Santiago is a massive city – about 40% of Chileans live inside its metro area. It would be easy to get lost in any of dozens of neighborhoods, but we mostly focused on the places we could walk to from our apartment. There were more than enough museums, markets, and palaces to keep us occupied just in the central areas of town.
As usual, the churches we stumbled across were mostly Catholic and always beautiful. The Virgin Mary is often the central focus, with shrines to other Virgins around the interior of the church. Unlike in Europe, where most saints are statues or paintings, here, the Marys are usually draped in sumptuous fabrics and laces.
We made the little bit of extra effort to book a (free!) tour of the Palacio de la Moneda, Chile’s Presidential Palace. Upon arrival, we discovered we were the only ones signed up for English during that time slot, so our guide Carla gave us a private tour. The Palace originally served as a mint under the Spanish crown. In the mid-1800’s it started housing the Presidential residence and offices. It was here in 1973 that the democratically-elected Salvador Allende was overthrown (with help from the CIA) and the Pinochet regime installed. Military jets bombed the palace and destroyed much of the building. It has been rebuilt, but its gorgeous interiors were not restored to their previous glory. Currently it serves only as offices for the President and some of her ministers; Chilean Presidents are not given a government residence.
We saw the courtyards, which are planted with orange trees and native plants, and which also house two cannons that used to guard the coast from pirates. The cannons’ names are Furious and Lightning – because naturally cannons work better when they know they are loved. Inside, we had the chance to walk through the rooms used to greet dignitaries and sign bills/make speeches in front of the cameras. Chile used to officially be Catholic, so there is a chapel inside the palace. That has changed over the years, and now many religions worship there. And of course, at the entrances, the guards are snappily dressed and happy to take a moment to pose for pictures.
One of the most important museums in Santiago is the Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos. It commemorates the victims who were disappeared, tortured, murdered, and imprisoned during the Pinochet government as well as the dictatorship’s eventual downfall. Abuses began the day Pinochet came to power, and thousands suffered terrible fates during the following 17 years. Many remains are still being found and identified today. Ongoing resistance by the public and by church leaders eventually helped to bring about the regime’s dissolution. In 1988 a plebiscite vote about letting Pinochet begin another 8-year term. The resulting ‘no’ led the way for open elections in 1989. The TV ads but together by both sides are wonderfully ’80s. My new proposal: all parties in an election should have hilarious ads and musical numbers at their disposal. And of course, there is an added level of absurdity about voting to keep (or not) a dictatorial regime in place. It is one of the few awful eras in world history ended by a peaceful vote and happy campaign buttons.
In a park next to the Museo de la Memoria is the Natural History Museum. We arrived about half an hour before closing. That gave us just enough time to walk through the exhibits, which are mostly about the different ecological zones of Chile. I finally got some help to explain the differences between all the alpaca-y animals – there are four species! Not all look as surprised to be a part of the museum as the one in the picture.
Our Airbnb rental had two decks, one facing east and the other west. No matter the time of day, we always had a place to sit out in the shade and admire the mountains or cityscape. We didn’t have air conditioning, which was annoying for a few hours each day when the sun poured through our windows, but Santiago is often windy. One of our favorite things to do was to grab a glass of wine (or beer) and relax in the breeze to cool off. The hot days were more enjoyable knowing that soon we’ll be enjoying the Seattle winter-like temps in Punta Arenas