January 16, 2014
This mini-mountain in the middle of Santiago is a pretty fabulous place to visit for a bunch of reasons. The funicular ride up to the top, the breathtaking vistas, first rate people watching, and the funicular ride down that feels like a descent from a heavenly cloud.
The line to buy tickets (2000 CP) is long but moves swiftly. An attendant swipes the x bar code from my ticket as I climb a steep stairway to one of the four open-sided, covered green cars perched at 45 degree angle.
A bell clangs.You can feel the funicular vehicle’s hydraulic pulley system hum with the brute force it needs to haul four carloads of tourists up the steep little mountain. Within a minute, as the view begins to appear over the tree line, ooohs and ahhs spontaneously erupt, as does the chirping of digital cameras, iPads, iPhones. This is gonna be special, I’m thinking.
VIDEO Ascending San Cristobal1
VIDEO Ascending San Cristobal2
Thank god for photos and videos. Describing the panorama in words is challenging…let’s just settle on breathtaking.
There’s breathtaking level number one VIDEO at the lower of three levels of viewing areas that sit like tiers on a wedding cake. Cars and bikes can access this level by a Tour de France steep road from the little mountain’s base at the end of Pio Nono. No one can keep from gawking. The two universal reactions are take photos, take ‘selfies,’ and hand your camera to a fellow visitor to take your photo with the vista behind you. I do all three.
The haze today is thick. Forget being able to see the vast and mighty snow-topped peaks that are the backdrop to Santiago’s east. If today’s vista is so overwhelming, it short-circuits my mind to imagine what a clear day from this exalted height would offer.
If you had any doubts about Santiago being a hub of commerce and industry, scores of skyscrapers in view in the business district put that to rest.
Another word that comes to mind: sprawl. Outside the downtown area, the neighborhoods of Santiago and suburbs fade into the distance. Six million of Chile’s 17 million population live here.
Once I get over the initial awe of the view, checking out my fellow travelers is almost as rewarding. This is high summer, tourism is at its peak, and tourists from foreign countries mingle with Chileans from downtown or distant provinces.
Bikers in spandex or baggy shorts and T-shirts park their bikes. College kids, families, a group of handicapped kids, couples from the love- or lust-struck to those who’ve passed their silver anniversary, take in the views. The small concession stands selling water and souvenirs aren’t too busy yet at 11:30 AM. The place will be buzzing toward 6 PM when the breeze a bit cooler and the Andes may or may not be more visible through the haze and smog.
Huffing up to breathtaking level number two VIDEO, the first thing I hear is Gregorian chants from a sound system surrounding an outdoor chapel. I know I’m getting high but the heavenly music is a little over the top. Not surprisingly, there’s a stone-walled little store selling all sorts of religious artifacts. Commerce and religion are intertwined at most holy places in the world. This one at the “Sanctuario Immaculada Concepcion” is no exception. One glance above, the reason for this is clear.
A 40 ton, 72 foot tall statue of the Virgin Mary dominates the top tier, breathtaking level number three VIDEO. Standing under her, I feel dwarfed. Maybe that’s the idea. You can see her, hands extended in welcome (grace, forgiveness, acceptance, take your pick) from everywhere in Santiago.
Several religious motifs are in the terraces leading up to it VIDEO. Pilgrims kneel in front of the glass doors to a small chapel at the base of the statue’s pedestal, others take photos.
I didn’t come here to pray but find myself on my knees in front of the chapel. Just a moment between the Virgin and me. I learn later that Pope John Paul prayed here and blessed the city of Santiago in 1987.
Maybe it’s the spirit of the statue looming over me but the panorama from here is heavenly. This is one of the reasons cameras were invented, to show in images what words fail to convey. Even the most ardent camera-wielders pause, overcome by the enormity of the scene, to make a mental image they will tell their friends about in the years to come.
Descent from San Cristobal 1
Correction: in videos I state the population of Santiago is 17 million. The population of Santiago is six million, the population of Chile is 17 million.
Photos, videos by Paul A. Tamburello, Jr.