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Thursday, November 30, 2006

ADVENTURES IN CHILE; BACK IN SANTIAGO, THE KISSING CITY

THURSDAY, NOV. 30/06

Here we are back in Santiago Chile, which I have dubbed the ¨Kissing City¨because one thing that has impressed us since arriving here were the numbers of times each day, everywhere you go - in parks, on park benches, on the grass under shady trees, on the street, the metro, the bus...absolutely everywhere, there are couple (young and old) embracing and tenderly kissing. It´s a lovely sight to see and lends a very beautiful, personal atmosphere to this otherwise bustling city.

Our return trip from Mendoza, Argentina was spectacular. The bus came on a different route through the Andes than on our first trip. All the way along we were gawking out the windows, snapping dozens of photos of the amazing scenery. It was a warm, clear day, blue skies and no clouds sheltering the snow caps. It turned out we actually passed by Puente del Incas where we´d intended to go yesterday, although we couldn´t see the Ínca bridge´from the bus. Later on, coming down from the highlands on the twisty ´carocal´´ highway, we reached the green lush valley where herds of hores grazed. I saw several groups of pack horses all geared up and ready for their mountain treks. Eventually after passing through a very long tunnel we were at the Chilean frontier.

There is good security but little hassle at the border crossings here. They have sniffer dogs and lots of police patrols, but there is none of the tension and paranoia you meet at American borders. We had to give up the left over fruit from our lunches but that was about it. Otherwise we passed through with no problem, everyone being friendly, calm and polite.

Later we passed by the town of Los Andes which was founded in 1791 by Ambrosio O´Higgins, viceroy of Peru. The town is near the spectacular ski runs of Portillo near the Argentine border and is noted as the home fo two famous women; Nobel Prize winning poet Gabriel Mistral who taught here for a time, and Saint Teresa de los Andes, a Carmelite nun beatified in 1993.

Back in Santiago by 4 p.m. and happy to be ´home´´ again with our ´family´who were excited to see us so we were greeted by lots of hugs and kisses.

We are down to our last few days now and feel sad that soon we´ll be leaving. The next couple of days will be devoted to seeing some more sights and shopping and on Saturday we plan a day trip to Valparaiso. Tomorrow Cecilia says she´ll tour us around the General´s Cematery near her house where Allende is buried and there is a memorial to the disappeared.

NEXT; More about Santiago

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

ARGENTINA: THE BEST LAID PLANS...

WED. NOV 29/06

Okay..the best laid plans...We got up early this morning planning a day trip to the Andes to see Puente del Inca, which is four hours from here. It´s a natural geological formation called "Bridge of the Incas" because they believe this was the farthest point south in the Andes that the Inca people migrated.

Unfortunatey, our plans went astray when (1) we couldn´t flag a cab. (2) the bus driver said he was going to the terminal when in fact he wasn´t, and we ended up in an entirely different direction out in the suburbs of Goday Cruz. We had no idea where in heck we were or how to get back and furthermore had no change for the bus and couldn´t find a shop to provide us with any. This is an on going hassle here - nobody has coins. Patrick said probably the reason we´ve not seen any beggars is that nobody has change to give them. (Eventually, later that morning, we went to a bank to change some bills and even the bank was short of change.) It reminded me of what it was like Greece during the ´80´s - nobody could provide change ( a good way of overcharging) and consequently I recall sneaking lots of rides on trolleys with less than required for the fares. Anyway, we eventually got back into town (the driver let us on with what coins we had) and we decided to go for a walk to the big Central Park of Mendoza - San Martin Park.

We had actually had pased right by it on the bus returning to Mendoza but didn´t get off, so we had to walk about 10 blocks or more back, however it offered an opportunity to explore some differet areas of the city including the posh residential area bordering the park.

San Martin Park was designed by using English, French and Italian traditions to develop the 400 hectares which includes rose gardens, a park lake, a museum of Natural Science, a zoo, amphitheatre and a football stadium. It is said to have around 500,000 trees of various species including palms, plane tress and various flowering shrubs.

After our park stroll we stopped at an Italian restaurant-bodega for our lunch. It was another gourmet treat although I had to pass on the wine because of my touchy digestion. I ordered an appetizer plate of proscuitto and provolone cheese and a main entree of lasagne neopolitan. It only cost about $8. for the meal including tip.

We came back to the hotel footsore and exhausted and decided to have a nap (all sensible folk here opt for the afternoon siesta) and later we went out to walk around, stopped in at the super market to stock up on goodies for the long bus ride back to Santiago tomorrow. I enjoy visiting super markets in other cities . This one as excellent and had shelves and shelves of wines and liquor as well. (The one we went to in Santiago was just as nice as any I´ve been in, quite exclusive in fact.)

We actually visited the local McDonald´s tonight and I had a big Mac which tasted fine - good Argentine beef. (the meds I got for the touristas seems to have worked okay). And after the blogging we´ll head back to the Plaza and do some last minute shopping from the craft market vendors. Tomorrow it´s up and away early for the 7 hour bus trip back to Santiago. Hopefully we´ll not mess up in the transport to the depot t his time and will make our connections on time! Hasta luego. More to come from my adventures in Chile. Maybe I´ll even spot those elusive condors on the trip back!

