Wandering in America del Sur

Chile-Travelogue  |  Travel time: July 2005 - March 2006  |  by Allison Webb

How many Chileans does it take ... ?

Just let me start this off by saying now, go, run, don´t walk, to your phone and just dial a number, any number - and talk your face off and thank Bell, Telus, Sprint or AT&T for your wonderful service - service which previously you have cursed, time and time again, but now you would walk 5000 miles for and when you´re doing this, make a call for me too!

But here in Chile there is no Bell or Telus or Sprint, instead there is the ever present Telefonica or Entel or Movistar or countless other companies that only add up to three things: complexity, frustration and can you say expensive?! And it doesn´t seem to matter whether or not we are talking about the office, the home or the cel phone, it´s all the same, CEF (complex, frustrating and expensive!).

It all started off fine when only mere minutes after arriving I received my first call from Kurt and all was well in my calling world, but shortly afterwards the harsh reality began to hit me. On Monday morning at work I realised that I couldn´t make any phone calls. It didn´t seem to matter at first because I wasn´t expecting too many calls anyway, but on week two it was beginning to become a bit of an issue.

It was all explained to me that previously in the office there had been abuse of the phone system and since it is so expensive it had been quite a target it would seem. So in order to curb this problem, the often used principle in Chile applied, take it to the lowest common denominator and punish all! More bureaucratic processes followed complete with a code for each phone and restrictions for calling based on levels, not to mention tracking of your calls! I wondered just how I would fare, the gringa, in the world of the hierarchy.

In order to soften the blow of not making calls, my colleague volunteered his office at any time also explaining that I could work there! Nice idea, but it would seem reasonable that I might want to have my own working phone at my desk?! Call me crazy, but along with my computer, it´s pretty basic!

Anyway, magically, on day 10 my phone code arrived and surprise, surprise, without restrictions for long distance calls! Ever fearful about being monitored by the phone police, I am using my own government calling card so I can fly under the radar screen. However, just because I had a code doesn´t mean that everything is solved it would seem. Invoke again the CEF principle!

As in the grocery store, there should be a manual with the phone complete with a lock because as I was warned, "do not, upon pain of death (unsaid, but implied!) let anyone else see your phone code!!!" As it turns out, it is a 5 step process to get a line out and it is always different for local, within region (whatever that means?!), international and to cel phones.

Ah, yes, the cel phone ... a wonderful invention if you can actually figure it out. I spent 10 minutes one night trying to call with no luck without knowing that even for local calls there is a system for land lines and one for cel phones - of course, not resembling each other or invoking any common sense! And no one tells you this! It is like you would automatically know, coded in your genes from birth, that when you make a local call to a land line you would just dial, but when you call a cel in the same area, not only would you add the area code, but that you would also add a "0" in front of it! And it is different whether you are calling land to land, land to cel, cel to land and cel to cel! Figure out the permutations and combinations on that one! EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEKKKKKS!

Never one to give up, you are ready to face the land line - apparently the worst of them all. Now not everyone in Chile has a land line because they are very expensive and as I would soon discover the epitamy of the CEF principle. As I said, it all started out rosy with my receiving calls no problem, but then the next weekend I was surprised when my phone was strangely quiet. I didn´t think much about it until I came into work and found emails and got a phone call from Kurt about my busy phone line - for 3 days! Hmmmm...

Went home to try to rectify the situation only to discover that it wasn´t off the hook, but just not functioning, but I didn´t know why. My attempts to understand the rapid Spanish and possibilities of pressing different alternatives for more information were way beyond me! Finally my colleague and Paula´s parents showed up to help. They also had 2 friends along for backup. They tried the line and tried to use a phone card, but to no avail. They talked amongst themselves and looked puzzled as the old Newfie jokes percolated through my brain ... how many Chileans does it take to activate the land line? As my Mom says, "more than 5!" since that night they went away defeated.

My colleague tried to explain that the line had been cut off because the minimal amount of $3000 pesos hadn´t been loaded by the end of the month and now that it was cut off, it couldn´t be reactivated unless we went to another land line! Great! What should you do? Knock on your neighbour´s door and ask to use their phone to activate yours? Is it the Chilean equivalent to the Canadian, borrow a cup of sugar?

Finally the next day we were able to reactivate the phone from the office after calling about 5 places, but were told very sternly, that it would not be available for another 24 hours! Ugh ... But now that it was working I still had questions, when did I have to reload it? If I used it for local calls, how much balance would remain and when would I know that it was too low? Or would I just have to come into the emails from home and then start the process all over again????? It turns out that apparently no one had thought to ask those questions so I guess I´ll just have to cross that bridge when I come to it.

And calling out ... still haven´t figured it out. For now I have been going to the phone store on the main street, but it gets pretty frosty at night and at about $.25 minute, it´s about 3X more expensive than calling from Canada, but, hey, at least it works!

So, I guess I am going to learn to text message because it´s really cheap, talk quickly in English and Espanol to save money and learn my way around the bureaucracy until it feels like home!

But until then, fortunately there have been my wonderful colleagues, Georgina and Igor who invited me to their home in the woods as they call it, outside Valparaiso/Vina for a home cooked feast of Thai cuisine. And like our fishing stories, Igor claimed to have been cooking for 3 days, but it sure seemed like it because it was one of the best Thai dinners I have ever had, bar none, and that includes food in Thailand so my hat is off to him! And it was nice to share stories of DFO and Vancouver because he lived and worked there for 30 years! And I basked in their company and gorgeous garden that was a sheer work of art.

And my other colleague, Maria Paz had adopted me and gotten me to be the centre of attention and laughter in our twice weekly pilates classes! Not only do I not have a clue about pilates, I don´t understand the Spanish instructions which makes for many faux pas and giggles from all including our very energetic instructor! Fortunately these ancient torture sessions are often followed up by good food and more laughter, but this time, not at my expense!

And when there isn´t activities with my new found friends, there is always wandering down to the beach or walking in the city. At every twist and turn there is always something else to discover - a culture unveiling itself - slowly, the layers peeling off the veritable onion. And I am savouring the time to let its sights, sounds, smells and tastes seep into my being, day in and day out.

And stay tuned for the next adventures beyond the vida real (real life) and back to the intrepid traveller with a special guest on board!

My wonderful hosts, Igor and Georgina and a Thai dinner extravaganza!

My wonderful hosts, Igor and Georgina and a Thai dinner extravaganza!

The view from my office of Valparaiso with its sprawling hills and older buildings

The view from my office of Valparaiso with its sprawling hills and older buildings

In the main square in Vina del Mar close to my apartment

In the main square in Vina del Mar close to my apartment

Just a typical Saturday on the street in Vina del Mar

Just a typical Saturday on the street in Vina del Mar

The view from my office of Paseo Atkinson and its beautiful, historic buildings, Valparaiso

The view from my office of Paseo Atkinson and its beautiful, historic buildings, Valparaiso

The beach and Pacific Ocean in Vina del Mar

The beach and Pacific Ocean in Vina del Mar

Sandsculptures on the beach, Vina del Mar

Sandsculptures on the beach, Vina del Mar

© Allison Webb, 2005
You are here : Overview The Americas Chile Chile-Travelogue
The trip
 
Description:
My trip through Peru before heading to Chile to work for 6 months and then travels afterward in South America
Details:
Start of journey: Jul 05, 2005
Duration: 8 months
End of journey: Mar 02, 2006
Travelled countries: Peru
Chile
Argentina
Uruguay
Ecuador
The Author
 
Allison Webb is an active author on break-fresh-ground. since 15 years.