Three things I should have known before coming to Chile 2

Posted by Caleb | November 8, 2015

Part of the fun of the this trip will be the general ignorance we are allowed to have as foreign tourists (we’re allowing it at least).  I am ok with not knowing exactly what is going on, but often times there are a few small things you can do to make the experience better when you get there.  This was particularly evident for me in our first destination as the shock of not knowing what was going on in Santiago, Chile was an eye opener.  Below are a few things I would suggest digging into before arriving in Chile.


Our tour guide Joaquin kicking off our free walking tour in Plaza de Armas, which was thankfully in English.

1. Just a little Spanish

Coming from a town with a high Spanish speaking population, one would perceive I have picked up a little. However, after our first few days here it is becoming increasingly evident that I know none. This is a problem as outside of our hotel, there was very little English and though most restaurants have someone that speaks enough, getting around can be difficult.  Beth took four semesters at KU, but unfortunately this is one of the behaviors from college that did wear off.  However, her ability to get things done is still way beyond what I am able to do and only continues to improve.  In hindsight, knowing that I was going to be here for two months, just a quick 15 minutes a day would have been a big help, specifically in trying to get around.

We found the language barrier especially challenging in our efforts to find specific locations or buildings.  Locating our bus on the way out of Santiago included several people pointing us in the complete wrong direction and we had to run several blocks with our backpacks to avoid missing our pre-paid bus.  In another instance we found ourselves in a conversational struggle with a few interested Chileans at a local restaurant called La Piojera.

La Piojera (meaning ‘The Flea’), was a big hole in the wall filled with older Chileans and a couple tourists.  Upon arrival we had to point our way to a seat which turned out to be right next to Richardo and Eduardo, a dynamic Chilean duo out for an afternoon drink.  We had come to La Piojera for the famous “Terremoto” buzz.  Translating to earthquake, the Terremoto is a big cup of white wine with a scoop of pineapple ice cream.  Richardo was at least one Terremoto deep and eager to try his bad English on us.  As mentioned, Beth knows a little Spanish and was able to converse easily with him, cobbling together both languages.  Eduardo and I, not being able to follow along, sat across the table from each other and passed along fun facts for our partners to translate, while also laughing when it seemed appropriate.  The topics of conversation seemed to include pesky Peruvians, one very dirty joke and a basic overview of mountains.  This in particular sticks out to me as a time when just a little bit of Spanish would have made it even better.

2. What to do if you’re in an earthquake

To our credit, we had been following the news enough in the past year to know that Chile just experienced a pretty big earthquake this September.  However, that knowledge never transferred to any type of preparatory action.  Thus, when at 4:30 a.m. during our third night in Santiago, I was awoken to a shaking hotel room, you can imagine my surprise.  Startled out of my slumber, I first thought maybe the Terremoto drink was still affecting me.  After about 30 seconds of deliberation, Beth and I came to the conclusion that we were in an actual earthquake, while also agreeing that we had no idea what to do.  My only knowledge on how to react to an earthquake is from a “Saved by the Bell” episode in which I remember A.C. Slater running straight for the doorway when an earthquake strikes Bayside High.  This suggestion was shot down as Beth proposed to hide under the desk in our room, which to me seemed equally ridiculous.

In the end our analysis paralysis led to no action other than staring up at the ceiling, preparing to briskly relocate if anything started falling.  After about 60-90 seconds the shaking settled and about 30 seconds after that the building itself stopped swaying and creaking back in forth.  What followed was 30 minutes of wide-eyed research that should have been completed beforehand as Beth sat awake Googling earthquake safety, and relaying the full gammut of information.  We concluded that the earthquake was a 5.1 magnitude and centered further north up the Chilean coast.  Also, confirming that if you find yourself in that situation, you are supposed to hide under sturdy furniture and stay away from doorways.  Only improving the character profile of A.C. Slater as the dumb jock.

3.Something, anything about Chilean History

I’ve spent the last year or so with no cable, but a bonus to this was a reignited passion for Jeopardy as an afterwork special.  This daily ritual failed me in coming to Chile as I knew very little about Chilean history or the massive U.S. involvement that has/continues to influence this country.  We picked quite a bit up thanks to a visit to the Museum of Human Rights and a four-hour guided walking tour of the city, including an explanation of why people graffiti the Lincoln statue the U.S. gifted Chile. At the very least, it would have been helpful to Google September 11, 1973 and Pinochet.

Jumping for ....human rights?

Jumping for…human rights? Museo de la Memoria.

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