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Colin Noden
Copywriter, Traveler and Insatiable Researcher.
Copywriter, Traveler and Insatiable Researcher.


Santiago Parks , Making a desert town livable.
The parks we saw were refreshing destinations in the city. The moment we walked into one, the temperature dropped and the air seemed cleaner, which is saying a lot for this gritty city.

They are an obvious eco necessity. The haze from the morning traffic is something to behold. But they also act as a lush bedroom for the homeless, and a living room for families, in at own where air conditioning is reserved for offices and hotels.

Every morning there was a shift change in the use of the parks around us. The police would wake the overnight occupants. They weren't all homeless. Some were just sleeping off a party from the night before. If you ignored the police then the hydro crews would make sure you moved along. The parks depend on irrigation, so the sprinklers are soon soaking the morning grass.

Lunch time sees office workers bringing down chairs and sitting in circles as they enjoy the cool green surroundings. The afternoons seem reserved for young lovers. I'm not sure why, but that seems like the time when young couples are scattered around the parks, staring lovingly at each other.

The evening is family time. Blankets, strollers, coolers all come out as families wait for their apartments to cool down in the eight o'clock breeze.

There are monuments in all the parks, but I think they work only as a subliminal reassurance of s rich culture. I've got my thoughts on this which surprised my host. I'll share that in another post.
#Santiago #Chile
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Here's a quiz for your weekend. What are these things? And what are their significance? Hint: #Chile #Mapuche
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What's to love about Santiago Chile?
"I love it here" she said. The importance of that statement comes from the person who uttered it. My spouse. As any guy will tell you, when your spouse declares a love for something, you get ready.

Lucky for me, I think the reasons she loves this place is the same reason I fell in love with her. It's interesting, unpredictable, passionate, quirky, hard nosed at times, and always evolving. And all of this comes from the people.

I admit it was a shock for me at first...the city, I'm done talking about my spouse...even I know when it is best to let a simile lie.

We left the jungle dance of Central America and came to a European nuanced street life. "Jungle dance" is not an insult by the way. I grew up in the north, where the same values were the norm. Deep respect for each other, because we needed each other to survive. You are a friend unless you prove otherwise. Then,well....

Here it is the opposite. I am this annoying lump of flesh getting in their way. Unless I find a way of connecting with them. When that happens, I am instantly accepted...with all my faults. In fact, those faults will be fun fodder for future discussions. (sorry, the alliteration just begged to be used)

This city treasures a big heart and a quick mind. Smile at a baby. Extend a courtesy to a lady. Make an amusingly (discreet) insightful remark...and the city doors open.

Even little acts matter. The people across from us are renovating their deck. The carpenter has been making a racket of a noise all week. He knows it, and looks up toward our window at every break. Today they finished, with an intricate addition over the metal roof. We leaned out and gave him applause and a big thumbs up. Friends forever? Well, perhaps not, but friends....we're still working on the deck christening party invitation.

Since I started out with a reference to my spouse, I'll be brave enough to end with one. She's the big heart. And the brave soul who will reach out though the barriers people have put up. I'll eventually add a witty remark and work through a tricky translation.

But that first move is critical.
And that is my biggest piece of advice to having a fulfilling time here.
Be gracious. Smile. Be sensitive and listen... and find some common ground.
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Santiago is more than historic buildings and universities. It is the Capital, and a business center. So there are modern buildings and residences here as well. But of course, for a tourist, these are not the first things that come to mind when looking for photos.

Santiago is also the home of the biggest mall, and the tallest building in South America. The mall is worth seeing for a couple of practical reasons. Shopping downtown is one big scavenger hunt. Everything is scattered and hidden.

Stores cluster together according to specialties. So all the opticians are mostly in one block. Cell phone stores in another, etc.

I had a varied list of things I needed. Ground coffee and filters; a flexible cutting board; a pair of pants (I ruined one pair) and a salty snack.

The coffee was hit and miss. I could find some at a grocery store, but it was mostly a stale robusta bean mix. And everything was espresso grind. We spent two days trying to find the Columbian coffee store. I think it is out of business. And I never found the filters.

The cutting board was never found. I bought a tiny one that will make do. I paid too much for it and will have to leave it. A day of searching was enough.

I knew where to look for the pants. There is an upscale department store here. But, they have separate locations for each department downtown. So we had to do a scavenger hunt to find the men's department.

I never did find the salty snack. This is a desert town. The heat is over 30c everyday. But good luck finding a salty snack. Want a sweet pastry? Just reach out. There's probably one within arm distance. Fruit? Just about on every corner.

