Monday, 31 March 2014


20th - 22nd Mar 2014

General Augusto Pinochet Ugarte. 1915 - 2006.

As previously explained, I had to make an appointment to visit this rather plain looking house (right) in the pleasant and affluent leafy suburb of Vitacura to the north-east of the city. It houses the private offices of the late General Augusto Pinochet and is now a museum in his memory.
Whereas his predecessor, the Marxist President Salvadore Allende, has been all but sanctified with an elaborate tomb and places named after him, Pinochet, following his somewhat draconian rule as President from 1973 to 1990 has been demonised. Hence the need to keep this house somewhat 'covert' and it is certainly not mentioned in any of the guide books as far as I am aware.  Indeed it is all but forbidden even to discuss Pinochet in public in Chile nowadays.
General Pinochet, and his junta, forcibly took power in 1973 and undoubtedly followed this with the arrest, torture and execution of many opponents. The scale of this varies wildly, depending on which side of the fence the author of the statistics sits. Figures of those killed vary between 1200 and 3200 (who knows). Hideous for those concerned but not great by the standards of other  revolutionary conflicts?

As always, there is another side to the story. What is rather glossed over (by leftist governments and commentators) is that Allende's regime was also responsible for the murder of many of it's political opponents. Again the figures vary, but this memorial (left) in the house is to those of Allende's executed victims. There are about 400 here I think. The situation in 1973 was more akin to a civil war than enthusiastic electioneering.

What is certain is that under Allende's government Chile's economic situation was on it's knees and the country had gone the same way as that in the present day 'basketcase' Venezuela. Private land had been forcibly expropriated and profitable businesses nationalised. The Allende government was effectively 'bribing' the poor electorate to vote for him (similar to Venezuelan Hugo Chavez). Understandably, many in Chile resented this state of affairs and it was the cue for the military coup, led by the four service chiefs. Pinochet, the army chief, was selected as their leader. It must not be forgotten that the junta had great public support at the time, and (one has to whisper this in public) still does amongst many older citizens who remember the Allende days. A 1980 plebiscite showed a considerable majority in favour of the junta. A measure of his (still) popularity was apparent at his funeral in 2006 where ( depending on which report you read) between 80,000 and 150,000 of his supporters attended.

Right: The conference room. The only other visitor with me was a young Spanish law student who did a great job interpreting for our guide, a charming man, who worked previously in General Pinochet's press office. 
He explained how the Pinochet Foundation still helps fund students and universities (presumably not of the leftist variety!).

Left: Busts of the four members of the junta. They are all now dead.

His wife, Lucia, is still alive, aged 90 and living in the family home near Valparaíso. Their five children are also still living in Chile.

Right: A cabinet, one of several, containing gifts from various world leaders.

Left: Another containing medals and awards.

Right: And another containing more gifts and awards! Ok we are in danger here of emulating the colossal collection of self-awarded gongs to the late Kims in Pyongyang (thankfully nowhere near that).

Left: A medal commemorating the four leaders.

Right: General Pinochet's ceremonial uniform.

Left: ....and his 'combat kit'.

I don't know why, but I was intrigued by such a mundane object as his beret (right). Knowing how one's beret becomes quite a treasured personal possession, shaped to your own individual taste and style, it is exceedingly irritating if someone should accidentally 'borrow' it from a peg in the cloakroom...........

............hence they are always well marked. Augusto P was obviously no exception as his signature was prominently handwritten inside. Heaven help anyone who tried to filch this, accidentally or not!

I was wondering how much you would get for the above three items on e-Bay!

Right: The Chilean coat of arms. The 'motto' reads 'por da razon o da fuerza' which, I believe, roughly translated, means 'by reason or force'.  I expect someone will correct me. Apparently the present government considered this too aggressive and wants to change, or has changed, it to 'by force of reason'. Not sure of myself on this, but it sounds eminently feasible.

