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Thank You, Chile

Saturday evening, walking across the Parque Forestal by the Mapocho River, I saw two young dudes wandering around, holding a homemade sign: “Buscando weed” (“Looking for weed”).

It made me laugh because they were apparently indeed asking strangers for marijuana—think Chilean Harold and Kumar before the White Castle binge eating munchies. That’s how candid and straightforward Chileans can be and yes, by the way, marijuana is still illegal here. And also, I’m not sure how the two kids missed the many people smoking weed and selling edibles in the neighbourhood. I mean, I’m finding weed even though I’m not looking for it and I don’t want any.

I feel good in Chile. It’s a relaxing country. It’s just… normal. What you see is what you get.

Yet, we have to leave because if we—okay, mostly I—wanted to start this trip in Chile, we’re backpackers and we travel around. I can’t get too comfortable here. We have many more places to see.

It’s time to travel again.

Besides, it’s going to be a crazy week here with the pope’s visit. Oh, the city is clean, I’m telling you! Plaza de Armas is being power-washed again, for the second time this evening. Brand new Chilean and Vatican flags are flying everywhere and there are barriers along every single street downtown, making getting around annoying.

But I’m going to miss Santiago, the sun-baked streets, the busy pedestrian paseos and the hawkers selling everything from rolls of toilet paper to meat skewers, from nail clippers to screwdrivers. I’m going to miss the everything-here-is-fried-and-stuffed-with-cheese Colombian bakeries staffed with Venezuelan immigrants (hey, close enough, right?) where I picked up non-fried achiras. I’m going to miss the many Peruvian tienditas with giant-kernel choclo from the Andes. I’m going to miss going for a walk at midnight just because I feel like it and because I may buy a pan de huevo or a can of Coke and guess what, there’re still people outside at this time of the night. I’m going to miss the free museums, the many art projects and Santiago’s quirks like fortune tellers or stores selling clothes organized by colours instead of style or sizes.

I’m not trying to belong in Chile but I don’t stand out here. I mean, Chileans ask me for directions and if I speak long enough, people just suspect I may be Brazilian because I’m sure my Spanish can sound exotic. Still, no one would ever stare at us in the street.

I like Chile because it’s a liberal country and because Chileans and the many immigrants from Colombia, Venezuela, Peru and Haiti who are settling here are just decent people. I know, I haven’t been there long and I’m an outsider—maybe I’m just naïve. But I spent time observing people. I saw twentysomethings helping older people cross the street. I saw same-sex couples holding hands and cuddling in public and no one bat an eye. I saw families sharing public space in the city’s streets, in parks, museums, restaurants, etc., and interacting respectfully, which is to me a symbol of collective well-being. I saw people paying attention to each other, queuing patiently, being polite and friendly.

Chile isn’t perfect. There are many issues—a few I’m aware of, many I probably don’t suspect—that didn’t affect me as a backpacker. But I felt very safe in Chile. I also felt happy, relaxed and inspired, thanks to the people around me.

Thank you Chile.

Carabinero responding to a bomb scare on Calle Monjitas
Waiting for the bus on Calle Merced
Fire on Calle San Antonio
Fire on Calle San Antonio
Calle Merced
Plaza Italia
Plaza de Armas
Centre Gabriela Mistral
Los Nogales
Los Nogales
Los Nogales
Los Nogales
Avenida Providencia
Avenida Providencia
Avenida Providencia
Calle Monjitas
Two guys dancing tango in Barrio Lastarria
Parque Forestal
Sunday Mass before the pope visit at the Catedral Metropolitana de Santiago
Sunday Mass before the pope visit at the Catedral Metropolitana de Santiago
Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Santiago
Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Santiago
Parque Quinta Normal
Calle Estado
Calle Catedral
Calle Catedral
Calle Catedral
Calle Catedral
Calle Catedral
Mark getting a haircut in a Venezuelan/Peruvian barber shop
Mark getting a haircut in a Venezuelan/Peruvian barber shop

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