Tag Archives: Chile

Backpacking in Chile- The Top 5 Highlights

3 Oct

Firstly, I must say, at the risk of sounding cheesy and predictable, that Chile is the most beautiful country I’ve ever visited. And that’s pretty much for one reason alone: The Andes. They’re enchanting, breathtaking, and pretty much omnipresent in Chile- just take a look at the map. The country is bordered by the Andes to the East forming a natural border with Argentina, legendary for its precarious mountain crosses, which claimed the lives of many Spanish conquistadores. If all goes to plan I’d like to return to South America to trek in the Andes and take in their beauty in Argentina and Peru also. The mountains have a spirit, echoed by the friendly people you meet all over Chile, and that sort of sentimental kindness is infectious- I’m surprised they haven’t tried to bag it! So, with the Andes as my absolute number 1 highlight, here are my real top 5 destinations I visited during my time backpacking in Chile, from Santiago to San Pedro de Atacama…

Stunning Andes

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Chilean Adventures in the Spirit of Neruda and Mistral

3 Sep

HispanicLondon is about to undertake a voyage… to Chile!

It’s the wrong time of year for it- Santiago’s cold winter is turning into spring and a snowy view of the Andes is on the cards. But what better way to spend two weeks than backpacking around Chile, from Santiago to the Atacama desert in the north.

Santiago en invierno

The trip starts in Santiago where the schedule is packed and adventurous. There’ll be horse riding in the Cascada de las Animas and mountain walking in the Cajon de Maipo– hopefully with a visit to the hot springs! Pablo Neruda, the famous Chilean poet, had a summer house at Isla Negra outside Santiago, which should be well worth a visit for its “spectacular setting on a windswept ocean headland”, according to the trusty Lonely Planet. It was in this house where Neruda died of cancer after it was ransacked by soldiers loyal to Pinochet after his coup in 1973. Continue reading

Latin Americans celebrate their golden years in London

5 May

Amada Silva, 69, is the founder and co-ordinator of the Latin American Golden Years Day Centre in Lambeth, south London. Having fled Pinochet’s Chile in 1976 before coming to the UK and eventually setting up the centre, Amada’s life story is fascinating.

Amada at the day centre

In Chile, she worked as an MP for the Communist Party, and her husband, Fernando Vergara, was a bodyguard for Salvador Allende’s opposition to Pinochet before Allende was assassinated in 1973; both were dangerous careers under Pinochet’s military dictatorship. But just how dangerous was proved to Amada one morning in 1976, when her family received a tip that the military was coming for them that afternoon. “We had been worried for some months that the military would come but I didn’t believe it at first. I kept saying ‘no, I will stay where my people are’ but then someone more senior approached me saying it was true, and we had no choice. We didn’t have time to get many of our belongings. We had to just jump in the car and go. It was a close get away; I saw the military arrive at the house. It was a horrible moment but we got out of it.Continue reading

Easter Island Rapa Nui clan in clashes with Chilean police

7 Feb

The island known to most as Easter Island, which lies 3,200km off the west coast of Chile, is officially named Rapa Nui along with the Polynesian people that live there and the language they speak. Sixty per cent of Easter Island’s 4,000 population are descended from the indigenous group. Most of their income is gained from tourism as people travel to the Unesco World Heritage Site to see the Moais, giant carved stone figures which date from sometime between 1250 and 1500. The Rapa Nui have lobbied the Chilean government for independence since the island was annexed in 1888. And in recent years the struggle has grown more pronounced.

The Maois

On Sunday the most recent clash saw police evict a group of Rapa Nui, the Hitorangi clan, from a luxury hotel which they had been occupying since August in protest. They claim the hotel was built on land which had been illegally seized from their ancestors. For months they have been protesting against plans to develop the island for further tourism. The Hangaroa Eco Village and Spa where the group were camped out was brought from the Chilean government by the Scheiss family, a powerful investment group, in the 1990s. Hotel owner Jeannette Scheiss was quoted in the Santiago Times saying: “If someone feels they have a claim to our land, they have to prove it through judicial procedures”. Rodrigo Gomez, a lawyer for the group, said up to 50 armed police had broken into the hotel to remove the final five occupiers who were arrested and released pending court hearings. Mr Gomez said the operation, which took place two days before the group were due to appear in court to discuss the land ownership, had been “utterly irregular and illegal”. A statement on the Save Rapa Nui website claimed that another of the group’s lawyers had been prevented from visiting his clients in jail. Continue reading

New data: Overcrowding in Chilean jails revealed

11 Dec

Following Wednesday’s comment piece on the deadly prison fire in Santiago, the following figures have come to light, revealing the full extent of overcrowding in Chilean prisons. After at least 81 prisoners perished in the San Miguel jail fire, the nation will expect results from Sebastián Piñera’s pledge for prison reform. Click on the Many Eyes interactive graphic below to see how the data compares…

Prison Prisoners Capacity
Source: Fundación Paz Ciudadana 2009
Puente Alto 1,752 630
Santiago Sur 6,237 2,446
Valparaíso 2,898 1,178
Arica 2,104 1,092
San Miguel 1,654 892
Concepción 2,096 1,194
Antofagasta 1,155 68
Santiago 1,730 1,197 

Overcrowding in Chilean Jails Many Eyes

Chile prison fire warns world of overcrowding dangers

8 Dec

San Miguel prison in flames

Described as the worst tragedy in the history of Chile’s prison system, a large fire that broke out in a Santiago jail earlier today has killed 83 prisoners, and President Sebastián Piñera has warned the number may rise.

It is believed that the blaze at San Miguel jail was started when inmates set their mattresses alight after a fight between rival gangs got out of control. The scene outside has been described as chaotic, as police try to placate hundreds of relatives who have gathered to find out whether their loved ones have survived.

This sad event should warn governments of the risk of overcrowding in prisons, a long-standing issue in Chile which, according to Amnesty International, has the highest per capita rate of prisoners in Latin America. San Miguel jail has a capacity of 1,100 prisoners (and by some estimates only 700) but it housed 1,960 inmates when the fire broke out. Not only does overcrowding mean a higher risk of violence with more inmates living at close quarters than is advisable, but in this case it will also have greatly hindered the evacuation effort. Continue reading

Chilean miners rescue at Copiapo: A display of Chilean spirit

13 Oct

The first 20 Chilean miners have been successfully rescued from their cave, 2,257 feet underground, and the world’s media has spent the last 24 hours gripped by the spectacle. But what will be the lasting legacy of the San José mine collapse? What will the world remember when they’re reminded of the perseverance of ‘los 33’, trapped in their potential tomb for 69 days?

Probably not the event itself on 5th August when 700,000 tons of rock collapsed and entrapped those mining for copper and gold below. It is also unlikely that people will focus on the cause of the collapse and the mine’s history of instability which had already caused one miner’s death prior to the incident.

If such an incident were to occur in Britain there would be no end of criticism and retribution of the mine company. There would be questions of health and safety; how did the mine roof come to collapse? Why were these men subjected to such danger? Continue reading