One week in Santiago

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I{ve been in Santiago for}} a week now, and it{s been an interesting experience… not the least of which has been to disa}cover that the keyboards are very differentn in their layout over here.

For the rest of this entry, I’m going to try and use Stacey’s laptop, which I’m a little more used to.

Stacey met me at the airport on Saturday a week ago, which was helpful because I would probably have had quite a difficult time figuring out how to tell one of the many taxi drivers, who were nagging us for attention, where I wanted to go. On Saturday afternoon, we went for a wander around Centro — one of the 34 or so provinces within Santiago, ending up at Santa Lucia, which is the smaller of two hills in the middle of the city. The entire side of the hill is littered with narrow steps and footpaths, and there’s a fort at the top. Historically it’s the hill at which the Spanish founded Santiago before they were temporarily beaten out by the locals.

On Sunday, we went for a look around some of the museums, which are free to enter on Sundays. The National History Museum is basically a chronology of war and war heroes in Chilean history, with the occasional corner display about the local university. This is probably to be expected given that the history of Chile does actually involve a lot of wars, and it’s important to Chileans. What I found most interesting was that the chronology stopped at the point when Pinochet led the coup that pushed out the former communist government. The presentation shows several newspaper front pages that describe the coup on the day it happened, and no more information is offered. Western media tends to imply that the vast majority of Chileans are anti-Pinochet, but it’s really more like 50-50. (Despite his methods, he did still solve a lot of problems, and the communist government before was arguably at least as bad.) There’s still a lot of unrest about the issue, and I get the impression that if the museum actually attempted to take one side or the other, it probably wouldn’t be around for long.

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I started my two weeks of classes in Espanol on Monday morning. It’s about a 30 minute walk from the apartment of Stacey’s friend (in Centro) to the school (in Providencia). Nobody who I’ve yet met seems to really understand the concept of walking that kind of distance. There’s a great underground metro system in which people only get crushed to death every few months or so on average, and a bus network that typically seems to be crammed full of people. The school runs activities in the afternoons, and Monday’s activity was to catch the Funucular Tram thingee (very similar to Wellington’s Cable Car, probably a bit steeper, and probably a more correct name) up to the top of San Cristobol — the highest of the two hills, and about 400 metres above the main centre of Santiago. It’s also possible to walk to the top (although Stacey and I only saw people coming down when we walked up), and this is what we did a couple of days later, before coming down on the gondola on the other side.

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San Cristobol is most well known for the very large statue of the Virgin Mary which can be found at the top, which makes sense in a country where about 70% of people identify as Roman Catholic. To me it seemed that the statue was out-shone by a splattering of tall antennas, presumably for cellphones and broadcasting. Apparently there are also some really nice views of Santiago under the Andes from the top, but unfortunately I arrived a bit late, and everything besides a faint outline of the Andes is obscured by smog.

Smog is a real problem for Santiago. Its location with mountains on both sides makes it very sheltered from any wind, and the cold air rushing over the coastal range, and over the city to the Andes, prevents the warmer air (and smog) from lifting above the tops. (Stacey’s explained all of this to me, so she can take the blame if any of it’s wrong.) Some of the richer regions in Santiago are situated on the hill-side, and the indirect result of this has been that their homes are now being bathed in a layer of ozone, and that’s probably not very healthy.

Anyway, that’s about as much as I have time to write at the moment. I’ll fill in a bit more later on.

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