The International Writers Magazine: Dermot Sullivan in Chile
I am again in Santiago. The weather is strange here at the moment.
The mornings will be overcast but then the sun comes out and beats
down in the high thirties Celsius and bounces of the pavement
back at you. Its a direct heat from sunlight, not when we
have the muggy heat of the two weeks of what we call summer in
It rained the other
day and the placed cooled down for a bit. I watched Ireland play France
in the rugby on the telly the other day. It was at Lansdowne Road and
I really missed the feeling of Spring back in England or Ireland. It
may be cold, but the sun is low in the sky and warms your face and you
can feel the freshness of it all. Anyhow, that feeling didnt last
too long as France walloped Ireland and I was pissed off.
I have been travelling around since I wrote last. I have been to Argentina,
Uruguay, Brazil and briefly into Paraguay (but Im not really counting
that as it was just over the border). Sadly now Im back in Santiago
trying to adjust and make money.
I left home on the 12th January and flew to Buenos Aires, stopping off
at São Paulo (sadly there was no opportunity to get out and have
a look around. We circled around São Paulo a few times and I
could see how it was a giant concrete mega-city). I flew to Buenos Aires
this time as it was about £300 more to fly directly to Santiago
de Chile. If you get the bus to Santiago though it can cost about £40,
though it takes a hell of lot longer! It takes two hours to fly, but
a day to go by land.
My first introduction to B.A. was five hours or so waiting for my bus.
Id been on the go for over 24 hours and I wasnt in the mood
of sight-seeing. Instead I went shopping! Argentina is unbelievably
cheap! I know that people fly to New York for shopping but I think that
they would get a better bargain if they went to Buenos Aires. I bought
a black pair of trainers and a pair of black leather shoes (leather
goods are super cheap in Argentina) and in total for both it was around
£25! The only hassle was trying to find my size, which takes a
bit of time. The South American man tends to be rather shorter than
Buenos Aires bus station is really dodgy. Its full of thieves
who try to run off with gringos bags. There are security guards
who patrol with pistols in their holsters but they should really turn
their guns on the porters. It is impossible to find a trolley by yourself
as the porters control the whole thing like a mini-Mafia. Theres
one price for the locals and a ridiculously over-inflated one for gringos
like me. When you have three bags to carry then you dont have
too much of a choice but to pay up.
I was unable to get a direct bus to Santiago so had to go via Mendoza.
The bus broke down outside Mendoza but we were only delayed by about
90 minutes (which is not so long in the grand scheme of things). I then
took what is known as a colectivo which is like a shared taxi and/or
minibus. It was driven by a fool, so it took nine hours to get Santiago
(instead of the normal five). Anyhow, I had crossed the Andes and was
back in Chile. I arrived back in my flat on the night of 14th January.
One thing that I noted about the Argies is that theyre really
bloody touchy-feely. I sat next to a young boy on the way down from
London and he kept touching me everytime I spoke. When in Mendoza if
I spoke to someone for more than five minutes they would start touching
me too! Its something I could do without, to be honest.
True to form as soon as returned to Santiago I fell ill. Not as ill
as I was last year (thank God) but certainly not up for travelling.
I was also plagued with doubts about what on earth I was doing in Chile
for a second year. Then I did probably one of the most stupid things
Ive ever done. Despite my easy-going attitude, I am quite an intolerant
person. Im intolerant of peoples stupidity and things that
are totally avoidable (be it people showing down to look at accident
on the other side of the road or Third World poverty for me theyre
all avoidable). It hits me especially hard when then I do something
I stuck my passport in the washing machine. It was tucked
away safely in a pocket in a shirt. Some may argue my illness as an
excuse but I dont. I had entered on my Irish passport and
the spin-cycle obliterated it. I had to delay my travels (which in all
honesty I needed to do) and go to Policia Nacional and have a new entry
stamp issued to me
this bureaucratic procedures in Latin American
can take forever
it was really dumb of me
To be honest, I felt very strange travelling on an Irish passport. Its
not something Ive done since I was under sixteen and travelling
with my parents. Since Ive been in Chile Ive felt extremely
English. It was odd then returning home in December and feeling so out
I felt like even more of a misfit than I would feel
normally! It was then very strange to be Irish all of a
sudden. I never subscribed to that somewhat fascistic belief that blood
determines nationality. Being Irish in England is rather odd thing
its very private and is kept within the home. Its not likeYanks
who are professionally Irish. I would never go around and
proclaim my Irishness as Im so blatantly English, especially when
Im abroad and I seem to conform to so many of Johnny Foreigners
preconceptions of what an Englishman should be. Presenting an Irish
passport at customs felt very odd indeed. What is a nationality though
but a label? Who needs them? After all, wasnt it Kierkegaard who
said: You label me, you negate me? Maybe I am to be reborn
as something else. Maybe my washing machine is like a latter-day John
The Baptist? Anyhow, enough with my existential observations on life!
