05 October 2008 – day 3 - Sunday – Santiago, Chile

It's been a busy day, but I guess I can always say that.

We woke up before our alarm clock, and after we got moving, we decided to rearrange our luggage so that it made more logical sense. I had told Kathy that it took me fifteen minutes to find my pajamas last night before bed.

We breakfasted and met our guide, Patricia in the hotel lobby at 9:00am.

We walked to the subway where she bought tickets for all of us, then down we went.

The train came fairly quickly and we shuffled on board. After several stops, we got to our destination, which was the University of Chile exit. The subway stop walls were painted with elaborate artwork.

From there we took a walking tour. We saw several cool old buildings, fountains and such.

We also walked through some vendors who had set up shops in the streets.

Patricia showed us a street where there was a “good old boys” club. This was leftover from back in the days when only men could become members of this exclusive club, and many government decisions were made in that place. Eventually women were allowed to join the club, but I guess Chile is still a very chauvinistic country. The men still don't do housework and such, and it's a long hard road trying to bring them into the modern world.

Oddly enough, the president of Chile is a woman, and she is still well-liked for the most part. Patricia said she is a rather large woman, and she thought that people felt protected by her because she was motherly. If she was thin and pretty, people would never have voted for her, nor had that feeling of confidence.

Contrast that now to the United States. We now have a woman, Sarah Palin, running for the office of Vice President, for only the second time in history. And people like her because she is thin, pretty, and tough-talking. Not motherly at all (although she has several children).

We were also told that the people of Chile feel very protected from the outside world. They are an island within a continent. To the north is the huge desert, the driest and most barren in the world. To the East are the Andes mountains that are too high and foreboding for any kind of assault. To the south is nothing but ocean and Antarctica. And to the west, obviously, is the ocean. So there are few outside threats to their way of life, and they feel secure.

On the tour, we saw the Presidential Palace and the former houses of Parliament.

We got a lecture about the former dictator, Pinochet, who abolished the Parliament. We were told that eventually, the people were allowed to vote and voted to get the democracy back, so the parliament was reestablished, but in a completely different city.

A dog noticed us and started following us in a strange way. He was not begging or causing a problem. He just decided to walk with us. He followed us around for a very long time, occasionally stopping to mark his territory. It was very odd.

Next, we visited a small shop where we got what Patricia called “Leggy Coffee” and Nelson called “Coffee with Legs”. Patricia told us that she would not explain, but we would have to find out what this means by ourselves. So we went inside a little coffee shop where the coffee is served by beautiful women who wear extremely short shirts that fit tightly and show off every curve. Most of what you saw was beautiful, long slender legs. It was great. I think that God is quite a craftsman because I saw some finely crafted women!

After the coffee, we continued walking. The same dog was waiting outside the shop and continued to follow us around. Eventually it found a warm place in the sun and decided to lie there and take a nap. It was really weird.

Pedestrians walked around, shopping. We encountered a street performer who was dressed up as a statue of a miner from the copper mines.

We also saw a cathedral that was very big and very beautiful, both inside and out.

Outside was a beautiful park with huge old palm trees.

Some of them were over one hundred years old. We were told that they are filled with a sweet liquid like a sugar maple tree's syrup. Unfortunately, the only way to harvest the syrup ends up killing the tree. So the trees are not protected and the syrup is collected carefully, under government control. We were also told that this was the southernmost place that you can see palm trees. It gets cold in the winter here, and these palm trees can withstand having snow sitting on their leaves, unlike most of the palm trees I've seen in the world.

We got on a tour bus that took us to a particular area of town. We walked through the fish market, but very quickly because we were told there were pickpockets around.

We stopped at a seafood restaurant that was just outside the market and had a wonderful lunch made of different kinds of seafood.

After lunch, we went to a famous shop called “Faba” where they sold gifts made of lapis lazuli. They had some beautiful things, but they were extremely expensive.

They had a necklace that was so beautiful I had to take a photo. Kathy does some lapidary work, so maybe she can make one like it.

After the shop, the bus dropped us off at the hotel and we were given free time for the rest of the day.

After freshening up and drinking a Coca Cola Lite (diet coke), Kathy and I headed back out into downtown Santiago. Kathy wanted to go down to the Bohemian area of town where there was a bunch of crafts and such, but one of our guides, Nelson, told us to avoid that place at all costs, but only just today (Sunday). The reason was, there was a huge soccer (“football” for the rest of the world) match today and regardless of who won, there would be a lot of revelry, drinking, partying and also lots of crime and pickpockets. He said that he wouldn't dare go there today, even as a native.

Kathy was unhappy. She wanted to go there badly. But instead, we got on the subway again and headed back downtown. I wanted to see more of that area. So off we went, back to the same subway stop. We retraced our steps from earlier this morning and went back to the square we had seen earlier, with the strange palm trees and the church.

This time, the streets were crowded with thousands of people. They were everywhere, just taking leisurely strolls down the street, shopping at the vendors, and watching the dozens and dozens of street performers. It was quite entertaining. One group of street performers were doing Spanish dancing in traditional clothes.

Another was a man who pretended to be a very ugly and demonstrative woman. He was very funny to watch.

Nearby, in a covered area of the square, several men sat and played chess; most of them speed-chess. I was tempted to play, but I decided not to.

We walked around and visited another church we were told about by Patricia on our walking trip. The church has a statue of Jesus Christ, but there was a crown of thorns around his neck, worn like a necklace. The story goes that the priests tried several times to move the crown and place it on Jesus' head, but every time they did, there was some major earthquake, flood or fire. After several attempts, the priests decided to leave the crown where it was, rather than upset God!

We took lots of photos.

Soon it became too dark to talk any more photos, so we put our cameras into the camera bag and began walking in the very long park that follows the river. Inside the park, there were hundreds and hundreds of people again. Many were selling things, like homemade jewelry and such. Again, there were lots of street performers, such as jugglers and people who climbed up scarves and did acrobatics up in the air.

After a few blocks, we started getting close to the area that Nelson told us to avoid, so reluctantly, we walked to the nearest subway station and headed back toward the hotel.

Nelson, by the way, told us that he was named after his father, who was named after his father, who was named after the famous Admiral Nelson.

We ate a very nice meal at a restaurant a few blocks away from the hotel. There was another stray dog there who would occasionally bark for no apparent reason. He was cute though, and we fed him some table scraps.

After that, we walked back to the hotel and, voila, here we are.

Tomorrow we're going on an optional tour to a coastal city. It sounds like fun.