flew to Santiago, landing on a sunny afternoon, hopped the Buz Azul to the Santiago Metro, then the #1 line across town, ambling some blocks to the Sheraton. On my six previous visits I stayed at a smaller all-suites hotel in the Las Condes neighborhood, and this new hotel was less convenient (and charged wildly for Internet access, something that makes me cranky). I did a bit of work, changed into sneakers (note to travelers: do NOT take brand-new shoes, even comfy ones, on a trip), and started walking, east along the Mapocho River, past a nice sculpture garden, and past the ugliest embassy on the planet (ours, sadly), into “my old ‘hood,” Las Condes.
It’s largely offices, and thus is dead on weekends, so I hopped on Metro to the by-now-familiar Universidad Catolica station, crossed the street, and headed into the old neighborhood (barrio historico) called Santa Lucia. It was still warm at 5:30, and the sidewalk tables of the Patagonia Restobar (Alma del Sur, soul of the south) looked inviting. It was time for a beer, a stout from the Chilean microbrewer Kross in Curacaví. Nice! Not so nice: every person at the six other tables around me was smoking. Caramba!
After two days of friends, I was feeling lonely, something I’m sure my dad felt in his nearly 40 years of travel. But I remember when he’d get impatient with some of our attitude, he’d bark “Snap out of it!” So I did. Geography field work is about observation, so I started to look around. Santa Lucia had a nice feel, friendly, bohemian. That sense was paid off when a young
kid street musician rode up, parked his green bike, and started playing with drum and cymbal behind his back. He was looking for eye contact, for engagement, for tips. And he got them. Then his father showed up, looking like a pimp. I wanted to bark at him, but decided not to create a scene: Gringo assails unemployed father, or something like that. But the old man’s exploitation really pissed me off.
It was getting dark, and cooling off, so I moved inside, to a rustic room, lots of wood, and orderly clutter. It felt familiar, and then it struck me, as a set of ratios – Patagonia : Chile = Up North : Minnesota. I order another beer, and for dinner, pulpo y cordero: a plate of grilled octopus to start, then wonderful grilled lamb in a fruity sauce, with cheese polenta. It was really yummy. Back to the hotel, and early to bed.
Nine hours later, refreshed, and off to the hotel gym to ride the bike, breakfast, and the Metro to the suburban San Joaquin campus of Universidad Católica. This was my seventh visit, and although I knew my way around, I was still awaiting a room number for my 11:30 lecture, and managed to explain the problem in broken Spanish to one of the assistants in the business-school office. In 20 or 30 minutes I was on the phone with my morning host, Prof. Palacios, who informed me that the lecture started at ten. We airline people are nothing if not flexible, so ten it was, 90 minutes of show on airline sales and distribution strategy to about 60 undergraduates. I, enjoyed the applause, and peeled off, back to the city.
Worked my e-mail in an Internet café, where I had a nice Talking-to-Strangers (abbreviated T-t-S in these pages) moment with a Chilean woman, a philosopher, who had been living in Berlin since the mid-1970s (I did not ask, but guessed that she did not like the dictators who overthrew the elected president in September 1973). She said it was strange to be back in her homeland after so many years away. We talked a bit about my teaching trips. The encounter made me smile.
I zipped into the city center for an amble around the presidential palace and ministries and a supermarket lunch. Passing the stock exchange, I spotted a shoe-repair shop. Wowie, that was providential, because the bunions on both my feet and a pair of new Florsheims were engaged in a pitched battle, and the shoes were winning (remarkably, I had been wearing almost identical Florsheim Comfortech oxfords for the last three years, and they were almost like sneakers; go figure).
Anyway, I was able to explain the problem to the kindly lady behind the counter, and a young guy in the mezzanine above set to work. Meanwhile, the lady’s husband engages me in conversation, and we yak about family, showing each other pictures of our new granddaughters. I talked a little about my teaching trips to South America, and said something about all the changes in Chile since my first visit almost 40 years ago. That launched him into a long monologue about politics and economics, me picking up about every fifth word. Less than 30 minutes later the young guy brought down the shoes, I laced them up, and breathed a sigh of relief. About $1.60 was a small price to pay for relief!
At six, I delivered a lecture on airline frequent-flyer programs to 27 Universidad Católica MBA alumni, good questions from an engaged, older audience. At 8:15, I walked across the Alameda and back to the Patagonia Restobar, where I dined the night before. Had a plate of one of my favorite Chilean seafoods, congrio, which is Conger eel, a big animal. It was grilled, with a cream sauce, on a bed of toasted barley. Yum. Caught the Metro back to my hotel. It was a long day.
Up at 6:30, packed, and out the door. Fortunately, the rush-hour trains I caught to the bus terminal were not too crowded. The central bus station had been enlarged and was quite vast. Found the Tur-Bus counter and bought a round-trip to Viña del Mar, a resort city on the Pacific adjacent to the port of Valparaíso, a cool place that I visited in 2005. It was a clear day, with lots to see; as in Oregon two weeks earlier, there were two ridges to cross, and a nice roll through the Casablanca Valley, which is a major wine region. Arrived about 11:30, and just like the visit four years earlier, the first 10 minutes were not promising – bus stations are so often in dumpy parts of town. Then it got better, and by the time I got to the beach I thought Viña was a pretty cool place. Lots of cool buildings from the 19th- and early-20th centuries, plus ‘60s-modern high-rise apartments and more.
Snapped a picture of the Cap Ducal, a hotel built in 1936 over the water, and looking like a ship. Way cool.
Walked up Castle Hill, Cerro del Castillo, a funky neighborhood; here are some scenes:
Ambled along a busy highway, noticing a lot of leftist graffiti, like this one:
I hopped down some stairs, swirled my hand in the Pacific, and hopped on the Metro, riding one stop to Portales, right on the beach where Viña and Valpo run together. The Transport Geek could not resist a ride on another system!
Five seafood restaurants in a row (in fact they had common walls) on the beach at Portales meant that each one had a hawker in front, trying to steer the few winter tourists into their establishment. It was pretty funny. The plump woman in front of Doña Tatito, the first in the row, corralled me in. I took a table on the outside patio, with a nice view of the ocean, and full sun. It reminded me of Mo’s in Cannon Beach, Oregon, where we ate lunch a couple of weeks earlier, but the food in Chile was better – another plate of grilled congrio, plus some creamed spinach. The waiter brought hot rolls and a small dish of salsa, which I vacuumed up and asked for another. A pleasant repast, better than the supermarket sandwich the day before.
I was running out of time, so did not get the chance to hike up the hill to Santamaria University, which has a lovely campus; I settled for a snap of a few Gothic-looking buildings from the Metro, then headed back to Viña and the bus station. En route, I spotted something else that reminded me of Oregon – tsunami evacuation route signs along the main roads.
Chile is an orderly society, and on the bus back to Santiago I spotted something that made the Transport Geek (that’s me, often shortened to T-Geek in these pages) both smile and feel more secure: Tur-Bus (the company) had posted a crew-rest certificate on the door between the driver and the passengers, noting the driver’s name, date, and time he began work. We claim to be advanced in the U.S., but we don’t offer that kind of transparency.
Arrived in Santiago close to dusk, hopped the Bus Azul back to the airport. Spring was in the air, and so were kite flyers along the road, lots of them, with big spools of string. The sight made me smile. Flight is a good thing, no less those colorful kites than the Silver Bird that delivered me back to Texas, and the summer heat, in ten hours.