Thursday, June 13, 2013

Santiago: Nothing That Could be Predicted

We are on a private tour traveling from Valparaiso and Viña del Mar to Santiago, and about 30 minutes southeast of Valparaiso and 50 minutes northwest of Santiago, we crossed a valley known as Casablanca (a valley of about 368 square miles). The valley was first planted to wine in the mid-1980s, and it is now known for white wine grapes, especially Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay.

Why is this valley so effective in producing wine? It is Chile’s first cool-climate coastal region, and it quickly turned a page in Chile’s winemaking history. Wikipedia discusses winemaking in Chile:

Chile is now the fifth largest exporter of wines in the world, and the ninth largest producer. The climate has been described as midway between that of California and France. The most common grapes are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Carmenère. So far Chile has remained free of phylloxera louse which means that the country's grapevines do not need to be grafted..

Following the Casablanca Valley, we crossed the Curadabi Valley with an entirely different climate. Chile produces fruits for the world—one billion pounds are annually shipped to North America alone, and they include apples, blueberries, cherries, table grapes, kiwifruit, peaches, nectarines, pears, plums, avocados, clementines, and respberries.

Chile’s unique geography gives fruits natural barriers to insects and disease because they are protected to the east by the Andes Mountains, to the west by the Pacific Ocean, to the north by the Atacama Desert (where no measurable precipitation has ever occurred), and to the south by the Antarctic ice cap.

Santiago lies at the center of Santiago Basin (50 miles long by 22 miles wide), a large bowl-shaped valley consisting of broad and fertile lands surrounded by mountains. Notice that we have traveled through two other very distinct valleys to get to the Santiago Basin. And immediately when you enter this Basin, the first thing you notice is the main chain of the Andes Mountains to the east because they are enormous (dominating the horizon) and snow capped.

To the west, the way we entered Santiago Basin, is the Chilean Coastal Range. And to the north, the Basin is bounded by the Cordón de Chacabuco Range, a mountain range of the Andes. And Santiago is bounded on the south by Angostura de Paine, an elongated spur of the Andes that almost reaches the coast.

As noted above, the first thing that strikes you as you drive into Santiago Basin, is how tall the mountains are. The tallest is Tupungato, a volcano that is 21,555 feet high.

There are approximately 16 million people in Chile; six-and-one-half million live in Santiago—Chile’s largest city. When the populations of Valparaiso and Viña del Mar are added to that of Santiago, it makes up half the population of Chile. With six-and-one-half million people, the literacy rate is 95.7%—a truly astounding figure!

As we entered the city, our attention was drawn to the lofty wrought-iron ceiling—reminiscent of a Victorian train station—of the Mercado Central (Central Market), which was prefabricated in England (designed by Fermin Vivaceta) and erected in Santiago between 1868 and 1872. Tjhe first section of the market is crafts and souvenir stalls; the second is fresh produce, meat, and fish. Within its corridors are more than 70 restaurants made famous by their fish and seafood plates. We were there early on Saturday afternoon, and the place was bustling with activity.

From the Central Market, we drove into the heart of the city and to the Plaza de la Constitucion because facing it is the beautiful El Ralacio La Moneda, built in 1784 and designed by Joaquín Toesca, the Italian architect who had worked on Catedral Metropolitania. The building’s original purpose was to be the country’s official mint (hence, the name La Moneda (The Mint). It became the presidential palace in 1845.

As an aside, in 1973, during the military coup, led by Augustin Pinochet, La Moneda was bombed to ruins in air attacks, and then-President Salvado Allende committed suicide in his office at La Moneda, rather than surrender. There is a statue on the Plaza de la Constitucion that honors Allende’s memory. Today, La Moneda still houses presidential offices. La Moneda has a pristine facade (an elegant white palace) that belies its history.

At YahooTravel: Santiago Attractions , there is an explanation of the importance of the Plaza de la Constitucion:
"Large, panoramic plaza located in front of the Palacio de la Moneda, home of the Chilean government, right in the heart of the city. Along with the monument to Diego Portales, an important statesman in the history of the early Chilean republic, there are also statues of presidents Jorge Alessandri Rodriguez and Eduardo Frei Montalva, who were joined in the year 2000 by Salvador Allende Gossens. The Plaza de la Constituci till strikes an emotional cord in the hearts of many Chileans, especially after the events of September 1973, when it was witness to the ferocious attack of the military on the presidential palace, in the US backed coup d'etat. The changing of the police guard takes place punctually every morning at ten o'clock, and you can now stroll through the courtyards of the Moneda Palace itself, but only in a one-way direction, entering from the Plaza and leaving from the Alameda side."

In addition to La Moneda, we saw the Catedra (65% of the population is Catholic) that borders the Plaza de Armas on the western side, the Palaceo de los Gobernadores, the Palacio de la Real Auduncia, and the Municipalidad de Santiago, all on the northern edge of the Plaza de Armas, and the Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino—just a block away.

Everywhere we looked in Santiago, there was history—old buildings, memorable sights, and interesting things to see. I continue to discuss other things that we saw in Santiago, and I conclude our private tour in Santiago II as well as our entire Cruise.

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Santiago, Chile, is covered well at tripadvisor:

Images for Santiago reveal the differences between old and new, and they give you, too, the amazing breadth of the city:

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Copyright June, 2013, by And Then Some Publishing LLC

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