Our journey began at 4:30 in the morning in the Santiago airport: a group of 11 bleary-eyed Gringos carefully checking and rechecking our bags, and getting ready for the trip. Most had been able to grab a few hours of sleep before coming; I, unfortunately, had not.
I’d been kept up writing a last-minute piece for the Santiago Times, a quick tale of my personal take on Chilean wine, accompanied by the note to my editor “I think this is what you were talking about…but please let me know if I’m just way off the mark and I’ll figure out something else,” thinking to myself that this had better be on the mark, or there was no way I’d be able to fix it in time while on my trip.
This was September 11, the 26th anniversary of the 1973 violent coup d’état that left the elected president of Chile – Salvador Allende – dead, and kicked off 17 years of dictatorship under General Augusto Pinochet. Allende had been a Socialist and had been conducting sweeping, and controversial, reforms, including seizure of factories and expulsion of foreign companies from the country. The coup, which is know generally known as being CIA-supported, was the result of a massive propaganda campaign and market manipulation, which to this day leaves the Chilean people split on the subject of the necessity of the coup. The 1988 vote which eventually ended the dictatorship had 44% of the public voting to keep Pinochet in power and prolong the dictatorship, and there still remains a strong contingent (though always under 50%) who remember Pinochet fondly. Riots routinely break out on the streets of Santiago on the 11th and most people are warned to stay inside most of the day; 2009′s riots left something like 3 dead. I saw the number at the time, but the exact figure escapes my memory.
We were to stay in Peru until September 18th, the anniversary of Chile’s independence from Spain in 1810. The week in between the 11th and the 18th is known as “Fiestas Patrias,” or something like “national celebration,” when most of the country shuts down for a massive party to celebrate independence: a far cry from the chaos of the 11th.
We quickly found each other and filed through security and onto the plane without incident, and I settled into my luxuriously spacious exit row seat that the woman at the counter had been kind enough to recommend for me, even without my asking. The flight itself, which was on LAN Airlines, was quite comfortable, and I managed to get some sleep in as well as watching the new Terminator movie (verdict: entertaining, better than expected, way better than T3). Say what you will about the evils of Sebastián Piñera, the billionaire, airline-owning conservative candidate in Chile’s upcoming presidential race, but the man does know how to run a business.
We got into Lima at a still early morning hour and piled into the first van we could con into taking the 11 of us with all of our luggage, and sped off for quite a long ride to the Miraflores district. the driver was a very nice man, not only putting on the “American music” radio station, but putting up with our loud singing with a smile and arranging to pick us up the following morning for our flight to Cuzco.
We trekked with our gear into the hostel, a charming place that looked more like a former church than a hostel, and after getting everything arranged, collapsed onto our beds. Our group was an odd amalgamation of various cliques in EAP, all of whom were friendly with each other but perhaps not extremely close, a fact that would change very quickly in the week to come. A few of our friends had gone to Peru earlier in the term during a break that La Católica had but La Chile didn’t, so our group was primarily made up of the latter, though a couple of the former tagged along as well. Our friend Meg’s boyfriend Dave had come to visit for a few weeks and joined us on the trip, which helped even out the group to 7:4 female-to-male, which is still significantly more Y Chromosome than usual for EAP.
The other standout was my friend Annette, who had had an emergency appendectomy just days before the trip but – true to form – had dragged herself onto the plane and, only after convincing her, begrudgingly let us help her with her luggage.
We left the hostel and headed out to a main street, finally settling on a Chifa restaurant. Chifa, which is a common sight in Peru, is the Peru-ized version of Chinese food, though to our eyes it appeared to us a lot like typical Chinese food, but more delicious and wonderfully cheap. We wandered the streets a bit longer before heading to a group of “artisan” shops: that is, piles of merchandise maintained by little old ladies who claimed to have made all of it themselves, despite the striking similarity to the shop next door. After a cursory glance to affirm that nothing for sale would fit me, I headed upstairs with a couple other people to investigate the top area, which ended up being much more interesting.
There we met Walter, a chef and language aficionado, who aside from giving us a few baby tomatoes to sample, took us on a virtual linguistic tour of the world, showing us paths between languages that I greatly wish I could remember well enough to recount. He invited us to come back to the restaurant for dinner and we said we’d try, though we didn’t end up making it back.
Afterward we headed to do the more typical tourist things, including touring a church and its extensive catacombs (including piles of skeletons) and walking through what I found especially strange: a street that seemed to be at least 90% print shops. Each one had gigantic printers, binders, paper rollers, etc., and all had a staff hard at work and what seemed like a healthy amount of work to do, though we passed about 50 of these shops in a 4-block area.
Afterward we headed back to the hostel and some of us decided to check out the town further away, though this meant again using the ridiculously bumpy, crowded and short bus system, and we headed out. After checking several restaurants we settled on a small café, where each of the guys ordered a cheeseburger (roughly $1.50) and beer, and the girls, looking for something “Peruvian,” order Chaufan, which ended up being suspiciously similar to the fried rice one might get at a Chinese restaurant.
We all went to bed early that night, because tomorrow we’d be up and at it before dawn for our flight to Cuzco.