San Cristóbal

We set out to walk up the Cerro San Cristóbal. The hill with the Wireless Virgin. A lady motorbike cop is on duty in the Forestal. The Chilean police seem pretty laid back. Though it’s early there’s quite a crowd out. They’re watching drummers drum and flag wavers wave. No idea why

Through Bella Vista looking a bit rough after Saturday night. We reach the gate which starts the climb. There are lots of people walking up, a few running. There are loads of cyclists and  all levels of fitness.

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The climb is a long one, the walkers and bikers are separated. It gets steeper and steeper. Near the top we rejoin the road. There’s a cafe The cyclists stream past some fast, some slow. At the top they are checking in to a small marquee.

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This is what Santiago does on a Sunday. It walks it runs it cycles Up San Cristóbal. To see the Wireless Virgin.

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We are no longer surprised to see a dog asleep in the crowd. There is a chapel where a service is going on. The Mass in Latin is relayed to the outside. The Virgin broadcasts to the world.

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Around her feet banks of benches. An outdoor church most are sitting eating chatting taking pictures.

A few are praying.

There is a place to offer candles. There are the Seven last Words as a path.

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There us a statue of a little girl, Laura Vicuña. A sad tale of a young catholic martyr.

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All around us
All the while
The Andes
A Presence

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Views breathtaking under a blue sky, so is the pollution above the city.We walk towards the picnic area. And come upon a ruined observatory just like that. The Mills observatory an outpost of the famous Lick observatory. It is to be renovated Sometime.

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Mountain bikers pass us. We catch them up. ‘Adventurous’ says Alison to them in Spanish. They take off down the hill over obstacles, jumps, bumps. We’ve lost the path now so we follow them. Not a good idea.

It’s steep and dry we slip and slide. I fall on a prickly thing. Adventurous, not half. Watch out for other cyclists. We reach a wide track people walking casually. A lad talks to us about the pollution. How good and clear the air is here.

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We reach the road walk downwards. Tour de France melée of walkers and cyclists. We reach a cultural centre. Guess what, they’re playing drums. They pack and leave. We picnic. Rest. Take in the sun. Admire a big cactus.

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A look at the big view.The Gran Torre, yep that’s tall all right. Behind it maybe Aconcagua. That’s taller. Then off down the hill by road. One guy’s roller blading up. Fast. It’s hot. Summer temperatures flowers. Some orange, some red, many yellow.

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Back where we started there’s a market. A big lad with a llama. We sit among the stalls. Drink water in the sun.

On to la Cachcona, Pablo Neruda’s house. Or one of them he kept a few. A Fascinating house full of odd touches. He got around. He put himself about did Pablo. Mistresses too and plenty of brass but then he was a diplomat too.

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I know because there was a film of his life.bInteresting. Reminder of bad old days. Not so long ago in Chile. Sat and had coffee by a red hotel. The colour works well against such blue sky. Stroll through multicoloured upmarket Bella Vista. Past it’s well kept plants.

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Over arch bridge above the fast Mapocho. They’re doing the Parisian lock thing. In the Italian Square the drummers and flag wavers are now replaced by dancers. Skateboarders on statues.

Soon we’re home.

Dancing the Cueca

We stroll to the Centro Gabriela Mistral, GAM for short, for a coffee. We walk around the large art exhibition cum market staged by a group of professionals who are obviously very well organised. By and large the work is graphic and precise, often with a humorous slant. It is all well executed and very well presented. There are a couple of more painterly ones I like but I’m not in the market. Whatever you think, these folk are businesslike. They present themselves like their pictures, stylishly and to my way of thinking a bit preciously but this may be just the envy of one of nature’s scruffs.

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We walk out past the MoD or equivalent. A large, dark coloured and suitably dominant and sinister edifice. Shades of the bad old days. The streets of Lastarria with their elegant buildings are quiet and rather chilly in spite of the bright sunshine. The booksellers just setting up their stalls for another day of peddling culture to the masses. The church of the Vera Cruz looks like it was built out of a child’s wooden building blocks.