Of course although every rational person should vehemently condemn the torture and slaughter of even a single political opponent, Pinochet's record, in the numbers game, puts him right down at the bottom of the league of world-class mass murderers and torturers of the innocent. Compared to the likes of Messrs Hitler, Lenin, Stalin, Mao Tsetung (and his infamous Red Guards), Pol Pot, and I've probably missed a few, he is but a pigmy in the land of monsters. It is odd that even today Stalin is openly admired by many, especially at the May 9th 'victory' celebrations in Moscow where I remember queues of people waiting to be photographed alongside dear old smiling 'Uncle Joe' with his pipe and bushy moustache, look-alikes. Chairman Mao's fizzog still appears on Chinese bank notes and every day thousands (I was one) solemnly file past his stuffed remains in the mausoleum on Tiananman Square to pay homage, as is the case with 'Uncle' Ho in Hanoi (me again), and Lenin on Red Square (me again) and even the two Kims (despised outside North Korea) in Pyongyang (me yet again). Has anyone else filed past all five embalmed tyrants? Can I claim a unique achievement here? These leaders, and their regimes, murdered and tortured millions! (OK, the North Vietnamese regime only imprisoned, tortured and killed perhaps a couple of thousand South Vietnamese collaborators and dissenters after 1975). Even our own home-grown bandits such as Gerry Adams and Martin McGuiness, of PIRA infamy, were certainly not averse to the torture and murder of innocent civilians and they seem now to have achieved respectability; McGuiness being rewarded for ceasing to be a murderous terrorist with a ministerial post in Northern Ireland. It is probably also true to say that some past British colonial leaders were not entirely innocent of 'approving' the occasional massacre and the use of thumb-screws when it suited. The point I am trying to make is that the world's public is somewhat inconsistent when it comes to which murderers and torturers they revere, or just accept, and which they despise. It might be suggested that Communist/Marxist/Leninist/Maoist and political 'reds' get given the benefit of the doubt (note the bunch above!) as no such vitriol is ever poured on them.

Setting aside, if we can, the more objectionable and controversial aspects of General Pinochet and his junta's rule from 1973 until 1990, there are some matters for which he/they surely deserve credit.
1. He revived Chile's ruined economy and social fabric, post Allende, to the point where now, in no small part thanks to his government's economic policies, Chile is the richest and most powerful country in South America.
2. His government supported (intelligence, radar, bases, logistics) the British conflict in the Falklands in 1982. Without Chile's assistance it is arguable that we might not have won that conflict and undoubtedly it saved many British lives.
3. On being invited to visit Britain in 1998 and shortly after undergoing a back operation in London, at the behest of some ghastly lefty Spanish lawyer, enthusiastically supported by our Labour government at the time, he was placed under house arrest near Wentworth Golf Club. This, after all the help he had given our armed services, was our way of showing gratitude! It was that Christmas I decided to send him a Christmas card, enclosing a £10 Oddbins wine voucher, and offering my humble personal apologies for the appallingly rude way he had been treated (on an invited visit for heaven's sake!). I sent it to the Chilean embassy and didn't expect it to get to him. I was pleasantly surprised, indeed amazed, when 10 days later I got a handwritten and signed card in reply, thanking me for my concern, from himself and his wife. I suppose he didn't have much else to do at the time, but at least he proved to be a very polite dictator. (I now wonder how much that card is worth on e-Bay).
He was released, on medical grounds, in 2000 and returned to Chile where he continued to fight off attempts to prosecute him until his death, from a heart attack, in 2006. He was cremated and his ashes are buried close to the family home near Valparaíso. 

Left: The dining table that was in the house at Wentworth Golf Club where he spent 18 months under house arrest. He had it shipped over as a fond memento of his extended stay in Britain.

Right: His private study which has been left as it was when he last used it. There are immaculately lined up rows of model soldiers in the cabinet far left, and a framed photo of his wife, Lucia, on the desk.

