After some consideration, we decided to have our baby in Santiago. We heard good, bad and even scary things about hospitals in La Serena. At least when it comes to giving birth. The bruises after my dog-related bike accident were taken care of very well in Clinica Elqui in La Serena. I can’t complain about that, even though one of the nurses in training almost covered my mouth and my ear as well when putting plasters on those few stitches near my eye. Like, “there is a plaster, so I have to put one next to it to make it stick in place”, and then another plaster to hold the plaster that holds the first plaster.
Anyway, we didn’t want to run a risk with our first baby, so we went to Santiago two weeks before the predicted delivery date, where we rented an apartment in Las Condes, one of the new shiny fancy quarters in Santiago near Clinica Alemana. The apartment was in the 21st floor, so we had a good view!
Hendrik made sure his birth would be properly noticed by everyone… the day we arrived on March 25 there was a 7.0 earthquake 200km South of Santiago which caused some local damage. We were just having dinner out at Pizzahut when the place started wobbling softly. First we thought it must be the subway running right under us at Manquehue Metro station and we ignored it. But it didn’t stop and got stronger until about a minute later the buses and cranes outside started swaying noticeably, pedestrians stopped, etc. The epicentre was far away and here in Santiago it felt like a good rolling forth and back, without any noises. Later, two weeks after Hendrik was born I was putting him back to bed just before midnight (changing his diapers) when there was another one, this time a 6.7 about 100 kms North-West near Valparaiso. The experience was totally different from the first one. It started right away with full strength and was on the edge of being scary, the noise was impressive. Walking was difficult and the power went out but came back soon thereafter. Not much else happened and hardly anyone got hurt.
But I get distracted. A few days after we arrived in Santiago, Andrea, Dan and their baby Lizzy came visiting from La Serena (Dan was running the half marathon in Santiago), and we went for a day trip to Valparaiso. That’s a 1.5 hour drive West towards the coast. Valparaiso has quite some history and is worth a visit. In the second half of the 19th century Valparaiso was a very important harbor city and booming a lot, as all ships crossing from the Atlantic into the Pacific and back stopped there. Citing Wikipedia, “Examples of Valparaíso’s former glory include Latin America’s oldest stock exchange, the continent’s first volunteer fire department, Chile’s first public library, and the oldest Spanish language newspaper in continuous publication in the world.”
The 20th century didn’t begin very well for “Valpo”, as it is often called by Chileans. First, in 1906 it was totally flattened by a quake, but recovered within 3 years. Quake-safe building standards for wooden houses were developed as a consequence of this. In 1914, the opening of the Panama Canal was a huge and permanent blow to the city, as it lost a great deal of its importance and financial income. Valparaiso has seen some important historical figures. Salvador Allende was born there as well as Augusto Pinochet. Allende killed himself in Parliament during the Pinochet coup 1973, just after giving a now famous speech about freedom.
Pablo Neruda, a famous and very politicised Chilean poet and Nobel Prize Laureate lived in Valparaiso as well. In 1948 president Videla outlawed the communist party, and Neruda went into hiding. After more than a year in the underground he escaped through the mountains far South into Argentina. After a few years he managed to travel to Europe using a friend’s passport, and made a surprise appearance at the World Peace Congress in Paris helped by no-one less than Pablo Picasso. The Chilean government of course denied Neruda was in Paris as they didn’t even know he escaped the country. Eventually Neruda returned to Chile where he became a close associate with Salvador Allende. Neruda died in 1973 from cancer. Rumours that his last days in hospital were “shortened” by the Pinochet regime are still being investigated today. His biography is worth checking out.
Nowadays, Chile puts great effort into reviving the city as a cultural and political centre, with quite some success. Yet Valparaiso still bears the marks of the earlier bad years. Walking up the hills and looking at the houses clinging onto the steep cliffs is impressive. So, when you come to Chile, don’t miss paying Valparaiso a visit