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Well, I managed to get a decent amount of sleep and with twenty minutes before landing there was the most fantastic views of the snowcapped Andes. Santiago really is set in a picturesque setting.

I'm a duel national of the UK and the USA. North Americans are charged US$67 on entry to Chile and everybody else is charged US$0. Suddenly, I put my best British foot forward.

I hadn't rushed through customs and by the time I reached carrousel 3, it had stopped. It was empty. My backpack was nowhere to be seen. "Your connecting flight was late?", chuckling; "Thatís why its not here then. It will arrive on the same flight tomorrow."

Thanks a bundle, at least they will send it to my hotel in the morning, not that it solves the problem that I desperately could do with a shower and a change of clothing and ALL my clothes are in my backpack.

My immediate impressions of Santiago de Chile were good, I felt at home, or at least as though there was nothing alien about the place. The 25 miles from the airport to downtown gives you an interesting glimpse into the countries recent past. Old building that are not quite ramshackle adjoin more modern structures, all one or two floors in height. Football pitches line part of the highway; Saturday morning matches are underway in many age groups.

For some reason I get the impression that this is what a major Indian city would be like in 20 years if the poverty was solved and the quality of living raised, the streets cleaned and the building spruced up. This is not a bad reflection on Chile but a note that the past and present, even if poverty stricken, can be part of the future. I just suspect that in India, whole districts will be one day bulldozed and built anew.

I'm staying at the Hotel Conde Ansurez. Not my first choice, but I was talked into it at the airport and the young lady who did the talking got me a great rate and sorted out the taxi into town for me. Sometimes, help like this is priceless. I have a room overlooking a busy road, opposite the worldís largest concentration of Internet Cafes and a solitary Mc Donaldís.

The first order of the day was to get into the shower and more importantly out of the cloths I'd been traveling in. Second order of the day was to get some sleep, which was not difficult, even through the sound of a thousand migrating buses in the street below.

Whilst contemplating the world before venturing into Santiago, I noticed something, which made my heart sink. The electrical sockets have two round holes. My plug adapter has three round prongs. Oh buggeration. This means none of my electrical appliances can be powered, thatís the laptop, video camera and digital still camera. Can things get any worse? Just as I was leaving my room I noticed something. Could it be salvation? I crawl onto the floor and remove the plug for the TV. After leaping around the room for a few moments I hold in my hand an adapter plug for an American plug to a Chilean socket. There is defiantly a God. Of course, it seams obvious now. Itís probably cheaper to import some electrical goods from North America and then add a cheap adapter plug. Whatever, I know that I will be able to find some more of these little devices, or at least steal this one.

So, the third order of the day was to get up and about before the shops close at two pm. Buy some adapter plugs and some fresh cloths. I walked from my hotel up {name of road here}, paralleling the clean and efficient metro system. In the distance I could see what looks like a copy of the post office tower in London. Near here is where I know I will find my first Moai outside of a museum. Unfortunately, when I get there it is in pretty poor shape. Cracks have been poorly cemented over and frankly it doesn't look too real. No I know why the British Museum keeps its Moai inside. To be fair, Britain doesn't suffer from earthquakes that can cause the cracks in the first place.

Walking up {road name} is interesting, first there are many Internet cafes, which peter out and are replaced by outlets selling car parts. These give way to small bars and bible shops which municipal buildings and street sellers in turn replace. This is where I get my first real piece of luck. As penance for bringing this computer with me, I brought some work with me, which I can only work on if I have a web server running on my machine - which I don't. Not only that, I had meant to put the Windows 98 disc in my backpack so that I could install the software. I forgot the disc. So imagine my delight when I see Windows 98 on sales for all of CL$3,000 (about US$5). Thatís a bargain if I ever saw one. Obviously Chile is very much a "one copy country", that is, "One copy of a piece of software is bought and then copied to everyone". Now I have and English copy of Windows 98 running under emulation on my iBook (which is a Mac, so is running OS X) with a Spanish Web Server. Something is better than nothing I suppose.

