A modern building on the main plaza
In many ways, Santiago very much resembles Los Angeles. It is a sprawling modern metropolis spreading out to fill the valley floor defined by the surounding mountains and covered in a thick blanket of smog. The smog is so thick in places that it almost obscures the snow covered mountains of the Andes located nearby on the Argentine border. Unlike LA, it is perhaps the cleanest city of its size (population 6 million) that I have been to, with the possible exception of Singapore. The city is well planned out with easy to access and use subway lines, and a modern grid like street system with some pleasant park and plaza areas amidst the modern sprawl. The centrally located Cerro Santa Lucia has to be one of the highlights, a several hundred foot high mountain with a old fortress on top that provides great views of the city and the smog.
Looking northeast through the smog to the snow covered Andes
Being such modern city, it offers just about anything you could hope to find in the cities of the United States (and in many cases for the same price), Starbucks, McDonalds, department stores, etc.; in many instances it is hard to imagine that you are actually in a foreign country. Despite the conveniences that this offers the city has a genuine lack of cultural, with everything of important cultural essence having been long since replaced by modernization. There is an excellent museum showcasing artifacts from the pre-Colombian periods in the Americas, but in terms of present day tradition there was very little to be seen. Another intriguing sight was the general cemetary, a gigantic city of the dead with amazing mausoleums from all the prominent figures in Chilean history.
Wooden statues in the Museo of Arte Precolombiano
The cemetary complex spans a huge walled in enclosure with named streets and alleys criss-crossing the expanse lined with ornate and commonplace structures in varying states of maintenance and disrepair, an almost haunting experience walking through the buildings filled with corpses.
By far the highlight of my time in Santiago was going to see the Chilean team Colo Colo play Boca Juniors from Argentina in a game for the Copa de Libertadores de America. The game was nearly sold out, with all the cheap tickets selling out before game day, forcing us to by the middle grade tickets for 11,000 pesos. We intended to get to the stadium well in advance to claim some good seats since there are no assigned seats and the tickets are sold on a general admission basis by the section.
In the cemetary
Unfortunately this never happened as we got delayed while coordinating dinner arrangements for the large group of us. We arrived at the stadium about fifteen minutes before kickoff and waited in line to get in from the parking lot. Three of our group got in and then they wouldn´t let the rest of us in because our seats were on the other side of the stadium and they said that we couldn´t walk around inside the stadium because the two sides are separated by fences. After some negotiations we ended up getting a police escort through the back alleyways and access gates to the other side of the stadium. We passed through several police checkpoints manned by police in full riot gear where everything carried in was confiscated, that is except for my liter of soda that I managed to carry through 4 checkpoints, and rather openly at that.
Fancy mausoleum in the cemetary
At the final checkpoint the police actually patted everyone down and I was sure it would get taken but as they patted me down I simply held the bottle out and the white plastic bag must have camouflaged it because they failed to see it and I passed right through. After this whole fiasco we had missed the first fifteen minutes of the game and the score was already 1-0 Colo Colo. There was another score later in the game and it never really got close with Colo Colo holding on for the win. In our section with the more expensive seats, things were rather tranquil, but in the cheaper seats at the ends of the stadium, enclosed by fences topped with barbed wire and staffed with riot police in the stairways at about 10 foot intervals, they were much more energetic, waving flags and jumping around in a sort of controlled chaos.
Colo Colo vs. Boca Jrs.
Things after the game were a bit chaotic because since the game started at 9:45pm, the metro was closed, forcing everyone to scramble for the insufficient number of taxis to get back home. We waited for over 30 minutes and finally with the help of a policeman we were able to get a taxi back to the center. It was a great experience to go the game and hopefully I´ll have a chance to go to one in Argentina or Brazil too.