As I write this, I can see The Andes from my window. It’s been raining recently and for once La Cordillera isn’t just peaking out from behind the smog but standing proudly in a snowy hat for all to see. It’s incredible how easily you can get used to such a majestic view.
The mountain range is just one of the many things I’ll miss when I leave Chile. My 8 months here in Santiago have passed quickly and before I know it the year will up and I’ll be forced to make yet another scary decision about my future. As The Clash so eloquently put it, ‘Should I Stay or Should I Go?’
The pollution and hungry insect life are definite reasons to head home or to pastures new but there’s plenty of good stuff here too. For starters, if I leave, I’ll never be able to eat avocados again. I can see myself now howling with outrage at forking out £2 for a tiny, tasteless excuse for a fruit and boring the pants off whoever will listen about how the creamy avocados of Chile were bigger than oranges, stayed ripe for a million years and cost pennies. That’ll get me started on the thrill of shopping for giant corn on the cob in La Vega or how the streets of Santiago always smelt of hot roasted peanuts. I’ll miss the tang of the first Pisco Sour of the night and mourn the fact that the E numbers which make supermarket shopping such a brightly coloured experience here are banned everywhere else.
And then there are the Chileans. Despite their insistence on speaking such an impenetrable form of Spanish, their love of pointless bureaucracy and their inability to walk fast, they’ve taught me a lot. Forced to queue for 3 hours at a time in banks and shops, these people have the patience of saints. They steadfastly refuse to get stressed about anything and although they can drink like Brits, they can get a party started without the need to drink 4 litres of vodka first. I love them for that. There’s an innocence here, seen not only in the kids – who still dart round lampposts playing cops and robbers – but in adults too. Weekends aren’t wasted, spent shopping for the latest gadget or ‘must have’ pair of shoes, but in getting the family together for a barbeque or hanging out with friends.
But the pull of ‘home’ is strong too and home for me is three different places.
It’s Manchester, where I love the sound of the rain and the smell of frying spices in Rusholme, the bands, the gigs and the acidic drag queens. It’s a city full of comedians, epitomised by a homeless drunk who saw the advert for Les Miserables at the Palace Theatre one day and said with a wink, “I ‘ad a mate called Les once… and ‘e were bloody miserable an’ all’.
It’s Lincolnshire where I grew up, which is all about unconditional love, big skies, fresh air, mum fussing over a feast in the kitchen and home-grown vegetables. It’s dad’s silent morning wake-up calls that involve a gentle knocking on the door and a cup of coffee placed strategically on the floor by the bed.
And then there’s Barcelona. Home to people I love and my burly, flirty dockers. It’s a place so full of exquisite architecture that you can walk past a Gaudí without even noticing and where strange conversations can begin in one language and end in another. My hair hated the humidity of those Catalan summers, but my oldest pair of knickers still fondly recall the old days in Barceloneta, where they flapped cheerfully in the breeze as they were hung out to dry and had a panoramic view of the Mediterranean.