Talking about Chile, Part 3

Next stop, Pablo Neruda’s house:

Now Neruda, for those of you who don’t know of him (and I have to confess to only the vaguest knowledge before getting here) was a mid-twentieth century Chilean poet who won the nobel prize for literature. As Chile fancies itself as a land of poets and scholars, this is obviously quite a big source of national pride.

Neruda’s house, which he had built for his wife, is called La Chascona (Quechua for something like ‘wild hair’). Nestled, at the bottom of Cerro San Cristobal, it’s an intriguing complex of buildings full of all kinds of cultural artefacts and knik knaks that belonged to the great man (having read some of his poetry subsequent to visiting, I think I can call him that).

neruda's house
Part of the complex at La Chascona.

Pablo Neruda was a big supporter of the left-wing Popular Unity government that was overthrown by the Chilean armed forces in 1973 (told you we’d get to that, more coming up a bit further down) and died only a few days after the coup itself (some, maybe with a degree of poetic licence, say of a broken heart) and the house was partially trashed by supporters of the military regime. His widow and friends restored the place, and it is as much a testament to them as to him in that respect.

After taking leave of Pablo’s gaff, we wandered through the uber-trendy Bella Vista area, which I guess is a comparable sort of place to Lima’s own Barranco district-lots of bars and eateries for the young metropolitan to sit outside. And boy, were they-we wandered past bar after bar teaming with people sat outside taking a post work/study drink. We eventually settled on a bit of food from a cracking Italian restuarant, and I scored this anthology of writing on the coup from a great little radical bookshop next door to it-one of a couple of such bookshops I spotted round that way:

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A great 90 page anthology of stuff from Pablo Neruda, Salvador Allende, Fidel Castro, Joan and Victor Jara and others relating to the events leading up to, during and immediately after 11/9/73-a day of infamy in Chilean history.

As we made our way back across the river to Lastarria, the riverside parks were also thronging with people taking in the sunset and early evening air, a most mellow time indeed. I spent the evening reading the above anthology in its entirity, I already knew a bit about the coup, but it filled out a few gaps for me. Felt like good preparation for our scheduled mission to the Museum of Human Rights the following day.

The Museum itself was about a ten block walk from our hotel, en route we passed through the plaza de armas, but it was the site of some major redevelopment work, so sorry comrades no shots of that. There was also a fair bit of graffiti in the side streets from the riots over access to education a couple of years ago, we had our march on so didn’t get any pictures of this either, but it was a reminder that no matter how great the country is, all is not rosy in the garden-every nation has its problems to deal with.

We finally made it to the museum, after a couple of minutes of ‘do you think we’ve passed it without realising?’ setting in:

museum of human rights 1museum of human rights 2

The museum is well worth a visit-we were in there a good two or three hours, cameras are not allowed so you’ll have to take my word for it when I say that there is a huge amount of material in there devoted to what is still a contentious subject in Chilean society. Broadly speaking, there are those people who still maintain that the coup was a case of ‘you can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs’ and those who are still massively outraged about it, particularly the mass disappearances, executions, tortures etc. I could go really into depth about this, but it is probably best off for you to have a read for yourself, or watch this or this. To cut a long story short, after 17 years of military government, there was a transition back to democratic rule and an uneasy compromise between former foes that has lasted to this day, with most Chileans happy to put the past behind them and look to the future, although that’s sometimes easier said than done.

On a somewhat lighter note, after our tour of the museum we made our way to the nearest subway station on the edge of a neighbouring park to get back to our own ‘hood. This marked the occassion when I could boast that I have been on the tube system of four different cities in four different continents (the others being Montreal, Beijing and of course Blighty’s very own London underground). For the life of me, I don’t know why every decent-sized city doesn’t have one, they make such a difference to city traffic and are a cool way to get around, to boot. Lima has just announced they’re building one, I probably won’t be around to see the benefits, but it’s a definite step in the right direction.

We’d made plans to hit a jazz club one evening, but alas this was not to be. The rules of siesta taking should be that either side of about 7 and 9 p.m, you are perfectly within your rights to nod off-beforehand and you stand a chance of waking up and having a productive evening, any time afterwards and you can count it as getting an early night in. Fall asleep in the danger zone, however, and you’ve pretty much guaranteed waking up at an odd time late on and destroying your subsequent’s night’s sleep in the process. This is exactly what happened to us on the appointed evening after an exhausting day exploring the city. Consequently, I can’t really give you much info on the live music scene, but I should imagine it’s great like everything else culture-wise in the city.