My travels were only delayed by a few days.
Morning: Telephone my Mother (like a good boy) and instruct her that
I may be incommunicado for the duration of my travels (as it turns out
later the world is full of internet cafés).
Afternoon: Get the bus to Buenos Aires. I happen to sit next to an Argentinean
called Santiago who works in Santiago. This amuses me. The air-conditioning
is not working in the bus. This does not amuse me. There are many screaming
kids too and old women who talk loudly. One of the small screaming kids
vomits on his grandma
this does amuse me. The toilet
starts to smell bad. This does not amuse me.
Evening: Cross into Argentina. Have to travel on my British passport
again, which somehow seems more natural. The bus pulls over for a bite
to eat outside of Mendoza and I get to chat with Santiago. He tells
me that when the Argie peso collapsed that they stopped labelling products
in supermarkets as nobody knew what anything cost anymore. How scary
I hope nothing like that ever happens in England.
Morning: Wake up as we are approaching Gran Buenos Aires. It has to
be noted that Chile really does have more attractive countryside. Argentina
is just flat and green and nothing more. I havent been to Patagonia,
but Ive been told that its flat and uninteresting.
I arrive in Buenos Aires main bus terminal. There I am greeted
by a selection of low-lives trying to offer me accommodation. I beat
a hasty retreat and bump into a Canadian fellow who takes me to a place
has been staying. Its a really lovely hostel and it only costs
£4 a night!
Afternoon: Wash and have a brief walk around. I dont get very
far but I like what I see. My hostel is down the road from Plaza de
Evening: Hook up with some Irish guys, some of whom play hurling for
Dublin (they were injured and were making the most of their time off).
Go out for a few drinks. Get back late (or early, depending on your
point of view). All the nightclubs are shut in Buenos Aires due to the
fire that took place just before New Years Eve last year. It killed
180 people, most of them teenagers. In true South American style the
fire exits had been shut.
Morning: Wake up late. Discover the hostel has no room from Thursday
night onwards as the weekend in will be busy due to a free Fatboy Slim
concert. Decide to go over the River Plate to Uruguay.
Afternoon: Buy a ticket to Uruguay. Visit the famous cemetery in Recoleta.
Its like a city of tombs and mausolea which house the great and
good of Buenos Aires. If you come from an upper-class family in B.A.
then you simply must be buried there. The place is huge.
Eva Peron is buried there as well.
Evening: Return to the hostel, where I am told that they do have room
for me for the weekend after all! Too late as I have the tickets for
Montevideo. In the hostel they have tango lessons, but thats not
my cup of tea.
Morning: Get up early, explore the city. Throughout my time though in
B.A. I never leave Buenos Aires proper. Gran (or Greater) Buenos Aires
is a massive sprawl that adds another 10 million people to the total
Afternoon: I walk out by the river and then down to the Irish embassy
to pick up a form to apply for a new passport. I do some more exploring
of the Recoleta area, which bizarrely has red telephone boxes and red
postboxes in an exact replica of England.
Evening: Eat well, but then I have been doing that everyday. I eat cheaply
too. In Buenos Aires you can have a steak meal for about £3! Go
to bed early as I have to get up early to go to Montevideo.
Morning: Wake up and yesterdays pair of underpants are missing.
No doubt some thieving Argie is wearing. I never buy underwear abroad
though. I mourn as they were a nice pair of Christmas boxer shorts from
my mother. Go to the ferry terminal on the river and get the boat to
Montevideo. It takes three hours to reach its destination. Meet a Swiss
girl on the boat.
Afternoon: Find a hotel with the Swiss girl. Have a brief look around
Montevideo. I fear it doesnt have much to offer and is strangely
empty for a capital city. Its buildings are also extremely ugly. They
are mostly built in the ghastly 1960s/70s modernistic style in grey
Evening: Find an excellent restaurant with the Swiss girl. We eat paella
and it costs practically nothing. I realise that the Swiss woman is
not the worlds best conversationalist. Unfortunate.
