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Tour du monde en autostop - Jeremy Marie


 Travel Diary : The narrow Chile

What do we do about Chile when we are coming from abroad? What are the only news that are coming to us?

Without any doubt, you will have heard about the dictatorship of Pinochet, the last earthquake and the miracle of the mine workers of San Jose. At the end, this is a lot of sensationalism but nothing much to understand the culture.

For this reason, I didn´t really know what to expect when I entered Chile. Looking at the map of the country, the only thing that I was thinking was that Chile was looking like a club of golf. So nothing much about the culture neither.
In fact, my personal experience would teach me a lot and I wouldn´t have other point of view that would give me prejudices.

I was coming from Bolivia when I crossed the Chilean border of Ollague. I was starting to go down the country from the most arid place in the world: the desert of Atacama. The climate and the vegetation would gradually change. The life would be more developed the southern I would go.
Nevertheless, the diversity didn´t stop at the flora and fauna because it surprised me since the first inhabited places. Chile looked much more developed than the other Latin-American countries I have visited.
Also, I discovered a very unique culture, with an important number of slang words in its vocabulary.

Once again, it wasn´t much room to get bored, so let´s start now the description of this very narrow and long country.

The most developed country of South America

It is true that the fact to come from Peru and Bolivia helped me to get surprised when I came back to some form of westernized society. Westernized? Yes, because the standards and the level of life of the Chileans are very close to what we can find in Europe.

A developed country
When I arrived in Antofagasta, the first view that I had from an inhabited area allowed me to see the difference.

The waterfront of Antofagasta, filled by last generation building… Maybe not very esthetics… But I did say last generation.

The Peruvian waterfronts were different. Indeed, most of them were built with cheaper materials. It was very rare to see the kind of building that we can see on the picture above.

The costs of the life and the salaries were also much higher than on the Altiplano. In the north of the country, the average for the salaries was close to 500 000 Chilean pesos, so 1000 American dollars… So 4 to 5 times more than in Bolivia.

The level of development can be partly calculated thanks to education. As I got used to since the beginning of me journey (the next article will be dedicated to this), I took the time to visit at least one school of the country and doing there a presentation of my project.  This allows me to have an idea about the education level and the materials that they are using.

In Copiapo, I had the chance to visit a school to have an idea about the education level

The children were understanding what the map of the world was meaning. They were recognizing places that I was showing than to the pictures. Their interest about the cultures of the world was to be congratulated.

The resources
A good part of the Chilean economy is coming from the mines, especially the one of copper, gold and silver. Chile has more than a third of the world resources of copper, that allows him to sell it at a very good price.
The biggest open mine in the world is near Calama, in the desert of Atacama. The mine of Chuquicamata got mainly copper.
Contrary to Bolivia, were the mine-workers are totally alone, the Chilean mine-workers have many advantages that help them in this difficult task.

You have probably heard about this news that has been broadcasted all over the world. Those 33 mine-workers that stayed 69 days stuck in the mine San Jose, near Copiapo.
Their incredible story has been told in an internationally and of course is a source of a national pride.

The three capsules that helped them to receive food and goods are currently shown in Copiapo, Valparaiso and Santiago.

Of course the poverty didn´t disappeared totally and there are still big differences between the poorest and the richest, but the country is still a good example in South America.

In Antofagasta, the poorest neighborhood are on the hills

Land of immigration
As a developed country in South America, this land of mines and forests is attracting populations from abroad.

-The German immigration
During its history, Chile welcomed many communities.
Let´s talk about this important German community. Argentina opened its door to the Italians immigrants, Chile did the same but mainly for the Germans.
However, this is untrue to say (once again thank you to the medias) that the German immigration in Chile started at the end of the second world war, where it would have serve to help the Nazis. Indeed, it is obvious that it would have been dangerous for a Nazis to stay on his land on he midst of the Nuremberg lawsuits. You have maybe heard about the creation of the Colonia Dignidad, today renamed Villa Baviera, that has been directed by the sadly famous Paul Schäfer.
No, the colonization and the beginning of the German influence in Chile started at the half of the XIXth century… A century before then…

They are working in various areas. We can find them in the agriculture, different services or businesses.
For example, in the city of Valdivia, I could go in the well known beer factory Kunstmann.

-The south American immigration
The economic situation in Chile attracts many populations from neighbors countries. There are indeed a huge amount of Peruvians, Bolivians, or even Colombians that are coming to offer their work for a salary that would obviously be cheaper than the one offered to the local Chilean workers.
This relation between harder work and cheaper salaries, with the immigration, can be found in many countries and borders of the world. The example of the Peruvian in Chile, this is the story of the Mexican in the United States, or the Zimbabwean in South Africa…

-The Spanish population 
I think that adding the Spanish population in a discussion about the immigration in Chile is a little out of the subject, but I still do it because at the end it has been a population´s move.
Out of the subject because, I repeat it since I entered Latin America, the Spanish didn´t come in a first place with pacific intentions.
Chile used to be populated by natives, mainly Aymara in the north and Mapuche in the south. The Mapuches are today around 4% of the Chilean population and 87,3% of the natives. Let´s say that they aren´t anymore the majority.
Sources about the Mapuches http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mapuche
Also, those ones are today victims of racism with the white Spanish population… Finally, I am wondering how stupid the human race can be sometimes…

Some Mapuche´s drawing on a gate in Puerto Varas, in the south of Chile


Hitchhiking in Chile
This same human race can fortunately be much better in other situations. This is this one that I am curious to get to know.

To put myself in difficult situation and requesting help, I am doing it daily while sticking my thumb out along the road of every country I have been.
It hasn´t worked so well in Bolivia. However, Chile has been much better about this way of traveling.

