Our trans-Pacific cruise on P&O Arcadia started from Valparaiso, Chile, which meant flying into Santiago, about 70 miles away. Port stops never last long, but when starting or ending a cruise you sometimes have the opportunity for a longer stay. We spent a couple nights in Santiago before moving on to Valparaiso.
When leaving the airport at Santiago, Chile, you keep seeing people with signs for different taxi services while exiting the baggage area. There are also kiosks where you can go to get a taxi. We saw more and more of both before reaching the door to the outside and began to wonder if you could just go to the curb and find taxis waiting like other airports or if we went out the door would there not be any. So rather than waiting to find out we just went with one of the guys with a sign. He took us up an elevator to another level where there was a taxi waiting – just the one though, not a whole line of them like you find at most airports where you just walk out the door and there they are.
In Chilean pesos everything sounds expensive. Dinner could take your life savings. You could buy a car for the price of a cab ride. Once that gets transferred to US dollars it sounds a lot better. It’s about 10,000 pesos to 15 US dollars.
Some things seem universal no matter where you travel or even if you just stay home. Looking out the window as the cab sped down the freeway we could see a river running parallel to the road. The river banks were strewn with garbage and cement walls covered in graffiti. I guess this points out a major problem with humans since pretty much everywhere has places like that. Here and there along the riverbank groups of shanties pieced together out of whatever people could find looked like some pretty big squatter communities. Yup, homelessness is a problem everywhere too. There was a big difference here though – whatever vacant land sat next to these shacks had several horses munching on whatever weeds grew there. First time I’ve ever seen squatters with horses and each group had a few.
When the cab exited the freeway we left all that behind, finding our hotel in an apparently nicer area of town. We had a great view of the Andes Mountains in the distance towering above all the tall buildings nearby.
We took a walk and found a multi-story mall. These always fascinate me because malls where I live sprawl over many acres one story high other than a few of the bigger stores that have a second floor over just their own store. These multi-level malls fit in a lot of stores without taking up anywhere near that amount of land. Outside the mall bikes for rent sat along one side of the building and just around the corner a large rack offered rentals of bike parking space. Judging by its nearly full status a lot of Chileans in Santiago must ride bikes.
On our second day in Santiago we took a tour up to the Andes Mountains, which the hotel people arranged for us. February is summer in the southern hemisphere so other than distant peaks they didn’t have any snow. The lower hills held mansions and other large homes clinging to the hillside in one of Santiago’s wealthier neighborhoods. As our elevation got higher the homes got more sparse until they disappeared entirely. The road had way more curves and switchbacks the higher we went. Trees got smaller and eventually gave way to treeless areas of grass and scrubbrush dotted with cactus. A bit surprising to see desert-sized giant cactus in an area of heavy winter snow. I’ve seen ground-level cactus in snowy areas before, but none so big.
Just as I was thinking the land kind of resembled ranchlands, we saw some horses and a mule on the roadside. Here and there along the way we drove over piles of road apples so there must have been more horses around than the ones we saw. (For anyone who doesn’t know this, road apples means horse poop.) Not long after some goats ran across the road. More followed, with so many more behind them the driver had to stop the van to let them cross. Eventually a herding dog bounded by with the last of the goats, followed not all that closely by a lone cowboy on a horse. Vaquero I suppose since we are in a Spanish speaking country. I’m not sure if cowboy/vaquero is the actually the right term for a goat wrangler, but I don’t know a better one.
The other two couples in the van were tourists from Brazil. Our Chilean guide said that is where the greatest number of tourists to Chile come from. He gave all the tour information in Portuguese for them and English for us and then conversed with the driver in Spanish. He spoke all three languages fluently.
Near the top of the mountain we stopped at a ski resort, which was deserted other than a few busloads of summer tourists up to see the mountains on a day trip and a few workers here and there. Condors flew around and sat on the roof of one hotel. We were a bit surprised there weren’t crews painting, paving, and doing repairs to get everything ready for the next winter season.
One hotel had a restaurant and gift shop open and there were some trails and lookouts for great views. All the ski lifts sat vacant. I guess they haven’t discovered using them for mountain bikers in the summer yet. We would have liked to ride the gondola style one up to the top of the peak where its tracks or cables or whatever you want to call them led, but none of the unmoving lifts appeared to be open.
More surprising than large cactus growing on a mountain that gets several meters of snow in the winter, while hiking up a hill on what was probably more of a maintenance trail than where tourists are supposed to go, I saw a couple of little lizards. The first one scurried off to fast for a photo, but the second stopped to pose for awhile. Apparently they have grottos under rocks where they live and they survive through the winter under all that snow.
On the way back down we stopped at Farellones and had lunch in a little mountain restaurant with huge portions of food. This cute little town had ski lifts all over and an area for tubing. The guide said it had a zip line as well, which is only open on weekends in the summer.
The town has enough permanent residents to have a small school, but is mostly made up of vacation cabins belonging to people from Santiago. Our guide said locals mainly ski there rather than at the big resorts up higher because it costs a lot less. The town seemed fairly deserted, but the guide said one hotel stays open year round.
We came into town on a shortcut up a gravel road and passed many stone buildings including an old church. The area where we stopped by the restaurant did not have any stone buildings other than a small stone ruin standing alone in charred rubble. It was probably the fireplace of a building otherwise burned down to nothing. A couple hotels and some homes clinging to a steep hillside made for a great view from the road.
That night we took an evening stroll down the avenue near our hotel. Santiago has a lot of stray dogs. A couple of them hanging around a street corner suddenly ran out in the road blocking a cab and barking at it. The cab sat there quite awhile revving his engine and moving inches at a time trying to get the dogs to leave so he could go. Finally he got his chance and made a break for it, dogs running alongside his car barking loudly. We wondered what it was about that particular car that made them behave like that. They had ignored all the cars that passed by before him, including identical cabs. On the way back the dogs were still there. They half-heartedly chased a couple other cars, but nothing like they had done with the cab. We couldn’t figure out why they risked their lives like that unless perhaps people sometimes throw food to the sidewalk to get them to move, though nobody that we saw did. Later somebody said a lot of street dogs like to bark at tires.