- The history of an unusual city
- An artist´s paradise
- Seafood and Pizcola
- The Pinochet dictatorship of 1973-1990
- A country that needs to deal with its past
- Unknown hospitality
- Heading north towards Colombia
The last time I wrote to you I just came back from my extreme four day Bolivia tour to the Salar de Uyuni. I headed back to Santiago where I met up with Juancho again. Moreover, Juan (the friend I visited in Buenos Aires) and his girlfriend came to Chile for a long weekend to spend some time together before I head north.
The history of an unusual city
It took me a bit to recuperate from the intense, freezing days in Bolivia. The contrast between sleeping in a stone hut at 4200m without heating and a nice house in Santiago couldn´t have been any bigger. But we didn’t rest for long, a weekend in Chile´s third biggest city was waiting for us.
Valparaiso is located 120km west of Santiago, right at the Pacific Ocean. It stretches north for quite a bit and the northern city is called Vina del Mar, literally wine yard of the see, and this is where Juancho has a nice flat right at the sea and where the 5 of us headed to.
Valparaiso used to be a very important trade city. Every product that the Spanish wanted to get to their homeland from the Pacific countries (Peru, Bolivia, Chile) had to pass the southern end of Latin America and therefore Valparaiso. Then at the beginning of the 20th century a horrible earthquake destroyed most of its buildings and the opening of the Panama Canal revolutionized transatlantic trade turning Valpo into a redundant port.
Today, the situation looks brighter with Chile exporting their own products through this town and with cruise ships stopping by. Moreover, in an attempt to decentralize power in Chile, the national parliament was moved to Valparaiso in 1990.
An artist´s paradise
However, what will strike every visitor of this city is not its history, but its unique appearance. 42 hills rise from the coast and create a maze of alleyways and stairs. For some reason, Valparaiso has always attracted the artists and creative minds of Chile and the result is a city that could not look any more different to Santiago. No malls, no skyscrapers, no huge cars. Valparaiso is a never ending of colorful colonial houses, street art with graffitis on every corner and little shops and restaurants which do just not exist in Santiago.
The entire city was recently named a UNESCO world heritage and as a visitor you can see why: simply walking around the hills of this coastal city discloses beautiful views and art on every corner. The icing on the cake are elevators built more than 100 years ago (back then powered with steam) which slowly lift visitors up the steep hills.
Unfortunately we did not have that much time, only a couple of hours on Saturday and Sunday, but I would like to come back here and I recommend everyone who goes to Chile to stop by in this peculiar city, which I think is not comparable to any other place I have seen so far.
Seafood and Pizcola
It is quite common for the people of Santiago to head to Valparaiso/Vina del Mar on the weekends or during holidays. Apart of the beautiful appearance of the city the reasons are two: partying and seafood!
The first day we headed straight to the port and got a taste of Valpo´s incredible richness in seafood. We had the classic, Ceviche, which is raw white fish with a lot of lime, herbs and sometimes sweet potatoes. It is a classic in Latinamerica and we had some really good Ceviche in Panam too. Then we tried Machas a la Parmesana which is a special kind of shellfish baked in the oven with plenty of parmesan. And last but not least a huge seafood platter with everything a food-lover like me could wish for. Very good stuff and I think I could stay in Valparaiso for weeks just to try every seafood restaurant in town, I love seafood.
Coming to the second “activity”, I must admit that I haven’t really been partying at all during this trip. One attempt in Buenos Aires failed slightly and to be honest I am not a big fan of partying when I am travelling. This time I obviously made an exception as it was just so nice to meet up with all of my friends who I hadn’t see in 1,5 years and finally get to know their girlfriends too. So predrinks in the flat, and this means one thing and one thing only in Chile: Pizcola! Pizco is a spirit made with very sweet grapes. It has a very rich, exotic flavor and is more pleasant than any other spirit I know. Then mix it with Coke and you have a drinkable cocktail that will keep you going all night. We had a good night out which, for me, ended in an apartment with 25 Chilean students I did not know, who I kind of ran into in the building on the way home.
The Pinochet dictatorship of 1973-1990
Back in Santiago we went to the Museo de la Memoria, which I really wanted to go to. Basically it is a very new museum which finally deals with the often ignored topic of the Pinochet dictatorship. The exhibition was very interesting, shocking and impressive. Being so recent, they can use media to illustrate the events in a way that I have never seen before.
To sum up briefly: Salvador Allende was elected president in the early 70s. His party had very leftish influences and the Marxist reforms he tried to push through led to an economic disaster for Chile. General Pinochet used this opportunity (backed by many people who simply opposed Allende and by the US, as always…) to take over the power in 1973 and establish an anti-Marxist dictatorship. Allende was reluctant to leaving the presidential palace in the center of Santiago, the Moneda. In the museum they have videos showing how Pinochet surrounded the building, the symbol of democracy in Chile, and started bombing it with tanks. Until today, people do not agree whether Allende was killed or committed suicide.
Pinochet´s dictatorship (which by a degree of the current Chilean president Pinera can no longer be referred to as a “dictatorship”, true story) saw thousands of people of all ages tortured, “disappeared” (as they call it here) and killed. In the mid-80s the frustration among the people grew and grew. After a failed assassination attempt in 1986 and growing unrest, Pinochet agreed to carry out a referendum in 1990, which he lost and democracy was reestablished. Pinochet never stood trial, nor did most of the people who carried out the atrocities of his regime.
A country that needs to deal with its past
What I find particularly shocking is how Chile deals with its past. I understand that it is still very recent and maybe it might just take a while for the country to start processing what happened. Nevertheless, coming from Germany which saw an unprecedented and ongoing confrontation with the past, I cannot understand how the brutal execution and torturing of thousands of people can be justified with economic reforms that helped the country get back on track. It is true, Pinochet´s reforms created the capitalist, Americanized, wealthy state that Chile is today, however, human atrocities are always wrong and the country needs to understand that clear moral judgment, comprehensive education and prosecution of culprits is not an option, it’s a duty. It has to be done to respect all the lives that were lost in the most appalling, systematic way.
I believe that despite its impressive economic development, Chile will not be able to become a fully functioning, modern democracy unless it starts dealing with the past in the way it should. The Museum de la Memoria is a good step in the right direction, however, it´s only a very small one.
I had to get this off my chest, but now back to more pleasant topics. We spent some nice days all together back in Santiago and I got offered the very best Chilean cuisine has to offer. Highlights were a Carpaccio of locos (very big shellfish with a very peculiar taste, reminding me of bull tongue to be honest, with a sweetish sauce, succulent) and Rosita´s incredible Chilean dinners, with plenty of platas (avocadoes), the national vegetable of Chile.
I had a really great time in the south of Latin America. Not only because of the incredible things I saw, but mostly because of a hospitality I had never seen before, which went past the very generous, hospitable gestures that I have experienced in many places of the world and reached and emotional level, which made me feel like a part of the family, both in Argentina and in Chile. I really think that because of this I got a very deep insight into the different cultures although I could (unfortunately) only spend a few weeks in these amazing countries.
Heading north towards Colombia
Now I am more than 4500km north, in Bogota, the capital of Columbia. I had an awful flight, puking into plastic bags for no apparent reason. There were no turbulences, I didn’t eat anything bad, and I just felt sick as hell!
I am now visiting a friend that I haven’t seen in 5 years, Adriana, who lived in Munich for a year when we were 16 and as I had to fly via Bogota to reach Panama anyway, we organized this short stopover to catch up and get a glimpse of Columbian culture!
Hasta luego viejos