Title: March 11th in Santiago
Location: Santiago, Chile
Although I only spent 3 days in Santiago, there are a couple of interesting things worth mentioning.
Arguably the most stable economy in South America, Santiago initially struck me as a blend of European functionality (stores, businesses, restaurants...and prices!) and South American architecture, traffic, and markets. The city (similar to Los Angeles) also suffers from a heavy blanket of smog that persists throughout the year in varying degrees. On many days, the smog blocks the gorgeous backdrop of the Andes Mountains, which if you are lucky to catch a clear sky or strong breeze, are surprisingly close! Akin to our colorful system of "terror warning's", Chile has 'smog days' that are declared when the levels rise to an unsafe degree, making it the breathable air very dangerous, especially for elderly and small children. This usually happens about 2-3 times a year, lasts a day or two, and requires all production to stop at the top 100 businesses within the city, as well as a clamp down on truck and car use. It has been getting better though over the past few years, as more laws are passed and businesses begin to impose exhaust restrictions.
I was also lucky enough to be in Santiago on Saturday, march 11th, when Chile celebrated the historic and exciting inauguration of its new president, Michelle Bachelet. I was excited to use my Spanish chatting to natives about this event. President Bachelet is Chile's first woman president and only one of a few women to ever hold a power office in any South American country. She also represents a new party taking the lead in Chilean government. After decades of dictatorship, lead by pinochet (end of 70's-1990) Bachelet is taking over from Ricardo Lagos and is expected to continue to iron out some of the inequities and muddled political, voting, and health systems created from the aftermath of the dictatorship era. While the actual celebrations and inauguration took place in the coastal city of Valparaiso, all televisions were on in Santiago, all eyes watching the swearing in ceremony. I had actually ducked into a mall to join about 50 other people watching a big television that had been pulled out for public viewing, and was surprisingly emotional as the swells of clapping and cheering reverberated thru. Kind of cool. There were fiestas, concerts, and celebrations all across the city the entire weekend as well, and a lot of enthusiasm and optimistic energy flowing throughout the streets. Many figureheads attended the ceremony, including condoleza rice, Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, and Argentina's president Néstor Kirchner.
On my last day, I joined a group of 7 or 8 Chileans and other "extraneros" (tourists), on a day's hike to a valley in a nearby Andes mountain range, leading up to a hanging glacier. It was great to get out of the city, back into the fresh air, and battle the altitude for a few hours. Despite being in a prime location, trekking and climbing are still relatively new "sports" for Chileans. However, thanks to companies like EcoExplorer, there are plenty of ways for interested newcomers to start to explore all the Andes have to offer.