DM and MM's South America 2011 Diary

Day 20 - Santiago to Auckland

Wednesday, 4 May, 2011

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17:25, Caesar Business Hotel bar

We are hanging out in the hotel bar because we had to check out of our room by 12:00, while our flight doesn't leave until 23:50 tonight.

We got up about 09:00 and went straight down for a leisurely breakfast. Both of us had eggs this morning and I loaded up on some fresh fruit too. Following this we went back to our room to pack our bags and have the last shower we'll be able to have until we get home on Friday.

We checked out at 11:30 and left our luggage in storage at the hotel until we pick it up later tonight. Then we went for a walk to the Plaza de Armas, where the National History Museum sits on its north side. Entry was cheap at 600 pesos each, plus a 100 peso coin deposit to operate luggage lockers where I left my camera bag since photography was forbidden in the museum.

The museum had about 16 rooms of displays and objects, over two floors. the first room was an eclectic and apparently themeless grab-bag of stuff from Chilean history and prehistory, including such things as old guns, stone carvings, military uniforms, and a Lionel Richie cassette tape (his "Can't Slow Down" album). The room was apparently about the history of the museum itself and its collections, as plaques described the establishment of the museum and its movement between various locations in Santiago until it ended up in the present building - which was originally the government palace of the first independent government of Chile in 1810. The room described how varios things have been added to the collection over the years to maintain it as a record of Chilean society and history, and culminated in a portrait of the collection's first director.

The remainder of the rooms were themed along historical lines, tracing a progression of Chilean history from prehistoric stone age cultures, through pre-Columbian empires, Spanish conquest, the colonial era, revolution, independence, industrial revolution, and the emergence of modern Chile.

The ground floor brought us to the Spanish conquest, and the rooms were fairly small so we got this far pretty quickly. We decided to break for coffee and lunch before tackling the upstairs level. We walked back to the Austrian cafe we;d found two days ago and ordered drinks and sandwiches. I got a raspberry juice and a sandwich which I didn't fully understand the description of, but it sounded good and was the equally most expensive sandwich on the menu. When it came, it turned out to be a flat tortilla, topped with ham, a bit of bechamel sauce, cheese, sliced mushrooms, olives, and red and green capsicums. The cheese was melted but the veges were all raw, so it was nice and crunchy and felt very healthy. M. got a cappuccino Italiano and a grilled cheese, tomato, and pesto ciabatta.

Sandwich lunch
Grilled cheese sandwich and tortilla thing

Following this we went back to the museum to finish the history of Chile on the upper floor. Much of this was represented by oil paintings of various people and battles, but there were also plenty of artefacts: weapons, medals, coins, uniforms, bits of furniture, writing implements, tools, etc. The transition from painting to photography came in time to show photos of the celebrations of the first centenary of Chilean independence in 1910. From here the collection continued with artefacts like typewriters and telephones until it ended with a stark display of half a pair of thick horn-rimmed glasses, with the glass shattered and small fragments of it scattered in the display case. This was the pair of glasses that Chilean President Salvador Allende was wearing when he committed suicide during the military coup in 1973.

We were done with the museum sooner than we'd expected, and it was only about 15:30. So we decided to walk over to the Museo de Bellas Artes to see some of the fine art - just to have a quick look around before returning to the hotel. The museum took a bit of finding and I had to consult the better map M. was carrying in her bag, but we finally located it in a neat neoclassical building that appeared to be under renovation, with the entire front facade roped off and partly covered in scaffolding. A plywood tunnel on one side had a sign promising access to the museum and there were some colourful banners nearby advertising special exhibits. So we went in and put 2000 pesos in the donation box after struggling with another luggage locker that took a 100 peso coin - but not the new style smaller coins, only the old larger copper ones. We had to get a coin change and then we were good to go. (I discovered only after getting home that the building had been badly damaged by the 2010 earthquake a year earlier, so presumably much of the reconstruction was to repair that.)

The ground floor held only a single exhibit, filling the walls of a vast room in the centre of the building. It was an installation of sheet metal plates - galvanised iron by the look of them - printed with fuzzy images that looked like a lighthouse on a gently sloping horizon. Below the horizon were strung rows of lightbulbs. There were about three or four of these large panels per wall. And there were speakers playing a soft mumbling - someone talking in an incoherent whisper so you could imagine they were saying something but not make out what it was. It was very weird and had a title of (something) Sangre - "Blood" - although there was nothing in the imagery whatsoever that brought blood to mind.

We headed upstairs and soon realised that the entire first floor was empty of exhibits, and there were workers chipping away at the walls in one room. Apparently the renovations were interior too, and the artworks had been removed to allow it to happen. Up on the final floor the exhibit rooms were open, and all were host to another special exhibit - this one of photography by young Chilean photographers. We perused it all; there were some disturbing works, some bizarre ones, and a few attractive ones. Probably the nicest thing about the museum was the building itself, with a gorgeous central area surrounded by the rooms of the two upper floors and surmounted by a latticed skylight that illuminated the tiled floor and graceful columns and arches of the supporting structures around it.

This museum also done, we headed back to the hotel, stopping at a Starbucks for a mocha for M. and a snack of blueberry nougat pie for me. Then we came back to the hotel bar to lounge a bit and wait for a sensible time to head to the airport.

Blueberry nougat pie
Blueberry nougat pie

22:08. Santiago Airport

We are sitting around in the departure lounge waiting for our flight to Auckland. We got a taxi from the hotel a bit after 18:30. The drive across Santiago under the pink sky of sunset was pleasant and we arrived at the airport a bit after 19:00. The check-in for our flight was already open, so we dropped our bags off and had a quick look at one of the shops in the external terminal before clearing immigration and security to enter the departure gate area.

First stop in here was the Britt Shop to buy some souvenir T-shirts for Jason and Paul. It was buy two, get one free, so we also grabbed one forme. This used most of our Chilean pesos, which was good. Some walking of the terminal found a shop selling knitted woollen scarfs, which M. decided would make a good gift for her nan, but we were just short on pesos to buy one. We began walking away, then decided to use the US$10 we still had left over from Ecuador as partial payment. This got us down to just a few thousand pesos left.

Following this we went for dinner to La Sebastian, the same place we'd eaten when waiting at this airport on the way to Guayaquil three weeks ago. This time M. had a grilled salmon with vegetables, while I had the scaloppine beef. We also got a bowl of chips to go with them. Some time after taking our order, the waiter reappeared and started telling me the scaloppine only came with beef, not sea bass, though it wasn't exactly clear because his English was halting. I didn't know if he was talking about my meal or saying something about M.'s. But it all worked out in the end - I assume he must have misunderstood my initial order as asking for a sea bass scaloppine. The food was decent, though the accompanying vegetables were a bit salty.

Now after eating, we're just sitting around sleepily and waiting for the flight. M. has gone to a shop to buy some chocolates and managed to reduce our cash to 20 pesos, or about 4 cents.



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