Sunday, 13 March 2011

Red hot Chile's better

What does anyone actually know about Chile other than it being the basis for a lot of awful 'Chilli/chilly'-related jokes?

Well, it's one of South America's richer countries, has a long and proud history involving both European immigrants and indigenous peoples, it has a population of nearly 17 million (of which 4 million live in Santiago, the capital) and they're good at getting trapped miners out of the ground.

Chileans are also tremendously friendly. The hardcore followers amongst you will remember my ranting about the friendliness shown by Montevideans. Chileans come close, with everyone out and about ready to help ignorant, lost little tourists like myself.

I only had a chance to visit Santiago, which is relatively boring on the face of it, but scratch beneath the surface and you find a population ready and willing to engage in some serious fun. One of Santiago's stand-out traits is its apparent peculiarities. Santiago seems to have more stray dogs than the rest of the world put together. What surprised me though was that these dogs didn't look mangy or flea-ridden or anything; they just looked like someone owned and indeed looked after them and had forgotten to put a collar on them. I saw huskies, German shepherds, sausage dogs and poodles. It was truly bizarre. Furthermore, they seemed to have better road-crossing skills than most Brits I know.

Something the Brits can do, however, is drink. The Chileans less so. The police in Santiago insist all nightclubs shut at 5 a.m., meaning there is a host of illegal clubs behind locked doors. These have all sorts of peculiar customs, such as look-outs informing revellers when the coast was clear to leave and a range of secret knocks to gain access to said venues.

Apart from illegal clubs, Santiagons have another vice: 'Café con Piernas', or 'Coffee with legs' to the non-hispanophone. These are cafés where the waitresses (and they are all waitresses) all wear very short skirts. The strange thing is that they don't normally serve alcoholic drinks, which begs the question of 'why bother?'. Well, the coffee served there is no more expensive than in most other places, and I have been reliably informed that the quality of coffee there is actually superior to most other places. I think this is an idea that could be exported to the UK. Although they'd have to apply it to things that aren't coffee, seeing as most Brits are about as sophisticated as sack full of dog turds. 'McDonald's with legs'? 'Jobcentre with legs'? The options are plentiful...
Cafe con Piernas

Moving on now... Having met and grown friendly with a large group of people at my hostel, we decided to take in a Chilean League football match featuring Chile's largest team, Colo Colo. The atmosphere wasn't as good as the one I experienced in Brazil and the standard of football was insulting to many in the crowd, but the ride home on the Metro was something else. Really one of the most fun times I've ever had on public transportation with my trousers still on. We were in a packed carriage with lots of victorious Colo Colo fans, who were all singing and clapping very loudly and generally being happy at the result. Then they started jumping up and and down. This wasn't just a few people, this was a carriage full of about 200 people, all jumping simultaneously. This made the carriage move around more than the north-east coast of Japan. I was genuinely concerned we would derail whilst going round a corner. Things got so shakey that the train had to stop at a station for an extra 5 minutes or so whilst everyone calmed down a bit... and then continued once we started moving again.

Unfortunately, the people of Chile are used to the ground shaking a lot, seeing as they suffer from a lot of tectonic activity. In early 2010, they suffered and earthquake and resulting tsunami which killed over 500 people. Speaking to a Chilean about this particular earthquake really opened my eyes. He told me it happened at around 3 a.m. on a Friday night, meaning a lot of people were enjoying a night out. When the earthquake struck, they are alleged to have gone out to the streets quickly and cheered, apparently ignorant of the scale of this fatal 8.8 magnitude tremor. The Chilean attitude to earthquakes seems to be one of only mild annoyance. They perceive earthquakes occurring with the same mild irritation we do when the sky's slightly cloudy when we're trying to have a barbecue.

Now I'm sure you've all been religiously reading these posts and have been blown away by their quality and insightful. If you'd like to read more on the topic of travelling, with an emphasis on South America, I'd recommend the following, each with a slightly different twist on the travelling theme:  A serious and intelligently-written blog on the uncertainty of the post-degree gap year. A light-hearted, more personal take on all things Gap Year written by one the most qualified people I know.

For now, I'm in La Paz, a city so high above sea level, breathing is constantly difficult. Hopefully you're also now feeling slightly breathless after reading this. Farewell. 

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