Needing to vacate our apartment for a few days, needing to ‘refresh’ our visas and wanting to visit neighbouring Chile we packed our bags and headed across the border for a few days. What a fab 10 days . . . welcoming and generous SERVAS hosts, varied and yummy foods, spectacular views on sunny days, and lots of things to do!
We arrived in the Capital a few hours later than planned (due to a hitch with the bus) but were pleased to find tasty empanadas at the station and easy access to the Metro. Fifteen stops across town and a 20 minute walk took us to Javier and Christina’s apartment where Mr Tall Dark and Handsome helped to change a lightbulb (no step ladder required – tall husbands are very useful!) and we had a delicious, healthy dinner. Most of the produce came from our host’s farm, about an hour away, and they suggested that we visit the farm the next evening after sightseeing in the city. Never one for big cities, I almost said ‘yes’ without checking with Warren . . . luckily he was up for a day in the city followed by a night at the farm too.
Javier gave us a lift to the city centre the next morning and we were soon exploring Plaza de Arma, the cathedral and the Pre-Columbian Museum. The intelligent folk amongst you will realise the museum contained artefacts pre-dating the arrival of Christopher Columbus . . . it took us a few minutes to realise this! Incredible clay works, textiles and stone carvings fill the recently renovated museum with items from North Peru to Southern Patagonia. Some of the textiles are over a thousand years old yet the colours and textures are in immaculate condition. Many objects were buried as part of the funeral rites of the past, so were preserved and rediscovered/ pilfered in pristine condition. (Mike – the museum also had great coffee and a delicious slice of tres leches cake to keep us going!)
Back out in to the sunshine we weaved through the lunchtime crowds to the central market, a hub of seafood stalls and restaurants. The market is an English building, apparently every tile and stansion was made in the UK, shipped across and assembled in Santiago beside the river. We couldn’t resist the seafood so had a scallop dish and a mixed seafood soup with tasty side dishes of ceviche – delicious!
Although another coffee stop would have been nice, the afternoon was running away with us and it was time to hit the art galleries. First the Comtemporary Art Museum, then along the adjoining walkway to the Fine Arts Museum. Many of the works in the former were beyond me, but they carried a strong message against the political regime here in the 70s and 80s. At the time a military dictatorship ruled and everyone towed the line or was exiled.
Having only spent one full day in the Capital our hosts then suggested we come back to Santiago at the end of our trip, to stay with them and explore some more. We had enjoyed our short visit, so agreed to return and spent a further two days hot-footing around.
On day two in the city we had a few false starts – we got up/out too late to join the city tour (10am in the city centre – rather ambitious these days!). Then we went to the station to buy our bus tickets back to Mendoza – an impossibility without passports, as they need to check visas dates to ensure the bus companies are not stung by huge charges when those with out of date visas cross the border (Mr Clayburn!!). Next we searched for a museum which seemed to have evaporated since the 2012 Lonely Planet was written – no sign of it, and nobody seemed to know what we were talking about. By this time we were ready for lunch, so stopped at the only restaurant around – we had a very tasty pizza, but it wasn’t the Japanese/Chinese fayre we had been looking forward to.
Finally we found the museum – Museo de la Memoria y Derechos Humanos. It’s dedicated to international human rights but has three floors dedicated to the Human Rights issues of the 70s and 80s in Chile. So thought provoking – it had me in tears on several occasions. Not all the displays were translated to English (and my Spanish isn’t good enough for poetry, political news articles or arrest warrants!) but what came across was the fine balance between the Socialist government at the beginning of the 70s and the military rule for the following 18 years.
In their speeches both Presidents were aiming to build a just system for a stronger Chile. The first was taking steps towards Communism (how much did the U.S. like that? Enough to support a military coup to restore order?). The latter wanted to bring Chile back to it’s constitution, allowing landowners and entrepreneurs to have their own property and businesses – but it became a regime of terror, disappearances and fragmented systems. In 1988 the first elections for twenty years took place and 2 years later a government selected by the people was back in power. Interestingly, the balance was 59% for the opposition (those wanting to remove the military rule) . . . despite the undemocratic, frightening regime, 41% of votes were in support of the military rule. And, even within the new government, Pinochet became the head of the Armed Forces.
Day three in the capital led us to Palacio de la Moneda, the Presidential Palace (where the 1973 coup saw the previous President – Allende – make his final public announcements before committing suicide), to the art galleries below (where we bought terracotta bowls to make pastel de choclo for our hosts) and then to the lovely park of Cerro Santa Lucia. This little hill is terraced and paved in a Victorian style and offers great views across the city – well worth a stomp to the top. Again our tummies were calling, but rather than settling for the nearest fast food outlet, we took advice and crossed the river to Bellavista and were overwhelmed by choice. We opted for a balcony view of the area and selected yummy lunches over a pisco sour (which did make our legs a bit wobbly for the afternoon).
