PART 1: Speaking Spanish (Sometimes somniloquism)

Welcome to Andy and Sarah’s blog about South American antics- Mostly written by: Sarah, Mostly edited by: Andrew.
Edit no. 1 – Although Sarah has very kindly given me the grandioso title of ‘mostly’ editor (and chief) of “Andy and Sarah’s blog about South American antics” I am under no disillusion that my part, although important for content, is no more than providing an element of market feedback before releasing these Pulitzer worthy words to the masses. I feel it is also worth noting that although I may attempt to edit this blog you can rest assured it will subsequently be re-edited and artistically crafted into something worthy of your time…. In fact what you are reading now almost certainly didn’t come from my head and is due to the expertly agile word smithing of my traveling companion. And on that note I’d like to say “please enjoy, and if I haven’t been too heavily edited, over to Sarah… if I have been heavily edited, Sarah please continue”.
Anyone that endured my emails from New Zealand a few years back will know that I am, at best, verbose and, at worst, seriously self-indulgent, slightly addicted to adjectives and of the opinion ‘Why use a sentence when 10 will do?’. Apologies.
Aside: I’d like to suggest prior to reading this that any sentence that talks about ‘the Andes’ you read again, replacing ‘the Andes’ with ‘Andy’- just to see what images are conjured in your brains.
Our fairly naff Iberia flights from London- Madrid and Madrid- Santiago passed relatively uneventfully. We noted two things on the journey:
1. Chile is 3 hours behind the UK in time zones- How the hell did that happen??!? When it looks like we´re about 70 degrees longitude away from London (i.e. nearly a quarter of a rotation/ day- i.e. 6 hours?!). It makes. No. Sense.
2. South America is big. Really BIG. Yes, we slept over much of the Atlantic journey, but it felt like about the same time spent over water as sub-equatorial continent (according to the mini ‘X marks the plane’ animation we had to watch). Less-stingey-than-Iberia airlines would have provided a selection of films/ general entertainment for each individual; we were supplied with only a handful of screens for the whole plane, all displaying a miniature version of our vessel inching jerkily over green, then blue, then green and occasionally brown. It was possibly the dull-factor of our flight that allowed us to have a fairly decent night’s sleep and wake up relatively fresh to witness the switch to ‘tail-fin cam’ and view our plane skim the tops of the snow-dusted Andes as we approached our destination.
We had started descending into Santiago before even leaving Argentinean air-space, which does emphasise how narrow Chile is and how Santiago nestles nicely into the foothills of the Andes, which form the countries backbone (if Chile were a very long person in the foetal position facing West).
No sooner had we landed, laughed at any American tourists for their extortionate entry fee (160 USD) and declared that we hadn’t packed our sausages, sperm samples or sunflower seeds, we ‘vamos’ed en un taxi and arrived swiftly at the gate of our Chilean Mum’s apartment block. Kati (Chilean Mum/ friend/ advisor/ tour guide and general tri-lingual super woman- allotted to us by our Spanish school) is actually Hungarian but has lived over here for 21 years, since her father was posted to be a diplomat in Santiago soon after Chile became a democracy again after Pinochet’s 17 years in power. She speaks magnificent English (as well as Hungarian and Spanish) and has been the most helpful host, particularly for us novice linguists. We are already sad at the prospect of moving on.
Sol, Kati’s 13 year old daughter (aptly named ‘sun’) has been away at the beach for 2 of our 3 week stay, as it’s Chilean summer holidays until March. She’s a bundle of energy and when not chilling at the beach she can often be found talking to us in perfect English, asking us about ‘flumps’ and digestive biscuits, frantically texting, sharing YouTube clips with us, stroking/ chasing to her own pets or one of Chile’s many stray animals, artistically painting her nails in union jacks and Chilean flags, twerking with her friends, photographing her littlest pet shop collection or skate boarding in the car park. Our Chilean little sister has been so much fun to stay with and has helped us learn some ‘down with the kids’ Spanish… we’ll miss her a lot when we move on too.
Andy, Sarah, Sol, Esteban (Kati´s friend) and Kati in Val Paraiso.
Sol befriends some stray dogs on the beach in Val Paraiso.
Their flat is lovely, I’m sure there are few apartments where you can admire the Andes whilst in the shower, South America’s tallest building whilst in bed and the national stadium from the living room. We love her three crazy cats: Blanca (who is white), Negra (who is black) and Sushi (who probably likes raw fish- though we are yet to test this assumption). It is malting season- given the extreme heat in Santiago (average highs of 30 degrees since we arrived)- so a fun game we’ve been playing is: ‘Guess which cat will vomit up a hairball next’ or, even better: ‘How many vomits can occur in one afternoon?!’- the record is 4 plus a poo so far (we still do not know which cute feline was the perpetrator of said poo).
