Living the same day twice

Trip Start Jun 09, 2005
Trip End Jun 08, 2006

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Flag of Chile  ,
Saturday, February 4, 2006

We board Lan Chile flight LA800 from Auckland to Santiago at about 6pm on the 4th of Feb. As we fly east night falls quickly, and we canīt sleep in the cramped conditions and general noisy discomfort of the aircraft. Before we know it, dawn is breaking and we are treated to a second helping of February the fourth. I gaze out of the window and see nothing but an endless expanse of ocean beneath us. The benefit of crossing the international date line in the middle of the pacific is that you get to arrive at your destination before you leave. In our case we touch down in Santiago at 1pm, 5 hours before we left. Of course we have been saving hours for this big time bonus every time we cross a time zone travelling east. Today is payback day.

We get out at Santiago airport somewhat bleary eyed, but armed with detailed instuctions of how to get to our friends flat in the suburb of Providencia. Firstly we ignore the throngs of overly keen taxi and minibus operators and head outside for the big blue bus with Centro Puerto splashed on the side.

I have to start speaking Spanish which is a real struggle when I have only had 5 evening lessons and a course of Michel Thomas on the MP3 player. I keep wanting to use Dutch and French words which makes me talk with the pace of someone speakling their last words on their deathbed. Rachel gets impatient with me as I slowly ask for the underground tickets where the bus drops us off. However we get the tickets, but as soon as we pause working out which way to go at the entrance to the underground we are surrounded by overly helpful people offering advice.

On the underground I take a look at the faces of the people on the train. It certainly feels like we have arrived somewhere very different. The people are dark skinned and beautiful and have a far-away wistful gaze in their eyes as if thinking of the past and how they came to be here. I can see the mixture of Spanish and Indian elements and the variations in between in the facial features. Occasionally we see some people who look much more European with blond hair and blue eyes.

We get out of the underground and walk down a wide street heading, we hope, in the right direction for the flat. The buildings are large, European looking, and have a slightly run-down, unpainted look to them, which seems to add to their charm. The streets are broad avenues lined with trees and there is no litter around giving the area a well looked after feel. I make the mistake of asking a passer by where Europa street is, and before we know it we are surrounded by about ten locals all discussing where it can be, and gesticulating loudly. We slip out of the melee and find the street just a few metres further on.

We are staying for a couple of days with a friend of Rachelīs sister, Andrew Cooke. He is an old university friend of Fionaīs and has spent the last few years living and working in Chile. Rachel last met Andrew when she was about 15 on a trip to visit her sister in Cambridge University, and remembers tagging along on a punting trip on the river Cam. Andrew met his partner Pauli in Chile and they have a large apartment in the affluent suburb of Providencia. Pauli greets us warmly with a single kiss on the cheek as is the Chilean custom. Pauli works for the university in the Astronomy Department and is an expert in the analysis of distant galaxies. Andrew also has a PhD in astronomy, but now works in development of software for analysis of data retreived from space observation. All very complex stuff, and quite difficult for me to take in what jobs like these would be like on a day to day basis. Pauli explains that her job is just like any other job with the day to day activities like email, administration, management, and office politics taking up a big proportion of the day.

The flat is large and spacious and has white walls and parquet wooden flooring. We take a drink of pisco sour, a local drink and chat for a bit before Rachel and I finally submit to taking a powernap due to the double day.

In the evening we head out for dinner to a local restaurant. The restaurant is built in a covered courtyard in an old building with neatly laid out tables, plants, and warm lighting. The waiters are immaculately dressed in black and white and the man assigned to our table seems to speak perfect English. I enjoy Lomo de Povro (poor mans beef) which is a large portion of beef from the ribs, cooked slowly in its own juices for two hous and served (for a poor man) with fried onions, french fries, and a fried egg. Pauli tells me this is a very typically Chilean dish and I find it very tasty, although the portion is definately big enough for two people. Rachel and the others all try different types of fresh fish which all seem to be delicious too. I pay the bill at the end of the evening and it comes to 36,000 Pesos (about GBP40) including puddings and drinks.

After the big meal we head home - we consider it has been a very long February the fourth which started by having breakfast with my aunt Elizabeth in Athenree, New Zealand, Lunch with Jawad at Auckland airport, and dinner with Pauli and Andrew in Santiago, Chile.

Next day Rachel and I take a little tour around Santiago. We head into the centre and disembark at La Moneda, from where we take a look at the Royal Palace. I enjoy the feeling of being in a place that feels a bit like Spain but isnt really the same because of the exotic faces, tin roofs on the buildings, and strange advertising brands we see everywhere. We walk to Plaza dīAmas where there are plenty of buskers and street traders selling their wares in the bright sunshine. We head into the darkness of the cathedral and catch the tail end of a busy mass. I gaze at the marble columns, statues, and catholic imagery, and listen to the choir sing, which makes me feel as though Iīm in Spain or Italy. Round the corner we take a look in the museam of pre-Columbian Art which contains a surprising varied selection of items dating back to before the arrival of the Spaniards. I like the little clay men with distorted features that makes them look like aliens.

Rachel starts to feel sleepy, so we head outside and walk along to the Musea de Belle Artes. As well as some traditional 18th century art they have some whacky modern art that is entertaining, but mainly because it is so bad.

Later in the afternoon we head to Pablo Nerudaīs house. The Nobel prize winning Chilean poet originally built it so that he could see his mistress in secret there. The house was designed to feel like a ship, and is decorated with artifacts which he collected all around the world, gifts he received from his wide circle of friends, and paintings made specially for him. I like the colourful way that the house has been decorated and our guide brings it to life with interesting anecdotes about his life. In one painting of his mistress, you can see the disguised profile of Nerudaīs face in her hair.

In the evening Pauli and Andrew prepare dinner for us which includes a typical Chilean dish of humitas - a parcel of ground sweetcorn, basil, and onions, lightly seasoned and wrapped in a sweetcorn leaves, and boiled to prepare it. Pauli remembers learning to make it with her grandmother when she was a little girl.

Next day we are heading back to the airport for a trip south. We plan to go down to Patagonia and do some hiking. Our round-the-world ticket contains a flight to Punta Arenas, a good base for visiting the end of the world. We say bye to Andrew and Pauli who kindly invite us to visit again on our way North.

Arriving in South America for the first time it feels like arriving in a long lost world, where everything is subtly different from the European counterpart countries. We like the strange feeling and look forward to uncovering more of this facinating continent.
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