I once rolled my ankle in Bogotá and fell into the road. I remember this incident because it nearly killed me. Bogotá drivers have no respect for human life. I doubt they use the phrase ‘hit-and-run’ – a ‘hit-and-pause’ would be more shocking.
Strolling through Santiago, enjoying the sun and the leafy streets, I came across a zebra crossing. Now zebra crossings are extremely dangerous in Bogotá, because the lines are generally painted onto the worst parts of the busiest streets. Of course, they mean nothing. So I stopped. So did the cars. I waited. They waited. Several seconds passed before I was certain it wasn’t a trick. I still crossed in a hurry.
Amazingly, this was not a one-off. Drivers here in the mountain town of Pucon are even more patient and respectful. The other night I came across a zebra crossing at an intersection, where a driver was waiting to turn right. I paused for a moment. The Chilean girl behind me didn’t and clattered into me. “Bloody tourists,” she said.
I must not get too used to this.
Fruit and vegetables are also surprising in Chile – or rather, the size of them. One tomato is almost too big to carry in one hand. I mentioned this to a fellow tourist where I was staying. “All fruit and vegetables are like that in Latin America,” he replied, with some authority.
In the face of such a know-it-all, I didn’t dare tell him that you could easily fit three Colombian tomatoes inside one Chilean one. I remain mystified.
And on the subject of mystified – sometimes Chileans do things in a strange way. I walked into a tiny shop, in a bus depot, to buy a bottle of coke. It was behind the counter, so I asked one of the two attendants to pass it to me. He shook his head and instead wrote ‘one coca-cola’ on a piece of paper.
He directed me to the other attendant, who took my money (and my piece of paper) and gave me another piece of paper. He directed me back to the first attendant who, in exchange for the new piece of paper, gave me the bloody bottle of coke and almost cost me my bus.
Still, I am thoroughly enjoying Chile. Santiago and Valparaiso were both good fun and Patagonia is beautiful – it’s all red wine, good chocolate and mountains, which suits me very well. Now if only I could figure out how they grow that enormous fruit.