Living Abroad in Chile

by Mark Wynn

Preface

A work in progress....


Here are some things I have learned and experienced from 3 years living abroad. I chose Chile in part because Chile chose me. I had thought about other countries in this hemisphere, even making several trips to Belize scouting but ultimately I didn't feel the disconnect from the United States that I felt I needed in Belize. Although I did find an affordable lot right on the Caribbean sea in Sarteneja that was from a fairy tale, one could sense the oppressive shadow of the US war on drugs coursing just below the surface. With a town that had a lack of steady employment I didn't want to pick a spot that had the obvious potential to be a drug running hot spot, no matter how incredibly beautiful.

I had my mind open for a few years to vacate the US in an attempt to find some distance from the specter of 911and the disgraceful response pursued by the govt. Fortunately unlike everyone I know I was neither married or with children so that opened the possibilities to anything my imagination and courage allowed.

I felt I needed to look beyond English speaking countries, even though English was my sole language. I took encouragement from the many Spanish speakers I saw making it the US and told myself it was very possible that I could succeed in a Spanish speaking country. I had faith they were welcoming people if I would only try to learn and approach every situation with humility.

As I said Chile choose me one day when I crossed paths with a woman from Chile named Ana visiting my hometown in Ohio. I extended an invitation to show her some sights and she accepted. The first hurdle was that she knew no English and I no Spanish, but we had an app for that so it wasn't insurmountable. After a few weeks the topic of me returning to Chile came up and we both agreed. It was a huge gamble for us both but we agree that such is life.

I moved to Hualpen Chile in September of 2015. Its 360 miles south of Santiago next to Concepcion. Concepcion is the business area while Hualpen is more of just a huge neighborhood. To my understanding Hualpen was settled in large part after the 9.5 earthquake of 1960 that destroyed nearby Lota. So Ana's parents relocated here with most everyone else and occupied this large field donated by the estate of Pedro del Rio Zañartu. Along with the port of Talcahuano these three main cities are all located in this immediate area.

When I am asked where I am from I always describe it by saying like here in Chile the region is named after the Bio Bio River which is a native American word and in Ohio it is the same, the state is named after the Ohio River. People seem to appreciate that comparison.

When I was invited here the first thing I did was look at Google Earth to get an idea of the living conditions. Feel free to look up Sajonia avenue in Hualpen and see for yourself. From the sky looking down you get the feeling of a sardine can, so my first impression was that it would be a difficult situation for me to adjust. My house in Ohio was a very rural location with no neighbors.

Some of the first things you immediately notice in Santiago upon arrival is the manner in which some construction material is disposed of on the bank of the Mapocho River in the middle of town. The freeway passes along this river so you have a good view of this debris piled along the river there. It is mostly construction materials but there's plenty of household trash mixed in to add to the offense.

Even in my neighborhood like every neighborhood here I suppose they sometimes dispose of refuse in designated locations around the neighborhood. There is a free trash pickup a couple times a week but a lot of the time its construction stuff that people take to certain spots and dump. Right out back in the alley by the canal is a spot. The municipality has large trucks roving with clean up crews taking care of these spots, cleaning the weeds out and debris out of the canal, watering the grass in the parks, but these spots for dumping are always being used. It took time to be able to look past it. That's conditioning either direction.

While there's always more trash visible, this habit of dumping stuff around gives everyone a chance to go thru it looking for recyclable material. Not that everyone goes thru it but some people recycle for their income so that gives them the opportunity to strip washers and refrigerators of metal and the like.

Ultimately far less makes it into a landfill. Seeing this way of doing it makes you really consider the pros and cons of the differences. The only pro I can see about the way the US disposes of trash is that it is less inconvenient to have to look at it. But it makes it much easier to dispose of things that could otherwise be used.

Another things trash related that's different here is that the large stores and groceries don't provide plastic bags. Most people have their own cloth bags. This also gives bag boys a job to collect old cardboard boxes to provide to the customer. They make a little tip for this. Speaking of checkout lanes, no store I've been in seems to be in a hurry to check customers out. If you hit a store at 5 the lines will be rediculous.