ARGENTINA: VISITING THE WINE COUNTRY

TUESDAY, NOV 28/06

MENDOZA: Gran Mendoza is the regional metropolis of the Cuyo Area of Argentina. It is the most important city in the west of Argentina and one of the most affluent with a wide cultural, commercial and industrial development and of course all those vineyards producing the country´s best wine.

The distant view of the Andes, thelarge swathes of green spaces and tress on every street create a beautiful natrual and urbanlandscape. Mendoza is laid out flat so it make it easy and pleasant for strolling on the neatly paved avenues which are lined with restaraunts, shopping malls, street markets and many well kept hotels.

The viticulture regions arund Mendoza include Goday Cruz, Guaymallen, Maipu and Lujan de Curyo. There are hundreds of wine cellars that welcoome tourists and also a number of museums and historic sites. The area produces grapes of the highest quality because of the exceptional landscape and climate conditions.

THE VINEYARDS

Today we headed out early for a visit to the National Wine Museum at Maipu, a small town abut 16 k. from Mendoza. We managed to find our way by local bus, the only hassle being that they require exact change fare and it is nearly impossible here to get (and keep) small change in coins. Some kindly passengers contributed to what we didn´t have and were very helpful showing us where to get off the bus. From the highway it was a short walk down a tree-lined lane to find the Museum. There are tours (free!) at various times so we didn´t have long to wait.

It was an interesting tour explaiing the history of wine making in Mendoza. The first vines were brought from Italy in the 1700´s by an Italian named Felipe and now the vineyard (San Felipe) has over 250 acres of vines. The entire production from old times til now was explained by the guide, a fascinating and interesting tour, seeing the wine making equipment and giant vats and hearing how the various wines are produced. After the tour you get to taste some of the vino tinto and cabernet savignon which they don´t export. I bought a couple of bottles to keep for a special occasion.

After the tour we went back down the road to a very appealing little bodega we had spotted earlier. This turned into a fabulous meal extravaganza, and all for 25 pesos including the tip )which is about $7.50)

This was a day for remembering Roberto Hallberg, my soul-brother and Gemini friend who I spent so much time with during my stays in Athens. He, like Anibal, was an exile from his country due to the military junta in 1978 and always longed to return. He spoke constantly about his country and in particular regaled us with stories of the great wine they had in Argentina. This day brought back so many fond memories of him. Robbie always raved about the food, and food service in his country. He would often cook for me when I was away at lessons, and when I returned home he´d produce thee marvelous gourmet meals served like they did át home´ So today it was a feast to honour Robbie. First, the salad bar which was offered free and had a wide variety of salads and relishes´; next we were served baskets of delicious warm sliced bread, then plates with 3 types of sausages: one plain, one stuffed blood sausage and one I´m certain was pig´s tail (a bit too chewy for my liking). Next came a plate of hot little pastries stuffed with spicey ground meat; then a dish witha piece of veal and a tender slice of beef steak followed by a plate with pork. All the while we were reminded to fill up at the salad bar Finally, a dessert which was half a pear and half a peach with a dollop of caramel syrup on them I had a glass of good red wine with my meal. We were amazed at the service and the elegant way it was prepared (just like Robbie used to prepare meals). I talked about him to Patrick while we dined. I really felt his spirit there today and felt sad to think he never lived long enough to share this adventure with me. Nor, like Anibal, did he ever return to his beloved country, but died of cancer in Athens six years ago.

The only thing that spoiled our wine tasting morning and the fabulous feast at the bodega was when I suddenly got an attack of touristas. Oh my god! What a problem that ended up causing me all day. How embarassing and inconvenient. I wondered how I´d make it back to the city and our hotel and actually I didn´t. It was all quite a disaster. Patrick had some pills on him and I hoped they´d help but it was quite a long seige. Eventually we did get back to Mendoza, took a cab from the bus depot to the hotel. Cleaned up, got some meds at the pharmacy and took a chance of going off to find a craft market we wated to visit. Got there OK and did some shopping, then had to hurry back to the hotel.

Eventually the attacks began to lessen and we went out to stroll in Independence Plaza, a lovely park across from our hotel. There were lots of craft stands set up there, better marchandise than the market we had been to, so we did more shopping for Christmas gifts and souveniers. (I forgot to mention that just before I had gone shopping in one of the many terrific shoe stores they have here and got myself some nice pant boots for only $30. This really is a shoppers paradise and the shops are full of beautiful, stylish clothes and shoes.)

Then, back to the hotel for a good nights sleep and hopefully an end to the stomach troubles as in the morning we plan a trip to the Andes.

NEXT: LOS ANDES and Puente del Inca

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

ARGENTINA: LOS ANDES

MONDAY, Nov 27/06

In an earlier blog when I was planning this trip I wrote extensively about the Andes Mts. and Mendoza, Argentina where we were headed today. I was not disappointed. It was a spectacular journey through Los Andes climbing a switch back narrow highway up to 3,680 meters before descending the valley where Mendoza is located at 6 metres.

Leaving Chile, the fertile Aconcagua Valley is fed by the Rio Aconcagua which flows west from the highest mountain in the Americas. The scenic highway runs the length of the valley and across the Andes to Mendoza, Argentina.

Los Andes are a formidable rocky spine running the length of S. America. They are the second highest range in the world, perpetually snow capped and if one is ´lost in the Andes´it´s a mghty difficult task getting found.

