Sunday, January 17, 2010

Chile, Day 21

Women on the corner of Santiago's Monjitas and Mosqueto streets, celebrating their new president.

Well, as many of you probably know already, Chile elected a new president today: Sebastian Pinera, a Harvard-educated billionaire who, according to the AP News wire, helped popularize credit cards in Chile, and whose fortune includes a significant share in LAN (Chile’s main airline, which I’ve flown all the time during my trip, thus putting money unwittingly into his pocket), a national TV channel, and a professional soccer team. Pinera has promised to produce a million jobs during his time as president and double Chile’s median annual income to $24,000 -- all within four years. Good luck with that. The biggest surprise about his victory, at least to me, and I know very little about Chilean politics, is that he’s right-wing – his coalition once strongly supported Pinochet’s dictatorship. And apparently he’s quite popular in Santiago. His victory was declared at around the dinner hour, and people poured out onto the streets waving the Chilean flag, waving Pinochet-for-President banners, shouting jubilantly, and driving around waving flags from their windows and honking, honking, honking. There were plenty of other people not celebrating, but I'm not sure if they were being reserved or had been backing the other candidate, Eduardo Frei.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. This morning I left Puerto Varas at 7:30 a.m. for a flight back to Santiago. The weather had improved, though I still couldn’t see either volcano due to the low-hanging clouds. It’s a shame I didn’t have time to hike up one of them, but there’s always the future.

I didn’t have time for the free breakfast at my hotel, which is too bad because it looked fantastic. Instead, I opted for a quick bite at an airport restaurant.

The airport in Puerto Varas has one restaurant: this one.

Again, I really wish I’d taken the time to eat at the hotel. I ordered pancakes and a double espresso. The latter was good – the caffeine got me going like the nice, mild drug that it is – but the former was basically a crepe drowning in a plate of brown goop.

Nothing like a week's worth of sugar and a bazillion calories for breakfast.

It was a bad choice. I’m not sure I’ve eaten anything so sweet in my life, and half my effort at downing the “pancakes" was expended on scraping the brown goop off of them. And if that wasn’t enough sweet stuff for me, the flight, as before, served three small packs of cookies in a decorative box. I passed on mine and just had water.

When I arrived in Santiago, the whole place was shut down. It was like a ghost city; no one was on the streets or sidewalks, and every business had its doors shuttered. That’s when I remembered that Chile would have a new president by the end of the day. However, I arrived at around lunchtime, and the ghost town-feel of the city was obviously going to pose problems for me. A few small, independent restaurants were open, and of course Burger King and Dunkin Donuts were doing business, but otherwise the city was on holiday.

At one o’clock I walked eight blocks toward downtown, sure that I’d find something near the Plaza de Armas, but nothing was open – just two hot dog stands, which were totally packed, and which I wasn’t interested in anyway. (No more completos! Ack!) Another eight blocks later, and very close to where I was staying – I should have gone there first – I found a small café called Antay and took a seat inside.

I had plenty of time to take photos here. As usual in Santiago, I'm apparently invisible to restaurant workers.

Despite the fact that I was sitting right in front of the counter where three workers were, I had to wait ten minutes for a menu. (I would have gotten one myself but it wasn’t obvious where they kept them.) I ended up ordering a frutilla drink (mixed fruit juice) and an “Italian No. 1,” which is a sandwich made with cheese, tomato, lettuce, arugula, and avocado.

It took at least twenty minutes to get either item, and when my sandwich came it had no avocado. It wasn’t a great loss. However, the sandwich had no flavor to speak of. For 1900 pesos ($3.89), maybe I should have expected as much. At least the frutilla (1800 pesos) was nice.

Since absolutely nothing was open today, I hung out in my room and finished a book I’d started in 2007. I’m glad I finished it. I’m not sure what took me so long to get through 200 pages.

For dinner tonight, I headed to Sicosis, one of the closest places to my hotel that was open. When I tried to order beer, my waiter, who had no patience for my Spanish, told me that no restaurants are allowed to serve alcohol on election night. Why it has to apply to foreign tourists, I have no idea…nah, just kidding. That was fine. I’ll just double my alcohol intake tomorrow.

The streets were empty when I arrived here, but by the time I left they were full of people again.

I ordered a smoked salmon pizza, which included hearts of palm, tomato, and cheese, and a crust that was very thick and hard – more hockey puck than anything else.

How to make salmon pizza: make regular pizza; dump a pound of lox on top of it; sprinkle with oregano; serve.

The smoked salmon made the pizza. Without it, I doubt it would have been very good. But for only 3500 pesos (~$7.15), I guess I can’t complain too much. In Santiago, at a sit-down restaurant, that’s cheap.

Things were starting to open again by the time I'd finished. I headed to the grocery store to buy water and fruit -- a nice option, since earlier the grocery store had been closed down, too.

Cars were honking constantly, which naturally made the neighborhood dogs bark like crazy and chase after them.

I hate it when parents recruit their kids to help them play politics. This guy in the photo isn't that young, but there were lots of grade school-age kids hanging from the windows of cars, blowing whistles and waving flags in support of Pinera's right-wing party.

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  1. interesting outsiders view of that day

    even for locals, that alcohol ban is a tough one,
    you have to reach deep into the back cupboard to find the hoard stashed away for tsunamis, earthquakes and elections (3 of Chile s natural disasters)

  2. Anonymous: Thanks for your comment. I'm glad to hear you have a solid strategy for dealing with alcohol bans and natural disasters (including elections). :) Cheers!