Ayamara winter solstice festival
June 26, 2010, 1:03 am
Filed under: chile, culture, dance, events, festivals, south america, travel

On Saturday evening we happened to be on the main street of Arica, 21 de Mayo, when we saw a suspicious number of people wandering around in intricately sequinned outfits or with feathered hats. I was compelled to ask a lady about half my height, but with a feathered hat that made us equal, at what time they were parading.

I knew there would be a parade because there are parades almost every day in Arica, as you might have seen if you keep an eye on my photostream. Sometimes it’s hard to discern what they’re for, though of late they’re mostly related to the World Cup.

The tiny lady with the large feathered hat confirmed that they would be parading in “about ten minutes” this can mean anything from in fifteen minutes to in a couple of hours, in reality. So we strolled along the main street anticipating a parade at some point.

We were not disappointed. Rather than a half hour flash in the pan as happens most days, this festival involved people dancing for four hours down the main street, and then dancing for late into the madrugada (Spanish for 1-5am). I’ve never seen so many astounding costumes or so many colours.

On Monday I discovered it had been an Aymara winter solstice festival. However it wasn’t just Ayamaran dancing (the Ayamara are one of the indigenous communities in the Andes near here). We also saw Tinkus, Marinera and even some African dancing. But these words will mean little to those outside of the region – here are some photos that will give an idea of the different styles.

My favourite was the Tinkus. It reminded me a little of Maori hakas but much more colourful and a bit less scary. But if I’d been a conquistador coming across some of these guys it would have been pretty intimidating.

This experience was my biggest South American cultural education so far, and it was completely free as well as hugely entertaining. South Americans know how to party and celebrate their heritage better than anywhere I’ve been so far.


Settling in
June 21, 2010, 11:54 pm
Filed under: travel

Tim on the beach in front of our apartment

Originally uploaded by cobismith.

We’ve been in Chile almost two months, so we’re starting to settle in. We’re enjoying exploring the beaches in front of our apartment. Playa Chinchorro takes us into town, while Playa Las Maches takes us to the edge of Peru.

I took this photo on our sunset walk tonight as we were returning home.

World Cup fever
June 19, 2010, 3:44 am
Filed under: travel

World Cup parade in Arica, Chile

Originally uploaded by cobismith.

In case you haven’t noticed, the World Cup is happening in South Africa. Over here on the other side of the world, Chileans are so happy about it they’re parading in the streets here in Arica.

Mind you, people here parade in the street for no apparent reason every few days (not apparent to me, anyway), so this is not extraordinary.

I’m not too optimistic about Australia’s prospects, so I’m happily pledging my devotion to the local team. I changed my Spanish lesson on Monday to start at noon rather than eleven in the morning so I can watch the Chile vs. Switzerland game, which starts at 10am here. I’m planning on wearing blue, so it’s clear I’m not there to support the Swiss team, as otherwise my blondeness might suggest otherwise.

My favourite places in Santiago
June 1, 2010, 2:43 am
Filed under: chile, cities, coffee, pollution, santiago, south america, tea, travel

I’ve just moved to Arica for a couple of months. A big factor in our decision to move was the smog in Santiago. It’s a pity, because Santiago is such a clean, safe, fun place. I bet it could make the top 20 world’s most liveable cities list, with it’s great parks and public transport system – if it weren’t for the traffic and pollution. We’ll be back there later in the year most likely, but we couldn’t bear the prospect of the smog getting worse as winter descended, so we got away to the clear skies, sweeping beaches and national parks in the north of the country.

So thumbs down to Santiago for being so polluted. Thumbs up, however, to these awesome places that made my month in Santiago lots of fun, despite the smog. I intend to visit all of these places again next time I’m in Santiago, and if you happen to be in town I recommend you do the same. I’ll start with my local neighbourhood and fan out from there.

