21st Century
The Future
World Travel
Books & Film
New Original Fiction
Opinion & Lifestyle
News Analysis
Film Space
Movies in depth
Kid's Books
Dreamscapes Two
More Original Fiction
Lifestyles Archive
Politics & Living

The International Writers Magazine
: Buenos Airies and other stories

Dermot Sullivan's Chile Diary
Number 12

Life plods on here in Santiago. I am doing a very good impression of someone with not enough work, even less money and a rapidly mounting credit card debt. Still, the weather is still fine despite Chileans telling me that the summer is over. It’s hard to feel that when the temperature can still reach the thirties Celsius.

The television in Chile plumbed new depths over Easter with five out of the six channels showing Hollywood Jesus-type films. The best one was a Japanese animated cartoon of the story of Abraham and Isaac cartoon (dubbed into Spanish of course). Just as Abraham was about to burn Isaac the voice of God appeared and said ‘Hey, Abraham, only joking! I promise you I won’t test you again’. It was watching this that I realised that God was a pig for making Abraham do that. The cartoon was really freaky as well because Isaac was a happy Japanese animated cartoon boy who really wanted to be sacrificed as he loved his father and he loved God as well. Bloody hell.

My personal highlight was seeing Charlton Heston is no less than three films. In one of them (I don’t know what it was called because I would never watch more than five to ten minutes of this dross) he was John the Baptist. What must the psychology of this man be like if he is forever playing God’s representative on earth?

This Easter more things were open than last year. People still panic-buy on Maundy Thursday in case nothing is open over the Holy Weekend. The shops were emptied of bread, meat and diary products by the afternoon. There was more life this year however. My former flatmate arrived last year on Good Friday and Santiago was like a ghost town. When he popped out to the supermarket (which had precious little in it) he was greeted by a man outside the shop on a step bent over exposing his sphincter to the world. We came to view that moment as a metaphor for my former flatmate’s year in Chile. He never saw ‘Sphincterman’ again, but then how would he recognise him? Still, it was a moment he will treasure forever.

Easter is a great psychological change for Chileans. For us it means that summer is en route, whereas for them it means that winter is NOW and they become immediately depressed. The fact that it never gets really cold seems not a factor into their thinking. Maybe they’re thinking how terrible the pollution will be (it will be). This year it doesn't seem to have hit them so hard. Last year after Easter they all started dressing like Puritans. I thought the nation had gone into mourning or something!

Chileans are very light sensitive people, much more so that English people. At home we’re used to the thin light and make do with it. When the suns comes out in March and April then it improves everyone’s spirits, but we are not plunged so headlong into a winter depression as Chileans. We just become more introspective, whilst they want to kill themselves.

It does have its effects on us though. We are a much darker people in our thoughts than Chileans. Whilst I was at home I took advantage of the ‘3 for 2’ book offers (books are cheaper in England than in Chile, bizarrely). It’s always easy to find the first two books, but then finding the third ‘free’ one is near impossible. I found myself choosing ‘Gulag: The History Of The Soviet Concentration Camp’! There’s no way I’d read something like that in Chile! After I left home I discovered that the documentary series about Auschwitz had beaten ‘Celebrity Big Brother’. Some people think that’s a good thing … I’m not so sure. Anyhow, in January the British public seem to want to watch something truly dark. So be it.
Actually, Chileans can be given to ‘dark thoughts’. One in four Santiaguinos suffer from some form of mental illness! As well as schizophrenia and plain old depression, there is an extraordinary high figure of people who suffer from obsessive compulsive disorder. Chileans feel isolated by geography (desert to the north, mountains to the east, the ocean to the west and a vast expanse of forest to the south) and that they’re in the arse-end of the world. They suffer from a shockingly low level of self-confidence.

The dictatorship really took its toll here, with people only just coming up for air. The church is extremely repressive and the reason that there is little sex education and until last November, no divorce law. The latter has created the most complicated set-ups for people’s families, as one could never divorce. One could get an annulment, a system so ridiculous that it’s almost unbelievable! If you want an annulment, you take two friends with you and you tell the registrar that the address you put on the marriage certificate was incorrect so therefore it is invalid … et voila! It’s not surprising that precious few Chileans aren’t lunatics. Not to be a lunatic in Chile shows true character. In Europe we imagine South Americans to be happy and dancing all the time – that’s Brazil. The psyche of the rest of continent is so complicated in would give you a headache to think about it.

