On days when it's clear, nothing beats the view of Santiago than at Cerro San Cristobal. This hill, jutting above the northern part of the city, gives the impression that one is within the vicinity of the Andes. Up on this hill is Parque Metropolitano, Santiago's immense green lung and a very popular park among locals. To get here from el centro, I took the subway and stopped at the Baquedano station from where I walked the length of Calle Pio Nono all the way to Plaza Caupolican. An elderly local, seeing that I had my DSLR in full view as I took random shots, called my attention in Spanish and pointed at my camera. I couldn't at first get what he was trying to say and all I could understand was the "de la mano" part. It turns out, he wants me to "wrap my neck strap around my hand" as a foil against possible snatching. Muchas gracias old man, petty crimes do happen in Santiago, just like any major city everywhere.
|Bikers get a good work-out going up here|
|"What about me Papa?"|
|Lovers on a PDA moment|
At Plaza Caupolican, I took a queue with the locals and tourists lining up to buy tickets for the funicular ride. A roundtrip cost 1,750 pesos (or about $3.65) for an adult. It was already late in the afternoon but this being spring time in the southern hemisphere, the daylight is getting longer. A funicular tram, built sometime in 1925, hauled all of us up the steep incline of the hill, stopping momentarily midway for those visiting the Jardin Zoologico (which I was told is boring), until we reached the top. There are various viewpoints at the peak with a towering statue of Virgen de la Immaculada Concepcion watching above everyone else. Another ride on a cable car would have brought me further out into the other side of this sprawling park but I was already happy up where I was. Unfortunately, the afternoon wasn't clear enough to afford me a really great view of the Andes as a background to the city's skyline.
|A funicular brings visitors up & down the hill|
|Chileans chilling out|
|Cuanto es eso?|
After spending my time wandering at the park and helping others take photos of themselves (don't we all?), it was time to go down, back in the funicular and into Barrio Bellavista which sits just at the base of the hill. Bellavista is definitely Santiago's answer to Paris' Montmarte, a bohemian quarter full of art galleries, edgy restaurants and quaint boutiques. On one street, tables are set out as locals gobble up on parrilas and drink Escudo beer. Those already drunk spontaneously erupt into a loud chorus of off-key singing. Long-haired, bearded and grungy artists meanwhile, sell their stuff on the sidewalks to the amusement of curious tourists.
|The home of a poet|
|La Chascona's inner courtyard|
On one little corner of Bellavista, close to Plaza Caupolican, is La Chascona, once the home of Chile's Nobel Prize-winning poet Pablo Neruda. It is a house whose architecture grabs attention, a reflection on the quirky taste of a man who named the house in honor of his third wife Matilde. A visiting Chilean family, perhaps seeing that I was alone, motioned for me to go inside with them. There's an entrance fee to go inside the house, now a museum, but my stingy self told the Chileans (in broken Spanish) that I'm not going in but just taking a peek at the inner courtyard. I ended up visiting the gift shop and perused some of the numerous books about Neruda and of course, his poems. While Neruda is famous for his love poems and sonnets, this one caught my attention:
"... It is the hour of departure, the hard cold hour which the night fastens to all the timetables. The rustling belt of the sea girdles the shore. Cold stars heave up, black birds migrate. Deserted like the wharves at dawn. Only tremulous shadow twists in my hands. Oh farther than everything. Oh farther than everything. It is the hour of departure. Oh abandoned one!"- from "A Song of Despair"