La Serena, as I siad, was a big tourist destination for Chileans and Argentines——the international road directly behind La Serena, a dirt road to be clear, had served Argentines for years before the coup, as a closer distance to the beach then their own beaches driving in from Northern Argentina——still many came from central Argentina areas like Mendoza to the coast but mostly central. Immediately in the days after the coup, the Chilean Army dynamited all of these smaller passes——before that with the pass open, Chileans or Argentines would register with police on either side their intention to cross the border from what ever town was closest to the border but often from 100 kilometers away on the Argie side and Vicuna being the closest on the Chilean side (During summer months with so many travelers, Carabineros would set up a temporary customs maybe 12 or 15 kilometers from the pass) Chileans of mid to upper class came to La Serena for the less crowded beaches of the central coast. Many in Santiago had summer houses or family in La Serena so it made sense. Still La Serena was pretty light in regard to what I was accustomed to in regard to summer tourist towns.
Either staying in hosterias, second homes or with friends——Chileans wanted their month to be fun and free of the rigors of Santiago life. Many middle class Chileans chose to just camp out on the beach——not in La Serena but leading into it. Not much beach north of La Serena so south of it. “Campings,” although available, were not really built up like they were starting after 1987 or so. Middle class Chileans would pull out mattress and put it on top of the car and then with the dining room table upside down on the mattress or mattresses, they would place the dining chairs on the inside of the legs in corral fashion with everything they would need protected——so bedding, pillows, dinnerware, clothes as well as everything they would need to cook with——and then wrapped all up in a tarp and roped to the car——rope over the goods and through the car with and with the door closed, securing it all——and it was off to the beach. Either alone or in small groups you would see impromptu camp sites along the beach——No Chilean would go without a good meal and at their dining room table sitting in their chairs. Kids would play on the beach, Dad would watch over it all as mom cooked the next meal——the protective tarp became the tent off some poles and attached to the car. This was Chilean camping with nearly all the comforts of home.
I went to the beach nearly every day——Typically Chileans on vacation don’t arrive to the beach until around 3 pm or so——after lunch. Chileans didn’t eat dinner until 10 pm normally anyway at home and maybe if they are going out not arriving anywhere to eat until 11pm. Many restaurants in La Serena did not open until 10 pm and that was mostly when employees were arriving to go to work. With dinner done and home by mid-night, older teens were leaving after that to go to a disco or party usually arriving around 1am and staying until at least 2am if not later. Most any Chilean on vacation was not up in the am until after 9 am. A groggy, lazy simple breakfast and then maybe a nap and lunch around 1pm brought them barely ready to go to the beach until 3 pm. Leaving around 5 to 6pm brought them home for once and family time at the cabana or hosteria.
I arrived to La Serena on a Saturday and went home to sleep after a long bus ride. My sister took me downtown on Sunday for groceries and other errands——the down town was pretty busy with people everywhere after church——I checked out the plaza de armas as well as the feria for fresh fruit etc. We came back for lunch and wanting to see more of the city, I took a collectivo downtown——I could not believe that hours before, where the city was crowded and full of people, it was absolutely deserted with a fusty dogs and thats it——my first lesson in the the firm tradition of the provincial “Siesta.” Strictly adhered too, I went downtown in the evening to go to the movies and people were back and everywhere strolling the street en masse.
In those days workers arrived to work around 8:30 to 9 am———worked until 12:30 and went home for lunch and siesta only arriving back to work between 3 and 4 and then working until about 8:30——so four rush hours a day——rush hour in La Serena was not much by most city standards across the world but with a lot of small one way streets, it was crowded. I cannot say how serious a siesta was during this time——everyone observed it and it was solid.
