Back to Nature for an Afternoon

As great as life is in Santiago, it’s definitely necessary to escape the hectic hustle and bustle of the city once in a while. To breath clean air and listen to the birds rather than the traffic, to walk along forest paths rather than concrete pavements, to be surrounded by mountains rather than infinite multi-story buildings.

Last Sunday we decided to take a trip to Quebrada de Macul, on the outskirts of Santiago. Day trips such as this would probably start at around 9am in England, but being in Chile with a group of Chileans meant we arranged to meet at 1pm, actually setting off for the park at 2pm once everyone had arrived. After taking the metro to Grecia we had to take a bus to the very end of the road, dropping us off right by the huge hills that mark the end of the city. We then realised we were still nowhere near where we needed to be, so had to take a taxi for another 10 minutes. There wasn’t a taxi in sight, but in the end a random old man offered to take all 8 of us in his 5 seater car, 2 in the front, 4 in the back and 2 in the boot, for a total of £3. Can’t really complain.

We arrived at an idyllic ranch type complex, surrounded by horses, chickens and dogs. We registered our entry at a wooden cabin and were indicated the “emergency number” we were to call if there were any accidents, which didn’t turn out to be very helpful as we lost phone signal as soon as we entered the mountainous park, and didn’t recover it again until we were back at the entrance.

After a few minutes we found somewhere to buy some water; a little farmhouse with a shop attached. We asked to use the toilet that the signs were pointing towards, but a toothless old farmer invited us to use his personal one; we felt obliged to accept. We walked through his kitchen, a few bedrooms and were greeted by his entire family before reaching the bathroom, which we ended up getting locked inside of. Not a great start to the day. Once we escaped the toilet and the farmhouse we set off; it was after 3pm by this point and we had a lot of walking to do.

We soon realised we had not come best prepared; most of us were wearing flimsy plimsolls, which was in hindsight a stupid idea seeing as we had lugged our walking boots all the way to Chile primarily for this purpose. The path was super dusty, slippery and steep for 90% of the walk, on many occasions we were clinging onto each other for dear life as we scrambled up and skied down sections of path.

We saw some equally laughable hiking gear along the way; predominantly people wearing trendy (?) t-shirts brandshing slogans in English. The funniest were “It’s not easy being easy” and “I’m a loser”. It really makes you wonder whether these people have any idea what the slogans mean, or if they are perfectly aware and think that they are at the height of fashion.

In the end we trekked for a few hours up to a waterfall, stopping for a picnic lunch by the river on the way. It was mainly very peaceful, passing by the occasional walker or wild animal, including a huge spider and a snake. It was absolutely boiling and we were still sweltering in our shorts at 7pm when we made it to the bottom again.

Bizarrely the same “taxi” we had got on the way was parked at the bottom. The driver leapt out when he saw us and told us that he had been waiting for us… for 4 hours, really? Better just to hop in and not question these bizarre happenings. We got home an hour or so later, covered in dust but content. There are so many places like this just outside the city to explore, the question is which one to visit next!

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Back to the land of Reggaeton and Pisco

Life has been unbelievably busy since coming back to Chile. Its week six and I’ve finally found a few hours to myself to open my laptop and catch up on everything. After a few weeks in a hostel, starting my new job, meeting old friends and making new ones, finding an apartment and settling once again into the Chilean way of life, I finally feel like I’m beginning to get my feet on the ground.

I was eager to both visit old haunts and discover new charms of the city. To get lost in the mazes of Sunday markets surrounded by brightly coloured fruit, the smell of barbeques tickling my nose whilst I listened to the sellers shout above each other competing for the lowest prices. To walk down my favourite streets, absorbing the elaborate murals and street art, never quite believing the grand backdrop of the Andes mountains. To eat in my favourite restaurants; sushi, pisco sours, menus del dia. To escape the city hustle and bustle for a day; travelling to the outskirts to go trekking or to visit a vineyard and drink wine in the peace in the quiet of the afternoon sun. To go up to the 62nd floor of Latin America’s tallest building to see the sun set over the vast expanse of Santiago, the skyscrapers below fading into insignificance.

