Sunday, July 30, 2006

Crossing the Andes

The pilot on our flight from Buenos Aires, Argentina, to Santiago, Chile, announced that unfortunately clouds would obscure the Andes as we skimmed over the top of this gigantic range of mountains on our way west across the southern cone of South America. But he was wrong. As we crossed the border of the two countries the clouds broke and we could look down to see sun shining on craggy vistas of snow and rock. It was an awesome sight, one I've long wanted to see. My seatmate and I pressed our noses to the windows. As we flew into the valley where Santiago is wedged between the Andes and the coastal mountains, the white fields below changed to greens and reds, roads and houses, yet the high snow-covered peaks to the west never left our sight. Then, as our aircraft glided down onto the runway, the Andean backdrop changed from white to brown as pollution from the city gradually obscured the view.

The woman sitting beside me was a doctor from Buenos Aires, the daughter of an Argentine mother and an Italian father. She had grown up in Texas and although she had an Italian passport and a green card as an American foreign resident, she had an apartment in Belgrano where she'd lived for many years. Now she was traveling to Dallas to take a refresher course so she could begin the road to practicing medicine in the USA, perhaps in Austin, since she felt should couldn't make enough in Argentina. She was typical of the kind of people I continually meet on the journey in foreign lands, citizens of no one country, yet comfortable in all.

Irma, the neice of Felix who originally organized this tour of Cabrillo students, was joined by two friends from the East Bay, Zeta and Christy. Together with Trey, a high school student doing independent study, we traveled by hotel van into Santiago. The husband of Nancy, our teacher from Cabrillo who took Felix's place after he had a stroke in Barcelona (this is sounding like a soap opera) missed his connection in the US and they would arrive late. Our destination was the Hotel Montebiaco, located in a section of Santiago called La Condes which the Lonely Planet calls the "city's new financial powerhouse." It was certainly not my picture of Santiago. Our street is lined with gleaming new glass and steel skyscrapers, with more under construction. Compared with this, Argentina seemed like a third world country. The restaurants included familiar chains: Hooters, T.G.I. Fridays, Ruby Tuesday, and even a Starbuck's which had not made it to BsAs yet. There were a couple of Irish bars and a huge pleasure palace with drinking and dancing called Publicity, all nestled among tall bank buildings and embassies from foreign countries. I walked past a lovely fountain to a church which was locked, and returneded to the hotel, stopping at an excellent bookstore, and pausing for a cappuchino con crema (Italiano) at "Starlight Coffee" (perhaps they thought you wouldn´t notice) which cost 1,350 pesos (520 of them to the dollar).

Later we had dinner at Coco Loco around the corner where I had a delicious charbroiled swordfish steak over rice. Ofelia had told me with a chauvinistic grin to avoid the meat because it´s much better in Argentina, and eat the fish since Chile is next to the sea. I was working on my third pisco sour, the national drink of Chile (they´re fighting with Peru over who had it first), which is made from brandy distilled from grapes with a high sugar content. It´s delicious and potent. The first was a gift from the hotel at the small bar in the lobby, but then I couldn´t stop. When I went to bed, the young ones were on there way to play. Santiago, like BsAs, is a late night capital.

Today we travel to Isla Negra on the coast to visit one of the houses in which Pablo Neruda lived.


After writing the above, I decided to do a little early morning exploring. It's Saturday so the streets were fairly empty at 8:30. You could see the snow-capped peaks to the southwest as a backdrop to the buildings. I found the Topalaba metro station several blocks away from the hotel and entered a huge modern underground lobby. At the boletero I discovered tickets were 370 pesos, or about 70 cents. There are 5 metro lines and directions were posted everywhere. The car I got in was clean and new. The ride to the University of Chile stop took about 20 minutes and I exited on the pedestrian street Paseo Ahumada which took me directly to the Plaza de Armas several blocks away, the center of town. The shops were still shuttered but people were setting up newspaper and flower stands. I was surprised to see public toilets which are nonexistant in BsAs where you have to buy a cafe to be allowed to pee. In the center of Santiago the new was side by side with the old. The Catedral dominates the plaza, along with the ornate post office. I took lots of photos which unfortunately I can't load from this machine because there is no USB port. But I will figure out how to post them later. But now I know that it is extremely easy to navigate this city via the metro, so I should be able to see everything interesting listed in the Lonely Planet. I came back to find our small group eating breakfast and I told them of my adventures. They have appointed me guia for this evening.

I also know I want to return to this city and country in that not too distant future.



Anonymous said...

What did Sandy & I tell you about Pisco Sours? 1 is not enough....3 is too many.

Anonymous said...

Didn't Sandy & I warn you about Pisco Sours? 1 is not enough...3 is too many.