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Barcelona Blog: The last man standing

Start of the race

This week, Barcelona has been playing host to the European Athletics Championships. The men’s marathon was passing right outside my window this morning and despite not knowing a jot about any of the athletes, I popped outside to cheer them on.

With the start and finish line two minutes from my door in Passeig de Picasso, the athletes had to run four 10km laps of the city, taking in Arc de Triomf, Gaudi’s Batlló and the soon to be defunct Monumental bullring along the way.

The route was clearly devised by a sadist. Not only was the race scheduled to finish at midday in 30 degree heat but as the circuit looped round Parc Ciutadella for the final time, the runners came within metres of the finish line, only for the route to whisk them off yet again along the seafront.

If sadists dreamt up the route then only masochists were running it. Catalans flee Barcelona in August. Fierce temperatures and even higher humidity make anything other than lolling in the shade very unpleasant indeed. Running 26 miles in such conditions doesn’t even bear thinking about.

I missed Viktor Röthlin romping home to victory for Switzerland and José Manuel Martínez taking silver for Spain (I somehow managed to end up behind a tree and a grandstand) but I eventually found a good spot from where I could cheer on the rest.

Barcelona had come out in force to cheer on the athletes and there were big crowds at the finish line. Everyone that made it to the end got warm applause but none more so than Andorra’s Alan Manchado Vila.

A good twenty minutes after Röthlin crossed the finishing line, a cheer came up from my left. Thousands of heads turned to see Manchado, in last place and with several kilometres still to go, run round the corner. We watched in horror as he made the fatal mistake of looking over forlornly at the finish line. It was too much for the man. He pulled up to a stop with the ambulance staff and race officials primed and ready to scoop him up. But the crowd weren’t having it. As the poor man gasped for breath, head in hands, the applause got louder and louder. There were shouts of ‘Vamos!’, ‘Allez!’ and ‘Keep Going!’ The race officials hovered and looked at their watches. Manchado looked hesitant and then started walking. The crowd went wild.

Alan Manchado Vila finishes race

As the last few stragglers crossed the finish line, we had no idea if our man from Andorra was going to make it. Some people wandered off but the vast majority stayed put. There was a man still out there on the course and he deserved to be cheered home. We waited. And waited. A full 57 minutes after Röthlin, we saw the lights of the back-up ambulance and the nodding head of Alan Manchado Vila. He was running again and a crowd of well-wishers had sneaked onto the course to run along with him. To deafening cheers, arguably louder than for those of the winners, he rounded the final corner, applauding the crowd right back as he did so. 19 men never made it to the finish but he did. It was a wonderful moment and proof that sometimes, it really isn’t the winning but the taking part that counts.


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Filed under barcelona, blog, sport

Barcelona Blog: Bad hair in Barcelona

 My hair doesn’t like Barcelona. It never has. I spend a fortune getting it cut. In England it looks like a million dollars. After 5 minutes of being outside in Barcelona I look like I’ve just been locked in a cupboard for the night with a victorious rugby squad. In less humid, sweaty climes with better water, I straighten my hair and it stays straight all day. Here, the humidity turns it into a wavy mop that birds could live in. Even as I write, I’m sporting a flick with undulating side bits worthy of a photo in a hairdressing salon window cerca 1977. It gets even worse at the beach.

Oh darn it, it’s easier with pictures. So here’s how it should look on the left:

Barcelona blog: good hair day

And this is it in the middle in Barcelona. Check out my waves:

Barcelona blog: bad hair

I once yearbooked myself  for a laugh and several Catalan friends believed I really looked like this back in the day. I hung my head and semi-curly locks in shame (the perm is not real folks):

I quite clearly have English hair. It’s not suited to hot humid weather. It wants to feel the wind in it. It has the texture of baby bird feathers. I don’t think it wants to behave badly; it was just given too easy a start in life in cloudy England and is having trouble adapting.

Still. It’s not all bad. My feet are very happy to be back in flip-flops and a diet consisting entirely of bread and olives rather than Dairy Milk and Chicken Tikka Massala is doing wonders for my figure. Until the winter I shall just have to wear hats, look on enviously at others’ thick glossy locks and pray for rain.


For more thoughts on Barcelona hair (mullets to be precise), go here, although you’ll need to be patient, it’s an old-fashioned cut out and keep scan.

If you’re a hairdresser who can help with free product samples, sponsorship or tea and sympathy, feel free to get in touch.

If you have a body part that doesn’t suit where you live, leave your ‘clean enough for my mum to read’ comments below.

