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The International Writers Magazine
: A South American Diary by Dermot Sullivan- Travel Archives

Dermot's Chile Diary No 9
Argentina & Chile- The Big Eat

t is hot here in Santiago. Really hot. It is physically draining to walk down the street. The sun beats down with an intensity I've never encountered before. I arrive at my student's classes and want to collapse into a deep sleep. Generally it's a dry heat though. I don't think I could cope with humidity on top of the temperature. Apparently in the Amazon it reaches something like forty degrees celsius with a hundred degrees humidity! I think that would just kill me ... someone told my that the best way to cope with that sort of climate (if you are European) is to drink hard booze. I'm not so convinced about that.

I have been busy since my last dispatch. At the end of September I went to the south. I visited Pucón and Valdivia with my flatmate. We also went to Bariloche in Argentina. I think the best to explain it all is to go through it day by day:

Friday 22nd September:
Evening: Leave the warmth of Santiago and head south on an overnight bus. I fall asleep rather quickly.

Saturday 23rd September:
Morning: Wake up and gaze out on the south of Chile. The countryside is very green ... due to the intense amount of rain it gets. We arrive in the town of Pucón which is famed for it's volcano and outdoor activities. Due to the cloud and the rain we can see neither the volcano nor much else.
Afternoon: Make plans to get out of Pucón. Arrange to go to a thermal baths in the evening and then buy tickets to go to Valdivia. Meet pathetic gringos in our hostel. It has been raining for four days and these losers have been stuck in front of the television for the duration. This furthers our resolve to get out of Pucón. Apart from two rather cool German guys, the rest of the place is full of Americans.
Evening: After tiring of insulting the Americans (who seem rather dumbfounded that I would ask such questions to them as 'Why does your country suck so much.'', my flatmate and I go to the thermal baths. We soak and chat to some Irish girls who are in Chile as part of their university course. My flatmate goes for a mudbath but I don't join him as I'm not an idiot. The only reason he went in there was because the women are in there too ... testosterone can be a curse.
After our little water adventures we return to Pucón, have a beer and retire for the evening. Outside it is still raining.

Sunday 24th October:
Morning: Get up at the crack of dawn and get the bus bound for Valdivia. Sleep on and off and gaze out at the countryside. Afternoon: Arrive and find accommodation. It is raining, but apparently it rains all the time in Valdivia. As it's on the Pacific coast all the water collected up just seems to get dumped on it. Though the city was founded in 1552 by Pedro de Valdivia, its character was really formed in the mid-nineteenth century with waves of German immigration. Businesses and other places have ridiculous over-the-top Teutonic names adorning them.

Evening: Head out to the Kunstmann brewery. Kunstmann is Chile's best beer.
Unfortunately half the place is being hired out for Austrian Consulate. It's black-tie do and I'm unable to convince them that I'm German as a: I'm in an Irish rugby top, and b: they ask me questions in German and I can't reply (apart from saying 'ja'). We have to go and sit in a different part of the building. Later on we sneak in to the party (once the Wagnerian soprano who's there as entertainment has stopped screeching) and try to get away without paying. At the last moment we are busted so I steal bottles from a display cabinet ... it is Kunstmann's new 'Hönig Ale' ... take it back to the hostel. It tastes vile.

Monday 25 October: Morning: Wake up after a very deep alcohol enhanced sleep. Go into town and find something to eat. Valdivia has the feel of a North American mill town. It is the site of the largest recorded earthquake in history. In 1960 the earth shook and the measurements went off the scale. That and the following tsunami (which came several kilometres inland) changed the landscape and even sent the rivers in different directions. Thousands of people were killed. There used to be many German colonial buildings but not any more.

Niebla Fort
Afternoon: Head to the small coastal town of Niebla to visit an old colonial fort that was the site of an important battle during the War of Independence. Bump into the two rather cool German guys from Pucón. We discover that the fort is locked so we break in. After having look around for a while some security guard shows up and we have to scarper by jumping off the battlements. We then go across a lake (that leads out to the Pacific) and have a look around on an island ... then head back to town.

Evening: Go to German cake shop and eat a lot of chocolate cake ... Valdivia is full of southern German tea/coffee shops. After washing it all down with some Kunstmann in a pub we bid auf wiedersehn to our German chums and head back to the hostel.

Tuesday 26th October:
Morning: Get up early and get the bus to go to Bariloche in Argentina. The Chilean staff on the bus put on an extremely gory horror film for the passengers to watch ... the perfect entertainment for all the little children who are having their eyes covered by their parents ... especially when the film features some guy getting a fire escape ladder through his eye and a woman being decapitated in a lift. Nice.

Now, there are some things that I have to say about Argentina. I enthused about it beforehand because it is generally a great place. It is essentially a super-Italy. The food is great and it is very beautiful to look at. However, like Italy, it has it's drawbacks. Argentina isn't just corrupt - it's super corrupt. The men are complete womanisers in a way that has to be seen to be believed. The women have to literally fight the men off. Actually, Argentinian women have a reputation for being difficult, but after witnessing their plight they will have my eternal sympathy ... and not just because they are all very good looking!

