Another week in Santiago

I am leaving tonight for Pucon and parts south (more rain, greener country).  I hope you are doing well and that life is good.  Here it is cold, sometimes as cold as 43 during the day and below freezing at night.  The following are some of the observations I have had during my month stay in Santiago.  First, there are ¨perros del calle¨ everywhere.  Street dogs.  People feed them, give them clothes to wear, in some instances even build houses for them.  There is also dog shit everywhere.  I have stepped it in on more than one occasion.  No wonder the word mierda is used so often here!  These street dogs take it upon themselves to chase taxis and cars.  Thus far I have not seen one accident nor dead dog as a result.  The people of Santiago are oblivious to the noise here.  Claudio told me that the background noise is 75 DB.  Between the screeching of brakes, buses, ambulances, honking of horns, I am more than ready to leave for the country.  Another thing: serious kissing in public is more than accepted here.  It seems to be a national passtime.  More with young people than with old.  I find myself a bit squeemish, as I was raised to consider it more of a private affair.  Walking through Parque Forestal at night, I see couples engaged in all manner of courtship.  As for making my way through dense crowds, I have noticed curious behaviors.  People in general walk very slowly, but also are unwilling to veer from their course.  Thus, I find myself speeding up to pass people and find an open path.   All things technical are twice as expensive here as in the US.  I´m not sure if it´s due to the exchange rate of US currency, but I am shocked at the prices people pay for food, let alone electronic devices such as cell phones (a new cell phone here is about 300).  I managed to procure one for 20 new, but apparently it only works in Chile.  In general, I find people to be incredibly resilient and patient.  I get tired waiting for buses for more than 10 minutes.  Normal wait time is 20 to 30 minutes, though the Metro works well and is fast (and incredibly crowded most hours.  I am reminded of the bullet trains in Japan).  Chileans love snacks (bocados) and sweets, esp candy and cookies.  Everywhere there are kiosks selling all manner of marshmallow candies, chocoloates, cookies.  Others sell fruit and veggies, but in the center of the city, the sweets prevail.  They also love to spend time with their families: during the week at desayuno and almuerzo, and on Sundays for the afternoon over carne asado (barbequed meat).  They have a spice, ahi, that I love.  It is picant but not overly hot, and I love the flavor.  With fresh tomatoes and onions it makes the best salsa Ive ever had.  I had the chance to speak to 12 classes at one of the 5 best all male public high schools in Chile.  They asked me questions in English about anything they wished, and I answered.  Sometimes I spoke in Spanish, either because they requested it (they didn´t think I knew any Spanish), or because they didn´t understand my response in English.  I talked about politics in the US, my remorse about the US role in the military junta of Pinochet, life in the US, my impressions of Chile and Chileans (almost every class asked me what I thought of Chilean men).  I loved meeting the teachers: they were very kind and appreciated my accent (some have had speakes from Australia and New Zealand and had difficulty understanding their English).  It was very rewarding for me to participate, and I hope to do more at another time.  One teacher, a fine gentleman with impeccable English, told me that he taught Violeta Parra and her 2 brothers, one of whom is apparently one of the best Chilean writers ever.  He was very kind and gracious.  Another teacher, Raul, was one of my favorites.  He was also very kind, and appreciated my ability to understand his English.  Apparently the school where he studied (Univ of Santiago, I believe) is very critical of Chileans learning English and seems to intimidate more than help.  In any case, I really enjoyed talking with him after class and going to tea and cakes (they love manejar, which is essentially boiled evaporated milk.  I find it disgusting).  I also enjoyed Susana, a teacher who married an American and asked me about how the people in America are.

Another observation: Chileans are similar to Turks.  They have a pack mentality, and stared at me from the beginning when I entered the subway because they knew I wasn´t from here, even though I hadn´t said a word.  They are a strange combination of cold and warm.  If you meet an individual, and ask them a question in Spanish, they will generally help you.  They are warm to eachother, and their language is wonderful.  They have many pet words for eachother, including perrito, juevo/a, etc.  They love jokes, magic tricks, mimes, clowns.  There are several streets in the center of town that are pedestrian only, and on these streets you can often find musicians and other street performers.  However, there are many caribineros and guards as well, and they often make performers leave (people have to get a license, which is apparently very expensive).  The government seems to give lip service to cultural activities, but in reality discourages many from doing this.  There are very few places where one can sit and rest, and no drinking fountains or bathrooms.  To pee, you have to pay money, and be lucky enough to find a bathroom.  So after a heavy rain, I almost passed out from the strong stench of urine that emanated from every corner of every street.  Also, the amount of oil and diesel on the streets is astonishing.  It rained for 2 days last week and even after 2 days, the streeets were still bleeding black blood, so to speak.  The Chilenos like to drink soda.  Their national drink is a sweet drink consisting of a dried peach in a sweet nectar with wheat at the bottom.  They love empanadas and sopapillas, both of which are usually fried (they also love all things fried: churros, french fries, fried chicken).  But most of them are quite thin.  They are good at fixing almost anything, as I found the Turks.  They are handy and capable, smart, and have to be crafty out of necessity.  Life here is very hard, by my estimate.  My hat is off to the resilience and determination of the people here.


7 responses to “Another week in Santiago

  1. I can see you put a great deal of effort into a positive spin on your perceptions. That is a skill which will serve you well in any place. The weather sounds wintery in deed. Hope you stay warm and well red. May your feet be free of the perro squishies and your journey to greener pastures be pleasant. Nice job interacting with the educational instituions and helping the kids form well rounded world views. Happy trails red rider, love yah,-Tom


  2. You have a beautiful gift of words!! I enjoyed your vision and point of view. What a wonderful experience, especially getting the opportunity to interact at the schools. I am excited to read more as you continue your journey. I admire your passion and ability to make friends in such far away places. Thank you for sharing, be safe, and most of all…..relax and enjoy your Lisa time… Love and miss u!!


  3. I have to be honest and admit that I found your “observations” of the illusive Chilean a bit demeaning. Santiago is a metropolis the likes of New York or Los Angeles and like those places, you’ll find higher noise pollution, more outdoor activities (including kissing and hugging), and public transportation wil be strained to put up with the higher numbers of users that they support. Manjar, as it is called, is actually condensed milk that is boiled, and is available in the U.S. by the name Dulce de Leche, which is quite popular here as well. While I cannot comment on your personal experiences that led to your interpretations of an entire culture, I do ask that before being as critical as you have been, please remember that you are the one visiting a different country and that the filter with which you view the world is vastly different than that which all others do.
    Love and Blessings, I hope you enjoy the rest of the trip.


    • Anonymous, thank you for your perspective. It sounds like it felt personal for you. Hope you are open to hearing further perspective from my friend. You may find a more well rounded review as she travels to places with less urban density. Peace.


  4. Lisa, love your detailed descriptions and impressions. I also am amazed at some aspects of big cities such as New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco and how different they are from where I live–which is all of 50 minutes south of SF. It’s completely valid for you to comment on the differences from what you’re used to. Actually I think you were pretty subjective about things and just described them rather than condemned them–I’d comment if I saw a lot of dog poop everywhere and kept stepping in it, too, no matter where I was! And the overall feeling that I got from your post was positive, that the people there are really good. Looking forward to seeing more of the same.


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