Holiday in Chile (2): Santiago

London to Chile is 7,240 miles (11,650 kms) as the crow flies but we are not crows. So the flight from London to Sao Paolo in Brazil – starting on Sunday evening – was almost 11 and a half hours and the flight from Sao Paolo to Santiago in Chile was just over 3 and a half hours.

On Monday morning, we were met at the airport by our guide for the entire tour Valentina Periez and taken to our hotel, the San Francisco, arriving about 1.45 pm local time but 4.45 pm London time (having first taken off at 10.30 pm the previous evening).

The group should have been 12 but somebody lost their passport at Sao Paolo airport and was denied entry at Santiago airport, so a couple had to return to London. There is one married couple and the rest are travelling with a relative or friend or alone. There is another Roger who used to work with my then sister-in-law (it’s a small world). So, including Silvia and me, the group consisted of 10 and, together with our guide, we immediately formed a WhatsApp group for the trip (something that I have not experienced before) which proved really helpful. 

We had a welcome drink of pisco sour and a quick briefing from Valentina and then Silvia and I went out for lunch locally before chilling in our hotel room. We made sure then we had a really  early night (9 pm in my case). 

Our first real day of the tour (Tuesday) was devoted to Santiago.

Founded by Pedro de Valdiva in 1541 and surrounded by the spectacular Andes mountain range, Santiago is not just the capital of the country and its largest city but the dominant part of the country. Some 6M live in the city itself and 8M in the metropolitan region out of a total national population of 18M, so Santiago is home to a third of Chileans. Interestingly, both houses of Congress – the House of Representatives and the Senate – which used to be in Santiago are now located in Valparaiso. 

It was 18 October and the third anniversary of the explosion of the 2019–2022 Chilean protests, known Chile as the Estallido Social (literally ‘social outburst’) which were a series of massive demonstrations and severe riots that originated in Santiago and spread to all regions of the country. These protests were in response to a rise in Santiago subway fares, a probity crisis, the rise in the cost of living generally, the impact of privatisation and the prevalent inequality in the country.

Valentina was anxious that we should not become caught up in the expected demonstrations, so we conducted our city tour in the morning before the demos began, but the city was already quiet and full of police.  A major destination was the Plaza de Armas where the presidential place is located. Around the square are statues of some of the leading presidents of Chilean history, including Salvador Allende who was president from 1970 to 1973 before the coup led by General Pinochet.  Another stop was at the Mall Espacio M where Silvia & I grabbed a coffee. 

To be honest, the centre of Santiago is rather drab and almost every wall is covered by political graffiti. This has been the case for the last three years because of the ‘social outburst’ and the municipal authorities are planning a clean-up programme. 

Then we drove east to a much smarter part of the city which houses the Gran Torre Santiago which at 300 metres (984 feet)/ is the tallest building in Latin America.  On the 61st and 62nd floors of this skyscraper is the Sky Costanera from which we had fabulous 360 degree views of the city. The Andes were rather shrouded in mist but clearly visible. Silvia and I found a cafe to buy some lunch to eat on the coach. 

Later we heard that someone had committed suicide by jumping from the fifth floor of the building’s shopping mall onto the interior floor. We wondered if this was a political protest timed to coincide with today’s demonstrations.

Finally we drove out of town to visit a vineyard called Undurrago. This was established in 1885 by a Spanish family of this name who only sold it in 2007. We were shown round by a young woman called Nadia who had excellent English and an astonishing knowledge of wine. The tour finished with the testing of four of the vineyard’s wines and we were given the branded glass from which we had drunk the wines. 

We have a very early start tomorrow so we ate dinner at the hotel restaurant in order to have an early night. 


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