Experiencing the Mapocho River up close

Many of the world’s most beautiful cities have an iconic river flowing through them – the Thames in London, the Seine in Paris or the Liffey in Dublin, to name only three. Our ancestors settled along rivers for drinking water, food supply, irrigation and as a means of transport. Now in modern times, many of these rivers are no longer so connected to the survival of the population, but they remain the social and tourist heart of the cities through which they flow.

But when one thinks of Santiago, the first landscape that pops into ones mind is definitely not the Mapocho River which flows through the city. Postcards and tourist photos of Santiago predominantly show the towering Andes mountains to the east of the city. This mountain range has been a topic of many of my blog posts, but in close to four years of the Bright Red Backpack, I have never once written about the Mapocho River.

Although it is certainly not the most picturesque river in the world, and some would even go as far as to say it is pretty darn ugly (sorry if I offend my Chilean readers), I have lived in close proximity to the river since coming to Santiago and it has always been part of my life here in one way or another.

In preparation of this post, I have dug back into my photos from the past four years to see what interesting shots I have of the river:

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One of the best spots to take photos of Santiago was from the roof of our old apartment building. This photo is from winter 2012 with the Mapocho River, the Telefonica building in Plaza Italia and the Andes Mountains in the background.

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A night shot from the same perspective in 2011 shows the river lit up with a light display, which at the time was supposedly the only such light show on a river in the world. 

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Another winter photo showing the river with the snow-capped Andes in the background

But back to the present…

Although I have wanted to write a post about the Mapocho for a long time, I have never found a good enough storyline. That changed recently with the iniciative “Yo Vivo Map8” (I live the Mapocho).

This iniciative is part of the “Mapocho urban and clean project” which started 6 years ago with the aim of cleaning up the river and changing it’s perception of being dangerous and dirty. As you can see from the first photos in this post, as the river runs through the centre of the city it has been canalized. This helps control the potential for floods, but it also makes a rather small river look even smaller. The advantage of the canal though, is that it provides a great space to explore the river from a different perspective and this is exactly what the Yo Vivo Map8 was all about.

Two weeks ago, various civil society organisations and the municipalities of Santiago and Providencia came together to open up a stretch of the river for one day so that Santiaguinos could enjoy the river, by bike, rollerblades or as pedestrians.

The weather didn’t quite live up to expectations, with the day dawning cold and cloudy – typical autumn conditions for Santiago. But that didn’t stop nearly 5000 people heading down the temporary ramps installed at two bridges in the river.

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Pablo, Rodrigo’s 6 year old nephew all ready to go!

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Pablo and I

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Rodrigo and Pablo about to cross under Puente Arzobispo

The walls of the Mapocho have always been used as a canvas for grafitti artists as well as political messages. It was interesting to see the artwork up close:

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I don’t know the story behind this artwork, but I like the colours

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This mural depicts the work of the postal service and was done in 2013 during a prolonged strike over better pay and working conditions. When the strike was not generating enough media attention, a group of postal workers camped along this stretch of the river to raise awareness of their fight. 

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This artwork was done by a Peruvian artist during the first Hecho in Casa festival in 2012 (see my post Hecho en Case – Mural Magic)

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Wouldn’t it be nice if in the summer they could create an artificial beach along the river, just like the Seine in Paris…

One thing I do like about the Mapocho River is that every bridge is different and has it’s own unique character. It was fun to see these bridges from a different perspective.

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This is the only pedestrian bridge that crosses the river in Providencia. 

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Crossing under one of the bridges

Apart from enjoying the cycle and seeing the different activities along the route, it was incredible to note how isolated the river is from the hustle and bustle of the city just a few metres above it. It was a shock to head up the ramp at the end of the route and hear the hooters and chaos of Saturday morning traffic in the middle of the city.

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But sadly we had to leave the river and head back into the city. All I can say is that hopefully this is an event that is repeated often and that it leads to a permanent initiative to make the River Mapocho cycleable and walkable for all of us.

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3 Responses to Experiencing the Mapocho River up close

  1. The Rider says:

    Great post! Thanks, makes me want to travel!

  2. linda koch says:

    My first experience of this river was on our first trip to the fruit & vege market on our second day in Santiago last December. I was amazed at the width of the river, the graffiti and the people I saw sitting on a couch at the edge of the water, an amazing sight. Pablo has got SOOO big! Wonderful read. Have a great Sunday. Mum

  3. Helen says:

    Long may the Mapocho flow!

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