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View of the city from Latin America’s tallest building

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La Moneda – Chile’s presidential palace

Last weekend was “Fiestas Patrias”, a celebration of Chilean Independence Day. However, the Chileans love an excuse to party, and with most people getting a week off work, the whole 7 days were dedicated to eating, celebrating and spending time with friends and family. Many days of fondas in the parks, barbeques, cueca dancing, empanadas, terremotos, reggaeton music, chicha and relaxing ensued, with Chilean flags stuck in most building’s windows and waving from every other car.

Something I’m never going to be quite able to deal with like a Chilean is the heat. We are supposedly in the transition between winter and spring, but for the last few days it’s been pretty hot, reaching the mid-twenties most days, and it’s only going to get warmer until around April when autumn will begin to set in. I am getting weird looks in the street for not wearing a coat, and every single one of my colleagues today asked me why I wasn’t freezing in a short sleeved shirt. Brits just can’t deal with this climate it seems. To make matters worse, apparently the rooftop pool on my apartment doesn’t open until the 17th of November… almost two months away! If we were in the UK now, an outdoor swimming pool would be heaving in this weather…

Chao for now xx

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Chile I’m coming for ya

It has been exactly 11 months since I wrote my last post here, and it is exactly 2 weeks until I’ll be in Chile once again. As the plane took off from Santiago last year, the Andes slowly fading from sight, I knew I had to return as soon as I had the chance. Chile stole a part of my heart in a way no country has ever done before… I really had fallen under its spell.

This last year in the UK has been incredible; spending time with my amazing friends and family, travelling to Paris, Morocco, Italy and Portugal, and graduating from university. However, as wonderful as England is, part of me is still on the other side of the world. I miss the magical 24/7 view of the mountains, the constant sun, the hustle and bustle and laughter on the streets, the markets with their piles of strawberries, avocadoes and bananas, the sopaipillas being fried on the side of the road, the £1 cocktails in the quirky bars. I miss the buskers on the buses with their guitars and accordions, the gourmet sushi at bargain price, the luscious sprawling vineyards on the outskirts of the city. I miss the warmth and openness of the Chilean people and their pride and patriarchy for their country; Chilean flags flying at every corner. Most of all I miss the feeling of just being there. Of living inside a different culture and language, of experiencing, seeing and learning new things every day.

After a few months of organisation; application forms, assessment days, police checks, medical checks, nervous waiting around, solicitors’ stamps, doctors’ stamps, consulate stamps, visa forms, booking flights, obtaining visa, and various other bits and bobs…. I am ready once again to throw myself into life in the land of pisco and reggaeton. Santiago here I come.

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I even miss the stray dogs clamouring for attention/ trying to get in my photos… or not.

 

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Back To Reality, But At Least There’s PG Tips.

I’ve been back in England for a couple of weeks now, and I still wake up every day feeling a little nostalgic, expecting to hear the rumble of the Santiago traffic beneath me. But I soon feel better when I remember I can have a proper cup of tea to start the day.

This morning Facebook kindly reminded me that it was exactly a year ago that I took my plane to the other side of the world; with my life in a suitcase and no idea what to expect. It is very hard to believe that it has been a whole 365 days; time really does fly.

Working as an English teacher in Chile’s capital was the most exciting, terrifying, rewarding, incredible experience I have ever had, and I would do it all again in an instant if I had the chance. However, I have now returned from my adventures and I am beginning to remember what life in England feels like again. I would sum it up as ‘normal’. No more stray dogs wreaking havoc on the streets, no more unexpected gigantic protests in the city centre, and no more dodgy traffic lights malfunctioning on an almost daily basis. Once I saw the carabineros (local police) directing the traffic at the crossroads by my apartment for 24 hours solid, as all four sets of traffic lights had broken.

No more having to queue in two or three different lines whenever you want to buy anything (why isn’t anyone qualified to scan your item, take your money, give you your change, give you your purchase and give you your receipt all in one go?! Infuriating.). No more having to take a numbered ticket any time you want to buy something at the pharmacy, as if you were at the cheese counter in a supermarket. And, no more having to top up your phone credit in said pharmacy… (topping up via the internet is hopefully a near-future possibility.)

