Today, I took my first real opportunity to do some sightseeing. I really have been busy at work and now that I have a free weekend I am going to explore! So remember I got off a bus this morning at 7:30 am in Santiago after traveling from Valdivia last night. I was able to see the presidential square, La Moneda Palace, downtown before heading on the metro the rest of the way back to my hotel. There was a military coup d'état here in 1973 that I need to read about. The presidential square is like most governmental areas, empty on Saturdays... Well actually, the only people I did see were Chilean government guards and student protesters running around the block banging on pots and pans and yelling things in Spanish that I didn't understand. I think I was more impressed with the students than with the government officials. The students this week are protesting for free college education. In many Latin American countries college tuition is free and the students are demanding that in Chile. They have been on strike for five months and are this week protesting, which makes for an interesting time to be here.
When I got back to the hotel, I relaxed a bit. I had a nice breakfast in the lobby. Everyday they serve coffee, fresh squeezed orange juice, breads, meats, cheeses, patries, eggs, you name it. It is a really nice breakfast. I think I mentioned that before in a previous post. But it is good, so I have to mention it again. After breakfast, I signed up for a tour to the coastal town of Valparaiso (about an hour from Santiago) on Sunday. I am excited as I still haven't seen the Pacific Ocean from South America. I was close in Valdivia, but never left the hotel! So stay tuned for a summary of my day in Valparaiso tomorrow.
This afternoon I walked from the hotel to an area of Santiago I was in earlier in the week, Bella Vista. There were a lot of tourist type shops that I wanted to go in that we didn't have time to. So I went back. It was a nice time. I picked up a few souvenirs. To get there, I walked along the Rio Mapocho, a river that flows through Santiago. I felt very safe along the river. There are parks and green spaces and plenty of people running and riding their bikes. After my shopping trip at Bella Vista, I walked a short distance to the beautiful Parque Metropolitano on Santiago's San Cristobal Hill. This is a beautiful park in the heart of Santiago that rises high above the city. It is the site of an old fort, a beautiful church, and of a statue of the Virgin Mary that watches over the city.
On the way up to the park you have to climb, climb, climb to get the views. I first walked up to the Santiago Zoo, so I decided to go in. I saw monkeys, a pudú (so cute), lots of exotic birds, penguins, and elephants. I was on a bit of a mission to get to the top of the hill, so I didn't linger too long in the zoo, but enough time to take some pictures to share with you. To get out of the zoo, I took a railway cart (it takes you up to the top of the hill like a Gondola) to the top. I thought the railway cart was cool (I got some video on the way up), but then I wondered how the thing worked to pull so many people up such a steep incline, I wanted off as soon as I got on! Anyway, I made it alive and I am writing to tell you about it.
The top of the park was amazing. You get 360 degree views of the city. How I wished the Andes mountains would of been visible. Luckily, it did rain last night, so the air wasn't as polluted around the city as it had been during the week. I walked all around the top. I stood at the base of the Virgin Mary statue and walked in the Plaza Vasca church before I found my way walking back down this very big hill in the middle of a city. There are trails all over the park, but I tried to stick to the main pathways where I felt safer. I ended up walking down the road (you can drive to the top) and realized I wasn't the only one doing this. There were plenty of walking, biking, and driving companions on the way down. It was actually really busy. It was also sunny and nice and I got multiple views as I walked backed to the city. One one side of the hill is sriking scenery of downtown and I could tell on the other side, shantytown after shantytown line the hills up to the Andes. It made me think a lot about the American standard of living and how accustomed I am to it. Then I got distracted again as bicyclist after bicyclist zoomed by on their fancy bikes.
Here are a few more pictures of the day to enjoy!
Above. Even the street dogs have the right idea.
Above: A good breakfast. A great way to start the day!
Above. A pretty mosaic at Bella Vista.
Above. A degu pile. Picture taken at the Santiago Zoo.
Above. As seen from the road down San Cristobal Hill.
Above. One last view before getting back to level ground.