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We take the path through the Parque Forestal to Mercado Central. Dogs are being walked here, though not in the outrageous numbers you see in Britain nowadays. It’s the fashion to dress your dog in a smart coat. Correction, one lady does have five dogs all dressed in identical pink coats. I speculate that she may be training them up for the stage after the model of the von Trapps.

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The rather noisy birds flying around we identify as starlings in spite of the absence of stars, These birds are a glossy black but lack the striking light eye colour of their North American cousins. They can be quite melodious. In passing, Alison drops into the Belle Artes museum to see if her lost hat has turned up. No joy.

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Nearing the mercado we pass a heroic war statue executed in bronze with all the usual militaristic palaver. Alison spots the cat sprawled high up on what one would assume was an inaccessible ledge. The sybaritic animal has obviously sussed it as a warm spot, appropriated it as of right and reached it by the invocation of feline magic.

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We notice that the river bridge next to the market is very crowded. We follow out of interest. The crowd is exceedingly dense. The bridge is lined with folk selling bog rolls, sweets, street food, cheapjack jewellery, more bog rolls and one lugubrious pair with two chicken carcasses tied to a shopping trolley frame. There are the obligatory jugo de naranja sellers with their orange crusher and job lot of cheap oranges. This seems to be a rite of passage for any aspiring street merchant in the city.

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We realise this vast crowd is headed for a downmarket twin of the Mercado Central and just across the river from it. It is a huge place with an odd structure of internal roof buttresses which are mainly made of holes. There are a vast range of stalls selling everything colourful. The noise of the crowd and the sellers is deafening.

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We climb to the second floor and see that an event is in progress below us. It turns out to be a large group of people of all ages dancing the traditional cueca Chileno. This is a colourful and lively affair based, so I’m told, on the courtship dance of the cock and hen. Handkerchiefs are wielded seductively to the accompaniment of intricately flirtatious steps. The music is suitably lively and melodic. It is a treat to watch particularly as the dancers are dressed in what I assume is the colourful national costume.

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There is also a Marian shrine set up with two large Chilean flags, lilies and gold and silver tinsel, for what purpose I don’t know, just part of the Latin scene I guess. We run the gauntlet of the seafood cafe proprietors trying to sell us lunch on our way out but we plan to dine in the actual mercado. So it’s back across the river.

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The crowds are just as dense as before, the sellers as numerous. We come to a very busy crossing on the very busy road. Here we encounter the world’s most laid back dog. Ever. In the middle of the maelstrom of feet is one of Santiago’s many street dogs. It is fast asleep on the pavement and completely oblivious to the commotion. As a demonstration of zen detachment this would take a bit of beating.

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The Mercado Central’s big thing is seafood. The inside is stall after stall of the fruits of the sea. All sorts of scaly, finny, spiny and tentacled things have ended up here to appease the Santiagueno hunger. The centre it seems, is one big, open seafood restauraunt of ornate old fashioned aspect complete with liveried waiters. We are accosted by each one in turn who is eager to show us to a table. We do what the crabs on the menus should have done and scuttle sharply off to the side to look at some of the less pretentious eateries on the periphery. A rather pleasant and unpushy lady patiently explains the menu of her restaurant and describes its delights. We succumb to her understated charm and enter. There are many small tables here which makes it seem small and a bit crowded but the atmosphere seems good. We are seated upstairs.

