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Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Musings and mutterings about a String Bean Shaped Country...

"What a long strange trip it's been." Grateful Dead

Remember way back when? From my original blog about Chile: 


Hell! I wasn't even supposed to be here! 

Well, I was here for six plus weeks. I think about this journey in two distinct segments. The W L time (with Lisa) and the WO L time (without Lisa). 

During the W L time I had an intelligent English speaking companion to share my many thoughts and rants with. She'd laugh at my vocalized frustrations concerning this foreign land we found ourselves in. "How hard would it be to put up a freaking sign pointing to a National Park?" 

When I dropped her off a few weeks ago, I experienced loneliness. Now I'm the kind of guy who prides himself on being comfortable in his own skin. In the States, I can go weeks without a real conversation and it won't bother me. Here it bothered me. The difference? I know what's going on around me in my own country. I understand the language.

In Chile, I felt like I was always walking through the famous Star Wars I bar scene. The one featuring Hans Solo with lots of aliens jabbering away around him. In Chile, that was my life minus the English subtitles. I was in a communication void. Chileans don't Habla Ingles a lot. In the course of the WO L period, I had two real talks with two couples from Europe. That's it. The rest of the time I smiled a lot and pantomimed if my limited Espanol wasn't working. It hardly ever did. 

Even the mundane act of going into a restaurant was challenging. I would sit down at an empty table in an empty restaurant. (I ate at Gringo plus hours, about 7:30 to 8:00). Eventually a waitperson would saunter over. I would ask to see a menu in Spanish. Blank look. I would then pantomime eating. Blank look II. Then I would switch to English and start to quietly rant. "Oh this must be the business where I can purchase a block heater for my Ford Van or maybe refill my blood pressure medicine prescription?" For some reason, this worked. I scored a menu. 

Don't get me wrong. You would be hard pressed to discover a kinder, gentler and more easy going people than the Chileans. They are obviously generous, family oriented and friendly. They just don't speak a lot of North American and I don't speak a lot of South American. It's my problemo not theirs. 

My social scene and Happy Hour consisted of a few mediocre brews and my Kindle app. I've read four books in two weeks. 

Enough about me. What about Chile?

First off, this Skinny Country is beautiful, complete with 18 million pretty nice people. (See above). It's almost twice the size of Montana. 

Most folks live along the Central Valley corridor and the Pan American Highway. This stretches north and south of Santiago. There's 5.1 million people in the capital city. On December 12th, we arrived in Santiago and quickly departed. I returned today and will leave in the early morning. My neighbor is the airport.  

Chile's economy is based upon what comes from below the earth (mining) and what grows on top of the earth, (forest products and foodstuffs). The fisheries industry is big too.Tourism is not a main driving force here. It's pretty much a Blue Collar Country. 

Most foreigners are like me and search out the protected areas of National Parks and National Reserves. If you are used to U.S National Parks along with its infrastructure, you might be disappointed like I was on occasion. Many of the parks are in name only. Access to them is extremely limited. Even the most famous ones have crappy roads and a limited  trail system. Getting a map when you pay your entry fee is problematic. I discovered if I made a real sorrowful look when they said "No mapa," one would materialize out of a drawer. 

Chile is now a politically stable country. It wasn't always like this. It was sort of a pick up the morning newspaper to see who's in charge country. The U.S backed a few less than stellar leaders-like Pinochet. I'm not proud of this. 

Maybe this is why there's so many low skilled menial workers seen everywhere. It keeps the populace from rebelling I suppose. It's not uncommon to see seven dudes milling around four gas pumps to pour product into your thirsty vehicle. The national average income is half what Americans take home. 

Chileans smoke a lot more than Americans too. 37% compared to 24%. The irony is they live longer than us. Go figure. 

I'll end this long post with a few questions to my readers. I'm all ears if anyone knows the answers. 

Why do Chileans believe their modern plumbing systems won't handle TP? I refused to participate in a possible local cholera outbreak by placing wads into nearby wastebaskets. OK, call me an Ugly American for this. 

Why do the Carabineros (National Police Force) drive around 24/7 with their emergency lights flashing? How was I supposed to know if I was getting pulled over or if they received an urgent call about fresh donuts? They have wooden handled pistols attached to their belts by a string too. Barney Fife would love them. 

Why do Chileans consider Nescaf√© Instant Coffee to be the bomb? Juan Valdez and his mule are flopping in their graves. Come on Chile! Trade copper for real coffee in South America! 

Lastly, why did it take so long for summer to show its wonderful side in Chilly Chile? Oftentimes the difference between comfort and cold was merely a passing cloud or a shade tree. 

Chile is not a Third World country, just once in awhile it seems to be. I can say the same thing for parts of the USA too. Like the time I was bicycle touring along the Ohio River in Southern Illinois. I could swear I heard the unmistakable strains of "Dueling Banjos." I pedaled harder then. 

I'm off to Cusco, Peru manana. I'll start trekking the Inca Trail soon thereafter. 

This will likely be the last time I travel alone to a predominantly non-English speaking country. It makes me write long blogs. 

Goodnight from the airport,
Jeff








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