Reflections on life in Santiago

If anyone reading this might be able to buy a kindle or tablet for me (I could figure out how to reimburse you), and send it, that would be great.  Because of the exchange rate, a Kindle costing 99 in US is 200 here.  My cell phone is: +56284775177 – we are 3 hours ahead of SF and PST.  Feel free to call (very expensive), but at least it’s a way to get a hold of me.  When I leave for Argentina, I”ll get another chip and let you know the #.  I’m speaking a lot of Spanish – muddelling along.  Hasta luego!

I´ve had enough adventures to last a year, just in the last week. Chileans are very resilient; the city of Santiago has 6 or 7 million people, and they seem to navigate just fine. It´s tough gettng used to the speed and idiom with which they speak, and sometimes it has made me homesick. I forgot my special dental floss that fits through my dental bridge.  I can’t find any here. Here it is cold, sometimes as cold as 43 during the day and below freezing at night.  During my month stay in Santiago, I have seen perros del calle everywhere. People feed them, give them clothes to wear, build houses for them.  There is also dog shit everywhere.  I have stepped in it 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. 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.

I stayed in Hostel Santa Lucia, and was lucky enough to stay with a couch surfing host’s family the first weekend I arrived. We went to their country home in Quintero, a small fishing village.  I ate mariscos, pescados, and other delectable fish.  Now I am in the center of Santiago, staying with a couchsurfing host.  It is very smoggy here but is supposed to rain tomorrow, which would be a god send.  I have gone to several museums already- the house of Pablo Neruda, museum of national history, and museum of belle arts.

It seems that very flagrant public displays of affection are a national pastime, at least with the younger generation. 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.  Electronic equipment is at least twice as expensive as the US. I’m shocked at the prices people pay for food, let alone electronic devices such as cell phones (a new cell phone here is about 300 USD).  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 of 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).  Chileans love snacks (bocados),  manejar, boiled evaporated milk, and other types of sweets, especially marshmallows, candy, and cookies.  In the city center, kiosks selling all manner of such sweets prevail. Chileans love to spend time with their families: during the week at desayuno and almuerzo, and on Sundays for the afternoon over carne asado.

As for the food, I love ahi. It is a spice that is piquant but not overly hot.  Combined with fresh tomatoes and onions, it makes the best salsa I’ve ever had.  I had the chance to speak to twelve classes at one of the five 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 speakers 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 two brothers, one of whom was one of the best Chilean writers ever.  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 (University of Santiago, I believe) is very critical of Chileans learning English and seems to intimidate more than help.  I really enjoyed talking with him after class and going to tea and cakes.  I also enjoyed Susana, a teacher who married an American and asked me about how the people in America are.

Somehow the culture reminded me of Turkey. I felt a strange combination of cold and warmth. When I first arrived and got on the train, all eyes were upon me, staring, as it was clear I wasn’t from here.  When I would ask a question in Spanish of a stranger, they would generally help. They are warm to eachother, and I loved listening to their language.  They call one another pet names like perrito, juevo, and the like.  They love jokes, magic tricks, mimes, andclowns.  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.  The heavy coat of petrol on the street is astonishing.  It rained for two solid days last week and even after that, the streets were still oily.  They like soda.  Their national drink is a sweet drink consisting of a dried peach in a sweet nectar with wheat at the bottom.  They love fried empanadas and sopapillas, as well as churros, french fries, and fried chicken.  Despite such greasy food, they are quite thin.  They are good at fixing anything, and  handy and capable, smart, probably out of necessity.  Life here is very hard.  My hat is off to the resilience and determination of the people here.

I leave for Pucon and parts south tomorrow, and look forward to quiet and cleaner air.


7 responses to “Reflections on life 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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