Morning: Sleep late. Go and have a late lunch with the Swiss girl. Make
plans for the next day.
Afternoon: Taxis are practically as cheap in Montevideo as using the
bus. However, after being driven at high speed by a maniac I dont
feel to well. Go to the main station and buy a ticket to Punta del Este
for the next day and a ticket for Buenos Aires for the day after. Punta
del Este is a famed beach resort on the Atlantic coast. After this I
head back to the hotel, and after being thrown around in the taxi again,
engage in a bout of vigorous projectile vomiting.
Evening: Go and eat a huge steak for not much money
not much else to do in Uruguay!
Morning: Catch bus to Punta del Este. Manage to somehow lose the Swiss
girl at whilst changing buses. We were due to part in Punta del Este
anyway but I feel rude for not saying goodbye.
Afternoon: Arrive in Punta del Este. South Americans will tell you that
its like their equivalent of Ibiza. Rubbish! Its totally
boring! It only comes to life between 2 and 5 in the morning. Its
full of inhabitants from Buenos Aires who are there to pose. It also
costs a hell of lot more than the rest of Uruguay. What a waste of time.
At least I get to see the South Atlantic.
Evening: Go back to Montevideo. Plan my escape
about the 60th Anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz on the television
in my room
Morning: Pay up at the hotel. Walk around Montevideo. There are seemingly
very few people who live in the city, despite a population of 1.3 million.
The streets have been practically empty since I arrived. I take photos
of the ghost town and its ugly architecture. In fact, many of the buildings
are empty and are collapsing. Montevideo certainly has seen better days.
I take the long way towards the ferry port and have a look around.
Afternoon: Board the ferry and take the three hour trip towards Buenos
Aires. I certainly appreciate the capital of Argentina a lot more now
that Ive seen how dull its neighbour is.
Uruguayans have an extremely good reputation in South America. They
are known for being very warm and friendly. They also do fall victim
to the various prejudices that other nations suffer. For example, the
Peruvians and Bolivians dont care for the Chileans much, and likewise.
Chile and Argentina have a rivalry, as do Brazil and Argentina. If you
ask a South American though theyll generally tell you positive
things about Uruguayans.
Its true: they are very warm and friendly. Its also a country
that really suffered when the Argentine Peso collapsed. I discovered
from the Swiss girl I was travelling with that Uruguay has very similar
banking laws to Switzerland. The Argies, who are famed for their taxophobia
like their Italian brethren, used to keep all their dollars secretly
stored in Montevideo. When the Argentinean peso collapsed the Argentines
simply withdrew all their money from Uruguay. The Uruguayan economy
therefore went down the toilet too. Montevideo is falling apart and
the country is suffering a huge emigration problem as work is so scarce.
I feel very sorry for them.
Argentineans like Uruguay because it is a bit of timewarp. The cars
are old, the fashions are ridiculously old. Youll often find horse
and carts selling fruit and vegetables. People from Buenos Aires find
their city stressful (it isnt) and like to chill out in Uruguay.
An aside: the Uruguayans drink mate like the English drink tea! In one
hand they carry the mate mug which is three-quarters full of the mate
herb. In the other hand they carry a thermos of boiling water.
Evening: Return to the same hostel in Buenos Aries. Eat and sleep.
Well, thats about it for now. Ill write again after Easter.
I wish you all a happy festive period. Ill be unwinding with a
copy of Mel Gibsons The Passion Of The Christ or something
equally as tasteful on Chilean television. Whatever the hell I watch
itll be sure to reinforce my atheism.
Next month: Read how Dermot gets on with his egomaniac brethren in Argentina!
Read about his adventures with Colombians! Read how he goes north to
Brazil! Read his ponderings on life! Read how he is reunited with his
underpants! Its all really interesting, honest!
© Dermot Sullivan March 2005
Year in Santiago
Dermot Sullivan's Chile Diary
Gringo - Diary Entry 2
From Santiago No 3
Diary No 4
Diary No 5
The Naruda House
Dermot Sullivan No 6
Week in Bolvia:
Dermot Sullivan's Diary No.7
No 8: Mendoza
Diary No 9
North & South
Chile Diary 13
Chile Diary 14
about Dermot in Chile in Hacktreks
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