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Foggy Impressions of Chile

First Trip the Smoggy Capital

overcast 65 °F

He who does not travel, who does not read, who does not listen to music, who does not find grace in himself, she who does not find grace in herself, dies slowly.
- Chilean Poet Pablo Neruda

The American Airlines plane altered my surroundings. Summer changed to winter. Clouds and cool weather replaced Caribbean sunshine and warmth. I was in Chile briefly exploring a job opportunity in Santiago.


The first four days in Santiago and Concón included eating incredible steak at Mestizo by Bicentenario Park, sampling delicious wines at the Veramonte Vineyards, and running along the Pacific coast.

I went down to Chile with a few preconceptions about the world's longest and narrowest country along the western coast of South America. The first one was, Chileans speak the most challenging Spanish to understand in all of Latin America. I found this to be true. Even more arduous than Cuba and Equatorial Guinea. Another preconception was that Chile produces excellent wine. I can attest that they do. The final one was earthquakes occur as often as ESPN mentions LeBron James. That remained inconclusive. Didn't experience one the entire week. One topic that did get my attention was the pollution. While I was there, Santiago issued a state of emergency as a result of the smog suffocating the city. Half of the cars were ordered off of the roads. Citizens were actually encouraged <em>NOT</em> to exercise . . . except for soccer players. Santiago just happened to be hosting the Copa America. Some folks wore masks around the city.

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In regards to Spanish, my opinion about Chilean Spanish formed in 2001. When I was a volunteer with the Irish Christian Brothers, the Brothers sent us to Cochabamba, Bolivia to study Castellano. At the end of our studies and a week to spare, my good buddy Rene and I traveled by bus over three days south to Buenos Aires. Once there, standing in front of the Museo de Bellos Artes, I conversed with a Chilean guy in Spanish.

We talked. We asked the initial generic "we're both travelers here" questions.

“What is your name?”

“Where are you from?”

“How long are you here for?”

“Are New Mexicans as green chile crazy as portrayed on the television show "COPS" Just kidding, no one asks about New Mexico.

You know, pretty basic questions.

Chileans are renowned for dropping the letter “s” from every single word. Actually, dropping the final syllable or two are a trademark of Chilean Spanish. You can only really expect to catch the first syllable or two, but after that point, their mouth becomes tired, and you are left to guess the intended meaning.

Despite my proficiency in the language, I had to make educated guesses to his basic questions because honestly, I only had a vague idea what he was truly saying.

If his question of “What is your name?” was flipped over to English it would sound a little something like “Wha i y na?”

Like a student that never read or even opened a book before the final exam, I responded with the same trepidation and confidence, “My name . . . is . . . John? I think. Sure, I'll go with John.”

Overall, if I were in a position to study Spanish abroad, and there are lots of them out there, the last place would be Chile. I would study in Cuba or the Dominican Republic before Chile. One of the most honest assessments of one's personal language skills and would be to travel the length of Chile starting at the Peruvian border (easier Spanish) all the way down south to Patagonia (most challenging).

On the whole, Santiago appears to be the most modern city I have visited in Latin America, but conversely, also the least friendly. Maybe it is a result of the violent political turmoil during the time of Salvador Allende and Augusto Pinochet, or it could be that they are just not friendly. Their Argentina neighbors to the east experienced a similar period of tumult, but emerged as a happier people. One week wasn't enough time to make a definitive decision.

From the capital, I had Lan Airlines miles burning a hole in my pocket and figured I would use them to explore another corner of Chile. I chose Iquique, partly because of an episode of the Amazing Race filmed there where contestants paraglide over the city. During my brief respite there with the single goal of soaring over the landscape, the winds proved too strong and dangerous to paraglide. My roaming was contained to terra firma.

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It was tough in 2001 in front of the Museo de Bellos Artes and 15 years later having taught Spanish for 9 years and traveled extensively through Latin America, it's still remains a trabalengua.

Posted by TulsaTrot 19:17 Archived in Chile Tagged spanish south_america

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