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Sunday, 01 July 2018

Chilly Chile

Written by Joslyn Jennifer Gadwah
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Ask any travelista, Chile is a quiet country. It’s not an Argentina or Brazil. It can’t tout – “We are the Paris of South America” as Buenos Aires, Argentina, can. Nor does it house the largest and most famous rainforest in the world – as Brazil can claim. In fact, in the ‘90s comedy film “There’s Something About Mary,” one of Mary’s crackpot, lying suitors owns up to his lies by asking who’s been to Santiago, Chile, twice in one year. Preposterous notion. I always chirp at the TV – “I have!” But still. Ouch. I bet Chile felt the burn on that one.

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Chile is magnificent partially for, not despite, all its quietness and modesty. Some might call it an emotionally “cold” country. “Where are my gloves?” I call it “beautiful.” I used to travel there in the mid-2000s while working for The Economist magazine. It was always my favorite South American destination. For well-known reasons it was a great place to do business – it’s been a model of South American social and economic prosperity for many years now. But for me, Chile was a soothing balm.

I used to stay at a small, boutique hotel on a tree-lined street in downtown Santiago. It was autumn when I first pulled up to its curb. The trees were still green and warm. A few leaves fell off their branches and landed sweetly on the sidewalk – next to my tote-suitcase. I felt like the little cartoon character Eloise moving into her new hotel-home. “Tippy-top floor, please.” I adjusted my cartoon red headband and black suspender dress. I could’ve hop-scotched happily along to my new home. The scene was that perfect. It was a sleepy street – tucked away, all dream-like, in a big capital city. I felt safe, protected.

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That protected feeling stayed with me throughout my many visits to Chile. Santiago was easy and safe to get around in – on foot or by public transport. The people I met were polite. The foreign food never got me sick. I even had a prawn salad one night with beady black eyes staring up at me. Holy-holy. I thought, “Dare I eat this cold Pacific water crustacean? I’m far, far away from my U.S. home, and if I get sick, those airplane bathrooms are like matchboxes!”

Santiago was also visually stunning, but in a quiet way. Sitting in the immense, majestic Andes Mountains, the city sprawls itself out like a cat lounging in the sun. For primo metropolis views, a trip up the funicular of San Cristóbal is a must. It’s snow-capped mountains above, and dancing palm trees below. Poetry in motion. Add a zoo with alpacas halfway up, and then a beautifully massive white Virgin Mary statue once you reach the hill’s peak – San Cristóbal is worth the funicular’s greasy, grinding-cylinders ride.

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Then, that central Chilean climate was a Mediterranean-style breezy. The wind meanders through Santiago like a friend – not a smog-filled scepter. Major cities located in the mountains can get a bad rep. Santiago seems to have escaped that – at least during my stay. There was “ozone-hole” talk from locals, but it wasn’t incessant. I was confident anyway that Chile would take this issue in-hand and manage it if necessary. Chile is self-effacing, but still smart.

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I didn’t get a chance to visit the nearby vineyards. Sigh. I imagine they were a lush tapestry of purple grapes napping to classical music – when not being whispered to passages from Pablo Neruda. Chile’s ultimate poet-diplomat lives on in a sumptuous glass of red wine – Sr. Neruda is still alive. I walked through Santiago’s main market one day on a quest for red wine, delicious fruit, and colorful patriotic fabric to take back home to my quilt-making New England-living sister. Bingo. I found that red, white, and blue. My sis could commence her Chile-inspired creation.

I used to love breezing my way back to my hotel every night – where I’d then watch the TV weather forecasters talk about the mind-blowing hot temps of the Atacama Desert in the Chilean North, then the frigid temps of the Chilean South near Antarctica. That extreme climactic juxtaposition fascinated me. I vowed to return for fun one day – and do a salty white moon-walk in Atacama, and take a boat to see the piercingly blue Antarctic glaciers. I’d need sunglasses for all that neon ice. But for now, I was snuggled up like a content “bug in a South American llama rug.”

Chile might not be vocal about its geographic marvels – no less impressive than its South American neighbors. Santiago itself is a gorgeous capital city. It hums along drinking tea and getting to bed early. It’s respectable pinky finger up – and crisp clean sheets turned down. Nor is Chile bursting forth with facts and figures to confirm its comfortable standard of living. GDP what? But to me, that’s part of Chile’s beauty. Chile might not be the Sun. Maybe it’s the captivating Moon.


©Joslyn Jennifer Gadwah

Last modified on Sunday, 01 July 2018

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