National Geographic : 1944 Oct
Capital and Chief Seaport of Chile BY W. ROBERT MOORE ON JANUARY 20, 1943, President Juan Antonio Rios signed the decree ending Chile's diplomatic relations with the Axis. In a radio broadcast he declared that Chile had "an essential interest in this fight." It was a decision not easily arrived at, for narrow 2,650-mile-long Chile could not ade quately patrol her extensive Pacific coastline. Today Chile is feeling the pinch of war. Ships which brought imports and carried away produce now are sailing other seas on secret missions. As a result, factories and industries are being developed and Chile is gaining steel plants, a tire factory, and textile mills. "We still have no rationing except limited gasoline," said one Government official. "But we've long since stopped even asking shop keepers for many imported products." Let us look at Santiago and Valparaiso, capital and chief seaport of this southerly South American neighbor.* Air Route over the High Andes To begin properly, one should steam into the spectacular hill-girt crescent of Valparaiso Bay, or trek across the thirsty northern deserts in the path of Don Pedro de Valdivia, who, in 1541, came from Peru to conquer Chile and to found its first cities. Instead, let us hop the back fence from Santiago. Like a condor with pinions set, our giant Panagra sky bird soared into the blue sky from the dusty airport of Mendoza on the last lap of the journey from Buenos Aires. Tilting gently, first on one wingtip, then on the other, and dropping or bouncing on the air currents, it rose higher and higher toward the forbidding rugged barrier of the lofty Andes.t At 16,500 feet the cabin reminded me of a Levantine coffeehouse filled with people sucking at long flexible-stemmed nar ghiles. We were using the oxygen tubes. Below spread vivid slopes and crags, molded by volcanic fires long since cooled. Above this chaos reared the white crowns of higher peaks. In winter the whole Cordillera is blan keted in snow, but now, in the early March autumn, much of it was bare. My ears crackled with the elevation, yet I caught the words of the purser: "There's Aconcagua. We'll pass close to it soon." Aconcagua, loftiest peak in the Western World! High above other crests towered the glacier walls of this 23,081-foot mass of rock. Once before I had had a similar thrill when I first saw remote Everest from a hilltop in the Himalayas. Swiftly we winged abreast the hoary mon arch, above whose icy head hung a silvery halo of wispy clouds. Off the opposite wing tip rose Tupungato, its own snowy summit 21,489 feet high. When winter winds roar over the pass the crossing can be filled with bumpy moments. Ours was clear. Looking on Uspallata Pass, 4,000 feet below, the bronze statue of Christ, standing on the Argentina-Chile boundary, seemed tiny. Up the slopes twisted a hair pin road, which weeks later I climbed by car. Flying past Caracoles, where the Trans andine Railway burrows into the mountain side, over the blue waters of Inca Lake (La guna del Inca), and out of the hills that wall the Aconcagua River was a matter of quick moving minutes. Then we turned southward over dusty green plains and soon circled Santiago. From the air Santiago seems a flat gray patch at the foot of the mountains. Save for the tree-covered bump of Santa Lucia, San Crist6bal Hill at its outer fringe, and tall buildings in its business heart, the Chilean capital is a level expanse of corrugated iron and clay tiling, set amid gold and green fields (page 484). Santiago Founded at the Foot of Santa Lucia Hill To orient yourself in Santiago, climb Santa Lucia Hill, which is at once a hanging garden and a miniature Acropolis. Below is where the city began. Don Pedro de Valdivia climbed to the top of Santa Lucia on a warm February day in 1541. With his little band of Spanish fol lowers he had trekked across the mountains and deserts from Cuzco, Peru, and found the land good. The Mapocho River swept around the hill, leaving a large area where a settlement could be built, free from surprise attack. The hill top afforded an excellent site for a fort to guard the infant colony. * See "Twin Stars of Chile: Valparaiso, the Gate way, and Santiago, the Capital," by William Joseph Showalter, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, Feb ruary, 1929; and "Longitudinal Journey Through Chile," by Harriet Chalmers Adams, September, 1922. t See "Flying the 'Hump' of the Andes," by Capt. Albert W. Stevens, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, May, 1931.