But Alex is not alone. At the very beginning of fieldwork, I searched instagram for the tag #altohospicio. Capitalizing on the fact that like Google+, Twitter, and Tumblr (and unlike Facebook), you can follow an instagram user without their express approval, I added several users who regularly tagged pictures with #altohospicio. I noticed quite quickly, cars seemed to be a popular subject for photos. This was confirmed by the small but growing number of Facebook friends I had gained in Alto Hospicio who also posted pictures of cars.
I am not usually one to pay much attention to cars, but even in real life, they were one of the first things I noticed here. My apartment building has a large parking lot attached to it, and most homes have a car park space within their gates, but the streets are full of cars. There is rarely an empty place to park. And people seem to take great pride in their cars. Many are nice models such as Mazda, Nissan, and newer Toyotas. I often see people washing their cars in the evengings. Many have decals that depict all members of the family in cartoon form. Auto repair shops are overly abundant in downtown Alto Hospicio. Many of these advertise services such as window tinting, custom paint jobs, and rims.
One resident, who was explaining to me the Zona Franca (Zofri) told me that foreign cars are incredibly cheap in this area, because there are no import taxes. It is common practice for people with old cars to just leave them on the street when they buy a new one, and several new friends have pointed these out to me in Iquique and Alto Hospicio. It is very hard to sell a used car here because the new ones are so affordable.
But today I realized the true value of a car. It is the freedom it provides. No standing on the corner waiting for a bus. No carrying groceries uphill or meticulously planning errands to minimize backtracking and carrying of heavy items. No wondering if there will be taxis passing this way late at night, or worse, if this gringa with not-so-perfect Spanish will be taken advantage of by said taxis. I understand why people are so excited about their cars in a way I hadn’t thought of since I graduated from high school and left my blue Volvo station wagon in my parents’ driveway. Being in Alex's car made me feel like those first times I was allowed to cruise the Midwestern US landscape in a friend’s car. In a word, I felt free. And then we turn up route 16 as the streetlights turned on, and Walk on the Wild Side came on the radio, and suddenly the whole world felt like it was an adventure waiting to happen.