Ten weird things that happened in Chile

So, here’s the thing. I am and always have been a little bit scared of random patriotism. I blame my dad, since when we used to watch sports on TV, he’d make me root for the athlete/ team from the country I’d never heard of, and we’d desperately hope that Britain would drop the baton, score an own goal or get half of the team sent off. So, coming to Bolivia with my scepticism of nationalism, how do you expect me to react to the various stories I’m told about how odd the Chileans are? That’s right, polite nodding as a symptom of not-really-buying it. And then I went to Chile, and the following rather odd things happened.

1. I came across not one, not two but THREE toilets (in restaurants/ cafés) positioned so close to the opposite wall that there was basically no space for my knees. I’m getting used to that on public transport, but I couldn’t help but think there might have been a little more space if there hadn’t been a full on shower in the way too…

2. The bus driver on my way to Chile asked for my passport to fill in his funny immigration form. Utterly baffled by the fact that I had only one surname, he decided that the part that says ‘British Citizen’ must be part of my name, and decides I must be called Alison Citizen Walsh. And be Irish. Where he got that from I don’t know. Since no-one mentioned any of this, I conclude that no-one actually reads these forms. Like, ever.

3. I found an amazing but rather surreal meal deal in a café in Arica. Listed as ‘ice cream, cake, juice, coffee and toastie’, I asked if it included all of these things. It did. Oddly, they also came in that precise order. Because ice cream makes a wonderful starter, and a cheese toastie is clearly pudding.

4. Ever get sick of trying to find somewhere to park near the seaside? Tired of lugging picnic hampers, inflatables, towels and deck chairs around? Arica has it covered: just drive onto the beach, practically into the sea if you like, and then unload from there. (Ignoring the signs about the protection of green turtles: you can’t litter, but you can drive over one).

5. For some strange reason, despite the fact that Chile is west of Bolivia, it is an hour ahead (this being because it has daylight saving time, although I think it’s rather futile in the north of the country anyway). Every time I tried to get my head around this, I gave in, realising it made absolutely no sense. And then arriving at the border, we were told it opened at 8am. Bolivian or Chilean time? Neither: we were eventually let through at about 9/10:45… So the timekeeping isn’t any better over there…

6. There was a triathlon going on in Arica (land of dust and blistering heat: sounded a bit like hell). And in an attempt to motivate the competitors to keep moving on their laps around the deathly dull road-based course, they had chosen to blast some music out. Who had they decided would be great motivation? U2. Yep, what you really want chasing you round is the wailing sound of ‘Where the Streets Have No Name’. Perhaps it’s meant to make you run faster, in a desperate attempt to escape Bono?

7. So, turns out this Bolivian-Chilean animosity isn’t one-sided. In taking a tour around a replica of a sunken Peruvian ship, a general question was raised as to where everyone was from. In the midst of the general chorus of ‘Santiago’, I pipe up ‘Except me, of course,’ to which the reply is, ‘No, bet you’re from Bolivia’. And on it went. Every time mention of the B-word was made, it was to angry accusations that the war was all their fault. And the land was Bolivian first, it was just given to their made-up country because they needed a bit of a hand. Etc, etc, etc.

8. There are railways in Chile (unlike in Bolivia). And they cross roads, utterly at random. Without any kind of signals, barriers or anything. So the bus driver just has to slow down and peer over his shoulder to see if there’s any large metal objects hurtling along at high speed on the rails. And there isn’t, so he carries on. Thoughts of Fried Green Tomatoes come to mind. Or possibly Stand By Me? My film knowledge is dodgy. But you get the idea…

9. Public toilets appear to have a new feature. A price reduction for OAPs and the disabled. But not children, obviously, because they’re by far the best market for this kind of facility. I’m just surprised they’re not charged double.

10. Going for breakfast one morning, I request a croissant. Not available. Raspberry pastry. Not available. There is this ‘paila’ thing mentioned, the same price as a slice of sad, limp white bread and jam. So I order it. Turns out to be a little frying pan of scrambled eggs with cheese and an ENORMOUS square stottie cake. (For those who’ve never been to Newcastle, just think of a really big bread roll). Like, plate-sized. Bigger than the pan of scrambled eggs. For about £1.50. (The coffee was a bit dodgy, since it was a sachet of instant and a mug of hot water: mix it yourself style! But really, was I in a position to be fussy?)

So, that’s Chile for you! And now I’m safely back in the normality of Bolivia. Oh, wait a second…


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