The journey from Santiago took seven hours including a stop at the frontier for passport control. I now have Chile and Argentina stamped in my passport and our arrival here marks the 30th country Patrick has visited, and for me the 16th.

Once we started our ascent from the rocky tors of the Andes, we passed green meadows with herds of beautiful horses grazing, then toward Mendoza, acres and acres of vineyards. Everything is so green and lush in the valley after the bleak snowy landscapes of the mountains. The city is ringed by low foothills, the Andes rise behind. It´s a fairly spread out city (800,00 in the greater area) The streets are lined with grand old shade trees.

We took a taxi from the bus depot to a very nice hotel I had located on the internet, The Hotel San Martin which is on a main boulevard across from Independence Plaza, a beautiful park.
The hotel is charming and costs us only $50 US a night for a very comfortable room, including breakfast. It´s centrally located and all down the boulevard are stylish shops, banks, restaurants and lots to see. The exchange rate is good here, 2.60 pesos per dollar or 3.20 US )more or less) but things are inexpensive and its a good place for shopping and getting bargains.

I must make a note here that the bus service here was excellent (and cheap! about $45 return fare) except the air conditioning wasn´t working and it got mighty stuffy with the sun beating in. We hated to closed the curtains for fear of missing the spectacular scenery along the way. The bus guy comes around with chocolate covered cakes and soda pop for refreshments. At the border there were no hassles, everything orderly and polite. Note: Both the bus depots in Santiago and Mendoza are impressively large and clean and well organized. No problem finding your way around.

After a little look round the centre of town we retired to catch up on much needed sleep and to plan our next day´s excursion.

NEXT: A TRIP TO THE COUNTRY: The San Filipe National Wine Museum at Maipu

Monday, November 27, 2006

ADVENTURES IN CHILE: A DAY AT THE BEACH

SUNDAY, Nov 26
CARTAGENA, CON´D

A misty, cool morning. It´s a lot cooler here (cold at night= than in the interior, but so nice to breathe the fresh sea air and hear the roar of the distant waves on the shore. We´re going to the playa later and then returning to Santiago. We´ve already said our goodbyes to Anibal, lit the white candle and wished him adios, until we meet again, my beloved friend.

In the early afternoon we headed for Playa Chica although we didn´t stop as it´s not the best beach so we went on to Playa Grande and decided it was too chilly for a swim but good for wading, so I rolled up my pants and went down to the water´s edge. Brrrr. The water was icy cold, like the ocean in early June in Canada. There were lots of people swimming and jumping the big breakers that come crashing in. The kids and dogs were having a fine time running along in the surf. I was too, and got caught unawares by a big whitecap that smashed in and wet me up to my knees. We enjoyed an hour or so of just walking up and down the beach watching the locals have fun, kids getting themselves buried up to their necks in the sand, dogs leaping and frolicking in the waves, some people with body'boards surfing in on the breakers.

While we were enjoying the ocean, Cecilia and grandma waited on a bench and talked to the waiter of a nearby cafe. We decided to go there for lunch and were treated to such an amazing, delicious meal of avocado-tuna salad, clam/mussel soup, and fried fish (merlusa - pike) with patatas mayo. I had a taste of the Santa Rita wine too. (about $6 each)

Then it was off to the city again. We got back home about seven and later Patrick and I went searching for a web cafe. Ended up downtown at Palace de Armes where there is a Sunday flea market and loads of entertainment on the pedestrian mall. The big Christmas tree in front of the Cathedral is now all decorated. Someone had done an impressive chalk drawing of Christ on the sidewalk in front of the cathedral. There were no end of entertainers and the families all come to stroll up and down the mall enjoying the sights. What you see when you don´t have your camera along: a troop of young men break dancing and doing phenomenal gymnastic tricks; a bride mime who was so petite, like a doll all in white, and moved like a music box figurine. ( later the silver cowboy guy was there too). They had set up disco lights and kids were dancing. There was other stuff too: clowns, balloon men, hawkers. Even a guy with a pet llama all dressed up to have its photo taken. Why can´t Granville mall be like that? Great free family entertainment on a Sunday evening.

We eventually took the metro to another part of town, got to a web cafe just before closing and with little time left before the metro closed down too, so there was no time to post blogs til today, at Mendoza. That´s the Chile adventure news up to now. The next few days will be devoted to Argentina, and remembering my dear friend Roberto who would be so pleased to know I have finally arrived!

NEXT: LOS ANDES and MENDOZA, ARGENTINA

ADVENTURES IN CHILE: ISLA NEGRA, Neruda´s refuge

SATURDAY, NOV 25, con´td

We caught an early busy Saturday morning from Cartagena to Isla Negra which is just a few miles up the coast. This is Pablo Neruda´s most extravagant house.

The house is located on a rocky headland overlooking the Pacific. The original stone buildings were erected in the late 30´s and were completed in the 1950´s. Neruda added to it bit by bit including various rooms to hold all his eccentric collections. During the junta, when Neruda was dying of cancer, the miitary stormed the house but it has been mainly preserved just as it was, intact with his marvelous collections (even more fantastical than those at La Chascona). It is exactly as it was when Neruda ad Mailde lived there, even to the place settings at the dining room table : place mats of sailing ships and one (the captains) of nautical instruments. "I am the captain and the guest are my crew," he would say. In the middle of the table is a large crystal brandy snifter still containing brandy, because Neruda lost the key to open it.

