As previously mentioned, our departure from Aruba from Saturday was uneventful, as was our landing in Bogota. But as an example of the small world we live in, in Bogota, at the departure gate, we bumped into a friend from Bonaire who was also on her way to Santiago. She regaled us with stories about how tough Chilean customs is with respect to bringing in food, herbs, or spices, and told us to make sure to declare anything that could remotely be considered to be food or be fined lots of money (US$300 for a bag of prunes for her the last time she fell afoul of Chilean customs).
It was good advice to follow. By declaring our protein powder, chocolate, tea, nuts, chewing gum, and hot chili powder at customs they didn’t hassle us at all, and just waved us through after examining our written declaration.
Interestingly, we had also been warned that Chile requires birth certificates and proof of parental status for kids entering the country, but we were never asked for that documentation.
The one last issue we encountered, again with advance knowledge, was something called the “reciprocity fee”. Apparently Chile decided to charge citizens of certain countries (Canada, USA, Mexico, Australia, and Albania) an entry fee commensurate with what Chilean citizens are charged for visas to enter those countries. For Canada, for example, this fee is US$132, while for Mexico it’s $17. For U.S. citizens it is $131. The only white lining here is that the fee covers the passport for as long as it is valid. Great for people with new passports, but less for those with passports about to expire. And it’s quite a hefty tab for families.
Fortunately the kids and I have dual nationality – we’re Czech Americans, so we used our Czech passports and did not have to pay any sort of reciprocity fee (the Czech Republic is part of the European Union). Thus we only had to pay the reciprocity fee for Linda. Savings of $393.
Our luggage was waiting for us when we got past immigration and customs, and outside we found a sign with our name on it, held by a representative of the tour company responsible for our transfer to our hotel. The representative’s name was Pablo, and our driver was Patricio. As we learned, Pablo and Patricio would be our companions during our Chilean exploration as well, with Pablo being our multi-lingual tour guide.
View from our window at the Grand Hyatt - note the Andes in the distance
We were dropped off at our hotel, had a very early 6am breakfast, and then slept until noon. Red eye flights are never good, but having a bed ready so early in the morning was a wonderful thing to help compensate for the sleeplessness of the flight.
After a good Thai/Chile buffet lunch we met up with Pablo and Patricio for a half-day tour of Santiago.
Pablo had detailed information on statistics, economic factors, and the history of Chile and Santiago. Unfortunately I do not have enough to relate much of that here due to limited time tonight.
In terms of places we visited, the short list would be the Plaza de Armas (translated) (plaza of armaments), the Catedral Metropolitana de Santiago (translated) (the main cathedral, located at the Plaza de Armas), the Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino (the museum of Precolumbian art), La Moneda Presidential Palace, and Cerro San Cristobal. You can see our path in the previous post, and also see a number pictures from our afternoon in Santiago on a map at Flickr. A few of our photos appear below.
View down the Plaza de Armas
Pablo describes the Santiago city plan of the 1712 time frame with Linda and Bas
People praying in the silver chapel of the Catedral Metropolitana de Santiago
Jake stands guard with the honor guard at the La Moneda Presidential Palace
Amazing wall murals on a set of buildings in downtown Santiago
The funicular arrives at the top of Cerro San Cristobal
More important than a play by play, perhaps, would be our observations of Chile and Santiago in particular.
One of the most impressive features of Santiago is that it lies in the foothills of the Andes mountain range, one of the tallest mountain ranges (Pablo says #2) in the world. The city itself is at around 1800 feet above sea level, and we can see tall, snow covered mountain peaks in the distance from our hotel room windows.
In comparison to other Central and South American cities we’ve visited, Santiago feels almost European, and somewhat safer. The climate is also quite moderate, with temperatures into the mid-80s during the day during the summer (now), ranging down to around freezing in the winter. During the summer, the air is clear due to regular winds, but the presence of the six million inhabitants of the area is more prevalent during the winter, when air pollution can get pretty bad, according to Pablo.
Santiago appears to also be European in its prices, which are quite high relative to those we found in Ecuador and Peru, and Pablo mentioned that Chile is the most expensive Latin American country to live in, while at the same time, having the highest per capita income (which makes sense).
Chile has a bit of turbulent history, both politically and geographically. Frequent large earthquakes over the centuries have destroyed many of the older structures in places like Santiago, resulting in a diverse blend of modern, traditional, and colonial architecture, all interspersed with one another. Politically, Chile is a democratic nation, but in 1973 General Augusto Pinochet staged a coup d’état and took power from President Salvador Allende. Pinochet ruled until he stepped down peacefully in 1990.
The Chilean people have a reputation for being the most reserved of the Latin Americans, but our limited experience so far has found them to be warm and friendly.
Finally, the local currency is the Chilean Peso, which trades at a rate of approximately 531 pesos to one U.S. dollar. However, they use the “$” symbol to represent the Chilean Peso, which makes price displays rather intimidating, as seen below:
A very scary ATM display in Santiago - they use the dollar sign for the Chilean Peso - rate is 530 pesos to a U.S. dollar - so this is actually about 500 U.S. dollars
We’re looking forward to experiencing a bit more of the country and its history in the coming couple of days (Tuesday and Wednesday) as we explore and experience Valparaiso, Chile’s main port.
For those wondering, we spent today (Monday) sleeping in, resting up, editing photos, and trying some new foods, such as calf testicles. Seriously. Wouldn’t probably try them again though, unless they were deep fried, perhaps.
Photos from the day can be found at Jake’s Flickr Pages and Krystyana’s Flickr Pages.
We might be able to post something from our hotel in Valparaiso tomorrow night, but if not it might be Wednesday night before our next post.