In Santiago I stayed at the Residental Mery in barrio Brasil. It was clean, inexpensive at only 5 $US a night and conveniently located near the Republica metro station.
My first outing was a visit to the Plaza de Armas which I found crowded with vendors and visitors compared to ten years ago.
It was a hot day so children took advantage of their age to cool off in the fountain while adults looked on with envy.
The concert organised by the Santiago Municipality was well attended.
Here is the Central Post Office on the north side of the plaza.
Paseo del Puente, next to the Post Office leads to the central market near the Mapocho river that flows through the northern edge of city. South of the plaza, the same mall becomes the Paseo Ahumeda.
Several streets like the Paseo del Estado are reserved for pedestrians in Central Santiago.
On the left below, a mime is making a living from the offering of passers by on the corner of Paseo del Estado and Paseo Huerfanos.
On the right, calle de Nueva York connects the Alameda, which is Santiago's main avenue, to Paseo Ahumeda that leads to the Plaxa de Armas.
Also in the center is the Municipal Theatre on the corner of Agustinas and San Antonio.
Below left, the landmark church and colonial museum San Francisco on the Alamada and on the right, another view of the church through a modern sculpture on the sidewalk across the street..
And here is my friend Raquel, that I had met in Coroico Bolivia with her daughter Cecilia that I did not know yet.
I also stopped in Santiago to get a visa for Paraguay and to visit some new internet acquaintances. One of these, also called Cecilia, drove me around the wealthy northwestern part of the city. The skyscrapers in this view are in the modern Providencia barrio, central Santiago is behind them in the east and Barrio Brasil, where I stayed, is still further east.
Here is Cecilia's posh gym and health club.
Chile is once more a democracy, since the defeat of the military dictator Augusto Pinochet by the 1998 plebiscite, but it is a south Americam democracy where, true to the Spanish absolutist tradition, power and wealth are held by a small privileged elite that can call on the military and on the US government when their interests are threatened.
Here is the pool of Cecilia's gym. It is very nice but the super rich don't come here. They have their own gyms and pools behind the high walls of their private compounds. Moreover, this is just an upper middle class facility!
Social inequality is as prevalent here as it in Agentina (both have the same gini coefficient of 0.65), but the people have a more positive attitude and are more optimistic than their neighbours on the other side of the Andes.
Chile does have a slightly higher GNP than Argentina but as far as I could
sense, the better quality of life here is essentially due to two evident factors
a) a lower level of corruption of the police, the bureacrats and the polititians.
b) an awareness of belonging to a nation with common values and therefore more civic involvement and less egotism.
The poor in Chile also have a hard time but they have not been pushed into dead end movements of revolt like the "piqueteros" who stop traffic or the "caserolos" who make a lot of noise banging on pots and pans in Argentina.
The Chilean poor and imigrants from Peru and Bolivia have been allowed to invade the pedestrian malls of the city centre at night to peddle handicrafts and whatnots like here on the paseo Ahumeda.
Some poor are even tolerated in the daytime like this derelict on Paseo del Puente.
I have seen poverty and misery in many parts of the world and have hardened my heart to the hardships of the human condition. The physical hardships of mongolian steppe nomad, of the tuareg desert dweller or of the masai herder are much greater than those of this urban derelict but they dont trouble me at all because all the members of these groups face more or less the same difficulties.
I am however deeply moved by inequalities inside the same society. Is this bum on the street because he did not bother to work, because he fell into the bottle or because he did not have the possibility to make a decent living in his own country?
The gross national product per citizen of a country does not tell the whole story when a high gini coefficient indicates that some privileged few are grabbing most of the national wealth for themselves at the expense of the majority.
After Santiago, I stopped in the small town of San Felipe on my way to Mendoza in Argentina in order to visit Rolando, the father of Marisol, a Chilean neighbour in Montreal.
Life in small towns allways looks more pleasant to the outside observer than in big cities because people know each other and also because social inequities are generally less brutally evident.
Rolando, who had emigrated to Canada to get away from the opressive Pinochet regime, came back to become mayor of his home town with the return of democracy in Chile.
Democracy has brought freedom of speech but it did not change the unequal distribution of wealth in Chile nor did it reduce the omnipresence of American companies set up during the Pinochet regime. A drive down the Providentia and Apoquindo avenues in western Santiago is impressive in that regard. Two thirds if not more of the shops and businesses are American branches and affiliates.
Most of the road transport between Chile and Argentina goes through the high Paso de los Libertadores north of Santiago.
The road climbs up to the Libertadores pass at 3 200 meters, only 20 km south of Cerro Aconcagua, the highest peak of South America (6960 m - 22 685 ft).
This shell like structure protects the immigration and customs facilities from the heavy snows that sometimes close this pass in winter (july). It is proposed to build a new high volume superhighway through the lower Pehuenche pass (2500 m), some 400 km south of here.
From here, it is downhill all the way to Mendoza 180 km away.