Escape the heat and explore Chile
Escape the heat and explore Chile
The country stretches across the western coast of South America, bordering the Pacific Ocean, and offers tourists from the Middle East a chance to catch their winter season during the Northern Hemisphere’s summer season. You can escape the heat of the Gulf for the cool climes of Chile without having to wait until winter officially begins here.
Chile has a natural asset in its diverse terrain, offering visitors the chance to experience different outdoor activities. For those who wish to explore snow-capped mountains but cannot travel between November to February, Chile offers a lovely midyear winter destination.
Hopping from the Gulf’s hot summer — and typically warm autumn — to the snowy mountains of Chile is extremely exciting. It should be said, however, that the journey is a gradual one if you are flying from the Gulf. You will need to catch a direct flight from Europe, the US or a neighboring country in South America and although the total journey can take more than 20 hours depending on how you configure your flights — my total flight time was a whopping 22 hours — it is worth it.
Saudi passport holders are required to apply for a Chilean visa through the Chilean Embassy in Amman, Jordan, as Chile does not yet have an embassy in Riyadh. I assume that once the visa process is made easier for Saudis, more tourists from the country would be interested in visiting this South American gem.
Applicants should note that it takes an average of three weeks for the visa to be processed.
The city, the mountains and the ocean
Chile was my gateway into South America and from what I had previously heard, I was under the impression that the whole continent was a dangerous place for tourists.
However, being in Chile for two weeks, I did not feel unsafe. Of course, using one’s common sense is advisable — walking alone in certain neighborhoods at night is, for obvious reasons, not sensible. Tourists should also try to avoid using the metro in the capital city of Santiago during rush hour.
When I first arrived in Santiago, I was amazed at how modernized, clean and organized the city is. Chile is among South America’s most prosperous and stable countries and the city reflects that.
The Chilean capital was founded in 1541 and has been the capital since colonial times.
Santiago is encircled by green hills and the snow-capped Andes Mountains. Even on a misty day, you can see the silhouette of the mountains. Cerro San Cristóbal is one of the iconic hills in Santiago — it dominates the capital’s skyline and can be seen from different parts of the city. The hill, which is 2,890 feet (881 meters) high, is home to the largest public park in the capital, the Parque Metropolitano de Santiago (Santiago Metropolitan Park). A funicular or cable car will take you to the top of the hill where you can capture memorable pictures along the way of the greenery around you.
Cerro Santa Lucia, a small 230-foot hill, is also worth visiting for the beautiful scenery of the city it offers and its yellow and white façade that was remodeled by the architect Benjamin Vicuña Mackenna in the 1870s.
Luckily, I got to witness a rare bout of snowfall in the city this July, something which has not occurred for a decade, meteorologists said.
Visitors can also try skiing in the mountain village of Farellones, which is an hour away from Santiago and boasts a number of ski resorts. If it is your first time on the slopes, take a quick lesson and then enjoy a new challenge.
If you plan to remain in Santiago, hitting the parks is a great way to spend your lunchtimes and afternoons. Grab an empanada, a popular Latin American snack of meat, seafood or vegetables stuffed in a samosa-like pie, and have a picnic in the park.
There is also an ice cream culture in the city, even during the winter. It is a good idea to try different ice cream flavors, especially those that are unique to Chile. If you feel like going native with your choice of flavor, try lúcuma ice cream. This delicious fruit tastes like caramel.
On the urban side, Santiago is home to Costanera Center, the tallest skyscraper in South America. The building consists of a six-floor shopping center and restaurants. You can enjoy a spectacular 360-degree view from Sky Costanera on the 61st and 62nd floor, which is the highest observatory on the continent. Choose a sunny day when the sky is clear to be able to enjoy the scenery. The art scene — from modern sculptures, graffiti and murals to historical statues and monuments — is also very much alive in the city.
Exploring the life of a Chilean poet
A key Chilean figure worth understanding is the late politician-diplomat and poet, Pablo Neruda (1904-1973). The Chilean poet had three homes that are now open for the public to visit and explore. Each home has a different name and offers visitors a glimpse into Neruda’s lifestyle, interests and travels. I visited two of his homes, one in Santiago and the other in Valparaíso with a mesmerizing sea view. The third home is in Isla Negra in San Antonio Province.
