Friday, April 09, 2004

After a hot and sleepless flight, flew into Santiago with a breathtaking view of the cordillera sitting massively above the dry patchwork plains of Central Chile, the highest peaks snowy and jagging into the sky. Santiago itself was completely invisible under a blanket of brown smog. On the ground it was still, cloudless and getting rapidly warmer, well into the mid-20s. We were waved through immigration and customs, and I then had to fight off a flock of offers for special buses, taxis, accommodation and rental cars. There´s something about me that attracts touts and those seeking to sell something. Maybe it´s the vague, disoriented look and air of vacillation. If only they knew it was permanent. Eventually got on the bus which goes into Santiago, on the long boulevard Avenida Liberatador Bernardo O´Higgins (la Alameda) which runs into and through the city. From the outskirts it changes from industrial to wholesale retail, to more upmarket commercial nearer the centre, moving from looking like Mexico to looking like Europe.

Everything is a hassle and a trial when you´re newly arrived, and I think I do tend to handle these things worse than other people. The buses, the metro (where do the lines go, which direction is which, ah, what do you with your ticket to get through the barrier, god, you should have seen me blundering around), the money - Chile seems to have had similar bouts of hyperinflation to Italy and everthing is in hundreds (small change), thousands, tens of thousands, all the notes in similar colours. Lesson #1 - there is no 5,000 peso note; do not give people a 10,000 note for something small - I did this twice, which produced panicky and exasperated efforts to give the right change while other customers banked up. Language lessons also: avocado here is called ´palta´; yes, they know very well it s aguacate in Central America, but not here. A ´churrasco´ is what in America would be called a sandwich and in New Zealand a burger (i.e. stuff between burger buns). A completo is a small American hot dog.

Ended up in a hotel on the calle Londres; more idiocy - at first decided not to stay there because the price was significantly more than it said in the LP, then went back because it turned out to be better than anything else in the area anyway. The proprietor was tolerant and amused. A beautiful street - cobblestones, and magnificent three story buildings of stone with arcaded balconies, arched windows and wrought iron. Little plazas with shady slim trees with reddish leaves (have to find out what they´re called). The area is like a cross between Barcelona and Paris - though without the rubbish or dog turd of either.

I like the look of the central city - classical style stone buildings side by side with supermodern glass sky scrapers, wide boulevards of traffic with paved pedestrian malls running off. East along la Alameda the huge peaks of the Andes poke above the skyline. Barrio Brasil to the west of the city is downbeat and "bohemian", as says LP, the stone and stucco buildings more eroding and dishevelled, a nice plaza of date palms and market stalls at Plaza Brasil.

I like the people too, or at least what I´ve seen of them. They stride along purposefully, but with a touch of joie de vivre and without the robotic blankness of a city like London. And the streets are full of adults in their twenties and thirties! How one misses that in New Zealand, where outside the 9-5 workday the streets are owned by teenagers. People are super friendly and helpful when you ask for directions, but not over helpful - apart from at the airport, you blend in and don´t get hassled or strange looks. The general populace seems to be much like Carolina, Ignacio et al (my Chilean friends from Wtn). So far, no problems with el espaƱol chileno either - obviously those drunken nights at Latinos have helped (plus having a Chilean lecturer - thanks Lorena).

Still suffering from jet lag, though - beat in the middle of the day and awake at 5 am. I´m off now to do LP´s "walking tour", and hopefully will make it through to the late evening before crashing.

Saludos a todos

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