Category Archives: Santiago

A Gran Torre Day Out

Santiago is a monstrous metropolis, but like most South American cities it’s not exactly overflowing with skyscrapers. Most of the buildings are about as high as Danny De Vito’s dick, with low-rise walk-ups spreading for kilometres in every direction. There is one high spot in the Chilean capital, however – the Gran Torre Santiago, which at 300m is the tallest building in Latin America. Sure, it’s no Burj Khalifa, Ostankino Radio Tower or Riga Love Construction, but it’s a record holder, so I had to check it out.

The tower is only a few kilometres from the centre of town, and within walking distance of Bellavista, so I decided to hike over there. One thing unique about Santiago is that at most sets of lights there are little blokes who wander into the street to entertain stopped drivers. Many of them are quite talented, and put on extravagant displays involving fire twirling, gymanstics or wandering around on stilts. But then I found a bloke who didn’t quite have his routine down pat. I saw him have five or six cracks at juggling his bowling pins, and he fucked up every time. As he was crawling around on the ground I gave him a comforting pat on the shoulder and said, “Don’t worry, padre, if this doesn’t work out I’m sure you can go back to your regular job as a brain surgeon.”

Alright, let’s get back on topic – that massive fucking building. It’s a bit pricey to get up to the viewing platform 15,000 Chile-pesos, or $25 Aussie – but I paid it because I doubt I’ll be back this way anytime soon. Unlike some other towers around the world, there’s no line up, so I was able to climb straight into the lift, nod dumbly at the pretty guide as she told me all sorts of fascinating things in a language I don’t understand, and seconds later I was at the top of the world.

The view is bloody good up there, and much better than from San Cristobel, due to being situated within the actual city. Santiago seems to ramble on forever in every direction, with every patch of land built on. Smog clings to the place, making everything look heavy and dirty. Neat streets with leafy suburbs nestle up against slums and ghettos. The putrid Mapocho River splits the city in half, with its brown waters winding through the suburbs before disappearing from sight. From up there, the contrasts of Santiago are obvious.

In saying that, ‘up there’ isn’t really that high. In fact, I was around nine times higher whilst paragliding in Manilla last weekend. Yeah, yeah, I know, I’m a hero. I made sure to let a group of attractive young Chilean ladies know all about my exploits, but they pretended not to understand me and then sent their soccer shirt-wearing boyfriends over to have a quiet word with me. I couldn’t understand them and their breath smelt like they’d been eating turd-filled empenadas, so I raced for the lift to get some fresh air.

I’d heard about a bi-curious park that was nearby and being bi-curious myself (in that I’m curious to watch bisexual women having sex with each other) I trotted over. Imagine my disappointment when I realised it was actually the Bicentennial Park, built to celebrate Chile’s independence or something like that. It’s still a nice place, with some decent water features, unusual statues and pleasant plants. It’s also the only park I’ve found that isn’t overrun with grubby homeless blokes. Which is probably why, when I collapsed under a tree to sleep off my lingering hangover, I was soon whacked in the nuts with a billy club and dragged out the front gates by a couple of overweight guards with half their completo lunches spilt down their shirts.

Shaken by my brutal confrontation, I grabbed a six-pack of Becker and drank away my sorrows in a dark alleyway whilst listening to the soundtrack to Last of the Mohicans on my phone. When I finally emerged, I was confronted by a pervert in a kangaroo costume who was stopping traffic so that he could dance lewdly in the street. I was surprised to see a kangaroo drunker and more inappropriate than me, so I dropped my shorts and wiggled around whilst asking the ladies seated nearby if they wanted a bite of my completo. I didn’t have any takers, but I did end up with 2000 pesos in my pocket and a few sympathetic smiles, so maybe those street performers have the right idea.

Advertisements

Santiago’s City of the Dead

As a child I was obsessed with horror movies and would watch anything filled with wall-to-wall guts and gore. Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers and Ash Williams were like mates to me, but the movie that stands out as a massive part of my pre-teenhood is The Return of the Living Dead. I spent hundreds of mornings, afternoons and evenings watching dead people come out of the ground (yes, out of the ground!) and chase after punks to munch on their spicy brains. It probably has something to do with why I now seek out weird cemeteries wherever I travel to, and why I marked the enormous Cementerio General de Santiago as a priority during my time in Chile.

This necropolis is one of the strangest places I’ve been too and one of the biggest boneyards in the world, with more than two million people laid to rest within its walls. It’s unlike any cemetery I’ve ever been to, and really feels like just another part of the city. There are giant buildings populated by the rotting remains of the dead, and the streets between the tombs are full of shops catering to the throngs of mourners who visit every day. In Chile, the living and the deceased exist side-by-side. Once inside it’s easy to become disorientated, with graves and crypts spreading for kilometres in every direction.

In most sections the tombs are piled on top of each other, with the majority of the headstones decorated with photos, toys, flowers and flags, with a huge amount of paraphernalia for local soccer team Club Universidad de Chile. Some of the graves are decorated more extravagantly, with massive banners printed with photos of the (often tragically young) corpse ensconced within. I’ve never seen anything like it, or been anywhere death is treated in such a way. The graves are truly a celebration of the person’s life, and from walking around I was able to gain some understanding of the people locked away behind the concrete.

Parts of the cemetery reminded me of a morbid high school, with drab multi-story concrete constructions creating a labyrinth of tunnels and rubble. Instead of students and bells, it’s full of ghosts and the eerie sound of the wind in the trees. As I walked through the narrow hallways, pigeons burst from empty crypts, and at every corner I found mourners.

