Street Walk­ing In San­ti­ago

Let's Travel - - FRONT PAGE - Words and im­ages by Kelly Lynch

It’s my first morn­ing in San­ti­ago, Chile’s cul­tured cap­i­tal, and I’m be­gin­ning it in true South Amer­i­can style with a se­ri­ously strong black cof­fee. Once fu­elled with enough caf­feine to power-walk my way around the city I meet my hand­some guide, Leo, from San­ti­ago Adventures, for a walk­ing tour of the city cen­tre.

We start by tak­ing a long down­ward es­ca­la­tor to the un­der­ground where a train whisks us along to Con­sti­tu­tion Square. We’re just in time to join a crowd of on­look­ers fac­ing the stately en­trance of Pala­cio de la Moneda (The Palace of Coin) so named be­cause it was orig­i­nally the na­tional mint of­fice. In 1848 it was trans­formed into gov­ern­ment head­quar­ters and the pres­i­den­tial palace.

The pa­rade ground be­comes more spir­ited as a po­lice band trum­pets along to march­ing cara­bineros swing­ing arms and legs. With ab­so­lute pre­ci­sion shiny knee-high boots click and stomp si­mul­ta­ne­ously, swords are in­spected and salutes are smartly ex­e­cuted, leav­ing me in no doubt that this force means busi­ness. As palace guards ex­change places other of­fi­cers pa­rade on horse­back un­der a Chilean flag, its colours – blue, sym­bol­is­ing the sky – white, the

snow-cov­ered An­des and red, sig­ni­fy­ing blood spilled dur­ing in­de­pen­dence from Spain in 1810, mov­ing rest­lessly in the breeze.

We walk un­der the palace arch­way, past guards at their posts and into an in­te­rior square dec­o­rated with orange trees, mon­u­ments and his­toric canons. The in­te­rior plaza was once the roof over Pinochet’s pur­pose-built bunker, which to­day serves as a pub­lic un­der­ground car park.

The palace’s dark­est hour was on the 11th of Novem­ber 1973 when it was bombed by the mil­i­tary in a fi­nal ef­fort to re­move demo­crat­i­cally elected Pres­i­dent Al­lende from power so that ruth­lessly am­bi­tious Gen­eral Pinochet could take con­trol of the coun­try. Chile has slowly re­cov­ered from its years of dic­ta­tor­ship.

Nearby, un­der leafy trees in Plaza de Ar­mas, fam­i­lies sit on benches chat­ting and eat­ing ice cream. It was here that Span­ish Con­quis­ta­dor Pe­dro de Val­divia founded San­ti­ago in 1541. Plaza de Ar­mas has re­mained the city’s heart ever since.

In front of the Cathe­dral artists sit be­fore easels paint­ing and draw­ing car­i­ca­tures, shoe shin­ers briskly work a brush over shoes, while those at the end of them muse through pages of the daily pa­per, El Di­ario. A street en­ter­tainer, pos­ing as a miner, painted from top to bot­tom in gold stands like a statue, only swing­ing his pick­axe when coins are dropped into his tin. In­ter­mit­tently a roar of laugh­ter comes from a crowd en­cir­cling a co­me­dian as he pokes fun at passers-by.

On the plaza’s north­ern side fine ex­am­ples of or­nate colo­nial ar­chi­tec­ture line up…the Gov­ern­ment Palace built in 1715, now the cen­tral post of­fice, the Pala­cio de la Real Au­di­en­cia and Mu­nici­pl­i­dad de San­ti­ago.

Leo leads me down Paseo Rosas, one of the city’s old­est streets, now a pedes­trian mall cov­ered by a peaked glass ceil­ing. Here older women come to buy lace, but­tons and cot­ton while younger ones peer through glass cab­i­nets at wed­ding cake dec­o­ra­tions. Smil­ing plas­tic fig­urine

or­na­ments and frilly silky white bows with apri­cot cen­tres seem from another era. A group of women sit at a ta­ble work­ing on a large piece of fine em­broi­dery; they smile proudly when Leo takes an in­ter­est in their hand­i­work.