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Filed under barcelona, blog, Travel blog, Uncategorized

Chile’s Earthquake From Far Away

Photo by Luis Iturra

I was in a hotel room in Doncaster, England when I heard about the earthquake in Chile. I’d got a few days work and had woken up late after driving through the night. My mum texted me the bad news.

I’d been living in Santiago until early January and had missed being in the middle of the quake by a few short months. The badly damaged art museum in central Santiago was round the corner from my old flat. While I was living and working in Santiago, locals kept telling me they were expecting a big one (Chile, located on the ‘Ring of Fire’, seems to get hit every 20 years or so) but I don’t think anyone was really prepared for this. Chileans joked at us foreigners for being so nervy about the tremors, telling us that if things weren’t falling off the walls, it wasn’t worth waking up for. Saturday morning’s 8.8er certainly made them sit up and pay attention.

My initial reaction was fear – fear that my friends might have been injured or worse – followed by shock, sadness and, I have to admit, a little bit of envy. Here was the biggest news story to come out of Chile in decades and I’d just missed it. I’d experienced a few girly tremors but nothing like this and the trainee journalist within felt a bit duped.

I have no doubt that Chile will bounce back from this. Chileans are a stoical bunch. They’ll rally round to help and many have survived worse (the 1960 quake in the south was the biggest ever recorded anywhere). It’s the dogs I’m worried about now. The shelter where I was volunteering is now in ruins, and in a country where the majority of the people don’t have a great deal and will be struggling themselves, I fear the stray dogs of Santiago and the shelter in Melipilla will be forgotten about.

Here below is how I experienced Chile’s big earthquake, through the emails and status updates of friends on Facebook. These small snippets of information were way more informative than the BBC, newspapers or other media networks. 3 simple words – SAFE AND SOUND – were all anyone wanted to see. Other updates and emails were terrifying, while some expressed panic, resilience or good humour. The ‘Stiff Upper Lip’ award goes to a British colleague, who, much to everyone’s disbelief, managed to sleep through the whole thing on the coast…

From my inbox

Don’t worry, we’re both all right. I spent a few hairy minutes standing in my bedroom doorway – thankfully I live in a modern building and there was almost no damage (although the burglar alarm which reacts to movement spent the next couple of hours crying). It hit around 03.40am so I was a little drowsy and went back to sleep for hour or so afterwards though there were a few aftershocks. Xxx was at her mum’s and there’s plenty of glass that needs sweeping up but otherwise they’re okay. Both her parents have seen worse than this – her dad was in the south during the big one in the 1960’s. I haven’t been able to phone England. My mum is probably going mental. :S

Hey! Please tell Lemmy Killmister that Chile ROCKS!!! (Literally)

Thanks for worrying about me. Mobiles still don’t work. I was in a basement watching some bands. The earthquake was incredible and I had to walk a really long way home. Luckily though, I’m OK. Thanks.

I’ve just talked to him. He’s in the city and fine. His cat threw up though.

The tsunami now going towards Hawaii, thoughts and prayers going out to them.

I’m ok. Everything looks ok around providencia. not too much damage, we have eletricity, water, internet… supermarkets are open. Thanks for your concern.

It was at about 3:30 in the morning. I had just seen some friends off at the door of my building which is in the very centre, overlooking the Mapocho. At the beginning it felt normal, but then it started to shake so heavily that I decided to get up. I live on the top floor, so I though that if I tried to go down, the building would fall on me, so instead I decided to go into the terrace, which has a view of the Mapocho and north, and then I panicked! I saw how the pavement moving like melted chocolate and the traffick lights blowing up. Everywhere I saw flashes of light and then a general blackdown… And it didn’t stop. It went on for a couple of minutes (or at least that’s how it felt) and the only thing my panicking nervous system managed to do was dial my boyfriend’s mobile. No answer. The city was entirely dark. When it stopped, I hurried downstairs I don’t know how. On the way ddown, people with mobile phones to lighten up, or candles, or flashlights, most of them in pajamas. I went out of the building and the only thing I could hear was people crying, screaming. HORRIBLE!! I was shaking… I managed to take out a cigarrette and light it, and I sat down, still shaking: I couldn’t control myself…

My neighbour, a very nice man who I now wish I’d more of an effort to know, has given me his wifi key and also let me use his blackberry.. His entire family is in Conception, apparently their house is destroyed but they’ve survived okay. He’s waiting to get hold of a friend who was living in beach area that’s been 90% washed away by a tsunami!

The Lider has been looted!

