A Travellerspoint blog

The Shady Side of Santiago

sunny 32 °C

The hazy, lazy days of summer are on the wane here in Chile and many stores are having end of season sales and 'Back-to-School” specials. But, with daytime highs still hitting the mid-thirties, it sure feels like August to us. The hibiscus, oleanders and bougainvillea are still in bloom and the Italian gelato parlours are doing a good trade. However, the Santiagans are used to the heat and have created one of the shadiest cities we have ever walked in...
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And walking in the shady streets of Santiago could not be easier. The centre of the city is almost entirely a traffic free zone filled with plane trees and palms. None of the economies of South America have been doing particularly well of late so a lot of commerce takes place unofficially on the street. Santiago is no exception and the shaded boulevards provide good cover for the traders...
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The traffic free areas are also a good place to listen to the many excellent musicians who perform in the city...
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With no traffic to contend with, the Santander bank has spread onto the street and into neighbouring stores where it operates a 'Work Cafe' where everyone is encouraged to just hang out, enjoy the coffee, and do whatever they need to do... it seems like a very good idea...
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Along with the many pedestrianized shopping streets, Santiago has a fast and inexpensive metro system that links all the major sites including the National Museum, the Presidential Palace, and the Plaza de Armas where it is difficult to see the buildings for the trees...
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This is the clock tower of the National Museum where, despite the excellent displays, there is absolutely no information in English...
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At the core of Santiago is the largest urban park in all of South America. The forested park rises steeply from the city centre and is surmounted by a statue of Christ...
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Climbing to the summit is easy thanks to a vertiginous funicular railway that is more than a century old. However, a brand new teleferico (cable car) then transports tourists across the top of the city. Unlike the telefericos of La Paz and Medellin, the Santiago cable cars are not part of the city's commuter network, but it is a great way to get an overview of the place for a few dollars...
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Santiago is a modern cosmopolitan city with French restaurants, upmarket shopping malls, elegant arcades and, of course, American junk food joints, (if you must). Although we have heard that there is considerable poverty in parts of the city and the countryside, judging by the prices in the restaurants and stores there are many Chileans who are seemingly doing very well – there are no four dollar lunches under these sunshades...
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We are now leaving Chile for southern Argentina and Tierra del Fuego. We will be leaving the summer heat behind us, but only for a week, as we go in search of the penguins of Patagonia. See you soon.

Posted by Hawkson 12:50 Archived in Chile Comments (4)

Valparaiso's Canvas

sunny 23 °C

As a youngster, James romanticized about life aboard the merchant sailing ships in the 1800s - before the age of steam and the Panama canal. It was a time when ports such as Valparaiso, Iquique and Guayquil were thronged by hundreds of four-masters plying between South America and the colonial powerhouses of Europe. The docks of Valparaiso are virtually abandoned today, but the city is as vibrant and fascinating as it has been since its re-birth following total destruction by the Spanish in 1866. The Spanish destroyed Valparaiso in revenge for the Chileans supporting the Peruvians in their fight for independence - but enough of the history; here's a snapshot of Valparaiso today...
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Valparaiso is one of the most colourful cities in the world, (for our friends at home – imagine Chemanius on LSD)...
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Almost every building in the upper part of the city has some form of adornment...
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The artwork makes great scenery for the many musicians and entertainers who work the streets..
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And everyone loves becoming a piece of the art...
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Art is everywhere in Valparaiso; on houses and buildings, on doorways and steps and, of course, for sale in almost every shop. Meet artist Alberto Lagos in his studio in Valparaiso...
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Alberto doesn't paint. He produces ancient-looking photographic prints by using a technique known as Gum Bichromate that was developed in the 1840s.
Valparaiso is a vertical city where hundreds of flights of steps and antique funicular railways crawl up and down the mountainsides. The buildings cling perilously to the steep slopes and sprawl into the many deep gorges that emanate from the harbour...
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Until last year Valparaiso was a major stopping-off place for cruise ships, but a strike by dockworkers backfired when half the cruise lines moved their operations to the port of San Antonio a hundred kilometres south. Valparaiso is still busy at present because it is the mid-summer holiday season in South America and it is the end of Carnaval.

