Archive for July, 2012

The Santiago Pub Crawl

July 30, 2012

The Santiago Pub Crawl tours around Barrio Bellavista attempting to pass on knowledge of a variety of different bars and nightclubs for different tastes. It wasn’t to mine. I’ve been on a lot of these organised pub crawls in Europe and some have been better than others but generally the idea is that you can see the most interesting bars a place has and meet people who speak English. Generally these bars are unusual and/or popular. On this one however, it felt at certain points as if the nondescript bars had been rented out – they were completely empty before we arrived. My gut feeling upon entering was that places like that are generally unpopular for a reason. Los Diamantes, our second bar was one such place.

Once we had all piled in, a man with a microphone got on to a stage and got women from different countries to come with him. Then, once in front of everyone, he got them to dance reggaeton with a man from California who ‘loved his f***ing job man’. It felt like a meat market, with women gyrating into this man’s crotch while he shook behind them with a face like a jock at a frat party; and the whole room chanting and pointing and cheering.

While walking between bars, they would get us to stop occasionally for photos. One of the organisers would scream to the group that we all have to scream “Santiago pub crawl” and then this huge group of people would just shout back at them with a noise not dissimilar to hooligans at a football match. He even got us to stop at the small amphitheatre area in front of La Chascona and scream “Hello Pablo Neruda” which just seemed absurd. I don’t want to think that Pablo Neruda’s walls are now three days a week an ear for boorish drunk foreigners. The organisers continually encouraged loutish behaviour even though a lot of the people I chatted to were nothing like that and felt awkward being pushed into it. If you don’t do it, you feel like a party pooper – You’re not (I’m really not!).

The third bar too was empty and nondescript and we were pushed into an upstairs area which must have been reserved for us. Seeing the function room of a place doesn’t really give you an idea of the vibe and it just feels awkwardly like speed-dating – looking around and trying to find someone to talk to when nothing around you inspires. Obviously it is still a good place to meet people and the crawl gives you the space and inhibition to be able to do that, but it would be far better if the surroundings sparked conversation and weren’t just random spaces for people to get drunk.

Eventually, the club at the end was a decent enough place to round up the night but mostly I was happy to shake off the shackles of the pub crawl and relax. There was pretty much only time for one drink in each other place sometimes not even that, so having the opportunity to sip rather than shot was appreciated.

The fact is you will never get to know what a bar is actually like until you go on your own terms, but often these pub crawls are ways to find bars you can return to while you’re here.

I won’t be returning to any of these.

The Santiago Pub Crawl is CLP10,000 and goes every Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 10pm at Lyrics bar on Ernesto Pinto Lagarrigue 257. This includes free beer at the first bar and a free shot at every other.

Film Review: Nostalgia de la Luz

July 29, 2012

I saw Nostalgia de la Luz last week with high expectations, since most critics reviewed it very highly.  It is based in the Atacama Desert, which I have researched extensively in preparation for my trip there next week.

A part of me left disappointed. The film itself has two focal points – the astronomers in the desert and the people still recovering from the Pinochet regime. The former includes many drawn out shots of telescopes and the night sky and, albeit an incredible sight, it feels slow and slightly contrived. Many of the links that Guzman makes between the two also seem coincidental rather than meaningful, and therefore don’t glue the sections together as well as was probably intended.

However, the latter focus was a superbly tender and a poignant insight into the Chileans who are still trying to move on from their harrowing experiences in the 1970s and 80s. It’s a reminder of how recent the atrocities of that government are, and an indictment of the current administration that these people are not helped more and held in higher esteem.

One of the main focuses is on the ‘Women of Calama’ who search the Atacama for the remains of their dead loved ones. Though many of the original women have stopped looking, some remain, now in their sixties and seventies.

Every day they walk into the desert, picking up pieces of bleached white bones, kicking at hardened areas of the ground to see if there are hidden remains beneath.

One lady tells the camera, “We are the lepers of Chile.”

The narrator continues along this vein, attempting to show that the official history of Chile seems to stop in 1973 because the government and army won’t face it.  This sort of “end of history”, I noticed, was a recurring theme elsewhere as well.

Yesterday, I visited the National History Museum in Chile which has artifacts, paintings, and descriptions of numerous periods in Chilean history. Much of it is focused on the 18th and 19th centuries, and the massive changes in these stages moving from Spanish rule to independence, and eventually to a democratic government.

However, everything seemed to fall in to place for me when in the final room of the museum, history ends at Allende’s broken glasses.

The film is available to buy on DVD in US format and is on general release in the UK at the moment.  It costs 600 pesos to visit the National History Museum. If you want English translation, remember to ask at the ticket office as all signs are in Spanish.

Rules of Dorm Living.

July 26, 2012

After a harrowing experience of non-sleep today, I feel it is important that we lay out a few ground-rules of how to act when staying in a dorm within a hostel. Sure, you don’t lose anything by random people hating you (other than perhaps some potential friends) but it’s about consideration. Many of the things I am about to say happened to me this morning at around 7.30am.