Left: The tiny old-fashioned TV that was in an alcove to the right of the study, in front of a large armchair from which he watched it. This was in the early 2000s! TV obviously didn't feature high on his list of priorities.

Right: Just to show that I was indeed there! I was given a present of a few books and a large colour portrait photo of the General. I'm wondering where to hang it.  Not, perhaps, in Chile, just yet!

I write this account because none of this features in any of the guide books (too sensitive a subject) and also just to add a little balance to what has become, in Chile anyway, a rather lopsided and 'PC' view of how marvellous and saintly (what bollocks) Salvador Allende was.

After that I strolled off into the sunshine for a glorious late lunch of that Peruvian (hi-jacked by the Chileans) delicacy, ceviche ( fish, salmon in this case, marinated in lime juice with onions and other spices). Very healthy and very delicious.

Left: Autobus Terminal Sur, Santiago. Smart place with good cafes and restaurants.

Off again tomorrow, heading south towards Osorno for an overnight stop. 

All aboard 'ting ting'.

Saturday, 29 March 2014


18th - 20th Mar 2014
 Plaza Sotomayon, Valparaiso. Naval HQ.
On north-west to Olmue, a small town two hours bus journey away over the western range of mountains towards Valparaíso. I can't stress enough how efficient and cheap the metro (one train per minute and no mucking around with pointless announcements) and bus services are. The bus terminals are like mini-airports in style with cafes and other facilities but with without any hassle The buses all seem to run smack on time and never any 'we regret to announce....'.

I was staying with the brother of a friend of mine, and his wife, who have been living in Chile for many years. He speaka da lingo fluently. He designed his house (left) in an 'eco-friendly' way. It has a hectare of land including an orchard, lovely garden and a large 'naturally' filtered swimming pool which features a realistic rubber decoy duck. I was trying to feed it  initially. It is a very comfortable abode.

The area around here is popular in the summer with Chilean holiday makers. Plenty of great scenery, hiking etc. and in striking distance of the seaside resort of Viña del Mar. as well as some vast tomato farms; the main industry in these parts by the look of it. We went on a few walks past several houses most of which contained packs of dogs of varying size and variety but all went ballistic (we had two dogs with us) as we passed. The noise was deafening. Luckily they were, mostly, fenced in.
Also several gaucho types riding around. I was fascinated by the fact they all wore spurs with enormous spiked rowels which would have inflicted serious injury to the horse if they were ever really used. I suspect the size of rowel must be a 'status' thing and makes a nice clinking noise when you walk in them.

Left: This is the type; these seen in a museum, but they are still in regular use.

I took the modern electric commuter train, one of the few train services running, for the one hour journey from the local station to Valparaíso. This is just the end bit of the old defunct line that once ran all the way to Buenos Aires. Valparaiso is an extraordinary place. It is the home of the Chilean navy and still a major international sea-port built, vertiginously, from the sea up several steep hills inland. Lots of cobbly streets with colourfully painted houses.
The neighbouring holiday resort of Viña del Mar is, I am told, rather tacky.

Left: Several houses are perched on rocky outcrops and have great sea views.

This is also a major earthquake zone. The one in 1906 virtually wiped the place out. Not sure I would be happy sitting in this eyrie when the ground begins to shake.

Right: ....and many have interesting murals painted on them.

There are about 18 small single car funiculars which take you from various sea level points to the higher streets. 30p a ride.
Left: I used this one from the station called Ascensor Conceptión.

There is no shortage of good bars and restaurants. Right: This one 'The Bar Ingles' is a little gloomy..........

.....but has photos of The Queen, Duke of Edinburgh and Prince Charles on the wall. The Victoria Hotel is close by. I am not sure what the British connection is other than when Francis Drake ran a few successful pirating expeditions around here in Elizabethan times. The place was frequently sacked by British and Dutch pirates in those days.

Right: The Hamburg bar where I had a good lunch (schnitzel mit pommes und sauerkraut). The place is stacked with curios and bric-a-brac. Recommended, even if it is a little bit Teutonic.