I turn a cor­ner into the cen­tral mar­ket and into the ob­vi­ous aroma of fish. An en­tire al­ley­way is de­voted to trays of freshly caught seafood, de­liv­ered from the nearby port of Val­paraiso. In stalls be­hind the dis­plays, men donned in white aprons and caps gut fish. Lo­cals with shop­ping bags locked in the crock of their arms scru­ti­nise pro­duce thor­oughly be­fore or­der­ing por­tions, never tak­ing their eyes off their pick as its weighed on old-fash­ioned metal scales, so an­ti­quated the dial con­stantly quiv­ers un­der pres­sure.

The cen­tral mar­ket was as­sem­bled in San­ti­ago af­ter its wrought iron roof­ing struc­ture was brought out from Eng­land in 1868, thus giv­ing it the ar­chi­tec­tural am­bi­ence of a rail­way sta­tion. Shafts of sun splay through its arched win­dows softly light­ing stalls of stacked veg­eta­bles ar­ranged in con­trast­ing colours; av­o­ca­dos, or­anges, toma­toes and lemons.

Din­ing ta­bles dec­o­rated with table­cloths cen­tred by plas­tic flow­ers are ar­ranged out­side the dif­fer­ent eater­ies and, al­though it’s too early for lunch, it doesn’t de­ter wait­ers from try­ing to usher and se­cure you at one of their ta­bles. Din­ing at the cen­tral mar­ket al­most al­ways guar­an­tees the ac­com­pa­ni­ment of a mu­si­cian strum­ming a gui­tar be­tween ta­bles.

We take a car, cross over Rio Mapocho and head to nearby Saint Christo­pher’s Hill. We are soon high above the city look­ing across to mag­nif­i­cent views of it and its sur­round­ing val­ley. Snow on the An­des can just be seen high above the haze while the city, of just over six mil­lion peo­ple, sprawls be­low be­tween large patches of green­ery like O’Hig­gins Park.

Saint Christo­pher’s Hill sits in the cen­tre of Par­que Metropoli­tano and en­ter­tains visi­tors not only with its views but also with its gar­dens, zoo, café and restau­rant. The hill is crowned with a white, 14-me­tre high statue of a young, pretty Vir­gin Mary, shim­mer­ing in the sun. A pre­dom­i­nately Catholic na­tion, Chileans make a pil­grim­age here ev­ery year on De­cem­ber 8, climb­ing the stairs to the Vir­gin and at­tend­ing mass in the open chapel be­hind her.

Leo in­sists I have not ex­pe­ri­enced San­ti­ago’s cul­ture un­til I try un café con leche (a café on legs). A what? He smiles wickedly and says this is what peo­ple of San­ti­ago in­dulge in so I should see for my­self.

Back in the cen­tre of town we walk into a shop with blacked out win­dows. In­side a smoky bar to­p­less women clad only in mini skirts and knee high boots serve drinks to busi­ness­men suck­ing on cig­a­rettes and chat­ting to other busi­ness­men. Only it is not an or­di­nary bar… be­hind its counter is a barista and the drink on or­der is cof­fee.

While I sip my cof­fee I re­flect that I’ve passed through San­ti­ago a few times and strolled its streets gaz­ing at its outer shell. But it is only by tak­ing a walk­ing tour with a lo­cal that I have felt its cul­ture and felt its heart beat.

Statue in Plaza de Ar­mas

Out­side Pala­cio de la Mon­dea, Palace of Coin, a mil­i­tary brass band sounds

Ev­ery De­cem­ber Chileans make a pil­grim­age to a statue of the Vir­gin Mary crown­ing Saint Christo­pher’s Hill.

View of San­ti­ago city from Saint Christo­pher’s Hill

An al­ley in the cen­tral mar­ket is ded­i­cated to fish mon­gers, gut­ting and sell­ing fresh fish

Women do­ing handy work in Paseo Rosas, one of the city’s old­est streets where lace and but­tons are sold

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