Cementerios, Santiago, Chile: A Dead Adventure

Looking down an empty hall at the Cementerio.

He pulled out his keys, unlocked the gate, and waved me to follow him to a forbidden alley. I hesitated for a moment, it was dark, eery, and full of cobwebs  – hardly accessed by the living. Could I trust him? Was he showing off his access to all parts of the cemetery to an enthusiastic westerner, a young blonde female at that? Or did he have something else in mind, something more sinister? Cautiously, I took a few steps inside looking around and noticed more than ever the silence. The joyful cry of children erupted from somewhere outside and I let go a breath I didn’t know I was holding. There were other people around, not in sight, but they were there and I was transported back into a feeling of safety. I nodded my head with enthusiasm and gratitude that he had shown me this additional part of the cemetary before moving back past the gate into the main area. The adventure was over.

I moved from the Catholic cemetery to the main one. As my new international friends in Santiago had described, the cemeteries were worthy of a visit. Unlike the familiar small headstones of my home, the dead here were housed as families in what I can only describe as mini-cathedrals. Curiously, some used ones were now up for sale. 

Covering as much of the grounds as I could, I ended up far away from the metro station so turning back decided to take the outside road to ensure I didn’t get lost inside once it was closed. Walking outside the large walls a car of young men were driving slowly past, watching me. I was nervous but there was nowhere to go but onward. I felt foolish that I hadn’t noticed the area prior to going into the cemeteries – it was poorer and felt somewhat unsafe. Later, when telling this story to Chileans I was lectured of the folly of going solo to an area they considered dangerous. 

The metro back to the hostel in the city centre was comforting; I was going ‘home’ to where girls took too long in the shower, drunks stumbled down the hallway at ridiculous hours of the morning, and where people spoke English. I was safe.  

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