This house is also built to resemble a ship like the other two, even to the low doorways, and being so near the crashing waves of the ocean it has a realistic effect. Neruda´s impressive collection of ships figureheads decorate nearly every room as well there are masks and other wooden carvings from various places in the world. An entire room is devoted to his massive shell collection, even the tusk of a narwhal which he brought from Norway. The bedroom impressed me with its windows facing the sea and the bed at an angle so the ocean could be clearly viewed.
An interesting side note: Neruda was actually afraid of the sea and never traveled by boat unless necessary. He instead had bought a small wooden hull boat which sits on the rocks beside the house and here he would entertain his friends with drinks while viewing the sea from the shore.

Neruda and his third wife Matilde are both buried here at Isla Negra. He died in Sept 1973 and she died in 1983. Their tomb faces the ocean and is on a round stone platform surrounded by beds of flowers.

After our interesting tour of the house we caught another country bone shaking jitney bus on to the town of
San Antonio where Cecilia needed to do some business. This is Chile´s largest sea port so there were many fishig boats in the harbour, though only a couple of larger ships. We strolled along the pedestrain wharf with the townsfolk and looked over the souvenier shops. We didn´t realize it but there´s a sea lion refuge just down the quay. We browsed around the town and ate lunch at a very interesting fish cafe that was full of curios like Neruda´s house, including big portraits of Victor Jarra (the poet-singer who was murdered during the junta), Che Guevera, Pablo Neruda and Salvadore Allende.
"The owner is a Communist," Cecilia said. I had already ugess that and thought immediatly that this was the sort of place Anibal would have enjoyed.

Then we caught the bus back to Cartagena and took the friendly taxi up to Cecilía´s house.
Tomorrow we´re going to the beach, maybe to swim, though the waves look pretty daunting and it´s not quite as hot here as it is in the city.

NEXT: A DAY AT THE BEACH AND THEN BACK HOME

ADVENTURES IN CHILE: CARTAGENA, A Weekend at the Coast

SATURDDAY, Nov 25/06

Last night (Friday) we caught the 6 pm bus to Cartagena, a lovely trip through the Chilean countryside to the coast. Acres of vineyards, orchards and farmland, sleek beautiful horse grazing in the fields. The highways are excellent, the bus service effient and comfortable. The country buses have the front cab shut off so you can´t bother the driver. The assistant comes through selling cold pop and at one stop a girl got on with a basket of goodies. Bus fares between towns are very cheap (about $45 return).

We got to Cartagena after about an hour and half, then waited in the town square while Cecilia got us a cab- Coming up the hill to the house she asked if we had sleeping bags and did we mind sleeping on the floor? Of course we said it ws okay, though I´ll admit I was somewhat surprised. But it turned out her house is huge, 3 bedrooms and a loft. (She´s such a tease!) The house is located high up on the hillside overlooking the San Sebastian River delta and valley with a panoramic view of the coast. You can hear the ocean from the house and the view is magnificent. We head have our own rooms. Cecilia´s is in the loft and up there she has has made an interesting retreat with a lot of curiosities and mementos she´s collected and some of her own paintings. We teased her that it is "Cecilia Neruda´s" house. It is there she has made the memorial to Anibal, with various photos of him and a little table with mementos including the small box of his ashes. I brought a white candle embedded with seashells to place on the shrine.

This is such a special time for me. I happen to rememer that several months before he learned he had cancer, Anibal told me that he was trying to get a ticket home to Chile, in particular he was planning to go to Cartagena where he said his ´family´had a house. (I know that Cecilia had urged him to come there as he could live there undisturbed because she only goes to the coast on some weekends, the she plans to retire there. Apparantly one of his brothers also had a place in the town.) Such a turn of fate that it is I who have come to Cartagena, and he never did return.

Cartagena is a small town (the part where Cecilia lives iso like a village and in fact reminded me somewhat of being up in Lala in Greece, looking down toward the sea at Karystos. The town is, as Cecilia described it ¨for the poor people¨and also for ¨the golden years people¨. It isn´t a fancy resort area and so not popular with tourists or the wealthier chileans.

The house is large, built up on stilts to take advantage of the spectacular view. Cecila said she first bought the lot ¨for cheap" and about 8 years ago started to build the main floor, later adding the loft. All around it are gardens and grape vine and there´s a large porch wrapping around so you can see the view from every side. Certainly a beautiful "refuge" and one she built and paid for herself, no help from anyone.

I am amazed by this woman, her generous loving heart, her resiliance, her strength and will'power to do all she has done. It is such a joy to know her and to think I actually did get to meet her after having read about her in the book about th exiles. (Anibal did not talk much if at all about her and only because she came to see him when he was dying did I get to meet her) We have talked a bit about their days together working in the shanty town, before the junta.
"We were young and idealistic then," she said. And they made many personal sacrfices because of it.

After our busy week sighseeing in Santiago we are looking forward to a relaxing weekend here at the Coast.

NEXT: ISLA NEGRA, NERUDA´S REFUGE

Saturday, November 25, 2006

ADVETURES IN CHILE: Getting Around Santiago

THURSDAY, NOV. 24/06

Oka, my feet are wor down to the andkles and I have a huge lister on my big toe. My ankle has a twinge and m legs are aching but still, we soldier on, determined to see eerything we can in he short time we are here.

