Saturday, January 15, 2011

Santiago, Chile .. Nice Andean city, though idiosyncratic

Chile is a long sliver of a country, covering changing landscapes.

Santiago can be a bit of a strange experience. It's a pretty enough city, framed by the mighty Andes, and with many outdoor cafe lined streets.

There are parks all over the place, with couples kissing everywhere!  I stayed in Bellavista, a bohemian neighborhood popular with backpackers for its many tree lined streets with cafes, pubs, and dance spots.

The weather is near perfect during their summer... long, sunny and pleasant days. Balmy evenings.

The sound of clinking bottles and spirited conversations permeates this sociable city.

This all sounds good, so what's awry? The people are a bit closed off...they aren't friendly as Brazilians and Colombians are, and, to some extent,  Peruvians or Ecuadorians. My own take on this is that Chileans had been oppressed and cut off from social contact with others for generations, so they're a bit unsure of how to relate to foreign travelers. And a general lack of the English language doesn't help their cause.  

However, they're quite nice once you're able to get past their no-eye-contact demeanour. My new Chilean friend Barbara explained it to me thus: Nearly 40% of Chile's population lives in Santiago, because this is where the opportunities are. So you can imagine the kind of stress and other complexities it may cause in social behavior.

Anyway, if you visit Santiago you'll be impressed with its cleanliness, its scenic setting, and its long daylight hours resulting in afternoon drinking stretching into late hours.

Visit the Metropolitan Park in Bellavista, with its atmospheric views of the city once you reach the top riding the 'funicular' - an electric trolley that climbs up at an impossibly steep angle.

Atmospheric views of the city from the top of Metropolitan Park.

Parks, parks everywhere. Such a green city, in the middle of an Andean desert!

Another beautiful vista, with the Andes framing the city in the background.

Patio Bellavista. Spend an afternoon and evening in Patio Bellavista, an open air courtyard collection of restaurants, pubs, coffee shops, and juice bars, just relaxing in the sun and the convivial atmosphere.

I spent an entire sunny afternoon atop the zen like Metropolitan Peak of the Immaculada Concepcion, just soaking in the being-in-Chile moment.

The spectacular sunset over the mountains was a joy to behold.

Look up your Lonely Planet / Frommers / other guides and do other touristy things like eating seafood at the Central Mercado.

The next day I caught a bus for the two hour pleasant ride through Andean countryside to a town I was barely able to contain my excitement about visiting for the first time ... Valparaiso, a Bohemia.

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