It was a distressing night as it was about 4 am. The apartment shook violently, it was impossible to walk, everything fell off the walls, the electricity went so we were in pitch dark and the aftershocks continued through the night and still are. After that we spent the next few hours outside. The next day we noticed massive cracks in the walls, the corridors windows were cracked and water was coming through the ceiling in the one of the rooms.

I was in Viña asleep in a hostel and didn’t know anything until I got up at 10 am and asked why there was no water or electricity. No one can believe that I slept through it!

Thanks for your concern. I’m alive & well. Lost all glassware and some furniture but the building seems to be fine. I moved to my parents though, ’twas reaaaaaally terrifying to be on a 13th floor. The important thing my girlfriend and my family are alive.

I’m OK. There are some cracks in the flat and I’m sleeping outside in the square because my building is old and likely to collapse.

OK everybody, alive and in one piece, was in Valparaiso while all the shit happened, so the floor was moving from before for me.

(Description of a video link): The first impression I got of the earthquake was a river of water coming down the emergency stairs…

and yet another aftershock…just when I was starting to relax


Was on an island when quake hit, spent hours in a hill billy truck “reading” the ocean, finally got back to mainland when found out landing strip wasn’t damaged. Flattened villages, crevasses in road, boats on land and houses in river. Friends flat pretty damaged, slept in car outside Conce… no water, gas, electricity. Pillaged supermarkets, riot police, more flattened villages and broken roads. Just assimilating the fear now my family know am fine and all friends here in Chile are ok. Now looking forward to some fine wine and a Chilean bbq. Love to all, will be back in touch when the hangover subsides!

It’s a bread frenzy, buy bread, forget the tinned tuna, buy bread!

I can’t sleep with all these aftershocks!! I’ve got a headache, there’s no internet or hot water, but I can’t complain. There’s a lot of people worse off than me..

Electricity, check. Water, check. Gas, check. Swaying building from aftershocks, check. Life is almost back to normal

Xxxxx and xxxxx, please, if anyone knows anything about them, let me know.

 Be careful if you’re wandering around the city- there are lootings at shopping centres and scuffles with police.

The animals were behaving weirdly ’cause they could feel it. Then, there was a creepy low-pitched sound from underground. The first tremors appeared while everything started to shake and, after an apparently short retreat, the huge wave was unleashed, striking us all without mercy.

In Santiago everything is OK, no visible damage in our neighbourhood and all our friends are OK, just very scared. Our flat has some minor creeps in the inner walls, the only problem was that our front door got stuck and we had to break it down. In the south, things are much worse. Let’s hope for a quiet and shockless night

If you’re near the coast i.e. viña, valpo, try to make your way towards the hills because of the tsunami warning- DON´T try to come to Santiago- highways are damaged and buses aren’t running.

Xxxx has never been so scared before. We are fine, our flat only has minor damage…update follows

Guys stay away from the coast they’ve issued a tsunami warning

Massive earthquake last night….but we are fine. Lots of broken glass in the apartment….i prefer my Iowa tornado over the earth shaking violently…and at 4am on sat morning…no where to hide.

With thanks to my brave friends in Chile.

P.S. If any of you would prefer not to see your words here, please let me know. x

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Filed under chile, Santiago de Chile, Travel blog

Arequipa, Perú – home of homicidal taxi drivers, nuns and Inca mummies

Arequipa's Xmas tree

I think I’d make a good Peruvian taxi driver. I have zero patience, I’m always in a rush and if I can’t get a cup of coffee, I really do want to kill people. I’ve got the car for it too. My old Skoda is just the ticket, although I might need to break the exhaust off to really fit in.

Unlike Chile, Perú is in one big hurry. I noticed it the moment I crossed the border. Whereas Chileans will wait patiently for 3 hours to buy a sandwich without so much as looking at their watch, Peruvians can’t be doing with dallying. At the border they yelled for the bus driver to drive faster, they shouted at the poor soul loading the bags onto the bus, and they stamped down hard on the first sign of faffing amongst fellow passengers.

The only people not in a rush, begging for change outside the church

I wasn’t sure I was going to like Arequipa when I arrived. It had taken forever to get there on a bus without air-con, I smelt horrific after the journey and the first thing I saw in this busy city was a man throwing a well-aimed rock at a stray dog. I thought it wasn’t going to be my kind of town. I was wrong.

Arequipa is noisy and impatient but quite lovely. Ok so the car drivers would rather see you bounce off their bonnets than wait a millisecond for you to cross the road but the city centre is full of handsome squares, dazzling buildings of white volcanic rock and great bars.