We are staying in the old city of Valparaiso, but just around the bay is the modern resort of Vina del Mar. There are no colourful murals here: just a solid wall of concrete highrises and a seafront promenade jammed with touts toting touristy knick-knacks and knock-offs – not our scene...
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Now for last week's question. The cost of a 3 course lunch with salad bar and coffee in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, was exactly $4.52 Cdn each. Tom was almost correct and wins a $4.52 lunch in Canada, (a coffee and a biscuit if he's lucky). However, we are now in Chile and today's lunch of just a mixed salad and a drink cost $21.00 Cdn. each.
Our South Pacific days are coming to an end so here's one last look at the colourful scenes in Valparaiso before we head inland to Santiago and then south to Tierra del Fuego and the Great Southern Ocean...
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Posted by Hawkson 13:03 Archived in Chile Comments (8)

Surprising Santa Cruz de la Sierra

sunny 35 °C

After 2 weeks at altitudes above 12,000 feet with temperatures barely touching the mid-teens we have come back to earth with a bang in the tropical lowlands of Santa Cruz de la Sierra. We are still in Bolivia, but on an entirely different planet. Gone are the chaotic teeming streets of La Paz; gone too are the rotten roads and the dilapidated houses of Uyuni...
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Santa Cruz is the commercial centre of Bolivia and it is a thriving modern city surrounding an elegant colonial core of colonnaded boulevards...
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The people of Santa Cruz are as chic as their city and they would be at home in any southern European capital, but, just like many of their Latino cousins, drivers absolutely refuse to give way to pedestrians – asi es la vida!
In the late afternoon sunshine, when the temperature finally falls below 30, the public square in front of the majestic Basilica is filled with promenaders seeking shade under the palms while meeting friends and buying coffee, milk or cortadito from one of the smartly dressed official vendors...
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This is the Basilica at a quiet moment...
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One thing that sets Santa Cruz apart from similar cities in Spain are the prices. With daytime temperatures reaching the mid-thirties the folks in Santa Cruz tend to follow the Spanish custom of siesta and take a very long lunch break. So here is a question for you. How much did we pay for a three course lunch of soup and baguette, grilled chicken breast with rice and vegetables, all-you-can-eat salad bar, raspberry mousse and coffee? Anyone correctly answering within $1 will be treated to a Canadian meal of equal value. Good luck.

It's mid-summer here and the tropical plants in Santa Cruz's botanical gardens are putting on a show...
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We had hoped to see a sloth in the jungle area of the gardens but the best we could do was this very colourful tortoise...
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...and these enormous weaver bird nests...
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Now we are leaving Bolivia for the Chilean seaside and must say farewell to the llamas, alpacas, guanacas and vicunas of the Andean altiplano.. This is a vicuna - we think....
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We will forever carry with us unforgettable memories of the Uyuni salt flats. Many people visit the biggest salina in the world but the conditions are not always perfect. We were very fortunate to visit when the water level and the weather conspired to give us an amazing display. Here we are on the salina with the salt monument that marks the starting point of the South American Dakar Rally...
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Bye-Bye Bolivia. You are not always beautiful, though you have some very pretty parts, but you are certainly very interesting.

Posted by Hawkson 16:02 Archived in Bolivia Comments (5)

