Day 113: Santiago On Two Wheels

Tues. 4th December 2012

Grafitti in BellavistaAs we enjoyed our Buenos Aires city cycle tour we have decided this is a very good way to explore new cities. We opted for the morning “locals and markets” tour from La Bicicleta Verde. The tour was four miles in three hours so cycling shorts were a bit over the top! [Editor’s note: does this mean you were wearing them wrong?] Santiago is not as cycle friendly as Buenos Aires as there are no cycle lanes and the drivers, pedestrians and dogs do not give way to cyclists. We had a wimpy sounding bell on our bike but I would have preferred the loud whistle I heard a local commuting cyclist use. Could the whistle take off in the UK I wonder?

We began by exploring north of the river which is known as the Bohemian side and the in place to go to have a fun time. The walls are covered in graffiti, which is accepted and not a crime. In fact there is a motion to make the area a heritage site. This is also a popular place for an evening out either eating or drinking around the roadPio Nono.We note this for coming back later.

First stop to admire Pablo's home

The town was originally built to the south of the river and immigrants moved into the less affluent area to the north, originally Palestinians settled here, but now it is full of Asians and their influence and designs can be seen in the roads full of cheap clothes shops, which are always busy with students looking for a bargain.

Along one of the side streets hidden away is a house built by the famous Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda,  which he built for his lover. The building has a nautical theme as this was one of his passions.

YummyFurther along the river is an enormous market selling fruit and vegetables to the whole city, cheaper and better quality than the supermarkets. We had a late second breakfast courtesy of La Bicicleta Verde of fresh orange juice and these snacks (cannot remember their name but they were tasty!).

We then fought our way with our bicycles through the pedestrians and across the busy streets to the south side. There is a complete contrast in buildings and feeling to the area with more shops, offices and  official buildings. The first stop was the fish market, a very ornate building, which also houses fish restaurants displaying their wares. For photos see yesterday’s blog as we retraced our steps for the next part of the tour.

Santiago cathedralThe main square was the next stop where the oldest building is the cathedral Mark 5! The first cathedral was burn down by the locals who did not approve of the Spanish, the next four were destroyed by earthquakes, a common occurrence. Even the current cathedral is missing the central statue as this fell in the last earthquake in 2010.

More fighting with traffic as we headed out of the centre back towards the cycle company’s office with one final stop in Parque Forestal, popular with dog owners to come and chat.  The trees are labelled for anyone wanting a nature lesson. We are soon back at the start and can understand why the cycle part of the tour was so short. Firstly there is quite enough to see around the centre of town and secondly it is not fun cycling through Santiago’s busy streets.

Santiago MetroFor the afternoon we opt for a mixture of the metro (armed with our Bip! cards from yesterday) and our own two feet. As the cycle tour had been quite light hearted and included little history we felt a museum was called for. The historical museum in the centre was tempting, but we had received good reviews of the Museum of Memory and Human Rights which focused on the countries troubles in 1978 to the 1080s. Although this was in our lifetime  it had little impact on us in our university time and early married life so thought it would be interesting to find out more. It was mainly in Spanish so we could get the gist of it but regretted not hunting out the English audio for a fuller picture.

Museum of Memory and Human RightsThe most poignant sections were the huge two storey wall covered in pictures of the people who were tortured or missing, which was best viewed from a memorial area on the second floor opposite, which was surrounded by many small glass tubes lit from underneath giving the effect of candles. A moving and effective combination.  Secondly in the foyer were small placards each detailing other countries in the world where wars and atrocities have occurred in the last thirty odd years. The section on torture methods used was also very disturbing.

Excitement in SantiagoAfterwards we walked in silence for a while heading for a shopping mall. Our way to the mall was blocked by Chilean soldiers who were using their water canon for some unknown reason. We stocked up ready for our Island hopping across the Pacific, which we understand will not be cheap. We even found sandals for me – and my feet do not smell!!

As this is our last night on mainland South America there was time for one last meal of steak and red wine. We found a restaurant to fit the bill back nearPio Nono as Anita our guide this morning had recommended. Goodbye South America, we have really enjoyed visiting what you have to offer, and already have a list of places to visit if/when we return!

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