 Blanca ´the cute and contortionistic´… Not so cute when throwing up!
We arrived in Santiago at midday Chile time- 3pm Sarah and Andy’s brain time- a little tired but relatively refreshed given the duration of the flight and headed straight to school(!) We decided a few months ago that, to function as tourists (and because it’s cool), we’d take Spanish lessons to kick start our transformation into Sara and Andres- inconspicuous south american voyagers (akin to Che Guevara and his mate in ‘the motorcycle diaries’). We arrived just in time to miss the morning’s lessons but in perfect time to receive our free first-day empanada lunch. Win. We were then whisked off on a tour of Santiago’s fruit and veg markets- everything looked tantalising, delicious and ten times the size we’re used to- the spring onions are fist-sized, the peaches are akin in size to a baby’s head and the cabbages and broccoli are heading towards beach ball dimensions! PICTURE. Sounds like a veggie heaven… Until you pass a ‘Queseria’ (cheese stall), whose 6m counter houses cheeses which are all different shades of ‘rubbery’ and ‘off-white’ in texture. (Or as Andrew took to calling it “50 shades of Gruyère”)
 Spring(!) Onions- my hand is actually quite a close to the camera too.
Lessons have been going really well, with our grammar classes before morning ‘pausa’ and conversation classes until 12:45. The grammar classes are not as boring as they might sound and our ‘science-y’ brains are finding logic in verb conjugation and appreciating the rules of the language. Andy has also acquainted himself with the 1st, 2nd and 3rd person, it’s always nice to make new friends.
Between us now we are quite an effective Spanish communication team (relatively speaking)- Andrew is verb-master (he doesn’t need to go through all 6 people/ plurals before retrieving a correct verb-ending, as I do), while I am pronunciation queen (rare is the moment that I confuse an ‘ee’ for an ‘eh’ or an ‘ll’ (yuh- sound) for an ‘l’. My ‘only’ limitation seems to be words containing ‘R’s (!). I’m (genetically) unable to roll my ‘R’s and it’s been somewhat infuriating to be misunderstood purely for this fact, Andy does jump in and save the day though (inog. “¿donde estar el correo?”, ‘Where is the post office?’, often needs clarifying from Crrrrreamer). Andy also tell’s me that on night 2 in Santiago I was sleep-talking in Spanish, which I choose to take as a good indication of progress.
There’s 5 Swiss, 1 German, 2 Koreans and 1 Aussie in our class… During conversation classes I’ve probably learnt as much about world affairs as I have Spanish vocab (we’ve covered international politics, the price of fuel in our home countries, euthanasia- interesting with the Swiss present, ‘the role of women’, the Pinochet regime amongst many others; all generally heavy topics in your own language!). On a lighter note (still on the sharing cultures theme) the German guy shared this with us:
We’ve stumbled upon some pronunciation issues on our way- for instance- those who did Spanish at school will know that Spanish has a few extra letters on English, one of which is ‘ñ’, where the squiggle is important to make the ‘n’ into an ‘ny’ sound, like in ñocci (gnocchi). The word ‘años’ means ‘year’, which features in the question: ¨¿Quantos años tienes?¨ (How many years do you have?). The result of mispronunciation, as Andrew discovered, is that you find yourself asking a somewhat personal question as to how many of a certain body part some one has (a very necessary body part, of which you should have only one, which sounds almost identical in English)… and subsequently being congratulated (or commiserated?) on your 28 ‘anos’es; a most inconvenient affliction.
Other near homophones which can result in confusion are:
Cocina/ Cochina= Kitchen/ a female pig or dirty
Sucia/ Suiza= Dirty/ a swiss woman
Ciudad/ Cuidado= City/ warning
Hombre/ Hambre= Man/ hungry (you don’t want to be a bloke caught in a restaurant trying to say you’re hungry with this mispronunciation- which would translate as ‘I (sexually) need a man’)
Cola= tail but Coca= cocaine so Andy’s struggled to order his favourite soft drink on occasion
Chile has been a wonderful place to start our trip. Santiago has a lot less crime than most other South American cities and plenty of friendly people, who tend to speak only a little English but are willing to spend time trying to comprehend our broken Spanish. I prefer it to Spain hands down.
 Andy in his rightful waiting place at a Santiago Metro station.
 Santiago Cathedral- fairly earthquake proof (just a few cracks).
 Andy next to the fountain in Santa Lucia Park in Santiago.
Santiago´s answer to Christ the Redeemer “Yeah, well, we have his mother…”