The city's most famous resident was the poet and artist (piss- artist by all accounts) Pablo Neruda. No, I had never heard of him before either.

Left: This was his house, La Sebastiana, a five story building perched on a hill high above the harbour. He had other houses dotted around the country. He was a wealthy poet.

The place is now a shrine to him and open, at a price, to the public. He penned the lines 'Valparaíso, how absurd you haven't combed your hair, you've never had time to get dressed, life has always surprised you'. He was clearly bonkers, or not entirely sober when writing that.

Amongst all the other rooms on display, including bedroom, bathrooms etc. was his sitting room (right) with dining area behind. He designed the fireplace of which he was very proud.

Left: The dining area. Pablo loved to entertain his friends and never dined alone or with just his wife if he could help it. He was an enthusiastic toper of vino tinto and Scotch whisky and I expect he banged on incessantly to the great amusement of all. We were informed that he enjoyed hearing good jokes, but was useless at telling them. We have something in common there.
Strangely, for all his love of drinking and dining, there was no kitchen in the house. Perhaps he just ordered take-aways.

Right: Pablo's private bar. Only he was allowed behind it where he enjoyed dressing up as a moustachioed barman to serve his guests. For them he mixed foul and potent cocktails (Spiny Normans perhaps?). He stuck to whisky himself.

Left: His 'crow's nest' study at the top of the house where he presumably spent hours thinking up the next bit of breathless know, such as; 'There was a young girl from Devizes, blah blah.......And the other was big and won prizes' etc. He collected antiques and weird and wonderful objets d'art which cluttered the place. I must admit, the view from all the windows was spectacular.

Right: The view over the harbour from his study.

To get around the further reaches of the city there  are small buses, the 'O' buses, which run a regular circular service around a twisty, roller-coaster route. I used one to get to Pablo's place. It was a thoroughly alarming experience and I just had to guess as to where to get off. I think the drivers must either be very bored, failed Formula 1 jockeys or get paid by the distance they cover in a day. I'm sure we were on two wheels around some of the corners. I only used it once.

Left: Traditional transport still abounds. This horse was loosely tied to a lamp-post on the main drag. It's owner, with big hat and spurs no doubt, was probably jingling his way into the nearest saloon.

The ancient part of the city, around Plaza Matriz with it's old cathedral, has become a bit dilapidated and a dodgy area at night with ladies who, for a small financial incentive, become very friendly with visiting sailors.

Right: I think this statue was in that part of town. I have yet to see any statue in this country without a pigeon on it's head.

Left: The Naval Headquarters in the main plaza. There were indeed many uniformed sailors wandering about; possibly waiting for dark to meet the lady of their dreams. Looking at some of the 'good-time girls' (at least I presume they were) I think the darker the better.

Only a day spent in Valparaíso before returning to Olmue. Many thanks to my generous hosts (right) for a most amusing and comfortable stay. They own two dogs and two cats (and one rubber duck) but only one of the dogs deigned to be photographed.

Next back to Santiago for an appointment to visit somewhere quite interesting.

Monday, 24 March 2014


15th - 18th Mar 2014

OK, my journey by bus over the Andes from Mendoza to Santiago was not as arduous as either that taken by General San Martin and his troops in 1816, or those intrepid travellers mentioned earlier who did it, both ways, by horse, a month ago. I believe Gen. San Martin (lets call him 'Mart' from now on as he is becoming a rather familiar friend) lost quite a few of his men on the way across; many of them entombed and well preserved, still on their horses, in ice. We also nearly lost a couple at the border control point when they got back on the wrong bus.

It was nevertheless a spectacular trip up the winding pass initially following the Rio Mendoza to the Chilean border with snow-capped peaks either side. The road follows the old, and long since defunct, railway line. The tracks are still in place if overgrown and strewn with boulders. There are some magnificent rail bridges over rivers gorges. It was the British who constructed and ran the railways here back at the beginning of the 20th century and such a pity they are not still running. Buses now rule OK.

