The Charm of Santa Lucia Park - Day 459
Our last day in Santiago, too short…we are travelling too fast. We need to slow down, but we only have just over 18 weeks left in this massive continent, and there is so much to see.
We walked around the city, popped into the Cultural Centre which is under the Plaza in front of #LaMondePalace. It is quite stunning, very open and light with long concrete slopes to reach the lower floors and an interesting exhibition was showing how chairs were made.
We ended up back at the big rock that Pedro de Valdivia climbed up. It had had quite a varied history since 1540 when he named it as Santa Lucia. Missionaries worshipped on it, Army set up forts on it. A cannon is still fired at noon each day. Those not following the Catholic faith were buried on it, and an American astronomer and naval officer James Gilliss set up an astronomical observatory on the top in the mid-1800s to measure the solar parallax.
Santa Lucia turned into a bit of a dumping ground and a refuge of criminals until the mayor, Benjamin Vicuña Mackenna decided to improve the city and transform the hill into a beautiful park, using his own money. And an excellent job he did.
As a journalist, he was well travelled and was inspired by many places in Europe. There is a fabulous small fountain which is supposed to be similar to Rome’s iconic Trevi Fountain. You do need to use your imagination, and I am sure that Nicola Salvi may be a bit offended by this comparison. Mackenna did eventually run out of cash so ended up getting 150 prisoners to help convert this place and upcycled by using various objects from other nearby landmarks. The gate of the main entrance was initially installed in La Moneda Palace when it was the Mint House. The gardens and park were finally completed in 1875 taking 3 years to transform.
Leading us behind the fountain, the wide grand sweeping stairs gives the entrance added drama. Further up are pathways curving around the rocks taking us on a journey to see something different around each corner, be it a small chapel, a statue of Pedro de Valdivia, and the former archbishop Manuel Vicuña Larraín.
When we came just to the entrance a couple of days ago on our tour with the lovely Vanesa, she said that the first time she came here, she saw many couples being rather intimate with one another, and it is renowned for a place that lovers meet. They must have all been at church when we arrived as we certainly didn’t see any canoodling. Tim did try.
I am glad we wandered here. It has a beautiful timeworn charm about it. The pathways continued giving us a choice to climb higher via precariously slippery steep stone stairs that had been worn down over the many years. I did wonder how many people had taken these narrow steps over the last hundred years and more. At the top, which is known as Torre Mirador, we could see that that the hill may not be the highest in the city at 69m, but we still had a fabulous 360-degree view of Santiago. We could clearly see the naked line between the trees on Cerro San Cristobal for the funicular to travel up, which we did on our first day here, the skyline of new highrise buildings, and stumpier blocks for the older buildings, many dilapidated from neglect during the dictatorship years.
Once on the level ground we found a lovely café for a juice and got chatting to Simon, the owner. He and his family left Chile for Perth, Australia when he was 9 years old in 1989, and I asked if he could remember how it was back then. He winced and said that it was terrible. But he is pleased to be back with his family here now. The people are resilient and happy, they quickly move on from disasters; earthquakes, volcano eruptions as well as an oppressive regime. He asked us to send him a postcard from our travels, he sticks them to the wall. We will do that one day to surprise him, from the Pommie #GrownUpTravellers.
Time to get our Uber to the Airport. We chatted to our driver along the journey. He has been out of work for some years as an electrical engineer but enjoys driving. We noticed that he has done over 15 thousand rides! We swapped details of our children, both having two sons. It’s fabulous what we can talk about mainly using Google translate. He was amazed to hear about our travels and said: “I am so pleased for you, you fill my heart with joy and I wish you much happiness on your journey”. How lovely is that!
When we got near the airport, he asked us our names and a few other details and confirmed his name to us. We sensed that he had to be careful if the authorities stopped him. He needed to be our “amigo”. As we parted company we gave him a huge hug, “Adios nuestro amigo”.
What a flight. A reasonably clear day right over the Andes. What a sight. As we reached the Argentinean side, big dense, towering Cumulonimbus clouds greeted us, and the flight was a bit turbulent. As we came out the other end, the rocky terrain had changed to flat squares of farmland. What a transformation. We are back in Argentina, now in Mendoza, the heart of the wine region. We are definitely looking forward to a glass of wine or two.