On the subject of time, just a quick aside-Chile is actually two hours closer to U.K standard time than Peru, which means it’s only three hours at this time of year. Closer than you thought, eh?

A final honourable mention probably deserves to go to the quality of places to eat we came across. A bit like the U.K, Chile seems to have its own staple foods but take great pleasure in doing other people’s cuisines well, as well. A case in point was a belting French restuarant called Les Assassins near our hotel-if you’re ever in town look it up, French cooking and Chilean wine-a match made in heaven!

We caught the plane back at the end of the week, swearing to return and explore both the city and the country further in the future. As we took off on a bright and glorious Friday afternoon, looking out of the windows on one side of the plane one could see the Andes in their towering splendour, on the other side the shining blue of the Pacific and directly below the ordered sprawl of the city. A glorious sight indeed, and one I hope that we get to see again in the not too-distant-future.

Talkin’ about Chile, Part Two.

Right, where were we?  Oh yeah. In the previous post I gave a bit of background on the history and geography of Chile, as well as our reasons for heading there. This time I’ll try and summarise what makes Santiago such a great city to pay a visit to.

My recollection of exactly what order we did everything in is starting to get a little mixed up, so I’ll just go with describing things as they come to me. First up, here is a map of the area the area we were staying/operating in. Give it a click for a closer look:

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If you spotted Parque Forestal, the glass-walled frontage of our hotel was across the road from it and made for a most welcome sight every time you set foot on the street:

parque forestal

You may be thinking ‘yeah, it’s a shot of a park’, but 1) it was quite an expansive park, running alongside the rio and 2) we have some pretty decent parks in Lima (particularly around Surco where you seemingly walk around a corner on every second block to be confronted with a new one), but they are wrested from the desert, and kept alive only by copious daily waterings from the local authorities. When you happen upon a park on your holidays which is at least semi-naturally watered, it’s quite an event (or it is for me, I dig a bit of nature). It’s one of the things that makes a neighbourhood worth living in, no?

So, the local area. Lastarria, where we were is a pretty hip neck of the woods, full of interesting eateries, book and record shops etc. The whole place felt bang up-to-date and there was a high (and visible presence) of alternative/hipster people going about their business and living their lives, as well as your more everyday folk. A good, peaceful mix of characters with a high degree of what you might call ‘cultural capital’-a not inaccurate comparison with places I know from back home might be with Manchester’s northern quarter.

The Colmado sandwich bar, where we ate breakfast on what El reliably informs me was our second full day in the city, was a case in point. Located just off a courtyard in turn just off La Merced, we stumbled in there for breakfast where the whole staff seemed to be in the same late twenties/early thirties age bracket as us, all the blokes sported some sort of decent facial hair growth (I’d trimmed my own beard just before coming out-and felt like a bit of a sell-out) and the girls all had some kind of tied-up rockabilly do, everyone in black t-shirts and maybe a flat cap as they efficiently and unostentatiously went about making you a great, unpretentious yet carefully considered and presented breakfast whilst playing 80s British alternative music to themselves/their clientele. I opted for a butifarra sandwich (another great culinary creation which Chile and Peru appear to share, but seem to do quite different versions of) which was incredible, along with a brew (that’s a tea to non-Brits, not a beer). A recommended spot for anyone in need of a morning pick-me-up before hitting the sights.

Two decent vantage points in our temporary little corner of Santiago were/are Cerro (that’s Spanish for ‘hill’) Santa Lucia and San Cristobal. Santa Lucia was a couple of blocks from us, and we accordingly hit it more than once. It’s probably got to the point in the blog where I should show another picture or two, so here is a couple from there:

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The view from the top of Cerro Santa Lucia
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The quite beautful parks clinging to the hillside on the way to the top.

Now, if Lastarria is hip then the area directly across the river, Bella Vista is even more so. We spent a day wandering around, taking in what it had to offer. Our first port of call was the other cerro, San Cristobal, even bigger, and with its own Christ-the-Redeemer statue looking out from the city’s highest point. Every Latin American city seems to have one of these, a symbol of catholic supremacy over the new world the Spanish had conquered, and being on the highest point, it almost becomes obligatory to visit them.