Which brings me back to the mall. The department store was all in one section. And there was a specialty shop in the mall selling the pants I wanted. The coffee was still a gamble, and no basket filters.

But I hit cheese heaven! Wheels and wheels of every cheese I craved. Aisles of wines. Piles of breads. A Frenchman's heaven. But I didn't have an ice pack in my bag.

So we left with a small bag of coffee. Exhausted. No energy to try to hunt down a salty snack. But at least I now know where to look.
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Personal Security
I've been putting this issue off for a while, but we dodged a mugging today. It's no surprise. We've been warned and have taken precautions. We've also witnessed two robberies and one stabbing. And there was one purse stolen in our restaurant area below us.

There are people looking for easy targets. Tourists are the first choice, but as we've witnessed, locals are just as vulnerable. I make sure that I'm obviously well wrapped and alert. "Obvious" is the important part.

All my hand held items are obviously triple wrapped around my wrists. My wallet is so far up my butt that I do a Chippendale lap dance with the cashier every time I need to pay for something. And my cellphone...let's just say I'm courting testicular cancer.

But all the precautions don't matter much when my looks just scream tourist. And when there are some half stoned crooks nearby, looking for more cash to keep the buzz going.

We attracted the attention of two guys while crossing this intersection. This busy area is also the dividing point for several social levels. On the left is an area we've been told to avoid. Columbian drug gangs are what we've been told. But immigrant prejudice is high these days, so let's just say, lots of junkies.

On the right is a grey zone leading to an upscale business district. The grey zone is usually safe and full of trendy restaurants. Behind us to the left is an older residential business mix. A place to explore the texture of genteel decline. And behind us to the right is a business and educational area....the safe zone.

Two guys started following us at the intersection. We were seeking the shady side of the street and took a turn to the genteel area. Now there were three. We followed a nice respectable woman until we got to a fruit vendor. Mary bought some fruit as I watched our threesome move ahead and recruit two more.

They were tossing down a few beers to get in the mood, and giving us some sidelong looks. I guess they thought they were being subtle, but being high, it was pretty obvious that we were on their radar. One guy was "whispering" to his friends and making little camera clicking motions. The point man was tossing another down and beginning that wheeling chest out strut. It was time to leave.

I gave them a look that told them we were aware. Then we left with confidence, back toward the safe zone. They had to stop and discuss what to do next. And by that time we were out of sight.
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Books Books Books.....
We are in a bohemian neighborhood, so perhaps it is to be expected. But it still amazes me. There is a store in our courtyard, in case you fancy a book with your bite. Then around there corner there is another one. Two blocks down, antiquity books. Late at night? Street vendors lay out more books. Kiosks have a tumble of treasures. And one guy with a rack of politically charged titles, stands in the flea market, glaring at people. Good luck finding a bodice ripper from any of them.
So who buys them? Just about everyone. Well, not the old lady selling Limoges tea sets. She has a stern old guard look to her. But others do. The typical artists ; the"medical marijuana" brownie vendors, the tattooed hipsters, the earnest quiet ones.
But also the guy in the beige two piece suit, who walked down the street with one book under his arm, and another carefully wrapped in a plastic bag. The look on his face showed the excitement of the purchase and the urgency to get home for a long night of reading and thinking.
Read, think, discuss. And for some, smoke like a swordsman. This is Lastarria. I haven't seen a fight here. Lot of talk, but no grabbing the collar and laying the first one hard.
You could dismiss this with a "talk is cheap" comment. But Chile's history has proven otherwise.

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Our local Quiltro
This old timer owns the corner across from us. He spends most of the day sleeping in the sun beside the Ice Cream shop. The highlight of his day is standing up. This takes much time and effort. When he finally achieves it, he pants from the exertion, and most probably the pain.

Then he manages a stiff arthritic teeter around the corner. This is his kingdom. For how long, who knows. Every day I look to see if he is still there, and if he is alive. I used to call him a stray, but I've been corrected. He is a Quiltro. A communal dog. A citizen of the neighborhood. Food and water is left out for him, but no one claims ownership. And he clearly does not seek to be owned, or put into any form of servitude.

I watched a young store clerk whistle to draw him to some food. The king of the corner just stood and stared. His look said," Do not try to command me with this enticement." There is a pride and nobility in him, and others like him, which I have not seen anywhere else.

