Reports from Argentina
Posted: Feb. 21 2003, 17:49Santiago de Chile is the seventh most polluted city in the world.
When we left the house this morning I asked "Think it's going to rain today?" The sky was more grey-ish than blue-ish, so I figured it was an overcast day. But that's not cloud cover – that's pollution!
Everywhere you look is a kind of greyish-brownish mist hanging over the city. It's like some kind of foul-smelling dusty fog.
As I mentioned, Santiago is in a valley with mountains on all sides. Just like Mexico city, pollution rises up from the cars and the factories and has nowhere to go. So it just accumulates above the city. With my powerful, young, non-smoker lungs I don't have any trouble breathing, but it does kind of burn your eyes if you aren't used to it.
There are a million busses here – and at least two million people who try to sell you stuff on the bus. The drivers don't seem to mind. In fact the drivers are pretty relaxed in general, they'll pick you up at any point along the route if you signal them, and you can always negotiate about the fare: it costs 310 pesos, but if you ask you can ride for 250 or 200. So far I haven't paid full fare even once!
I just try to imagine doing this in Germany... "Mind if I get on for a few stops and try to sell something to the passengers?" "Would you sell me a ticket for half price?" I bet those asshole German bus drivers would call the asshole German cops.
Chile and Argentina both use pesos but the Chilean peso isn't worth anything at all. When I got here I traded in 250 Argentinian pesos for almost 60,000 Chilean pesos – I felt rich until I realized that a milkshake costs two grand!
Santiago is pretty cheap compared to Europe or the US. But I'm used to Argentina, where things are so cheap that they seem to have no value whatsoever, so Santiago seems quite expensive to me. "What? $3 for a large pizza?" In Argentina that would only cost $0.90. There hasn't been a currency devaluation in Chile, like there was in Argentina in 2002, but it seems inevitable that the Chilean peso will be devalued in the next few years.
The political spectrum in Chile is quite different from its Argentinian counterpart. Argentina is chock-full of big leftist parties, the Communist Party, the Revolutionary Communist Party, the Labor Party, the Revolutionary Labor Party, the Workers' Party for Socialism, the Movement to Socialism, the Workers' Socialist Movement, and so and and so forth. That's not even counting the piqueteros. In Chile, on the other hand, you have the Communist Party – all other leftists are stuck in small propaganda groups. It's pretty much like Spain in that sense.
The Chilean CP has tens of thousands of militants and gets about 10% of votes in national elections. It controls the important unions as well as all the students' organizations. As is to be expected, it is not particularly revolutionary: on February 15th, while millions around the world were demonstrating against imperialist war, the Communist Party of Chile demonstrated for "peace." Lenin would be proud!
– Dzhon Rid