I have been back in the UK for a few weeks now and as well as getting back into things here I have had a chance to process my thoughts and think back to my time in Chile. I generally always find it hard to readjust to being back home after a great trip, in fact this has probably been the case with every trip since China and North Korea in 2010, and Chile is no exception.
Latin America is a region of the world that has always fascinated me since I was young. To start with my main area of interest was Central America, specifically Nicaragua and Costa Rica, and I never had much of an urge to visit South America. However, after my visit to Central America in 2012 this changed as I realised I really like the atmosphere of Latin America. Of course every country has a different culture and identity, as the region is so big, but I started looking further afield and decided that one day I would like to visit either Ecuador or Chile before then exploring more of South America. So when I had the chance to visit my friend Steven in Chile I could not say no, and I am glad I went.
This trip was slightly different to previous ones in that I stayed in a friend’s house and a rented apartment instead of hotels, I was visiting a friend instead of travelling on my own or with an overland group, and I went with no real itinerary compared to the fairly detailed plan that I usually have. As a result, my thoughts about this trip were always going to be different, and I was always going to end up liking this trip more, but I definitely really enjoyed my time in Chile. The people, the food, the experiences, the sights, the memories and the atmosphere have made this a trip that I will remember for a long time.
Because I had no real plan we spent a lot of our time just walking around visiting places that Steven thought I should see, without having to be at a set place at a set time, and this meant that we saw lots of things that we wouldn’t have done otherwise. This part of the post is mainly for my benefit as I am in the process of creating a printed book with my travel blog for the past 10 years and don’t want to forget anything over time, and also to give me an excuse to post some of the photos from the trip that I have not had a chance to post so far. It may seem a little disjointed compared to the rest of this blog but it’s necessary.
One thing I found out during my visit is how different the labour market, and related areas, are in Chile compared to those that I am used to in The UK. During one of my days in Santiago we were entering a metro station and passed an old lady who was playing a musical instrument and Steven explained that she is a retired teacher who can’t afford to live in the city on her pension and so has to busk on the street to get extra money. Near the Plaza de Armas there was also a big department store which was closed the entire time I was in the city due to a workers strike. Apparently the workers felt that they were not being treated properly so all went on strike, blockaded the store entrances and were making a large amount of noise. It seems that the labour market is a lot more controlled in The UK, in that workers have better protections but conversely there are more regulations about when and how strikes can take places.
I mentioned it briefly in my blog posts about Santiago but every time I travel to Latin America I love how much more they embrace the outdoors compared to how much it is embraced in The UK. Things have improved a lot in The UK in the past 10 years, I think partly due to a change in culture but also partly due to the ban on smoking in indoor public areas which came into force in 2007 meaning more people have to spend time outside, but even in the summer we still don’t spend as much time outside as they do around the world. Santiago makes good use of its outdoor space, with a number of avenues, parks, plazas etc that would probably have been developed and sold off as building opportunities in The UK in addition to restaurants with a lot of outdoor seating.
Something that would not have been as apparent if I had stuck to the tourist areas and the centre of the city is the divide between the “haves” and the “have nots”. During my time in Santiago I had a chance to visit one of the affluent areas, Las Condes, and a couple of areas of the city where the average worker lives. The properties in the affluent areas and those in other areas, such as Las Condes, are almost a world apart from each other. There is a divide in The UK, for example council estates vs Kensington, but it seems more noticeable in Chile. However, I enjoyed seeing the “real” Santiago, where the average Chilean lives, and would have hated sticking in the sterile affluent areas of the city for my whole time there as they have no character.
The apartment I stayed in was somewhere in the middle. It was close to the city centre but was small and functional and, as I mentioned earlier in this blog, was all that we really needed. Here are a few photos, which I have not been able to include in the blog so far.
Chile appears to be a country that, while discrimination is still prevalent due to the influence of the Catholic Church and historical prejudices, is progressing forward. For example, there have been homophobic murders, most notably that of Daniel Zamudio, and homosexuality was only decriminalised in 1999, but conversely there is a popular pride parade, a popular drag scene and a bill permitting civil unions was recently passed by the Chilean Parliament. The opinion of the Catholic Church still makes a big difference in Chile, so the country is behind many in the area on civil rights, but it appears that the people want to do something about it. There is crime in the country but I did not personally see any luckily and I overwhelmingly found it to be an open and welcoming part of the world.
I don’t claim to be an expert on Chile when comparing the situation there to the situation in The UK, the above points are just my opinion based on what I saw during my time there and what I have heard by speaking to people that know more than me and it is possible I could be wrong on a number of opinions. My visit has peaked my interest in the country and I definitely want to learn more about it, both after returning to The UK and also by returning in the future. My current plan is to return again on my next trip unless something else comes up, either next year or the year after, and to spend half of the time visiting Santiago and the other half visiting other parts of the country. The scenery in this part of the world is so spectacular and in the future I would love to visit Patagonia, the Atacama Desert, the wine producing regions and Easter Island in addition to other countries in the area. I have no urge to visit Brasil at all at the moment, least of all Rio di Janeiro due to how dangerous it can be, but I want to see more of what South America has to offer.
Before I return I definitely need to improve my level of Spanish so that I don’t have to rely on Steven when I am in the city, and so I can visit other areas of the country with ease. I studied Spanish to GCSE level at school but unfortunately didn’t speak it again for a number of years afterwards. I did some revision in advance of my visit to Central America in 2012, and have been relearning it for the past 9 months now, but I still have a lot of work to do. The only problem is that Chilean Spanish is very different to the Spanish that I have heard, in that they use a lot of slang and also have hard to understand accents. I watched a video that was posted on YouTube by some Christian Missionaries last year which said that most of the people from their mission who visit Chile don’t understand anything for the first month despite being proficient in the language. This is something that I want to work through, however, but it will require a lot of practice.
Overall I would highly recommend Chile to anybody who wants to visit South America. You won’t be disappointed. While I have no plans to move out of the UK at the present time, as this is my home, Chile is definitely a country that I could see myself being ok living in if I was ever offered a work transfer at some time in the future.
To finish, here are some final photos that I want to post on my blog but have so far been unable to use.
Chile… I love you and really miss you but I will be back soon!