(Note: I wrote this more than one year ago, when I was in Chile)
My Chilean time is coming to an end. In a few more days I will leave this amazing country, of which I have seen nothing but a glimpse.
During my last days in Santiago I followed the suggestion of a friend of mine and went to a Café con Piernas, literally “Café with Legs”. These Chilean bars are venues where everything revolves around one thing: the waitresses’ legs. After hearing many things about it and reading a couple more, I decided that I wanted to check it out. So I involved Paulina, a Chilean friend: she had never been there herself and found the idea exciting, so we met one afternoon and went for it. We struggled a bit to find the one we were looking for, but finally made our triumphant entrance in the “Blacks II”.
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When I was working on my final Master’s dissertation, back in 2005, I used to travel everyday to the office with my mentor Victor. Everyday we’d pass by a little construction, on which somebody had written in Roman dialect a sentence that could be roughly translated as “We’re so busy getting to the destination that we forget the beauty of the path”. That writing is long gone but its meaning is still there. This post will be indeed about a path. The one that connects Valparaiso to the very southern tip of the continent: the Patagonia.
On the first of January, Guido and I stood up after only 3 hours of New Year’s sleep and began packing for the next adventure. Everybody had told us that the weather gets cold, very cold down there, so I swiped the dust off all of my Himalayan equipment.
We took a bus and reached Santiago, which seemed to be dead: the combination “first of January & Sunday” doesn’t forgive. We were pretty hungry and the only open food venue we found was a place called Telepizza. If we’d known what the experience would have been, we’d probably chosen to starve. The place seemed to come out straight of some cyberpunk future, where one wakes up after a nuclear cataclysm without any knowledge of who nor where he is.
- There wasn’t a single window. Everything was red with neon lights. Imagine “The Shining” by Kubrick.
- All the lamps above the tables lacked the bulb, contributing to the general sick shadiness.
- It was hot as hell, you’d sweat just by sitting there.
- Put in decadent, dirty toilets. Chopped off electric wires came out of the wall, next to random black exposed pipes and a sink which poured water all over place.
- There were pictures of smiling young families, which added a lot of tension and made me think of the movie “The Road”.
- When the pizza arrived, things only got worse. My mistake of asking double cheese resulted in a horribly liquid blob, oh God, it was just awful, very unpleasant to eat and my stomach hurted later on.
- This will be my fault, but as a final gift from that cursed place, I put my sunglasses in the the top pocket of the backpack. The consequencies of which, you’ll find at the end.
After this dreadful experience, we decided to go to the movies. Another quest among the deserted streets finally lead us to a nice underground cinema. We walked in with our huge backpacks, and even took them into the movie room itself! It somehow felt good – it was like your house never abandoning you. We watched Megamind and, mostly because of my Superman reader record, I really enjoyed it!
We then walked till the bus stop. The pictures below shows you two beatiful features of Santiago: the treelined pedestrian walks (that I mentioned in When Italy and Chile Unite) and the Moneda’s Palace, that I described in previous posts, this time straight, at night and from the other side. Wow, it sounds like I’m describing a porn site.
It was already 10 pm, time to catch the bus to the airport. Except, the bus didn’t come. We entered a nearby building and asked the friendly concierge. It turns out that on Sunday the bus stops at 5 pm. We called a taxi, and while we waited (a good half an hour) the guy began to entertain us. His name being “Washington” in honour of his father who went to study in the US when he was born, he is going to buy a motorbike and spend 10 years touring the world (this is the exact plan). He loved the Italian sentence buon pomeriggio (“good afternoon”) so much that he couldn’t help repeating it to the confused people going in and out. He told us stories about what he sees in the CCTV of the building, including a colorful description of two guys having sex in the elevator. The cherry on the cake though was his collection of world notes. He brings it with him wherever he goes and insisted to showed it to us, fully deserving a picture at this point (image below).
The taxi took us safely to the airport, and we were only hours away from the southern tip of the inhabited world. At 5:00 in the morning we landed indeed safely in Punta Arenas… but my sunglasses had disappeared! After a few hours of whining at the airport, I triumphantly obtained a 20$ voucher for any LAN product I buy within a year.. too bad LAN doesn’t sell sunglasses!
Immediately after the glorious Christmas days spent with Daniel and Luisa, another event was scheduled to take place: my lifelong friend Guido came all the way from Italy to Chile for a three-week visit! We went to meet him at the airport (thanks Paulina!) and he was ready for his first encounter with a Chilean institution: the Completo sandwich. After that, we reached Daniel’s apartment and cooked dinner for everybody. Cooking together when we meet is an important tradition that we try to honour whenever applicable. Earlier that afternoon I had bought all the ingredients for a zucchini carbonara and Daniel made a Chilean salad so we were all set! That night, Guido laughed off the jet lag and the next day we were ready to explore Santiago, which I had postponed all this time waiting for my friend!
The neighborhoods I had already seen were really nice, especially Providencia, where Daniel lives, but we found that there are a lot of cool spots and things to see in the center of Santiago. What fascinated me the most is without doubt the Moneda Palace, especially for his historical background. This is where Allende barricaded himself and his family to the bitter end.
The building is actually straight, I just like it more like that. The big square in front of it is full of statues; the most important of all is obviously the one for Allende himself.