It’s mind-boggling that within our lifetime it was run as a military dictatorship under Pinochet (from 1973-1990). Forensic analysis of the remains of some political prisoners (often tortured to death) is still ongoing today; 3000 people are still considered ‘missing’. We spent a fascinating, if harrowing, afternoon in the human rights museum (which I would highly recommend to anyone visiting Santiago), which explains what happened on the day of the US-backed coup, September 11th 1973, and in the years that followed. On that day, Salvador Allende, the democratically elected communist president killed himself in La Moneda palace as it was bombarded by military air strikes (his body was recently exhumed to prove that it was suicide, rather than murder). His poignant last words were broadcast live to the nation over the wireless and translate as:
“The people must defend themselves, but they must not sacrifice themselves. The people must not let themselves be destroyed or riddled with bullets, but they cannot be humiliated either.
Workers of my country, I have faith in Chile and its destiny. Other men will overcome this dark and bitter moment when treason seeks to prevail. Keep in mind that, much sooner than later, great avenues will again be opened, through which will pass the free man, to construct a better society.
Long live Chile! Long live the people! Long live the workers!
These are my last words, and I am certain that my sacrifice will not be in vain, I am certain that, at the very least, it will be a moral lesson that will punish felony, cowardice, and treason.”
 Salvador Allende´s grave- there is a plaque behind here with his last word engraved on (Santiago Cemetery).
It´s hard to believe that the prosperous, safe and economically stable nation that you see today was in political turmoil and subjecting many of its own people to incarceration, torture and execution in the last 40 years.
Memorial to those missing (on the left) and executed (on the right)- under the Pìnochet regime  (Santiago Cemetery)
Santiago itself, though not stunningly beautiful, is a lovely city with perhaps 2 major flaws:
1. It has earthquakes, all the time. We actually missed a small one 2 weeks prior to our arrival but, according to Kati, they do happen a few times a year and we should just stay calm, open the door to the room that we are in and wait for it to stop. Reassuring. The 2010 earthquake was 8.8 on the Richter scale and lasted for several minutes. Kati was actually in Hungary at the time but her ex-husband said it felt like the world was ending. Here’s a quote from National Geographic Magazine to emphasise it’s magnitude:
“Saturday’s Chile earthquake was so powerful that it likely shifted the Earth’s axis and shortened the length of a day, NASA announced Monday.”
Many buildings in Santiago are built to survive earthquakes, so most of the 525 people killed were due to the tsunami (the government sent out an announcement that there would not be a tsunami, as the detection system did not detect enough abnormal data, so a lot of people in coastal areas stayed put). Thinking back, it seems like 2010-2011 was a busy time for seismic activity.
2. The air quality is pretty shocking. I caught a chest infection in the first week and the warm polluted air did not help with clearing it. Lucy (Mcgee), our friend that lives here, said that it’s even worse in winter. The normal poor air quality was supplemented by widespread forest fires currently blazing in several areas of the country.
View from San Cristobal Hill (where Maria stands)- hazy!
Other than these two ‘issues’; there are street dogs all over the place, generally really unusual, cute but odd-looking mongrels. We saw what looked like a labrador-come-sausage dog and a dalmation-come-pitbull amongst others which just appear to have a different dog’s body attached to their head. Some look fairly well looked after and almost all look well-fed (I suppose restaurant bins are a good source of canine nutrition), though there are also plenty who have clearly experienced collisions with blunt instruments-  mostly from cars, as they scamper about the streets confidently and with fair agility, though some Santiago drivers are slightly maniacal. Given the scarred/ war-worn appearance of many of them we are surprised that we are yet to meet an aggressive or foul tempered one (dogs, not Santiago drivers….there are many foul tempered drivers). Most sleep on the pavement as you pass by- often exactly in the centre of major walkways and others enthusiastically collect and escort you as you enter and pass through their ‘patch’- all this without a moment’s begging for food or stroking. I’ve actually noticed very little dog mess about the streets of Santiago too- so it would seem that uncared for dogs are capable of placing their packages in less obvious places than many of London’s pampered pooches.
Another quirk that we’ve noticed is that every Santiagon fancies themselves an amateur gardener and on our occasional late night strolls home Andy and I have bore-witness to early-hour hosing of grass patches,  and even a 1:30am raker of leaves (it’s summer here, his pile consisted of about 15 leaves). Often it’s not even the garden that they are striving to maintain, it’s the 6 metre-squared patch of grass at the edge of the pavement immediately next to the road- it seems to be a great source of pride for them and a status symbol, measured by: green-ness, no. of sprinklers per metre-squared, dead leaf content etc. Kati has also pointed out to us that the country apparently is in its 4th year of water deficit, but I wouldn’t want to be the one to inform the 1am garden mafia that they need to stop sprinkling and have their road side grass go a bit prickly.
