Remember what I said in Argentina and Uruguay about the nearly complete absence of catcalls? Apparently, Chilean men didn’t get the message that catcalling isn’t a compliment. And it’s not like I meet local beauty standards as well (long, dark hair, lipstick, platform shoes), so I’m guessing Chilean women have it worse.
It’s funny how the human mind works—after five catcalls in a row one day, I started to pay attention to… cats.
I was in La Vega Central, Santiago’s giant fruit and vegetable market—interestingly, you won’t hear catcalls there, vendors are focused on selling their produce and it’s a perfect safe place to walk around even though it does get crowded and chaotic during busy times.
That’s my top tip for Santiago, a walk through the market. “But we’ve been to the market, we spent like an hour there!” most travellers reply.
No, you’ve been to the cute Mercado Central de Santiago, a tourist magnet with seafood restaurants in the centre and stalls selling giant Pacific Ocean fishes and shellfishes you probably can’t find a pan or a pot big enough to cook.
Nothing wrong with it, by the way, but there are other markets to explore.
Take the bridge across Río Mapocho, just a few metres away and follow Avenida Recoleta—or just follow the flow of people, really. The first big building you’ll see is La Vega Chica, which is, as the name says, a much smaller version of La Vega Central. Keep on going. Trust me, you will spot La Vega Central when you get there.
If you come during a quiet time of the day, let’s say early afternoon on a weekday, vendors like to chat and show you their produce, although a few of them may be taking a nap. Most fruits and vegetables are familiar to Europeans or North Americans, but you’re looking at the super-sized version of them—corn as big as my forearm, giant zucchini and carrots… “It’s the Chilean sun,” vendors shrug proudly.
And it’s in La Vega Central, on a quiet afternoon, that I noticed there were dozens of cats sleeping on or under tables and boxes. I needed a dose of cute after exploring Chile’s history, so it became my project of the week. When I explained it to a few vendors, they lifted table covers and moved boxes to show me “their” pet, mostly cats but also a few dogs and occasionally both.
It’s not actually “their” pet, by the way, just that cat who always sleeps here and who is welcome to stay.
“Did you lose your cat?” a couple of little girls asked me. “Is it this one?”
I love kids. No, I’m not looking for my cat I would somehow had decided to take with me to the market! I showed them the pictures on my camera—“looks like cats in magazines,” they commented.
So there you go. If you like cats, giant fruits and veggies and chatting with locals, spend some time in La Vega Central.
Meanwhile, scroll down for cute cats.