Back in England it is more common to get pizza rather than sushi delivered to your door, and you can’t find a six course lunch menu anywhere for £3.50. There is no smell of roasted peanuts or frying sopaipillas as you walk down the street, and no more middle-aged men barbequing in stolen shopping trolleys, selling choripans and anticuchos to anyone daring enough to buy one.

My kitchen is no longer filled with the thousands of plastic bags that food is shovelled into by the bag-packers at the supermarket, often using two or three where one would suffice. I am now back in Bristol after all, the European ‘Green Capital’, where I keep going shopping and coming home with armfuls of food, too embarrassed and stingy to pay for a bag. My cupboards are now filled with delights such as good tea, baked beans, crumpets, Marmite and decent chocolate. In the fridge is real milk, proper cheese and yoghurt. I can go to an actual PUB(!!) and drink cider. I can go to a coffee shop that isn’t a ‘café on legs’ and order a decent cappuccino, without having to studiously ignore the scantily clad waitresses strutting up and down flirting with the customers.

In England there are actual police, rather than the carabineros who parade the city and hang around on street corners waiting for some action. I am now in a country with the NHS, where healthcare is free… and trustworthy. Here, the firemen actually get PAID for what they do, rather than work in one of the most dangerous voluntary jobs that exists.

I can now go out on the street and find whatever I want to buy, or do whatever I want to do, without having to walk half way across the city. There is no longer an ‘opticians area’, a ‘car parts area’, a ‘bookshop area’ or a ‘hairdressers area’ (anyway… you get the picture)… something so very illogical and so very South American.

I am now surrounded by a range of music, not just reggaeton, cumbia and bachata. I am in a city which doesn’t explode with excitement whenever any American or British band comes to town, and whose highlight of the year isn’t an Arctic Monkeys concert. ‘THE ARCTIC MONKEYS ARE IN CHILE!! BUT!! THEY ARE IN CHILEEEEE!! OOMMMGGG.’ My students somehow managed to introduce this breaking news into every class I taught for a month.

Gone is the concern that my city could collapse today due to an unpredicted earthquake, and I no longer have to worry about how I am supposed to breathe outside in the record-breaking smog. I can finally turn off Spanish-speaking mode, after a year of barely getting a chance to think in my own language.

Santiago, Chile, I will miss you greatly… the people I met, the opportunities I had and the things I have learnt will stay with me forever. Por la razón o la fuerza, I am sure I will be back soon!

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Chile: Hello, Goodbye.

After our Bolivian nightmare, we ended our tour of the salt flats in the huge, dry desert of San Pedro de Atacama in Chile. Spending a week based in the pleasant little town (the only sign of civilisation for miles around), Atacama was a huge improvement on the past week we had had. We were finally able to relax, away from the constant threat of food-poisoning and spontaneous political outbreaks of violence. We spent the week making the most of the activities that San Pedro’s beautiful surroundings had to offer; visiting Moon and Death Valley, the piedras rojas (red stones), various stunning lakes, natural hot springs, as well as sandboarding, horse-riding and stargazing. Seeing the Milky Way in all its glory with my naked eye, and looking through one of South America’s biggest telescopes to clearly see Saturn with all its rings was a true highlight.

The Atacama is an amazing place, being South America’s driest desert it understandably receives very little rainfall. On a tour of Moon Valley we were shown strange marks in the rocks, and whole areas of rock that had been completely destroyed by the extreme weather caused by La Niña in 2012. We were told that the rainfall was so intense that more rain fell in two days than had fallen in the last 8 years! We may complain about British weather, but it certainly isn’t as sporadic and bizarre as it is in Chile…

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Before we knew it, it was time to head back to Santiago. After travelling for five weeks, there were many things I had missed about living in a (comparatively functional) capital city. Relaxing into our apartment, it was a relief not to have to sleep in a coat and hat against the cold any more. We’d finally finished living out of a rucksack and hostel-hopping, with sometimes very basic accommodation and living conditions. It was a novelty to be able to drink the tap water and have a hot shower, with the added luxury of a decent wifi signal and more plug sockets than 1 per 6-bed dorm. Welcome to the 21st century again.