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The views were worth writing home about, as well:

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We’d taken the funicular (sort of very vertical-tracked, open-sided train) to the summit, but decided to take the winding route downhill back to Bella Vista on foot. The place was extremely verdant and forested, with a real European vibe about it-you could almost have been outside the city itself. About halfway down we happened upon a cafe next to the zoo and decided to rest a while. Here’s a picture of Ellie, very much in her element, from that stop-off:

san cristobal 4

Once we finally reached the bottom of the hill, we went looking for the home of Pablo Neruda. In the interests of keeping this blog nice and readable, I’ve saved that for the third (and I promise final) instalment of this particular adventure!

Talkin’ about Chile, Part One.

First of all, let’s get one thing straight:

picture004And now I going to tell you why.

Recently, for our October holiday, we decided it was about time we made our first Latin American jaunt outside of Peru itself. In the 20 months or so I’d been living here up until that point, we’d made a pretty good fist of travelling around the country-from Lima to Tarapoto, Paracas, Huaraz, Nazca (and the Lines), Trujillo, Mancora, Iquitos and the (amazing) Amazon, Cuzco and of course the Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu-the usual host of names that are familiar to anyone who’s either spent a bit of time in Peru, or is planning to. There’s still (probably more than) a few spots to hit (Lake Titicaca, anyone?) in this adopted country of ours, but it was reaching the point where we were feeling sufficiently emboldened to tackle another, neighbouring country.

So why Chile? Here’s what I knew about the place beforehand:

1. Like everyone else, I knew it was an incredibly thin country, caught between the Andes and the sea (like Peru without the jungle, you might say) stretching over an immense area-from the glacial sub-antartic fjords of the south all the way up to the driest desert in the world, the Atacama, in the north. To borrow a quote from the late Gabriel Garcia Marquez, in an otherwise favourable description of the landscape: “The least apocalyptic of geologists think of Chile not as a country of the mainland but as a cornice of the Andes in a misty sea and believe that the whole of its national territory is condemned to disappear in some future cataclysm.” Crikey, we’d better get there and see it!

2. The country has had its ups and downs over the years, including a 17 year period of military dictatorship from 1973 to 1990, but these days is a thriving democratic nation (more about that presently).

3. It’s relationship with its northern neighbour Peru (and Bolivia) can be a bit strained-largely due to the War of the Pacific in the 1880s, but reflected in things like both sides of the border claiming that they were the ones who originated drinking pisco sours (don’t underestimate the strength of feeling on this one). The first taste I got of the rivalry, however, was when Peru defeated Chile in a World Cup qualifier last year. The number of people out on the streets here in Miraflores beeping their car horns until late into the night (not to mention the people going mental on the T.V cameras outside the stadium) attested to this fact. In other words, I’d been led to believe from some quarters that the Chileans were, if not the bad guys, then the not-so-good-guys.

I’d also heard that in actual fact, it was a pretty cool country as well. There was only one way to find out…

First impressions of Santiago.

I think for both El and me it really hit home that we were no longer in Peru when we got our night taxi from the airport in Santiago to the hotel we were booked into. Lima is a swirling desert metropolis of ten million people, a wrestling match between order and chaos which is no better reflected than on the roads of the Peruvian capital. Here, on the other hand, although it was late night and quiet, we were travelling quickly and quietly along spotless, near-deserted highways that resembled German autobahns or British motorways. We arrived at our hotel, a very modern place called Hotel Ismael 312, staffed with cool bilingual staff and stuffed full of decent books and magazines in both languages and both of us had a real sense of ‘this isn’t going to be crap’.

The following morning, we pulled back the curtains and took to our little balcony to be greeted with a view of streets that could almost have been New York:

street view ismael (left) street view ismael (right)

Feeling the inspiration from our new surroundings, we started to plan our week’s adventures. With almost a week in the city at our disposal, it was time to put Santiago to the test…

Welcome to notinmyusername

Welcome to my new blog, I’ve been meaning to get this under way for a while-I started a blog on tumblr about a year ago called ‘re-routed’ and never really did anything with it. This is the second draft, the resurrection if you will, of that blog. It will be about politics, literature, music, travel, day-to-day life and anything else that interests me.


My name is Luke Stephenson, I’m a 30 year old English teacher from Blackpool in the U.K and I currently live and work in Lima, Peru.