Right: One of the smaller disused railway bridges. Bad photos here due to being taken through the moving bus window.

We climbed on up for about 3 hours before reaching the border control point (left). I'm not sure what altitude this was at (11 or 12.000ft maybe?) but my large unopened bag of nachos had expanded due to the altitude and then exploded. I was sitting next to a previously silent lady and we then, per force, shared the scattered remains. Had to help her get some out of her hair, like a monkey picking fleas.
The whole journey took 8 hours, but 2.5 hours of it was spent doing the formalities at the border.
Very bureaucratic, inefficient and tedious. 

Right: On down the other side; part of which is an incredible zigzag slalom course. I took this half-way down and there must have been about 30 zigs and zags in all.

Left: Inside the bus. Sandwiches and coffee were served and films shown whether you wanted to watch or not. I wouldn't have minded but they were all dubbed in Español so I understood nada.
We arrived in Santiago at about 6.30pm.

I found a pleasant old-fashioned hotel, Hotel Vegas (right), in the Paris-Londres district of Santiago; not far from the city centre. This area of cobbled streets and 'ye olde worlde' houses dates from the time when the area was owned by Franciscan monks back in the 17th century. La Vegas, their orchard, was around the site of this hotel.

Left: El sitting room; wood panelled and  antique furniture throughout. It was a very convenient and comfortable place with a pleasant open-air restaurant next door. As with all previous hotels in Argentina it has free wi-fi and free use of their three hotel computers. It compares somewhat favourably with the rip-off situations I remember in New Zealand and Oz where you were charged about $8 per hour just for the use of wi-fi!
All the room 'info' folders contained 'instructions in the event of an earthquake'. I made sure I had my torch and an unopened tin of beer to hand. Nothing worse, I imagine, than being under a pile of rubble with nothing to drink and not being able to see.
Right: The Franciscan monastery around the corner. It was all within 10 mins walking distance of the Plaza de Armas, the main city square. I am now back in a country, like Peru, where 90% of town/city main squares are called 'Plaza de Armas' (where the Spanish troops had their barracks). The main thoroughfare through Santiago is the Avenida Libertador Bernado O'Higgins (Oirish origins?) who is nearly as revered here as 'Mart' is in Argentina.

Five things quickly became apparent in Santiago:
1. They have plugs in their hotel bathroom sinks.
2. Their electric plugs are the same (two-pin) as in Europe.
3. Lots of German influence. I think many German families emigrated here after WW2, and their armed forces were trained by the Germans (they have Leopard 2 tanks).
4. Breakfast included hot food with eggs (haven't seen one for weeks).
5. Everything is exactly 3 times more expensive than in Argentina!

Left: One of the entrances to a most pleasant city centre park around the Cerro (mountain) Santa Lucia.

Right: The Neptune Terrace and fountain thereon....... 

Left:........and a view from the top down to the gardens

Right: Looking south across Av. Bernado O'Higgins from the park's summit.

Great cafes/bars/restaurants plus musicians and stalls selling knick-knacks in the 'traditional' Lastarrias area at the east end of the city centre, except that food and drink prices were up to, if not beyond, European ones.
My initial impression is that Santiago is a very cosmopolitan, almost European city in outlook and appearance. I have yet to see any blacks or Muslims. Not even tourist ones. Didn't see any in Argentina either for that matter.

Left: The centre of Plaza de Armas which was boarded off and hidden from view (until a workman opened a gate), due to extensive renovations, hence noone inside.

Right: On one side is the cathedral (naturally) and the impressive library building. They have a good bookshop in here where I managed to buy a Terry Pratchett book to read, having lost my kindle....! 

Left: Outside the cathedral were several statues of, I think, dead Popes, or saints, or some such. This one was particularly popular with our feathered friends; perhaps the Patron Saint of Incontinent Pigeons. They wouldn't let this happen to their statues in Pyongyang, I can tell you!

