Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Santiago in the Fall…

Government Palace, Santiago Chile (2)End of March, the beginning of Fall. A perfect time to visit Santiago, Chile.

Nestled up against the Andes mountains, this is a city (and a country) that has seen its share of challenge.

In a testament to our fast-paced interconnected world, I saw a big display of how the government was reconstructing parts of the country following last year’s 8.8 earthquake.

On the one hand, like you, I had heard about it. On the other, because of more recent events, I had kind of forgotten about it.

While linguistically similar to most of Latin America, there’s definitely a unique vibe to this country. Perhaps it has to do with the (relatively) unusual shape and its geographical position in the SW corner of the continent, physically separated by some really huge mountains.

Or, maybe it’s something else, but whatever it is, there’s a vibrancy here that is exciting. There’s a solid work ethic. There’s a real pride in the country, the people, and the importance of family values cannot be overstated.

And those values have led to an impressive series of deGovernment Palace, Santiago Chile (1)velopments that make you believe in the future of this country.

As usual, I had only a few hours, but I did the best to make the most of it.

The journey actually began at 3am when I arrived from Argentina. After paying the $140 “reciprocity” fee (a nice way to earn some hard cash), I was whisked in a taxi on an ultra-modern highway (built in 2005) to my hotel, the Radisson (see here why I loved it).

What was really neat about the road was that it had all high-speed tolls (you’ve seen some of these on parts of I-95 and other places), but it was cool and you heard a little “beep” in the car as you got charged.

I jumped on the Metro, which was super clean, very efficient, air-conditioned and which had murals on the walls in the stations which gave it a nice, artistic feel.

Travelling down to the center of the city, (Universidad de Chile was my stop), I walked on Avenida Bernardo O’ Higgins to get to the main Government Palace (which I believe is now home to the Interior Ministry.) That’s where I saw the HUGE flag, the horse guards, and, as luck would have it, a military brass band welcoming some dignitaries from Kuwait.

Going from there, I happened upon a large pedestrian mall, Avenida Humada, brimming with people, shops, and vendors. It was about 80 degrees (Fahrenheit) and people were out and about. Just fun to be a part of it.

All along, I would pull out the iPad, look for free wi-fi (sometimes more successful than others) and try to get a bit of history/wikipedia on the place where I was standing.

For example, I had seen the movie Machuca about the end of the Allende period, but I didn’t know/remember that he committed suicide…on September 11th, 1973 until I saw it today.

Anyway, by this point, I was hurting for a coffee, but I didn’t want to sit down for a long time, just something quick. I saw Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts, but that wasn’t what I had in mind.

Then I saw the “Café Haiti” sign. “Perfect,” I thought.

I walked in and basically discovered the “Hooters of Coffee.” The Haiti Cafe--the Hooters of Coffeewomen were not quite skimpily attired, but they had uniforms and it was pretty clear that, in order to work behind the counter, you had to be 1. really attractive 2. have a large chest 3. be young and 4. be willing to flirt with customers. For a moment, I seriously thought there was a brothel upstairs.

I didn’t want to be too obvious in asking them for a picture, but I did capture one.

What’s neat about Santiago is that the center of the city isn’t that large. It’s very walkable and hence, feels very livable and comfortable. Some cities, Sao Paolo and Buenos Aires, are just so big that you don’t think you can ever “get the true feel for it.”

From the shopping area, I walked through Plaza de Armas, built in the traditional Spanish style with a big church on one side to the Mercado Central (the central market) which was all about seafood..anview from Cerro San Cristobal, Santiago de Chileything you could imagine. The smell eventually got to me and it was time to go on.

The next and final stop was the obligatory ride up the funicular railway to the top of the Cerro San Cristobal, affording you the panoramic vista of the city. Apparently, there’s some sort of geological phenomenon that, because of the mountains has warm air on top of cold air which traps smog in the city. Still, I was pretty happy about it and enjoyed the exercise of walking a lot on the side of the montana.

All in all, 3 hours and I was back at the hotel, satisfied with my accomplishments of the day.

To top it all off, I had a Pisco Sour (the national drink of Chile) with my client later that evening.

Chile is very affordable and I would expect that there’s a lot more to see both in the city and the rest of the country (the beach is about an hour away), but for a “taste,” I felt like I could declare victory.

The more I travel, the more I realize that the technological innovations (cell phones, mass transit) are really creating a common culture. While we don’t all watch the same shows or visit the same websites, we can all relate to the feeling to wanting to be connected to others.

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