Monday, March 30, 2009


How many cities in American desire a vibrant and energetic feeling? How many feel like they have had their energies sucked out by people moving to the bedroom communities surrounding them or by Big Box stores taking the trade to the edge versus the center of the community? A lot. I was in Portland, Oregon a few years ago and admired how the downtown area was vibrant with cool old architecture, their neighborhoods abuzz at night and how well their great transportation system worked (light rail).

Well, in my humble and uneducated opinion, Portland has nothing on Chillan, Chile. We have been here for ten days visiting friends from home (see earlier blog on the Gutmann/Fuentes family) and have discovered what energy really is in a city. Chillan has about 175,000 people so it's not huge but not so small either. The downtown is filled with people all day. People get into downtown by taking either buses, taxis or “collectivos”. We tried to take the collectivos most of the time. They run on a specific route that doesn't vary. We take the #15 from Paseo de Aragon to downtown (or Central). The cost is afordable for everyone to ride this way. A small sedan, usually Hyundai or Toyota, will handle four, three in the back and one up front. The charge is 350 pesos. The collectivo drivers hustle and try not to leave seats unfilled. Dave, mi amigo por Clifton, says they make a good living. If you don't take a collectivo, take a bus for 300 pesos. These also fill up throughout the day. By the way, one US dollar equals 600 Chilean pesos. You do the math. So Chillan has a good transport system without having to resort to tax levies for light rail or the like. And you get to sit next to your neighbor or fellow Chilean. Nobody seems to mind.

They have modified their highway system for special needs: MOTE!!! On one street, they have constructed wooden street stalls where "mote" (a national Chilean favorite of boiled water with wheatberries and peaches) is sold streetside. Female hawkers come out to encourage you to drive by for a drink. Very tasty and the hawkers ain't bad either.

Once downtown, you have a six block square area that has businesses, from banks and newspaper offices (three now, since they have ADDED newspapers) to mini markets and big department stores. Their mall is downtown in the center. Amazing concept, huh!!! In addition to the supermarkets that are filled with people, they have a central “mercado” which sells meats (about thirty different “butchers” selling their wares similar to Findlay Market at home), fruits and vegetables. Restaurants surround the meat stands and serve their comida del dia for 3000-4000 pesos. They are filled with Chillan people, not visitors, because Chillan is really not a “tourist” city. Just outside the market are the kiosks that sell everything from shoes to band-aids. And people aren't ignoring them either. People are actively buying socks from the sock guy and beautiful strawberries from the corner kiosk lady. Vibrancy. Energy. Vital. NORMAL FOR HERE.

The parks are filled with people. Young people walk hand in hand. Street performers do their performing. The place is clean. Dogs run around free like in Rapa Nui. The Art Institute where Amy and Andrea take their violin lessons is filled with cool art. And it had the required guy outside selling you something (if you want) as you enter and exit. Schools are downtown so you see uniformed school kids strolling through the streets.

And this is just taken for granted here. They do have their big box stores. Luz and lisa are at “JUMBO” right now looking for a baking dish that we really couldn't find in town. So what!! Our first night we shopped for groceries in a pretty large supermarket called “LEIDER”. Dave told me that, guess who, is buying them out. You guessed it, Walmart! Oh Oh. Hope they really don't screw up this really cool place.

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