homejournalphotoscontact

How To Play Spot The Canadian

Welcome to Chile, the home of such mouth-wateringly named soft drinks as Bilz, Pap, Kem and Yuz.

Chile is an exciting place, not least for the fact that one must dodge a series of corrupt policemen, take cars disguised as busses, and avoid fruit-mad customs officials just to make it across the border. To get to Chile I took a bus to the Peruvian border town of Tacna where an employee from a bus company swooped me up into his clutches and convinced me to buy a ticket from him across the border and into Chile. I walked outside and sat in our "bus" which turned out to be a 1977 Buick Skylark stuffed full with myself, our driver and a Chilean family of 4.

The driver took us to the border at which point I realized that I had lost my Peruvian tourist card which I had received when I came in from Bolivia. The Peruvians are mad for documentation and I instantly realized that this was going to be a massive problem that could only be fixed either by overwhelming bureaucratic restructuring or a small bribe.

Sure enough, the employee behind the counter told me that there was absolutely no way he could allow me to cross into Chile without my tourist card and that I would need to go back to Lima to get a new one. Either that or I could pay a "fine" of $30. Finally somewhat used to Peruvian culture, I decided to do what any good local would have done: I haggled over the bribe. We bargained about the fine/my strict governmental requirement to return to Lima for about 15 minutes until I got him down to $17 and hopped back in the Buick.

The differences between Chile and Peru become obvious literally the minute you cross the border. Whereas Peruvian customs is well-equipped with a vast number of people who sit around and take money from gringos and not much else, the Chileans have a very efficient service which includes a state-of-the-art x-ray machine. This, after Peru, where I encountered only a handful of working toilets. (Note to self: Never again use the words "Peru", "toilet" and "handful" in the same sentence.)

Once across the border, I started speaking to the father of the Chilean family upon whose lap I was basically sitting. At least I tried speaking to him. I had been warned by a Mexican girl in Bolivia that there are 3 major languages in South America: Portuguese, Spanish and Chileno. The Chileans speak Spanish, but only technically; their accent is remarkably strong, not pronouncing most "S"'s and dropping the ends of nearly all words. Even other South Americans have trouble with the Chilean accent. As for me, I feel like I have reverted back into a walking phrasebook - I can ask whatever question I like but won't understand the answer. It feels quite humbling after three months of learning the language.

Dropped off by the Buick after several hours of mangled conversation, I need to get the bus to the coastal town of La Serena. The only bus going there was an Expensive & Fancy one which I couldn't really afford, but wanting to get to the beach as soon as possible, I decided to take it rather than waiting another day to catch a regular bus. The chairs were only moderately more comfortable than a regular bus and you just got one cheese sandwich to eat, so what made this one Expensive & Fancy? We played Bingo. Sixteen hours into the journey the backup driver stood up and with obvious loathing for this part of his work, called out bingo numbers and letters for all the bus to hear. We played one game, the winner received a bus company notebook and the driver sat back down, relieved. Fancy shmancy.

Now in La Serena and exhausted after about 75 straight hours of travel from Peru, I instantly found my way down to the beach. This prompted an impromptu game of Spot The Canadian, which was easier than usual for a couple of reasons:

1. I was the whitest person on the beach 2. I was the only person on the beach

I keep forgetting it is still winter down here and most Chileans are walking around in long-sleeves while I find it very hot. I sat down on the beach and, worn out from doing nothing for 3 days, promptly nodded off. For 2 hours. With no suntan lotion on. Now, for those of you out there who do not know what the sun is, it turns out you are not supposed to fall asleep in it. Sure, my body may be crimson and sore all over and hot showers might be a temporary impossibility, but at least I am no longer the whitest person at the beach! Just the reddest. Suckers.