Friday, November 21, 2003


Well, I have to admit, those first couple of days in Santiago were a bit miserable. I met approximately NO people at all, spoke about 20 words to another human being, and slept about 6 hours. But all that changed yesterday.....

I was supposed to meet up with Paula (girl I met on the plane) the night before for drinks, but when I called her she said that she couldn�t make it, but that the following day she would be going to Valparaiso with her brother to visit her grandmother and did I want to join them? (wow, long sentence!) So of course I said yes, and decided to pack my bags and move to Valparaiso, despite having no idea what it was like. That night I changed rooms as I didn�t want to spend another night in that noisy room. My new room was on the fourth floor, and had a big window that let in the sun. As soon as I moved into this room I felt better. It�s amazing how much having sunlight in a room can change your mood! I woke up yesterday morning feeling good for the first time since being here. I had finally had a good nights sleep and the sun was shining onto my bed, and also I actually had a plan for the day!

Paula was picking me up at 12, so I went for breakfast at a cafe near my hotel. For the first time I sat down at the table, and when the waitress asked if I wanted a menu, I said "No gracias, Quisiera un Sandwch Churassco Italiano y una caffe con leche por favor" and she smiled and nodded and walked away to get my breakfast!!! Hooray! This amazing feat of fluency was actually achieved by ordering exactly what I had the day before, plus 10 mins spent studying the menu in the window outside... :) After my sandwich of thinly sliced beefsteak, avocado, tomato and mayonaisse (mmmmmm), I headed to the elecric shop, where I successfully asked for a transformer ("transformer" en espanol) but unsucessfully didn�t find one to fit my stupid bloody sony MD player. Then i went back to the hotel to wait for my ride.

At 12 there was a phone call for me. "Billleee! I am so sorry, we are running a bit late! We�ll be there about 1 ok?". No problemo I say, and go back to reading my book about working class irish people eating pigs heads. At 1:30 I get another call. "Ello? Billy? Ehhhhhhhhh, iz brother from paula....ahhhhh... Paula says... ehhhhhhhhh...... she... ehhhhhhhhh.....mmmmm.......otel...... ahhhh.... 30 minutes....... ok?". No problemo.

At about 2:15 Paula turns up and I meet her brother Alfredo and we all jump in the car. Finally I start to feel the excitement of being on the road in a strange country again! 24 hours ago I was lying in my cell of a room staring at the ceiling wondering what to do, now I�m speeding along the highway with two new friends to a place called valparaiso, listening to pumping latino music and being asked if I like to smoke marijuana.... things are looking up. When we drive into Valparaiso I am blown away. It�s the coolest town ever. It�s hard to describe but I�ll do my best. There is a semi-circle of hills surrounding a harbour bay, with a flat area at the base of the hills. The whole area is completely covered in buildings. The buildings down on the flat are larger and make up the downtown area with all the shops, offices etc, but the hills are just completely covered in the most motley collection of houses ever. Every one is a different size, a different colour, facing a different direction. It�s like it was designed by an anarchist architects convention. The whole area has become a world conservation site, so there are buildings that are crumbling and falling down next door to beautiful restored houses and everything just seems to complement everything else. Now, the hills are not rolling hills, they are like pimples sticking out of the ground: small in diameter but tall; making them very steep. And yet somehow the buildings just perch there on the sides, some of them on 50-60 degree slopes! To get to the top of each of the pimple hills, you can walk thru a wet little tunnel that takes you underneath the hill, and then get in a lift (more like a metal box attatched to a rope) that lifts you to the top! Once at the top the views are mindblowing. The whole area is a haven for artists and the goverment are trying to promote it as the cultural capital of chile, so the place has a very bohemian feel. There are murals on the walls of houses and bright colourful buildings everywhere.

As soon as we arrived we had a quick bifter and then wandered around giggling and taking photos. We met so many funny people that day! First we went to get a drink from a little bottle stall in a quiet little area on one of the hills. The old lady running the stall was really sweet, and Paula started chatting with her about tourists, and she said it was a shame she couldn�t speak english, because she would like to be able to chat with the tourists. So, we decided to teach her one line of english, and wrote it out in spanish phonetics so she could read it. "cud...yoo...giv...mee...sum...sing....too...reee.....mem.....bver....yoo...bai.....?"... She tried to read it but every time she got to about the 4th syllable she would burst into fits of laughter and have to start again. She was so amazed that she could speak english just by reading those sounds.... it was quite a moment. :) Later we tried to drive to Paula�s relatives house, but the way the town is designed makes finding anything virtually impossible. To make it even more difficult loads of it is one way and on 60 degree slopes. We stopped at a red light and asked for directions from a very smart looking businessman wearing a suit and holding a document case. He started by saying hello to the 3 of us in the car including me in the back, and then launched into the most animated directions I�ve ever seen, waving his arms everwhere. Apparantly he was quite the comedian, coming out with lines like "then you take a right, but just cos you �take�a right, doesn�t mean you should �take� drugs! ahahaha! then you go...."! A few minutes into his speech, the lights changed, and the cars behind started honking their horns for us to move. This guy just waved a dismissive hand at the cars behind and said in english "One moments, one moments!" before carrying on as if they weren�t there. Anyway despite his lengthy directions, we ended up asking for directions after literally every single turn, and then being told to go back the way we had come. It really struck me how different the people here are to in england. In england, most people would rather drive around lost for an hour before they pluck up the courage to do that most terrible act of talking to a stranger. Even then, if the directions fail they�ll drive around for another hour before asking again! This is quite strange, because in most of england (not big city centres) people are always happy to help you out if you ask. Here it�s completely different. I often got the impression that Paula already knew the people she was talking to from the way they spoke to one another.

Eventually we found the place and soon I had found a nice hostel to stay at. So I checked in and Paula and her brother went to have dinner with their grandmother and promised to to pick me up at 10:30pm..."mmmm, no make that 11 to be on the safe side".... to go out on the town. At 12am I was still sitting on the steps outside the hostel having a few beers with some guys from the hostel. At the end of our alleyway a film crew was setting up for a shoot. Some film directed by a german woman about a guy meeting an old version of himself in an alleyway or something. When they arrived at some time after 12 we headed off to try and find a bar that was still open. Twice we had to walk thru the film set going "sorry... sorry...sorry....". The only bars still open seemed to be a long strip of salsa bars, all almost identical playing the same music and full of people dancing salsa. We decided these were too expensive and eventually found a bar and started drinking the unfortunately named local spirit, Pisco. Today i am still suffering from the after effects of this Pisco stuff. In fact I think i need a lie down..... all this writing is making me dizzy....

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