A stay in Santiago wouldn’t be complete without the traditional visit to the Parque Metropolitano de Santiago, the largest urban park in Chile and one of the biggest in the world. We went there to check out the zoo ten days ago but this time, we had promised Mark a Teleférico de Santiago ride, the cable cart that goes all the way to the top of Cerro San Cristóbal.
Now obviously, in hindsight, it probably would have best to avoid going on a Saturday afternoon, where hundreds of Chilean parents had promised their children the same thrill ride.
And also, it probably would have been a good idea to take into account the fact that at the top of Cerro San Cristóbal is the Santuario de la Inmaculada Concepción, one of the principal places of worship for the Catholic Church of Chile, and that there may be many pilgrims—or lapsed Catholics—two days before the Pope’s visit to Chile.
Since there was a huge lineup to take the funicular to the feet of the Virgin Mary statue, we walked to Estación Oasis, located at a different entrance. We had to queue as well but it was manageable.
The park was definitely busier than usual with visitors walking, biking, riding taxis or driving uphill. For once, the small chapel in which “Juan Pablo II” (as he is known here) prayed and blessed the city of Santiago in 1987 was open. There was also a new statue dedicated to John Paul II and brand new flags flying on top of the hill.
I don’t exactly listen to Vatican Radio so we didn’t know the Pope was coming to Chile until we arrived in Santiago and saw the “¡Bienvenido Papa Francisco!” banners around churches. Apparently, the Apostolic Journey was announced in June last year, so I’m guessing some people are making the trip to Santiago to see him.
But “Papa Francisco, no eres bienvenido” for everyone in Chile. Three churches were firebombed in Santiago yesterday and there was a bomb scare in our street, Calle Monjitas, on Thursday. Many Chileans and Mapuche—indigenous inhabitants—are protesting against the Catholic church’s failure to tackle allegations of clerical sexual abuse and atrocities committed during the conquest and colonial period. “In a democracy, people can express themselves as long as it’s done in a pacifist way,” President Michelle Bachelet said.
We’re leaving Santiago before the Pope arrives, not so much as a gesture of protest but rather because hotel rooms are more expensive and the city will be hard to navigate—traffic barriers were already installed everywhere today.
Meanwhile, we enjoyed our last Saturday in Santiago watching the sunset from the top of our building on Monjitas. It’s funny how colourful and old the city seems at street level, and how grey and futuristic the cityscape is from the top.