This is not my first visit to Chile, but having made a six month commitment I’m now learning as much as I can about the country. After only a week here I’ve already noticed the locals appreciating it when I pull out a bit of trivia - particularly the many Germans here who have more than 150 years of settlement in the south and naturally don’t appreciate flippant remarks about their ancestry.
Here are a few things I already know about Chile:
- Chile has five World Heritage sites - the best known being the colourful port town of Valparaiso, Rapa Nui National Park, and the 60 Churches in the region of Chiloé.
- The northern desert of Atacama is the world’s most arid and had no recorded rainfall between the period 1570-1971. I never made it there on my first visit, but it’s high on my list this time.
- Chile has over 2000 volcanoes, 500 of them are potentially active - including the Puyehue-Cordón Caulle eruption earlier this year. My attempt to climb Mount Villarica was thwarted by poor weather conditions - but I’m keen to try again.
- Chile has produced two Nobel Prize winners: Gabriela Mistral (1945) and Pablo Neruda (1971). Neruda is possibly the most well known Chilean worldwide who was not a dictator.
- Easter Island was named after it was discovered on Easter Sunday in 1772. However, it is also commonly know by its Polynesian name of Rapa Nui, and in Chile by its Spanish title, Isla de Pascua.
- Punta Arenas is the world’s most southern city and Puerto Williams is the world’s most southern town. A good way to start an argument is to mention this to an Argentinean as they like to claim Ushuaia as the ‘End of the World’.
- In February 2010, Chile suffered an 8.8 magnitude earthquake which ranks as sixth largest earthquake ever to be recorded by a seismograph. The intensity lasted about three minutes and claimed 525 lives. In my hometown of Christchurch one year later, a magnitude 6.3 aftershock lasting only around 10 seconds and killed 181.
- On New Years’ the port city of Valparaíso hosts the largest fireworks display annually in all of South America.
- There is a Chilean independence leader named Bernardo O’Higgins who has more street names and statues than anyone else in Chile. He is called the liberator of Chile - not surprisingly for his efforts in defeating the Spaniards in Chile’s successful quest for independence in 1818.
- The national slogan on the coat of arms is “Por la Razon or la Fuerza” (by reason or by force). If you like this sort of thing there is a giant flag hoisted outside Government Palace - photos don’t even begin to do it justice.
I look forward to adding to this knowledge over the next few months.