I had to run in and buy a couple things from the grocery store. They only had two lanes open and my lane had 20 people in it, many with carts completely loaded. And speaking of carts, strangely enough, when a chilean empties their cart, they push it back upstream instead of downstream to the bag boy to push it out of the way. Instead after just a couple people, there's a huge cluster f*ck of carts mixed with dozens of people waiting to checkout. It boggles the gringo observer.

A a gringo observer I was a little uncomfortable with the mandatory greetings in most circumstances. Im not a germiphobe but I also know that there is less casual handwashing here. I dont see the results of a national campaign to encourage the practice. I've also met some questionable characters. Drug addicts is not to harsh a term for most of them. Its safe to assume they've deficated in public a hundred times since they washed their hands last. And they always want to shakehands. Greeting the ladies with a faux kissy cheek is less offensive so I assume that means they suffer through it.

A social custom here one notices when you visit someone, after the exchange of greetings, is being offered Nescafe. Everyone drinks instant coffee. Theres a couple Starbucks in malls in Concepcion but it is still impossible to get a fantstic cup. About the best you get at Starbuck's is a cup of the house with 2percent. It's a sad facsimile. We have a gringo owned coffeeshop at Vega Monumental but even there you will never get half&half. I like half&half, what can I say? I considered buying some cream and whole milk a mixing it but I decided to adopt a different way.

Like people who are hustling down here to provide for themselves, the main difference is American society doesn't want to be inconvenienced with looking at it, so they outlaw it one way or another. The US is in business to outlaw inconvenience in a way. It's part of their business model and they nickle and dime everyone with it. Ultimately both countries still bury it somewhere. Chile just buries a lot less per capita.

As I said, although the trash is a little more visible Chile, it certainly produces a fraction as compared to the US. I remember I lived with another person in the US and we would consistently produce a bag of trash every other day. Here it takes at least a week, sometimes 2 for 2 of us to fill the same bag. A big reason is packaging a lot of things are in plasric bags that would be in a plastic bottles in the US. ketchup and mustard for instance. Medicines too are packaged differently. Pills are in strips in little boxes. No bottles of 500 pills. I even had an giant bottle of asprin and I overheard them talking about it, I heard someone say, ''500?''

The 'other' first thing you may notice here are dogs. Not so much in Santiago but in every other town dogs are numerous. A lot of strays, but a lot of old fat house dogs wandering free. People are attacked occasionally which I am always a little surprised by because I quickly realized if you just act like you are picking up a rock the dog will run away immediately. Still you hear of people mauled here a few times a year.

You think why don't the govt clean them off the streets? There are very vocal animal rights people here just like the US and there are laws protecting these strays from abuse. Are animal concentration camps the answer? One thing about these dogs is you don't have to wonder if a guy is prowling around at night cause hes always followed by several dogs barking at him.

I do know a woman here who was viciously attacked and got an infection and was laid up for awhile. I heard of a neighbor who was supposedly killed just a few blocks from my house by a dog. That's not common in fact I only heard that second story through my friend here but I don't doubt it. The number of dogs running loose would encourage that occasionally.

That's another something that's very different here. There is no thoroughly comprehensive national news. There just aren't a thousand stations with hundreds of reporters out on the beat looking for stories. There are no competing 24 hours news here. There is CNN Chile that covers Washington and CNÑ that covers South America. Everything else is just nightly news. It very possible someone gets murdered and it doesn't make the news. Even when someone gets murdered by a dog. I guess its because its a poor neighborhood.

Even the trash and dogs only illustrate the difference in Government participation in public education between Chile and the US. Without the initiatives to combat litter and stray pets in the US it would be exactly the same. You could say Chile has more freedom in regards of garbage and pets. Is it a freedom you appreciate? There's pluses and minuses to government intervention.

Let's talk about a plus here, a huge plus. The police here are called Carabineros. The Carabineros enforce the laws but from a totally different point of view. Its not to raise revenue. That was a revelation to me when I realized it. There's only one law enforcement here for the whole country. No peckerwood Sheriff Departments setting in hiding places to catch you doing something they can fine you for.