Getting Around by Bus
There are a abundancer of rickety old ellow ¨micros¨that rce up ad dow the avenues as if they are on a speedway. The city has replaced some of them with sleek new green double length buses which will cut down o the chaos and pollution, but there are still swarm of these anceint yellow Mercedes Benz speedsters spewing exhaust and racing to pick up passengers along their routes. This morning we took our second bus ride down to Santiago Cetro with grandma. The bus was alread full when it got to our stop but we jammed on, backpacks and all, and found a place to stand up front clinging on for dear life as the bus hurtled down El Santo Avenida through the morning traffic. Amazingl it picked up at each stop and more people pushed their way on til it was so crammed full the doors wouldn´t shut. Then içoff we went careening down the avenue dodging thrug the heavy lines of traffic. At each jolting stop I was sure Íd be grown through the windshield but we somehow managed to arrive at our stop in one piece. Pretty exciting, like being at the midway!

Patrick and I have preferred t take the metro which is sleek, clean and efficient )so clean hat I defy anyoe to find so mch as a crumb ont he floors of the stations.) Santiago metro has four lines, three of themm )green, yellow and red= merge with the forth newer line. The fare is reasonable too, less than a dollar except duriing peak periods. There are also plenty of cab, and taxi colectivos which run on a ixed route.

Today´s city exploration tour took us to Barrio Brazil, was an area once occupied by the wealthy but after they moved to newer areas, for years was neglected but now is enjoying a new popularity as many of the yonger well'to'do are treturning to create a lively bohemian atmosphere. There is a charming plaza with a towering monkey pzzle tree, various beautifu palms and other ornamental trees. The park is popular with students and today there were many folk sitting on benches reading newspapers. We discovered that there were a lot of Chinese restaurants in Barrio Brazil which was quite unusual.

One of he landmarks of Barrio razil is the newo Gaothi Basilica de Salvador which dates from 1892. We missed that one, but saw another newer church that was worth a photo op. Then we walked around enjoying the various other architectural delights that grace this tranquil area of the city. We walked around and came across tiny Barrio Concha y Toro, a little cobble stone square with quaint buildings and a gushing fountain, a little oasis at the edge of Barro Brazil

We decided to stop by another area, Barrio Patromato, where there is an enclave of Palestinian and Korean people,but we found it rather run down and uninteresting, so returned to Santiago Centro, back to Cafe Cecilia where we were treated to a delicious lunch of bean soup and tomato salad and another tour around the Station with grandma(this time with Patrick in tow). It´s quite amusing these round'about treks to the washrooms, as everyone along the way seems to know grandma and she stops to introduce us to everyone. They were again setting up for another extravagent banquet and again we went out to the the little plaza in back to see the memorial for the poets and writers.)

Next: off to the the ocean

Friday, November 24, 2006

ADVENTURES IN CHILE: BARRIO LASSTARIA AND A BEAUTIFUL PARK

THURSDAY, Nov 23-06

Barrio Lastarria is on the eastern fringe of Santiago Centro, just beyond Cerro Santa Lucia. It´s an oasis of architctural, culinary and cultual delights with Parisian style buildings, tree'lined streets and shady plazas, a tranquil pleasaant partof the city and the hub of Santiago´s cafe culture.

We visited the Musio de Artes Vusuales and the Museo Arqueologico which are housed in brand new quarters. We watched an interesting film about Easter Island (which is part of Chile although several thousand miles off'shore. ) The museum has artifacts dating back to the earliest inhabitants of Chile and ester island which included the tiny mummy of a child. These people were the first in the world to mummify their dead, going back to 5000 BC. Among the artifacts was pottery fromthe Incas, and objects fromthe Mapuch0 people incluidng curiously, items used for smoking, pulveriziing and storing hallucenogenics and other drugs and colorful bags carried by the men to hold their coca. There were also indigenous carvings and beautiful silver jewelry (earrings, necklaces and belts= worn by the Mapucho women.

After our tour around the museum we headed back to santigao Centro the Cafe Cecilia by the river. She had prepared a most delicious lunch for us which we really appreciateñ
grandma took me on a tour of estacion Maphocho to find the toilet. They were setting up for a huge anquet of 3,000 men )alumni and stdents= to celebrate the 100th anniversary of
San Ignacio school, a wealthy Catholic boys school. Grandma book me through the banquet hall, introducing me to people along the way, and ushered me out the back to a little plaza wherethere is a memorial to some of Chile´s poets and writers. Of course she waned me to see Pablo Neruda. And there was a plaqu honoring him and his ¨Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair"

After that rather comical excursion Patrick and I headed back to Barrio Lasstaria with a quick stop at the Mercado Central right across from Cecilia´s cafe. It wasn´t asinteresting as the big market we had gone to theother day so we didn´t stay to browse long but got the metro back to Cerro Santa Lucia.

A 19th century city mayor, Benjamin Vicuna Mackenna, wasinstrumental in transforming Santa Lucia Mt. from a rocky hillinto a beautifullylandscaped park. Its footpaths and stone stairways lead you up to the top of the mountain where there are castle turrets and a magnificent viewpoint of the city (and today the Andes were visible again!) At the entrance is an ornate fountain Terraza Neptuno and up he curved staircase you come to the tomb of the mayor, Mackenna. The vista from the top isone of the best, as commented on by Charles Darwin whose signature appears on a plque emedded on the rocks commemorating his visit there in the 1880´s.