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At this point I decide I need the toilet. We ascertain that the baños are outside and a little way down the corridor. On reaching it I find it costs $300 (i.e. 300 Chilean Pesos) which I don’t have, my money being left with Alison. Back I go and get it. I return to the baños and am admitted through the turnstile. An attendant shows me into a cubicle which is in fact a shower stall. I look outside to query the attendant about what is clearly a misunderstanding. I’m not sure how I intend to do this with my non existent Spanish but this is an academic consideration as the man has disappeared. I enter another cubicle. This is also a shower. Well, when in Rome and all that. I pee down the hole. More or less. I come out. Still no attendant. At least there are washing facilities. I avail myself of these and depart in some haste, convinced I will be pursued by an irate Chilean shouting “Stop that guy! He just peed in our shower!” This doesn’t happen. Now I can testify to the fact that yer average male toilet in Santiago looks pretty much as they do anywhere else in the known world so what exactly was going on here I do not know.

I return to our table. We have lemons and bread. A band consisting of two large men with guitars and a singer somehow squeeze themselves in and serenade the tables. It is quite pleasant.The meal which is actually whatever hake and rice is in Spanish served with garlic butter and washed down with fizzy water is very tasty. It is served by an Aztec boy who moves between the tables nimbly and serves dextrously. He’s been chosen for his size, anyone bigger couldn’t manage in this space.

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We finish our meal and walk to the city’s famed Pre-Columbian museum. It is housed in what was the Palace Real de Aduana, a massive edifice which has its various floors dedicated to different regions of Latin America. You start in the basement, which seems to lie several kilometres below the Earth’s mantle and work your way up. There are huge maps and timelines which only served to emphasise my vast ignorance of the culture of the region.

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I’d heard of the Aztecs, Incas, Olmecs and one or two others. I had the vaguest idea of who they were. But here you have a wonderful collection from a bewildering variety of cultures spanning several millennia. The presentation is excellent, much of the information in both Spanish and English. There are many strange and beautiful things here, most in an extraordinary state of preservation. The problem was that I couldn’t relate them to any of my limited and distinctly Eurocentric knowledge of history. How do these tie in with the Romans? The Normans? The reformation? It can’t be done. Eventually it was too much and I gave up and succumbed to museum fatigue.

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We took another coffee and mused on the dearth of fat people in Santiago. We wandered out and on to the Plaza de Armas, a large square with a couple of imposing buildings and a lot of big palms and other fine plants. There was an awful racket being made by three men dressed in the gaucho style costume. They wore huge drums on their backs which were beaten by means of levers attached to their feet. They also swung sticks backwards with their arms. They were leaping around in such a way as to produce a short but loud rhythmic tattoo. Not my scene, man, but it drew a fair level of applause from the large numbers of people strolling and sitting in the warm late afternoon sunshine shining past the tower of the Metropolitan Cathedral and through the palm fronds.

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Close by, from a marquee stage where a big crowd was gathered, dance music struck up. It was another cueca session. The music was played by a band of accordions and guitars and was great fun. The event was held by the Mesa National de Folklore. The dancing this time involved the general public. Some dressed for the occasion in national gear. Some just in their street clothes. Once again, very pleasingly, all ages joining in together. More seductive and flirtatious handkerchief work by the cocks and hens and a good time was had by all. The atmosphere was lovely. Another laid back dog sprawled sublimely untroubled in the heart of the hubbub.

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There were a large number of men playing chess at tables set out for the purpose in one corner of the square. Spectators seemed to regard the activity as interactive, offering advice and criticism. A couple of ladies at a nearby small stall were selling churros. These are long doughnuts produced in mesmerising spirals by a machine and cut to length with scissors. They are very battery and sugary, healthy eating they ain’t. We purchased six and devoured the lot.

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We strolled back to Huerfanos. It was getting dark. Several small groups of carbineros de Chile were wandering round in evening stroll mode. Their base is close to our apartment. A lot of stalls were still trading in a street market and Alison purchased a hat of pre-Columbian design to replace the one she donated to the Museo de Belle Artes. We dropped Into the supermarket for supplies and then it was home to another simple but effective meal.

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A last look out from our balcony far above the street. The Andes are silhouetted against the late evening sky. Alpha and Beta Centauri are setting to the north east and below them, visible for the first time this trip, the Southern Cross.

