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Ileft you in the Plaza de Armas and so that´s where we´ll return. In the plaza, in front of the government building is a statue of Don Pedro de Valdivia, the first governor of Chile. He was an interesting character and while the Chilean army was being challenged, and losing, to the Mapuche, the indigenous people of Chile, he started stealing their chidren and training them as his own troops. But one of them showed great promise and Valdivia took him under his wing, according to tour guide Antonio. He taught him weaponry, fighting and strategy. But the boy´s alliance was still with his people and he escaped once and warned the Mapuche camp of coming attack. They were prepared and ambushed Valdivia´s men. Antonio´s story is that the Mapuche cut off the heads of the soldiers and put them on stakes, but used Valdivia´s head a a bowl. Quite gruesome.
We noticed a crowd and excitement in a gazebo and went to check it out. Every day, men gather for chess matches. Some are skilled players, Antonio said, and many of the onlookers bet on the best players. Ï always wonder if these people work,¨Antonio said. They looked pretty serious about their game, so who knows.
From there, we walked a few blocks to the Parque Forestal, a beautiful, long park along the river. Stick with the park though, the river is brown and lined with trash. Antonio said it flows from the Andes and gets polluted along the way and picks up silt from other water sources, but he said he wishes the city would invest in the river and clean it.
As you walk through the park, you´ll see the Museo de Arte Contemporaneo, which is located in the old Escuela de Bellas Artes, or School of Fine Arts. As you round the corner, you see the Bellas Artes Museum, which is a beautiful structure on its own and houses three floors of artwork. It was established in 1880 and is the oldest in South America. The current buiding dates to 1910 and was opened for the first centennial of the Independence of Chile.
We stopped for coffee and chatted about our lives, where we´re from and where we´re going. Antonio is an actor and though he´s actually from Spain, he struggles with the Chilean accent. He loves some of the Japanese shows that I know nothing about, but oh well. In the neighborhood where we got coffee, he mentioned that the buildings were short because of Cerro Santa Lucia so that when you climb the hill, you get a beautiful panoramic of the city. I told him D.C. also has height restrictions for buildings since nothing can compete with the Washington Monument. Funny the things you find in common with foreign cities.
We take a quick walk through the Lastarria neighborhood, which is a classy area full of restaurants, bars and independent designers, all on just one street. Then we cut through an alley and see an odd looking building. It´s the GAM, or the Centro Cultural Gabriela Mistral. It´s a major cultural center in Santiago and has an odd design that incorporates copper plates with circles cut out. It looks funny from a distance, as if it´s still under construction, but up close it´s very cool. Plus, with wear, it will turn green.
Mistal was a Chilean author, diplomat and educator and the first Latin American to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. She won in 1945 and remains the only Latin American woman to win the prize. Construction on the building began in 1971 and was completed in just 275 days. But after the military coup in 1973 it was renamed the Diego Portales Building and was the seat of the governing board. In the 90s it was used for various government offices until a fire in 2006 destroyed most of the structure. It finally reopned, as the cultural center, in 2010.
A lot of art is in the open air plazas of the center, too. There´s also participatory art throughout and the best part is a giant chalkboard near one of the entrances. It says ¨Before I die, I want to...¨and there´s lines for people to write in their own aspirations. Every few days, the filled board is erased and they start over. Antonio said it´s very popular and people continu to fill the board. I think that chalkboard is my very favorite thing in Santiago.
We took a look at the former home of another Chilean Nobel Prize winner, Neruda, and made our way to the base of Cerro San Cristobal.It´s a huge hill with a statue of Mary on top and also a zoo that is a very sad zoo, Antonio said, and not worth the money or the hike up the hill.
From there, the tour was over and my new Japanese friend and I made the walk back to our hostels and chatted along the way. I had to move quickly since I had to get ready to catch my late night flight out to Easter Island!