The other week I went to the city’s Basque Centre to have a look. I was shown around by a Basque girl who answered all my Basque questions. I watched then play their Basque ball games and their fiendishly complicated card game called Muz. The Basque ball game comes in many forms. There is a version that is like squash but played with the flat palm of your hand instead of a racquet. Another version is similar but played with flat bats or paddles called a paleta or a pala corta. The most famous version is called jai-alai (which translates as ‘merry festival’). Outside of the Basque Country it is played mostly in Miami. It’s like the English games fives (not played much nowadays) but the hook-like gloves you used are made out of wicker. They are called xare or cesta punta (depending on the language you choose). It is the fastest games in the world, the ball capable of reaching speeds of hundreds of miles an hour. The court is not surprisingly rather long!

Some Basques there thought I was Basque too because of my face. Apparently the Irish and Basques have facial similarities (scientists have pointed to certain DNA links that are specific to only two nationalities). This was a window of opportunity for some of them to question me about Irish politics, a subject I never really like to talk about with people who aren’t Irish (part of it being that I have to go back to 1169, Cromwell, the plantation of the north, 1916, 1921, 1968 … blah blah blah). A lot of the Basques who were there were older people who had left Spain because of Franco regime. It would be safe to say that their understanding of the situation of Ireland was somewhat coloured by their support of Basque independence and the various organisations who would have ties with those in Ireland of similar aspirations. After a short question and answer session about Ireland (not one I had wanted to give) I was asked about the north. I simply told them that I didn’t want to comment and received a hearty pat on the back. It’s no surprise that at least two ETA men on the run have turned up working as waiters in the restaurant in that centre. Interestingly enough the girl who was showing me around didn’t have time for that bollocks. It tends to be exiles and their children who go in for that rubbish. By that logic I should be a volunteer in the IRA, so maybe it’s a condition of the Americas.

Despite my anti-nationalist tendencies, I went to a St. Patrick’s do recently. I tend to avoid them like the plague but I was obliged to go as it was organised by a friend. This one was all right actually as Paddy’s Nights go. It was full of Irish people for change (as opposed to wannabes). It was full of live music and was jolly enjoyable. It’s a shame that there is no such party to for St. George’s Day. What in earth does in mean to be English anyway? I can’t stand those flag waving fascists back home who claim they represent Englishness … As far I’m concerned, one of the best things about being English is that it isn’t tied to any of that crap. Anyone can be English. You don’t need to be anything to be English (a sense of humour is required). To be French is very prescriptive: you must fall into line or you are not French (how humourless!). To be English is the antithesis of all that. Who are the English now anyway but a multitude of different races blended together, maybe even more so than the Yanks but without the (upfront) racism … gosh; this is far too heavy going! A Chilean chap (one of the few normal ones) told me recently that I was so complicated that I was like a bowl of spaghetti! Maybe he had a point. Time to relax.

Anyhow, the rest of this is about my travels. I would urge everyone back at home reading this to quit their jobs and go travelling. If you haven’t got enough money to do it then steal some!

The Bolivian Border- Photos D Sullivan

Monday 31.01.05:
Morning: Wake up and I am in Buenos Aires. Clean myself. Discover my missing underpants. Promise that I will never let something that I keep so close to me disappear again.
Afternoon: Change Uruguayan pesos into Argentinean pesos. I don’t seem to get a lot back, though it has to be said that the Uruguayan peso does go far - food is cheap and there isn’t anything else to spend it on (unless you want some serious fashion victim clothes).
Photo: La Boca

