February 2, 2022. 80°F/27°C
We took a full day excursion into Chile’s capital city of Santiago, and got a glimpse of the kind of tour that “might have been” had we not been under tight Covid restrictions.
En route to the city, driving parallel to the Coastal Mountain Range, we passed stands of eucalyptus (imported, profitable, but horrible for the health of the soil and the water table), orange groves, almond groves, peach orchards…. and wineries – lots and lots of wineries. Chile has over 300,000 acres of land under grape cultivation! The vineyards we passed were by far not the largest in the country, but they were definitely the largest we’ve ever seen.
Unfortunately, our overall experience today was disappointing. The artisan market we visited must be wonderful when the vendors are open, and the cafés bustling, but with only the 18 people on our tour on the entire property, and most of the vendors closed, we could only wander around and peer into windows at the handicrafts. “Estamos en vacaciones” was the most common sign we saw on shop doors; “we’re on vacation” instead of “abierto” (open).
We drove through several of the districts that make up metropolitan Santiago (think boroughs in Toronto or New York City) which showcased that, like most huge metropolises, there is a wide disparity between how the rich and poor live. One third of the entire population of Chile lives in the Santiago region, over 8 million people. Yes, there are homeless people, but proportionately far fewer than we saw in Los Angeles.
The Las Condes district, home to the artisan market, was a lovely middle class South American neighbourhood, with a mix of well-kept single family homes and apartment buildings.
Providencio, the most modern region, is home to most of the financial institutions, and is full of gleaming glass office buildings and lots of traffic. Except for the excellent weather, we could have been in Toronto’s financial district. There’s even a subway network, with big clean stations. Sadly, from behind bus windows it’s hard to get a real feel for the city.
Providencio is also home to many of the foreign embassies in Chile, and Santiago Metropolitan Park (the largest city park in the country at over 1500 acres) which is where we ate a lovely al fresco lunch of soup, Reneita (pomfret fish), rice, and flan (a caramel custard), accompanied by fresh pineapple and mango juices.
Because our bus was leaking hydraulic fluid, we had to change vehicles half way through our day. That turned out to be serendipitous because it meant we had about 40 minutes in the Plaza de Armas, the main square of Santiago, amid the absolutely stunning architecture of the Cathedral, opera house, and national museum, and were also able to walk to Constitution Square to see the mint/Presidential palace building and the very Victorian-looking office of the Intendant (an appointed “governor”). It was not nearly enough time, but it was definitely better than driving past them.
Ted did his best to get a few good pictures while being hustled along by our guide, who was determined to keep us bunched in a “bubble”.
We came away feeling a bit frustrated, but knowing that the city was a place it would be worth returning to once independent exploration is again possible.
On the plus side, Ted managed to capture a shot of another of the area’s many cute green parakeets, this one industriously making a nest in a palm tree.