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Santiago, Chile - July 14 - 20, 2015

Jenny and Charlie Plesums


I visited Santiago briefly in 1969, and Jenny has never been there. We both loved Buenos Aires, Colonia del Sacramento Uruguay, Iguassu Falls Brazil, Cusco Peru, so it seemed like a great bet when we found round trip airline tickets for only $907.60 each.

Santiago has about 6 million people, 3/4 of the total population of Chile.

Getting There - Tuesday-Wednesday July 14-15

Travel - usual American Airlines flights from Austin to Dallas and on to Santiago. However even though it is practically the same time zone (one hour east of Eastern time) it was an overnight flight - leave Dallas at 9:50 pm Tuesday and arrive in Santiago at 9:37 am on Wednesday morning.

To the Hotel - the only reasonable way to the hotel is by Taxi. Buy a ticket (possibly with a credit card) inside the terminal, for about US$33. Taxi drivers do not expect a tip. The bus connections are complex, and the subway does not reach the airport. (Guess they are not interested in Tourists.)

Getting Cash - Most international airports have a large number of ATM machines from a variety of banks, normally with no service charge. We had a hard time finding the ATMs at this airport, and were shocked with a service charge of about US$7.50. Credit cards are widely accepted, so you don't need a lot of cash. Our trick of using the leftover local currency to pay part of the hotel bill was complicated by a local law that waives the 19% hotel tax if you pay in foreign currency (i.e. charge it to your card in Dollars).

Weather - part of the reason for going to South America in the summer is that it is winter there. Weather forecasting is no better there than here - but the bottom line is that we were glad for gloves and scarf in the morning, but by mid-afternoon were walking with our coats open. The forecasters had trouble choosing when it should rain, but fortunately it held off until we were heading for the airport to come home.

Metro - Subways: As most of our readers know, we love taking the local transportation - and Santiago has an extensive, clean, and efficient metro system. Except at the peak of rush hour, when they could use the "people pushers" (like the Tokyo Shinjuku station) to help passengers squeeze into the cars.

Tipping - Taxis do not expect a tip, and are not sure how to cope if you offer one. Restaurants routinely include a 10% tip in the bill; the one time we wanted to offer more for exceptional service, they were not sure how to handle it.

For easiest use, buy a "bip!" card for 1,500 pesos (just over US$2) and load it with cash - figure about 660 pesos per trip (US$1 per ride). When you run out of cash, the turnstile will block you, but you can add money from a cashier or a vending machine. We never figured how to get a Senior Citizen card that would give us trips for 210 pesos (30 cents) each.

The trips are all the same price (it doesn't matter how far you ride) so you only use it to enter the station, and one bip! card can be used for multiple people.

Wednesday July 15

Our visit began at the Plaza De Armas, the activity center of the city, with numerous street performers, statues, artists, and chess players.

The cathedral is on the plaza, so of course, that had to be checked out. Note the massive amount of silver on the front of, and the top of, the high altar.

The blessed sacrament chapel was also impressive.

Some of the police were on horseback - beautiful horses.

But we found a new type of horse for the police at the other side of the plaza.

The house of deputies (congress) was not far away

as was the Tribune of Justice (we assume comparable to the supreme court).

We wandered to the market, where there was a prominent flag of Chile. Why is that noteworthy? For those who don't live in Texas, here is the Texas Flag.

Thursday July 16

The Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino (English: Chilean Museum of Pre-Columbian Art) was listed as a must-see museum. Although I am not normally inspired by early artifacts, this was truly an outstanding museum.

The entry stairway had a huge map that really tickled Jenny, seen at the edge of this picture. It ran from below floor level on the stairway, onto the wall at the right, and up and across the ceiling to incorporate North America.

You can get a better idea of the detail - the colored lines are the sections of the museum. Note where Santiago is on the map... one international weather forecast talked about snow reaching the south side of Santiago (remember in South America, South is cold, North is warm, and July is the middle of winter.)

There were some huge wood carvings in one part of the museum, but unfortunately none of the huge stone "Moai" statues from Easter Island.

The Incas did not have a written language but they were very sophisticated business people. These strings were used to maintain business records and inventories.

The pattern of the number of knots and the way the strings were attached to each other denoted quantity and type of goods being recorded. The Incas kept food warehouses throughout their empire so they could feed everyone even if a crop failed - and their records were retained like this.

The introduction of the horse by the Spanish had a huge impact on the local culture and economy. They had a clever way of displaying some of the early tack. The sign tells the story better than I can.

There was never any question of the gender of the sculpture. After seeing all the eunichs with plaster fig leaves in the Vatican, I did some checking. When religious art was young, nudity symbolized purity - celebrate the human form in all its glory. In 1557 fig leaves for modesty were directed by Pope Paul IV. Most fig leaves were not installed until a century later, about 1650, and any statues with a remaining penis were destroyed 200 years later by Pope Pius IX in 1857. Obviously the popes did not visit South America.

This was a major church and civil "Festival of the Virgen del Carmen." Most of the natives could not tell us what it was, only that most businesses would be closed for the holiday.

As we came out of the museum, we heard music and dancing in the streets - not unlike Carnival (Mardi Gras) on a smaller scale. Notice the older guy with the white brush cut behind the lady - dancing and sweating so hard that I feared for his heart.

There were many different groups of dancers, and multiple bands. Not knowing what to expect, I only got a few good pictures.

Three pictures is enough, but there were many different types of dancing, some less photogenic than others (like when everyone goes in a circle with their back to my camera.

