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Across Andes by Frog I should explain the nonsensical title of my journal, 'Across Andes by Frog' - it is a sort of homage to an episode of the drolly funny 1970s British TV series "Ripping Yarns" by Michael Palin & Terry Jones.

Santiago No habla inglés hotel - where is Monica?

CHILE | Thursday, 7 November 2013 | Views [540]

Chile: La Parte Dos

Day 3 in Chile, CTS has organised a city tour of the capital. Yesterday I had complained about the Valparaiso tour bus being late and having to wait round twiddling my thumbs for the best part of an hour, so overnight I receive a neat, typewriter-typed note under my door. It says, “Dear Sir, Tomorrow I happen to look at 9:00 for city tour. Regards, Monica”. I inquire at reception as to the whereabouts of this 'Monica’ (the English was not perfect but it was a marked improvement on the others' attempts, so I thought possibly she could help with the communication problem). “Is Monica here?” I ask, based on a not unreasonable assumption. The duty reception guy looks a bit puzzled, hesitates and then answers "No". When I asked where she was, he says simply, "At home!” so I thought the absent Monica was off-duty. I am perplexed when he admits that she does not actually work at the hotel. In exasperation I ask him, "Who is Monica?" With a sheepish look on his face and a shrug of his shoulders, he tells me in his very halting English, "She my wife!". So, this fellow’s wife, when told of my frustrations, volunteered to go lookout for the bus’ arrival in the morning. I thought that this was sweet that a hotel employee's wife was trying to help me with my tour connection, but with all the confusion I was experiencing and creating, I was starting to think that my stay in this mishmash of a Santiago hotel was becoming something akin to a Fawlty Towers episode, a feeling given further currency with every new miscommunication experienced.

The ciudad tour takes me to several of the outer barrios of Santiago. These suburbs tend to be cleaner areas with smarter-looking houses than around where I'm lodged (Historico Centro). Definitely seeing the more affluent, middle class areas of the capital now, with names like Independicia, Providencia, El Golf (sounding very aspirationally bourgeois - love it!), Bellavista and Barrio Brasil. Lots of new construction, commercial and residential, happening. We visit another former home of the famous Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda, this one in Bellavista. There is more parkland, larger green areas here too. We come back later to the city centre, see the presidential palace where Salvador Allende fought his last stand against the Pinochet-led military coup forces in 1973. Like many older Chileans, our tour driver/guide is clearly no fan of the Pinochet regime, giving us his opinion of the Pinochet era in very scathing terms. We ventured on to Plaza de Armas (most South American cities have a Plaza de Armas or Armes, Santiago’s one was founded in 1540), and typically, there is another political demonstration going on. With this one, the large boldly-coloured banners waved by the protestors contain the words ‘sindicato’ and ‘bancerios' - so I’m speculating that its a protest by Chilean trade unions against the rapacious policies of big banks, a familiar theme for the left in Chile.

When I returned to my hotel after the tour, there was another note from the staff waiting for me. I was due to leave Chile the next day for the next leg of my South American trip, Argentina, but the time for departing had apparently been changed, and the non-English speaking staff had been tasked with the duty of conveying this to me. Having been palpably unsuccessful in their attempts to date to verbally communicate with me, they were now resorting to written communications.

The note that had been slipped under my door, which I suspect hadn't been written by the aforementioned Monica, reinforced the notion that the formidable barrier of English still loomed as large as ever. The letter addressed me as ‘sr.’by which I guessed they meant ‘Sir', and not I hope 'Sister'! (only later did I twig that the 'sr.' signified of course Senor!). The note’s meticulously-typed message was divided into two versions, the first in Spanish (perhaps hoping that I had become fluent in the Latin tongue overnight!), followed by an English one which mentioned 5:15am as the new transfer time, but also (unhelpfully) with the imprecise Spanish word ‘retirarn’(?) incongruously inserted into the middle of the message otherwise entirely written in English. Thus, it somewhat clouded it's meaning, but the message did end however on a self-improvement theme – “(we) apologize for the problem of communication, (and) try to improve our shortcomings in the future” - an admirable sentiment, albeit coming way too late to help me!

Later that night I get yet another note under the door. This one reads: “Dear Guest, your Taxi removed on Sunday at 5:15am to Airport.“ By now I had got the gist of what was meant to happen, but upon receiving this latest message I was tempted to ask reception, "OK, my taxi is removed at 5:15, si, but what about me???" but didn't have the energy to embroil myself in another agonising, circular conversation with the English-deficient staff!