I mostly went to the beach everyday. The water was cold certainly but offset by the heat, it was nice. I met a lot of people my age and so spent the evenings, after dinner, at parties or in a group at a disco. Chilean youth parties at the time were completely different than anything I had experienced before in the US. Usually about 15 to 20 people and held in a home or in the patio of a cabana or hosteria or on the beach with a fogota. Usually no snacks really but always with wine and especially piscola, a mix of coca cola and pisco. No one was getting drunk and sipped their drinks talking and sharing. I was mostly with university students so it was about school, lost loves and hopes but rarely ever politics. Certainly there were little romances beginning and ending but really calm compared to an American party where rowdy drunkenness and crazy behavior was the norm. Most Chileans at the university level had experience with alcohol from an early age and everyone knew how to behave. Inevitably someone would pull out a guitar and take requests for songs——not ACDC, Metalica or anything else but nearly always folk songs——everyone would sing along and be a little melancholy or happy with the lyrics——Bob Dylan, Victor Jara and especially anything by Cat Stevens and his eternal Chilean favorite at the time “Cat’s in the Cradle.” as well as any mix of other Chilean songs, “Yo Vendo unos Ojos Negros.” etc….. Friends would pair off to go home sharing a collectivo or get dropped off——but not without stopping to get french fries off a street cart or empanadas——not hard to find a food cart in the city or in nieghborhoods. Younger children, having stayed home, would still be in the street riding their bikes or playing soccer and other games. Rolling in at 4am was pretty much standard and then it would start all over again the next day and night.
I went to the cemetery to check it out——at the front of the cemetery are the oldest installations of graves and tombs——I can’t remember the oldest but it pretty close to the founding year of La Serena, the oldest settlement in Chile. Some famous names for sure from history and there they are. Now the cemetery was still functioning and so further on were the more economical internments—nichos——much like apartments tall and wide where, in niches with just enough room for a casket was laid out, the dead were placed. I walked down to see it for myself and came across the funeral procession of a humble 112 year old man long dead before he was dead. A cart with his coffin was followed by family and an almost New Orleans style band playing a slow and solomon dirge in brass and then friends following behind.
Now in Chile at the time you could buy a plot and it was yours but in the cheap seats it was just renting. Part of the way down to this man’s final resting place was a crew on a scaffold, with hats off, bowed to the family as they passed just barely stopping from their work high up as the pulled a tenant from his place for not paying the rent. A wheel barrow held his skull and rib cage I could see along with a mass of clothes and dried innards that looked like a pile of seaweed washed up on the beach. I thought about the juxtaposition of life and death and really greatly surprised at no one’s effort to hide or shield a long ago death from those coming here now to bury a newly dead loved one. The procession passed by the dead bones and gut with no reaction. I asked about where, in debt old bones would go to rest and it was shown to the ostuary——A low round bricked up domed structure over a deep dark cave hole to the side of the cemetary——simply dumped in over the bones of any one else that lay unclaimed or too poor to pay for an eternal place in the dirt or concrete condos of the dead.
Train service to the north of Santiago had been halted at some point in the late 1950’s. The south of Chile still enjoyed train service and still does to a point——when the state train concession purchases the right sized cars for the rail. Rail lines in Chile had been established by the British and differed from mainland Europe. I am talking about the width of the rails and therefore the cars that would need to fit——In the late 90’s Chile needed rolling stock to upgrade what they had——a team was sent to Europe to purchase used rolling passenger stock——Well, they went but did not measure correctly and so train cars arrived from Spain( mid 1990’a) and had to be modified as the rail trucks (wheels) did not fit correctly——a big news story as state trains modified the trucks but could not handle the weight of assigned passengers for the cars——the train had before gone as far as Puerto Montt but now only as far as Chillan and then buses beyond that operated by the trains. The joke in the newspapers at the time was “No Fatties” on the train.
Anyway. at the time in 1985, it had been since the late 50’s or early 60’s since the train had gone north out of Santiago. The La Serena train station was on the ocean side of the Pan American highway and north of the main road to El Faro——Camino de los Libertadores?——I think?——Anyway I noticed that while there was no train, the station was well kept and there were people there working. I drove up and parked and made my way across the platform. Turns out, that while there was no train and had not been any train for years, the station workers showed up every day for work as if there might be a train. Ticket sellers, porters and mechanics trolled around. I came to understand that the state train union was so strong that even though there was no train and never would be, these workers held their jobs until what would be their retirement. A complete train station with no train ever to come again, they showed up for work and were paid. A true ghost station.
I talked with the workers and eventually got to pass thru to the yards in the back. There were old cargo cars and a few passenger cars where mechanics meandered around oiling wheels on cars that would never leave the station. I entered a large maintenance shed where a lone blacksmith stood working in front of a large oven. There and he explained the reality of his life working on nothing and just waiting to retire. To pass the time he would take old steel train wheels from the scrap heap and pound them into chuzos (A steel pry bar used in construction). The wheels were hardened steel and of course, round——like a wheel. He would set his furnace every day and pound out the bars out to a chuzo-----and sell them for a few pesos on the sly to contractors. One bar on average would take him about 9 months to pound out but he had nothing else to do.