For several reasons, hitchhiking in Chile has been easy and very interesting.

-The roads
From the roads made of rocks and mud, we are passing to first quality asphalted highways. From the north to the south of Chile, I could travel on the Pan-American Highway, recalled here the Ruta 5.

The Ruta 5, in the arid north of the country, near the city of Copiapo.

-The long distances
Chile is a long country, certainly narrow, but long. Imagine, this country is 4300 kilometers from its northern border with Peru to its southern point near the Cape Horn. Nevertheless, its widest point from west to east is only 180 kilometers.
Density is quite low, with 20hab/km2. The cities are far from one to another. Finally, it is easy to make long distances by hitchhiking, because the drivers are rarely stopping in the middle of nowhere! 

-The culture to travel by hitchhiking
Traveling by hitchhiking, or a dedo as we say here, is very easy. This mean of transportation is in the Chilean culture. The truck drivers like to stop to have the opportunity to chat with someone during their long distances.

Here I am thumbing on the Ruta 5

After having hitchhiked 2000 kilometers in Chile, I can strongly advice to travel in this way in this country. On top of the economic advantages, you will have a direct access to the Chilean culture, which has some unique sides.


A culture apart

It is of course necessary to speak a little of Spanish to be able to understand the differences of the Chilean culture. Let´s start with the language then.

The chilenism
The Spanish used in Chile has some unique works and expressions like in any country in South America. Mexican, Bolivian, Cuban, all have some differences.
The Chilean is talking quite fast and is using a lot of slangs. The conjugated verb “entiendes” (“do you understand” in English) can be translated by “cachai!”, the word “novio” or “novia” (“boyfriend” or girlfriend”) becomes “pololo” or “polola”.
Thus, understand the Chilean means to adapt yourself to their fast pronunciation and to learn a list of new words of vocabulary, that I by the way doubt of their presence in the dictionary.

 -The star non-spangled banner
Like in the United States, I found that Chile was a country a bit patriotic because there are many national flags kind of everywhere. Of course, the love of its country is not shown as much that in the country of Uncle Sam. However we can find the flag of the unique star in front of many houses, shops or other buildings.

Me too, I want my flag! With Luz Mireya, my host in Valparaiso

-In front of the daily life
I like to describe the daily life that I can see to explain a part of a culture. In the first days that I pass in a new country, it is quite easy to see the differences of the local customs. Indeed, I have to readapt myself. For this, it is better to have a look on the new ways of doing. 

As in Peru, there are many slot-machines in Chile. Even if you don´t want to play, you will find them because many of them are simply available in the little street corner shop of your neighborhood.
The casino… More than a shop in Chile (here in Talca)!

I have seen that in Chile, the « taxi collectivo » is much more used than the bus. This urban mean of transportation is faster, easier but of course a little bit more expensive than the bus. In Chile, we can find them on majority in most of the cities.
The Chilean collective in Copiapo

« Mas chileno que el mote con huesillos » (more Chilean than the mote con huesillos) is a Chilean expression that can make you understand how important is the national drink. However, this is surely less consumed than the mate in Argentina. The mote is a kind of mix of wheat and slices of peaches.

My mote con huesillos à Santiago

Mother Nature in Chili
Oh mummy nature! Sometimes wonderful, sometimes capricious… I have to say that it is both of them in Chile, as a Latin woman when she´s getting angry, the plates can explode in thousands of pieces!

Chile is localized in an area of high seismic activity. The strongest recorded earthquake in the history of the world happened in Valdivia in 1960 with a magnitude of 9,5!
For the first time in my life, I had the opportunity to experience the feeling of an earthquake. I was in the city of La Serena and I thought that 10 road-workers went around the house where I went for around 10 seconds. 

The Chileans has been the victims of another kind of earthquake the February 27th 2010. Much more stronger than the one of Haiti, with a magnitude of 8,8 (Haiti has been recorded at 7,3 on the Richter scale). Hopefully, it has been much less victims for this one. 

Of course, it has been material damages. On the Ruta 5 for example. I have seen that it was missing bridges and parts of the road.
A bridge that has collapsed, near Talca

Many buildings have also been destroyed in this area, like here in Talca

Fortunately, our good old Earth doesn´t spend its time to destroy what she took so much time to build.
Chile has an incredible diversity of landscapes. In the North, we can find a climate quite similar to the Peruvian coast. Indeed, all the area of Chile which is more north to Santiago is an arid desert. There is almost none vegetation and the rain is coming once every two or three years.
A landscape of the north of Chile, with a man-made sculpture

To give you an idea of the climate, the race Paris-Dakar that was happening between Paris and… Dakar… is now passing this part of Chile.

Contrary to the north, the south of Chile is much greener. It looks like a little bit the fjords of the Norwegian landscapes. By the way, the salmon produced in Chile has been mainly imported from the Scandinavian waters.
A landscape in the south of Chile, near the city of Valdivia

Further I was going south, more the fauna was looking like the one I had seen in the southern part of Africa.

Remember the sea lions in the city of the Cape in South Africa… I have seen the same in Valdivia

At the end, I really like Chile.
Traveling in a social way, I am firstly looking at the welcome that the local population is giving to me. Chile welcomed me very well, so I liked Chile.
I also think that I would put Chile on the list of places I would consider to live in a far future. Imagine: developed country, stabilized, kind-hearted population, attractive landscape… What do you want more?

Today, I am keeping going back to the north. I reached the southern city in the world Ushuaia, in Argentina. From here, that will be my last straight line to the north in Latin America, up to Panama, to try to find a boat going to Australia… But we still have some way to go! Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil and Venezuela to cross… And to do this very special anniversary that just happened: 100 000 kilometers!

See you very soon for the 100 000th! 


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