Day 02: Blindfolds and Self-Confidence

Day 02: Sunday 18 May 2014

Up and out by 8.40am. It’s amazing how many other people are up and about at 8.40am on a Sunday. That is to say, it’s amazing that there are other people up and about at 8.40am om a Sunday …

Now, one of the things that’s often suggested is that if you’re a bit lost, or a bit unsure about where you need to go, the best thing to do is ask someone. The problem therein lies for the person to understand where it is you’re trying to go. Which, when that person is a bus driver whose bus allegedly goes right past the place you need to go, but who gives the impression they’ve never heard of it, is a little disconcerting …
The guidebook and the website say to catch a certain bus from a metro station; the bus goes in both directions but the suggestion is that you don’t have to cross a road. There are upgrade works taking place at the station and one of the exists is closed, so the staircase suggested may not be the right one. No problem, let’s just check with the bus driver …
When the second bus came I just got on and thought ‘well if nothing else I can always just get the bus back’.

The fact that I’m fiddling with metros and buses at all is proof of my improvement in self-confidence. Although remember that knowledge is power, so knowing what you need/want, knowing what to ask for, what to expect, and how much it’ll cost all in advance definitely helps. Doubly so when the ticket clerk accidentally short-changes you and you have to ask, in broken Spanish and sign-language, for your extra 600 pesos.
Most of the transport here in Santiago works on a ‘top-up’ travel card, called a Bip! card. You can buy metro tickets independently, but all the buses need these cards. Since my first destination was a considerable way into the suburbs (two metro changes and then a bus), I definitely needed one. Which involved buying one. Which involved me having the self-confidence to. I’m getting there, see!

Anyway, self-effacing commentary over.
Parque por la Paz, also known as Villa Grimaldi, is a ruined location hidden in the far East of the city, near to an airfield and definitely not on many people’s tourist radar. Prior to 1973 it was quite a nice little country mansion, complete with garden and small swimming pool. It then became one of the main centres of torture and execution of political prisoners in Pinochet’s Chile. Yep, another Dark Tourist site for me.
I’ll post a specific entry on the whole Pinochet thing in another part of the blog at some point, but in a nutshell: Salvador Allende was the first ever democratically elected Marxist president in the world, and came to power in 1970. Three years later, he was overthrown by the army in a coup d’etat led by Augusto Pinochet. For the next four years, all ideological opposition to the Pinochet regime was ‘disappeared’ (this is the technical term and is not bad English; people were ‘disappered’ and they became ‘the disappeared’); arrested, held in camps like these, and often murdered and dumped (they had a particular passion for loading bodies into helicopters and dumping them at sea). Unlike in many other similar regimes, the primary focus for the Pinochet regime was to primarily remove ideological opposition rather than cause outright terror, so their focus was on Socialists rather than on managing society as a whole.
Even so, their means of doing so were particularly nasty – filling very small cells with large numbers of people so they couldn’t even sit down, chaining people to metal beds and firing electricity through them, and throughout the whole time they were there, prisoners were blindfolded so they basically lost the use of their eyes for weeks/months. (The audio guide device I was listening to made a point of these blindfolds about 4 or5 times).
The centre was only really in operation for about four years in the mid-70s before it closed (the Pinochet regime continued in place for most of the 1980s), and it’s believed that around 250 people were (known to have) died or been disappeared after having been incarcerated here (the third person killed incidentally had the first name ‘Stalin’) . There’s two lists of names as memorials on walls, and in the rose garden each of the flowers is specifically dedicated to the women that perished here.

From death to life; I’d passed what looked like a large street market on the bus not far from Villa Grimaldi, so I walked back down to take a look. It was absolutely huge – what you could see from the road was just one edge of it, and even that went on quite a way. I even bought a few things (from a street market. In a foreign language I don’t speak!); apples, peppers, an onion, and a couple of spices. The apples would be a snack for the next day or so, the others would be to cook and eat this evening at the hostel. (This was later supplemented in two other mini-marts by spaghetti and some smoked sausage.). There’s something appealing about the bustle and the smell of a decent street market; apart from the hundreds of stalls selling fruit, veg, and herbs, you could also buy anything from clothes (mmm, green jeans!), to parts for a bicycle. Well, if my sandals break again, I know where I can go to get something cheap to replace them …

The only other museum place I went to was the Museo Historico Nacional, because it was free on Sundays to get in. Quite a small museum built on two levels around a central courtyard (and made even smaller by the ground floor on one side being renovated). All descriptions are in Spanish only, but it doesn’t take a linguistic genius to see what a prehistoric tooth or a painting of the original Spanish invaders is – only the nuances remain disunderstood (is that a word? Ununderstood sounds really wrong, and misunderstood is definitely the wrong word in this context). It does also gloss over history quite quickly, and doesn’t really focus on any one thing for terribly long.
The final exhibit would have been Allende’s broken glasses, but apparently they were being, well, not ‘repaired’, but more like preserved/conserved to make sure I guess they didn’t disintegrate further.

The hostel’s quieter tonight; all the people who were in my dorm room last night (it’s a 6-bed dorm) seem to have checked out, and while a couple of people have checked in, they’ve also so far gone into one of the other dorms (I don’t know how many there are; three I think). When one of them’s finished in the kitchen (it’s a small kitchen) I’ll start cooking up stuff…

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