Because we are such cheapos (warning: this is probably gonna be a running theme for the next few posts. We were deliriously happy to land in “cheap” Chile after Argentina), we went for not one, but TWO free tours when we were in Santiago.
After Francesca brought us around for the really cool tour of the markets in Santiago, we decided to reward her awesomeness with complete and utter betrayal – we went for a city tour with her rival company Free Tours Santiago.
Fine… “rival” is probably too strong a word to use.
Given that both tours were tips-based, we were sure there was an added incentive for the guides to be good.
Even so, I think we got lucky when it was Felipe who guided us for this second tour. Felipe is a native of Santiago and he was extremely knowledgeable about the history and trivia of his city. More than that, he has this love and passion for the city that we found really heart-warming and… endearing.
Starting from the Plaza de Armas in the centre of Santiago, Felipe brought us around the major attractions of the city such as el Antiguo Congreso, la Corte Suprema, Palacio La Moneda, Bolsa de Comercio, Teatro Municipal, etc…
Felipe told us story after story about how these places affected the shaping of the country of Chile. He told us about the early beginnings of the city when the place was inhabited by the Mapuche Indians and about the Spanish Conquisitadors led by Pedro de Valdivia who eventually “found” the city of Santiago. He talked about the three year war that the indigenous Picunche led by Chief Michimalonco waged on the Spaniards. And then on to the War of Independence (specifically the Battle of Chacabuco) where the combined Argentine and Chilean armies, led by the legendary José de San Martín and Bernardo O’Higgins drove off the Spaniards in the town of Colina.
We loved how “direct” Felipe was even when talking about modern day events such as the coup d’état of 1973 and the establishment of a military regime under the rule of Pinochet. It was… refreshing to hear the accounts from someone who lived through a “real” dictatorial government.
And the best part of it is that this was not only a major attractions/historical journey kind of tour. Felipe was keen to point out the quirks that make Santiago such an awesome city.
The one we liked most is about the citizens’ love for their stray dog population. Come winter time, the Santiago-ians (??) would knit woollen clothes for the strays in the city and build makeshift kennels for them in the park so that the dogs would not freeze in the cold weather. How cool is that?
Honestly speaking, when I first heard about the tour, I was a bit apprehensive about it being four hours long (In my opinion, not a lot of things justify four hours of walking… EVEN if it is free). But credit to Felipe, the four hours flew by really fast. Before we knew it, we’d reached the end of our tour, and Felipe, instead of taking our tip and going home to a nice hot dinner, asked us if we wanted to experience “real” Chilean night life.