Santiago, Chile


            Chile is a country with a fascinating geography, as well as an interesting history.   The country is about 2,600 miles long and its width varies from a distance of 260 miles to only 54 miles at the narrowest point.  So, Chile is a very long and a very narrow country.   Some time ago, Chile abandoned its railroad as the population is very concentrated and it was not able to support a broad based system of railways.   There are some trains to the south…but only to Puerto Montt …after that there are not even good roads to drive further south in Chile.   The have to either use Argentinean roads or take a coastal ferry to travel to Punta Arenas and other smaller towns to the south.

             The weather in Chile is also very different especially as one travels from the north to Tierra del Fuigo in the south.   The north has deserts where rain has not fallen in over five thousand years, whereas in the south there are glacial formations that date back millions of years.  

Chile has a population of fifteen million people, with about six million of those people living in the capital, Santiago.   There is approximately six hundred thousand people living in the Valparaiso and Vina del Mar metropolitan area, which is the large port city that handles most of the country’s shipping needs.  The other big city is Concepcion, and along with Puerto Montt and Punta Arenas they represent the major population areas. 

Long before that time however, the Incas came down from Peru in the 1400s and they settled in Chile.  The Spanish then arrived and settled in Chile during the 1500s, thereby ending the dominance of the Incas in this region.  As they did in much of South America, the Spanish came in the 1850s for gold and silver; they created settlements and established a lasting identity.   There is also a history of German immigration to Chile during the 1850s as a result of terrible economic conditions in Germany during that period. 

But with the arrival of the Germans, the fabric of the country changed…the Germans continue to this day to retain the nature of their own culture and still support private schools for their children.  Their identity was retained for these many years, and even now there is only modest intermarriage with Chileans of other backgrounds.   The German communities are primarily located in Fruitillar and in Puerto Varas...the lake region that is close to Puerto Montt. 


The Virgin Mary on San Christobal Hill

The Main Square in Santiago


            Santiago is located in the center of Chile, where the weather is more moderate and is perfect for the growing of wine producing grapes.   Seedlings of grape plants were originally brought to Chile from France and survived to create impressive wines that are now enjoyed all over the world.  On the trip from Valparaiso to Santiago, we traveled through the valley of Casablanca where many of the wineries and vineyards are located today.  

            As you enter Santiago from the west...from Valparaiso, you can see that the city is surrounded by mountains, but none larger than the snow capped peaks of the Andes that frame the eastern portion of the city.   Possibly because of the surrounding mountains and the huge numbers of vehicles in the city, pollution is very bad and traffic remains a major concern especially during the evening hours.  

Another unusual facet of Santiago is that there are maybe 7,000 buses roaming the streets.   At any time you can see twenty or more adjacent to the next.  There are approximately 3,000 private owners of these buses...with many of the drivers owning their own the competition is severe. Individuals are stationed at certain bus stops and instructed to track the competition and report to a particular bus driver how fast he must go to reach the bus ahead of him.  The current situation is quite chaotic, but is supposed to change next year when the bus system is purchased and/or controlled by the state.

            As to the weather, I had anticipated extremely hot weather in Santiago and was pleased to find that humidity is very low and the temperatures in the shade being very easy to tolerate.   And even though temperatures ranged up to ninety degrees Fahrenheit during the day, the evenings were cool.

            The restaurants where we had lunch and dinner were recommendations by the hotel, the guides and/or the travel publications that we pursued for good ideas.   We concentrated on Chilean seafood restaurants and we were amply rewarded....they were exceptional, with one Peruvian steak house tossed into the mix for variety.   All met and exceeded our expectations...even tried the Chilean drink....a Pisco sour. 

            As it is throughout the continent, seventy percent of the Chilean population is Catholic, with the remaining numbers representing many other religions.   There does not appear to be a religious bias within the country and I do not believe that the government imposes any religious partiality on the general public. 

            Politically, Chile has been plagued with serious instability over the years.   With leaders like Allende and Pinochet, many parts of the population were not able to achieve economic freedom to say nothing of their political freedom.  Years of economic stagnation have plagued this country and its resources wasted, but of late it has been led by a democratic government that has encouraged development and growth.   Chile has a long way to go to achieve the economic success that will enable its general population to benefit along with the upper echelons of society.


The Presidential Palace

The Old and the New in Santiago