Santiago - City of Awesome

by Simeon of on August 28, 2011

Santiago - City of Awesome

I arrived in Santiago at 11pm on a Tuesday night. My eyes began to water because of the tear gas still in the air from the student protests, and there were garbage bonfires on the road stopping traffic. This made me strangely excited to be there. I stayed for two weeks.

I am now baffled by why so many tourists on the gringo trail in South America avoid Chile. I hear excuses like, "It's too expensive," or "It's too far out of the way." Admittedly, it may be more expensive than its northern neighbors Peru and Bolivia, but a couple of days there is not going to break the budget. It's still nowhere near European or Brazilian standards, and the higher cost adds to the better standard of travel, the public safety, and a noticeable lack of stupidity compared to some other Latin American nation's people. And in terms of location, it shares borders with three countries, with Santiago lying parallel to Buenos Aires.

Santiago has one of the most picturesque settings of any city in the world. Surrounded by snow-capped Andean mountains, downtown is full of classical architecture sharing space with modern high rises. Just walking the city can fill a day. Climbing Cerro Santa Lucia or Cerro San Christobal give you an idea of just how big a place it is. More than the scenery, the architecture, or the attractions, it is the people that make Santiago the place it is. Whether it's the expat foreigners, the university exchange students, or the locals, there is a hospitable atmosphere rarely found in such large cities.

La Piojera is an old pub near the city center. Its walls are covered with graffiti; the floors are sticky; and the bar staff spill just as much alcohol as they serve. The only music they offer is from an elderly duo, when they come in with their guitar and accordian. And it works. I went there by myself one day. Within two minutes, an old drunk man holding a bag of groceries, which I think his wife may have been waiting for at home, started a conversation. He spoke in Spanish, myself in English. When we found a translator, it turned out he was asking me if I spoke Norwegian. I don't know why he didn't just ask me in Norwegian. But it wasn't the quality of the conversation, it was the intent. This sort of interaction happened every time I went out in Santiago, a result of the most enthusiastic, eager, and willing-to-please population I have so far met. It's impossible to go out for a quiet drink as every local will want to engage in repartee, no matter the language difficulties.

Even the dogs there seem to love life. They are just as common as elsewhere on the continent. But instead of being the malnourished, mangy creatures they usually are, they seem to share the city with the people in Santiango, lying serenely in the sun, well-fed, often clothed, and content with their fortune to have been born there.

So, despite bus company ticket offices closing whenever they wish during the day, the odd student riot, a slightly irritating Immigration Department (should you have to visit), and having to walk around being weighed down by pockets full of change too small to use, Santiago has got everything to make it a worthwhile detour from the rest of the circuit.

ADVICE: Make sure you get a tourist card when entering. I wasn't given one for whatever reason, and hence had to visit the Immigration Department for an hour, after which I was moved along to the International Police Department, and so on. Just get the card when you arrive, so you don't have to deal with this.

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