Summer has finally arrived in Santiago – the days are sunny and hot and there is definitely a different atmosphere in the city. Along with the better weather Santiago seems to have a lot more tourists around, or at least I am noticing them more. It is especially obvious in my neighbourhood and every day I hear more English and see more camera-wielding blonde people. This has made me realise that I live in a very special little enclave in Santiago which many people want to visit. Santiago is divided into many comunas and barrios and I live with Coni in Barrio Lastarria which borders on Santiago Centro (the city centre).
Lastarria has an amazing array of historical buildings (many of which are now historical monuments) with very interesting architecture such as the Museo de Bellas Artes and the bright maroon-coloured Iglesia de la Vera Cruz. But the charm of the barrio is also because of the many little side streets with busy cafes and restaurants which attract many buskers, musicians and artists. In the early evenings now, the sidewalks are full of little tables with people enjoying a pisco sours or cold beer. The sun only sets around 8:30 now and I love the long summer evenings. Also in the last few weeks the Jacaranda trees have blossomed and turned the streets into a blaze of bright purple and green. It makes me think of home a lot, since in October places like Pretoria and my university campus in Joburg are awash with the same amazing colours.
From Thursday to Sunday every week there is an antique/book market in Calle (Street) José Victorino Lastarria. Considering how outrageously expensive books are in Chile, this is a great place to pick up some bargains. I even managed to find an English version of the memoirs of one of Chile’s most famous poets/politicians (Pablo Neruda). This may not seem like such a special achievement, but finding English books here that don’t cost the earth is nearly impossible. Antiques on sale range from old movie posters, to numerous ‘dust collectors’ and even Mapuche jewellery. It is wonderful to walk through the market on the way to or from the metro and browse through what is on sale. Even at night when the books have been packed away and the stalls dismantled, you can find people selling jewellery, books and art along the sidewalks as well as buskers and street performers. The other night I saw a busker playing the Hang (a very unique and special instrument made in Switzerland). The significance of this is that my brother plays the hang and so it was wonderful to stand and listen to the music for a few minutes and think of him all the way back in Zambia.
Right from when I arrived in Santiago in March, Cerro Santa Lucia has been one of my favourite spots in the city. It is a small hill around the corner from my house and on many occasions I have taken a book and a bottle of water up the hill and sat in the sun passing a few peaceful hours reading and people watching. The hill is renowned for being the place where Pedro de Valdivia founded Santiago back in 1541. At the top of the hill is the remains of a Spanish fort and the turret embedded in the rock has a great view (on a clear day) of the phenomenal Cordillera and the city sprawled below it. You reach the top by a series of tiny stone stairs which have been worn dangerously smooth after centuries of use…It is a wonderful spot to get away from the bustling city, although unfortunately the traffic noise is still very much evident wherever you are.
My second favourite spot in Santiago is Parque Forestal – a long, thin park just around another corner from my house. No surprise that my two favourite places both happen to be natural oases in the urban jungle…This park is especially wonderful on weekend afternoons when it is full of families making the most of the great weather. Kids entertainment abounds and if they are not clambering on the jungle gyms, they are tearing around the pathways on go-carts or watching a puppet show or clowns under the huge trees. I have spent many wonderful afternoons reading in the park and watching the world go by.
And then there is Calle Merced in which I live with Coni. Our building is tucked away between chic shops and boutiques selling everything from local fashions and Indian imports to cafes and food stores selling Middle Eastern sweets and local cuisine. Plus there is the best ice-cream shop in Santiago on the corner and on weekends you can stand in a queue for 30 minutes or more to get served. But it is so worth the wait in the end!
Santiago sometimes feels like a huge, sprawling chaotic city to me, that unfortunately has a big problem with smog thanks to being surrounded by mountains on all sides, but then I get to come back to this amazing little spot every day – a special little place that I get to call home at the moment. How lucky am I!!!