South America 2012-2013: Santiago, Chile Redux

With friends to see and a plane to catch, there's no getting around Santiago. To be fair, however, I don't mind Santiago at all, or not this time trip, anyway. Arriving and leaving with perfect weather both times helps a lot. Warm days without rain, and nights that cool down to only the slightest of nips - this is a good thing.

Staying in pleasant neighborhoods goes a long way, too. The last time around, I found myself in the brilliantly-located Bellas Artes 'hood. This time I've put myself squarely near the middle of the old neighborhood called Barrio Brasil. The goofy thing, however, is that I've got two hostels for two nights each, the two chosen places being all of a few blocks from each other. More importantly, Bo (the accepted short for Barrio is Bo) Brasil lies near downtown. Thus both places are more than suitable for my needs of sleep and safe storage of my stuff. That one, Princesa Insolente, is a hipster haven, and the other, La Casa Roja, is a massive colonial edifice restored to house numbers of travelers reaching 100 (literally) is of no import.

That's because I practically don't even make eye contact with my fellow travelers, particularly so when I'm in such a pass-through-and-out kinda mode. Besides, it turns out that most of the fun Valpo group has already gone beyond Santiago before my arrival save Daniella - and she at least mentally is practically one foot into the Galapagos islands. So so much for maintaining that bon esprit de la bonhomie y tout ça. Maybe such good will and camaraderie is overrated, I dunno.

I nevertheless am able to give a brief "Hey!" to Mario from my previous spin through town, still looking for work as a geologist with the Chile's massive mining industry. It turns out that he's actually both living in my randomly chosen neighborhood, Barrio Brasil (ironically very Colombian these days), and onto his last Chilean days as well. Apparently he's giving up on Chile as his potential nueva patria for the hopefully greener pastures of Perú. His lack of experience in this somewhat new field for him (which comes from changing his specialty within the field to date only by university qualifications) hurts him too much in what is now a rather mature industry in Chile. Over a night of beers, then, plus an Andalucian lunch of sorts at his place, we catch up before I wish him well and he's off.

Similarly I see my friend Mauricio in a couple of spurts of visiting, first spinning around town in his brother's car as he points out "his" Santiago. We walk a number of areas with which he's intimately familiar, like the Bellavista neighborhood, then eventually make a long stop at the bar where he both worked and met his wife over a dozen years before. This is particularly a bonus since La Chimenea is quite an institution of a place, an artist's haven in the sense that each cubbyhole of its dining area(s) has been lovingly attacked by a different artist to evoke different areas of Chile. Atmosphere goes a long way beyond having quality food and drinks, which LaC does as well.

As usual, however, I walk about loads on my own, with my iPod selections varying widely each day from Cuba to classical to Fats Navarro ripping bebop. I guess the most common ingredient in my musical tastes is that they aren't terribly pop or new both. Sigh. In any event I make something of a tourist circuit to re-detail my previous visit, thus simultaneously looking for still more books in Spanish (an unsuccessful bid) while dropping in on places like that same French cafe I so frequently habited previously, Cocteau Cafe/Panaderia Bernard (a very successful reenactment, fortunately). I finally stop in the grandiose national library as well, impressed. Unsurprisingly, all the while I snap away at almost all the decent grafiti or odd colonial bit of architecture that strikes my fancy. The more I walk, the more I find.

One resoundingly successful find comes in my passing by the Teatro Municipal of Santiago. With concerts advertised in large posters between some classically colonial columns, each begs my presence by my reasoning. So on a whim I buy a ticket that should gain me access to a nosebleed gallery special on a par with what I did in Córdoba. I'm rewarded for this sudden impulse, too, as the music is a fantastic rendering of pieces by Haydn and Mendelsohn. There are some theatrics in a well-received gimmick, too, as during one piece all the musicians get up at random times to leave. Each fingers or gesticulates at the conductor as collectively they ultimately leave him alone on the stage conducting to empty chairs. They ham it up well, the conductor being rather notably animated throughout in the first place. As for the theater itself, here again is a gem of grandiosity with excellent acoustics throughout. Here's a place where I could easily spend too much time - and not a whole hell of a lot of money, frankly. The classical scene in the U.S. could learn something from this....

A particular item of interest, meanwhile, comes when I hear the haunting use of a trumpet during the performance. Granted, from my seat in the fifth tier I can barely make out these fine trumpeters to begin with, but the sound of a trumpet is obviously recognizable to me. The distant effect being employed by said trumpeter, however, isn't. What kind of mute is that, I wonder? It sounds like he's playing elsewhere entirely, like behind the building! It turns out that that guess is pretty close to the reality, as a trumpeter appears in a white tuxedo from backstage after all the other principals have taken a bow. Yes, if I lived in Santiago during the concert season (and just as I observed in Córdoba), I'd regularly be taking advantage of such excellent (and beautifully cheap!) performances.

But that's about it for Santiago, outside of a final scheduled appearance by a couple of my French friends whom I met way back in those Villa La Angostura days around Christmastime. They show up for my last day and we do a long walkabout throughout practically the entire downtown area, eventually making our way through the market areas to end up in Bellavista 'hood (we more or less use all three routes indicated on a local tourist map for a tour). Mauricio ultimately joins us, too, and we all return to both La Chimenea and more a last few micro brews in Bellavista.

Then that's it. Hell, I've even finally finished my Vargas Llosa book, of Pantaleon and his prostitution service in the Amazon (recommended, by the way). My friends accompany me to the airport bus and I bid Santiago goodbye. In none too long, a few hours' flight next puts me in Lima, where I briefly view a picturesque bit of coast as the sun goes down and we land. I crash for the required overnight (sigh - thanks, frequent flyer mileage plan itinerary!) at a lonely hostel near the airport, an oddly large if sterilely clean edifice aglow in many colored fluorescent lights where I at least have the entire dormitory of twelve beds to myself. (Coincidentally, I met the owner a few years back in Colombia, but he's not here for the moment.) To this time-killing I can only think to pull out the horn and practice some tunes, eventually lounging alone in a hammock on the roof trying to catch a fresh breeze. Otherwise I just wait for my succession of planes home.

That happens the next midday, when I return to Lima's airport. I duly pick up my duty-free Tobblerone bricks before losing both my cactus spikes from Salta and the last bits of a tube of toothpaste (!) in these last, pre-U.S. minutes. These come courtesy of the typical xray machine and then an EXTRA security check of all carry-on baggage at the gate. Well, so much for my going "wilding" or "terrorist-in'". Otherwise I calmly watch my movies (Lincoln, The Campaign, and Take the Money and Run - all fun/good) to remain pacified and reenter the slipstream of whatever it is that is the U.S. of A.
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