We had been warned about the torrential rain, storms and flooding in Santiago and the surrounding area. It seemed like the gods were on our side this time, however, because as soon as we got there the rain miraculously stopped. To add to this, we saw news reports the next day of torrential rain and horrendous weather conditions in the North from where we had just come, where the ‘El Niño’ weather phenomenon was predicted…

I spent the last week saying my goodbyes to Santiago, and revisiting all my favourite places before the inevitable flight back to the UK. We also got the chance to visit Valparaiso; where we did a free walking tour, admired plentiful street art, climbed many colourful hills and sampled The Clinic Bar’s finest cocktails on the rooftop with a panoramic view of the city at sunset. A beautiful end to a beautiful year in a beautiful country.

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Houses – Valparaiso

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Street Art – Valparaiso

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Piano Steps – Valparaiso

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Steps – Valparaiso

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Valparaiso

Valparaiso

The Clinic – Valparaiso

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Bolivia; Into the Unknown And The Unexpected

After hearing mixed reviews of Bolivia; some people raving about it being their favourite Latin American country, but others advising us to avoid it at all costs, we were prepared to go in with an open mind and make our own decisions. After arriving at the bus station in Puno, ready to book our ticket to Copacabana, we were casually told that there was “a strike on the motorway” and   that all land transport to Bolivia was cut for the next three days. A great start. We were then approached by a burly Peruvian man waving a leaflet in our face, “we offer boats to Bolivia!” he  grunted in Spanish. We didn’t really pay any attention, no way  were we getting a 6am boat for 9 hours and paying 10 times the amount we would pay for a bus. Sadly, however, we soon realised we had little choice in the matter, and a boat it was. The boat was full of a tour group of Australians  and, after a grim and rocky journey, they were all met at the other end with a transfer. We were not so lucky… forced  to make our own way to immigration , we received many unhelpful directions and ended up in an old man’s kitchen … a little surprised to have been stumbled upon by three sweaty tourists as he crouched and peeled potatoes, he kindly pointed us in the right direction. After heaving ourselves up a hill and through a woodland, we finally emerged in the town. After going back and forth between different buildings, no one being helpful enough to explain which was the right one, we queued up for a while and handed in our immigration papers, only to be told we were STILL at the wrong building. After another few hours, we had finally been to all the buildings, queued all the queues and got all the stamps. After checking into our grotty hostel we went to check out what Copacabana had to offer; not much was the answer. A few days later, we were definitely ready to leave; having met many rude people, eaten many dodgy meals, and visited the famous Isla Del Sol (on a boat with so many diesel fumes everyone was choking into their scarves for the whole 3 hour journey)… We were glad to be moving on, assuming things could only get better.

However, things were not about to improve. We had been told by both tourists and locals that the whole country was in chaos at the moment; the motorway strikes were just the beginning of it. A city further south which we had been hoping to visit, Potosi, was in complete pandemonium. Potosi is a mining city, and its silver miners work in incredibly dangerous and unfair conditions for very little pay. Due to a drop in world silver prices, profits at the mine were diminishing and the miners were suffering as a result. Alongside the fact that the government weren’t delivering on their promises of infrastructure development, this issue led the miners to take action and the whole city was awash with upheaval and disruption. We heard that grenades were being thrown, fire-bombs were being used, and tear-gas being constantly used as a suppression tool. There was understandably a lot of negativity towards the events ensuing, some of which was quite justified, but the troubles had a comprehensible cause. It was one thing for tourists not being able to travel freely around the country, but the horrifying lives of the workers in the mines was something we could barely even imagine; our inconveniences were trivial in comparison.

We thus decided it might not be the best idea to head down to Potosi, and checked out if it was safe to head to the country’s capital. As if the miner strikes weren’t enough, huge protests were also taking place in La Paz, with grenades being thrown and police being attacked.

La Paz

La Paz

We  then had to make the decision as to whether to go further into Bolivia, or head back into Peru and then down into Chile, avoiding the chaos-ridden country altogether. Against our better judgement, we decided to head to La Paz. My recollection of La Paz is essentially a huge, dirty, ugly, unfriendly city, where I spent the majority of my time  in bed with severe food poisoning. I never knew that food poisoning could make me feel so rough from head to toe, and like some savage animal was inside my stomach trying to tear it apart. We skipped Sucre and Potosí after hearing all the horror stories, powering through Bolivia on a night bus from La Paz to Uyuni. A night bus was never going to be the easiest experience when one’s stomach can’t hold its contents for more than a couple of hours. However, we somehow got through it, even though all three of us were feeling the effects of Bolivia’s dodgy cuisine at this point.

