Smog, swimming rash and eccentric treadmills; how to get unfit in Santiago

Photo Natasha Young

Photo Natasha Young

Santiago has turned me into a sloth. I’ve never had so little exercise in my life. Even when I was in hospital on traction after a road accident I got more cardio than this.

It’s not entirely the city’s fault. I could have lived further away from work. I could make more of an effort to find a yoga class that doesn’t get booked up 3 months in advance or clash with my schedule. I could sod the expense and buy a bike or God forbid, get an exercise video. But even so, Santiago doesn’t make it easy.

To start with, there’s the smog. To recreate the full effect of the Chilean capital’s winter air quality in the comfort of your own home, do the following. First, smoke 20 fags. Then empty a hoover bag and inhale deeply, before going out into the street and sucking on a car exhaust. You see? It doesn’t exactly make you want to go outside for a jog, does it? As soon as it rains here, athletic types whip off their suits and ties and change into their running gear. Outsiders think they are crazy, but rain signifies one thing to locals; fresh air.

Personally, I’ve always loved cycling but it seems the number one national sport here (after football of course) is trying to mow down people on bikes. Even the stray dogs are in on it, putting cyclists at number two on their hit-list after taxis. Cycle lanes are few and far between in this town and when they do exist, they often come to an abrupt halt without warning. It’s no wonder everyone bikes on the pavement.

And then there’s swimming. I adore being in the water, but it appears that Chileans don’t. There are no decent public pools here and very few gyms have them. One English friend did find one and enthusiastically went twice a week until she got a strange rash under her arms which she was told was ‘Swimming rash’. Something to do with the bacteria in the water they said. Nice. To be fair, there are two stunning pools on the top of Cerro Cristobal but these are sadly only open during the summer and the hike up the hill to get there means you’re knackered before you even get wet.

So that just leaves me with the gym. For me, paying for a gym without a pool is like going to the cinema just to eat popcorn – utterly pointless. However, it’s the only option I have as all the good gyms with top-notch facilities are too expensive or too far away. Apparently my nearest one is delightfully eccentric. My friend goes to watch the old men doing legs, bums and tums classes and to enjoy the anarchic treadmills that change speeds on a whim and leave her running like Basil Fawlty, Roadrunner or a slow-motion Baywatch Babe, depending on its mood.

It’s all very tempting of course, but not quite as tempting as having another glass of wine and a fried cheese empanada in front of the tele. My rolls of fat are coming along nicely.



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5 responses to “Smog, swimming rash and eccentric treadmills; how to get unfit in Santiago

  1. Paula Coutinho da Silva

    I have a different point of view. I love jogging and bicycling here, specially in Providencia. I find good spaces to exercise, like parks and ciclovias, but you’re right about the very little respect chileans have for the ciclists. Maybe it has something to do with the cities you compare. I lived in a beautiful city, but the areas to exercise were limited to the rich, and the weather was very hot and humid, so it was terrible to jog most of the year. I find it here very nice to be outside, even in winter.

    • youngnatasha

      You’re right of course. In England it rains so much the air is always really clean and Barcelona has a sea breeze. All the other Brits I know here struggle with the pollution. All the Chileans I know are used to it. Saying that, the heat is much more bearable here that in Spain.

  2. Joris

    arrrrrh, fried cheese empanada…

  3. Rebecca

    go to the swimming pool on Aveninda Irarrazavel – its good and no rash!! There is a gym therre too and yoga n pilates…

  4. Rebecca

    the website is for deets about the pool-do it!!

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