They work almost entirely for the public safety. So if you're not engaging in a dangerous activity it would seem from my experience that you will almost certainly get a warning. I will say it is the most refreshing aspect of life here that you don't have to fear being policed. I've been here 3 years and don't recall seeing anyone getting arrested. Maybe only once or twice have I seen the cops talking to someone. The cops mind there own business not yours.

The Carabineros don't get an undue respect here. They don't have a huge union spreading a hero myth about them. Anyone over 30 remembers the Pinochet dictatorship assisted by Henry Kissinger's covert war to rid the hemisphere of socialists. The Carabineros are rightly viewed as the tool of oppression here. Much like our founding fathers viewed the military or like Woodie Guthrie songs about John Bull cracking your skull for vagrancy. In fact one of the first time we walked by the University here we saw about 4 mounted cops and Ana grumbled, ''That's oppression.''

I appreciate the living history here. In the US history is all ancient but the feeling here its alive and well. I walked over to a neighbors to get a pair of shoes made and saw a big red star memorial with five men painted on the wall next to it. In 1983 I think it was, Pinochet's hit squad lined up five communists on that wall and executed them. Around the same time period they surrounded a city bus, ultimately filled it with tear gas and wounded the guy when he ran out. When they dropped him at the hospital he was in cuffs and and had a bullet hole in his forehead.

My neighbor, Jorge, from down the block, his uncle set himself on fire in front of the church at the Plaza de Armas in Concepcion to demand Pinochet answer where he had his sons hidden. This stuff is real and its exposed as the gruesome brutality it is, like Kent State for instance.

Even though the FOP has spent millions to revamp their image you still get ''nigger killing lawmen feeding their notches'' as Burroughs has described and places like Waco and Ruby Ridge. Here it seems that the govt accepts that it no longer controls the narrative. Not so in the US.

I would risk stepping in dog shit every time I left the house to know that everyone in my city is safe from harassment or being shot by police. In three years I've heard of one fatality by a police officer and it was such unusual circumstances it hard to explain. The final result was that officer was in huge trouble. There seems to be very narrow justification for cops shooting people here. How can you argue thats wrong?

But you could write that off as a result of Chilean society is obviously more passive and non violent. There are guns and there are gangs. My neighbor across the street was assassinated one night as he got off his motorcycle and still this is vastly safer than other US cities I've lived in like New Orleans or Chicago. My neighbor was targeted it was no accident. There was another guy two blocks away selling drugs who met the same fate but these guys were engaging in behavior that draws this attention. In any city in the world you can draw that attention if you choose. The difference here is that no one is accidentally shot. That's a huge freedom.

I will give you an example of the passive mentality of the Chileans I've met here. I work a food truck late night close to a bad neighborhood. I get asked by people if I have trouble, no is the answer usually but I invited some trouble by asking a drug dealer if he knew where I could get some marijuana.

Marijuana is not viewed through the lens of a War on Drugs mentality and its tolerated by most. Crack here is big time but marijuana is just a small time thing. Coincidentally its easy to get but not in any quality and because of the poor neighborhood I assume, any good quantity. Like literally $1.50 worth at a time.

But back to show you the non violent attitudes of a lot of people here. I asked this drug guy for some pot. He went and got it and me being appreciative I kicked him a 1000 peso, like $1.70. That was enough to by crack with so he did, and then of course pestered me everyday for two weeks. Finally he stops by the food truck with something for me. I inspect it and clearly see its horseshit wrapped up in paper so I hand it back, literally horseshit...

One thing leads to another and he leaves, he gave me enough time to get pissed off about it, and then he returns. This time I gave him a much different welcome and I proceed to crack his skull, just to let the word get around to avoid the gringo. But the I did it in front of the Carabineros. Of course they arrest us both and put us in the back of a van. This is where Chilean law enforcement differs. They did not search us for weapons or cuff us. Just told us to get in the van. There was no partician from the driver or anything, just a bench seat?!

The officer sitting in the back said, i swear he said, ''If you guys shake hands I'll let you go'' I could not allow myself to hear that so I acted like I didn't understand. To which the cop said obviously disappointingly, ''Well then we're going to jail.'' My thoughts at the time were this is not high school and I don't want out of it that bad. By the time we got to jail the officer called his own bluff and let us both go.

