1. Physical geography: the longest country in the world.


Chile welcomes you through the majestic Andes mountain range. One is amazed watching as it slowly flies over the impetuous mountains commanded by Aconcagua when it arrives by plane from its neighbor Argentina.

Aconcagua is the highest peak in the Andean mountain range, with its 6,960 meters of altitude. The mountain range geographically limits Chile on its eastern part, for just over 4,200 km. which make it the longest country in the world in north-south latitude. This means that there are different climates and landscapes in the Andean mountain range itself with arid desert mountains to the north and frozen mountains to the south, as well as a large number of lakes and volcanoes formed by their geomorphology and plate tectonics. Chile is also in a collision zone between two plates along its entire coast, the Nazca plate and the South American plate. This makes earthquakes frequent, some of which are the most important in the world.

It is a great geographic diversity that this country offers us. The impressive coastal Atacama desert to the north, the driest in the world, landscapes of glaciers and seas surrounded by blocks of ice to the south, the Andes mountain range to the east, and the Pacific Ocean to the west. Perfectly delimited geographical limits and historically difficult to access, which has meant that for centuries the interior of the country had been isolated, despite the immense wealth of its territory.

When we finish crossing the mountain range by plane, and as we fly over Chile in an East-West direction through the center of the country, the landscape with respect to neighboring Argentina changes completely. In contrast to a dry Argentinean leeward steppe landscape, the Chilean windward, thanks to its maritime influences, offers fertile lands where the vineyard dominates, giving Chile great potential in agriculture for the export of grapes and the production of important wines.

In this way, Chile is fundamentally divided into three zones, the desert and mining north, the frozen and fishing south and a Mediterranean climate center with fertile farmlands where its capital, Santiago, is located and also one of the most tourist areas as is the area of Valparaíso and Viña del Mar.
Its 6,435 km of coastline stand out with longer beaches to the north but in the middle of the desert and beaches that are difficult to access by road in the center and south.

The great value of the Chilean landscape is demonstrated by the multitude of protected natural spaces that currently exist within this territory, in which a small amount of pesos must be paid to enter. This helps their protection and conservation, as well as giving small jobs to caretakers and guards. In addition, the Sendero de Chile route network stands out, which runs through the country from north to south. They are all connected and well signposted hiking trails that are becoming more and more popular among local and foreign travelers.

In short, the country offers impressive places such as glaciers, volcanoes, fjords, salt flats ...) that make it a continuous class in physical geography.



Torres del Paine-Patagonia
Torres del Paine (South of Chile)




2. The centrality of Greater Santiago.

Santiago de Chile is located in a privileged place, at the foot of the Andes mountain range, which generates an impressive skyline in winter when its peaks remain snowy. Furthermore, the hills around the capital, such as San Cristóbal or Santa Lucía, are ideal places for recreation. Its citizens come to these hills so characteristic of Santiago on weekends to do sports, have a drink at their food and beverage stalls, or enjoy walks through the botanical garden, the zoo, take a bath in a swimming pool complex or just sit back and take in the excellent views of the city. The hill of San Cristóbal, the largest and with the most activities, also allows access by funicular or cable car.

If we arrive in Santiago by plane, when leaving the terminal of the Arturo Benítez airport, one is approached by taxi drivers who offer to take us to the city center, among them are the officers and the colloquially called "pirate taxis", who do not they are official and although they take the clueless tourist to the same destination, they do it for something more money. So, the official taxi is the best option to get around Santiago de Chile, the most comfortable, cheapest and perhaps the fastest, while the metro lines under construction are not extended.

Transportation by bus is very poor and both the buses and the subway fill up in an overwhelming way at peak times. Luckily, almost always the attitude of the Chilean tends to be relaxed (a word widely used in these latitudes) and they may be waiting sitting on the subway platform until they see a place to get inside, while they contemplate, sometimes with a sense of humor and other with philosophy, how the passengers try to get into the carriages that look like cans of sardines, and so on every day ...

Santiago de Chile has a population of about 7 million inhabitants, according to the 2017 census in its metropolitan area (called Greater Santiago). This represents 40% with respect to the total Chilean population (about 17 million inhabitants in the country), which shows the great centrality of the capital. In addition, the second city of Chile, Greater Concepción, has just 2 million inhabitants, which places it quite a distance from the capital.


Mapa de Chile
Chilean cities and their population (2011 census)



When you travel by taxi, you see the impressive new architecture of buildings and skyscrapers in the most developed residential and office districts such as Providencia or Las Condes. The garden city urbanizations, their wide avenues with bike lanes and green areas taking advantage of the Mapocho river bank (which crosses the entire city in a NE-SW direction), attract attention, and a modern and very dynamic city is appreciated. However, in Santiago de Chile the fiscal management is different in each commune, that is why there is so much difference between some communes and others. The southern and western communes have more humble buildings and houses, without a subway line, there the family incomes are lower, less taxes are paid but urban sanitation and garbage collection services are much worse. The inequality that unfortunately is a general feature of Latin America, can be seen in the urban geography of Santiago, and is an example to understand the current economic system in Chile.