I digress; turning north into the main thoroughfare I immediately find a block of electrical stores. I walk into one at random, show the plug adapter I'd borrowed from the hotel room and hold up two fingers and say "Dos, por favor". Good heavens, she understood me. She writes out a receipt, hands it to me and then walks off with the adapters. Eh? After a couple of moments I notice a system I had come across on previous travels many years ago. In the middle of the shop there is a booth where I present my receipt and pay for the goods. Taking the stamped receipt, I go to another counter where my adapter plugs are awaiting pickup.

Screwed-up system, but it works and has added security aspects to it.

Now it is time to find a change of underwear and a shirt. Not wanting to boar you with the details, it took some time to round up the necessary clothing. This was mainly because I bought socks, underwear and shirt from three different shops (which were hard to find in the first place). I did this not because I wanted the best deal or a certain style, but because the first shop sold everything bar socks and underwear; the second only sold underwear and the third sold socks and underwear (but of course I only needed socks at this point).

In my wandering around town I came across the Place des Arms, a large square with a Cathedral on one side and historic buildings on the other three. The south side is where I bought lunch, some sort of flat Cornish pasty (sorry, for those who don't know what I Cornish pasty is, I can't even begin to explain) and a pork sandwich - both of which were nice an hot, though soggy due to being thrown in the microwave. Regardless, lunch hit the spot and in was whilst eating and sitting in the centre of the Places des Arms that I had that moment of sheer joy and revelation when you realise you really like a country. Itís that moment when all that surrounds you is new buy feel as though you fit in. To add to this almost religious like moment, it happened whilst I was looking up through a wonderful purple leaved tree at a statue of Mary, high up on the front of the Cathedral.

By now it was getting really hot and this is a mild spring temperature. It's strange that in the near distance you can see snow covering the mountains. The stores were closing all around me as two o'clock came and went. I made my way back to the hotel for a siesta.

It wasn't until 8pm that I emerged back onto the streets to try and work out how to use the metro. I have a real mental problem whenever I am in a new country and have to use the metro for the first time. It can be extremely difficult to understand how the damn thing works. In this case, it was quite straight forward, very much like the Montreal Metro in Canada. Each track is named by its final destination and you need a ticket which cost CL$270 off peak and CL$350 at other times. Stick your ticket in the gate and walk through. The train itself was clean and quite and definitely looked like the Montrťal Metro, instead of tracks to run on, it had tracks to guide the wheels that are on rubber tiers.

Three stops later I was out and heading north. With the light failing I found myself in the financial district and to my horror, in front of a Bank Boston bank. I travel the length of the Americas from Boston in the USA to come to Santiago only to find a bank from there. When you think that Bank Boston merged with Fleet a year ago and that you donít exactly find many (okay, any) outside of New England, you can see why I was somewhat taken aback. Anyway, I was on the lookout for a sushi restaurant, which I failed to find, but ended up in a Chinese restaurant. I was able to decipher the menu thanks to some Spanish worlds hastily learned through the day and my memory of Chinese words from my trips to China. Dinner turned out to be chicken pieces with spring onion, mushrooms and a light soy source, wrapped up as a parcel and then steamed. Add egg rice to this and a very nice meal it was too.

At night the centre of Santiago is transformed into a bustling hive of entertainment for the discerning traveler. Place des Arms is very much the equivalent of Leicester Square in London or Fanuel Hall in Boston, the area around Sacre Coeur in Paris or a thousand other places in the world where evangelist give sermons, street performers entertain, artists draw caricatures, gypsies sell flowers and roses are sold to couples on first dates. Food is sold from carts and uniquely in Santiago; you can pay a few pesos to view Mars though a variety of very powerful telescopes. Lining the pedestrianised streets, vendors sell everything from shampoo to stuffed toys to CDs to fake sunglasses. You notice that everything is on large pieces of cloth. You know that the police are approaching because the vendors quickly grab all four corners of their cloth and scoop up their wares in one fluid motion, ready to do a runner if the police want to play hardball. As I witness this a collective sigh of relief is almost audible as the police are looking for a pickpocket. The vendors start arranging their good again, business as usual.

I catch the last metro of the day and head back to the hotel I call home. I fall asleep very quickly.


Day 2. Arrival in Santiago

 

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