Monday, April 19, 2004

After two days in the Barrio Paris Londres, I moved to a hostel in Barrio Bellavista area, to try out a different area and be somewhere a bit livelier at night. Bellavista is on the north side of the Rio Mapocho (rio? qué rio? – it´s more like a huge drainage canal with a little water rushing down the middle between concrete walls, rubbish strewn along the sides and an unpleasant smell drifting up). Bellavista is another “bohemian” barrio, relaxed, pretty, tawdry round the edges. The main street, Pio Nono, heads north to the nearby Cerro San Cristobal (about which more later); market stalls selling fried empanadas and artesanias line the roadside on the first couple of blocks, and the streets are full of students drifting back and forth from the law faculty building of the Universidad of Chile (a concrete building of Mussolinian classicism). The streets are narrow and a little dirty, the buildings mostly brick and stucco, some crumbling, others freshly painted in what I´m terming “Latin earth” colours – lapis lazuli, ochre and terracotta. Tired-looking oaks and maples line shade Pio Nono, almost meeting in the middle of the street. Restaurants and bars crowd together, and at night there is a crush of people in white plastic chairs sitting out on the pavement while others file past. Hosts and hostesses from the various restaurants and bars practically beg you to come in or take a seat. When I went to walk up Cerro San Cristobal it was late afternoon and the sun was still up, but the restaurants were already touting for business. At several places they offered me a table despite me striding along purposefully with a backpack and sweaty t-shirt. When I said I was just off to climb the hill they gave me plaintive looks: “But when you get back…?”

I moved into a hostel called Hostal Bellavista, two blocks off Pio Nono. This turns out to be one of those “home away from home” hostels – not necessarily the quietest or the most comfortable, but immediately friendly, with all the right feng shui. Balconies onto the street, a terrace at the back with a view towards the Andes, free internet, cable TV, etc. Everyone talks to everyone else, as if that were normal in real life.

When I arrived there, a British couple were trying to check in. Only the woman who I guessed was the one who cleans and makes the breakfast was there. She was trying explain the prices to them and ask how many nights they wanted to stay, but they did not speak one word of Spanish. I, standing in the doorway with my large pack still on my pack, had to translate the entire transaction. After that, the cleaning/breakfast woman (whose name is Sofía) and I became quite buddy-pally. She is gregarious - her favourite saying is "Aquí todos son de confianza! Es como tu casa!" ("Here, everybody can be trusted! "It´s like being at home". She´s also a little needy, though this becomes quite understandable once you know her story.

Sofía is from Peru, and has been working in Chile for about seven years. She says she had a daughter at age fourteen and the bloke in question (guess what) ran off. Her daughter is now twenty and is at university studying to be a nurse. Sofía came to Chile to get work to support her daughter, who lives with Sofia´s mother in Peru. Despite the seven years here, she hasn´t been able to pass through many of the graduated stages of Chilean residence and citizenship yet, because apparently you have to work for two years in the same job to get to the next stage (Sofia has only been at Hostal Bellavista about four months). But there´s kind of a happy ending to the story. The daughter has a boyfriend whose parents emigrated to France, and he can get French residence. She is thinking of going to work as a nurse in France when she graduates. Meanwhile, however, Sofia keeps sending money home, but hasn´t been able to see her daughter for two years.

Do I believe every word of this? I suppose I should, but she does look quite a bit older than the reported thirty-five years. Though this too is quite understandable...

The hostel is owned by Gonzalo, a Chilean who lived his first eight or nine years in the U.S. He is still in his twenties, I´m guessing, but has that blingual, dual-cultural ease and confidence plus, I have to say, a great and eclectic taste in music. It seems that his parents have set him up with the business. Judging by the success and "buena onda" of Hostal Bellavista, he´s on the right track so far.

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