I half expected the Pearl and Dean music to start as the lights dimmed and changed colour. We’d just taken off from Auckland in our brand new LAN Airlines Boeing 787-9 “Dreamliner”, the plane seemingly taking an age to get off the ground.
I’m not a nervous flyer, well not now after 31 flights. However, the thought of flying 6,000 miles across the South Pacific on two engines to Santiago, Chile with no land in between, did make me briefly think I might not see my beloved Middlesbrough play in the Premiership next season. EDITOR: Mr B not a happy Blogger after the away defeat at Rotherham United!
But it was a fantastic ambient light show in the plane’s cabin that distracted me from thoughts of death. We’ve been in a couple of the giant A380 Airbuses on our RTW travels and they have had different lighting states. However our first ever flight in the Dreamliner topped that by some distance. Firstly, as we boarded, a nice pinky/rose colour helped passengers de-stress as seatbelts were tightened. Then as we hurtled down the runway, it changed to a bluey crimson colour – which must mean something, although I know not what.
At 34,000 feet, as we flew over the International Dateline, the lights took on an orange glow as dinner was served – in-lieu of candles perhaps? Then, with people wanting to sleep, the purple hue around the cabin ceiling gradually became a silver/yellow moonlike shimmer, gradually fading to black as the cabin lights dimmed.
Hats off to manufacturer Boeing who are being really clever here as they try to trick our mind and circadian (body) clock through different shades of light. I think it worked in fairness, particularly as the onboard computer also controlled the 40% larger than normal ‘portal’ windows by dimming and brightening when necessary. For example, we set off at 1830 for an 11 hour flight, went over the dateline and arrived at 1400 the same day. But despite the sun having “been up” for the last 7 hours of the flight, the windows pretended that it was still night. Clever. So we were up for 31 hours and had no jet lag the next day despite very little sleep due to the excessive turbulence. Maybe that’s the downside of these flexible light-weight carbon fibre planes.
Just wished I had taken some photos – but hey, for once, hope the above prose gives you an idea.
So, Santiago, Chile. A new country and our first time in South America. Excited.
Well we were for five minutes as we got in to the taxi, but suddenly we both thought it all looked a bit grey as we sped in to the centre of town. Situated in a “bowl” haze not heavy smog, enveloped the City. Something akin to Beijing was in the air, but we could breath.
We quickly dumped our bags in our 1970s throwback hotel, interestingly called The Vegas and headed out to explore, our legs still seized up thanks to the not so generous 30” legroom afforded in LAN Cattle Class. Dream on Dreamliner.
But what was this? Nobody around. Shutters shut, grey coloured streets with nobody in them. Lots of concrete, randomly mixed with the odd Cubanesque colourful style building. We headed for the central plaza, graffiti everywhere. The city increasingly looked like a cross between Romania in the height of the cold-war mixed with a down-at-heel part of Birmingham. More graffiti. It was sprayed everywhere. Still nobody around as a piece of “Donald Trump” hair, sorry tumbleweed, blew across the street in-front of us as if we were in some sort of spaghetti western.
From the beauty of New Zealand to this in the blink of an eye.
We looked at each other, shrugged our shoulders and headed to a rather poor Italian restaurant for a bowl of pasta and a pizza. It was the only thing we could find open within a half mile walk of the hotel. In a corner, a hunched up old lady who must have been in her 90s, kept shouting out to her 65+ year old daughter over Sunday/ “Mother’s Day” lunch? Back to the care home for her, time for bed for us after being up for 31 hours.
Next day, Monday, a different day and a good day. The sun was shining, an excellent start. The grey had changed to blue and suddenly there were people everywhere. The place was alive, nay bustling, a veritable hive of activity in the street surrounding our hotel. Streets and areas that yesterday had appeared to be reminiscent of a former 1980s Soviet State suddenly looked amazingly capitalist. With the sun now out to play, temperatures quickly rose into the late 20s.
Welcome to Santiago proper!
We decided to join the 1000 Free Walking Tour which started in the main Piazza. No hills, but still good exercise and the chance to find out more about the city we were in for 72 hours.
Franco (or El Presidente as I dubbed him), our late 20s tour guide was a real pro’ – he should have been after six years. But as I said to him, his passion and enthusiasm were infectious. It was as if this was his first, not 1400th tour. Fair play and you could see why he lives off tips, he was that good.
So our four hour tour started, taking in at first the historic bits of the central area as one would expect. But I am delighted to say there was loads of social commentary and background on modern day Santiago and the people of Chile. It was all fascinating. So please, let me share some small vignettes from our walk to give you a flavour of this interesting capital.
MORE COFFEE VICAR?
