Sunday, June 7, 2009

Chile - September 2006 - First Impressions

Cachondo Chile is celebrating 18 years in Chile and invited other bloggers to share their first impressions. EIGHTEEN YEARS! Wow! Happy Anniversary and Congratulations!

So, here are my memories of my first steps in Chile....

I arrived in Chile in September 2006 after a brutal 8-hour bus trip from our home in the Western highlands of Panama and an overnight flight to Santiago. I was a little disoriented, trying to gather my thoughts when the immigration guy said something to me. Huh? My husband asks me, "What did he say?" The disorientation is setting in stronger now. "I have no clue! I think we got on the wrong plane because that doesn't sound like Spanish to me!" I mistakenly thought they spoke Spanish in Chile.

Outside the airport the cold hits me in the face. Where are we? A cab ride into Santiago confirms that we are indeed NOT in Latin America! I decide immediately that the city is incredible, my eyeballs stuck to the window, watching all the beautiful old buildings go by, the people dressed very stylishly, the lack of garbage and trash, the handsome Carabineros (I learned they don't like to be called policia), men with steaming tanks of water strapped to their chests selling instant coffee and a hint of the Andes mountains through a haze. Not Latin America. Definitely not.

I deposit the bags and my husband at the cheap hostel we will stay at, and I hit the streets to explore. I make my way to the Plaza del Armas and buy postcards and sit on a bench to write to people who could care less where I am, or where Chile is, and wait for the post office to open. An old man who definitely needs to change his pants bums a cigarette from me then tries to give me a kiss as other bench people watch and chuckle. Pigeons and artists with easels and paintings and fabulous looking people going in all directions with European-looking clothing and nice shoes. Except for the old man trying to kiss me, this is not Latin America. And they definitely don't speak Spanish. A man painted with copper-colored metallic paint and dressed as a miner draws a crowd by the post office while another man with a bass drum, cymbals and musical instruments of all sorts taped and bolted to his drum collects a circle of watchers on the other side of the plaza. And what is that???? A subway entrance? Wow.

A cafe opens on one corner of the Plaza and I have my first cup of instant coffee. This will take some getting used to. A menu is a carta. The things on the menu bear no resemblance to any words or food that I am familiar with. A hamburger with an egg on it? Hot dogs with smashed avocados and chopped tomatoes and MAYONNAISE? You must be kidding me. A little boy hands me a little package of stickers and I thank him for it. He comes back a minute later and demands money for it. I give it back.

I am in love with Chile, yet I don't even know Chile. Just this first few hours and this little place, my Plaza del Armas. I pour over my stack of postcards showing all the places I wonder if I will actually see on this trip. My destination will be Futaleufu, a place I still did not know how to pronounce (along with Cohyaique, and Aysen and Puyhaipi, and Caleta Tortel). I still don't know how to spell them. I am in love with Chile, and it is NOT Latin America at all! And it has lots of surprises in store for me:

Exploding volcanos
Farm animals roasting crucifiction style in front of hunks of burning wood
Instant coffee (still getting used to still surprises me)
Wood-burning cook stoves
Toilets with actual toilet seats
German-style houses and buildings
Huasos on horses with Clint Eastwood (Spaghetti Western) hats
Good looking, fit Carabineros (I've never seen a fat cop in Chile)
Carabineros on magnificent horses IN the city
Communist book store
Stores closing for four-hour lunches
Intersection street performers

I love my Chile.


Margaret said...

Wow! I love your Chile too! (And completely agree with you about "completos"- Chilean hot dogs with avocado and mayo!

kyle said...

Chile is NOT Latin America...your first impression couldn't have been more dead on!

Sara said...

I think your first impressions were maybe a tad more accurate than my own, all expectations aside.