Amazing Uyuni

sunny 15 °C

We must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky, And all we ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by; And we watch our vessel's bow wave as it fans out towards the horizon and we follow it until it dissolves into the blue yonder...
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For hour after hour, as we scud serenely over the mirror-like waters, we marvel at the everchanging sky and its perfect reflection as the mirage of an island appears sandwiched between the clouds..,
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And then a bus speeds by at 25 knots and shatters our illusion...
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O.K., So we are obviosly not on a boat, but we are on the ocean. A hundred million years or more ago the biggest salt lake in the world was part of the Pacific. When the Andes were pushed high into the sky by the movement of the tectonic plates this great lake was marooned more than 12,000 feet above sea level. As the lake slowly evaporated the salinity level increased until a thick crust of salt formed on its surface. In the Southern Hemisphere's winter from April to September the lake is dry and the salt shimmers pure white, but now the summer rains lay on the surface and turn it into the most incredible reflecting pool...
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We have driven some 20 kilometres out onto the lake and as we picnic with our guide, Johnny from Bolivian Salt tours, we are sitting on a sheet of salt a few metres thick with a hundred metres of water beneath us. But we are not entirely alone. However, with more than 10,000 square kilometres of salt lake to choose from our neighbours are quite distant...
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All around us are scenes of such beauty that we simply cannot believe our luck. While we often revel in clear blue skies, here on the Uyuni salinas it is the constantly evolving clouds and their reflections that turns nature into works of art...
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The brine on the lake's surface is 70% saline and when we put in our hands and lift them into the air the water evaporates almost instantly leaving our fingers encrusted in salt. The salt bed that lies a few inches beneath the clear water is naturally laid like paving slabs...
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The Uyuni salina is the flattest place on earth. The bus that passed us as we picnicked was travelling nearly 250 kilometres to its next stop at the opposite end of the lake and during that 5 hour journey the salt surface would never vary by more than a metre. Since 2009 the Dakar Rally has crossed the salinas and here we are at the start point where the flags of participating nations are flown...
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The Dakar Rally start point is located next to a hotel built entirely of salt some 5 kilometres out onto the lake...
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The hotel was closed a few years ago due to it causing pollution, but there are hotels, museums and houses, built entirely of salt on the lakeshore. With an estimated 10 billion tons of accessible salt on offer it is obvious that the major industry here would be in its production. However, silver mining is a more lucrative enterprise and a century ago was a major industry. When the industry collapsed in the 1950s dozens of steam locomotives were abandoned in the desert and are slowly rusting into the sand...
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The Uyuni salina contains half of the world's known lithium deposits. This mineral is in very high demand for batteries but the Bolivian government refuses to allow foreign companies to exploit its resources and wants to develop it itself – judging by the state of much of what we have seen here we are not holding our breath. However, whatever happens to lithium mining, nothing will change the fact that the Uyuni salt flats are one of the wonders of the natural world.

Posted by Hawkson 05:44 Archived in Bolivia Comments (9)

Sugar and Salt – Sucre and Uyuni

semi-overcast 12 °C

After the frenetic chaos of La Paz we looked forward to the tranquility of the colonial city of Sucre. The city was founded by the Spaniards in 1538 and was built in the Andalusian style. Many of the elegant 16th Century buildings remain and have been well preserved...
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Like most Spanish colonial buildings our hotel had a beautiful inner courtyard and a fairly austere exterior abutting the street...
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The city's central square is particularly attractive with its gardens of palms and hibiscus trees and wide well-kept walkways ..
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Surrounding the square are the city's cathedral and many goverment offices...
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Sucre is obviously a very peaceful place – usually. But it is Carnaval time and the peace was shattered by numerous amateur bands as they marched around the city attempting to out blow the competition...
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Each band was accompanied by a motley group of supporters armed with water pistols who exchanged fire with the onlookers who lined the route. More serious opponents threw buckets of water from balconies onto the musicians in an attempt to drown the noise – great fun was had by all...
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Our time in the 'sweet' city of Sucre was curtailed due to weather conditions that delayed our arrival by almost a day and we wished we'd had more time. However, our next flight to visit the World's most extensive salt flat in Uyuni was on time – though the plane was worryingly small for flying across the Andes...
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The small town of Uyuni could be plausibly used as a set for a spaghetti western. The only thing missing from its wide dusty streets is a gringo on horseback. Uyuni's clock tower in the centre of town is sweet enough...
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But the rest of the place is as salty as the surrounding salinas. The town is a major stopping point for the many long-distance buses that ferry tourists from the Atacama Desert in Chile to La Paz. It's a haven for backpackers - offering cheap beds, cheap food and cheap booze. Dinner for two, including beer, for $14 (Cdn.).
The Uyuni salt flats are picturesque when the sun shines – will we be lucky tomorrow when we venture out for a tour? Time will tell.

Posted by Hawkson 16:15 Archived in Bolivia Comments (5)

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