Excursion to Santiago de Chile

Santiago Travel Blog

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The second week for our group went to Santiago de Chile. I spent one semester of my undergraduate term in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. I now have one Santiago left -- Santiago de Cuba. Probably have to wait until Castro dies or my savings to recover before I go; we'll see which one happens first.

Santiago is quite a bit different from Buenos Aires. One feels a much greater divide between rich and poor. The area where we stayed, Providencia, was a well-to-do neighborhood that reminded me of those tony suburbs around Chicago like Evanston or Wieneca. The people were well dressed and the homes were neat and tidy. A lot of pretty girls there, too.

The mountains surrounding the city provide a breath-taking backdrop to the scene. But it really did take my breath away because the mountains block in the dry, dusty, city air between the westward ocean breezes and I developed a slight cough there. Now back in Buenos Aires, I've been running a fever and have some kind of upper-respiratory problem leading to a rather persistent, annoying cough. Hopefully it will pass by my ski trip in July to Las Lenas.

The most notable thing about the trip was our class activities. We had speakers explain to us much of the history of U.S.-Latin American foreign relations since the Cold War. Much of it does not reflect favorably on the U.S. -- but hey, we beat the Soviets and insofar as that was the goal of U.S. policy, it couldn't be all wrong. Interestingly, U.S.-Chilean ties are among the closest in the region, both economically and militarily. Chile is an interesting case too because their new president, Bachelet, has pretentions of being a die hard leftist (like many of the nation's leaders since Pinochet) but in truth she's a fiscal conservative of the like we haven't seen in the U.S. for generations (well, maybe Clinton). Macroeconomic stability -- that is, low deficits and export-driven economy -- is what makes Chile what it is and it appears that's what the people want from their leaders. American politicians could learn a thing or two about budgets from them.

We also spoke with the American diplomatic corps at the embassy in Santiago, who made a point of emphasizing the strong U.S. Chilean relationship. Amusingly, they seemed to indicate that the U.S. diplomatic corps problems in the region stem from our rhetorically challenged president. They never said that outright, but that seemed to be the message I received. They're diplomats, after all, so I suppose you can never be sure what they said if it was important. It was interesting to hear what was like to work in that field, but in many ways it sounded like a difficult life. Not one for me.

I spent some time with the local Chileans and a bottle of whiskey. We talked about politics. I went to a pub in my neighborhood and it was refreshing to see so many people talk openly without being hostile about Iraq and other problems. Since it was in the rich part of town, not everyone was reflexively anti-Bush, but no one seems to be on board with Iraq. (Curiously, a week later I ran into a Canadian soldier in a Buenos Aires pub who was favorably disposed to the U.S. invasion). But we passed the time amiably.

Finally, I went to some local historical and art museums. The best one was the National Museum that highlights Chilean history through a series of rooms with period furniture and paintings. Very cool but only in Spanish. Still, Santiago is not nearly as interesting as Buenos Aires, so I'm glad to be back here. 

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photo by: Bluetraveler