Thursday, March 31, 2005

A visit to Neruda's La Chascona

A very lazy morning. The sky is overcast again. We were on the move by 0900, and the sun is still kind of low. Breakfast was an omelet with bacon slapped between two pieces of bread. We took the /link/ metro over to Universidad de Santiago from Universidad de Chile. For some reason, we thought we were already there, as we stopped reading after “Universidad.” It’s a hike, but quick by metro. We were able to communicate our intentions to the cashier and secure two tickets on the morning of the /link/blog 5 April to Mendoza. Two other English speakers, blondes with no Spanish skills, somehow got their tickets faster than us.
We've got a ticket to ride.
Back on the Metro after scouting out the bus terminal, we rode it to the end of the line. There are two ticket prices, based on the time of day, but we always seem to get the cheaper ones for $340 each. The ticket-taking gate machines are pretty standard but just look different enough to make you look foolish trying to put your ticket into a seam instead of the slot. We exited the metro at Escuela Militar, where a military academy dominates the area.

We walked for a few minutes to /link/ Parque Arauco, a Western style mall with major brands. We got there around 10:30 and I said “my goal is to be outside and done by 11:00/” Well, after about an hour of walking the mall trying to find electronics stores that sell digital cameras, I had two finalists. The exact model I had lost for, get this, $550,000 (nearly $1,000 USD, I paid maybe $250 for mine) or a 4 mega-pixel camera with no optical zoom. With neither choice giving me warm fuzzies, we hit on a third option: I wait to get the camera I want at home and we use Kacey’s for the rest of the trip. It’s fairly easy to buy more compact flash storage cards and I’d be able to use them again…unlike the cameras I would purchase here that are so far behind the technology curve back home yet still cutting edge here.

So we settled on that plan and got McDonald’s (It’s a mall, and we needed food right now!) for lunch. We walked back to the metro and rode it to Baquedano and hopped off, then walked up to /link/ Pablo Neruda’s third house for a tour. The dude was a little obsessed by ships and the ocean, so much so that he designed “La Chascona” to incorporate many naval details for his mistress’s house. She was a woman with wild hair, which is what the house’s name reflects. There was also a neat water feature where water flowed from a pool into a canal that ran behind some amphitheater seats and divided them into single seats for each level, angling into a series of parallel lines that fed a fountain-type tube. /link/? At Neruda’s, we also saw his Nobel Prize. But it was kinda weird being in his place without him being there, you know? I mean, he’s dead and the place looks roughly the same, or so we were told.

We straggled down the sleeping-dog lined streets, first to the zoo (which we decided to pass on), then came across the Parque Metropolitano, where we rode /link/ the funicular up to see our lady of the cellphone towers. The real name is Virgen de la Inmaculada Concepcion, but it’s surrounded by ugly lights, radio towers, and antennae. /pic/? Kacey got it in her head that we should walk around the park, which is some 1800 acres (goes without saying that that didn’t last too long). We rode the funicular down, listening to UB40’s Red Red Wine on the radio, then cut through the bohemian area of Bellavista by way of Pio Nono. We patted out stomachs to pretend we were full as an answer to the waiter’s solicitations from the restaurant doorways. But it was getting on in hunger time, so we each got an /link/ empanada from a street vendor. The pico de gallo was fantastic. We strolled down Merced from the bridge where we bought our breaded snaks, up to the Basilica de la Merced. It’s huge, it’s old (1735) and had a little museum that we stopped into for 15 minutes. Just a little farther down the road, we stopped into /yelp/ Café Caribe, the other café with legs place. The women weren’t quite the same caliber in their bright, tight, and short green dresses. I had the cappochina, Kacey had the café frio.


After our caffeine recharge, we again found ourselves in Plaza de Armas. It’s a very busy place and my feet were feeling a little hot and swollen, so we hunted down an open bench and sat there people-watching. About 5 minutes later, an elderly gentleman sat next to me and struck up a conversation. The usual “where are you from/going to; isn’t our country great/beautiful; don’t go to these areas at night” kind of stuff. He was a type-setter at Santiago’s major newspaper, but with technological changes in the process, he’s been relegated to human spell-checker/proofreader. He’s here waiting for his daughter and for the classical music concert warming up on our left. All the while, he’s telling us how the younger generations are more criminally inclined as we see them scoping us out, but keep on walking. He advised us that most areas are dangerous, as in possible weapons, at night; the most interesting of which was Bellavista. Apparently, at night “it is full of prostitutes…and homosexuals.” He seemed intent on emphasizing this in those exact words and a pause after “prostitutes” which he indicated could be as young as 12 years old. We chatted until around 7pm, at which time we bid el señor “Adios!”

We walked back to the hotel, decided on dinner, and arranged a taxi to the airport for $12,000. We’d paid $30,000 on the inbound trip and sat there in the cab wondering if someone just scammed us and left us there in the cab while they ran away with our money since there was such a price difference. We also reserved a room (the same room, actually), on 4 April for our transit /link/blog through Santiago to Mendoza. For dinner, we got on the metro and rode it to El Golf. The restaurant of choice was /yelp/ Happenings, serving Argentine and Chilean fare. Our waiter was very attentive, so much so that the manager came over to address us in English and tell us that the waiter was worried that we didn’t understand him. No problema, we said. The steak at this place was absolutely fantastic. The empanadas were also delicious, the wine was quite good, and the flan with caramel was just this side of amazing.

 We paid for our dinner and caught the last (or very close to it) metro train back at 10:20pm. I think we got back to the room around 11pm. Arriving at the restaurant when we did (8-8:15) worked out well because the place filled up around 9pm and we were able to linger and relax at the local pace, even if it was a little earlier than they do it. We stayed up until 1am packing and watching the Full Monty ending (with subtitles) and writing about 5 pages in my moleskine journal before getting so tired my body crashed.

Some of the items I think that I missed while writing:
- The funicular had a Sprite logo endorsement on the side of it like it dreamed of racing in NASCAR.
- There were even dogs lying around at the top of the hill, I’m not sure if they caught a ride or walked the road up there. We saw half a dozen runners on the incline, which was just steep enough but not too steep.
- The smog over the Andes really didn’t do much in the way of making it a scenic vista. The cold weather keeps the pollution trapped in the valley and only clears out for a few hours when it rains. Best time to see the Andes here is summer because everyone leaves town and pollution is lower/less pervasive.
-The river here now is very low, since all the mountain snows are in their non-melting phase, but the water is kinda grimy looking right now…but low all the same.
- The people in town look very European. The old man in the plaza said South America is typically 20% European and 80% local, except in Chile where the numbers are reversed. At Neruda’s, there is a painting of an old woman who had a moustache to signify she was of European descent (natives don’t have facial hair).
- It really didn’t help my trust in the locals when my camera got stolen, which has somewhat affected my take on Santiago. When we went to dinner, we went sans bags and I felt we blended a little better, but still not enough to blend in.
- I still haven’t gotten the conversion to dollars down yet, so my math is all over the place. Such a deal? Maybe.
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