19 September 2014

Chile - Day Three - Cerro San Cristobal and Los Dominicos

In the middle of Santiago, San Cristobal Hill (Cerro San Cristobal) rises more than 2400 feet (800 meters) above the city.

We set out this morning to walk the eight-or-so blocks to the base of the mountain and ride a tram to the top. Molly told us we could hike it we were up for it, but my three-mile-a-day walks in Maine and my treks up and down the steps of the cottage at the edge of Lake Michigan did not, in fact, prepare me for all the walking we'd be doing in Santiago. Walking and drinking as few liquids as possible because of the lack of public restrooms.

Needless to say, we opted for the tram, known as the Funicular of Santiago. The funicular took us up the side of the mountain in a cable car. We passed the winding road to the top, as well as the Chilean National Zoo.

Embarking at the summit, we found an array of souvenir shops, snack stands, and stray dogs, but more importantly, we weren't yet at the summit.

So we continued up. Up steps and more steps and more steps.

Molly was used to walking up seven flights of steps to her apartment each day. Sam wasn't, but had youth on her side. Me? I gasped and panted and tried to keep up. Each time I wanted to complain about my weariness, I turned around and looked at the view behind me.

Finally we reached the summit - the real summit - with a 72 foot (22 meter) statue of the Virgin Mary, spreading her arms lovingly over the city.

I was spellbound.

Sitting under signs requesting "Silencio," we gazed out over the city and I thought about how many people were down there. How many thousands of souls, our brothers and sisters, who, until Molly came here, were never on my radar. I rarely thought about South America, let alone individual countries. This realization made me feel small and petty.

As a reality check, a stray dog rested at the base of the steps to the statue.

A word about the stray dogs. They are everywhere in Santiago. On the sidewalks, on street corners, in outdoor markets and cafes, in parks, under monuments, and in the metro and bus stations. Every stray I saw was of the large breed variety, mostly mixed breeds, and all were docile and friendly. Most were street worn, with scars from fights, sometimes with limps from being hit by cars, and many had some variation of the mange.

I watched as the dogs subtly moved under occupied café tables, hoping for a hand-out or an accidental drop. I watched as the dogs moved swiftly along sidewalks, even stopping at crosswalks with pedestrians, and then moving across the streets with the people. A few younger dogs walked in the streets, but clearly the older ones had learned. The cars and buses did not stop for them, so most of them stayed safely on the sidewalks.

When I lamented to Molly about how sad it all was, and how it would be wonderful if someone would, if nothing else, gather them all up for spaying and neutering, Molly surprised me again. She pointed out how the dogs were all well fed, that Santiago is a temperate climate, and that they are social, friendly, getting fresh air, and receive decent treatment by the public at large. She pointed out that strays in the United States are put into cages, often kept isolated, and not to mention, frequently euthanized. "The way I see it," she said, "the way it is here is just a different kind of bad from the way it is back home."

An interesting perspective.

We made our way back down the steps toward the funicular station.

Before we headed back down the mountain, the mist lifted and we were treated to a view of the Andes Mountains. It's hard to see them in this photo, but the snow caps are there, if you squint.

We sat in the sunshine for a bit, marveling at the view, and I looked up at the warmth of the sun, still low in the sky at springtime, and suddenly it hit me. I was looking north. I was discombobulated for a few moments as I realized that we really were on the other side of the globe from our home in Maine. It was dizzying.

Back in the city, we headed back through the Bella Vista neighborhood, across the Mapocho River that bisects the city, and on to the Metro, to head outside town. Next stop, Los Dominicos.

Los Dominicos is an artisan craft market set in huddled adobe buildings, located in Los Dominicos Park, to the side of San Vicente Ferrer Church. In addition to restaurants, the village boasts nearly 200 booths selling artwork, jewelry, copperware, flowers, herbs, and even pets.

Of course we made friends with one of the cats who lived there. And we met two darling Chilean children who posed for us and then wanted to make friends with the cat, but the cat was uninterested.

It was a long ride home on the Metro for these two tired girls. Me? I was beyond tired. But loving every minute of it.

Copyright © 2014 - Paulla Estes

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