I think this demonstrates a difference in law enforcement but also the non violent neture of Chile. If that doesnt then this might. A few weeks later, the bottle of propane got stollen from my truck and I went around asking some shady characters about it. I went to the corner were they sell crack at about 1am to ask about my bottle of propane.

The streetlamp was busted and it was really dark. When I walked up to these guys hanging around I couldn't see that the guys I walking up to was the same guy I had smacked around a couple weeks earlier! I was a little nervous when I realized who I was talking to but he acted completely normal like he might have accepted he deserved it. Can you imagine that scenario playing out in the US? These people aren't violent generally speaking. My goal of proving to the neighborhood druggies that I was no easy mark paid off though and I haven't had any problems in the year or so since.

A lot of things remind me the US in the 1970s. Like fashion for instance, girls wear high wasted jeans. But they also wear shorts in the summer that, well lets just say are quite cheeky. You cant object to that freedom.

Life here is allowed to survive. Meaning the govt is not an impediment to it. Poor people exist everywhere but in the US you can be legally murdered for selling loose cigarettes... don't say it hasn't happened, but here everyone here is allowed to work their hustle. At the intersections you see all manor of merchandise for sale. You also see a lot of jugglers. You see a lot of cold drinks for sale and ice creams, sun visors and cellphone holders, air fresheners are popular.

Not only at the intersections but city bus drivers allow them to jump on the buses and give a spiel between stops. I even saw a rapper with a radio once rap for donations and another time a three piece Peruvian troop with flutes jam out. Its a great sense of freedom.

  Other popular jobs are parking lot attendants. They really don't do a whole lot but like everyone they need to work and it feels good to acknowledge their effort and help them along by giving them the equivalent of 20 cents to help you back out of a space.  A lot of times they will also wash your car while you shop. Its like in the US society expects you to maintain life at a standard for upper middle class and those who fall short are austrasized but here life runs at a little lower income level thereby being vastly more inclusive.

   There's this one small woman in a wheelchair who sits in the middle of an intersection and receives alms. Can you imagine how people would react to that in the States? She'd be in danger and the police would have her in minutes.

Why would she be in danger in the US and not here? The ladies done that for years here with no problem. In the US the cops aren't really trying to protect her by arresting her, they are trying to protect the state from lawsuits. Which illustrates a huge difference here. There no culture of litigation here.

Remember my friend who got mauled by the dog? Suing never crossed her mind. My friend I live with got bit by a dog while we were at a fab shop and she was bleeding slightly too and she didn't mention it until we were in the car leaving?! I was pissed and asking her why she didn't tell the owner about it. She just said, ''What could he do?'' I said, ''Well maybe he would have gave us a better price on the work I was having done.'' Then I said ''what If it gets infected and you have to go to the hospital? Who's going to pay for that?'' She said, '' Nobody. Its free.'' Which leads into another point. Free healtchcare, or at least its super reduced to the point if you have a major procedure you can continue living your life.

The Pharmaceutical company is state owned also I got a prescription of xanax for $2. If health care is affordable, there is much less legitimate reason for a lawsuit. How can you argue that's not more freedom. Yes you have the freedom for more personal responsibility. If you trip on the sidewalk whose fault is it in the US? Or if you step in dogshit in the US whose fault is it? In Chile you still retain that responsibility. Like it or not, that's more freedom.

Another one of the great aspects of Chile, and I expect most Latin American countries is the Feria, its The farmer's market mixed with a flea market and fish market. Here in Chile its mobile and is in a different spot every day. Friday, Sunday and Tuesday its walking distance from the house. You can find any fresh fruit that's in the US plus some that you wont find in the US. Vegetable too, mountains of them. You wont find ten different varieties of tomatoes or peppers or apples but that's not a great sacrifice. But I would slap someone for a jalapeño though.

So they got all the veggies and fruit you can imagine at the Feria plus clothes and hardware but the greatest is the fisherman. You can get 10 different fish like salmon, reineta, murluza(hake in English I think) hurel is a delicious one too. Several others I don't know. Plus mountains of clams You can eat so many fresh clams that you might explode for $3.

