by Sally Helm

Being beside the Pacific Ocean in Valparaiso makes me feel closer to my native Los Angeles—but, I haven’t been lacking for reminders of home. In fact, this long, skinny country in the southern hemisphere has started to seem like California’s upside-down twin. Here’s how:

1) Terremotos.

In Chile as in CA, there’s an inescapable threat that the earth might start shaking any day. A little earthquake rocked the south a few days ago (too far away for us to feel, luckily). In Santiago, we saw remnants of quake damage while walking through downtown, and we noticed that the subways all have to run under main roads—building foundations are extra-deep, for safety’s sake. We’ve also heard about the aftermath of the hugely destructive 2010 earthquake. As I’ve interviewed students about the origins of the national protest movement sweeping the country, a few of them have cited the outpouring of support following that disaster as one source of the unified spirit they’re capitalizing on now. Maybe when “the big one” comes to California, we’ll be able to find some sort of silver lining, too.

2) Climate

We’re here during the mild Chilean winter, and it reminds me of the 60-degree days of a Los Angeles December. Both climates are also conducive to wine-making and produce-growing, so we’ve enjoyed lots of delicious avocados and beautiful vineyard tours. Unfortunately, both places are also susceptible to drought—Chile’s on the third year of a dry streak.

3) They both start with C.

I learned this through exclusive interviews with high-ranking government sources.

4) Large immigrant population from poorer bordering nation.

Chile’s relationship with its northern neighbor, Peru, reminds me of California’s with Mexico. Santiago is home to a large population of Peruvian immigrants, most of whom came to Chile because it’s a relatively more prosperous and stable Latin American country. That means, for one thing, that Santiago is home to some delicious Peruvian food, and that you can find Inca Cola at some tiendas. It also means the same xenophobic feelings that almost always accompany an immigration boom. A freelance journalist who guided us on our food tour last week told me a little about the stereotypes that Chileans and Peruvians have against each other—Peruvians are painted as lazy or criminal, Chileans as selfish or imperialistic. Unfortunately, that sounds like home.

5) Mountains and beach both within easy reach.

From my house in LA, it’s totally possible to make a day trip to the Pacific one
day, and find some snow for skiing the next. Chile’s similarly got it all.

6) Smog.

The beautiful sunsets we enjoyed today and yesterday were made possible partly by a familiar layer of air pollution. In Santiago, we saw the mountains around the city just once or twice—they were mostly covered by gray. I don’t mind. Nothing like the delicious smell of car exhaust to make me feel right at home in a new place.

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