Fin de Semana Largo en Chile, Part 3 — Santiago
Before reading anything further in this post, I want you all to scroll down the page and see the first picture that I have posted below all of the text. Can you tell me what cities are pictured in the first image? Not that I expect anyone to actually tell me, but just notice the similarities in the pictures. Both cities have a mountainous backdrop and around the same number of skyscrapers. They also both have noticeable greenery and relatively modern buildings. If you guessed that the top picture is Denver, Colorado and the bottom picture is Santiago, Chile, then you would be correct. The reason I am showing you this is because this is how my friends and I felt in Santiago: confused.
Santiago, founded in 1541 by Pedro de Valdivia, is the largest but most modern city in Chile, and potentially throughout all of South America in my opinion. Situated in a valley within the Andes Mountains, the city boasts about its relatively temperate climate and modernism. We arrived in Santiago on Saturday (10/11) at 7pm and were greeted with some of the nicest views of the Andes that we saw throughout the entire trip. Santiago is about one hour and 30 minutes away from Valparaíso and seems to be like a whole different world. When we arrived at our hostel, the first thing we realized after looking around was that we were noticeably the youngest people staying at the hostel. That will have significance later on.
Going back to the modernism of Santiago, we learned that Chile has one of the two strongest economies in all of Latin America, with the other being Brazil. Chile has great political relations with the United States, Asia, and the European Union, as this allows them to boast free or discounted international trade throughout foreign markets. Because of this, the city of Santiago has the funds and guidance to build new infrastructure that resembles that of cities within the US. For me, Santiago was too modern for my liking. I wanted to see an authentic South American city like all of the other places that I have been, but I was disappointed to see that the city lacks a real identity. Everywhere else that I have been has a distinct feature that separates it from the rest, but Santiago did not. Regardless, the city is nice, but it felt like I was in the United States for these 2 days that I was there.
Just to give a few examples, we saw several American fast food chains that are uncommon for South American cities (Taco Bell, Dunkin Donuts, and KFC). It was a strange change of pace to see these restaurants, but reminded us a little bit of home (how sad is that..).
On our first full day in Santiago (Sunday 10/12), we went to Cerro San Cristobal, which offers a nice view over the city. We rode the funicular to the top of the hill and saw that the city even had a zoo atop the hill. These things bother me, particularly, because some of the animals at the zoo are obviously well away from their natural habitats. How can an elephant survive at such a high altitude in the Andes Mountains? Blows my mind. We took in the view at San Cristobal, then made our way down the hill, but not without trying this thing called Mote con Huesillos. What it looked like was a brown liquid with pieces of rice and some ball of cheese in the liquid. What is actually was was a sweet iced tea-like mixture, with corn, and pieces of fruit in it. Generally eaten by the indigenous Mapuche people of Chile, the drink is considered a delicacy among their culture. We gave it a shot and I was not a fan (so far, Santiago was striking out in my books).
After all of that, we decided to walk down the hill with the other hoards of people and somehow managed to get lots in the park. Luckily what it did allow us to see is a much better view of the city from another vantage point. Always with a silver lining somewhere. Later that day, when we got back to the hostel, we took the time to start meeting some of the other people at our hostel. There were people from Brazil, New Zealand, Canada, Argentina, and South Africa. We also met a girl from New Jersey who is staying in Santiago to teach English for a year or so. Back to the age difference, most of the other people at the hostel were at least 30 years old. We still took the time to get to know them but it was a little bit different than what we had previously experienced. That night, we actually went to a sports bar that was playing the Giants-Eagles NFL Game from back home. Unfortunately that was an ugly game for us Giants fans.
On Monday (10/13), we took the opportunity to explore more of Santiago maybe to change our opinions. We had lunch at this weird indoor fair type of place, and actually ate like kings for less than $5. If that is not traveling like an expat, then I do not know what is. Afterwards, we went to Cerro San Lucia, which was basically just another hill to explore located in the center of the city (as you can tell my calves got a great workout this weekend). And that was mostly it for our adventures in Santiago. It was a much more relaxing weekend than some of my other trips, but definitely worth going to. I just wish that I had stayed another day in Viña del Mar and Valparaíso because there were more fun things to do there.
Before ending this post, I just wanted to mention one of the most interesting people that we met thus far in South America. His name is Al, and he is a Canadian man from British Colombia. Normally I wouldn't suspect a 60 year old man to be one of the most interesting people, but he was. We met him at our hostel in Santiago and he was in the process of driving all throughout the world with an eventual destination to teach English in the Republic of Congo in Africa. His journey has been 1 year thus far and he has made it from British Colombia, through the Americas, down to Argentina and Chile. He basically tries to explore as many places as possible during the trek, but was telling us some of the lesser known things about Latin America from his experiences.
One interesting story was a situation that he encountered in Bolivia when he was driving his truck near the salt flats, or salinas. While doing so, his truck sunk down into the salt flats and was submerged up to its axels. The area was extremely desolate, so the closest civilization was about 10 miles away. He waited for 3 days because he had enough supplies and food to do so, hoping that someone would come by. Eventually he made the decision to leave his truck, hike to the town that was 10 miles away, and get help. In total, it took 5 more days to get the truck out of the salt flats, then to a shop to make the necessary repairs. All of this was done with the help of $20 US Dollars because he had to bribe the people of the town to help him because he 1) does not speak Spanish and 2) could not do the job himself. Al had several other stories to share too, but I thought that this was the most interesting one.
Chile, you were more than great to me. My 5 days in the country were all well spent and I am grateful that I was able to add another phenomenal place to my list of adventures. Tonight (Friday morning 10/17), I am headed to Ushuaia, Argentina with my friend John. After just 3 days of classes this week, I feel like I have not been in Buenos Aires for much time, but I will be able to make up for that next week. Ushuaia is actually known as the southernmost city in the world, with the other side of the Straight of Magellan being Antarctica. Why I am leaving warm, 80 degree Buenos Aires for cold, 45 degree Ushuaia is beyond me. But I guess it is an experience that I could not pass up, because I will be able to say that I was at the "End of the World". Glad you all are doing just as awesome back home, and I hope to hear from you all soon.
"You cannot live expecting all plans to work out perfectly. Patience is key and things will go wrong. Expect the unexpected and be prepared for the worst." — Al, from British Colombia