Go to an internet café, where a young man starts to speak English to me … and starts asking me about the Falklands. He tells me that his father was high up in the military … despite the fact I don’t want to have the conversation he won’t go away. I have to confess I find it quite interesting though. He says that the Argentinean military effort was run by idiots (this is true) but he also has some strange ideas about Britain. Most Latin Americans are confused by my Christian name and so I have to explain that to them that it’s Irish and that my parents are Irish. Then I have to explain to them that I am actually English. This fool in front of me then wants to know whether it was hard being British and supporting the IRA … it would seem that for a long-time Argentinean news reported the IRA as the legitimate voice of the Irish people, probably due to both ignorance and sour grapes over the Falklands. I wearily leave the conversation at this point. Go to the main bus station. Find a ticket to Iguaçu Falls in Brazil for £13! Bargain!
Evening: Eat well. Drink. Sleep. Feel very happy with myself that I am in Buenos Aires, once of the best cities in the world.
Tuesday 1.02.05:
Morning: Get up early to on a trip to the La Boca area of Buenos Aires. I go with an organised tour with my hostel. Get the bus down as it can be quite rough outside the touristy area. La Boca (meaning ‘the mouth’) is where the immigrants would all arrive in the 19th Century in Buenos Aires. The tourist area is the colourful artistic haunt known as the ‘Caminito’, which is the name of a famous tango song. The houses are coloured bright reds, pinks and blues … I wish Santiago had as much vitality.
Afternoon: Watch tango as I eat pasta. Go and check out some of the original immigrant tenements (though they have been done up for the tourists). They are thirty rooms and there used to be a family to a room. Buenos Aires really was a melting pot of cultures. After this we go to ‘La Bombonera’ the stadium of Boca Junior. Its name means a ‘chocolate box’ because the tiers of the stadium are stacked up so close together, just like a chocolate box. The fans are very close to the pitch so there is protective perspex to protect the players from flares being thrown at them! Sadly the season does not start until the middle of February so I can’t get to see a match. Inside the stadium building is museum/shrine to that cheating dog Maradona. The less said about that the better (by the way, the Spanish language spellchecker on this computer tried to change ‘dog’ to ‘god’. For some reason Latins just love the gobshite, even computers it would seem!) As I get the bus through La Boca I can see that the place is as rough as old boots. These people would rob the teeth out of your head if they had the opportunity. I stay on the bus.
Evening: Avoid the tango lessons in the hostel. Sadly all the nightclubs are still closed because of the big fire so I have to party in pubs or at the hostel.
Wednesday: 2.02.05:
Morning: Get up early and go on a trip to the Recoleta area of Buenos Aires. I go with an organised tour with my hostel. Go to the area’s cemetery that I went to last week, except this time I have someone to show me around. Last week the batteries in my camera ran out so now I have the opportunity to take more photos. Discover all the disgusting things that were done to the bodies of the Peróns. Not only was weird stuff done to Eva’s body (I don’t want to go into that) but military junta cut of the fingers of Juan Perón’s corpse in the hope of using his fingerprints to break into his Swiss bank account.
Afternoon: Go and have lunch in a nice bistro-like café. Recoleta is the expensive part of town. It has a reputation for being quite snobbish too. They have red telephone boxes and postboxes here in a direct copy of England. I take a wander through the buildings that in a Parisian style. After this I go to the Japanese garden and relax.
Evening: Enjoy my last evening in Buenos Aires! Have a conversation with an Australian chap. Beforehand we have both chatted to another Aussie who was about to return home after travelling. He picked up two suits in B.A. so he could wear them at interviews back at home. I then find out from this other Aussie chap that the two Christian Dior suits cost him US$500 for both – and he had them tailored. Curse myself that I didn’t ask him where he had got them from … I need decent clothes.

Thursday 3.02.05:

Morning: Get up early, wash and pack. I have to be out of my room by 11:00 hrs.
Afternoon: Have a big lunch (for not much money as usual). Go shopping quickly for things I will need and things I have to pick up for other people. Explore the prices of clothes and leather. Everything is dirt cheap no matter where you buy it (and of excellent quality too).
Evening: Catch the bus to Brazil. I am sad to leave Buenos Aires because I really like it. In front of me is a man who I swear is English (though he is talking Portuguese). He is super-blond looking. When I try to talk to him he has no English whatsoever. Brazilians are a unique racial mixture. It seems to be that the further north you go the more black they are.

Friday 4.02.05:

Morning: The bus stops by a roadside café so everyone can get some food. I don’t feel like eating first thing. The air-conditioning system on Brazilian buses has one setting: sub-zero. When I get off the bus it’s a real shock to feel the humidity. We are very near the border with Brazil. I’m not sure if you would call the forest around me a jungle or not. Perhaps it is called a sub-tropical jungle. No matter what it’s called I can hear it living and breathing, just like when you see it on a nature programme on the BBC. The only difference is that you can feel the heat against you. Excellent. An hour or so later the bus crosses the border into Brazil. I meet a Colombian brother and sister who are on the same bus as me. They become my travelling companions for the duration of my trip (luckily they both speak excellent English!).
Afternoon: We find a room for three that costs us US$5 a night each. It feels so good to have a wash after sweating in the humidity of Brazil … I am in the extreme south of the country, so it must be unbearable in the north and around the Amazon.
Evening: We go out for a drink where I get to know my new chums. The brother is called Luis Fernando and was working in London up until Christmas time. The sister is called Ana Milena and was an architect in Bogotá but now is a professional dancer. Around Brazilians are dancing like crazy. The Colombians get up to join them but I am put to shame my lack of dancing abilities. Latinos don’t seem to understand that English people don’t just dance at the drop of a hat! When I do feel like dancing though the Colombians are tired so there will be no dancing for Dermot. The highlight of the evening is watching a two-year old girl dance when she can barely walk. Lovely.

