Earthquakes and Head Lice in Santiago

Deep within Santiago’s center, underneath modern high rises, age old cathedrals, leafy plazas and elegant art museums lies a place where contemporary Santiago is left behind. This is a place where high-heeled businesswomen and men with briefcases yelling into Bluetooths is little known—a place where the clogged sidewalks of vendors, street artists, teenagers rifling through discarded thrift items and the intertwined lives of people in the bustling city is a mere memory.

 La Piojera, aptly named ‘head lice’, is a dingy, dramatic bar that serves something very unuique: terremotos.  A terremoto, ‘earthquake’, is a devilish drink of fermented white wine stacked with a sickly sweet brown liquor and a dallop of lemon sorbet dropped into the concoction. The unnoticeable entrance to La Piojera brings you down a long sloping hallway into a dimly lit, underground drinking den where crusty locals crowd the sticky tables and loudly sing proud Chilean songs at the top of their lungs. Sawdust strewn across the cracked cement floor soaks up the spills from exuberant cheersing. The yellow walls are graffitied with political recitations, scrawled names in black ink and Chilean flags. The clientel consists of a rambunctious crowd of young people and older men with a permanent drink in hand that look as if they have been there so long that they are now an integral piece of the furnishings.

Encapsulated in cave-like darkness, La Piojera seems to suspends you in time, not just because after two terremotos you feel as if you are experiencing the very thing the drinks are named for, but because it is a place where making friends is as easy as breathing and set away from the clamor of the city you can forget any and all responsibilities of life.

Stepping out of La Piojera into the stark daylight after a few terremotos and countless rambling conversations will scold you back to reality. The city continues to move, clocklike and predictable compared to the rowdy, heedless scene from below. La Piojera seems like a distant world compared to the streets of Santiago. Back in the throes of the bustling streets, women walk by leaving the scent of their expensive perfumes lingering in the air behind them—a mark left momentarily to be erased by the breeze, just like La Piojera’s mark will eventually erase into the hustle and bustle of every day life.