I have been asked this question several times since we returned recently from visiting our daughter, who lives there.
Chile is in South America. It is a very long, narrow country on the Pacific coast. Because of its shape, it is probably the only country on that continent that I can easily identify.
But to explain what it is like there is not so simple.
Since it is so narrow — its average width is only 110 miles — the whole country is near the ocean. And the Andes Mountains are never very far away, either. So, on our journey there, we saw both mountains and ocean.
Talking about ocean, the city where my daughter lives — Talcahuano — is very near the ocean. One day, we went to the fish market. The market had whole fish that were set out on trays, side by side. They had just been caught that morning. We chose one and watched the worker cut its head off and slit it open. Then we cooked it that night — some of it baked with tomato on top, and some pan fried in a bit of oil. I have never tasted ocean fish that fresh, from water to market to frying pan in one day. It was moist and delicious. Then again, our Lake Erie perch is excellent, too.
At the water’s edge near the market, we saw a family of sea lions. I was told they are always there, and they played, sunned themselves and made their sea lion noises to the entertainment of everyone who stopped to watch.
Before going to Talcahuano, we flew in to the airport at Santiago. Santiago is the capital of Chile, and is in many ways just like any large U.S. city. People were busily going about their business — walking, waiting for buses, going to the subway. Of course, the signs were in Spanish and they were speaking in Spanish — I wrote about that last time. We arrived on a Sunday, and some streets were blocked off for joggers and runners — health conscious there, just like here.
It was sunny with blue skies every day of that week we spent there. We were told it does rain, but for our visit, there was nothing but sun. One odd thing is that as you travel south in Chile, it gets colder, not warmer, since Chile is south of the equator. My husband was very excited to catch a glimpse of the Southern Cross in the Chilean sky — a constellation we don’t see in our part of the world.
Seasons are the opposite in Chile, so even though it is approaching spring here, it is approaching fall there. The weather was mild, coastal, like in California, and so they were just starting to come to the end of their harvest season. That meant that fruit and vegetables were being harvested, and were very fresh. We had delicious tomatoes, and fresh berries which were blended into nutritious fruit drinks — making me look forward to our spring and summer weather, which can’t be that far away.
We visited the University of Concepción, which is near Talcahuano. It seemed like any U.S. university, with lots of young people walking around and green areas where students sat and relaxed, chatted and studied. The university was celebrating its 100th anniversary, so we even heard an outdoor orchestra concert. There was an area just outside the university with shops, restaurants and bars which reminded me of High Street in Columbus.
One oddity was the presence of dogs. Not dogs on leashes, but dogs just “chilling” in the parks and grassy areas. They were not aggressive or threatening — since they had no owners, they were not territorial. Why were they so calm and seemingly friendly? I was told it was because they learned this behavior so random people will feed them.
Our hosts had two pet dogs — Naomi and Tomás — and a cat, Octavia. The people we met were friendly, the animals were friendly. I know this is a generalization, but the people seemed very upbeat and happy in Chile. Maybe it was the weather, or the fact that I didn’t understand what they were saying, but that is how it seemed to me.
Debbie Leffler is a free-lance writer who lives in Norwalk. She can be reached at [email protected]