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                                                                                                                                                            Chile     

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Scenes in Mercado in Santiago

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fresh seafood at the Ostras Azocar Restaurant
Calle General Bulnes 37

 

 

 

 

 

   Slopes near Hotel Puerta del Sol

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pablo Neruda's former home is now a public
museum and library.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cruces River: Perfect for white water rafting

 

 

 

Below: Markets in Valdivia

 

 

Amazingly an ox drawn cart along the Pan American
Highway.

In this region a hearty breakfast is a must.

Restaurant Angelmo Cocineria

 

 

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                    Rugged travels on South America's Volcanic Edge

Text by John Sherman Mills

Photography by Thomas I. Petersen

Awed by the view outside my window seat some 33,000 feet up, it seems
like the tip of the jet’s left wing is scraping the icy edges of one volcanic
peak after another.   Yet, directly below, an unmerciful Pacific surf assaults
the rocky seashore.   It's amazing that you're looking across the width of an
entire nation in this narrow stretch of land between the ocean’s edge and
the serrated ridge of mountains on the horizon.  It's truly unimaginable,
though, that this border to border vista could continue for another 2800 miles! 
But this is Chile, the enigmatic country that dangles down South America's
volcanic western edge.

The scenic dinner flight that has brought my fellow photojournalist Tom and I here glides
effortlessly into the Santiago’s Arturo Benitz Airport.  Within moments a sparkling taxi
whisks us to the front door of the Altamira Hotel adjacent to the Town Square.  Our travel due southward from the United States has left us without a trace of jet lag.  Unable to suppress our anticipation, we’re eager to take on this capital city’s infamous nightlife!   First stop: the Fausto Discoteque at 832 Santa Maria Street.  The action here is already in full swing.   The beat is unmistakably Latin.  The mix: the hottest dance tracks from megastars like Supersordo, Dracma, and Jorge Gonzales.  Riveting rhythms from 10,000 watts of
acoustic power engulf the pumped up crowd.  Fog machines, 3D lasers and spinning
holographs mesmerize the undulating sea of dancers. The night has only just begun.

 

It’s nearly noon when the amber sunlight beaming around my curtains awakes me
with the realization that a magnificent metropolis awaits outside to be explored. 
A recommended starting point is the Cerro San Cristobol, a dramatic peak rising over
1000 feet practically in the center of town.  The station for the antique funicular ride
is only footsteps away.  With a quick jerk the clunky open-air car commences its
steep, angular ascent.  As the valley floor shrinks below us, a breathtaking
panorama appears of Santiago and the majestic Andes surrounding it.

Here in a single glance you get an instant sense of the intelligent city planning
and ingenuous redevelopment that were responsible for shaping what is
considered the most elegant city in South America.   Grand boulevards striate
through both the historic and modern sections of town.   Lush parks, neatly
manicured plazas, national monuments and gushing fountains create an urban
landscape that rivals any European capitol with its beauty and grace.

Santiago is the key destination for nearly all visitors to Chile.   It’s a vibrant,
cosmopolitan city of over 4 million inhabitants.  There’s a feeling of openness
and tolerance here that’s unique in Latin America.  Indeed, unlike anywhere
else in Latin America, Chile's geographical isolation discouraged significant
immigration and settlement until long after navigators had established successful
trading routes around the southern tip of the continent.   Chile was spared the
unfortunate scenario that occurred elsewhere on this southern continent.

Finished with this bird’s eye orientation, we return to the funicular and meander
our way back to Santiago’s historic district.  Here stately buildings boasting
neo-classical architecture have been meticulously restored.  Its bustling streets
are filled with smartly dressed, upbeat people.  In the center of town most of the
streets have been designated as pedestrian walkways, excluding all vehicular
traffic during the daytime.   Within a few blocks of the Plaza de Armos are great
places for people watching, like the bustling Mercado Central, where nearly
everything under the sun is being sold, resold and sold again.  Not to be missed
is the fantastic aeronautical exposition and cultural center, housed now in what
once was the city’s opulent Estacion Mapocho, constructed in 1889 by Gustav Eiffel. 
If you like shopping for great handicraft souvenirs and authentic antiques, you’ll
find the Pueblito de los Artesanos to be a virtual treasure trove.


   
 

The border of historic Santiago blurs gracefully into “New Town,” where skyscrapers
of gleaming steel and glass distinguish themselves with bold, fresh and striking
designs. Many Chilean governmental centers are located here, not to mention
countless headquarters for major businesses and financial institutions.  Fashionable
gallerias and upscale boutiques have proliferated in this sensuous, big city environment.