Back to Recolta and a little visit with Cecilia and grandma before bedtime. Plans made for our trip to the Coast, leaving Friday evening. Both Patrick and I are very excited about this trip and looking forward to a few days by the sea enjoying a swim and a visit to Isla Negra to see another of Neruda´´s fantastical houses.

NEXT: Travelling around by bus, metro and by foot and a visit to another barrio or two.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

ADVENTURES IN CHILE: EXPLORING THE BARRIOS

WED. NOVEMBER 22/06

TOURING AROUND SANTIAGO:

Santiago is a city of lovely parks, plazas and tree'line boulevards. The weather right now is like Greece in June or late summer in Vancouver : hot but not reall unbearable although today I regretted not bringing my sun cap, and of course the sun screen is necessary as well as the important bottle of water (mostly the fizzy mineral kind here).

Cecilia´s barrio, where we are staying, is called Recoleta and it´s quite near the edge of the city, a humble older part of town with little houses that remind me of the old parts of Athens, and sidewalks with wonky, uneven pavements. There´s a lot of character in both the narrow alley'like streets, the little houses with the inner courtyards, and the pleasant folk who live there. Patrick and I both felt immediately comfortable being there and have been made to feel like visiting royalty by both Cecilia and her adorable little mother. I said it reminded me of Greece, and if you have been to the villages in Greece you will understand my fondness for it, and why I feel so comfortable here. It has that ´village´flavour which I love.

Today we decided to stop first the Cemetary of the Generals which is nearby, but when we got there and saw what an awesome place it is, we decided instead to wait til we could get a tour around it.

So we set off on the metro to tour around some of Santiago´s ritzy districts starting with Las Condes, the city´s financial district where there are ultra modern buildings, some skyscrapers, though none higher than 30 stories, condominium buildings, fancy restaurants and upscale hotels. The world´s embassies are located here as well as Chile´s World Trade Centre.

When we got out of the metro station we followed along the avenue stopping for the many ´Kodak moments¨there are in this city. I was amused to find a display of painted horses placed in various places all along the avenues in the same way we in Vancouver have the spirit bears and orcas. I took a nice collection of photos of them as they were very pretty.

There´s quite a different atmosphere here than in other parts of the city. It´s a very elegant, exclusive district. The people on the street are well'dressed and stylish, obviously the ´monied´class of Santiago. As Cecilia remarked, "The people look different, their clothes, even their skin....even the GRASS is different in Las Condes.

We spent a lot of time walking around there before taking the metro to a different part of town, one we had visited yesterday, Barrio Bellavista the bohemian district. This time we were heading for Cerro San Cristobal and the Parque Metropolitano. First we stopped to visit the Jardin Zoologico which houses a collection of exotic animals and birds.

Cerro San Cristobal is Santiago´s largest open space. A 14 m. statue of the Virgin del la Immaculada Concepcion towers on top of the Cerro San Cristobal. We took the funicular up to the top, a climb of 485 m. from the Plaza Coupolican at the north end of the Pio Nono, a treelined street where there are a lot of craft shops and sidewalk cafes popular with the young crowd.

The climb up the mountain stops at the Terraa Bellavista where you get amazing views of the city. Today Los Andes were visible though still smog shrouded. We stopped to rest our weary feet at one of the concessions on the terrace then took the funicular back down and walked through the barrior, across the river to the metro station.

By the time we reached Cecilia´s home it was after nine and she had stayed up to greet us, and had prepared a delicious chicken and rice dinner for us.

It was a rather exhausting day. I don´t think I´ve ever walked up so many flights of stairs as I have here in Santiago, nor put in as many miles per day trudging around the city streets, but it´s worth all the effort. Tomorrow we´ll do some more touring around another barrio. Time is passing so quickly and we´re only just getting used to the idea that we are actually here!

NEXT: ANOTHER BARRIO AND A BEAUTIFUL PARK

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

ADVENTURES IN CHILE: LA CHASCONA, The Poet´s House

TUESDAY, NOV. 21
SANTIAGO, CHILE

We wondered why we couldn´t see Los Andes these past few days and now we know it is because of the dense smog over the city. We had planned to go up the funicular to Cerra San Cristobal today but were advised to wait until the mountains were clear. In the morning we went with Cecilia to the Comunidad Mercado De La Vega which is just across the river from her little cafe. It´s a vast sprawling market offering a kaleidoscopic selection of fruits and veggies as well as every kind of meat, spices, condiments and just about anything else you can imagine. ( I saw some sticks of cannella = cinnamon, the size of tree branches!) We were fascinating and busily snapping photos of all the colorful sites in this hub of activity when a security guard stopped us and said we were prohibited from taking photos. (Odd that yesterday at the Presidential Palace there were no such restrictions!) Anyway, Cecilia explained we were foreigners on our first trip to Chile and we were sent to an office and issued an official permit to take pictures. Quite a novel souvenier! After Cecilia had purchased her groceries for the shop, we went backto the cafe and had some yoghurt and sweet pastries called "broken underwear" that Marisol had prepared for us. Then we set off an another adventure by metro.

