Sunday, February 10, 2013

Impressions of Chile

Map picture

Unbelievable as it may sound, our travel to Santiago, Chile went smoothly. We even managed to clear security in Kansas City without the usual drama. We flew from home to Atlanta where we had a long layover by design. Then at 9:30pm, we took the red-eye to Santiago, the capital of Chile, arriving at 9am the following morning. Our room was ready and all was right with the world, well almost “right.” Soon after our arrival, I begin to experience allergy symptoms. At first they were mild, but as time passed, it became rather severe. Since I breathe at night with a machine which filters the air, I managed to survive the evening. But by late the next day, I finally realized that my increasingly severe reactions were occurring only when we were in our room. By the following morning, our air conditioning was clearly dripping water onto our carpet in multiple places, and the carpet had quickly become black with what appeared to be mold – something to which I am very allergic. Since leaving that room I am back to normal, and a little miffed at myself for taking so long to realize the problem.

We spent our first day basically resting up from our long travels, but did make it out of the hotel for an absolutely wonder Northern Italian dinner. The following day we were met by a guide and driver for a city tour which was very enjoyable for many reasons. First our guide was an elderly gentleman who really knew his trade and his city. Indeed in “real” life today he is a college professor who teaches tourism, and like all good teachers he was loaded with information on literally everything.

Our next pleasure was in the city itself; we had visited Santiago in 2000, and I had some pretty strong memories of that trip. At that time, the city was in the grips of massive demonstrations against some recently removed dictator against whom the citizens demanded he be tried. I recall the water cannons and the massive demonstrations. Parts of the city had to be avoided, but even being cautious we inevitably got caught in one huge march. I recall that while we were staying at a nice hotel with lots of security, however the city itself was not all that impressive, nor particularly safe. What the city did have, in those days, was an absolutely magnificent vista. I recall clear skies revealing the snowcapped Andes on one side, and the high mountain ranges heading towards the coast. Today sadly all that growth has enveloped the beautiful valley with thick smog so that the surrounding mountains are no longer visible.

On the other hand, Santiago is today a beautiful cosmopolitan city whose skyline is chuck full of high rise structures. They have a very modern roadway system, along with parks, fountains and an impressive atmosphere of modernity. It is obvious everywhere that prosperity has arrived. The unemployment rate is down to 6%, and the country’s strong economic policies have rewarded it with a low inflation rate. I vividly recall when we visited Santiago previously, that the long drive from the port in Valparaiso was made over poor roads, and that near the city itself, vast areas of land were covered with “tent cities” full of very, very poor people. Today those slums are gone and the road is now an ultramodern super highway. Things have indeed changed.

We boarded our vessel the Silver Cloud around noon, and after a pleasant lunch, spent the remainder of the day moving into our cabin. Overnight the ship cruised some 200 miles north along the coast to reach Coquimbo, Chile. There was not much to see there, but what we did see of the city looked interesting. Unfortunately, we chose the wrong excursions for our day’s adventure. After boarding our bus, we quickly left the town behind, and drove south along the Pan-American Highway for 1.5 hours to reach the area known as “Enchantment Valley.” Our stop in the Valley was kind of interesting in that for the first time I learned of an ancient culture known as the El Molle Culture. Little is known about these people, but they did inhabit this valley around 1900-1300 BC. Left behind are numerous petroglyphs and a unique artifact known as “Piedras Tacitas.” These are rounded holes that have been carefully and painstakingly carved into the hard granite. The purpose of these holes is in dispute, but most historians think the natives used them for grinding medicinal plants.

Our main purpose for selecting this particular excursion was because it offered a visit to one of Chile’s most boutique wineries, the Tabali Winery. Lisa had never visited a winery and was really looking forward to the experience. Boy did this tour disappoint! After arriving at the vineyard, we were guided past the fermenting vats, and oak barrels, and an actual wine pressing of the first harvest – to, now get this, a patio overlooking the valley. Once we were all together, we were directed to descend down two flights of very dark stairs and into an underground chamber that was dimly lit. Our guide then droned on and on and on about a wall painting that went almost around the circular area. I got bored and returned to the patio, joined by a number of other guests. Finally the group reassembled, and we were offered a white and then a red wine to sample, after which time was allotted for the store. But wait – what about a tour of the winery? Nope, not a single word on all the equipment around us, just a “stop at the store,” and don’t let the door hit you on the way out. Our drive back to the ship took almost two hours because of traffic on a Saturday, and we could only reflect on wasting six hours to see a few carved rocks!

Right now we are cruising still further North in absolutely beautiful weather towards Arica, Chile where we will dock tomorrow afternoon for six hours. So, I guess stay tuned and we will see what comes along. We hope everyone is well.


PS I have not yet posted any pictures. So far there is not much, and time has been a little short. I will let you know when pictures are up on the net.

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