1. No talking. Whispering is still talking. If you and someone else both wake up before the others in a room that doesn’t mean you should wake everyone else up. There are social areas for this.

2. When you get up, get down to breakfast as soon as possible. You can do all the stuff you want to do after breakfast when others will probably be up, but trying to get completely ready for your day (unless you really have to) when everyone else has to listen to you zipping and un-zipping over and over again is just not fair on them which leads me to…

3. Once you’ve opened your suitcase just leave it open! You do not need to zip it back closed every time you take out one item of clothing!

4. Don’t bring 4 suitcases full of stuff with you, I mean, unless you’re moving house or something. It’s just absurd and…

5. Don’t then store said suitcases by the head of someone else when they’re sleeping so that you have to unzip and drag it around right by their face.

6. Don’t walk around naked. It might be a female dorm and okay in your culture but I’m British – my socially awkward mind can’t deal with it especially when I’m trying to cast you evil looks from my bed.

7. Never put any of your belongings in plastic bags that you might actually use. And if you need to do this for some reason, take them out of their bags when you arrive because that has to be the most annoying noise when you’re trying to sleep… rustle….rustle….rustle.

8. The universal sound/action for ‘Please shut up, I’m trying to sleep’ is the over-emphasised turning over pulling the sheet so that it makes a loud noise. If someone does that, try and hurry up with what you’re doing and get out, or go back to sleep.

And finally…

9. The light stays OFF.

Feel free to add your own! But I think this pretty much sums up how I’m feeling right now!

Santiago a pie.

July 24, 2012

On Sunday I went on the free walking tour advertised everywhere in Santiago for English speakers. Our guide, Antonio, spoke incredible English with the vocabulary of a local, without having ever left Chile. Many things make me realise how bad language teaching is in Britain, but this was the pinnacle: I learnt Spanish for seven years in England and I can barely string a sentence together. This guy has done four years and is pretty much fluent.

Anyway, as a person on my own, the tour turned out to be a great place to meet people, due to the huge amount of conversation starters. The history of Chile is an interesting one that we followed almost chronologically with descriptions of the buildings, monuments and barrios. One of the most interesting sections of the tour was at the statue of Allende. Antonio described and showed us where the tanks arrived from when the army attacked La Moneda (the presidential palace) in 1973. Many of the others didn’t know much about the recent history and there was a group felt shiver of the spine when he told the story.

I got on particularly well with two other women on the trip who were also on their own – Brita from Zurich and Amy from Melbourne. Over very strong pisco sours in Providencia, we realised we all have Swiss dads and friendships were born. Whether it was the Swiss thing or the alcohol that allowed us to click remains to be seen.

The group then travelled to Bellavista (my current home) and saw one of Pablo Neruda’s houses. In the small amphitheatre below Antonio said “If you know Neruda, you know Chile”. Luckily I have his biography with me and selected poems. I will have to go back another day when I’ve read up on him to actually go inside and look around.

After the tour, Antonio took us for terremoto (earthquake) – a Chilean drink which mixes sweet fermented white wine (pipeño) with pineapple ice-cream so-called because of its apparent lethal effect. We also shared empanadas and our Chilean introduction was complete. I had also had an empanada for lunch so I was literally so Chilean it hurt. I can see myself eating far too many of these pastries – exactly what happens if I go to France. For the British among you, the empanada is pretty much exactly the same as a Cornish pasty. The big ones even look the same. The smaller ones however, that we got to share here, are more puffed up and the pastry a lot thinner. We really should start doing that in Britain – just take the Cornish pasty and make them smaller and put them out to share at pubs. It would work. Definitely. I think I have a new career waiting for me when I get back.

Estoy en Santiago. Buenos Días.

July 21, 2012

26 hours. It took me 26 hours to finally arrive at my hostel here in Santiago de Chile.. The flight was almost unbearable but then, at around 7am, the sun began to rise and I looked out the window to see the peaks of the Andes rising up into the clouds. You think for a moment the flecks of snow are clouds they sit so close to you. Stills from the film ‘Alive’ began to flash through my head. I am also five hours behind and have spent a considerable amount of time lying down since I arrived

Anyway, eventually, I decided to get on with my day. I had a few errands to run and walked through Barrio Bellavista, trying out my rusty Spanish on local traders. The place is like no-where I’ve been before. Wide pavements run alongside busy one-way streets and crumbling European style mansions. Dust is kicked up with every step and the smog is immediately apparent when you look up at the  San Cristobel hill peering at you through the dirty window of the air. It’s beautiful.

Although everything is very European in design, nothing feels it. In Bellavista in the morning, everything is so tranquilo, you can barely find a place for a coffee. Once afternoon comes, armies of artisans open their doors and pub-goers can shop in between drinks. On the streets of this boho barrio, mozaic pavement stones glimmer beneath your feet while immense graffiti rises across shop fronts and bars. Colour is in everything.  

I am excited. I hope that you, dear readers, are too.