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Bella Vista, Bellas Artes

(Blog entry in the form of a sketch for three sonnets. I haven’t attempted any rhymes. Too difficult given the time.)

We set of in the lift as we are wont to
And meet an outdoor chap in quaint attire
A kiwi who rides vintage bikes from rentals
Who’s on his way round Chile and Peru

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We wish him well and head for Bella Vista
A barrio of cool bohemian hue
We cross the fast and muddy Rio Mopocho
The snowy Andes looking down from high

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The barrio is covered in graffiti
It has a blowsy charm and devil may care
It’s colourful, of that there’s no disputing
It’s surely worth a photograph or two
Across the bridge we walk again returning
To what seems like the right side of the tracks

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The Parque Forestal runs by the river
A haven in the city’s busy noise
We meet a Chilean blackbird as we call it
And cherry blossom marks our second spring

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The German Statue hails the independence
Of Chile as a ship upon the sea
A couple use it as a prop for selfies
With joy but scant respect for pageantry

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A group of smiling girls accost us boldly
They’re smartly dressed and courteous and speak
They’re students who need interview material
And we will fit the bill, a venerable pair!
They bowl queries to Alison in Spanish
She bats them deftly back to their delight

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On to the museum Bellas Artes
A fine colonial building in itself
Outside a dog is curled asleep and snoring
Beneath the banners of the Belles and arts

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The space inside is handsome, big and airy
The Chilean painters all have learnt their craft
Impressionists and Fauves and all the others
A home grown crop and none the worse for that

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Down to the basement for a coffee
It’s well laid out and strangely has a view
Two muffins, heated add to our enjoyment
The coffee’s good the folk are friendly too
But Alison discovers on emerging
her hat of blue has gone astray inside

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We walk back for some lunch at our apartment
A street band marches fourteen stories down
Then off to Centro Gabriela Mistral
And drink expresso taken side by side

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With artists setting up an exhibition
And dramaturges planning out a show
Some textiles folk are communally working
The atmosphere’s relaxed and arty cool

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We leave and walk at ease along Lastarria
Fine streets and trees and elegance and light
Stalls abound with Spanish texts of Shakespeare
We merge with metro crowds at Baquedano
At Bustamente Park watch juggling gyms
Through sunset hues to cook our meal at home

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Cerro Santa Lucia

Reminiscences of our afternoon stroll.

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The Cerro de Santa Lucia as seen from our apartment. A popular park which has beautiful plants and pathways and flights of stairs which lead up to a mirador.

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It hops and catches worms like a blackbird. It is bold like a blackbird. We will call it a Chilean blackbird until informed otherwise.

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The park is full of trees and offers many fine viewpoints, often including the mountains which dominate the town. Charles Darwin was impressed, we are told.

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It is obligatory to get a selfie with the Andes in the background. The mirador was crowded when we were there.

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I really like the way they have used glass in the newer, larger buildings to maximise the effect of the spectacular views by reflecting them in these big structures.

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It is early spring down here. The equivalent of our late February. The cherry blossom is appearing all over the city.

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The larger hill in the city is San Cristóbal. This is the statue Which we refer as the Wireless Christ, somewhat inaccurately as it is actually the Virgen de la Inmaculada Concepción.

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There are many lovely Mediterranean plants in the park.

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A quasi-Japanese effect with cherry blossom and snowy mountains….

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….then a touch of Andalucia with the moorish tiles of the benches.

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The mirador.

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Spring flowers, winter snows.

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Two tall chaps. The imaginatively named Gran Torre, the tallest building in South America. Behind it, I think, is Aconcagua, the highest peak in the Andes.

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A happy glass/tree interface.

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Back to the apartment where we see the moon rising over the Andes from our balcony and dine adequately if simply.

First Impressions of Santiago de Chile

We went through the usual processing at the aeropuerto. This was carried out very efficiently by pleasant people. The only hitch was when they discovered a couple of oranges in Alison’s bag. She was given a leaflet on the dangers of such recklessly antisocial behaviour and had her fruit confiscated. She escaped a jail sentence.