Neruda’s home in Santiago is named La Chascona and he shared it with his wife Matilde from 1955 until his death in 1973. This house is located in Barrio Bellavista, which is the center of the hustle and bustle of the city where graffiti and murals color the walls around you. The house takes you on a quick journey of the places the poet visited through the souvenirs that fill the place.
Neruda’s La Sebastiana is a must-see if you are visiting Valparaíso and its historic port, which is less than an hour-and-a-half away from Santiago. After a relaxing afternoon walk by the seafront and perhaps a boat trip, find your way uphill to Neruda’s house. You can take a taxi, but walking, although tiring, is the best way to get to know the city. Walking through its alleys, enjoying the graffiti and colorful steps and gazing at the unequally-sized colorful houses make for an interesting journey through the city. Besides, it is good exercise!
When you are finally at La Sebastiana, you can take some pictures from the terrace or the windows of the top floor, where you get a beautiful view of the ocean wrapped with green hills, cheerful-looking houses and palm trees.
Before you go…
A pro tip before you visit Chile would be to invest in a Spanish phrasebook. English is hardly spoken in Chile and traveling with a local, or at least having some Spanish-language skills, can be useful. If you are traveling solo or with non-Spanish speaking friends, it is advisable to keep a pocket-sized Spanish phrasebook handy to be able to communicate and make yourself understood.
Bearing in mind that the seasons are reversed in relation to our corner of the world, the next time you complain about the weather or feel yourself yearning for a quick change of season, Chile is definitely an adventure worth embarking upon.
Head for heights: Jeddah teacher conquers Mount Kilimanjaro
- Khulood Al-Fadhli tells Arab News about the physical battle she won to ascend Africa’s highest peak
- As soon as I reached Uhuru peak, all the exhaustion went away, remembers Al-Fadhli
JEDDAH: A 36-year-old Saudi-based Green Leaves Playgroup principal went on an extreme adventure in August by climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania. It was the first on her seven summits list.
Khulood Al-Fadhli said she had a love for adventures ever since she was a child.
“My father instilled a love for adventure in me. I remember 10-15 years ago, when Eid vacations were extremely cold, we used to camp in Asfan for two nights and climb Al-Qamar mountain, and I enjoyed climbing that mountain. So, climbing mountains was something within me since childhood,” she told Arab News.
“Fast-forward to who I am now, I still love it. I go to that area in Asfan, and sometimes I take my kids there and tell them, ‘This was my Eid’,” she added.
She halted these activities for a while. “At the beginning of my married life, I turned away from these adventures for a while. I was only focusing on raising my kids and my career, until this happened. I found a group that organizes these trips to Kilimanjaro, then I read about Mount Kilimanjaro and the process of climbing it. Climbing up takes you five days, descending the mountain takes you two.”
Al-Fadhli said It’s not about the peak, it’s about the journey itself. “I was really amazed when I read the things that happen within the journey.”
She explained that the effects of high altitudes could strike at any moment during the climb and can be life-threatening in certain cases. “It’s not about being mentally or physically fit. There’s a chance of getting altitude sickness, and I always say this altitude has a very bad attitude! Because high altitudes can cause one to feel nauseous or have a headache and dizziness. Sometimes the extreme ones are life-threatening; water fills in your lungs, or your brain. If any of these happen, you should immediately descend because it’s very dangerous. Alhamdulillah, nothing like that happened during my trip.”
She experienced severe headaches during her adventure. “The problem I suffered was on day two: I had an extreme headache. I was the only one who had this headache.
“Then on the third day, I had the headache again, alone. I was asking the guide ‘Will I have these excessive headaches every day and will I be the only one having them?’ He said, ‘This is just the altitude.’ That comforted me. I took some painkillers and it went away.
“The fourth day the headache came. The fifth day, which is the summit day, the push of the summit, I did not experience any headache.”
The summit day was an eight-hour climb that started at midnight.
“We woke up at 11 p.m., had our dinner then started our trek, climbing up at 12 a.m. They told us from 5 p.m. to relax and try to sleep as much as possible because at 11 you have to wake up.”
“Imagine me knowing that I am going to the summit at 11, and it was 5 p.m. and I was in my tent. I couldn’t even close my eyes, I was really excited.
“I was afraid of a headache, afraid that it would become severe at the summit. because they say it’s the altitude. The summit is around 6,000 meters high. I was so excited I couldn’t sleep.
