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.

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