Chile (part 1 – Santiago)
Perhaps even less probable than Canada, Chile is an extremely long, remarkaby thin and geologically active country, which defines South America’s southern cone.
I love Chile. Not convinced by its typical large and economically segregated capital City, Santiago, but otherwise it is a dream destination.
In some ways Chile’s physical structure is simple. Pacific ocean defining the western edge of the entire country. A low rise of coastal hills, sheltering the central valley. A vast, deep central valley and then the mighty Andes, defining boarders with (to some extent, Peru), Bolivia and, Argentina.
Understanding ocean currents is vital to understanding Chile. The Humbolt keeps the south markedly cool and remarkably wet – this is akin to coastal British Columbia and Alaska. In related contrast, the north of Chile (and into southern Peru) has a climate similar – even related – to Southern California and northern, Pacific Mexico. Yet much, much dryer. The Atacama Desert is indeed the driest (non-polar) place on earth.
And Chile is really alive. Volcanoes define its cordillera. Earthquakes are ubiquitous and, despite its ridiculous length, the country is very isolated as a result of its remarkable physical attributes.
And onto the people….
Many Peruvians have told me Chileans have no culture and no cuisine. Bolivians are taught in school they are poor because of Chilean aggression. Argentines, famously proud, look down on Chileans as a humble, poor people.
I suppose there may be some truth in all of that, but I like Chileans and generally respect what they have achieved.
The indigenous peoples were as mistreated and abused as all of those on both the American continents, yet isolation and cultural integrity have kept some – particularly the Mapuche – cultures alive and vibrant.
Modern Chile is changing quickly. Its population will soon top 18 million – with nearly half living in and around Santiago.
Where Chile is markedly different from its regional neighbours is the effectiveness of its institutions. The police – Carabineros de Chile – are really not corrupt. Their style still has the post-Pinochet military feel, but the lack of structural corruption has contributed greatly to the country’s economic success.
Class distinctions remain obviously and poverty exists, yet water is potable throughout the country and there is a public healthcare system. Chilean fire-fighters are all volunteer and Chile’s ability to survive natural disasters may be the best in the world.
Chilean Spanish is indisputably the most distinct in Latin America and with an important degree of economic empowerment, Chileans themselves have joined the ranks of world travellers.
Over the next three weeks I will be posting images and blogs about the different regions of this magnificent country. Enjoy!