Two more days of lying in the hostel consumed by food poisoning ensued, before we headed off on our much-anticipated salt flats tour. The highlight of Bolivia. Or perhaps we only felt this happy as we  knew we would soon be entering Chile…

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Andean Adventures And Peruvian Potatoes

The end of my placement working as an English teacher in Santiago sadly came to an end in June. After my last tearful class with the teens, it was time to say goodbye to the Instituto Chileno-Británico for good. However, with three months to spare before returning to university in the UK, the opportunity to travel around South America presented itself once again… 
It’s been a jam-packed, adventure-filled, eye-opening few weeks. I’ve barely had time to stop and think, let alone write my blog. Our first stop was Peru; constant early starts, treks, altitude sickness, endless cups of coca-leaf tea, hiking Macchu Picchu, mountain biking, zip-lining, brutal Peruvian massages, learning some Quechua, visiting Colca Canyon, a homestay on Lake Titicaca, dressing up, traditional music and dancing, Inca ruins, llama spotting (and being spat on by one), hot springs, floating islands, incredible sunsets, and much more… It’s safe to say we loved everything Peru had to offer.

 

Macchu Picchu

 
 

A Llama

 
 

Floating Island

 
 

Sunset On Amuntani Island

 

 

Getting Dressed Up

 
We also participated in some interesting culinary experiences…We were lucky enough to try various Peruvian specialities, including “Inca tequila” (tequila with a decaying snake chilling inside the bottle..), alpaca, endless bowls of quinoa soup, chewing on coca leaves (disgusting. And even worse being told that traces of cocaine would be found in our bodies for up to a year! Let’s hope we never need any drug tests…), and much more.

The Peruvians are also obsessed with potatoes. We’ve been proudly told on many occasions that there are more than 3000 types of potato in Peru; and it seems they want tourists to try every single one of them. We’ve been served meals consisting solely of a bowl of five varieties of boiled potatoes (in colourful shades of orange, purple, yellow and red….), with a slab of fried cheese on top. We tried a potato dessert (a rice-pudding type dish using freeze-dried potatoes), been out for a meal where they put cold chips in everything, from the soup to the salad…. and we even went to a potato restaurant, and also two potato museums.

 

Potatoes, Potatoes, Potatoes

 
  
After our non-stop few weeks in Peru, it was time to head to our next destination; Bolivia. I wish I could say it was as fun-filled and plain-sailing as Peru… But alas, it was not. 

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Trekking Off-Piste With A Barbecued Pizza

As wonderful as Santiago is, it is nice to get away at the weekends to some of the greener, quieter, spaces on the outskirts of the capital. A few Sundays ago I arranged to go trekking in Cajon Del Maipo (a canyon full of streams, rivers, nature, trees, and peace and quiet) with Nico and his two crazy cousins. My hopes of a quiet day in the countryside, a relaxed walk and perhaps a picnic were not fulfilled. Although the day was hilarious, I should have realised that a day out with 3 loud Chilean guys was never going to be relaxing.

We had spent the night before at my workmate’s birthday party and, being in Chile, it naturally went on into the early hours. After less than two hours sleep the dreaded alarm went off at 6.15am. We dragged ourselves out of bed and made a mountain of avocado and cheese sandwiches (the contribution we had been asked to bring) and legged it to the bus stop. We got the 210 to ‘Puente Alto’ where we’d arranged to meet his cousins. The journey took around an hour, as our meeting place was on the very outskirts of town.