Walking through the streets of the more developed communes to the east of Santiago, one realizes that urban planning follows the North American model of separate blocks, with tall buildings of about twenty floors of houses with a gym, laundry room, meeting rooms and concierge on the ground floor, and with terraces for barbecue and swimming pool on the rooftops. In addition, the streets are full, more and more of foreign franchises, especially fast food, while sushi is in fashion. In contrast, in the less developed communes in the center and south of the city, there are still traditional shops, inns and markets. Streets where there are only businesses of the same type, such as opticians, are striking, demonstrating the survival of a system of shops in the city located by unions.

One of the problems that currently affect the inhabitants of the Chilean capital is pollution, mainly atmospheric but also acoustic. Although it is not one of the largest urban areas in Latin America, this problem is not so pronounced in comparison, but it does not for this reason cease to affect the quality of life of the population that lives here, and it is essential to act accordingly, since it is a city that continues to grow.

In recent years, measures have been taken such as restrictions on the use of cars when the levels of polluting gases are higher, or the same in the use of wood heaters to replace them with less polluting ones. But in addition to these actions, urban planning based on expanding green areas and bike lanes in less developed communes or increasing the pedestrianization of streets in the downtown area must be taken into account. And on the other hand, also reduce the use of current micros (buses) by replacing them with other more modern or electric and less noisy.

Without a doubt, the best means of transport for these types of cities is the subway, but it is also the most expensive. In Santiago, the metro lines are being increased towards the south of the metropolitan area, where it is essential because it is where the most populated communes are located and with the greatest number of work trips to the center. But as long as the subway does not reach all the communes, the use of the taxi, the private vehicle and the outdated buses will continue to predominate, which contribute to the great problem of traffic and pollution that exist in the city.

It would also be interesting to bet on the installation of the tram in the center or in residential and office communes, since the city is flat and the wide avenues present a great opportunity for this. However, mainly in the higher-income communes such as Providencia or Las Condes, more and more people are observed who are committed to traveling to their workplace by bicycle thanks to the fact that there is a good network of bike lanes in these areas.

In recent years, it has opted to connect the capital with other large cities in the country by highway, which requires a significant investment due to the vast extension of Chile. Good infrastructures that connect these cities with the capital and with access also to smaller cities, creating a network of roads, these cities would attract population and businesses, making the population not so concentrated in the capital, reducing these enormous distances and insufferable schedules suffered by the displaced who want to return from Santiago on vacation and giving more life and development to the regions.

However, the reuse of a train that is fast and modern is greatly missed and must be claimed if Chile wants to continue to approach the advanced countries of the world in terms of mobility. And the task is not excessively complicated since there is an old north-south route, which today is not in force for long distances. Only passenger trains run to Chillán and eventually to Temuco (during the holiday season). However, the route continues to Puerto Montt and continues to Chiloé.

And to the north, following the old mining route through the Atacama desert with a train that would reach the borders of Bolivia, Peru and Argentina (here also from Santiago). Good communications facilitate the movement of passengers and goods, make the cities through which they pass grow, increase the population, services and employment. However, the great spectacular historic railway station of Santiago is today a kind of museum and event area.


        
Santiago de Chile
Santiago de Chile



3. The History of Chile.

Chile was the last territory conquered by the Spanish in Latin America. Pedro de Valdivia was convinced that behind the Andes mountain range there were fertile lands that had already been explored by the Incas. But getting to Chile had a great difficulty and two options, crossing the mountain range to the south or the extensive Atacama desert to the north. He opted for the second option and encountered indigenous peoples who inhabited the country, mainly the Mapuches.

Today, the Mapuche people continue to claim their lands and their way of life. As in other areas of Latin America, here, conflicts arise when the land ownership regime and its use within a global economy in the 21st century affect the indigenous and native population. The clash of interests between a self-consumption and local agriculture against an extensive one aimed at the large markets. It is necessary to find a balance between both uses.

The majority of Spaniards who emigrated to Chile in the 19th and 20th centuries were Andalusians and Basques, who mainly ran businesses. But a group of Galicians also arrived, of course, who among other things opened bakeries. Even today, the descendants of those Galician families continue to make more than 60% of Chilean bread. The generations of Galicians, as in Argentina, ended up setting up important companies such as Hotels. But this arrival of people from Galicia it was not a novelty. Centuries ago, they colonized the island of Chiloé, in the south of the country, which they baptized with the name of Nueva Galicia (as is the case with another area of Mexico). The name of the capital of Chiloé (the indigenous name) founded by these settlers could not be more Galician, it is called Castro, the most characteristic name of the Galician archaeological settlements.

