Just an ordinary working day in
The street dogs are barking loudly. Over at the main road junction when the traffic stops, acrobats move into the middle of the road. One, a young woman in shorts and a bra, is hoisted high into the air in front of the waiting cars. She strikes a few spine-challenging poses and then quickly, before the lights change and the traffic flows on, she and the two young men that did the hoisting, move amongst the cars with big grins to collect some small change from the appreciative motorists. It seems to be a high risk way of making money but it must work because there are several middle-of-the-road acrobatic troops in this district of Santiago known as â€˜Providenciaâ€™. There are also mid-road jugglers and magicians that perform at this iulsbusy junction.
Running alongside the main Avenue Andres Bello, which hosts these high-risk shows, is the river Rio Mapocho. Maybe â€˜riverâ€™ is wrong. The concreted channel is awash with brown frothy water (possibly the source of â€˜coffeeâ€™ â€“ in near-by establishments). Sea gulls and feral pigeons mysteriously make their living on its stony concrete shores.
Towering over the river and separated from it by further lanes of speeding cars, is the San Cristobel Tower of the Sheraton Conference Centre and Hotel, the hotel which will be hosting this yearâ€™s annual spectacle of what might be described as the â€˜incredible in search of the inedibleâ€™ â€“ The 60th International Whaling Commission.
The Tower is the more up-market part of the Hotel with its own staff in smart top-hatted livery and with a restaurant of outstanding views on it 21st floor. This presumably is where the visiting ministers, ex-prime ministers, legions of ambassadors and the like will reside. The rest of the hotel is nice enough (all rated 5 stars, with acres of marble and plates of small tasty but rather pricey snacks), but it could be anywhere in the world, and only the views reveal that we are in
The peak of the hill is also a target for legions of joggers and cyclists and much stretching goes on here. There are also cafes and souvenir stalls but there are also quiet areas in the woods where the birds sing perhaps a little more sweetly because they are above the smog.
Providencia is one of the more upmarket parts of the City. Here are many embassies and tree-lined roads and much leaf-fall, as we are now well entering winter with frosty nights and breath hanging in the air as we march each morning to the meetings. The architecture here is of great inventiveness but little harmony - a riot of styles.
The Chileans are considered the more conservative of the latin peoples; â€˜more like the Britishâ€™ some of their neighbours say (it is not clear is they mean to be kind). Dress in this cold season is somber but there are also many quick smiles and a gentle appreciation at halting attempts at a few words in Spanish.
The national drink, the Pisco Sour, is tasty, warming and surprisingly lethal, taking the legs away with a sneaky ease. Chilean wine is excellent and, just beyond the ragged edges of the city, are many famous vinyards. Food is also excellent â€“ avocados are a staple here, plentiful and delicious.
The smoggy old city like any others its size has a few traps for the unwary. One delegation, which will remain nameless, managed on its first day in town to wander â€˜innocentlyâ€™ into one of
However, despite this, Chile was ranked as the most peaceful of the Latin America counties in the 2008 Global Peace Index (curiously Iceland, Denmark and Norway came in the first 3 places worldwide) and those who have been here for a few weeks, attending the earlier closed meetings of the IWC, have been more than comfortable deep in leafy Provindencia with its acrobats, street dogs, and good food.