January 02, 2004

Santiago, Chile

Haven't been posting much in the way of writing or images the last few weeks. Sorry to anyone hoping to get a better look at Chile. Guess the lethargy of the holidays got to me. I'll pick up the pace in Argentina.

Chile has been very, very relaxing. Travel here is effortless (though expensive). Heck, you can even drink the water and flush toilet paper! And while it may be possible to tire of living on wine and seafood, two weeks hasn't been long enough to find out.

The world's most arid desert isn't the Sahara, it's the Atacama in Chile, and for days I watched it roll by out the window from Arica to La Serena. In between I stayed in Antofagasta for a few days. As Chile's second-largest, and rather unremarkable city, many seem to put it down (though not Chileans - they're proud of every nook and cranny of their country). I liked it for no other reason than I saw no other foreigners the whole time I was there.

I spent a quiet few days over Christmas in La Serena, where pretty much everything was either a zoo in preparation for the holidays, or closed. I spent most my time here vegging out in the sun, but I did manage to get out to the observatories in the desert for a look at the stars under the world's most ideal viewing conditions. The world has built it's largest telescopes here, and no wonder; the sky here is amazing! From here it looks as though the world is wrapped in a blanket of stars. You can easily see Mars, Venus and Saturn with the naked eye.

After La Serena, I spent the last week of the year in Valparaíso, where about a quarter-million Chileans and foreigners go for the New Year festivities. By the 29th there wasn't a room left in the city! The city itself is peculiar: built on and around the cliffs that rise straight up out of the ocean, there are more than a dozen elevators downtown used just for moving people a few blocks. Directions here are useless as the city is laid out completely haphazard. Cobblestone roads loop, swirl and double back past colonial houses, then turn into a footpath or a staircase up a cliff. Besides the landscapes and the beaches of sister city Viña Del Mar, many come for the New Year's fireworks, which the city boasts are the world's third most spectacular display. I don't know if that's true or not, but they were awesome.

If the rest of Chile has been stripped of its Latin American feel, Santiago is downright devoid of it. This is Anytown, North America, except they speak Spanish - sort of. They speak a mile a minute, lop off the last syllable of most words, and sprinkle their speech liberally with interjections. Far from a slight against the country, their terrible speech seems to be a point of national pride for Chileans. Along with the usual questions about what I think of their country, I'm also often asked what I think of their speech. One legal clerk I spoke with told me that unlike Canada where court transcripts must be written in court, in Chile they are recorded and later transcribed because no stenographer could possibly keep an accurate live record.

Sometime in the next few days I'm going to head back into the Andes for the last time and cross over into Argentina.

Posted by dhuska at January 2, 2004 09:11 AM

How was new year's in valpariso? I didn't make it out of Boliva for the holidays. Hope it was fun! I'll get to Chile eventualy... any suggestions?

Posted by: Alexa at January 5, 2004 02:28 PM