We discover the Restaurant Capricho Espanol, a Mecca for local artists.  As we
turn the corner and head down to Purisima 65, an aromatic concoction of marjoram,
bay leaves, coriander, cumin and minced garlic is nearly intoxicating. The Capricho,
a lively place, with its handsome, exuberant staff, is well known for exquisite seafood,
prepared with a distinctive Spanish flair.  The menu, however, is extensive and its hard
to chose from a fare with such temptations as roast venison loin with mushroom sauce,
braised leg of wild boar with black beans and chilies and osso bucco with roasted garlic. 
Tom orders a local dish called “salmon and crab terrine with ginger sauce ceviche”
and I succumb to the “sea bass with almonds and pistachios in a garlic sauce.”  Both
of us are transcended to a state of gastronomical nirvana.

 

The rugged nearby slopes of the Andes are an irresistible attraction . 
Spectacular resorts are situated as close as ninety minutes outside Santiago’s
city limits.  Crowds from all around the world flock here. Rental equipment,
including snowboards, is reasonably inexpensive and readily available in
the alpine villages of La Parva and Farellones.  In Chile the ski season starts
in late June and continues through September. Fun!  Amazingly, some of
the chair lifts extend as high as 10,000 feet! At this elevation your downhill
view encompasses not only all of Santiago, but also the Pacific Ocean far in
the distance- not that you have that much chance to enjoy the view when skiing. 
On some of the world's most precipitous slopes it's possible to attain speeds of
over one hundred thirty miles an hour! 

The playful reputations of the coastal towns of Valparaiso and Vina del Mar
lure us away from the high country.   As a result of their immense
popularity, a modern freeway stretches westward from Santiago.  A pleasant
hour and a half drive zips you out here, passing through the pastoral Lontue
Valley.  (If you're into wine tasting, this region cradles countless award winning,
world-class wineries.)

Since 1527 Valparaiso has been a hardworking seaport.   If you like watching the
fascinating activities of a bustling harbor, this is the place to be.   You can get a
close-up view by risking a ride in one of the tipsy, four passenger "tour boats,”
whose scruffy operators solicit your patronage along the picturesque promenade
Muelle Prat.  Here too are innumerable artisan shops and top-notch seafood
restaurants.  The main business district is just two blocks in from the harbor. 
The architecture here and throughout the city reflects the strong German, English
and Italian influences of the European immigrants who were the true forefathers
of modern Chile.

Valparaiso is a town best seen on foot, but you can’t resist the temptation of jumping
onboard one of the funky cograil trains that slither up and down the steep hillsides. 
(And frankly, we're still a little sore from three days of skiing.) Once at the top you’re
overwhelmed by a postcard perfect view of this colorful, rickety town.  Brightly painted
houses hug tenuously to the hillside rising above the turquoise Pacific waters.  There
is little question why the Nobel Prize winning poet Paulo Neruda claimed this inspirational
setting for his city home.  His three-story villa "La Sebastiana" is now a biographical
museum.  Its homey, intimate coffeehouse makes a perfect hideaway to partake
in the local tradition of afternoon tea and cookies.

Just around a craggy bend from Valparaiso is the start of a seemingly endless
beach of gleaming white sand.   Along this pristine shoreline sprouted the city
of Vina del Mar.  The warm Pacific waters of this sheltered natural harbor make
it one of South America’s most desired summer destinations.   Elegant 20 story
condominiums, luxury hotels, outdoor bars and rustic concession stands line the
Avenida Peru just across from the beach.   From May to August young people flock
here by the thousands.   An upscale year round community thrives here, as well as
the prestigious Naval Academy.

Vina’s residents and fortunate visitors converge at either the Foxy Bar & Disco
(Independencia 2446) or Scandal (Yungay 2229).  These places rock into the
wee morning hours with a distinctive mix of Latin and International rhythms.  
For those seeking to try their luck, the luxurious Casino on the waterfront hosts
non-stop gaming.

Somewhere in the busy schedule demanded here one has to eke out time
to take in the unique Fonck Museum.   Nowhere else, except on Easter Island
itself, could you actually touch one of the mysterious Polynesian figures that
have confounded archeologists to this very day. Greeting you as you enter the
museum,  a giant granite monolith stands alone-his haunting eyes gazing
mournfully westward toward his Pacific home some 5200 miles away.  Once inside
you are immediately captivated by the most extensive collection of Easter
Island artifacts in the world!

