On a clear day after rain we flew into Santiago, Chili, it looked lovely with a glittering bracelet of snow-capped peaks surrounding the city. I was surprised to find, pepper trees, just like those in playgrounds all over Australia. But, as our driver reminded us, it is their native land.
Our Caesar Business Hotel was right in the Centre of town, a perfect base to explore Massive Santa Lucia hill, remnant of an extinct volcano. It loomed across the road, right outside our windows. At dusk we climbed the many staircases, admired fountains, waterfalls and gazebos. But, at the summit we found Bateria Hidalgo where Conquistadors built their forts, a perfect spot for conquest.
A chill wind whispered of long ago; we imagined the Spanish on horses, strange new animals to the locals, their huge mastiffs, used for attack, with spiked collars, smelt the acrid stink of gunpowder, heard the crack of muskets, beating drums, skirl of trumpets, screams from men and animals, glimpsed the blink of blades. Imagined the Indian attack using heavy slings, spears, clubs, shields and body armour. There must have been cruelty and heroism on both sides. Blood ran, bodies fell. And when it was over, an Indian woman, weeping, searched her warrior man among the dead and dying…
Back in the present, we walked in peaceful gardens, where the young strolled hand in hand, arm in arm, kept trysts under pepper trees, cuddled on benches, and kissed in alcoves. We admired vistas of their city, far below; fading fast in the pale, pink light.
In a café downtown, we savoured Chilean pizza and wine, toasted our safe arrival. On a ramble, we were surprised by all the street dogs, sleeping on rugs, and fed, apparently, by strangers. There was a surfeit of graffiti, which is a shame. We happened upon a huge library, built by the conquerors, and enjoyed a free concert by a young orchestral group.
Morning dawned with a veiled sun and the snarl of traffic. I’d arranged a private tour of the Cajon del Maipo, the Maipo Canyon, with Jean Francisco, from Eagle Tours, Chili.
I’d pictured a narrow, snow-covered , twisting road with the vehicle clanking along in chains; Colleen had feared a reckless driver. Neither of these hypotheses proved accurate. Jean was a sensitive, knowledgeable young man, who spoke perfect English, and displayed excellent historical knowledge. In fact, he discussed any topic with grace and charm, and made our day very special.
It was great to leave the city smog behind and breathe the sweet air of the Maipu canyon, a popular weekend retreat. It begins 30k East from Santiago and leads 70k into the Andes, with waterfalls, rivers and glaciers. We loved the vistas of snowy peaks, the herds of grazing horses, the wildflowers.
Anybody moderately fit could make the four hour return trip to the Laguna del Morado, with awesome views of the mountains, right across to Argentina. Some folk are even lucky enough to see a giant Andean Condor flying overhead.
On the way back Jean stopped at the Casa Bosque for lunch. It’s an amazing structure of carved cypress trunks, limbs and roots, with 8000 tyres in the walls covered with Tuscan yellow adobe. We loved the organic shapes in the interior, alcoves and stained glass; the winding staircase, balcony for brides; the mirrors edged with carved timber and massive doors.
The following morning, we strolled around the Plaza de Armas, moved by the powerful, broken face of the Indian man, symbol of dispossession. We made a brief visit to the historical museum, wishing we had more time before our flight to view the artefacts and treasures on display.