We felt smug arriving at the time we had arranged to meet; 8am.. As we were meeting so early, I had assumed that the almost-always-late-Chileans would make a special effort to arrive on time. Of course, I was wrong. They turned up at 9.20am after we had almost fallen asleep in the metro station where we were trying to keep warm while we waited. Javier was driving, with Cristian asleep in the passenger seat. He apologetically explained that when he went to pick Cristian up at 7am, he hadn’t even got back from a night out. As soon as he arrived an hour later, they had driven down to meet us in Puente Alto.. not the greatest start to an activity-packed day!  We stopped at a McDonald’s to get some fuel for angry us and suffering Cristian who could barely string a sentence together other than to tell us that he was still drunk.

After another hour or so of driving, we arrived at a part of the Cajon called Manzano. ‘Everyone ready to go climbing?’ asked Javier. ‘Climbing! What?’ we responded. We parked the car and he opened the boot, revealing a bag full of harnesses, two frozen pizzas, a portable barbecue, and a 6L bottle of water. Apparently he had been rock climbing for the last year or so and had now self-qualified himself as an instructor, and we would be incorporating this into our trekking day. Eeek.  I looked at the rest of the things in the boot and didn’t even bother questioning how we were going to barbecue a frozen pizza or why we were taking 6 litres of water with us.

We were off, having divided up the things to carry. Luckily I wasn’t assigned the barbecue or the gigantic water bottle. What followed was definitely what I would call extreme trekking. It felt as if the idea was to get as far from the marked path as possible. Straight away we were diving through bushes, scrambling over rocks, pushing away branches, jumping over rivers, clinging onto banks, balancing on slippery stepping stones in the streams whilst trying not to fall in. To make matters worse we managed to pick up two mangy stray dogs along the way that kept almost tripping us up on our precarious trail. Being weighed down by so much ridiculous equipment didn’t improve our balance or tempers either!

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After around an hour the boys decided it was snack time and demolished all the sandwiches. Christian decided to take a nap on top of a precarious looking water pipe that was around a metre above the ground. He drifted off and then, rather hilariously, fell on top of one of the stray dogs who was napping below him. This resulted in a near bite to his face and a crazy barking dog that still seemed to love us to bits and stuck with us for the rest of the day… great. After another hour or so it was apparently lunch time; time to try out the barbecue. Seriously… the male race are eternally hungry, their bottomless stomachs never satisfied. Having failed to snooze balanced on the water pipe, Christian found a random, dirty, flea-ridden mattress in the forest which he proudly produced and proceeded to fall asleep on, leaving us to sort out the frozen pizzas.

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We somehow got the barbecue lit and amazingly managed to barbecue them. Javier excitedly told me ‘I even bought a vegetarian one for you!’ I thanked him and read the packet, ‘ham and cheese’. I pointed out that ham was meat. ‘Oh, whoops’. Chileans just don’t seem to get what being vegetarian means. We ate smoky pizzas and relaxed for a while before heading back to the car. They all decided that they were still hungry (I have no idea how…) and we headed to a little cafe half an hour away that Javier knew of, where they all got Completos (more or less hot dogs). I gingerly asked Javier if we were even going to go climbing, but it turned out we had passed his favourite climbing spot and it was occupied. So that was it for the previously ‘very important’ climbing idea..! We decided it was time to call it a day, and headed back to hectic, smoggy Santiago.

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All in all it was a fun, but bizarre, day out in the country. Three of us fell asleep on the way back to Santiago, where we collapsed straight into bed and succumbed to some much needed sleep, full of fresh air and barbecued pizza. Until next time, Cajon.

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‘Santiago Declares Smog Emergency’

And so commences my last week teaching at the institute… where has this year gone?! The city seems to be racking up the challenges it presents to its citizens this week, maybe to try and convince me that some part of me wants to leave Chile. Perhaps the worst of these problems is the sticky, suffocating smog which has suddenly appeared with a vengeance, smothering the city in grey gloom. Last night and this morning there were alerts on the radio; ranging from prohibiting certain cars from being driven in the city to forbidding citizens to exercise outdoors.  The pollution has apparently reached a ‘critical level’, and is not predicted to lift any time soon…

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-33224798 – for more information.

It hasn’t rained for a good few months now. I never thought I would say this, but I am craving a huge, wet, UK-style downpour to soak the streets, and bring some relief to the usually green parks whose grass is slowly giving up on life, and lift this smog that is hanging like a heavy cloth above the city.

