DE CHILE AND THE CENTRAL VALLEY
THE CENTRAL VALLEY
From the central valley
come many of the things that for visitors most typify Chile, the folklore,
the gastronomy and the countryside shaded by the fig trees, willows and
huisaches which line its roads. From this area come grapevines and rows
of poplars separating colt pastures, as well as "huasos" (cowboys)
and rodeos. Chile's traditional country music the "cueca" and
the "tonada" are played here in houses with tiled roofs and
open corridors adorned with jasmines, camelias and "flor de la pluma".
This land gives up wines and fruits, the fragrance of basil and coriander,
kneaded bread, "empanadas" in mud ovens, corn cake and "humitas".
With its the trappings of the 21st century, there's little left of Santiago del Nuevo Extremo, the city founded by Pedro de Valdivia in 1541 at the foot of Cerro Huelén (nowadays Santa Lucía) and on the banks of the Mapocho river. Cleaner and safer than other Latin American cities, Santiago has top-level hotels, shopping malls and huge supermarkets; restaurants specialised in all kinds of cuisine and the attractions you would expect to find in a metropolis. Santiago is also a city of contrasts, for in spite of progress it refuses to let go of its traditions. So next to metal and glass buildings, laptop carrying executives and a modern underground subway, continue the urban folklore of street musicians and vendors, bus singers, hand organ players and the street photographers with their classic wooden horses.
To get to know Santiago, nothing beats strolling around its neighborhoods. Downtown are the oldest and most solemn buildings, the seats of the main institutions, the museums and outstanding monuments. It is worthwhile to take a walk around the Plaza de Armas, surrounded by the 18th century cathedral and colonial buildings,
to walk by La Moneda (the seat of government), to visit the Pre-Columbian Museum, one of the best in the Americas, and to go to the church and convent of Saint Francis (16th century), the country's oldest architectural ensemble, whose cloister which hosts the Museum of Colonial Art is a really peaceful haven in the midst of the downtown rumble. The Mapocho river, with the beautiful and romantic Forest Park on one bank, divides the city in two, leaving on the northern bank the mount of San Cristóbal which is crowned with the statue of the Virgin Mary looking over the city. The mount of San Cristóbal, now the Metropolitan Park, has an old picturesque funicular railway, a zoo, a cable car ride, public swimming pools and picnic spots. At the foot of San Cristóbal lies the Bellavista neighbourhood, Santiago's bohemian sector, with numerous restaurants, cafés and artists' workshops where craftsmen work and sell lapislazuli, Chile's famous blue stone. Closer to the foot of the Andes are the modern neighbourhoods of Providencia and Las Condes where you can find the artisans' village of "Los Graneros del Alba" (literally the Granaries of Dawn). The village stands next to the colonial church of Los Domínicos and its layout mimics a rural village with unpaved streets, mud ovens and dozens of workshops and shops that sell crafted goods from all over Chile.
Travelling with the Andes behind you and heading south, the countryside gradually becomes greener and these fertile lands -the first to be claimed by the Spanish conquerors- begin to display their abundance. That fruit is one of the country's main exports is shown in the number of modern cold-storage warehouses and the passing trucks loaded with boxes of apples and grapes. Chile's other great export wine is produced on the plains of the River Maipo, in the Colchagua valley and on the outskirts of cities like San Fernando, Talca and Chillán. This is also the land of the old "haciendas" with their beautiful houses (displaying the typical outside corridors and tiles) and their great parks designed by European landscape artists. Some of these haciendas are still owned by the original families, whereas others have been turned into museums, important vineyard offices or exclusive hotels that still preserve the charm and atmosphere of yesterday.
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de la Nación Argentina.
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