Subject: Re: Chile as a vacation destination
Hi Helen &fellow Ziners,

Lisa wrote: John Rule claims to be working on a travelogue of his recent trip which included Chile, but I will put my two cents in.

It is true I am working on a travelogue but I've had to put it on hold during this busiest of seasons. Look for the installments to begin next month.

My wife and I visited Argentina and Chile on a three week trip just this past Oct./Nov. Half of our time spent in each country with the focus on Patagonia and southern regions; what the Chileans call the Austral. In Chile we visited Torres del Paine National Park, Punta Arenas, Chíloe, the Lake District, and Santiago.

I concur with Lisa's comments on Santiago. We were there for three days and still missed a few of the suggested neighborhoods, sights, etc. The city has the potential for beautiful views due to the looming Andes to the east. But, like so many major cities with populations in the multiple millions, air quality often eradicates or diminishes this striking view. We were fortunate one day to be able to see the ski lifts at the ski areas high on the snow-covered mountains to the east. Our vantage point, Santa Lucia Hill in downtown Santiago, had a quote from Charles Darwin on a memorial commemorating his visit to the city in the late 1800's. His quote makes reference to the natural beauty of the area at that time. Add 120 years and 3-4 million people and things change....

Lisa wrote: I did not use the subway, but only because one of my friends is not a subway person. It is reasonably priced and seemed very easy to use. It also has enough lines now to be useful in getting around, particularly downtown.

My wife, Sara and I are subway people and found Santiago's subway to be a great asset to the city. We bought a multiple ride pass that was very reasonable. Above ground, in addition to the army of cars, the main transport are buses. More buses than you could ever imagine. Especially along the main crosstown street Avenida Providencia. We found the subways and walking along side streets to be much less aggravating.

Some of the sights that we enjoyed included Pablo Neruda's house in Bellavista (a nice neighborhood replete with interesting restaurants), the Precolombian Museum (absolutely fascinating and well done; second only to Mexico City's Museum of Anthropology as far as pre-Columbian museums I've visited), the Palacio Cousiño ( a wonderful example of how the genteel class lived in the mid to late 19th century). Of course, we also visited the standard tourist sights, such as, Cerro San Cristobal with its views of the whole city, the Plaza de Armas ( the colonial center), and the market ( with its many seafood restaurants#remember, only an hour from the coast).

Further south the Lake District is a gem. The town Lisa was trying to recall is Puerto Varas which is on the southwestern shores of Lake Llanquihue. This town is only about a half hour north of Puerto Montt and is the southern entrance to the Lake District. The region continues for a couple hundred miles to the north and is a series of beautiful lakes and looming snow-capped volcanoes. The landscape is very bucolic. Dairy cattle, sheep ranching, farming (we were there at the height of the berry season; raspberries and strawberries galore), and salmon farming are the main industries (besides tourism). We rented a car and drove from south to north staying in Purto Varas, Lago Pueyehue, and Valdivia on the Pacific Coast (another interesting town and beautiful coastline closeby in Niebla).

We also spent three days in Chíloe, an island across the Cucao Channel from Puerto Montt. Chíloe and its people have been imbued in Chilean folklore as a very mystical place full of strange supernatural beings and forces. The landscape reminded me of Nova Scotia with the population's labor divided between working the sea and the land. I suggest reading up on this are to see whether it would appeal to you. I found it interesting but the people are not extremely open to tourists. They're not rude but, I think, the recent influx of tourism has not been reconciled with the centuries of isolation that has set the Chilotes apart from other Chilenos. But, the seafood here and in Puerto Montt, mmmm mmmmm......

Torres del Paine National Park is one of those places that stands out amongst the world's landscapes. If shown a panoramic shot of the Torres and the Cuernos (the two major and distinct groups of peaks) most people would immediately recognize them but have no idea of their location or name. This recognition can be attributed to the advertising industry, as the peaks are often used for a backdrop (usually with a couple of guanacos in the picture) especially for automobile ads. If you go and you don't hike there are 3-4 upscale hotels within the park. There are also refugios for the hikers who make the treks about the park. Nothing in-between. I think it's worth a couple of days in the park instead of the long day visit from Puerto Natales. But if you're coming this far south don't miss this most beautiful of landscapes. Weather permitting you can see it, of course.

Our furthest southern destination was Punta Arenas where we simply went to catch our flight north. This small city is the jumping off point to Tierra del Fuego and Antarctica (although Ushuaiia in Argentina handles more traffic to Antarctica). I really can't say much about Punta Arenas except it is one windy place. It's really just a transition point for people heading north or south.

So, Chile as a vacation destination? I think so. I'll go back. I still have to see the central Pacific Coast, Antofagasta, and the desert north. Loved the Chilean people. I found them to be very warm and friendly. And, oh yeah, if you visit the Lake District, keep in mind the early German settlers to the region were kind enough to bring along their recipes for all types of pastries including the kuchen which you see offered everywhere.

John Rule San Diego, CA