The cemetery is so gigantic that I saw four funerals in the time I was there, and I’m sure more were going on in other quiet corners. Not surprisingly, these processions were also odd, with the caskets opened so that grieving family members could spend one more afternoon with the corpse before their loved one was locked away in a hole in the wall forever. Just walking through the grounds means seeing dead people, so visiting the dead centre of Santiago really is a ghoulish experience.

During the brutal Pinochet military dictatorship of the 70s and 80s, the cemetery was home to a mass grave for political dissidents, with 129 people being anonymously buried in the so-called Patio 29. The corpses have since been dug up, with most identified and laid to rest in simple graves, although it’s believed that untold numbers of innocent victims remain buried around the grounds, never to be identified. It’s a sad reminder of a dark time in South America’s history.

Cementerio General de Santiago might not be one of the major tourist spots in Chile, but it’s absolutely fascinating and definitely worth checking out. It gave me a great insight into the way the locals think about life and death, and reinforced how important family and loyalty are in this part of the world. It’s certainly a creepy place, and I’d hate to be locked in there at night, but it’s also an incredible tribute to dead that provides insight into the Chilean way of life.

Santiago Shenanigans

The winds carried me and my bright orange paraglider across the oceans. Over Samoa, where the volcanoes are angry and the people are wonderful. Past Fiji, with its golden beaches and endless reefs. I even swung past Easter Island, which is full of heads bigger and uglier than your ex-girlfriend’s. When the breeze finally dropped me from its loving arms, I found myself in a strange city surrounded by imposing mountains and populated by the most beautiful women I’d ever seen. I asked a little bloke who was digging through a bin where I was, and he told me, “Senor, you is in San Diego!”

“No I’m fucking not,” I told him, looking around at the throngs of people who swept around us. “I’ve been to San Diego and the women have arse cracks you could park a Sid Fogg’s in. And I haven’t had a wannabe tough guy try to stab me with a rusty kitchen knife yet. Where am I really?”

“Not San Diego, fuckwit,” he spat, whilst juggling a soccer ball. “You is in chilly!”

“It’s not chilly, you goose, it’s about 24 degrees and sunny,” I chuckled, then swaggered off to check out my surroundings.

Turns out I was in a place called Santiago, Chile, which I would’v learnt earlier if the locals didn’t run me around in circles. I traded my paraglider in for a six-pack of Austral and started exploring, and ended up discovering one of the most unusual cities I’ve been to It can be beautifu one minute, with elegant European buildings, exotic parks and brightly-coloured houses, and hideous the next, with poverty and dirt smeared everywhere. In many ways it reminds me of South African cities, with two disparate worlds somehow existing together.

Santiago is known for its food, and I was bombarded with options as I walked around. The mouth-watering scent of sizzling beef and chicken wafts through the streets, and it seems like the locals are constantly shoving something in their gobs. The main options are empanadas, which are a relation of the glorious meat pie, and completos, which are fully-loaded hotdogs. My dad has often regaled me with stories of all the foot-longs he gobbled in South America, so I was relieved to discover he was actually talking about hotdogs, and not man-dogs. There are also plenty of pizza places and hamburger shops, so if you’re looking to chuck on some weight this is where you should be.

I saw a big hill with some sort of statue at the top, so I downed an icy cold can in one gulp and sauntered that way to see what was up. The path up to the top of Cerro San Cristóbal is poorly signposted and difficult to find (and possibly closed, since there was a big barrier in the way), but that didn’t stop meclimbing up there. The path is poorly maintained and eroded in many places, but the sweeping views back over Santiago make it more than worthwhile. Once I made it to the top, I realised there’s a cable carand some sort of train that canbe usedto scale it easily, but unless you’re a fat cunt or you once stepped on a landmine, I suggest making the 45 minute trek.

The main reason for scaling San Cristóbal is to check out the view, but that’s not all that’s up there. The statue, as it turns out, is of the Virgin Mary and stands 14 metres tall. Alright, she’s not as big as certain other hilltop religious statues I’ve encountered, but she’s still pretty impressive. There are also cafes (that don’t serve beer – trust me, I asked) and some little museums that I didn’t bother with. If you ever visit Santiago, you’ll end up at San Cristóbal at some point it would be like going to New York and not visiting the Statue of Liberty, or going to Wyong and not shitting on the floor of the public toilets.

I was pulling down my shorts so that I could takeone of my popular Drunk and Jobless World Tour Nude Selfies™ when a couple of horse police (police on horses, I mean. Not horses who have found emplyment in the police force) rocked up and politely suggested I fuckoff. I’m grabbed a cheap room in a hipster-filled part of the city known as Bellavista, which if full of bars and live music joints. Energetic Chilean rock bounces between the intricately-painted buildings and smoking hotsenoritas walk around in next to nothing, so it’s the place to be. The bars are great, with plenty of al fresco seating options, but the beers are a bit pricey – around six Aussie dollaridgeridoos each. The quality is top notch though, with Kross Golden proving a standout.

Needless to say, I got smashed on cheap supermarket beer in a nearby park and passed out halfway through eating a chicken and olive stuffed empenada. I’m stoked to be exploring my sixth continent (which means I’ve hit them all, except for the one that’s run by penguins) and have decided to hang around for the next nine or so weeks, so stick around for more mesmerising entries. Chile is already surprising and delighting me, and I can’t wait to see what else this bonkers country has to offer.