Santiago – putting the civil in civilisation

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Santiago, Chile

3-6 January 2013

Santiago Stock Exchange

Santiago Stock Exchange

The city is beautiful, bustling and beguiling. It is also the first place I felt like I could comfortably live. Many barrios, such as Providencia where I stayed, were tranquil and exuded order, and the streets were clean and lined with delicacies from all over the world. Make no mistake, Santiago is very much in the first world – and my mature perception of the city reflected that.

Santiago de Chile is the first city on this adventure so far that strangely felt like home. I arrived late on my first night. I asked about nearby options for snacks late on the Thursday night, and I was referred by the receptionist to a nearby petrol station, which looked just like home. When I got there, it had the usual assortment of packaged goods ready to be thrown into the microwave, just like home, but with a few regional variations. I opted for the microwaveable soft beef tacos, and just like microwaved service station food at home, it tasted awful.

The next day, I went for a walk through the city centre. The shops and offices felt like they would go on forever. After an erroneous mental currency conversion led me to accidentally purchase earphones priced at $280, I walked off the shame, taking advantage of the 9pm sunsets.

This amphitheatre atop the hill is probably the hottest wedding venue in town

This amphitheatre atop the hill is probably the hottest wedding venue in town

I made my first voluntary act of exercise on the trip so far – a walk up Cerro San Cristóbal, a roughly 300 metre high hill perched just to the north-east of the city, to visit the Virgin Mary perched atop. The view from the top was magnificent and really gave the sprawling city some perspective. A beautiful courtyard exists at the foot of the giant statue, and preparations were afoot for what would be a spectacular wedding with an unrivalled view.

Santiago is a place of law and order, and the Chilean police force, the militarised caribinieros, are one of the most uncorruptable police forces around, and unlike most countries in South America, a bribe is more likely to get you into a jail cell than out of a traffic infringement. Their presence is visible, but in a reminder to always have your wits about you, it was actually here that I witnessed my first real crime in South America.

While casually dining at a Japanese restaurant and observing the happenings on a street, a young man grabs a backpack, throws it over his shoulder, and makes his escape. He runs, very fast. The two lady victims make loud noises to draw attention to herself and run after the criminal. Two men turn around, quickly work out what is happening, and give chase quickly overtaking the slower women. It was a little bit Benny Hill-esque, but I never got to see the outcome.

Two men play chess in Plaza de Armas

Two men play chess in Plaza de Armas

But all this was temporarily set aside, when late in the evening while departing the Salvador metro station to complete the journey to my accommodation. I was greeted with the calming tranquillity of an illuminated water feature midway through it’s performance. I stayed and enjoyed the serenity for some minutes, as children, seniors and whole families alike marvelled at the impressive lighting display, transfixed by it’s wonder.

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