After exploring the markets (one open, one closed for the holiday) we walked to the Metropolitan Park which houses the zoo and a mountain with a presumably spectacular view, accessed by funicular (sloping railroad, almost as steep as an elevator). Unfortunately the park was jammed with holiday families, so we couldn't get in (and going early in the day was out, because of the morning fog/haze.)

Friday July 17

We decided to visit the craft market town of Los Dominicos, a suburb of Santiago on the metro line. As we approached the town Jenny saw an oxymoron. Palm trees almost next to snow topped mountains.

Jenny also noticed the Jade plant ... flowering. She had never seen it flowering before.

The town of Los Dominicos is a craft village, with well over 100 shops where you can watch artists create their items. Of course there are some shops where you can watch craftsmen unpack their shipments received from elsewhere.

Jenny found some beautiful silver and lapus lazuli earrings made by Franca Stipo and Alejandro Reid in workshop 75 (Spanish: "taller 75") .

Sometimes the infrastructure leaves something to be desired.

We went back to the Metropolitan park for the funicular ride and pictures from the top of the mountain. Today we were able to get into the park, but the line for the funicular was hours long. Sorry, no sale. With the number of school-age children in the park, it appears to be a winter vacation, not just a one day holiday yesterday.

On Friday night we noticed that the Chilean National Symphony was having a concert of Russian composers, with guest conductor Yoav Taimi from Israel. Orchestra seating was the equivalent of US$9.17 each, so we went. The first piece by Mussorgsky and the third piece by Tchaikovsky were wonderful. The second piece, Concerto Grosso number 1 by Schnittke was gross - the composer had not been dead long enough.

Saturday July 18

We started the day at the Chilean National Museum of Fine Arts. I forgot to take an outside picture and had to borrow this photo by Carlos Yo, available from Wikipedia

Central to the display of fine art was this inflated bull hanging form the ceiling.

Representing the sculptural fine arts was this oversize bicycle in the main lobby.

You may recognize this life-size copy of the head of Michelangelo's David. Not an artist's copy, but a model (they do a lot of that in Florence). I don't know the connection to Chilean fine art.

This IS an attractive piece of art - a tribute to Martin Luther King. I don't see the connection to King, but it was an attractive metal sculpture - fine art.

For those in Texas where barbed wire is fine art, it is here too.

This rather large welded steel rod sculpture also had some artistic merit.

Connected to the Fine Arts museum is the contemporary art museum. I thought I had already seen a lot of contemporary art, but this was a shock. Nothing at all on the first or second floor, except a guard station.

In the basement of the contemporary art museum was a exhibit of the busts of all the Chilean presidents. With black wax melted on their heads and drooling down their faces. Lovely.

The admission fee for the Fine Arts and Modern Arts museum was appropriate for the display - nothing. So we went on to the Quinta Normal city park with numerous other museums.

The Museum of Natural History was well done as a teaching tool for young kids. Lots of nice dioramas of wildlife in different natural settings - lots of educational opportunities. It was encouraging to see how involved the parents were. If you wanted pictures, sorry.

The best part of the Artequin museum is the building. It is the actual building used for the Chile exhibit at the 1890 world exhibition in Paris. Copies of famous paintings (not that great quality copies, for that matter) are hung at kid level. The second floor has teaching facilities that apparently can be rented for kids classes. This museum was not free, but should have been.

We almost skipped the best museum in the park - a railroad museum. Admission for seniors was only about US$0.60 - a true bargain

There were many historic steam locomotives, and occasional other railroad cars, that had been "rescued" by this museum, which felt very much like a fun railroad club.

Most of the trains could only be seen from the outside, but there were a few exceptions. I don't know how much throttle to give since the steam pressure gauge was missing.

One of the locomotives had been made by ALCO - American Locomotive Company in Schenectady, in 1940. What's the big deal? My father talked about a business trip to ALCO in Schenectady about that time. And I went to college a couple blocks from the ALCO Schenectady works 20 years later.

This isn't actually a round house - that would be the circular garage for locomotives built around this turntable. But if I just called it a turntable, even I would not have known what I was talking about.

We went to Church on Saturday night - most churches only had services at 730 on Saturday and Sunday and at noon on Sunday. Okay, we can cope. As we went in, we noticed a casket in the side aisle. Not what I am used to seeing when I go to "Sunday Church." At the end of Mass, Jenny recognized that they were starting a different set a prayers (not bad since we don't speak Spanish). Quick, she said, we need to leave - they are starting the funeral. As we went out, the casket was open for viewing through a glass or plastic window over the body. Whatever.



We were disappointed with the cleanliness of the city, outside of the subways. The outside of the busses were filthy, the sidewalks were uneven or broken, and the buildings were tagged with graffiti. Homeless people were sleeping on doorsteps or in tents in the parks. Along the river, coming from the airport, there were whole communities of shacks built with corrugated metal on the river levees - on public land. In Brazil this is called a favela. As we approached the city, the wealth increased - the corrugated metal were extensions to tiny conventional homes. As we got closer to the city, the homes got larger and the attached metal shacks got smaller. Sad

We love visiting South America - the people always make us feel welcome. In most countries the food is good and inexpensive. We strongly recommend Buenos Aires, Colonia del Sacramento Uruguay, Iguassu Falls Brazil, Cusco Peru, but we don't expect to return to Santiago. Jenny and I always have a good time traveling together but other places are more fun than Santiago.

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