We intended to visit Pablo Neruda´s house and then go up the mountain as both are in close vicinity. The walk through Barrio Bellavista was so pleasant. It´s quite a bohemian area with craft shops and sidewalk cafes where the young folk from the local university hang out. It´s a community of artists, writers and craftsmen. The streets are shaded by trees and there are interesting shops and buildings..(I guess you could compare it to Greenwich Village in New York). We found an artisans market where we went later on and I bought a few very nice little souveniers. There are also lots of lapis lazuli shops on that street (only Chile and Afghanistan have major deposits of this semi precious gem.) I´m definitely going to look into purchasing something with lapis before I leave here!

It wasn´t too difficult to find the Poet´s house, named La Chascona after Matilde, his third wife, who had a tumble of wild hair. (That´s what the name means: wild hair) In the paintings and photos of her, the hair reminds me of Monica at the L.Q.!) Before I describe the house, I must introduce the Poet.

Pablo Neruda is not only Chile´s Nobel Prize winning poet but also a political icon. His poetry is the soul of Chile and his own life played an important role in Chile´s recent history.
He was awarded a diplomatic post and his subsequent travels brought him international fame. Despite his leftist beliefs he had a flambouyant life and was friends with artist such as Pablo Piccasso and Diego Rivera whose paints hang in his houses. He was also friends with notable political figures including Salvadore Allende. Only a few days after Allende´s death in the bombing of the Presidential Palace on Sept 11, 1973, Neruda died of cancer and a broken heart. His will left everything to the Chilean people through the Neruda Foundation.

I was introduced to the beautiful poetry of Neruda by my friend Anibal. My favorite collection is Twenty Love Poem and a Song of Despair. And what a thrill to see the original publication of it in Neruda´s library collection!

Like all of the other houses own by Neruda (he had 3, one here in Santiago, one inValparaiso and the most extravagant on at Isla Negra down the coast) this house is built like a ship. Nerdua was obsessed by the sea and even wrote his poetry in blue and green ink, sea colours. There were some of his hand'written poems on display as well as his books. Neruda was also an obsessive collector of curios and odd items = everything from ash trays to figure heads of ships.
The house used to be crammed with these treasures until the military coup and it was ransacked by the military and partly burned (resorations have been made but many of his precious collections were gone.) What is left is an amazing assortment of curios and whimsical items which kept us entertained for the whole tour. The house has tiny rooms, so only a few people at a time are allowed in with a guide who explains everything in a most enjoyable and informative way, telling little anecdotes about the Poet who was a fun'loving and whimsical guy just as he was a serious political and literary figure. The Neruda Foundation maintains the house and has it´s headquarters here.

We are really looking forward to visiting the other two houses in Valparaiso and Isla Negra, possibly next weekend. So look for more about the Poet here. And be sure to pick up a book of is beautiful poems. You´ll understand how I have grown to love his work!

Footsore and weary we ended up back in Recoleta where Cecilia lives by early evening. She had cooked us a delicious Chilean meal and we enjoyed our amusing chats with her and grandma.
Then it was off to bed early to get some rest for our next day of adventures.

NEXT: EXPLORING THE BARRIOS

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

ADVENTURES IN CHILE: ¿HABLA ESPANOL?

MONDAY, NOV 20

First impressions: I´m grateful to have Patrick along as interpreter as you really do need to speak Spanish here. Somehow my small vocabulary has vanished and I´m doing my best to remember things I learned before but somehow, perhaps because so much here reminds me of Greece, that every time I open my mouth to speak Greek comes out. Oh well, keep trying and eventually I will increase my basic vocabulary to a little more than buenas dias and gracias.

This is a country of small, dark people and without a doubt me with my white blonde hair and the gentle giant Patrick stand out conspicuously wherever we got, but people are gracious and friendly and only once did I hear someone remark ¨gringo!"

We`ve mastered the metro in just one day. It´s slick, modern, clean and very efficient. Some of the stations have archaeological displays (like the metro in Athens), most play music and all are orderly and easy to board the swift, comfortable trains. We feel like experts already! Patrick is great to be with as he can translate when necessary, ask directions and this it´s a lot easier to get around.

Yesterday we set off in the morning with grandma. Cecilia´s mom is 86 yrs old, a tiny spry woman with a gold'toothed smile and boundless energy. Trouble is, she´s a bit forgetful, though she did ask us if we wanted to walk to Cecilia´s shop or take the bus. We opted to walk. She said it was a long way and it was but so interesting to stroll through the residential areas of town. They live in Recoleta, one of the many barrios of Santiago. Yes, it was a long walk, and it turned out Cecilia had left her the bus fare but she forgot. Oh well, fun anyway. Cecilia has a small cafe by the river where she sells fast food and snacks and does a brisk business with passers by. It´s right next to the old train station the Estacion Mapocho, which is now an exhibition hall and Santigao´s main cultural centre. The Rio Mapocho runs swiftly through the city, rapids and muddy water. We ate lunch at the cafe then set off to see the Presidential Palace.