Another thing that provides me with endless amusement in Argentina is how many streets and schools are named after 'Las Malvinas Argentinas'. If one sees a map in that country the Falkland Islands will be highlighted and every town is renamed with a Spanish name that it has never had (and never will). Naturally it's not something I bring up when I'm in the country. The majority of Argentinians who died in that war were young conscripts. Argentina was in the grip of a dictatorship at the time and was in the midst of the 'dirty war' where the military murdered 30,000 people. Again, Argentinians have my sympathy.

Argentina can be rather melancholic. The people are very proud and they have fallen greatly. For the majority of the Twentieth Century they were ruled by a collection of kleptomaniacs and psychopaths. Now there is no money to restore the once grand buildings, in fact, not even enough money to fix things that break through everyday wear-and-tear. Still, despite all of these things it a really great place, demonstrated by the fact I returned there and hope to do so many times again (hopefully in December).
Afternoon: Cross the mountains into Argentina. Arrive in Bariloche. Find accommodation.Eat!

Wednesday 27th October:
Morning: Eat a big breakfast of steak. My Canadian flatmate and travelling companion washes it down with beer but I feel that this is a tad excessive before noon. The meal comes in at less than One Pound Fifty and it is huge and delicious.

Afternoon: Go and explore the area. Bariloche is officially part of Patagonia but it is different to the type of land that Patagonia is famous for. Instead of a neverending flat, the area is mountainous and full of lakes, the most famous being Lake Nahuel Huapi (it's a Mapuche name). We take a ski-lift to go to the top of a very high hill so we can see all around us. Up there we meet dozens of Argentinian schoolchildren. It seems traditional in Argentina that in your final year of primary and secondary school, your entire school year will go on a trip somewhere. Here we bumped into a crowd of 12-13 year olds, though we saw many different children, from different schools and different ages. The children were very polite and always tried to make conversation ... Argentinians don't lack confidence ... when we come down from the hill we go and explore the forest and lakes up close. Excellent.

Lake Huapi
Evening: Eat again, this time at an all-you-can-eat-buffet.

Thursday 28th October:
Morning: Go and eat.
Afternoon: Whilst my flatmate runs around the forests again, I explore Bariloche. The town is one big chocolate emporium! I have never seen so much chocolate and my life (and good stuff too, not the cheapo rubbish you get in Chile)! I highly recommend Bariloche to women and other people with chocolate addictions!
Evening: Go and eat ... a lot.

Friday 29th October:
Morning: Depart for Chile by bus.
Afternoon: Arrive in Pucón, via Osorno (probably the ugliest town I've been to in Chile). The reason we went to Pucón the week before was that we wanted to climb the active volcano that is just outside the town. Now the weather is better (just) so we book an expedition up to the top. Hopefully it won't rain again.
Evening: Collapse in bed.

Saturday 30th October:
Morning: Get up early to climb the volcano. Unfortunately our team is made up of hardcore Alpine climbers from South Tyrol and I can't keep up through the ice and snow. When the weather turns I head back (as I am so unfit) but my flatmate continues with them to the top. I meet some Israeli girls on the volcano and descend with them - there are many Israeli travellers in Chile. It seems that after military service they all come here.
Afternoon: After returning from the volcano, we eat ...
Evening: Head back to Santiago by bus.

Sunday 31st October:
Morning: Arrive in Santiago. Decide to keep my beard (shave it off as mid-week as it looks disgusting). Wash. I have lost two kilos despite having big meals. Hooray for me. Well, that was trip. I have been keeping myself busy in other ways to. I saw David Byrne when he played in concert here and then later saw The Mars Volta, PJ Harvey and Morrissey later. The former really rock. They're American from El Paso, Texas and speak English and Spanish without a hint of one accent in the other, just like a lot of people from Montreal (but in French and English). The southern US has become very bi-lingual.

Last weekend Santiago hosted the APEC conference (Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation). All the leaders from major Pacific countries were there: Bush, Putin, Koizumi, Paul Martin from Canada and so on. As you can imagine, there was a lot of security. Well, I've heard of it being described as being an 'unprecedented' security operation and they wouldn't far off. I didn't go to any of the demonstrations as I wasn't to keen on being tear-gassed and blasted with water-canon. Also, it was difficult to move down my street as there were police literally every twenty-five metres. There was also a helicopter hanging outside my building. Thankfully now it is all over and Bush has crawled back from whatever rock he came under.

Seismic activity has also diminished. Though I said that Chile has the best earthquake-proof buildings in the world, there is no way the houses in poorer parts of town would stand up to a major quake ... on that cheery note I shall leave. I'm going out now to enjoy the sun. I will be in England for Christmas.

© Dermot Sullivan Nov 24th 2004

you will see some of the photos I took when I was in Bolivia last August.

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