Santiago

Santiago

This morning I went to an open-air art museum with Lina, passing three separate families on my way to the metro whose children were actually wearing white masks covering their mouths and noses. After the standard running-late-power-walk to the metro, I put the fact I was feeling breathless down to recently being ill. However, Lina assured me that she too was noticing the effects of the smog, feeling a little oxygen-deprived. I would describe it as a mix of having exercised heavily, being at altitude, and being in a steamy kitchen desperate to open a window. Pleasant.

Us being us, we had got off at the wrong metro stop for the museum, of course. Thus an extra 30 minute walk down the smoggy Gran Avenida of San Miguel ensued, into one of the dodgiest parts of Santiago. After seeing some amazing street art, and feeling a little threatened by various dubious passers-by, we headed back home, where we closed all the windows and strained to see the barely-visible mountains. I’ve heard many suggestions as to how we can combat the smog, ranging from the expected ‘reduce transport’ ideas to the more extreme. For example, a student was certain that if a mountain was demolished then the smog would be heavily reduced. Hmm, I’ll think about that one.

Museo A Cielo Abierto - San Miguel

Museo A Cielo Abierto – San Miguel

Museo A Cielo Abierto - San Miguel

Museo A Cielo Abierto – San Miguel

The smog is not the only issue these days. This morning there was a mini-earthquake, the epicentre only 30 minutes away from my apartment, waking us up at 6am… always exciting living near a fault line eh?

Another Santiago-specific-matter that I’m getting pretty tired of now is the endless protests. Every day, Santiago’s high street seems to be cut off to traffic, allowing  a never-ending flow of protesters to yell about whatever it is they’ve decided to protest about that day; education, politics, health, laws, you name it. I’ve been caught up in these demonstrations more times than I would like to, fighting my way against a crowd waving flags in my face and blowing horns in my ears. Some are more violent than others; involving endless tear gas, spray paint, fires and police involvement, occasionally prompting warnings on the radio advising people ‘not to walk around the centre’.. i.e. if you live in the centre like me, not to leave your house…

A Recent Protest On Alameda

A Recent Protest On Alameda

Despite all the madness going on here, the thought of leaving is not getting easier! Time to make the most of my last few weeks in Santiago, and the weeks I have to travel around Peru and Bolivia in July and August. It will be nice to have some clean air and protest-less streets. Although, as I already know, every South American city presents its own challenges and craziness!

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Trainspotting For Teenagers

A few weeks ago we had a ‘sandwich day’ one Friday, a common occurrence in Chile apparently. This is where Thursday is a public holiday, thus it is illogical to come in on Friday, as it’s nearly the weekend. I like this thinking. Thus, no-one had school or work, and everyone was happy. However, my institute still decided to open in the afternoon for the teens classes. I’m sure there is nothing these kids would rather do than come in to learn English for three hours on their day off school! Seeing as we weren’t expecting many students, I had asked another teacher whether we could team up and watch a film together with our classes. In fact, everyone was pouncing on this particular teacher as he had managed to reserve the projector for this day. Yes, in the whole institute there is one projector. The idea of interactive technology and smart-boards seems far far away… I asked him what film he had chosen to watch, and he casually replied ‘Trainspotting’. I laughed, and asked him what we were really watching. ‘Trainspotting’ was again the answer. Right. The teenagers are aged between 11 and 16, and Trainspotting is rated ‘R’ (“for graphic heroin use and resulting depravity, strong language, sex, nudity and violence”).

So, Trainspotting it was. As well as the continuous presence of drugs and violence, the film is in an English so Scottish that even I could barely understand it… thank goodness for the Spanish subtitles. Twenty-odd children stared innocently at the screen whilst I cringed in the corner, thinking how this would never have happened in the UK. At break, two of my poor students nervously asked if they could sit out for the second half as they were finding the film ‘difficult to watch’. Whoops.

In the ‘discussion’ we held after class, it was clear that none of the students had fully understood the film, it had simply left them in shock. When I asked if they had any questions or comments, the three questions I received were;

  • Miss, is Scotland really like that?
  • What does Trainspotting mean?
  • Does heroin really make you need the toilet like that?

Next time I’m choosing a PG rated film.

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