Day 3 - Church, Park, RipoffDecember 30, 2018 in Chile ⋅ ☀️ 28 °C
It's Sunday so, after breakfast, we went to mass at the central Cathedral at the Plaza de Armas, the central square. The 9:00 service was in a side chapel to the main sanctuary. We were early and sat waiting as the gathering congregation said the rosary. With the marble walls reverberating with the sound, I caught only fragments, although knowing the rosary allowed me to make out some of the chant. The service was familiar although in Spanish and, again, I caught some of the flow but not a lot - knowing the general flow helped. Gail caught more than I did. We walked back to the hotel in the cool morning.
After changing, the hotel got us a taxi that took us to the Municipal Park and the cable car ride to the top of Cerro San Cristobal. The park is a large (3 square mile) area covering the hills. Paths lead up, down and around the hill and it was full of Sunday visitors. We took the recently refurbished cable car up to the summit, passing over the trees while taking in the sights, which included a large and popular swimming pool as well as the people walking and biking the paths. Parts of the streets below the hill were closed for the use of bikers and there were hundreds of them. We shared the cable car with a mother and daughter from Venezuela and chatted a bit with them as we rode. At the summit is a large statue of the Virgin Mary and a chapel. We sat for awhile in the chapel then climbed to the statue for a great view of the expansive city laid out on all sides. Santiago has a population of 7.5 million inhabitants - roughly half the population of entire country. We wandered around among the crowds, had an empanada and rested. Empanadas are common everywhere from little mom and pop shops to the major grocery stores. It's a pastry shell wrapped around a filling that could be simply cheese or meat or more mixed ingredients. We had a "Pino" type which had hamburger, onions, half an egg and a olive - good! Took the funicular down the hill on the opposite side from where we came up.
We took a taxi to the Costner Center, the blue skyscraper you saw in a photo from our hotel's terrace. This is the tallest building in Latin America at 63 stories and 1,000 feet. The taxi ride was our first ripoff. The ride from the hotel to the park was about 5,000 pesos, which was what the hotel had said it would be. The ride from the Cerro to the Center (a similar distance) was more than four times as much. I was suspicious as we drove there because the meter was going up much faster than had the first taxi's meter. When we went to pay, the driver palmed the 20,000-peso bill I gave him and claimed it was only a 5,000 bill. I was suspicious but forked over another bill.
The Center is a huge shopping mall with six floors of upscale shops. It's bright and modern, like anything we'd expect in the US. We took an elevator to the 62nd floor observation deck that looks out over the entire city on four directions. Posted information plaques explain what you're seeing - the Andes to the east, the river Mapocho below, and the sprawling suburbs in all directions. Back down in the mall area after the observation deck, we had an ice cream and coffee/tea while watching the people thronging by.
To get back to the hotel we took another taxi - a big mistake. I saw the meter climbing fast and when we arrived at the hotel, the same thing happened - the driver palmed the first bill and showed a much smaller bill. We argued but he keep insisting but finally settled for half what he first asked (in spite of the meter wanting more - a sure tip off). I was furious and complained to the hotel staff. They commiserated but couldn't do anything. They also told me another guest had been robbed in the streets earlier in the day. The lesson is, "Be careful!" They also said Uber (yes, they have it here) is much more secure.
At the hotel we confirmed our flights tomorrow and arranged for a private hire car for the ride to the airport in the morning. Tonight there's a restaurant over in Lastarrias that is supposed to have the best crevice in Chile. I'm going for that.
A word on finances. Chile is (according to the guide book) the most expensive country in Latin America. The exchange rate fluctuates a bit but is around 680 pesos to the dollar - I use 700 when I'm making a fast calculation. Our two waters and two empanadas up on Cerro San Cristobal were 6,000 pesos - about $9. The restaurant meals we been having usually run about $15 a plate plus the drinks. The restaurants add a 10% tip to the bill without asking.Read more