One of the things I haven’t been up to lately, unfortunately, is taking cheap holidays in Turkey. However, I did recently go on a Bicicleta Verde Tour. We toured “La Chimba” which is what the part of Santiago that is on the other side of the Mapocho River used to be called. This part of the city was for the servants, immigrants, and basically anyone who didn’t fit in with the “high society” during the colonial period and early republic. Starting in 1900, Palestinians started immigrating to Chile, escaping persecution by the Ottoman Empire, and settling in the Patronato neighborhood. They arrived with Turkish passports, and therefore to this day, Chileans call all people of Middle Eastern descent turcos. Though by no means politically correct, at least there is a historical explanation.
Our guide also told us that Chile has the largest Palestine community outside of the Arab world. Barrio Patronato definitely demonstrates this, with Orthodox churches and delicious middle eastern restaurants. The community even has its own soccer team.
Even though I’ve been in Santiago for a total of more than four years, and have been on more than a few tours of Santiago, I learned quite a few tidbits that I hadn’t known before.
- Cerro San Cristobal used to be a quarry without any vegetation. La Moneda Presidential palace is made from rocks from San Cristobal. The hill was planted at the turn of the 20th Century to create a park for the high society.
- For Chile’s Centennial celebration in 1910, various countries donated statues and fountains to Chile. The virgin on top of San Cristobal was donated by France, the statue in Plaza Italia was donated by none other than Italy (hence, giving the plaza its name) and the fountain in Parque Forestal by Germany, which then gave name to one of the best sandwhich shops in Santiago, La Fuente Alemana.
- Parque Forestal used to be a private garden for the aristocrats who lived in the Bellas Artes neighborhood.
We toured through La Vega and El Mercado Central, which was interesting with a group of 7 young gringas. We called a lot of attention, but the piropos were all either funny or harmless, nothing gross or threatening. Mostly people either wanted to sell us something, tell us we were beautiful, or ask where we were from. It helped that our guide knew a lot of the workers. I know piropos are a controversial topic, and maybe I shouldn’t be so blasé about it, but the truth is that 90% of the time I find them hilarious and they don’t bother me.
I definitley recommend La Bicicleta Verde’s bike tours. Our guide was knowledgable, and she and our “back-up” were both concerned for our group’s safety. We went with a couple of girls who were beginning bikers, but even so, they did great and not once did I feel in danger of having an accident.
La Bicicleta Verde is located on Loreto 6, two blocks from Bellas Artes metro stop. They have the morning tour (which we did) and an afternoon tour called Parks and Politics, as well as an evening tour of uptown Santiago.