Santiago is best known as a capital city and a gateway for visitors to Chile and the South American west coast. At first glance, or more correctly at our first glance on an overcast day with no Andes in the distance, the city appeared as an urban jungle of tall, ugly skyscrapers. Luckily during our short stay we were able to find a few oases both high and low.Immediately upon arrival we lusted after Cerro Santa Lucia, a city park highlighted by lush landscaping and crowned by a soaring system of staircases, fountains and towers providing great views of the city from all angles. Even better panoramas can be seen from Cerro San Cristobal--we even got a glimpse of the Andes in the distance when the clouds parted. Like Christ the Redeemer in Rio, a statue of Mary looks over the city from atop this hill which can be reached by funicular, cable car, taxi, or foot. Always up for a nice stroll through the woods we opted to walk; the way up was a bit muddy but unfortunately the way down was a lot muddy. It basically was mud-slaloming with our new balance sneakers as our skis.
In the center of Santiago's downtown is the beautiful, open square of Plaza de Armas. On one edge is the National Cathedral, on another the National History Museum. We lucked out that our visit to the museum was on a Sunday, when entrance is free, and we were more than happy to pay the 50 cents to buy the English language visitors' guide rather than rely on Patrick's spanish to decipher the contents of the Museum. Though small, the exhibits were very helpful in orienting us to Chilean history. Like Argentina, the country's bicentennial celebration is coming up, and they seem a little more excited than their neighbor to the east. Chilean flags seem to be the most popular item sold on the street just ahead of TV remote controls and shoelaces.
As we make our way west to the eastern hemisphere we are sad to say goodbye to South America. There are things we certainly will miss--pastry dough filled with meat and football on the television at all times--and things that we will be able to live without, like showerheads in the middle of the bathroom and an inch of fat on every cut of meat. We will certainly have to adjust to a new form of intercity transport. In our three weeks in South America we took eight extended busrides, including three overnight buses, and found them a convenient and inexpensive way to traverse the continent. Katrina had images of sitting on old school buses for hours on end, but we were pleasantly surprised at how nice the buses were. Brazil's were particularly of very good quality. For the overnights, we had the choice of comfort and price level between semicama at the low end, cama, and supercama. The biggest difference is the size of the seats (think coach v. first class on a plane) and how far back the seats recline. We were lured into splurging for supercama on our 18-hour drive from Iguazu Falls to Buenos Aires with the promise of wifi and personal TVs in addition to the seat factor, but were very disappointed when the wifi didn't work and the personal TVs all showed the same movie with no sound--the apparent benefit being a closer view than the shared TVs of the semicama buses. After that, we kept with the cheapest option and slept a little less, but more soundly knowing we weren't being ripped off.
View more pictures of Santiago here.