The staff at this hotel, I must say, have been always polite and attentive, if largely incapable of helping me due to the language barrier. Invariably, our conversations (perhaps more quasi-conversations) would usually end with the staff member with a sheepish expression on his or her face apologising profusely for El inglés inadequacies. It was manifestly clear to me that I had been assigned to a hotel which catered exclusively for Spanish or Portuguese speaking guests. I was left to muse on the obvious point of what an invaluable advantage it would be to come to South America equipped with a decent smattering of Spanish (or even a reasonable bit of working Spanglish!).

My sojourn at the nondescriptly-named AH Hotel, which perhaps would have been better named AA Hotel (as in Absolutely Anonymous Hotel!), had been underwhelming from the get-go. Aside from the diabolical communications situation, the hotel and room added up to just about the worst accommodation experience I have ever had in all of the five continents I have visited (although a guest lodge in Johannesburg also registers high in my International Hotel 'Hall of Infamy'). The room of itself was basic and serviceable (just), though the floor was a bit dirty. Worse of all, it's location was terrible, directly across the way from reception and a few steps away from the hotel entrance. This was catastrophic for anyone trying for a peaceful sleep as people (guests) were coming in at all times of the night, pressing the buzzer to be let in (nothing as modern as swipe access here!). At one point, the person at reception, which was supposed to be manned 24/7, went walkabout around 3.30-4 in the morning, so there was a returning guest at this time continuously pressing the buzzer and banging on the glass for a good ten minutes before the AWOL staff person finally stumbled into consciousness and answered the door call.

The buffet breakfast, in keeping with the hotel’s other shortcomings, is very basic, spartan really, even for a continental, and the quality is cod ordinary by any standards. Being in this one star joint for only a couple of days, I decide to stick it out for the duration and vent my displeasure at the tour company in Sydney. Also, the stoic in me reconciled it as being all part of the vicissitudes of the global travel experience, the luck of the draw that you will always get your share of when you go to Third World regions.

In the afternoon I went for my own city tour by foot. Next to my hotel I found and old inn with the intriguing title “Expedio de Bebida Alcoholicas Hotel” (the plaque on the wall said it was a ‘B’ hotel, so what does that make the one I was lumbered with, I wondered). It's clientele seemed to be backbackers and other transients. Someone told me it was a kind of jokey name, that it was'nt intended to cater specifically for practising alcoholics. In any case there are enough of these establishments in Santiago to go round. I explored the area on the other side of the water-deficient Rio Yaque del Norte, visited the markets at Bellavista, the Funicular and the City Zoo park where I witnessed an anti-abortion rally in full flight. A young, enthusiastic pamphlet distributor tries to foist her anti-abortion literature on to me. I demur to her attempts to make me take her rigid Catholic 'pro-life' message, managing to utter a terse “Si a aborto!", which left her sour-faced as I scuttled off.

Travelling round the different barrios, I note the presence of what might be generously labelled "performance traffic artists", young guys who juggle balls, ten-pins and various other round or curved objects in the air at traffic lights for the entertainment of drivers waiting for the lights to change. They obviously know exactly how long the lights stay red because they always cease their performance with enough time left to sweep past the drivers' windows in the hope of receiving some small change from an appreciative ‘audience’. I compare this street activity to the windscreen cleaners you see in operation at traffic lights in Australian cities, but these guys are obviously much more original and inventive in the way they etch out the shell of a living on the streets.

Walking through Parque Forestal a young guy accompanying his girlfriend passes me, and then suddenly backtracks to caution me, first in Spanish and then in English, of the danger of carrying my expensive camera in too loose a manner. I thank him for his concern, which served to reinforce the earlier tourist warnings I had received of the risk of "grab-and-run" thefts in the more isolated parts of Santiago.

Later on I head south to follow the long Avenida Libertador General Bernardo O'Higgins (for short, the Alameda, which is a much more manageable handle!) a principal Centro road which sweeps past Paris-Londres. As dusk falls I pass the National Library and the high hill of Cerro Santa Lucia with its fine, sandstone rotunda building, fountains and ornate columns. Santa Lucia offers the best views of the capital but is also a danger spot for tourists after dark, due the incidences of thefts there as well.

That night, I have that South American staple, empanadas, for dinner, just as I did for lunch yesterday. In truth, I've probably had my fill of empanadas by this point! But they are tasty and filling, and come in sufficient variety (carne, jamon, pino, pollo, neapolitan, etc), an easy, convenient meal. And, if it came down to a choice in South America only between eating them or the unappetising ceviche, it would be empanadas for me every time!

Nerude home Bellavista

Nerude home Bellavista

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