Other areas of Chile were named after other Spanish regions such as Nueva Extremadura (where Pedro de Valdivia was from), Nueva Castilla or Nueva Toledo. But throughout history, the Spanish were not the only ones who emigrated to Chile. Although the Japanese settled in the north to work in mining in the 19th century, the Germans after the First World War went to the Los Lagos area and built buildings very similar to those of the Black Forest, in the middle of a landscape that is very reminiscent of that of that European region. In addition, there were colonies of Italians, Palestinians, etc ...


Desierto de Atacama
  Atacama Desert
                                                               


4. Human Geography: present and future of Chilean society.

Migratory movements are part of the History of Chile. Today, it has become a host country for immigrants, especially less qualified labor from neighboring countries such as Peru, but also qualified professionals such as Cuban or Ecuadorian doctors or Argentine, Venezuelan and Spanish engineers. The latter arriving in a wave after the economic crisis of 2008 to work mainly in the industrial and mining sectors or sectors related to it. Also those who decide to start their own business, since in Chile it is easier to start a business than in other neighboring countries.

But the curious thing about Chile is that, despite having always been a land of immigration, at the same time it has always been a land of emigration. The saying that there are Chileans all over the world is typical because at the same time that some want to come, others dream of leaving. There are reasons such as precarious jobs and the high cost of living that make the Chilean have created in the new generations an adventurous character and the desire to see the world, something that happens a lot in small countries historically isolated geographically and that now have the opportunity to travel, to learn English and to work abroad.

Traveling is still expensive in Chile, despite the liberalization of its economy, there are sectors such as aviation that do not have low cost flights as in Europe, which makes mobility difficult, added to the enormous distances within the country and with others in South America. However, more and more young people are backpacking and many of them want to go to Australia or the United States and are looking for scholarships and agreements, or many are applying for a visa to go on an adventure.

Many Chileans today look better than ever, although they are aware of the difficulties and problems of their society, they know that not too long ago they left a dictatorship behind and modernized very quickly in a few years. Today they are compared with other countries and they look happy, although the political-economic system still generates inequalities and there are many unstructured families, who have children at very early ages, there are many single mothers and young divorced fathers with children.

The so-called "culture of effort", implemented by the neoliberal experiment of the "Chicago Boys" school in Chile, contrasts with the Latin character of Chileans who do not seem to take it too seriously. Many people decide to live from day to day, since it is almost impossible to save and many citizens go into debt to buy, sometimes even, the shopping basket. Salaries are low as in other less wealthy countries in South America and rents are high at the level of European cities. This all means that there are continuous social protests, some very serious like the "Social Outbreak" of 2019, in which more than 30 deaths and more than 3,000 injured were recorded.

The welfare state in Chile is scarce, studying is expensive and young people are forced to combine their university studies with jobs, in most cases precarious. Public school teachers also have low salaries and there are not a few who choose to work as commercials in their spare time, many pensioners have low benefits and private healthcare is so expensive that free healthcare is often saturated.

On the other hand, dependence on copper mining always causes small crises, Chile depends on how the foreign markets are and on the economic situation of the countries that buy its copper, mainly China, on which many families live.

Although Chile's mining reserves are huge, it would be better to diversify the economy more, and Chile can do it since it is a country very rich in resources, agribusiness, energy or tourism. But always with care to protect its wonderful territory and its environment, promoting sustainable tourism and prioritizing the quality of life of its citizens.

Currently in Chile, many accesses to beach areas in the south of the country are private and belong to landowners. Even the water is in private hands by desalination plants that are essential in the arid north, where drinking water is scarce and its extraction very expensive.

Chilean society is friendly and welcoming to foreigners, the people of Chile are cheerful and optimistic, but at the same time distrustful and introverted, perhaps due to its character as a geographically isolated region and its recent history full of difficulties.

Two of the most important things for Chileans are: their national holiday, September 18 (the day that the Independence of Chile is commemorated) and their soccer team. Always remain in their memory the two finals of the Copa América won to Argentina, a country that over the years has always looked down on its trans-Andean neighbor from its greatest geographical extension, but which today is unfortunately in an even more complicated situation.

Soccer is the national sport, there are the so-called colonial teams (Unión Española, Palestino, Audax Italiano….) Founded in their day by immigrants and with a significant number of followers. But the games that arouse the most passions are the derbies, both among the teams from the colonies and especially among the teams from Santiago.

The most important derbies are the university classic between the teams from the Universidad de Chile and the Universidad Católica, and the super classic between the two teams with the largest number of fans: the Colo Colo (the most awarded team) and the U (colloquial name of the Universidad de Chile, the most popular team). The Universidad de Chile is also known by its followers as "the romantic traveler", a nickname that perfectly defines the character and way of being of the Chilean.


5. Recommended bibliography.


- "My Invented Country", Isabel Allende.
(to better understand the characteristics of Chilean society).

- "Inés of My Soul", Isabel Allende.
(to learn the history of Pedro de Valdivia and the beginnings of Chile).


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