“It was 11, my phone rang. It was time to start packing our backpacks. My Panadol Extra was in my pocket, ready for my severe headache. I’d just have to reach into my pocket.”
The members of the group must proceed with extreme caution, she explained. “We started our day at midnight, but a lot of people were with us, so many different groups from so many different places, and on your way up to the summit, you don’t see anything. It’s just you, the mountain and the stars and the headband flashlights of the people you’re with.
“And you see the flashlight from the ground all the way to the summit. It was a really lovely route. You can’t see the summit because it’s dark. You don’t know if you are heading for a cliff because of the darkness, which is why you have to use your flashlight — focus on your steps and the person in front of you.”
Her group consisted of seven people, but the number decreased.
“We reached a point where one of the men in my group suddenly sat down and had to hold his head. I remember how he looked, and I was really worried about him. He wasn’t like this on day one. The guide said, ‘Well, it looks like a severe altitude sickness that affected him.’ He stayed with him and had a talk. When someone stays and delays the others, one guide stays with him. Either we all wait and stay, or we move and one guide stays with that person.
“The guide asked him if he was OK, but he felt dizzy and couldn’t continue. He said, ‘I’m going to descend.’ Then the guide informed us that the man was descending, and I was shocked. The strongest one among us pulled out.
“Two hours later, a lady felt dizzy. Her husband supported her and encouraged her to continue, and the guide also spoke to her. I was looking at them negotiating from far away. Five minutes later, they also pulled out. From the seven, three had pulled out, and only four were left.
“One of the girls got really tired. She stopped and said she wanted to take a rest for 20 minutes and didn’t want anyone to wait for her. The guide told me she wanted to relax and take baby steps and she would like to have excessive stops for 20 minutes so no one should wait for her. She could stay with a porter. Someone was with her.
“I couldn’t know anything about her, so we were only three. Me, my brother and a lady. One hour later — which was three hours away from the summit — the lady said there was something wrong with her heart. It was beating irregularly.
“Five minutes later, the guide came to me and said she had pulled out. And it was only me and my brother. And that’s when I asked, ‘Bader, do you think we can make it?’ Everyone had pulled out. It was really scary.
“Imagine, you’re a group of seven going up together, and one after another pulls out. I felt like I was in a horror movie. And above all, it was at night.”
Al-Fadhli witnessed a breathtaking view. “At 4:35 a.m., I started to see the sunrise between the huge cliffs. I saw the sunrise while I was going up, and was completely overwhelmed at the beauty of the site. I was trekking and I looked to my right and there it was, the sunrise and the mountains. The feeling was overwhelming,”
She experienced physical exhaustion, but pushed through and succeeded. “When we reached Stella point, which was one hour from the summit, there was a sign that said, ‘Congratulations, you reached Stella point.’
“Uhuru peak is the top, and Uhuru means freedom. So many people reach Stella point then become really exhausted from the seven-hour walk, ascending in the middle of the night in the cold. Most of the people, like me, hadn’t slept.
“Imagine from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. and I’m still awake. I reached Stella point exhausted. I told my brother and my guide I wanted to relax at Stella point. Let me think if I can actually make it to the top because I couldn’t even bend my toes. And I was anticipating the walk I still had ahead.
“I sat down and started to fall asleep. The guide woke me up, telling me we still had one more hour. I started to break down a little. The guide was very clever. He asked us all some questions because people tend to hallucinate at this point. So he asked some questions, making sure everything was fine — that I was just exhausted and tired and wanted to sleep, which was normal for a human body awake for more than 24 hours, trekking in the middle of the night in cold weather. And on that day, I did not have any headaches.
“My brother was my support. He encouraged me when I thought I had reached my limit at Stella Point.”
When Al-Fadhli made it to the top, she and her brother raised the Yemeni and the Saudi flags.
“My motivation was to raise both flags: My Yemeni flag as I’m from Yemen, along with the Saudi flag. I’m really proud of my roots, and I’m really honored to be living in Saudi Arabia. I was born and raised here and I consider myself Saudi. I’m telling everyone I’m from both countries. I’m very happy that I’m rooted in both.”
She successfully completed her adventure in good health. “As soon as I reached Uhuru peak, all the exhaustion went away. I reached the top in full health with no pains whatsoever.”
Al-Fadhli’s goal is to climb the seven summits before she turns 40.