Around the plaza there were various 'acts' taking place. You know; magic, juggling, stupid 'human statues' etc. plus a brilliant Punch and Judy style puppet show 'with edge'. This show had both children and adults rapt. The very realistic puppets interacted with the audience with often hysterical reactions from the children. This hostile character (right) was abusing everyone in sight and eventually 'urinated' over a hastily scattering crowd.........

.....and this 'nasty' crocodile appeared suddenly from time to time, normally to scare the wits out of an  unsuspecting small child who had been lured up to the stage for some innocent reason (e.g. to tie a puppet's shoe laces) and run away screaming, much to the amusement of his/her friends (and us oldies). 

Right: Several horses were on parade, such as these patriotic ones.......

Left: .......and the mounted Carabineros de Chile. Interestingly, when not covered by hi-vis jackets, the uniforms of the smartly turned out Carabineros displayed their name tags; not something that our UK police would care, or dare, to do.

Right: Much music, singing and dancing in the surrounding streets. It was good quality stuff.......

.......which attracted many to take to the dance-floor such as this old geyser and his partner (left). They were actually very good dancers. I took a video of them and, much to his pleasure, showed it to him later.

Right: A statue in the Parque Forestal which runs along the southern side of the Mapocho river which divides the city north-south. I thought for a moment it might be wreckage from the much sought MH370 aircraft. 

The Mapocho river now resembles nothing much more than a narrow canal, or high sided drainage ditch more like, with a trickle of dirty water in the bottom (at this time of year anyway). Very few bridges cross it which is rather inconvenient.

Left: A local landmark, the Cerro San Christobal, to the north of the city. I wanted to get to the top and having been walking around the city all day was concerned that it would be a long and tiring climb.

Fortunately there is a funicular railway up to the top. Right: The entrance.

Guarded by cut-outs of some Italian gentlemen (left) who built the thing in the late 1800s.

The city is full of ice-cream shops. I suspect the Italians had a hand in this too.

Right: The funicular. It only took about 10 minutes to the top. There is a path, or course, but I was being idle.

Left: View from the top over the city to the south.

Surmounting the hill is a chapel and this statue (right) of the Virgin Mary, I believe. It has signs around the base demanding 'silencio' and some solemn religious music is played from discretely hidden speakers in the trees. There is also a sort of amphitheatre just below it where religious ceremonies are held plus a shop selling souvenirs and post-cards, and a cafe further down. 

Left: Needless to say, as with all statues, this one is no exception to attracting the attention of pigeons.

Looks like she has been dribbling a bit.

Right: Just to prove I was there. The Waitrose supermarket bag is still serving it's useful purpose. Nobody has yet tried to nick my supermarket bag.

Left: The Bellas Artes museum . This features Chilean fine art and  shares the site with the Contemporary Art museum behind it. I didn't venture inside.

Right: A fine figure of a horse in the forecourt. Slightly dodgy legs I think.

Left: Inside the Mercado Central. This used to be the major city fish market and is just south of the river/drain, north of Plaza de Armas. It still does have a few fishmongers around it but is now a vast enclosed area of very good fish restaurants. A must for your fish lunch; it closes at 6.00pm, so nae 'fush supper' on offer.

Right: Palacio de la Moneda. This houses the Presidential offices and is the place where the late Marxist President Salvadore Allende, who refused to leave, was overthrown in 1973. The name 'Moneda' means 'coin'. It was originally the official mint.

Left: This nondescript looking house in a leafy suburb has an interesting history. I had to make a long journey to the Vitacura district, north-east of the city, to make an appointment to come back later in the week to be shown around. All will be revealed when I return to Santiago on the 20th.

Next stop will be the charming little township of Olmue, 2 hours bus ride over the mountains to the north-west. I look forward to meeting up with an ex-Scots Guardsman, brother of an ex-colleague of mine, who has lived and worked there for some time.