Features / Travel

Santiago, Chile: Serenity and urban art

Colours come alive in Santiago.

If there is a safer, cleaner and more accessible city than Santiago, Chile, we haven’t been there.

What makes the city so easy to visit is the main thoroughfare, O’Higgins Avenue, and the three subway routes: one runs along O’Higgins, one to the north and one to the south.

Ever-present brown-shirted police are part of this scene. According to one friend, the poor and the oppressed were pushed out of the central neighbourhoods by the late, detested Augusto Pinochet, et al.

Our hotel was recommended by a Vancouver couple we met in Valparaiso. We didn’t have much time to chill at this little gem in the Providencia neighbourhood, called, you probably haven’t guessed, Chilhotel! At $90, we found it met all our needs and then some with helpful staff and lovely little room with balcony, fridge and air conditioning.

We arrived at 3pm and began walking along Providencia, which turns into O’Higgins, stopping at the Santa Lucia artisan market, with more than 100 vendors selling everything from jewelry to juice to clothing. We walked through a huge and beautiful park with fountains and lovers luxuriating in the hot summer day.

We passed monument after monument, finally turning right toward a pedestrian mall. We couldn’t help noticing how clean everything was as we walked past the Catholic University. There are about seven universities in the centre of Santiago and around each there are many bookstores.

The next morning we decided to take the subway a block from our hotel, the station called Manuel Montt, to the pre-Columbian museum about six stops away only to find it was closed—for a year! We wandered around Plaza de Armes, a fairground of sorts with vendors, fountains, statues and flowers. Just before, we happened upon a demonstration made up of students and professors protesting against high tuition fees that mean only the rich can get post-secondary education in Chile. University is free in Argentina, we were told by one student who came here from Ontario to study chemical engineering.

On the second day, we opted for the comfortable, clean and fast subways and a taxi or two to visit museums, among them the Museo de Solidaridad de Salvador Allende and on the way to the address in our Lonely Planet, we chanced upon the Museum of Indigenous Peoples, basically old photos housed in an elaborately constructed building adjoining the subway station Quinto Norde.

We walked around looking for the Solidaridad museum, but we soon learned from a guard at the door that the museum had moved downtown five years ago. We doggedly took a cab to the right address on Avenido Republica and were underwhelmed by the exhibit—the last speech by Allende before he committed suicide and letters from various world personalities including Fidel Castro and Pablo Neruda, as well as many old medals and a couple of uniforms.

We found a good restaurant, Luguria, in both its locations, one across from our hotel, where we ate on the third floor overlooking crowds of hungry locals. It was artsy and unpretentious.

The next morning we took a cab to the bus station and almost missed our bus because we were waiting at the wrong station, but finally we were on our way back to Argentina, to Mendosa, once again traversing the Andes and getting a bit sick from the altitude. The coca candies helped somewhat.

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