I arrived in Chile Sunday, December 9, after a painful red-eye flight that reminded me not to take for granted the joy of sleeping horizontally. Undeterred by my lack of quality sleep, I hit the street as soon as I got to my hotel in Santiago. I passed the afternoon quite pleasantly, wandering around an open-air antique market, taking the metro downtown to amble through the crowded pedestrian streets, visiting the dark, crowded cathedral, climbing the hill beside which the city was initially founded, avoiding the lovers groping in the park, and finding my way back to the hotel through a throng of people chanting "Duelo Nacional" (National Mourning) outside of a hospital. I deduced that General Pinochet was inside, following his heart attack a few weeks ago. (This was a terrific feat of analytical prowess, given all the people holding photographs of Pinochet.) It was only that evening back in my hotel when I saw on the news that Pinochet had died that day, a couple of hours before I passed the hospital.
The rest of the week passed pretty well. It's summer down in Chile, so I did get sunburned a few times (curses upon the travel restrictions restricting liquids in carry-ons). I toured Pablo Neruda's house, visited a museum of pre-Colombian artifacts, had dinner Chilean style at 9pm, visited a Naval museum out by the coast, had lunch in a vineyard, and oh, yeah, went to a few meetings for work. It was a great trip and I really learned a lot, including that Chileans go to the beach around Christmas and the following two months, that half the population of Chile lives in Santiago, and that "Smokers Welcome!" signs abound in restaurant windows, just meters away from government-sponsored posters announcing, "They are killing you," with a photograph of a man with a hole in his throat from a tracheotomy. One of the folks down there described Chile as, "Latin America for beginners," and I could see that. I felt more comfortable than I have in most other places that I've visited in the region (which is limited, admittedly), but it was definitely still Latin America, with both its perils and its charms. Pisco sour, anyone?