Our final stop was La Chascona – the Santiago pad of the famous poet/politician Pablo Neruda. He loved the unusual, served as Foreign Ambassador to France for one government, lived in exile during the reign of another government and died shortly after the 1973 coup in which his homes were ransacked and damaged. His funeral was the first public show of disgust for the Military regime. Neruda’s poetry is an excellent play with words – I’m trying to find a translation online of La Sebastiana (his Valparaiso house) where he talks about building his home and how it came alive and developed a personality as different pieces were pulled in to place.
We’ve found it a little difficult to ‘get off the beaten track’ on a few occasions as we’re generally reliant on public transport. So, we couldn’t resist a trip to the farm when we were invited . . .initially for 1 night, then for an entire weekend with the extended family.
The village of Curicavì is about an hour from Santiago and Javier comes here every weekend for a break from smog and work. Not for a restful life though! Over the 20 years that he has owned the plot he has taken carpentry courses and built everything that is there today; the house and stone walls, workers cottage, swimming pool, tree house and quincho. The trees and citrus groves are all hand-planted and irrigated, and there are amazing, tall cactus on a neighbouring hillside.
When their family was young they had motorbikes to bomb around the hillside – now those sons are bringing their children back for invaluable family weekends and holidays. Everyone mucks in with the cooking (I made lemon curd with lemons straight from the tree) and everyone moves over so there’s space for all the grandchildren to sleep.
We were lucky to visit on a big birthday weekend – Lolo, the farm-hand and his daughter were turning 50 and 26 years old and we joined their family in a winter asado. The fire and red wine kept us warm on the chilly evening (it felt much like an English summer barbecue!) and Warren’s ukelele encouraged us all to sing a good Beatles classic ‘Let it be‘!
Being a very narrow country, you’re never too far from the coast in Chile. So seafood and an ocean views were next on our list, down in Valparaiso. We stayed with architects turned SERVAS hosts, Michael and Paz, with their children in a sculpted crazy house on the hillside. Five levels and interlocking rooms meant you never knew who was home, or where they were in the house, but gave excellent views across the bay and an amazing light from sunrise to sunset each day.
While staying with the family we were introduced to some German culture (a piano and string concert at the German Club), Peruvian smoked potatoes (delicious, Peru is featuring on the list of countries to visit!), and learnt a little about business and politics of the country. A great insight. We also had time to explore the city (hilly walks, amazing graffiti art on a grand scale, recently refurbished local Natural History Museum, ascensor rides for great views across the bay and too many coffee shops to choose from!) and for Warren to have his first birthday present – a cookery course.
My Master Chef now knows the secrets of; empanadas, pastel de choclo, pisco sour, ceviche, pebre and leche asado. I joined the class for their shopping trip to the local market – Chile has a range of fruits and spices that we haven’t discovered in Argentina; tuna, paraíso, pepino and merkén (smoked chilli powder).
Viña del Mar
Along the coast from Valpo are a number of seaside towns where city folk have their summer houses and apartments. Viña is the nearest and biggest of these towns, where we stayed with Aneris and Walter – Argentinos living abroad and therefore fun to chat to about the diferencies between their neighbouring countries. They both work in Higher Education, and as Chilean University students were on strike, it was a great opportunity to talk politics and Education systems.
Staying in a 15th Floor apartment offered great views of the ocean sunset and we were reassured that the block had survived several earthquakes, so we were perfectly safe! Our touristy highlight was the Fonck Museum – named after an anthropologist and collector, the museum is a great collection of Pre-Columbian artefacts and a Natural History display, but the highlight is a collection of Easter Island relics.
Easter Island belongs to Chile but the people are of Polynesian descent. The island has a unique flora, fauna and culture – the most iconic of which are the Moai statues. They represent ancestors who then become protectors of their families and village. The biggest line of Moai still overlooks the main town on Easter Island, Hanga Roa, and each one is different as they were commissioned by each family to represent a a particular relative. There are a few Moai in other parts of the world including the Fonck Museum and the British Museum – so we’ve seen one, and so could you!
Japan also had a Moa but it was destroyed in a tsunami a few years ago. Despite the set back, the locals wanted a replacement ‘protector’ and requested one from the islanders. This was the start of a new project as export of the Moas is now prohibited. The islanders created a new Moa and crafted it using traditional techniques to send to Japan. Everyone was happy!
We have put Easter Island on our list of places to visit, but everywhere we go . . . the list gets longer (surely it should be getting shorter!).
When you travel, do you ever have a chance meeting with a local and learn something unexpected? With SERVAS you don’t have to wait for that chance meeting – there are hundreds of lovely folk around the world just waiting to meet you and share a little of their country (and their life, and often their dinner) with you!
There are lots of reasons to join the organisation; Argentinos often join to have a feeling of travel even though leaving their own country is quite difficult, we became hosts to reciprocate all the folk who had shown us kindness on our previous travels and during our current trip Hosts have been our family and friends away from home.
If you’d like to learn more about SERVAS have a peek at these websites;
Our trip inspired Warren’s paintings below . . .
If you’d like to visit Chile, we thoroughly recommend it!