The guidebooks are unanimous – avoid Santiago. To be fair, I can see where they’re coming from. I arrived at the end of August 2010, the tail end of winter: grey sky, acrid air and monotonous concrete buildings. I emerged from a taxi onto a virtually deserted street in downtown Santiago Centro. Several hundred metres away a neighbourhood security guard was huddled in a glass cabin. In the distance, a black canine streak, somewhat reminiscent of the grim, frantically chased cars whipping along Diagonal Paraguay.