Feet to the street
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“The traffic, the smog, full buses and crowded metro. Often the hustle and bustle of the city- or just day to day stress- don’t let us slow down and look around, and much less appreciate the details. But hidden throughout every great city, underneath all the noise, there are corners, anecdotes and important stories. These parts of the city, when you see them, change the way you see your own home.
Did you know that the Plaza de Armas, much before Pedro de Valdivia arrived in 1541, was an Incan astronomical center from which they organized the harvest schedule for the whole central valley? Even today, if certain buildings were not there, you would be able to envision the summer and winter solstice, as well as the equinox, that mark the change of seasons.
Stories like this are told on the walking tours, which in the last decade started appearing in European cities like London and Berlin. Four hours in length at most, these tours weren’t intended for foreigners only, but also for locals, so that they could discover and therefore appreciate their city more.
A few years ago, this type of tourism came to Chile, especially to Santiago and Valparaiso, and now there are various options that let you get to know the city in a different way. Little by little, they have become more entertaining, and at the same time healthy-because of the walking-so it’s a great thing to do with the whole family. In all of these tours, you can listen to and chat with the guide as you stroll. They reveal architectural works that you might have missed, as well as points of interest every step of the way. There are free tours, paid tours and even some that end with a lunch for the whole group. “Locals from Santiago, for example, don’t know their city that well, especially since it’s large and quite segregated. But every big city has something interesting to offer, and the best way to see a city is by foot, nice and slowly, so that you can have the time to look around”, says Sebastian Gray, the president of the Architects High school.
The idea of La Bicicleta Verde and its Tours4tips is to introduce the city so that later people can go back and dig deeper. They have tours 365 days of the year, and in addition to hearing stories and anecdotes, you learn about experiences.
In Valparaiso, you walk around Alegre hill and go visit don Sergio, who serves up unparalleled homemade alfajor cookies that you would never be able to find walking around town on your own. At the end of the tour, they take you on a trolley ride through the city. “The idea is to show how people actually live here, to try and follow their footsteps”, says Peter Murphy, the sociologist from the US who has lived 11 years in Chile and started doing these tours in December 2012. These are tip based tours, with a suggested $5,000 CLP minimum. “But if someone doesn’t have the money or didn’t like the tour, they can give nothing”, Murphy explains, understanding that many of the tourists that take these kinds of tours don’t have a ton of money.
In Santiago the tours are divided by the subjects they focus on, but the idea is the same. The most interesting is “Santiago Huachaca”. It begins by going through the Patronato neighborhood, La Vega (the main fruit and veggie market), Mercado Central (the central fish market), and ends at the classic bar “La Piojera” with a terremoto drink. It is all very interactive; you spend the tour chatting with the vendors, trying their goods. For now, the tours in Santiago are only in English, but starting in May they will have tours in Spanish too.”