We were accosted by the taxi driving mafia on the way out as predicted by Lonely planet. We gave them the slip and went outside into the now brilliant sunshine. We took note of the early spring freshness and the bus into the city centre.

Very first impressions were not favourable. A big, busy freeway negotiated at high speed by our driver. A tangled sprawl of industrial estates, run down housing and desolate playgrounds. Homeless folk encamped singly or in small tribes. Tiny, scruffy and unappealing stalls selling this, that and the next nondescript thing on decomposed verges and lots. The effect of desolation only intensified as we approached the centre.

The traffic increased in volume and speed. The streets got bigger. They were still grimy as were the buses. The graffiti was large, bold, strident, ubiquitous and for the most part hideously ugly. But now here were signs of older buildings, echoes of the colonial past, dusty big trees. We identified stations of the metro. Flea markets seemed a common occurrence.

We decided we were near enough the centre, got off the bus, sat briefly in a small park with a few homeless men and workmen and decided to walk the rest of the way to clear our flight scrambled heads. Not a good idea as it turned out. It started out well enough. We walked along a broad parkway   where we got a first glimpse of the carabineri. There were two of them, one a girl. Both looked well armed and very military. They stood next to a statue of a hero of the war of independence under a truly enormous Chilean flag.

But we went off track somehow on the mighty Bernardo O’Higgins Avenue which is a main artery of the city and we drifted in a right angled meander through some of the less salubrious areas around the true centre for quite a while. We were tired, grimy and even more scrambled than we had been before. Suffice it to say that eventually we emerged close to the Santa Lucia amid a great bustle of Chileans who were well wrapped up although by this time the sun was quite high and it was warm. We took the underpass and headed for our base in Huerfanos.

Victor our host welcomed us in perfect English with all we needed to know about the apartment and the surroundings. He explained all this on a tourist map by means of dots and circles and hieroglyphics all of which proved quite incomprehensible after he left us. Nevertheless we felt welcomed.

The apartment is in a vast block of similar apartments. It is quite small but very pleasant and has all that we’ll need. It’s location is ideally central.it has a great view of Santa Lucia and the imposing Andes beyond which is pretty gobsmacking.

We rested briefly then set off to climb the Cerro Santa Lucia and take a look around.

 

Heading South

PROLOGUE

A Scotsman in running shorts knocks on the door. He is the taxi driver and says Alison looks like a walker. He loads our bags and we drive off, the start of our long journey.

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The train is quiet. We buy a coffee do a crossword and soon arrive in London.

At Saint Pancras a young woman with wildly artistic blonde hair is bowed over one of the pianos giving a more than competent and stirring rendition of the Appassionata while a copper berates a man leaning on the piano for some misdemeanour.

We sit down and sort our bags. The girl launches an attempt on the world speed record for the Revolutionary study.

We sit outside Kings Cross and eat our packed lunch with the the multitude of travellers, workers, students, misfits, beggars and pigeons in the hot sunshine.

London bustles big time around us.

We catch the tube out to Heathrow. It is a long, hot trek. Several of us succumb to somnolence.

A smartly dressed Asian professional nods in his horn rimmed specs. A student slumps forward with his headphones dangling wearily. I seem to drift through trees by a stream.

A goth girl with extreme eyelashes and a metal studded phone sits like an empress. Her designer ripped knees jar with her offbeat elegance to my eye, untutored as it is in youthful fashion. Her friend sits on the floor with a small decorative dog. Two little girls excitedly chatter to it while their mother films them on her iPad.

We arrive at Terminal 5, futuristic and with crowds of twenty first century travellers in wilfully casual attire. I join a small group the use the phone charger. A woman in a hijab places a tablet with a smashed screen and a packet of cigarettes next to my phone. She asks me to watch it for her and disappears.

