From atop San Christobal hill, an initial gaze out over the sprawling metropolis of Santiago, bordered firmly by the Andes to the east and ocean to the west, reveals a city not unlike many the world over. Walking the streets however, dodging ballistic traffic and employing the senses necessary to navigate any major city, Santiago reveals its charm and consolidation within Latin American culture, despite obvious Europeanisation. The most immediate noticeable attribute to the traveller, its economic strength and resulting ability to bring the meagre daily budget of the grass roots traveller trembling to its knees.
To my surprise, street dogs, in their standard Latin American abundance, are here the tigers of Egyptian temples; Gods within their own right. Clean, seemingly well fed and healthy, they doze by day, accepted and perhaps embraced by locals, before roaming the urban night, rulers of the pavement. Being caught on the outskirts of town by the closing of the Metro, a two hour walk back to our downtown apartment in the early hours of the morning provided a peaceful insight into the grandeur of Santiagos wide open streets, modern architecture and proud sense of efficiency. Tigers hot on our heels, our long walk home revealed soft streetscapes, tentatively tended by the cities many sweepers and upmarket prostitutes. Even in these small hours of a Wednesday morning, pockets of Santiagos vibrant youth inhabit the many restaurants flooding onto the streets. Dirt bikes lining the kerbs, laughter, relaxed conversation and the clinking of glasses portray the sophistication of a cultured youth.
Perhaps my most memorable experience in Santiago is the Sunday evening collaboration of the cities alternative in joint creative expression. Following the afternoon flea market, Parque Forestal, on the steps of the impressive Palacio de Bella Artes, transpires into a mini carnival. Jugglers, fire twirlers, drummers, dancers and spectators all swarm in by the hundreds to contribute to an expressionistic, inspiring atmosphere. Here lies a true insight into the warmth of Chilean youth and full flavoured passion Just be sure to arrive before the staunch Carribinerro role through to break things up.
Placed at number 37 in the world development ratings and set to climb further, Chiles economic ambition is noticeable amongst the buzz of its capital. However, despite the front of European cars and modern apartment buildings, tell-tail signs of a segregated class structure seep from the masonry. With no unemployment benefit and little support, opportunistic thieves are common and park benches are well occupied by night. Chiles economic solidarity may be attributed to Reformist President Eduardo Freis Chileanisation in the mid sixties, in which of over 50% of Chiles copper mines were reclaimed from US companies and nationalised. Despite its steady progression and low geared determination however, I cant help but think that significant social reform may be in order before Chile joins the ranks of the first world, as the first Latin American country to do so. Although perhaps these are the wonton dreams of a socialist at heart. After-all, class segregation is no unicorn in the realm of first world nations.
As my time in Santiago draws to an end, my heart strings stretch to Chiles rural beauties. Glimpses of the Andes through smog glazed keyholes in the city have beckoned me from arrival. Compelled by the surprising friendliness of this huge capitals population, Im sure that our adventure into the slower pace of rural Chile will provide a wealth of warm experiences.