Thirty minutes after we started, Franco stopped the group in the street and began talking about coffee houses… I was so glad he did! Earlier that morning, I had stumbled in to what I thought was a café selling coffee, only to be met by a couple of men and a rather well-endowed young lady who asked me with a twinkle in her glass eye what I wanted!!! Franco’s explanation was interesting. Chile, he explained is not known for its quality of coffee so in the 1980s some bright spark had the notion of selling coffee in cafes with no chairs (just poser tables) served by ladies in short skirts. The idea was a simple one. Men would be distracted from the poor treacle/stewed coffee by the beauty of the ladies and everybody would be happy. It summed up for me typical male crass thinking. The irony, that this was International Women’s Day not lost on me or Sarah. We squinted through partially covered frosted window pains and both got eye fulls! Libidos in check, we continued as history beckoned.
MAGGIE THATCHER’S MATE…. “The Party of Pinochet” – Blair 1999
We stopped, overlooking the Presidential Palace – not particularly ornate or grand as the photo shows. But interesting because on the 9th September 1973 there was a coup and Margaret Thatcher’s friend General Pinochet strangely came to power after two President’s died in the space of a week. He was third in line. I personally remember Pinochet for a couple of reasons.
The first was his support of the British when we took back the Falklands. Pinochet had no love for the Argentinians although officially neutral. But when Margaret needed assistance to bomb the Falkland Islands, General P offered radar support in exchange for some Hawker fighters…. The “friendship” continued into the late 1980’s and early 1990’s and coincided with the second reason I remember this rather nasty Dictator. Joe, our son once went to a birthday party when he was 3 on the Wentworth Estate. Not any old party, but the leaving party for the Sultan of Brunei’s two sons who went to the same nursery – Happy Days (yes the real name of the nursery). It was quite literally a palace, but interestingly close by was General P’s UK residence where he was holed up after being ousted from power in 1990 to evade possible arrest for nasties carried out under his watch.
Pinochet is long since dead, but one lasting memory I do have of Santiago is the Police presence on the streets. Those of you who are Facebook friends will have seen a tongue in cheek posting I made a couple of days ago showing water canon units, armed personnel carriers and military police in full riot gear. This heavy police presence was not as first reports claimed, needed to quell the disquiet of Middlesbrough FC fans in Santiago (me) after their diabolical performance against Rotherham, but was to “observe” what appeared to be a perfectly quiet demonstration involving around 10,000 mainly women who were campaigning for a range of women’s rights, including abortion.
Pity the police don’t earn their money by nailing people with spray cans in their hands. I mentioned earlier that graffiti was everywhere and wasn’t a pretty sight. However on our walking tour we saw examples of much better, even semi-professional “street art” which was actually quite good….
ART FOR ARTSAKE?
… but better still were the many artists who worked in the historic streets in the old quarter and in the student side of town close to a myriad of bars and clubs – the latter where a more “free” or should I say “drunk” style of painting prevailed . I really liked their work, bright vivid colours reminding me in some cases of the great work of Steve Eker and Cate Field, who I hasten to add are both teetotal.
ARCHITECTURALLY VERY GOOD
The Santiagan artists had some lovely backdrops to paint in-front of and Franco showed us many fine sights, the old buildings mixing with the new quite well except in the case of the Telefonica Tower, which looked like the stupid “brick” that it was in terms of a poor copy of a mobile phone circa 1995. Judge for yourself.
BAILEY’S POLICE HIT LIKED BY LOCALS
Just round the corner from the Tower, I could hear the clear sounds of a rock band. Listening to the music I was astounded to see a guy on drums and another on bass guitar “busking” in front of four lanes of cars waiting at traffic lights. With full amplification, they started each time the traffic stopped giving them around 35 seconds to belt out various tracks before rushing down the sides of the vehicles to receive cash. I watched these guys completely fascinated, having broken away from the walking tour party who were now busy looking at some really, really boring statue of a bloke from 1756. The drummer stayed with his kit on the pavement whilst the guitarist gyrated big time as the lights turned to red. Two performances later I heard the Police Number 1 “Don’t stand so close to me” from 1980. I could not resist singing along from the centre of the dual carriageway much to the pleasure of the band and it would appear cars alike. Tune over, we nipped down the cars and collected about 500 pesos – around 50P – which my fellow band members seemed pleased with. I tried to explain that I was from “near Newcastle where Sting comes from” but my Spanish Geordie accent was not good and I think the message (in a bottle) was lost in translation.
Back to the group, the rest of the international walking tour members just never knew what they missed…
So, next up, Ecuador and our trip to the Amazon Basin and the “Poor Man’s” Galapagos. Our LAN Airbus 320 has just pulled up on the stand beneath where I am sitting. The white and blue fuselage shining in the late afternoon sun. We’ve had a really colourful last three days, just wish it had been longer really.