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Avda. Francisco de Aguirre.
The station had a brief resurrection in the early 90s as a hotel. It didn't last too long as the El Romeral iron ore trains that still use the line rock the building on its foundations, that whole area is still a marsh underneath. And the noisy Ruta5 runs right past the front door. Its now used as a municipal office.
A lot of the smaller negocios still maintain siesta hours. Closed from 1:30 to 4:00 or 4:30pm.
Après moi, le déluge
In the aftermath of WWII, Chile opened up immigration to anyone in Europe that wanted to come-----
My sastre in La Serena, an Italian guy, came with his family. He had a bad right hand blown off when playing with a grenade as a kid and only had three fingers-----His family said enough and emigrated to Chile. I am not sure if Chile paid the passage but there was a promise of land and it was delivered when they came----in Penuelas along where the hippodromo is (maybe not there now, no idea) and north. He was telling me they had a tractor and it was routine to have water up to your knees on the tractor as they plowed the fields----- eventually they brought in dirt over time to raise the level to make it barely farmable,I don't know what they would grow in that but I remember how upset his family was in regard to the "promised land" they received from the government. He had an apprentice ship in tailoring in Italy and soon apprenticed to a Chilean tailor and left farming behind with his brothers keeping it up before they all went into auto repair and a dryer day for their work shop.
In La Serena we had a Chilean maid everyday and a gardner.
Señora Maria and Lucho.
Señora Maria was maybe 65 at the time but she knew her shit. She had never worked for a Chilean family and always foreigners. She was able to gain work as a maid with foreign families and she was damn good at her job. She had two last surnames, which in Chile means she was illegitimate. So, in Chile your first surname is of the father and the second is of the mother———example would be Agosto Pinochet Ugarte———Dad’s last name would be Pinochet and mom’s last name would be Ugarte——In the event of an illegitimate birth the baby carries the same name of the father two times so it would be Agosto Pinochet Pinochet if he/she were illegitimate——a telling sign when going for work or in school to be sure.
Her father had served in the Chilean army and fought in the War of the Pacific for which she received a pension for his service every month.
Señora Maria was solid——she had worked all her life in the homes of Europeans and Americans and while not discarding her Chilean culture, she knew the ways of a foreign household——no Chilean would eat pancakes nor ham and eggs for breakfast but Señora Maria knew this and if that what was up, then she brought it on. There was nothing like maple syrup or peanut butter but somehow she made it. She was fiercely loyal too——quelling any rumors and what not——no one came into the house without her knowing who they were and what they were up to.
She knew of my escapades across the city each day and night before I was even home———what I did, who I was with and how a true Chilean would interpret my actions, which she informed me of, and what I had to do to make it right or to just just sit tight and let it level out—— I was not that bad but in those days, there were things you did and did not do.
Señora Maria ironed everything——even underwear and socks to within an inch of their life———No one would leave our house, casual or formal, if clothes were not perfect———not an argument at all, it was just not done——at all, ever, no matter what.. I remember she would iron and starch my jeans with a tight crease down the leg front and back.
She would arrive at 7am every morning with bread and cheese or whatever else that the house needed and would not leave until 8 or 9 in the evening——every day except Sunday.
Breakfast was at 8, lunch was at 12:30 with Once at 5 and “dinner” at 8 so she would leave it all set up and for us to clear. No exceptions ever.
Put the clothes in the hamper and that afternoon everything was clean and ironed and in the drawer with out fail——never any issue with household accounts (with receipts) and always down to the peso exactly.
Lucho the gardner———He had 11 children and one leg shorter than the other. He came 5 days a week and always super sweet. Always did his job well and not like he had a lot to do, always kept busy. Mucho was never allowed in the house——ever. He was a melancholy type and tough. A couple times we had a bee or hornets nest lodged in the eaves of the house and in he would go, without any protection, to fight them off, bag and take them away.
In Chile, with domestic help at those times, the contract for them was breakfast (coffee or tea with bread or spread) and then lunch. Most domestic help took the work for the food over the wages. Once(Once meaning afternoon tea and cakes) and something to take home if not dinner-----it was often that one person out of a family ate well and brought home extras apart from their wage——not to mention any give aways in clothes or other goods they could use, sell or trade.
Yeah, well this could sound very imperialist if you want to look at it that way but it’s what is was——I never had a maid growing up——our family did not really need a maid or a gardner but it was decided it was a good thing to give people work and at least in our case, they became a part of our family.
