In Chile there is only one place to be on New Year’s Eve if you like fuego artificiales (fireworks) and that place is Viña del Mar which just happens to be where we live. Last night we were fortunate to be invited by friends to their apartment which has a great view of the bay. From our vantage point we could see fireworks from six of the nine barges set up in the bay. Thank you Marilynn and Leonard we were able to avoid having to mingle with over a half a million people lining the beaches from Valparaiso to Con Con.
But isn’t it Dangerous? Raeski and I often hear this question when people learn of our plans to move to Chile. Driving is probably is the most dangerous act we will do in Chile. If you’ve ever experienced driving in large South American cities you understand.
I believe people’s fears of South American countries are based on events from decades ago. For years the American press focused on revolutions and dictators which often were a result of foreign governments meddling in their internal affairs. More recently Columbia and its war with FARC and drugs were vilified by the press starting with the Reagan presidency and ending with the Clinton presidency. Sadly, the press never returned to Columbia after the war was over (after Americans got over their cocaine addiction) so they missed the drop in Columbian violence. If they did they would find a vastly different and revitalized country.
But you’re probably asking what about our destination? Is Chile safe? Is the government stable? If you are reading this in an American city you are in more danger than if you were in Chile. Crime in the U.S. is four times higher than Chile. Economic prosperity is a stabilizing factor in Chile. With a positive trade surplus and a debt that’s less than 5% of its GDP, Chile is doing well and the middle class is growing. Chile is a country with a bright future.
But statistics don’t tell anything about a country’s people, culture or attitudes. To get a feel for those one must visit the country to gain clarity. For both Raeski and I, our experience in Viña del Mar on New Year’s Eve left a lasting impact. When I think of Chile my memories take me back to that night.
The coastal town of Viña del Mar, a short drive from Santiago, is located on a crescent shaped bay shared by Valparaiso on the south, Reñaca and Cón Cón on the north. It’s the site of a fantastic fireworks show that draws people from all around South America. For New Year’s Eve, eight barges of fireworks lie offshore guarded only by red hazard flags. That’s all that’s necessary in this law abiding country even though there are between 500,000 and 750,000 people gathering for the festivities. During the day we watched kayaks paddle around the fireworks barges and ships from the Valparaiso docks line up on the other side for the show.
After dinner we sat in the hotel bar watching a parade of people streaming by on their way to the beach. Minutes before the show started we asked the bartender if it was okay if he refilled our champagne glasses before we went out. With a, “Sure, it’s holiday!” he reached under the bar and handed us an unopened bottle of bubbles to take with us. Outside, with our viewing spot secure, we popped the cork and were met with smiles from those around us. And then the show began.
After 15 minutes of almost non-stop synchronized fireworks from the eight barges, my inner thought was, “This sure beats watching a crystal ball drop.” After 20 minutes I’m asking myself how long the show will continue. Finally, after 25 minutes, the unmistakably finale began. Then the crowd moved to their parties that lasted into the early morning.
Reflecting back on the evening I was struck by the sounds I didn’t hear. Absent were sounds of gunshots, fighting, sirens and firecrackers. However, oohs and aahs seem to be universal. As the mass of humanity walked back to their rooms and parties I realized we weren’t being jostled about as we walked. Wow, talk about everyone respecting everyone’s space. And into the early morning all we heard were people having a good time. What we experienced spoke volumes about the Chilean people.
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” Mark Twain