to show us the town. We went to Pablo Neruda’s house in the Bellavista Neighborhood where the U. de Chile is. Neruda built this house to have stress-free visits with his mistress. Built in 1955 the house resembles a ship with a galley-style dining room, captain’s bar, and secret passageways. The decor has all been replaced from his house in France since Pinochet’s goons trashed the place looking for proof of Neruda’s support of Allende (Neruda was the French Ambassador at the time), but all the art is funky and includes gifts made by Diego Rivera and other famous artists.
Tito told us how to get to a soccer game and, finally, we get to go to a game in a Latin American stadium. We had tried while living in Cochabamba but the stadium and the team never updated their website, all the taxistas could only respond “oh there should be a game this weekend either Wednesday, Saturday or Sunday,” and the newspapers didn’t help, so we missed the chance to cheer on Aurora. At the U. de Católica game, we watched last year’s national champion with a bunch of drunks cheering with the label “Católica (Catholic)” on their back as the full moon rose over the pink Andes and the half-empty stadium. Católica won 2-1.
The next day we wandered around some more neighborhoods and then caught some modern art museum. Other than the “This is Art?” modern art section we saw a couple nice photographic portrait galleries of people from all over Chile. Tito and Inez invited us to her sister’s birthday party that night and so we partied for one last time, drinking Piscolas, eating Churrascos, and having difficulty understanding Chilean Spanish even though we’ve been immersed for 5 months. Inez’s mom related to us her backpacking adventure back in the day. She went to a nude beach in Greece and studied the volleyball players.
On Sunday, OUR LAST DAY IN SOUTH AMERICA, we went to Barrio Bellavista again and enjoyed Porotos Granados (white bean and pumpkin stew) and pastel de choclo (a corn- based steak pot-pie). We went to another soccer game. In Valpo we watched Colo-Colo play a Brazilian team for the Copa Liberatadores in a bar with a bunch of old men off from a day at the shipyard kinda guys. So we thought we’d go to their game and cheer on the working-class team. The game was terribly sloppy but it was nice to sit in the sunshine and reminisce on our trip and jeer at horrible passes.
That night Tito took us to the airport for our 3:30 AM flight. 20 hours later in Pheonix Kyle and Kelli saw an alpaca clad Shalynn walking with a long-haired, scraggly bearded khaki guy with a flamingo feather in his bowler hat and a hug band-aid on his swollen face. “It’s a good thing we recognized Shalynn cuz you look like a crazy guy!” Kyle told me. We are home!