The stress of preparation behind us, a raging case of pink-eye subsiding, we landed in Santiago, Chile on the eve of the new year. 1st stop was the booth to pay a “reciprocity fee” of $160. This seems to be in response to the United States charging something similar for Chileans. The only other countries playing this game were Canada, Mexico, Australia and Albania. The Albanians were charged $30.
We waited patiently for our luggage while an ever dwindling crowd looked for and found theirs. A nun wearing a black and white burqua collected a giant blue shrink wrapped crucifix. Three extremely tall Scandinavian types collected three extremely small kayaks. Soon the carrousel was empty and we walked away, dejected.
For some reason we didn’t panic. Perhaps the stress of our departure had been so great that a minor issue like all of our possessions misplaced somewhere between Mexico and Chile simply didn’t register. We wandered over to the AeroMexico counter where some smiling attendants casually pointed to two lonely looking backpacks that looked thrillingly familiar. What exactly were they doing over here and not on the baggage carrousel? You know, suddenly it didn’t really seem to matter.
We met Octavio and Consuelo through Rihanna, a mutual Couchsurfing friend from South Africa. Though they live in New York they travel home to Santiago frequently and agreed to host us while our time here overlapped. They were smiling at us as we stumbled out of customs, blinking in the summer light of the Southern Hemisphere. Magda and I were bundled in several layers of jackets and they wore shorts.
It was a very soft landing. They drove us to Octavio’s mothers house where we were spoiled with a bed (of all things), towels (the humanity!), and a swimming pool. We were decidedly not roughing it. That evening we drove to their friend Pato’s apartment, a bachelor’s pad filled with fish tanks in turn filled with tropical fish of delirious colors. He was in the middle of making a huge amount of sushi. During the last earthquake in 2010 the 50 gallon tank in the living room had crashed to the floor, filling his apartment with water and exotic marine life. While the rest of the building evacuated, Pato sloshed around collecting his pets.
The party was held outside on a veranda running the length of the building. It had a view of the Rio Mapocho, a muddy brown torrent tumbling down from the Andes. The river divides Santiago and the low rising center of the city was just beyond it. The city is a collection of styles from Western history, with a dash of moorish influence that flavors Spanish architecture. The facades of 19th century avenues are pockmarked with modern structures, most from the Pinochet era. Like in European cities damaged by wars, incongruously designed buildings take advantage of disasters to make an architectural statement. Santiago is frequently struck by earthquakes, like the one that destroyed Pato’s fish tanks, and the architectural style of the day flowers in the aftermath.
Several fireworks shows from different directions were planned, the veranda would give us an excellent view of all three. Below, pedestrians became groups and then became crowds as the sun set and the warmth of day was replaced by a slightly more appropriate coolness, more indicative of New Years Eve for those of us from the Northern Hemisphere. As the plates of sushi came out, a sneaky looking cat appeared in a neighbors window and proceeded to plan an assault.
As midnight struck, fireworks exploded all around. Kisses and hugs were exchanged with strangers. Drinking a large amount of Pisco Sour magically turned Magda into a fluent Spanish speaker. A very bad gato moved in to attack the sushi but in 2013, people were too busy celebrating to care.
When we left the party at 4:30am, more Chileans were on their way in.