One great thing about travelling alone is that you have to make the effort to get out there and meet people. I’m particularly keen to meet local people and hear their stories. One way to do this is to use Air B & B and stay in places where other people will be staying there. My first experience of this was at Maria’s place in Valparaiso (Vina Del Mar), it couldn’t have gone any better. Not only is Maria a marvelous welcoming host who lives in the house, there are also other people passing through regularly. On two nights this ended up with us sharing a bottle or three of wine, beer, whatever is to hand really and putting the world to rights. Despite the obvious language barrier (of my own making) we somehow managed to linguistically fudge our way through a range of topics, with nothing held back or off limits…politics, sex, relationships, religion, you know…the interesting opinions that mean something to people!
Great thanks are also due to Diego from Argentina who had the most English in the room and so had a busy night as translator…one of the funniest moments was when he translated the Brazilian guys comment (from Portuguese) that Jair Bolsonaro AKA “The Trump of South America” is pretty good really. With his deadpan delivery, Diego’s comment summed it up really.. “Don’t shoot the messenger…but he said…”
Even a jokey suggestion by Chilean Marcos that Diego and I should be at each others’ throats due to the 1982 war, was quickly dealt with… “Las Malvinas son argentinas” as far as I am concerned. It’s clear that the Argentine people were lied to and lots of underage, under-equipped conscripts lost their lives. For us it was an embarrassment of jingoistic, colonial tabloid headlines and another 4 years for Thatcher. Enough said about that.
Another unexpected privilege was to bump into Juan Carlos, one of the 33 Chilean miners who were trapped underground in 2010 . A very friendly and humble man who waited a while having a beer with me, sussing me out, before revealing that he was one of the 33.
As most people know, these survivors have become some sort of heroes and celebrities, internationally to some extent, but particularly in their own country. Juan Carlos also presented me with a cap commemorating the event, an honour that Maria (a personal friend of Juan Carlos) says she has never seen him bestow upon anyone else. It’s a measure of the friendship and trust that we quickly built up that I felt comfortable expressing my atheist views (the miners believe they were saved by god) and also that I was able to say that in some small way the camaraderie and brotherhood developed playing rugby with a close team of men, must be similar to the brotherhood developed by working miners. Yea right Gus… throwing a funny shaped ball on a Saturday afternoon is like being trapped 2000 feet underground for 2 months, oh dear. The gift that I gave Juan Carlos in return will remain private to those that were in the room at the time… we were many beers in by that stage.
I’ve now met a few local Chileans in various ways and some of them I will remember for a long time. They are a friendly, welcoming, proud and thoughtful people.