Get me to a nunnery

I’d arranged to go drinking with Marco, a local Couchsurfer who was happy to show me round town after he finished work.  As I checked in at the Casa de los Pingüinos (a lovely mini hotel with hostel prices), I failed miserably in my attempt at explaining the concept of Couchsurfing to the matronly Dutch owner.

“So you’re meeting a Peruvian guy you’ve never met before that you know very little about”


“And you’re going to drink alcohol with this man”. 


 “And you don’t know where he’s going to take you”.

 No. But it’s OK, he’s a Couchsurfer. 

“But you’ve never met him!”

 Yes, I know. But he’s a Couchsurfer. It’s OK. He’s got good references. Honest.

 She looked at me hard, squinting her eyes as if trying to memorise my features so she’d recognise me when the police scooped my body out of the nearby canyon. When I further tried to explain that Couchsurfing was a network of over a million people who let complete strangers stay in their houses for free, she turned pale. She clearly didn’t plan on expecting me to return alive and able to pay the bill later.

As it was, and as expected, I had a great night with Marco and his mates. Perú might not be as rich as Chile, but you wouldn’t know it from the bar scene. On a mid-week night just before Christmas, the bars and clubs were busy with a young crowd. Out on the streets, friends congregated and passed round bottles of rum, women sold cigarettes out of suitcases on street corners and buses rumbled along the cobbles, young boys yelling out the destinations as they went.

I ate my first falafel in a year in a great Turkish joint called Istanbul, had happy hour mojitos in Brujas and ended up drinking Cusqueña in a club where there appeared to be as many people on the stage as off it. Thanks to Marco, a musician who clearly knew absolutely everyone, I was introduced to half the city.

Surprised by my safe return, the hostel had had to hurriedly set me a place for breakfast the next morning. With only 24 hours in Arequipa (hardly time to do it justice), I set out early to see the sights.

The convent

First up was the Sanctuaries Andean Museum to see Juanita, the incredibly well preserved mummy of a young girl who was sacrificed by the Incas on the summit of the nearby Ampato Volcano. She was found by a team of anthropologists in 1995 and the museum shows a 20 minute video reconstructing the moment she was ritualistically clubbed over the head before everyone is whisked off on a guided tour. It was all fascinatingly grotesque and it once again made me glad I hadn’t been born an Inca. Too many steps and if the volcano kept erupting, too much chance you might get clobbered to appease the gods.

For a nanosecond I considered becoming a nun in Arequipa. The Santa Catalina Convent was so gorgeous I almost stayed, until I realised I wouldn’t be able to get Pinot Grigio, Radiohead or internet access. I’m not normally the least bit interested in religious buildings but this is a city within a city, as colourful as a Mediterranean village with hidden gardens, flowerpots and quiet courtyards. Closed as a working convent in 1969, it’s now open to the public and has an elegant restaurant tucked away inside that does tasty salads.

More Santa Catalina Convent, Arequipa. All photos Natasha Young

Around the old town, Arequipa is a mite touristy (it’s a common stop off on the way to Cusco) but walk a few blocks in any direction and you find the real Perú. There’s no H&M, Starbucks or KFC round here, just small shopping galleries, tiny shops with old-fashioned counters and busy markets. The people here are proud of their city and consider it and themselves to be different from the rest of the country. It’s Perú’s answer to Barcelona, and just like the Catalan capital, I loved it.


Filed under Arts Previews, chile, Travel blog, Uncategorized

Santiago de Chile: My 10 Favourite Places

chile1. La Vega

Nowhere in Santiago feels more South American than La Vega. Wander the city centre streets with its uninspiring but earthquake-proof architecture and there’s a real feeling that you could be anywhere. Not in La Vega. Santiago’s main market, set in a shady part of town next to the murky Mapocho river is gloriously, chaotically Latin American.

Fruit and veg is piled high inside and out, sellers brag about the size of their plums, housewives are scolded for squeezing the fruit and flies buzz around the vats of olives and hunks of cheese. Foreigners may baulk at the pigs heads that look out dolefully from the butcher’s stalls but the stray cats and dogs look on longingly.

Chile grows some of the finest produce in the world and it’s all here. From creamy avocados to juicy lemons, La Vega is a cook’s dream. Dirty and oppressively busy at the weekend it may be, but I love it.

