I was so excited to step foot in South America for the first time that I took a picture of my first sight of land out of the plane.
I was not, however, as excited as the elderly gentleman in front of me, who took a picture of his backseat flight monitor literally every 10 minutes of the 12-hour flight.
Neither of those pictures tell you anything at all about Santiago, but I figured I would give you a good idea of where my excitement level was at.
I’ll start with an overview (literally) of the city just to frame things. It is nestled in a valley between the Andes and the coast, and expands way beyond what the eye (or camera) can see.
As is the case with most cities, there are modern and less-modern parts of town. This is the view as you leave the Ritz-Carlton.
In case it was unclear, I did not stay at the Ritz-Carlton or dare to enter, but planted myself about 20 feet from the front door and quickly took a picture before they noticed I didn’t belong there. In this area you also get the largest shopping mall in South America: the recently-opened Costanera Center.
The most local kind of shopping you can do, however, is at the Vega farmer’s market. Each morning around 3 a.m. farmers will sell their produce to merchants, who then sell that to the public throughout the day. And unlike the farmer’s markets I know, the prices are well below what you pay in the supermarkets here; blueberries here are offered for only about $1.75 per pound!
The phrase Después de Dios está la Vega (after God there is the market) really has a double meaning: the market is extremely important to many people, and it has also helped the people of Chile in times of dire need, like after the major earthquakes here.
Despite all the pictures I take of landmarks and trains and random things, the most important part to me about any city are the people. In Santiago, you get a lot of vibrant and bustling areas, like the market, but also people having fun, like at the Sunday night swing sessions in Plaza Italia.
For those that never spent much time on the fine art of ballroom dance, there’s also a seemingly regular dance-off on the other end of the plaza, happening at the same time (see cover photo). It’s a really nice break to see people dancing in public, for another reason than that they want your money.
Safety in Santiago is not a pressing concern, especially in these parts of town. That’s in part because these neighborhoods hire private security to augment the police force, and from what I could tell private security in Chile is very much allowed to be armed.
In fact, the greatest danger I was aware of was when there was a gas leak and explosion. Naturally when I heard about it I immediately went to check it out and light a match in the area, to make sure there was no more gas left.
With a lot of neighborhoods being buildings of similar heights, you have great opportunities for nice rooftop areas
And if that gets you in the mood enough to marry, you can do the good old Paris thing and in this case throw the keys in a not quite as romantic-looking Mapocho river.
Chileans without a day job are impressive at hustling–making money on the street at every opportunity. That comes in the form of selling anything, anywhere
and also doing random things like putting on street performances in buses and trains, as well as crosswalks during red lights.
It’s actually a really convenient system, because the Santiago summer is hot, so you can always use a freezing-cold water or ice cream on the metro or wherever you go.
Sundays in Santiago means a lot of closures, including streets! So the bikers are really having a great time. Unfortunately a lot of shops are closed too so the downtown area is kind of dead.
I can say I speak Spanish, but Chilean Spanish is a whole ‘nother beast. For example, even armed with a chart on the use of the noun/verb weon/wear I can’t explain this ad to you at all.
Local tabloids are another tough category to explain, like why there is a naked politician, or why they care that Kika Silva’s dress took three people to put on her body.
Not sure if Santiago is trying to copy Canada or what, but they seem to like using mounted police downtown. Here’s a changing of the (horse) guard using that police truck.
Speaking of animals, Santiago is full of stray dogs, which like in Bosnia are completely tame and friendly. In fact, they love accompanying the tour groups around the city–not to beg for food or attention, but just to hang out.
And speaking of similarities to eastern Europe, Chileans, like Romanians, strongly feel like every house deserves its own power line directly from the power plant. Which is
fine ugly, and causes problems like low-hanging wires that tall trucks can only navigate by having guys chill on top of the truck while it’s driving to lift the power lines over the truck.
Being a country with a strong Catholic past (and present), the graveyard is a massive part of the city. Burial slots here can either be rented for 10 years or bought for a lifetime; meanwhile the rich build entire mausoleums for their families and friends.
It’s so large that burials here are coordinated on an airport-like screen so that people are directed to the right gate (literally; there are different gates to enter). Those running late to attend are accommodated as well; the status screen will show the delay, and the late relatives can buy a pre-printed condolence message attached to a flower.
That’s it for now! I’ll likely be back in Santiago in May and will find 200 cool new things then and make another post for that. Especially food, I seem to have neglected that one.
Also, for those keeping track of picture quality, I’ve switched to a cheap Android here (and in all of South America) in some pictures, out of an abundance of caution, so apologies if it feels different.