Providencia is a great suburb (‘barrio’ in Spanish) for strolling through parks and enjoying some of the best food Santiago has to offer. I took this video in Providencia one morning, in the park next to Baquedano station. This park stretches from one end of Providencia to the main art gallery in Bellas Artes.

There’s a cute little literary cafe in Parque Baquedano. It took us a while to get the courage to go in, because they have a membership system and we didn’t know if we were allowed. However the draw of sipping expresso in their leafy cafe area with its scholarly ambiance was strong enough that we braved potential humiliation at being turned away to venture inside. W got an espresso for about a dollar, and were able to sit and peoplewatch as long as we liked. They didn’t ask us for membership cards or look at us strangely. In my imperfect Spanish I translated from their site that you can donate a book instead of paying for yearly membership, which appeals to me.

At the other end of Providencia, near Pedro de Valdivia station, are some great restaurants and shops. One of my favourites is El Huerto – a must visit even if you’re not vegetarian. It’s worth seeing its great sunken dining room with a mural of Patagonia and wooden beams overhead, and if you’re craving Indian they have a few things on the menu to sate your appetite before another few weeks of guacamole and quinoa. We had our farewell dinner in Santiago with a group of friends in their sunken dining room. For something more casual I really liked Shot Cafe on Avenida Providencia. They make great coffee, which is organic and biodynamic. I enjoyed the cheap daily specials and they had excellent salads and sandwiches, which they happily modified for the vegan. You could probably make do just with English there, too. Maybe. Another reason I like Shot Cafe is they had a great sound system which could have been playing from my iPod, with a bass-rich mix of Massive Attack and some peppier Beck as a backgound for our peoplewatching.

Lastarria is probably my favourite suburb of Santiago though, with a cool mix of cafes and local designer shops and the must-see Cerro Santa Lucia, my photos from which are locked on my camera. The cord to connect said camera to my computer is on the way in a package from Australia as we speak, so they should be up soon, Australian and Chilean postal systems permitting. A friend told us that medieval sword fighting goes on beneath the castle atop Cerro Santa Lucia on Saturday mornings, which we weren’t organised enough to verify but is tempting enough to be worth a morning visit next time we’re i town.

Barrio Lastarria is organised enough to have its own deservedly funky website, which is worth checking for the latest goings-on if you’re in town. There’s a super-cool clothes and accessories shop called Hecha in Chile – Made in Chile. Despite having a “don’t buy anything for the first few months” policy I couldn’t help but buy two dresses, and a hoodie for Tim there. In fact, the only shopping indiscretions I allowed myself in Santiago were all in Lastarria. If you prefer local designers to chains then this is your stomping ground.

On the other side of Providencia from Lastarria, Bellavista is also worth a visit, but I put it further down my list because it’s in every guidebook and on all the tours and so is a bit hackneyed. At night the main street, Pio Nono, is pretty feral with its crass bars and drunkards. But if you go to the end of that street during the day you can get the cheap furnicular to the top of Parque Metropolitano de Santiago – South America’s loftier answer to New York’s Central Park. If you head up several hours after rainfall you’re treated to a view like this. On your way to or from the park, diverge from the main street a little to visit La Chascona, one of Pablo Neruda’s homes. There are tours in English or Spanish, or you can just sit, relax and enjoy the cool architecture and vibe over a coffee in their upstairs cafe.

A couple of my favourite places in the centre of town are the La Vega fruit market, behind El Mercado Central, which is really just a fish market, unlike my home town’s Adelaide Central Market which has everything. I found the central market here to be too cramped and sleazy; lots of men trying to coerce me to dine at their establishments. Not cool at all. La Vega, however, it great fun. I’m going to write a separate entry about it when I can download my photos from there, which will give you more of an idea. The centre also has another favourite of my cafes on Calle Esmerelda, La Boa Torio. The name is a play on laboratory, thanks to their alchemy-inspired looseleaf tea mixes and presentation of spices in test tubes. What really rocks about this place though is the upstairs sanctuary. Climb a tiny ladder and you find possibly the cosiest place to sip tea in South America.