One of the first things we look out for when we travel to a new place is the local walking tour. The guides are energetic, funny and well informed. They’re often likely to be young students, passionate about their hometown and keen to share their knowledge (and political opinions) although we’ve also spent time with some fascinating retired folk willing to spend a few hours sharing their own stories and experiences.
We usually look for the “free” guided tours, where at the end of the tour we decide how much we want to tip the guide. We reckon we’re quite fair with our tipping and hopefully everyone is as well, otherwise the whole concept will fall in a heap with no more “free” walking tours. The guide will often tell the group what the average tip could be, but really it is up to each person to decide what they think the tour was worth.
In Santiago, we found brochures for 2 operators and we chose the morning “offbeat” tour with tours4tips, which was right up there with the best walking tour we’ve ever done. They also have an afternoon tour covering other areas of the city.
Ivana was our guide for the morning and she was funny, smart and had a great knowledge of Santiago’s social and political stories. Our group was about 12, and during the introductions we met others from Buenos Aires, Germany, Spain, Florida & England.
According to Ivana, Chile has the highest number of earthquakes in the world and if we feel the ground shaking and don’t know what to do then just watch what the locals are doing. If they’re going about their day with no concern then do that. If they’re running around in a crazy panic, then follow their lead and do the same.
Terremoto means earthquake in Spanish. A famous Chilean drink is called terremoto, and Ivana told us that at the end of the tour she’d take us to a bar and treat us to a free tasting of this leg wobbling cocktail loved by the locals. Nice touch, looked forward to that.
Exploring foreign markets is always a memorable cultural experience, and as we slowly picked our way around the enthusiastic (or not) vendors displaying their wares, we found the place packed with shoppers and very few tourists.
Fresh produce and warm smiles.
Coming out at the other end of the market we ventured across to the Metro station for a quick ride to our next stop, the Cemeterio. We were glad to buy our tickets with Ivana’s guidance, as we have only a smattering of Spanish words between us, and it helped us during the week when we had to navigate the Metro unaided.
Just outside the cemetery gates is a market hall with an incredible array of flower arrangements for people to buy and take in to their loved ones.
Entering the cemetery through lavish gates, we were confronted by large apartment building-like structures with balconies and stairs leading to each level.
Behind each ornate plaque is a niche containing bodies or ashes of deceased. Ivana spent time explaining to the group that there is a system whereby if the family can’t afford to buy a niche then the space can be rented for a number of years. In some cases there are several bodies in the one space.
Magnificent mausoleums stand along leafy tree lined streets, and the ornate sculptures and lush gardens create the illusion of walking through elegant suburban streets or urban parks.
We noticed some graves with a cross lying sideways and so Dave asked Ivana what that was about. Ivana said she has been told the side the cross leans on is an indication of the person’s political persuasion. We think there were considerably more left leaning than right leaning crosses in this cemetery.
A massive monument to fallen police officers was particularly moving.
Before leaving the cemetery Ivana stopped us at the grave and monument for former Chilean president Salvador Allende, finally put to rest in 1990, 17 years after his death at the time of Pinochet’s 1973 coup. Ivana spent some time explaining a Chilean point of view about the coup and how the nation’s citizens fared during Pinichot’s dictatorship.
Ivana was very passionate about her feelings and strongly recommended we visit the Museum of Memory and Human Rights in Santiago so we could appreciate the stories of her people during the dictatorship of Pinochet. Thanks to Ivana’s recommendation we did visit the museum the next day and we were deeply moved by the entire exhibition, taking a good 4 hours to work through properly. I have to confess that, despite it all happening in our adult lifetime, we really had very limited knowledge of events.
The cemetery blew us away! To be honest, if we hadn’t been on this walking tour we would not have bothered to head across town to visit, and yet it turned out to be a real highlight and one of the most relaxed and picturesque cemeteries I’ve ever visited. Of course, like any cemetery, much of it is heart wrenching, especially the grave sites for babies and children where families display flowers, fluffy toys and photos.
And then as promised, Ivana shepherded us in to a darkened bar across from the cemetery where we all sat at a long table awaiting our highly anticipated national tipple. Ivana explained the ingredients of the drink: cheap fermented white wine; grenadine and pineapple ice cream! All I can say is that it tasted just like it sounded.
At the end of our 5 star guided tour by the lovely Ivana, we handed over the pesos and hit the Metro, confident that we’d be getting on the right train and making the right connections to get us back to our hotel.
Brilliant day, brilliant tour. If you go to Santiago, do the tours4tips.