Photo by Juan Nosé

Photo by Juan Nosé

2. Lastarria

Barely more than a single street, Lastarria is home to a fine collection of bars and restaurants frequented by people who wear designer glasses and black polo necks. There’s also a decent art house cinema, a museum, a theatre, a tiny park, several boutiques and a book and antique market at the weekends. If you’re lucky, you’re also catch a glimpse of the man who sports a skirt and a headscarf and sells dolls heads from a blanket. However, I like it best first thing in the morning. When the sun glints off the cobblestones and the terracotta walls of the Veracruz church and the smell of fresh bread wafts along the street, it couldn’t be lovelier.

3. Tostaderia, Calle San Pablo (near the Central Fish Market)

I’ve got no idea what this place is called, but I fell in love the moment I saw it. In a city that serves and sells terrible coffee (we’re talking Nescafe), this little shop sells and grinds coffee beans from Brazil, Columbia and Costa Rica from behind a long wooden counter. It’s worth ordering some for the smell alone (Costa Rican is the best). Also on sale are herbs and spices, potions and powders, dried fruit and baking ingredients. Watch out for the old ladies with sharp elbows.

4. Bar El Ático, Irarrazaval 1060, Ñuñoa

Not only because it reminds me of home and plays the best music in the whole of the city, but because Bar El Ático is a sanctuary from reggaeton and Latin American pop. Indie as it comes, I found my people here. The Pixies, Radiohead, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and the like sound all the better when you’ve not heard them played out for a while.

 5. The terrace of Emporio La Rosa, Calle Monjitas, Parque Forestal

Two minutes from home is one of Santiago’s most popular ice-cream parlours. It’s not my favourite (you can read where is here: https://natashayoung.wordpress.com/2009/06/01/ice-cream-heaven-we-know-where-it-is/), but the ice-cream is darn good and it’s in a great spot. By some weird quirk of weather or geography, the sun always seems to be shining here. Chocolate and Chilli Ice-cream, newspapers and sunshine is one hell of a mix.

6. The General Cemetery

Not because once a goth, always a goth, but because you can learn more about Santiago’s culture and painful history here than a year spent talking to Chileans. It’s a flower-filled oasis of calm here too, albeit busy with families picnicking around the graves of loved ones at the weekend. I went on the night-time tour for Revolver back in the autumn (https://natashayoung.wordpress.com/2009/05/19/revolver-gravespotting-%e2%80%93-more-weird-ways-to-spend-the-weekend/) and paid homage to folk-legends Victor Jara and Violeta Parra. Perfect for history buffs.


7. Mimo’s Hairdressers, Mosqueto, Bellas Artes 

High on entertainment value, Mimo’s is an institution. Run by a crazy Argentinean named Miguel, this man really knows how to cut hair. Judging by his constant stream of conversation, he also seems to know about a lot of other things as well. He once spent many minutes telling me that the left side of my hair was like the sea and that the stubborn flick of hair above my right ear was the masculine part of my personality expressing itself. He once refused to continue cutting until I’d promised to start a daily mantra that would harness my inner winner. He offers disappears for minutes at a time, returning with a violent sniff and talking ten to the dozen.

The salon itself is full of delightful misfits, who smoke like chimneys and nod along to the deafening techno. They play songs that have lyrics in English like ‘suck me hard oh yeah’ and the resident Yorkshire terrier has a purple and green fringe. As you leave, they all shout out, ‘Mira! Que linnnnnnnnda! It really is the most marvellous place.

8. Bellavista

By night, Pio Nono in Bellavista is like an English wedding gone bad. Like us Brits, Chileans appear to have an amazing capacity for alcohol but no off switch. While Pio Nono (the street that runs through the centre of the neighbourhood) is full of lurching drunks sloping Escudo over each other, two minutes away on Constitución, civilised dining goes on in expensive restaurants. It’s as chaotic as Soho, with live folk venues fighting for space alongside neon lit clubs, hot dog joints and salsa hangouts. During the day, Bellavista is great for graffiti spotting. If you’re lucky, you might catch an old crooner singing ballads on the stage behind the Feria at the weekend.

9. Centro Arte Alameda

You just don’t get cinemas like this anymore in England. Independent films in a quirky space that often has design fairs, gigs and club nights too.

10. The Swimming pool on Cerro San Cristóbal

Stupidly expensive and only open for a few months of the year, but by god what a view. Surrounded by the Andes and jaw-dropping vistas of the city on clear days, I’d go every day if I could.

 So, those are mine. What are yours?

Now also published at Matador: http://matadortrips.com/my-10-favourite-places-in-santiago-de-chile/


Filed under blog, chile, Santiago de Chile, Travel articles, Uncategorized