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Santiago Today

It’s curious, but I can begin to sense Chile well before I actually arrive.  Equally curious is the persistent independent bent of Chileans, in full form when travelling.  Assignment of specific seats on our airplane are taken by many of my fellow travelers as “suggested”, the polite urging by the pilot to “please take your seat” seems to apply only to some of the passengers (apparently just the “gringos”, meaning north Americans and most Europeans except Italians and Greeks!), and the fasten seat belt sign, when translated from English to Spanish, must come across as optional, a sort of “last call” announcement stimulating a rush by some to take down carry-on bags from the overhead compartment (where they were just deposited 5 minutes ago) to take out something very important, and by others a scramble back several rows to again say something to a travelling partner who is seated separately because at the last minute, which is when most made their arrangements, there were no longer any seats together.
Of course the most convincing Chile alert is the high-pitched chorus of “weón”, “wea”, and increasingly “weona”, cementing the reality that, in fact, we are on our way to Chile.
Santiago and Andes Mountains
Arriving these days at the international airport in Santiago is apt to test your patience, especially after the 9 or 10 hour flight from the US.  Chile is experiencing an incredible increase in air travel; the number of foreigners travelling to Chile on business and for tourism, and Chileans travelling within Chile and internationally has outpaced the airport infrastructure, so the lines to pass through International police and even to pay for products purchased in the duty free store are now terribly long, especially in the morning when many of the international flights arrive. Only a couple of years back this was not the case, but the demands of Chile’s relative prosperity continue to outpace projections of the infrastructure required.  
Corner of Pedro de Valdivia and Bilbao Avenues in Santiago
But on the other hand, a more important sign that we have arrived in Chile is the pleasant, while efficient, personal treatment with which the mostly young Chilean immigration and customs officials welcome us.  Compared to the characteristically uncivil verbal “roughing up” travelers are getting from “security” agents in US ports of exit/entry, the difference is noteworthy.  Chileans are still a very welcoming bunch…and polite.
We arrived in Chile to find Santiago under a guata de burro(donkey’s belly) sky, grey and cold but not rainy.  It is, after all, early spring in Chile, a time of year when we are not usually here, preferring the warmer summer months of January through April.  But everyone reassured us that it would be warming up soon.  They were right, but not before a week of night-time zero degree (C) temperatures which unfortunately produced a freeze and icing in the fruit growing regions of the central valley of the country, possibly affecting as much as 65% of the flowering at the time.  If it has to be something, let it be the pears and apples, hopefully not the wine grapes.
I love arriving at our place in Santiago, to take the pulse of this vibrant city and to go through the ritual celebratory first activities of arrival.  This time, I notice that traffic is more congested than I remember even from last year, as more and more Chileans own bigger, newer, and more expensive cars, stretching the limits of the urban infrastructure, complicated by the problems and inefficiencies of the public transport system, the infamous “Transantiago”, which in constant reform and benefiting from a permanent and high subsidy, continues to disappoint.   The drivers of all these cars are paying about $US 1.50 per litre of gasoline, about 50% higher than what we pay in the US; I’m not sure how they do it, since at the same time Chile’s GDP per capita, while highest for a Latin American country, is only around $US 14,000.  A recent survey claims that 18% of a Chilean family’s monthly expenditures is for food, 16% for transportation, and 20% for housing.

$US 1 = 500 Chilean Pesos

A consequence of the high cost of gasoline and traffic congestion is that the bicycle has been rediscovered.  I say rediscovered because it (along with the horse) was the most common mode of transportation in rural Chile when I first arrived over 45 years ago.  The bicycle has now been replaced by cars and public transportation for the most part in the countryside and small towns, but it is fast becoming a preferred mode of urban transport especially for students and young professionals.  I discovered, on my first morning walk through my neighborhood, teams of workers repaving the ciclovia that runs the length of a park along a main street running through the Comuna de Providencia where we have our apartment. A station has popped up at the end of the park where bicycles can be rented and later returned or deposited in another location throughout the city and a clear sign of the times is that the rental process for these bikes is all done with digital hand held computers.  To my pleasant surprise, right next to the bike rental station they have established one of several trash recycle stations cropping up throughout this part of the city, another encouraging sign that Chileans may finally be doing something about more sophisticated waste removal.