To be honest, I prefer them over the "owned" dogs we have encountered. The leashed dogs have an arrogance to them. They yap, push, and strut. Their demeanor shows they truly believe all the fawning praises their "owners" give them.

The Quiltros we've encountered are different. Sensitive and noble, and know how to insult you with a unique European flair.

Mary has a daily early morning walk in the park near us. Now that she is a regular, she is acceptable. Today there was a soft nuzzle against her hand as she walked. A golden lab had adopted her. the same thing happened when a group of girls stopped for a midday rest under a tree. A couple dogs joined them. One of them giving out the occasional woof of protection...against the invading pigeons I imagine.

We stopped at an intersection and a young mother pit-bull cross pranced across the street, showing us how to use the walk signal. So happy in her intersection savvy skills.

Another joined us up on the hilltop of the main park. ready to guide us through the sprinklers and up to the viewpoint. We saw the mud ahead and changed our mind. The snort of disdain, then abandonment, put us in our place. We were wimps..and good riddance.

If we stayed here longer, I'm sure I would be drawn into some relationships with these characters.

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Street Art
I suspect there is an evolution to the graffiti here. I'll post on the tagging graffiti later. But the street art and murals here deserve special mention.

There is a quality in them that demands attention. But just what they are saying escapes me. It's a bit like trying to understand French Canadian slang. There must be a cultural code.

I've never seen anyone in the midst of painting one. This fire and smoke couple is on some construction siding in a small lane. The detail and colours couldn't be done by someone with a spray can at 2am.

There is an art shop around the corner, so I may stop in there to solve the mystery. I can't imaging this not catching the eye of the dealer.
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Air Quality
Five million people, nestled up against the Andes. A rain shadow. An inversion geography. Oh, they are not alone. I remember seeing the North Shore Mountains in Vancouver BC disappear in summer. And so too, do the Coastal Mountains here disappear in the haze of pollution.

If you come here, we are told that summer is better. Winter brings on the inversions.

That said...I have no problem. It is late summer here. Some "interesting" smells descend in the middle of the night. The sinuses have adjusted. And there is a rhythm to the breezes. We know when to open for a cross breeze, and when to just leave for a walk. The walk is a distraction.

"Cross Breeze"?
Why not hunker down in air conditioned filtered air?
Well, that's not how it works here. No Arizona cave dwellers allowed. The sky is blue. The air is dry. The sun is constant. So why hide in a cave? It is time to enjoy life and have fun. Or, at the very least, join in the rhythm of the city.

I'm starting with the air quality because this the first thing a person will pay attention to. It is not good. There is no one who will argue with you about that.

But if you are going to stop at that, then you are going to miss out on a lot.

N.B. I understand there are those who are sensitive. Consider this a gentle warning. I understand your plight. Just avoid this city. I hate to be so blunt, but after talking to several locals, that seems to be the only way. For those of us who are willing to have the occasional stuffed up nose and 5 tissue day, then there is much to discover.
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We've been here a week now. Enough time to get some of the first impressions into perspective, and short enough tme that they don't disappear into the mundane.

Our late night arrival from the airport was like the opening teaser reel of some Anthony Bourdain gonzo-journalism show. All that was missing was the acid rock and voice-over.

Our shared van took us on and off the freeway into a variety of neighborhoods. The constant was graffiti. Along the freeway, the side streets, the buildings was a run on sentence of self expression. Some was simple tagging, others were elaborate statements, evolving into murals.

Silent neighborhoods with vignettes of activity. A family strolling, seeking some cool in the evening. Children, weaving along, covering their yawns. Obviously recently fed and content. Packs of stray dogs, too hot to be dangerous. The bright windows of cafe/bars with couples sitting across bare tables. Litre bottles of beer in front of them and engrossed in eye-to-eye conversations.

Our stop came as a shock. This place was wide awake and busy. We moved along the sidewalk with all our luggage strapped and rattling behind us. Yet we were invisible to the zombie marching pedestrians. This was very different from the zen like walk of the Panamanians.

The entrance to our building is in a courtyard of restaurants. This was filled with noisy discussions. Lots of in your face pronouncements, deep drags of cigarettes followed by dismissive streams of smoke. Again we were invisible, except for the disdainful glances by artistically coiffed middle age philosopher types.

It seemed like we had left Latin America and entered Europe. I wasn't sure if this was a good thing. But we were too tired to do anything but go to our room and lay down, and try to let the noise wash over us until we found some semblance of sleep.

Not the best first impression. But things got better in the days that followed.
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