In addition, it was wise to have someone at the home ALL the time. Burglary was a constant issue, especially as a foreigner. With some one home it was not an issue——crime in those days in Chile was very passive and not confrontational so you had to have someone in the house at all times to not be robbed.
We had a very large German Shepard at the time as well——many times thieves would poison the dog to gain entrance with a some tainted meat——our dogs were German trained and it helped keep anyone out but still you had to plan everyday for the inevitable incursion.
In the case of Señora Maria, I could practice my Spanish and ask intricate questions of culture and ways to behave——“you can do this and not do that.” Most of the time if I asked her a complex question in regard to culture and if it was a big one, she would just walk into the kitchen and not engage——so i knew the answer to my question. Often times if there was a misunderstanding in regard to our “American” behavior on the street, she would translate the issue on our terms to the locals and it would be understood from our point of view and the affront would be chalked up as an understanding of differences in cultures and all forgiven——Cannot say how she saved us so many times from critical issues——It was amazing to me how Chileans would understand this and it was all okay, but it was for her, Señora Maria and her standing in the community that would ---- Not to say that if i screwed up socially in some way, she would not dress me down on the do’s and don’ts of what I had done———quid pro quo.
At this time there were probably maybe 5 or 6 six Americans living in La Serena——apart from those working at Tololo or the European Science observatory——with them it might have been another 20 or 30. Probably a total of maybe another 50 Europeans in all also living in La Serena. Really there were no other Latin Americans living in La Serena.
I met a swiss family traveling through La Serena during this time——A husband and wife along with their two children. They were in a big Land Rover pulling a four wheeled Land Rover cart with tarp over the top. They had contracted with Land Rover to drive the Land Rover all over the world and then deliver it back to England where Land Rover would pull it apart and look at the wear and tear. I think it was planned to take two years and had already been all over Asia and Africa. I found them at a gas station along the Pan American in La Serena. Around this time I came across an older American man alone on a Yamaha 450 endure motorcycle and he was doing the same thing for Yamaha. He would start in Alaska and drive to Punta Arenas. In Alaska he got a new bike delivered and then in Punta Arenas he would crate up the bike and ship it Japan. The trip took him 9 months to complete where he would take off 3 months and then start again. He’d been doing it for just over 20 years, over and over.
I had a family member that had been living in La Serena for several years and while not an official US Consular official he was called on by the Carabineros from time to time when they had a non-spanish speaker in custody and needed translation. Some pretty sad cases really from what I saw most of the time. Also, he was the liaison for the Embassy in our area for an emergency evacuation. He would make contact with the embassy once a year for updates but also the embassy would call when the political situation was bad and make him aware of any information that was important. There was evac site outside of La Serena that Americans and associate europeans would be taken out by helicopter. Never got close to this in anyway. I would imagine there is still a plan for this today but during this time I think it was reserved for a coup or other major military conflict going on in Chile where it would be dangerous for foreigners.
Another family member had a ham radio set up. Calling out of Chile at the time was VERY expensive and mostly a little spotty. So we would go over every now and then and call stateside with a phone patch. Basically this was done in Chile by calling into the US Bandwidth and asking for anyone willing to call in at their Ham by phone with a collect call. The US ham operator would use their phone to connect to their radio and operate the voice toggle. Users would speak and at end say over whereby the US Ham operator would toggle you off to the other person. The US person would pay for the call from the US Hams house to the called number. This was a nice way to call and check in with family and friends and a great thanks to the ham community for this service. It was especially helpful in the aftermath of the March 1985 earthquake as there was no phone service for many days.
It was also interesting to just listen in at night. As I did not have a ham license, I could not communicate with anyone but listening in was fine. A simple turn of the dial and you could hear the mines in the cordillera talking back and forth. Tankers off the coast as well as fishing boats and then individual sail boats talking over plans to meet up or need for repairs———really fun. Also got Radio Free Europe, Radio America and Moscow’s English/Spanish propaganda broadcasts in addition to the BBC——Armed Forces Radio too.
