Saturday, December 20, 2008


Five hours of busses, a late night of packing, then a 5:30 AM taxi to catch a 7 AM flight to Santiago, where we killed 12 hours in town.

A young Chilean guide on the airplane suggested we climb Cerro San Cristobal in the city's Metropolitan Park. On our way there we shared a shuttle with a couple of Stanford girls on their Junior year abroad. They suggested we visit the Nobel Prize-winning poet, Pablo Neruda's house, La Chascona (see photo) at the base of the hill in Bellavista.

The base of San Cristobol is laced with trails, used more by sweethearts than nature lovers. Our route semed to pass through a habitat division of love: first and closest to the base were the young men with older women habitats, centered near the zoo. Farther afield young boys and girls gamboled; then, in a remote area also frequented by sleeping taxi drivers, young girls with young girls held hands and kissed; then, after our stint through the deep woods, we found the high parking lots were frequented by middle aged couples.

As usual, Peggy pointed out, even a walk in the park with me is not always fun and games. I thought that we'd take a "short cut" through the woods, but underestimated just how tall San Cristobol was. On the way up we followed the paths of the destitute whose shacks stood in the woods beneath plum trees.

The hill was made a park over 90 years ago with the intention of turning the dry scrub into a forested arboretum. We contoured for hours in the sweltering sun of their early summer on paths wet from shallow, leaking, irrigation pipes The woods thesmelves were to thick and the hill too steep and dry to actually go straight up.

We eventually found our way out and to the top, where we ate ice cream bars and rested our feet and backs before heading down and splitting a charrusco sandwich, a glass of red wine, and a pisco sour, thus completing our Chilean cultural experience.

After 12 hours in South America's sixth largest city of nearly six million, we were ready to head for New Zealand's South Island, population one million.

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