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Yesterday as I was biking up from my apartment to where I was meeting the lovely Emily for lunch, I got stuck in the mother of all tacos. Which makes it sound much tastier and crunchier than it was. Write it down kids, today’s Chilean word is taco. A taco is one of about three things (that I can think of at the moment). A high-heeled shoe, a small pad of paper or a traffic jam. It can also, strangely, mean burrito, but that’s a culinary problem, not a linguistic one.

Doing the math (as they say) will reveal that I was not stuck in a food creation, a high-heeled shoe, or a pad of paper (though clearly I’d have chosen the food). Instead, I was in a traffic jam. My particular traffic jam, with the slowly creeping autos ‘n buses and things was caused by a micro atravesada, or a bus for some reason diagonally blocking two lanes of traffic on Compañia. But before I knew the cause, I let my mind wander over all the things that might be causing the taco at hand, but I did not let my mind wander too much because one cannot depend on anything in this world, and especially motorists’ careful attention-paying to just another cyclist.

So here’s what I came up with:

Accidents. There are serious traffic accidents here, but usually on the highway. With the exception of the carelessly mowed-down pedestrian, or cyclist, we don’t see alot of these. When we do, they inevitably cause

Rubbernecking. Accidents, interesting events, attractive women, these can all cause drivers to lose their inertia, their ability to step on the gas and go. The same as in other countries, I’d imagine.

Motorcades, ambulances, police cars. Sirens sound, and people stop, or try to get out of the way. It’s surprising how little you actually hear sirens around here, and I like to think it’s because no one needs emergency care, but I think it’s more likely that most people take a taxi to the hospital, because they figure it’s quicker.

Protests, or the police “presence” that accompanies them. Sometimes protesters will take over the streets, not letting traffic flow. Or sometimes the caribineros (polite) or pacos (impolite, both words for police) are attending to the protesters. Maybe you wonder what that looks like. Here are a couple of photos from the teacher’s protest recently (about purloined bonuses, if you were wondering).

First, the teachers (and the ubiquitous street dog that decided to join in on the fun)

Dogs protest, too

Then, your helpful neighborhood policemen.

a not uncommon sight

Later, even the dogs get bored and take a liedown.

sleeping pooch

If it’s not an accident, and it’s not rubbernecking or a protest, traffic in Santiago may be caused by slow-moving vehicles, like this one:

tracción humana

or sometimes even by the dogs themselves (but not these, these are well-taken care of housedogs who have never set foot outside without their amos (as in owners, not as in Amos and Andy) being tugged along by their leashes (the dogs’, not the amos‘)

pooches at the parcela

The strange thing about the Chilean taco is that for the most part, people don’t honk. Or they might tap their horn, but there’s no exaggerated unstoppable horn-leaning. That we save for when we drive around town like lunatics with flags streaming out of the back window of the car screaming Chi-Chi-Chi, le-le-le, Viva Chile! Like last night when Chile beat Bolivia 4-0 in an important soccer game that brings Chile one step closer to the World Cup.

And if we’re in it (gasp), and if we win it, the streets will be paralyzed. Good thing the pacos have riot gear.