The fourth region was the most independent in their opposition to Pinochet and the government at this time. It was close to Santiago and yet not that close and a lot of empty dark coast at night. I knew a military officer and he was telling me it was a fairly constant issue with the army and navy monitoring Cuban trawlers off the coast as they were bringing in arms along the coast and smuggling them into the fourth region. There was a neighbor hood above La Serena called “La Antena” which was mostly if not nearly all very inhabited by the poor. I can’t recall if it was that summer or the following year where the army located a clandestine arms store in La Antena. Reports were about 11 tons of weapons buried under a house there. Mostly all M-16’s with serial numbers going back to weapons lost in Vietnam during the war. There were much smaller caches of weapons pretty regularly during this time. Pinochet traveled a lot around the country but only came to La Serena once when he was campaigning ofter the plebecito. It was too dangerous. I remember the first time he was scheduled to visit for two days. Pinochet flew in a C130——a large over wing four engine US made heavy duty prop driven transport. I was up at the airport to see him come in———directly across the highway from La Antena. So the C130 was coming in to land——its flat up there on an open platueu with no trees——his plane came in out of the cordillera and down and then about 200 yards off from touching down the C130 just took off straight up and to the north and away. Shit hit the fan with Carabineros all over the place and the army too——a bomb had been found a the foot of the airport buried in the dirt. A deep hole with explosives meant to blow a low flying plane on landing out of the air. Carabineros found the detonation were which led out of the airport and under the highway into a house. It was chaos——don’t recall if they caught anyone but it was pretty heavy.
A few years later when I started a business in La Serena, a Chilean business owner friend of mine came across a deal, as he was connected, to scrap three tramp freighters captured by the Chilean Navy with Cuban crews and filled with weapons.
He asked me to go out with him so we hit the road north a ways and then off the Pan American highway to the coast. Coming over a hump on the dirt road I saw three ships there nearly beached with workers cutting them apart. Several flat bed trucks were being loaded with the cut-ups from the ships. The trucks hauled the scrap to the navy yard in Valparaiso and he got paid for the work. Took about 9 months for them to break them down.
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I was in Chile for the first time in 1988. My most vivid memories were of the soldiers with machine guns on street corners in Santiago, and watching the vintage autos cruising the Alameda in the evenings while sipping a really potent drink, think it was a pisco sour. As for the vintage cars, they were perfectly preserved and numerous. A friend told me the climate was kinder to vintage autos than North America and the people could not afford the newer versions.
I remember taking a photo of a chicken crossing a railroad track in the middle of the city. Thought it was a curious juxtaposition with the city skyscrapers in the background. A soldier appeared out of nowhere complete with machine gun let me know in sign language that he wanted the film from my camera. As I gave it to him, he waved his finger back in forth in front of my face, as one would do with a naughty child, and said "No infrastructura". The railroad.
We stayed at the hotel El Araucana in Concepcion on the 11th floor. The city was bereft of tall buildings, there was only El Araucana. I asked the English speaking desk clerk why there were no other tall buildings and he told me they all collapsed in the last big quake. Only El Araucana was left standing. Coming from a boring Canadian town with no earthquakes, I suddenly found being on the 11th floor too exciting and did not sleep well. Now, decades later, whenever I visit Concepcion, I stay at El Araucana.
I agree, it is a very interesting and engrossing read!Sr. El Puelche wrote: ↑Mon Oct 07, 2019 12:35 amHey SCL-----glad you enjoyed the 5 Escudo bill story----really just relating what I saw----and hlf2888, thank you for letting me know you enjoy the read----Chapters?----I have 30 more years to go!!!!-----Also, thanks for relating your experience, I hope you continue and others do as well.
Glorious socialist realism be damned!
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- Location: In Chile
Another similar "secret sign" I have heard of is that on the green Carnet booklet in use at that time, one of the corners was diagonally cut off to indicate that the bearer was a non-militant. Has anyone else heard of this? It has to be anecdotal info because there is nothing on the net about it.Sr. El Puelche wrote: ↑Tue Sep 24, 2019 10:45 pm...He pulled from my new purchases a single 5 escudo bill and looked it over folding it, along the lines already there, in thirds.
"You see how this bill is folded in thirds, do you know what it means?"
Well no, of course I didn't.
"During the UP (Unidad Popular) communists would identify themselves with other communists using this bill and it was a code." He said, "Sometimes as a way of proof but it also allowed the buyer to show they were communist whereby the shop keeper would give a discount or allow the buyer a chance to purchase rationed goods or contraband with no one else knowing, see the bill is red which just adds to it all."
Après moi, le déluge
Haaaa, thank you at46, and to mem as well glad you are enjoying it, I am enjoying the write as well.