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Saturday 10 Apr 2010
Santiago, Chile

Flying tour of Chile's earthquake zones!

The "Star Airlines" flight from Punta Arenas to Santiago included a bonus that I wasn't quite aware of: it was going to be stopping at 3 locations on the way up.

It might sound ironic saying "bonus", as I should be raging that the trip was going to take around 6 hours, instead of 2, but this was excellent as not only was I going to get a quick arial overview of 3 more Chilean locations, but I was also going to be stopping off at the very epicentre of the recent devastating earthquake, so I would get to see first-hand the results on the landscape.

Well at least, that was the plan...

First stop was Puerto Montt. A lot greener up here than in the south, plus it looked almost exactly like Ireland's landscape from the air, including a healthy dose of "soft-rain" to complete the effect. I got chatting to a bloke that boarded here and sat beside me and the pictures of huge lakes backed by large snow-capped volcanoes looked quite amazing. So Puerto Montt? Looks nice!

Next stop was Temuco. Nothing memorable here.

Only damage I saw... a...
Only damage I saw... a...

Concepcion was next. This was the town at the epicentre of the earthquake and had been reported as almost completely flattened due to it's "poorer" inhabitants than in nearby Santiago ("poorer" is relative as Concepcion looked like a far more developed town than some capital cities I've seen! Like La Paz, Bolivia.). Unless the "devastation" that was reported was a few cracked buildings that weren't discernable from the air, or the one collapsed bridge I spotted, I couldn't really see exactly where these "flattened" areas were. Unless the Chileans are remarkably quick at rebuilding their towns, I couldn't see a single piece of evidence that a huge quake had taken place there. Clearly there had (judging by CNN's dodgy reporting, but also by more reputable stations like BBC), but you wouldn't know it to look at it. Even when we landed, the airport was perfectly fine (I'd heard on CNN that it had been destroyed).

Earthquake zone?? What...
Earthquake zone??

The Chilean guy beside me (who had his camera in hand expecting to take many photos of the destruction) gave me a confused look. But we both agreed that it was a GOOD thing that there was no destruction to photograph... thankfully not quite as bad as had been reported!

I remember a CNN reporter asking why the Chileans hadn't asked for aid from other countries sooner after the earthquake had taken place. She sounded almost aghast at the selfish arrogance of the "corrupt Chilean government not caring about the impoverished Chilean people in their backward 3rd world country" (my take on her approach to the question). A simple answer: they're stinking rich. It was like when the Americans got aid for Hurricane Katrina, they didn't need it straight away, but as resources got stretched it was required.

One of the advantages of travelling is that you get a "real" perspective on a country's wealth status, rather than labelling all South American countries as poor 3rd world nations.

Arriving into Santiago city I got a bus from the airport into the Los Heroes bus terminal and from there trekked up to an area that looked rather central (and with plenty of hostels): the Calle Paris and Calle Londres streets. Got a private room in the excellent Hotel Londres (which is part of an exquisite antique mansion) for around $16 a night. This is a good price and I highly recommend this place.

Santiago city seems to have elements of other cities I've visited, most notably Canadian cities like Toronto and Montreal. Toronto for the numerous high-rise flats built seemingly in the middle of nowhere, and Montreal for the metro and colonial buildings. The metro in particular is almost exactly like Montreal's with painted walls depicting various stories from history, plus it's a fast cheap way to get around while being perfectly safe and clean. In fact one of the truly stand out things about Santiago is how safe it feels.

Unfortunately I only was using the city as a transit point and I imagine it would get boring after more than 3 days, but it would have been nice to visit one of the museums. One of the characters from Chilean history that interests me most is Bernardo O'Higgins who is probably one of the most successful Irish protagonists in South America's history, being the son of an Irish immigrant, and leading the Chileans to independance exactly 200 years ago (there are festivals planned for later in the year). The O'Higgins name features on at least 1 street or plaza in every town in the country. Best Irish general ever Laughing (I tried unsuccessfully a few times to get free beers in bars, claiming that being Irish I should be entitled to some priviledges Cool. In fact most Chileans have no idea that the O'Higgins name is Irish!)

Later this night I paid a visit to the huge Parque Arauco shopping mall. My intention was to try to get in a film and dinner.. I have a craving for cinema like no other, having been without movies and popcorn for over 3 months! This mall was something else though, and should be on any visitors "must-see" list. It's a huge industrial area containing not one, but several huge shopping mall complexes. They even have lovely outdoor patio restaurants and free concerts playing on various stages dotted around the place.

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South America Twenty Ten

Travel blog by peterforan



After previously dipping my toes in Latin America via trips to Cuba and Central America, it's time to go for the big splash! 3 1/2 months to take in as much as I can, armed with little more than my camera, laptop and a few dodgy Spanish phrases.

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