Saturday 5.02.05:
Morning: Get up and go to the Falls.
Afternoon: Latins have a tendency to say that everything is so ‘beautiful’. It’s the way speak. When they use the same words in English it sounds ridiculous. Iguaçu Falls though are truly, truly spectacular. I don’t have enough words to describe how good they are.

Evening: Go to bed early. The Colombians (who are sleeping in the same room as me) are interesting characters. They seem to have very real dreams at night where they are not sure whether they are awake or night. They have talked of in the past knowing what each other is dreaming. Tonight I watch the Professional Dancer clap and shout in her sleep. The night before she was screaming and turned on the lights in a sleepwalk trance (I had only just got to sleep due to the heat in the room). This furthers my feeling that the Latin psychology is absolutely nuts. The psyche of this people is so ridiculously complicated. I know no Latin women who are normal. Everyone seems to have complexes of some shape or form. Even those who are apparently normal had some sort of craziness in the past. How do these people live like this?

Sunday 6.02.05:

Morning: Go with a tour company that takes to the Argentinean side of the Falls. This way we can bypass customs.
Afternoon: On the Brazilian side of the Falls you see the full panorama. On the Argentinean side you stand on a bridge right on top of the full force of the waterfall (which is called La Garganta Del Diablo - The Devil's Throat). The water roar and spray back onto you.
Evening: See where Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina meet up (they are divided by two rivers that meet here). Return to Brazil. As I leave Argentina I see a sign up that reads ‘Las Malvinas Son Argentinas!’ (the Falkland Islands are Argentinean). Fat chance. This sign is shown by every exit out of Argentina, by the way. Too bad for them.

Monday 7.02.05:

Morning: Cross the river into Paraguay to a tax and duty free zone called Cuidad del Este. Never will you find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. Everything knocked off or bent in this part of the world is sold in this town. It is truly awful. I can’t comment on the rest of Paraguay, but this place is a dump. I do not eat or imbibe liquid in case of catching something. The people all around make me itchy. I watch my pockets in case I am pickpocketed. The Colombians and I can’t wait to get out.
Afternoon: Visit the Itaipu hydro-electric dam, supposedly one of the seven modern wonders of the world. We have to sit through instructional videos before we will be allowed to see it. I suppose that they are concerned with security, but what should last 15 minutes ends up taking over an hour. Still, it’s an impressive piece of work. The overspill is impressive but after the Falls down the road it just doesn’t live up to expectation.
Evening: Decide to continue travelling with the Colombians. We get the overnight bus to Florianópolis. Talk to some Brazilian guy on the bus (in Spanish) who got some bird knocked up in Paraguay and has been stuck there ever since. He was on the bus to finally buy a place back in Brazil. Naturally he was very pleased. He didn’t seem too enthused with Paraguay.

Next week: Read about Dermot attending a Mardis Gras in the barrios! Read about him losing his socks! Read about him getting sunburnt! Read about him ending up in bloody Santiago again! If you made it this far then you might as well stick it out to the end!

© Dermot Sullivan April 2005
Dermot in action

A Year in Santiago
Dermot Sullivan's Chile Diary

El Gringo - Diary Entry 2
Dermot begins teaching
Letter From Santiago No 3
Dermot Sullivan

Santiago Diary No 4
Dermot Sullivan

Santiago Diary No 5
The Naruda House

Chile Dog Nights
Dermot Sullivan No 6

A Week in Bolvia:
Dermot Sullivan's Diary No.7

Diary No 8: Mendoza
Chile Diary No 9
Dermot Sullivan

Chile Diary 10
North & South

Chile Diary 11
Back for 2005

More about Dermot in Chile in Hacktreks


© Hackwriters 1999-2005 all rights reserved