Adventure driven, we've planned for some white-knuckle thrills and spills
to end our Chilean vacation in the deceptively tranquil countryside known
as the “Lake District.” Tom and I jump aboard a ninety-minute flight from
Santiago and arrive at the picturesque municipality of Temuca.  Temuca
is home to a mere 250,000 inhabitants, many of whom are direct descendants
of the native Araucania Indians.  Nearly all the buildings have a colonial style
and you get the sense that few things, other than an electric stoplight here and there,
have changed in the last hundred years.  The hub of activity is the Mercado, just
off the Plaza de Armos.  This permanent market is located in a contorted
conglomeration of articulating buildings that covers the area of one city block. 
You find everything here from typical fresh produce and meats to more intriguing
and intricate hand made items.  Gorgeous Indian pottery, sweaters, leather goods
and jewelry are abundant.  Despite the frenzied atmosphere, it’s a bargain
hunter’s paradise.  

Most people venture to Temuco as their starting point for activities in the nearby
Parque Nacional Conguillio-Los Paraguas.  The park's a natural wonderland, the
perfect setting for traditional outdoor activities like camping, boating and hiking. 
The conical image of Volcan Llaima looms as a mystical backdrop.

  

Just south of Temuca the Pan American highway leads you into the international
playground known as Chile’s Lake District.  Five major lakes comprise the aquatic
centerpiece for this hub of recreational activities. 

Every possible water sport beckons visitors: sailing, jet skiing, swimming, canoeing,
water skiing and most of all, white water river rafting.


Valdivia, known as the City of Rivers

The imposing volcanoes Osorno, Casablanca, Puntiagudo, Puyehue and Villarrica
dominate the countryside.  You can actually climb the Volcan Villarrica, South
America's most active volcano.  Tom and I accept its challenge and snake our
way through a patchwork of rolling farmlands to arrive at the hamlet of Pucon.

Soon we locate the office of the guides who will lead a group of fifteen up to
the summit.  First on this afternoon's agenda is the all-important orientation
and distribution of equipment.  We're measured and supplied with red and
black thermal jumpsuits. Then we're issued crampons, pick axes, hammers,
gas masks and an array of other intimidating equipment.  I start getting shaky
feet, but Tom tries to restore my confidence by demonstrating the strength of
the nylon lifeline that will clamp onto my suit.  "So it breaks... what a way to go,"
he says with his typical, mischievous grin.

Not getting too much sleep, we tank up with coffee and head for a van which chugs
up to the base of the mountain.    Step by step, we ascend.. Shortly after two in the
afternoon, we reach the summit!  I feel like I've climbed Mt. Everest.  My first mountain! 
(Don't remind me that we're only at 9,000 feet.)  We lie down and peer over the edge
into Villarrica's churning crater.  The viscous, molten interior bubbles and spews forth
plumes of sulfuric gases that dance irreverently in the piercing sunlight.  The ground
constantly grumbles as the deep geothermal energies strain unrelentingly.. The greatest
surprise in store for us is the two-hour slide down the backside of the mountain.  The only
 pain I experience now is from sidesplitting laughter!   We spend several more days in the
District and include one action-packed afternoon of river rafting.

Our holiday in Chile ends in the quiescent seaport, Puerto Montt.  The capitol of the
Lake District, Puerto Montt is the southern most city of significant size in Chile. 
All streets in Puerto Montt lead to the waterfront and Angelmo’s Wharf.  Despite
the stinging cold, a determined handful of vendors patiently waits dockside to start
a complicated bargaining process for acquiring each fisherman's catch.  Soon we
hear the whine of tiny engines.  Individual boats begin to appear, followed by clouds
of gulls hoping to snatch a tasty morsel discarded into the icy green waters. 

Tom and I scurry to an unobstructed outlook of the port in the restaurant
Angelmo Cocineria on the second story of a timbered building.  Feeling a little
chilly, we gravitate toward the warmth of a crackling, wood burning stove just inside. 
An observant waiter named Willy approaches us and begins an unsolicited, but
enlightening anecdote about how his country got its name.  The Spanish
conquistadors asked the Indians living in Peru, what could be found if they
ventured southward.  The Indians, thinking only of the snow covered Andes,
responded with their Araucania word meaning, "freezing cold."  And thus
"Chile" received its indelible label.

It's ironic to have such warm feelings for a land with such a frigid name. 
Memories from the sizzling disco scenes of Santiago to the steaming geysers
of the Lake District are fresh in our minds.   As dinner begins, we lift our glasses
of a Lontue Valley chardonnay with a toast to Chile and the travel adventure of
a lifetime.