Lots of water wasted on roadside patches.
Another interesting sight is that, at most major intersections, there are what I have come to call ‘red light performers’ (not as seedy as they sound, but nonetheless quite a risky business to be in). These are people who take their lives in their hands, along with flaming sticks, various musical instruments or bowling balls (for juggling) and give a generally seamless performance to the cars waiting at the lights. They seem to have a 6th sense for the direct red to green transition at their chosen lights as they finish just in time to stroll through the first few rows of cars to gather a few coins before the cars speed of for their next entertainment instalment at the following lights. They’re entertaining to watch, though I haven’t seen many reaping great financial benefits.
The best day we’ve had so far was our trip to Val Paraiso (founded in 1536 and Chile’s 2nd capital, as this is where the ‘National Congress of Chile’ meet). It is 2 hours drive north and west of Santiago on the coast. Alas this lovely colonial town is where the first vomit pegs go into the map of South America for me (yes, pegs- plural- 2 in the space of an hour and a half), for those of you who don’t know I have been afflicted from a very early age with Kinetosis or travel sickness as is more commonly called.
The buildings of Val Paraiso are stunning- relics of Chile’s colonial history.
 “Brighton Hotel” Val Paraiso.
 Ornate doorway to alley with street art in Val Paraiso.
 Musical Stairs! Val Paraiso.
 More art- Val Paraiso.
It was a port for luxury items, such as champagne, for the early settlers. The buildings, now often plastered in pretty, sometimes satirical street art, reflect the city’s original wealth- it was rare to see a doorway that was under 8 feet tall and without ornately carved heavy wooden doors serving as imposing entrances. Please let me refer you back to the 8.8 Richter scale earthquke which most of Val Paraiso’s 200 year old buildings survived. The water front has signs-a-plenty reminding you to beware of tsunamis- important if a little anxiety inducing.
 Sea Front warning sign- Val Paraiso.
It was the final day and finishline of the Dakar rally so the town was buzzing with various racing vehicles, massive support trucks and lots of jocks in full leathers in 30 degree heat (probably easy for them to withstand compared to the temperatures they’d been exposed to in the Atacama desert on the way around- we were told that one of the drivers had been killed after being paralysed from a fall from his bike and unable to move to escape the intense heat- very gruesome).
 Dakar Rally driver please the crowd- Val Paraiso.
We stayed into the evening on the beach and watched the sunset while sea lions feasting on the remains of fishermen’s catches around a pier. We hung on until 12:30am to watch an amazing fireworks display- some in heart shapes, others spirals/ planets with rings- all mirrored in the crinkled surface of the Pacific ocean.
Team Van Mildert may also be interested that we met up a few times with Lucy Mcgee , who’s doing her post doc at Universidad de Chile on something cool to do with rocks (apparently knowing about Uranium decay series is a good thing to have on your CV in geological circles!)… We had our first pisco sour with her (yummy chilean cocktail with lots of lemon juice and sugar in) and went round to her stunning 13th floor flat in East Santiago. This is the top floor and the maximum building height allowed in the immediate area, which naturally leads to some stunning views and a lot of apartment envy. Lucy, of course, is convinced that I am following her around the world after meeting up with her in Auckland 5 years ago too… Here’s hoping her next posting isn’t in Skegness. It was lovely to see her and meet Jorg, her boyfriend, originally from Germany who seems to collect languages as he moves around the world (he has perfect English, well ‘kiwi’, and already has an impressive command of Spanish after only a few months here).
Post Pizza in Santiago.
We are running a little late with blogging at the moment (we are now on week 7 and this only goes up to week 3!)… As promised, I have gone on a bit. Anyone who has taken in half of what I have written deserves some congratulations. Travels beyond Santiago and Chile to follow in the next instalment!
N.B. By clicking on the photo apparently you will be able to find the captions associated with them (actually typed them in now as we couldn´t get this to work!)

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2 responses to “PART 1: Speaking Spanish (Sometimes somniloquism)”

  1. shirley evans says :

    Morning princess, just read your blog. Wonderful – well up to New Zealand standards – in every way! Keep the words coming, it makes everything very real. Lots of love, Mum

  2. A. Grant says :

    Hello Sarah,
    Lovely blog – makes me envious on this rather damp & grey morning. Take care and have lots of fun
    Annie x

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