Santiago gets credits for hosting the most interesting and fun museum I have seen in recent times. The Museum of Pre-Columbian Art displays amazing statues. I know, it sounds like the usual boring stuff they forced you to learn when you were at school, but this is not the case: the statues here are very funny and interesting look at! For instance, this statue is captioned as “young wife” and I believe it unveils the origins of the mythical Italian gesture! Look at her hands and facial expressions: she’s totally saying to her husband “ma che cazzo stai a di’!!”
Wonderful statues! Those that you see here below, put in a shady corner, were really absorbing, for sure one of the best pieces of the entire collection.
Alright (with one “L”, Susina!), let me now describe a couple of downsides of the city and we’ll finish on a merrier note. The next picTURE (and not only “pic”, John!) is taken on top of a cute hill in the heart of town, Cerro Santa Lucia.
Despite it being completely against the sun, I chose it for two reasons. First, we’re very hot. Second, it shows two main features of Santiago: the squared, horrible buildings that demolish any cool view from above and the foggy background. That is not the poetic, hydro-oxygenated morning fog but rather smog. The traffic is really bad as Santiago and its surroundings form an overpopulated area where almost 7 millions human beings live. Which is almost half of the entire Chilean population!
We had lunch with Paulina along one of the beautiful treelined pedestrian paseos of central Santiago. She’s a true santiagina and took us to her favourite busy sandwicheria and café. Having spent a few years studying in Italy, she was more than happy to practice her language skills. Never mind the Roman bias that Guido and I put in our Italian, that is an actual plus!
It was then already time to go home and pack for Valparaiso. Plaza de Armas, another important square in the heart of the city, delighted us with some kids playing in the fountain. We also got some water thrown at in the end, but considering the heat of the sun we couldn’t complain at all.
The first time I spent Christmas far away from my family was in 2004, when I was living in France. Life there as an exchange student was so good that I simply decided not to go back. With my Brazilian friend Stenio, who wasn’t going back home either, we took my car and left for a massive trip through the Norhtern European snow… What a fantastic time it was! Anyway, back to 2010.
I’m a lot further away from home, this time around. Not only this: if you belong to the vast majority of the Earth’s population living in the Northern Emisphere, you can’t imagine how weird it feels to have a hot, summery Christmas until you live it. I’ll try to describe a bit of
We had a “pre-Christmas dinner” here in Valparaiso on the 22nd of December, after which I was invited to spend the festive weekend with Daniel and the family of his partner Luisa. They live in a town called La Ligua, two hours north of Santiago and closer to the coast, so I had the opportunity to see another hidden corner of the country! I went to Santiago on the 23rd, and at night I met Paulina, a friend of Ele, who showed me a few bars of the capital. On the 24th morning I went with Luisa to the cafè where she likes to work in the morning, a cute place called Espresso.
Once Daniel was done working in the afternoon, we stuffed the car up and left, destination La Ligua. It took us some effort to go through the massive traffic jam to get out of Santiago, but once on the way I could learn something about a fruit that is absolutely essential in Chilean food: the avocado, locally called Palta. I had it of course before, but it was never part of my daily thinkings. Here, I learned to love it and embed it in any meal, be that breakfast, lunch or just an afternoon snack. It was then very interesting to drive through some avocado plantations, and Daniel explained me something that I would have never thought about but which makes a lot of sense: the best spots to grow avocado are the sides of mountains. Why that? Because the trees shade each other less, individually getting more light! This helps the fruits to become more oily, and consequently tastier.
Once in La Ligua, Luisa’s sister took me out for a walk in town. This place is best known for its clothes, cakes and ice creams. And, being summer in full swing, we couldn’t avoid one! I have to say, that was the ice cream that most tasted like Italian ice cream I have ever tasted outside my home borders. Even the cone was faithful!
The 24th evening is the most important moment in Chilean Christmas. As tradition asked, before dinner we all sat in the living room and read some passages of Jesus’ history, followed by some prayers. Being myself fairly distant from the Catholic religion, it was long time I didn’t actually sit down and collectively prayed. This, together with the mild homesickness that such an intimate situation evoked, brought me to tears, which I goofily tried to hide with no success whatsoever!
After that we had dinner and began to open the presents, which were almost all for the little Domingo, the beautiful son of my friends! The dinner went on till late. I had one of those invaluable talks with Luisa’s father, who was a university student when the Chilean coup d’etat took place in 1973, clearing the way to Pinochet’s dictatorship. There is nothing like hearing such stories from who was there.
The next day we reached out for the oceanside – two beaches, no less! Racketball and diving in and out of the water. Which was ice cold by the way. To lay sunbathing on the sand while the ice cream kiosk behind is playing “Jingle Bells” is simply priceless.
Another very important and different Chilean Christmas custom is the once. Families and friends alike join each other in a house where the table is big enough, and the meal is not a proper dinner but rather an informal collection of snacks: small sandwiches, tea and coffee, little pastries.. a kind of late High Tea, that starts around 7 pm and goes on till late at night. I attended two of them, one with Luisa’s family and one with Daniel’s, once back in Santiago. The latter on a big terrace with a majestic view on the cordillera at sunset.
That same day the usual Christmas phenomenon took place: all the adults go back to primary school age and get all excited with the toys for the kids. We all sat around and created true art with the kids’ colored paste and played with the timeless train model. Nowadays with smoke and noise!