They also love cevichè here. They serve that fresh at the feria. Get it in a 12oz plastic cup full with a spork for probably $1.70. Everything seems based on a 1000 pesos, which is about $1.70. That's why that is a reoccuring price. I say cevichè is probably $1.70 cause I only tried it once mainly cause when I first moved here my stomach was to soft for the food here and I ended up with food poisoning once a week. I was up with a fever a couple nights. But generally it wasn't that bad... you can imagine.

I got sick a lot at first. We visited Valparaiso and it was Sunday. Everything was closed as it was Sunday except this little popular bar I cant remember the name of. They were only serving one.thing and that was a very popular dish called pichangas. Its basically loaded french fries. This had steak and onions and scrambled eggs, I think this is standard pichangas but I got a good fever that night from it.

Since then I've toughened up and.haven't.had an issue for a year or so. Funny story, we went and spent the weekend with some Mapuche native Americans and they butchered a hog with a filet knife on a.table in the yard (read My Weekend with the Mapuche for the whole story) and we cooked it over a fire and ate it on the spot and I was sure Id be sick. This pig was covered in filth when it was laid kicking on the table and the.filet knife jammed into it. I didn't get the slightest problem from that but the first hot dog I ate upon returning gave me a fever again.

Hot dogs are a staple here nation wide. They are the one food you can consistently find besides empanadas. Chileans like there hot dogs two ways. With Avocado, tomato and mayo or sauerkraut, tomato and mayo. This is a very typical common food here.

Empanadas being the other most popular food. Empanada is a traditional food I'm sure date back.a.long time. It closely resembles a hot pocket basically... if your hot pocket were made by your Grandmother. The really impressive thing is the standard empanada does not vary from one end of Chile to the other. They almost always have a steak and onion mixture with one unpitted olive and a half a hard boiled egg. Personal responsibility insists on not breaking you teeth on the pit. But.if you do it with just be few dollars to get your teeth fixed.

When September rolls around its early spring here and signals month of festivals. September 18 is Fiestas Patrias or Founders Day and it is a fun time everyone looks forward to. You notice a lot of kite flying by young and old. You also notice a lot of traditional dancing. Which is something I have yet to manage. The dance is the Queca. A man and woman in traditional clothes pairs up and dances around ina circular patterns that I hear mimics two chickens. It enjoyable... people really enjoy watching. You see couples all over the place doing it.

Like any traditional dance it looks simple and a little random, but like all traditional dance it has a structure that probably escapes the casual observer and the improvisation that one can see from dancer to dancer comes from an intimate understanding of the dance and not an ignorance of the moves... so that excludes me for now.

Another big thing Chileans like to do is grilling out. Especially during Fiesta Patrias. This is something Americans could appreciate. Chileans love meat. During the first Fiestas Patrias I experienced was the same weekend we visited the Mapuche and even though there almost at war with the Chilean govt they seemed.to.be partying too. This weekend.started with a couple parties that grilled beef and a sausage here called longaniza. Its kind of like a smoked sausage with less fat. Its made locally all over Chile. But we started with a couple meals of.steak and sausage then the mapuches grilled the pork and later we ate some carp. At another Mapuche fiesta the same.day the had a sheep cooked up too. By the end of the weekend I had ingested 10lbs of meat of various creatures.

Another thing I noticed about their diet is, sure you can eat meat.everyday but nuts as easily you can eat a vegan diet without effort or fanfare. Here a vegan diet is just refereed to as food. Americans diet is some at based that I really didn't know you can cook beans and spaghetti and vegetables all together and make a fantastic dish with out meat. We also eat a lot of collards here which was new to me but the are delicious. Ana makes a kind of quish with them. Looks disgusting but its quite tastey

A really cool thing here, especially in this area and south is native Mapuche influence in the food. Like collards are view in the US as soul food ie poor people food. A lot of the Mapuche influence in the food I suspicion is viewed with equal disdain. I love interesting food and here they eat a lot of bull kelp seaweed. I saw an ancient lady who looked a hundred years old dragging kelp out of the surf among boulders at a town called Chome.

