Five observations on life in Santiago, Chile

Observation One: It must be difficult to be a newly single person in Santiago.

(No, I didn’t take these photos. Even I, photo taker extreme, draw the line at taking photos of strangers in intimate positions)

With my reluctant gimp like status impacting my ability to get out and about, my daily 15 minutes walks to my language school are the highlight of my day. In order to get to my Bellavista school I cut through a picturesque park complete with a fancy fountain and during this five minute portion of the journey, without fail, see hordes of couples in various stages of heavy petting. I may have inadvertently seen several children being conceived.

The reason a stroll through the park is akin to a soft core movie is not because Chileans are particularly hot blooded with permanently unsated libidos. The answer is that Chile is incredibly family orientated and unlike in NZ or the USA, where anyone who doesn’t move out at 18 is viewed a little negatively, most young Chileans live at home until marriage and have very little privacy when it comes to matters of amor. Thus, as Yali (my mama Chileana) put it, “El romance en Chile es MUY EXPLICITE”. Couples are forced to ‘get to know each other’ in public spaces – the park, bus stops, metro trains and so forth. As someone unused to so much extreme PDA I find it hilarious…and a little awkward, seeing eight different versions of unrestrained passion right in front of my eyes when I’m innocently limping my way to school. I can imagine in the immediate aftermath of a breakup, it could all be a bit much.

Observation Two: Chilean drivers DO NOT RESPECT the less able

Not so much an observation as an angry statement. Multiple times to and from language school, I’m tempted to scream “I’M FREAKING WALKING HERE” at the latest car driver unable to understand the concept of pedestrians. Apparently a walking boot, the light turning from red to green literally seconds before and my right of way mean very little to the majority of Chilean drivers I’ve come into contact with.

I’ve learnt the best way to approach the situation is to bitch stare the driver, march out like I own the road and when this doesn’t have the intended effect and I’m still in danger of death via vehicle, awkwardly scurrying to the other side of the road in a less than graceful manner.

Observation Three: Sometimes your fear of setting your host’s house on fire wins out over your want to take a shower in Chile.

This is my nemesis in Chile.

While I’ve always taken the ability to get hot water for granted – well not in my student flats in Wellington but that’s another story altogether – Chile has robbed me of this. In order to get hot water, one needs to turn this contraception on with a combination of gas and flames – never a combination I’ve been comfortable with. My first week in Chile, I refused to take a shower when I was home alone because of my firm conviction I would simultaneously burn down Yali’s house and set myself on fire.

This story actually has a silver lining as during my three week trip to Costa Rica during Winter Break 2009, I took great delight in annoying the shit out of my friend Faye, constantly exclaiming ‘Estoy inciendo!‘ (“I am on fire!”) Faye’s fury rose not just from my constant mispronunciation of the phrase but also from her conviction I would never, ever have a reason to use the phrase. The fact that I have now used the saying multiple times when fearfully explaining my concerns and timidly lighting the match whilst standing as far back from the calefon as humanly possible is the one benefit of my sometimes shower less state. I like to think that the writers of whichever guidebook I had the fortune to pick up and discover this phrase in had also had uncomfortable experiences with calefons.

Observation Five: These last 2 and a half weeks in Santiago are no doubt going to lead to a second-hand smoke related death

My poor baby New Zealand/American lungs aren’t used to the rampant smoking that exists anywhere social in Chile. I’ve had a cough that won’t go away and eyes that water ever since I started going out in Santiago and I fear for my chances of avoiding secondhand smoke deaths.

And one bonus observation for the day is that who says a level 3 sprained ankle with torn ligaments can stop you dancing until 5.30am? (Full disclosure: with sitting breaks every 30 minutes or so)

At my new Chilean local, Club Urban, with Katie and her iKwest boss Gonzalo