Two black clad and tattooed Spanish women, night pale Andalusian painted vampire ladies, chat through their face piercings. I walk round to view the planes on the sun drenched runways in a blissfully quiet and cool space of huge metal tubes and glass where waiting travellers seem to meditate in an ultra modern temple.

We take the futuristic transit to the departure gate. A caste system operates here. Club flyers, golden flyers, emerald and sapphire flyers will board first. Oiks like us get no mention, the untouchables. There are so few passengers that we all board the plane as one democratically undifferentiated mass anyway.

Inside the wondrously empty plane we run from seat to seat like kids unsupervised and watch a glorious evening light show unfold above the clouds. A shifting perspective at the end of the English August day as we leave her shores.

For months now I have planned our trip using the google calendar. The full moon symbol appears on the first day of the trip along with the name of Santiago. That very full moon now rises in the east and that very day has arrived.

WEST AND SOUTH FROM MADRID

We get off the plane and are bussed to a previously unknown area of Barajas where the Big Beasts of the Latin American long hauls hang out. We make our way to U64, a most exotic gate, the one to Santiago de Chile We get seated in the A380 – 600. Not a lot of space but comfortable seats. There is a delay of three quarters of an hour while the wheels are nailed back on or some work of a similarly technical nature is carried out.

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We are off, banking above the lights of Madrid. By the time we are properly settled we are over Portugal and heading out to sea.

We stretch and do some inflight yoga. A tiny lady taps me on the shoulder to get past in the narrow aisle. I find I can do some discrete gymnastics hanging on to the two rails either side of the aisle under the lockers. I imagine myself emulating Max Whitlock with a parallel bars display to the astonishment of the airborne hispanic populace.

I identify a bright star to the east as likely to be Fomalhaut and am able to estimate our latitude at around 15 degrees North. I am proud of emulating the skills of a sixteenth century navigator using only the onboard digital interactive maps and an iPad. Later I see that Orion is rising on his side and moving vertically up the sky. We are close to the equator.

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Thirty six thousand feet above the Amazon rainforest two small boys in separate seats sit identically entranced, chins cupped in hands, chubby mesmerised faces illuminated by bright cartoons colours on their screens.

Out of the window the three brightest stars in the sky, Sirius, Canopus and Achernar are now visible. We are, without doubt, far to the south. Sparse and tiny patches of light indicate remote communities. A long line of thunderstorms prickles the night with flashlit clouds.

As the pursuing dawn slowly catches us Acrux rises. Our elongated night ends as morning is declared by fiat of the cabin crew turning on the lights. We are one hour and forty eight minutes from our destination. A vast rocky and snow spattered landscape now scrolls slowly and majestically beneath us. In the early sun it is a mix of rust and rose, brilliant white and washed out indigo and emerald. We are crossing the Andes. The view is breathtaking, the camera busy.

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We descend into a big misty valley. It looks distinctly wintry. We drop further and bank. The vast mountains tower impossibly above the valley sides. Shortly afterwards we land at Santiago de Chile.

Southwards Again!

A trip to Chile to see the southern stars again. We hope to have the opportunity of viewing the brightest part of the milky way in Sagittarius as it passes almost overhead in the early spring evenings of the Atacama Desert.

We will also visit Santiago and Valparaiso as well as the wine producing valleys inland from La Serena. It goes without saying that we will take full advantage of the locations to see as much of the South American culture and landscape as we can. Alison will be practicing her Spanish with the local accent.

The banner at the top has two images of the constellation Sagittarius in front of the map of Chile. On the left is Johannes Hevelius’ Sagittarius figure from his Uranographia of 1690.

On the right is an image made with the European Southern Observatory (ESO) 8.2 metre Very Large Telescope (VLT) at Cerro Paranal in northern Chile. It has been tracking stars which are almost certainly orbiting a massive black hole at the centre of our Milky Way galaxy in Sagittarius. This is also the powerful radio source, Sagittarius A.