We bid farewell to our lovely guide Edith and checked into our flight. Sadly, for a city about to host a World Cup, the airport is not of a high standard. You couldn't even get a decent espresso beyond customs. It also said a lot about civic pride that the souvenir store sold only Rio de Janiero souvenirs. It was an odd way to leave what was an odd city, one of stark contrasts.
It was only a four hour flight to Santiago, but once we arrived it would take another two hours before we left on the bus. And not all of us left on the bus.
It's a long story which I can't relate here, but with two key lessons:
1. Make sure you have the right visa.
2. If in doubt, ALWAYS declare goods on entering a country. It's safer, and sometimes even quicker.
However, we eventually made it to the hotel. It was long dark, so we didn't see much of the city on the way in. We went across to the mall next door for dinner, at a lively seafood restaurant with boat shaped tables.
Sunday was a rest day, and an opportunity to experience the sights of the city.
It might surprise you, but Santiago could easily be mistaken for any European city. I walked outside the hotel and felt like I was back in northern Germany. Cool air and clean streets. A quick ride on the metro and we reached the centre of town for a walking tour.
Our walking tour was designed to show us the "real" Santiago, not just the monuments and palaces. We walked through bustling markets, heard about Pablo Neruda's speech to the workers of La Vega, and finished with a tour of the city's cemetery, a true necropolis which even had its own high rise mausoleum. Thousands of people were there, visiting graves on Mother's day (an important holiday in Chile).
Ever since moving to Dallas I have missed the mountains. Santiago is at the base of the Andes, and is dotted with large hills that overlook the city. I hiked up the side of the most prominent one, Cerro San Cristobal. At the peak is a large statue of the Virgin Mary, watching over the city. From the hill you got a sense of the scale of Santiago, which is massive.
From there it was a ride down the hill on the funicular railway before heading back to the hotel for dinner and an early night. With three more days of company visits (and of enjoying as much as we can of Santiago) to go it's important to get in the occasional bit of rest.
So far the GLP has been a grand and enlightening experience, spent in the company of some great people. The best part is we're barely halfway done.