Palacio de la Moneda (literally named "the coin"as it was once the mint) has been the government palace since 1846´s. It was designed by Italian architect Joaquien Toesca in the 18th centre. It was here, during the junta of 1973, that the army under General Pinochet, aided by the US and CIA staged a coup and bombed the palace. From here Salvadore Allende, the elected socialist president delivered is final speech as the bombs rained down and killed him.
"May you go forward in the knowlege that sooner than later, the great avenues will open once again along which free citizens will march in order to build a better society. Long live Chile! Long live the people! Long live the workers! These are my last words, and I am sure that this sacrifice will constitue a moral lesson that will punish cowardice, perfidy and treason.¨ As of today, Gen. Augusto Pinochet is still to be tried for his crimes against the Chilean people.

We were able to go inside the palace courtyards and look around. The president doesn´t live here now as in Allende´s time. And now they have a woman president, Michelle Bachalet, and there are hopes for a better and more progressive Chile which certainly seems evident to us observers.

After this little tour we took the metro over to the Plaza de Armes which is a central square surrounded by colonial architecture. A fountain dedicated to Simon Bolivar is in the centre of the square and a mounted figure of Pedro de Valdivia who founded Santiago in 1541 stands before the main cathedral. Tje Cathedral Metropolitana is aneoclassical church built by the same architect who designed La Moneda. The interior is lavishly decorated with carvings, stained glass and plenty of gold and silver. (These Catholic cathedrals always astound me filled with their priceless decor and relics in these countries where poverty abounds.)

Outside the cathedral they are erecting an emmense Christmas tree out of a frame made of steel wires. Workers climb up the frame to hang the plastic garlands that will make up the tree´s boughs and on top is a huge star.

We got oursleves back to Cecilia´s house with no problem. And spent the evening visiting and relaxing. We considered our first full day in Santiago quite a successful adventure.

NEXT: The browsing the market and house of the Poet

Friday, November 17, 2006

FLYING ON A WING AND A PRAYER: Chile Here I Come!

The journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step." Lao-Tzu 604-581 BC
The Way of Lao Tzu

Just a few hours left to departure. It's been storming here for days, everything flooded with the incessant rain. I'm hoping for a little bit of clearing before I set off tomorrow morning. I hear it's stormy in Toronto to. But at least, we'll be flying into the South American sunshine.

As usual, it's another of my "flying on a wing and a prayer" trip, never certain til the last moment how it will all come together (the money that is) but it always does. "Don't Sweat the Small Stuff" they say. And I guess that's my motto alright. Always a leap of faith, but never one I regret taking.

All the packing is done, everything is ready, the last minute details that almost get forgotten, like photo-copying important papers. I've had a busy week getting it all together, finishing up classes, visiting friends. And now I'm ready to go! I wonder if I'll spot any condors in the Andes?

Watch for the news reports along the way. This is going to be another unforgettable adventure!

"The soul of a journey is liberty, perfect liberty, to think, to feel, to do just as one pleases."
William Hazlett 1778-1830 "On Going A Journey".

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

A JOURNEY TO THE ANDES: More Trip Preparations

"Andes" a native word, meaning unknown.
The Andes Mountains are the longest and one of the highest mountain ranges in the world, stretching 7250 Km (4500 mi) from North to Sound along the West Coat of the South American continent, from the warm equator in the north to Cape Horn in Patagonia. The southernmost tip is not far from Antartica. The tallest peak is Mt. Aconcagua, a giant towering volcano 6,959 meters (22,831 ft) situatiedn near the Chilean/Argentine border. The Andes are rich in minerals: gold, silver, tin, copper, platinum, lead and zinc. The most famous bird is the Andean Condor. These immense birds that live along the Andean chain now face extinction.

I've been doing more research for our trip to Chile, and proposed visit to Mendoza, which is just across the border in Argentina. Mendoza is situated at the foot of the Andes Mountains and is the most imortant city in western Argentina. It's a popular tourist destination because of various interesting activities in the region. Because of the mild climate, it's the fruit and vegetable growing area, famous for its vineyards. Mendoza is a beautiful city with many historic traditions. (Anyone I 've spoken to who has been there have raved about the city so now, more than ever, I'm excited to visit there.)

Mendoza was founded in 1561 by Pedro del Castillo, who named the city after the governor of Chile, Don Garcia Hurtado de Mendoza but after only four years, just twelve Spaniards remained and the governor of Chile stepped in and offered compensation to the local natives who farmed the land and soon the Spanish population increased. Most of the residents were Huapes Indians and Incas and Puelches. The city was destroyed by an earthquake in 1861, then rebuilt and became a regional metropolis with imortant commercial, industrial, financial and cultural development. Currently the population is 130,000 (800,00 includig Gran Medoza.)

Besides the attraction of mountain hiking, horse-back riding, skiing, spas and other outdoor activities there are some interesting museums and things of cultural interest such as the many craft and artisan markets.

I'm most excited about visiting some of the wineries, most imortantly the Bodega La Rural wine museum. Mendoza wineries produce some of the countries best wines. The sunny days, termal dry, arid climate result in it being an oases for the highest quality of wine-making.

In the city there's also the Museo del Area Fundacional, which has relics from the city's beginnings.

I hope we get a chance to go up into the higher mountain areas. I remember seeing some photos of my friend Anibal's brothers up in the Andeas with the condors soaring around. That would be quite a thrill. The trip over to Argentina is also a sentimental journey in memory of my soul-brother Roberto Hallberg who was from Buenos Aries, and who, like Anibal, educated me about his country. He'd be pleased to know I am planning a visit there.