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The International Writers Magazine
: Latin American Diary No 8 - Mendoza

Dermot Sullivan - Latin American Diary No 8

The weather here is getting hotter and I have been keeping myself busy. Now that the winter has well and truly left us one can take advantage of the great Chilean oudoors. I went camping around the beginning of September.

It was good to cleanse the filthy Santiago air out of me. Chile is not like Europe though where one can jump on a bus and get to wherever one wishes to get to. We (my flatmates and I) had to walk about 20 km each way to get to our destination. I had a heavy backpack on me as well. It taught me two things: firstly, that I am unfit. Secondly, one should travel light! Being so far away froim the cities and towns one can observe the southern night-sky without the hinderance of light pollution. Before coming to Chile I had never been able to see the mist-like swirl of the Milky Way. It would have been nice to have seen the sky when I was in Bolivia but it was overcast at the time.

The following weekend was Chile's national day. In fact, it was more of a national weekend as the following day was the Military's special day too ... The 18th and 19th of September are a big deal to Chileans. Really, it's a celebration of the spring. They get drunk on a really cheap wine called 'chicha' (which is even worse than plonk) and dance their national dance 'the cueca'. They eat lots of meat and dishes specific to the patriotic celebration. Many go to big open-air barbecues where there is lots of meat and bands perform to the dancing crowds. Everyone gets drunk rapidly and the dancing is awful.

The following day there is a huge military parade in Parque O'Higgins, which is the equivalent of London's Hyde Park (only covered with cement).
The military marches for about seven hours and it's shown on all of the television stations. I saw a smaller march where the cadets of the Escuela Militar marched near my flat. To be honest, I find it difficult to be enthusiastic about soldiers and sailors goose-stepping. In fact, I find it difficult to be enthusiastic about any Latin American military! What was the point of the marching? To show the general populace that they haven't gone away? Not my cup of tea.

All this was just a build up to my big treat for the month: going to Argentina! Hooray for me! I went to Mendoza which is just over the border from Chile, though it's a bit of a trek as one has to cross the Andes. What would take about an hour in Europe takes about six here, plus they like to stamp passports and all that nonsense and so you get held up at the border. That's just a mild inconvinience though because Argentina rocks!

Mendoza is the wine producing district of Argentina. Seeing as I don't drink the stuff I couldn't really give a damn. I just hit the restaurants.
For about One Pound Fifty you can go to an all you can eat buffet and eat the best food in the world (providing that you like steak and pasta - vegetarians are not welcome). Argentinians are happy people. That's quite an achievement when you consider that the people have been plunged into poverty. It's a much more relaxed place to be than Chile. A way to describe it would be that Chileans think like northen Europeans whilst Argentinians think like southern Europeans.

It would make sense considering that 50% of the nation has Italian blood in it and the Spanish that is spoken has a certain Italian tinge to it. If a Chilean does an impression of an Argie it sounds to me like an Italian!
Argentina has lovely architecture and wide boulevards. Much of the construction in Chile is recent as it has to be earthquake resistant (though the buildings are not that attractive, they're the safest in the world, with standards higher than other earthquake-prone areas, like Japan or California). The Argies also follow the Italian way of being dressed-up all the time. The difference though between Italy is that the clothes are really inexpensive. Anyhow, I dug the place so much that I plan to go again to Mendoza in December. This time I may actually venture outside of restaurant! Also when I go again it should be a very comfortable 40 degrees Celsius! I've been informed that it's a dry heat so I should all right.

That's it for the moment. There's been a lot of seismic activity lately, so providing there's no massive earthquake I hope to head south later on this month. German is still spoken there so we shall see if I run into any sausage-eating beer-drinking Chileans. Until next time.
Hasta luego
© Dermot Sullivan October 7th 2004

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