04 April, 2009

Patiperro: Travels in Chile during March 2009

"Why did you lie?" the rather attractive Chilean Customs agent asked. Being the good friend that I am, I squarely pointed my finger at my friend and cried "he did it. He brought the apple into Chile!"

The sign said I can be fined 1 million Chilean Pesos (or is it 10 million Pesos?) for bringing agricultural products into Chile. Even at 609 pesos to US$1, it is more than what I had in my wallet.

At 2,250 meters high, Paso Los Libertadores is a major border crossing between Chile and Argentina. At that altitude, even during late summer, I was shivering cold while standing around explaining myself to Chilean Customs.

It has been since 2002 when I was in Chile. Last time I was here, it was a 36 hour affair for a friend's wedding. Chile was my first introduction to South America and this narrow strip of land between the Pacific Ocean and the Andes Mountains has a special place in my heart.

After a couple months of learning Argentine Spanish, the language in Chile seemed vastly different. Santiagueños (residents of Santiago) talk fast and chop their words into bits. It is something akin to talking to an Australian. It's not breakfast . . . it's a brekkie!

A friend called Santiago "Sanhattan." As the country's largest
city and capital, Santiago is also Chile's financial center.

"Super bien!" Monica at Ají Hostel said to me as we checked in.

So much for all the Spanish superlatives I've been learning. It reminded me of all the hours I spent in high school studying German words like "wunderbar," only to hear "super!" when I traveled in Germany.

* * *

In Chilean slang, a patiperro is a globetrotter, or one who travels often.

Santiago's proximity to sunny sandy beaches on the Pacific Ocean was one of the reasons J. and I decided to cross into Chile rather than striking north to Salta in the Argentine Northwest.

Another reason was seafood; Chile is blessed with fresh blue water fish and crustaceans. So in less than 14 days' time, J. and I have crossed the Río de la Plata into Uruguay, biked and drank wine in Argentina's Mendoza Province, traversed the Andes Mountain to see a friend in Santiago, drank pisco sour in the cafés and bars of colorful and moody Valparaiso, and idled away on the beaches of Viña del Mar.

Cerro Bellavista, Valparaiso, Chile

Formerly serving as the first major port after westbound ships from Europe and the American East Coast rounded Cape Horn, Valparaiso took in the world's immigrants, sailors, and whalers. Literally, the city's name means Valle Paraiso, or Paradise Valley.

A Valparaiso Coca Cola Driver striking a pose

This hilly city by the ocean prospered during the late 19th and early 20th century as trade with the Pacific Coast increased and gold prospectors stopped here for provisions on their way to California and Alaska. However, since the Panama Canal and the Port of San Antonio (Chile) superceded Valparaiso's commercial importance, the city reinvented itself as one of Chile's main cultural centers.

Pablo Neruda, the famed Chilean poet and communist, made Valparaiso and the nearby fishing village of Isla Negra his home. The Chilean Admiralty is also based here and UNESCO, the United Nations cultural agency, named the entire city a world heritage site. Centered around the port, neighborhoods grew out of the surrounding steep hills and residents, who are also called Porteños, still use the city's funiculars as transportation.

The hills of Valparaiso

In honor of Mr. Neduda, I guess it is fitting I got into an argument with a French communist barmaid.


Baino said...

Looks a bit smoggy? Man you're getting around some! Seafood mmmmmmm!

Quickroute said...

did you check our Nerudas house - very impressive