Bike rental and recycling station
Paving cycle path
CencoSud tower
A quick panoramic check from my 8th floor balcony reveals that the brand new flashy 70-floor CencoSud tower being built along the Mapocho River in the financial district  referred to as “Sanhatten” appears to be completed, except for the spire I believe they are planning to place on top so that, when finished, it will be the tallest building in South America (and the second tallest in the southern hemisphere), quite an undertaking in such a seismically challenged country.  The opening of this monument to one man’s vanity (and wealth) was first delayed by an economic slowdown in 2011, and is now being delayed further while the municipality and the owners of the building figure out what to do about the significant increase in automobile traffic that will result in the already jammed surrounding streets.
Machas a la parmesana &vino blanco


Farmer’s market, Los Dominicos
Tomatoes that taste like tomatoes
Eggplant and green peppers
Farmer’s market; artichokes

And, in case you were wondering, the customary “welcome to Chile” lunch of machas a la parmesana and pisco sours were better than ever, and the required early Saturday morning visit to the feria de los chacareros (farmer’s market) near the Los Dominicos church reminded us again of Chile’s bountiful agriculture.  The vegetables in this and a myriad of other fresh markets  in Santiago and throughout the country present an amazing array of healthy food, including big red tomatoes which taste like tomatoes, huge artichokes and eggplant, big juicy yellow onions, the first green peas and beans of the season, several different types of lettuce, the biggest stalks of celery you have ever seen, and of course thick white and green asparagus. 

Tunas (cactus apples)



The fruits are even more amazing (although it is a bit early for some of Chile’s most well-known varieties), featuring apples, grapes, and pears from last season, and the first tuna (cactus apples), chirimoya, huge crimson strawberries, lemons, limes, juice oranges and the small greenish yellow limones de pica used to make the best pisco sours.

Salmon, congrio, clams, mussles
Congrio and Albacore

The seafood stand in this market boasted on this sunny but cool Saturday morning a most impressive variety of glisteningly fresh fish and shellfish Chilean waters have to offer:  the most favored congrio (colorado and dorado), corvina (true sea bass, not to be confused with the very different mero sold in the US as Chilean Sea Bass), merluza Española (hake), albacora (albacore tuna), pejerreyes (small smelt-like fish called sea silverside), octopus, salmon, the now popular reineta, clams, mussels, oysters, scallops, and of course machas (the fabulous razor clam commonly eaten in soup, raw with salsa verdewhich is chopped onion and parsley, or a la parmesana! ).  A traditional favorite in Chile is the loco (abalone).  Over the years it has come in and out of the Chilean diet due to over-harvesting and resultant limits on the amount that can be taken, and of course the price varies, from high to higher.  Today they were selling medium sized out-of-the-shell locos for the equivalent of US$ 3.00 each. 

Chilean oysters

We brought home a whole merluza, fileted at the market, that Ximena sautéed with fresh herbs and dark green Chilean olive oil, and a bag of machas we baked in the oven with a drop of white wine and parmesan cheese sprinkled on top of each one.

We are in Chile now because in mid-November Chileans will elect a president to replace Sebastian Pinera, and since the two principal candidates are both women, daughters of air force generals who in spite of being colleagues and friends chose opposite sides in the military coup in 1973, the event should be memorable, in my mind worthy of up-close observation. 
We have been in Chile for a little more than a week and the cold snap now seems to have passed, so early spring turns to late spring and the electioneering is just beginning to warm up.  So, we are off to the  quaint port of Valparaiso for a couple of days, then maybe to the northern 4thregion, La Serena and pisco country (Limari and Elqui valleys), and there is even talk of a trip along the Carretera Austral, the new highway that runs south from Puerto Montt through continental Chiloe and Aisen, where the fiord and permanent glacier region of Chile begins.  This is the one part of Chile I am unfamiliar with, so I hope to have much to share with you in future postings as a result.

Posted in Santiago, Chile, on October 7, 2013 (on my Aunt Lucy Joslyn’s 103 birthday, which she is celebrating with friends in West Seneca, NY).

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David Joslyn
David Joslyn, after a 45-year career in international development with USAID, Peace Corps, The Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, and private sector consulting firms, divides his time between his homes in Virginia and Chile. Since 2010, David has been writing about Chile and Chileans, often based upon his experience with the Peace Corps in Chile and his many travels throughout the country with family and friends.
David Joslyn

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