It was a sight. I've seen her at the Feria and shes a specimen. Imagine your Great Grandmother climbing around boulders with a crashing surf carrying a large knife dragging out huge pieces of kelp. If she said she was 150 years old I would've believed her. The deep deep lines on this woman's face spoke volumes about a life of extreme toil. It was moving to simply set there smoking a joint watching this lady work.

Another interesting food I tried was at a restaurant in Concepcion. It was a restaurant for rural food I guess you call it. You could get a dinner of cow udder here. I went with the tongue, and it was a plateful which I managed to choke down. Another common protein here is horsemeat. I have been asking Ana to get some but we have yet to get it. I did try charkey which is raw, dried horsemeat. Thats definently a rural thing but I've heard them say they love it.

Other strange things include seasonal pine tree seeds from the Araucaria family. The trees are refereed to as living fossils. I encourage you to look them up they definitely look like something from Jurassic park. You can buy these at the feria. Also chestnuts too. They sell chestnuts by the semi truckloads here during the season. We snack on them all season here.

Chile has fantastic bakeries too. Within two blocks of my house you can buy bread at 4 different places. They have great french bread and several other rolls I really dont know but there good. Tortilla, not mexican tortilla, but a flatter bread, I assume its unleavened, you can buy from ladies at the Feria and a lot of times its baked in coals underground.

Another fantastic bread is pan amasado. all over town people have homemade ovens baking this about dinner time everyday. Some have cob ovens but a lot have ovens made out of 50 gallon drums cut in half. They burn wood on top of it and when it turns to coal they shovel it under the bread shelf in the bottom.

You really have to be careful here. We were buying pan amasado off this guy and I saw a guy shove a piece of styrofoam in the firebox! I've learned to look over their wood pile to size them up. Some burn a lot of plywood I've noticed. We found a good consistent place.

Besides these things cheese is also quite popular but not cheese you would be familiar with. No Swiss or cheddar... no yellow cheese at all. At the big store you can but it but its pricey. The cheeses I've seen here are all white and i cant tell them apart. They seem to be labeled from where there from.

But you can find a fantastic goat cheese here that's about $5 a kilo. The first time we lucked into this we were on our way north to La Serena and I impulsively stopped at a guy along the road selling cheese. We snacked on over half that kilo before we made it La Serena. It was as good as anything I tried in Holland.

That's another interesting aspect as you drive through different regions you see different vendors. That region above Santiago had lots of farmers selling cheese on the roadside. But another region had bakers. The bakers seemed to all wave a stick with steamers on the end to get your attention. They didn't sell bread though they sold sweets like pastries and donuts. Some even had outdoor restaurants with a roof and tables, a generator running in the back providing electricity for cold drinks. Road trips are very enjoyable here.

They have touristy spots like Viña del Mar. Somewhere up north Chile has the worlds largest swimming pool. Look it up, its enormous. They have some nice beaches up north. Chile has a few cities like Viña with lots of glitz and glamour but if you want to see a different world head south to Patagonia.

Its a temperate rain forest, again it looks like something from the Jurassic period. We drove through Pumalin Park its unreal somewhere close to that we spent the night at a town called Chaiten. Chaiten was severely damaged by a volcano right next to it that erupted a few years ago that rerouted a river through town. Can you imagine that. There was still plenty of evidence of this.

I plan adding more to this in the future. The trip down to Port Rio Traquillo was impressive and I have plans on heading back next summer for further investigation. One thing I am very anxious to see and experience is the island of Chilloè. Its tough to even realize this is an island cause it fits into the coast of Chile. But it is a huge island with several native communities. The unusual thing these communities are known for are their unique potatoes. Each community has their own variety of potato with their own recipes. There are between 300 and 500 different varieties on this island.

They come in a rainbow of colors and shapes. I must be getting old but this impresses the hell out of me and I cant wait to learn more. If you are interested look up papasarcoiris.cl its a commercial venture supporting these communities and their unique potatoes. So this is certainly something I will write about in the future.

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