A postscript to Chile.
Chile sounded exotic to me (it still does), but in many ways it is not so different to New Zealand, or England. The scenery is more dramatic in places, but from a traveller perspective it's not too strange. The train and bus system pretty much works, the police appear efficient and not especially corrupt, there are traffic lights with flashing green men and a diminishing number of post offices. If you are 13 and so inclined, you can nip into KFC for popcorn chicken and fries - once you've mastered "papas fritas", and if you can handle the popcorn chicken being cubed not round. Sandwiches in many forms, mostly containing cheese, seem a staple food.
To make a New Zealand feel at home, there are earthquakes and volcanoes. In fact I heard Chile has 190 volcanoes - around 10% of the world's total. The area around San Pedro de Atacama alone has nine active volcanoes.
There are clean-looking pharmacies on practically every corner and a good medical system. My aunt's friend, who lives in the Falklands, had her cataracts done in a state-of-the-art hospital in Santiago.
So with so much that is the same, it's fun to look for the little things that bring you up short and make you realise you really are abroad. Here are a few we spotted one day when we were thinking about such things:
- jugglers, drummers and other performers working the road crossings between light changes for small change, much as windscreen washers do in Auckland;
- pumpkin sold by the slice in the local shop. Each time a customer wants some pumpkin, the shopkeeper hacks off anothe chunk;
- food trucks being converted VDub combi vans;
- quinoa as a staple, not a trendy menu novelty in over-priced cafes. In San Pedro we had quinoa soup, quinoa omelette, even quinoa as a dessert. The fast food joint at Santiago airport offered a quinoa burger. Now there's an idea for Nadia Lim (warning: New Zealand-only reference).
- putting your toilet paper in a little bin by the side. That's a hard one for a prudish Englishwoman, but better, I suppose, than the alternative.
Then there are the language trip-ups, without which no holiday would be complete. I have to admit, rather shame faced, that my tactic for survival in Spanish-speaking countries, given my very limited knowledge of the language, is to try the appropriate French word with a jaunty Spanish lilt. Much of the time it works. For example (with apologies to native speakers of either language):
Buon journo (bonjour)!
A que hora parte el autobus? (A quelle heure part l'autobus?)
Que es el dia mejor para ir a la museo? (Quelle est le meilleur jour pour aller a la musee?) etc.
Sometimes it doesn't work though. Wanting to post some stuff back to New Zealand, I asked people in the street for "la poste centrale" (add your own jaunty Spanish "eh"s at the end of each word) and after encouraging indications from several people that I was going in the right direction was a bit surprised to find myself in the admissions area of the Santiago hospital. It might even have been A&E.
Apparently the word for post office is el correo in Spanish. Not posta.
Posting my letter wasn't that urgent.