Three times, three times in ONE week, I was mistaken for being Chilean…. by Chileans! Toot toot! Ok I’ll put my horn away. I may not be able to say much, but damnit I can sure imitate that accent. :)
If anyone was wondering.. it’s been confirmed. I’m the proud owner of the biggest feet in Chile (on a female, that is. Although in general, I’m probably close). La mama chilena approached me last week and very forwardly looks at my Chaco-clad feet and says “Uh-uh. Nope. Not acceptable. No more Chacos. We’re going shopping.” Promptly at 9 a.m. the next day, she hauled me out of bed and off to the mall we went. First store we stepped in, we browsed a bit before I realized I hadn’t seen my size once. Nor anything within 3 sizes of my size. She marches up to the front desk and asks if they carry a 44, and he says, “of course!” …pointing to the men’s section. “No no no,” she says, “women’s!” …The response: a headshake….followed by a squinty, not-real-subtle look of disbelief and a quick up-and-down of the tall gringa (me) by her side. 11 stores later, I was laughing and shaking my head while she, ever more determined, starts calling in the whole family, asking where in the country there might be a shoe store that carries my size. “Ay dios mio” she says, “what are we going to do with you!” Hey– at least in Missoula socks and Chacs are cool.
A few weeks ago I spent a four day weekend in Santiago. I had a blast. It started out being picked up at the bus terminal by two wonderful people I didn’t know, just friends of friends, who pulled me into the crazy mess that is the Santiago metro. Thousands of people, lines in every direction, about 8 different floors of trains… kinda made Valparaiso feel like a deserted forest. My fearless leaders stuck by me, though, and an hour later we stumbled out into, well, I still have no idea where we were. Another twenty minute walk and we made it to his house, where his mom (everyone lives at home until they’re 30 here….so weird) cooked us dinner and insisted we practice his English. David actually attends an English institute, and he knows a fair amount of the language but is very shy about speaking it. It worked out perfectly–I help him with English and he helps me with Spanish. He is ruthless when it comes to correcting my Spanish and I love it. People are usually too nice to point out errors. We still keep in touch almost daily, and he’s always quick to help me out with stuff I don’t understand. The best was when we got into an argument over Spanish grammar– something HE had said, and I brought it to my professor here and proved him wrong. Hehehe. His sweet mother gave me a woolen doll she had made and insisted I come back anytime. Later, we went to a party where I saw all of my “army of Chilean protectors,” aka the goofy guys I met camping back in February. What a blast. And this time, I could understand them.
I spent the rest of the weekend exploring Santiago and being passed around from friend to friend, seeing all kinds of friendly faces I met when I was traveling. I went to see La Moneda, the president’s house, that was bombed in 1973, killing Allende during the military coup. I wandered all the famous hills, parks, museums, tried supposedly the 25th best ice cream in the world (I wasn’t convinced), saw an enormous protest in action and decided, rich with history though Santiago may be, I am so very glad I chose the city that I chose. I feel more and more like I hit the jackpot living where I do.
Lunch with la mama and her son turned immensely powerful and educational when I brought up that I was going to a showing of a new movie, Allende en su Laberinto (Allende in his labyrinth), a film documenting the last hours of Allende’s life in La Moneda as Pinochet rose to power. I had been nervous about approaching the subject at home, and it’s something I had been wanting to ask her about since before I even arrived. It is a touchy subject here, though, and I’ve heard it compared (by Chileans) to asking a German about the Holocaust. The country is still very much divided. When I mentioned the film, her son Oscar, who thankfully speaks very clearly, warned me that the film was unlikely to be objective, but rather would paint Allende as the hero. He is well-educated and objective himself, and was able to clearly explain both sides, as in who supported Allende and why, the mistakes he made, and who was in support of his fall. And the same was said for Pinochet; who benefited from his rise to power, his economic success with Chile, and the horrible social actions he took in the process. On the other side, my host mom is poorly educated because she couldn’t leave the house for 12 years of her young life under Pinochet, but was able to explain what life was like for her at the time… the things that she saw, the family members who were killed, the friends who were never heard from again, and how she would stand in line once a week for a single kilo of bread for the family, silent and head down while the military stood over them with machine guns, ready to drag off and shoot anyone who stepped out of line. For 3 hours they talked, each supplementing each other’s thoughts with interjections of their own… it was more than I’ve ever learned in any history class on the subject, and well-worth staying with a family for that alone.
Perhaps the most fun I’ve been up to is playing tour guide for a plethra of buddies who come visit me. I am so glad I traveled first… I am so lucky. I met so many excellent people on the road, and instead of having to say goodbye, I got to say come see me in the North! Each person who has come here to see Valparaiso and visit me I only knew for a few days at most, and yet the second time around it’s like seeing an old dear friend again. Plus, it has allowed me to do so much exploring of these cities! Visiting the house of Pablo Neruda, free walking tours, hours and hours wandering the steep hills of Valpo, getting lost in street art and friendly characters, finding the best empanadas and the cheapest underground pubs. Beaches, beautiful sand dunes, street performers, artists, ancient rickety elevators, the adorable musicians on the metro who round up the ladies and serenade us with their guitars and their catchy lovesongs, the sweet Rasta man on the corner who sells shawarmas at a discount if you help him with his English…. If someone had told me 6 months ago that I would soon fall in love with a city, I’d never have believed it.