I have been bombarded with questions such as “what are your first impressions?”, “I can’t wait for you to tell me what you think of the city”, and the simple and straightforward “what is it like?”. But since I keep using the same words to describe it to reply to everyone that asks, I thought I’d share. It is less personal yes, I am sorry.
First and foremost, I am not on holiday. So despite how beautiful the city is and how wonderful the people are, I know I will be living here. So I had to buy a sim card and charge it. I had to buy a metro card and charge it, and then find my way using it. I had to find my way in the supermarket. I need to get used to the currency. I need to practice my Spanish. The list goes on. My point is: that experience is truly humbling. Yes I speak (some) Spanish, but I can safely and truthfully say I have to figure out everything again. No misplaced pride or arrogance here, I can literally say “no sé nada”. But that’s okay, because once you accept that, every single thing is empowering too 🙂 And the people have been wonderful and welcoming as well. My colleagues speak English (I have the feeling your average person doesn’t?) and they have been so incredibly nice. Chilean people also just seem rather chill (excuse the pun), with the amount of traffic you encounter here, I find it amazing no one uses his/her horn? They must be really calm in nature.
But that of course has little to do with Santiago and you wanted to read about Santiago of course.
First, there is the Andes. They are beautiful, they are omnipresent and I can imagine how they very much define the identity of this city and its residents. I have already figured out that if I want to go North, the mountains have to be on my right. (And yes: South, left.) So I have my eye on them at all times. It is also because of the Andes, that my past 3 mornings started with fog. Today (day 3), I went to the view point on San Cristobal Hill and that was a mind-blowing sight, with the mountains cradling the city. I am sure that at some point, the girls and I will drive in the direction of the Andes and go skiiing. How can anyone not, right?
The city itself is huge. I read that 7 million people live here. I have now walked around in it for the last 3 days and I feel I have not even skimmed the surface. It has an interesting mixture of old and new, history and modern buildings, and every area has it’s own special and unique character. It will be a search for me and the girls to see where we will live. Most likely, on the Eastern side (the side of the mountains) because both the school (North-East) and my office (a bit more South-East) are there. But even that does not pin it down to a specific neighbourhood so stay tuned.
My limited tick list I made before arrival, had “Plaza de Armas” in the top 3. Your typical Latin American city will have a Plaza de Armas, it is the old market square so to speak. And the one in Santiago did not disappoint: some musicians were playing music, old men were playing chess, lots of people were enjoying the afternoon sun on a bench, the police rides horses, pigeons everywhere.. The old city centre is always fun to explore: avenues, parks, statues, fountains, churches, universities.. you can just see, smell and feel the history everywhere.
What I am less used to, is the big shiny malls. That is not only because I just lived in Africa for the past 16 years, but even in Belgium they are more exception than rule. I assume it is the American influence that brought them to South America? Especially the food court on the top floor is a concept foreign to me. I can’t say I care for that very much. But I will be the last to complain to have some first world luxury, and my girls will be over the moon. And today I had a fresh raspberry juice for a dollar and a half on the roof of a mall with the view of the glorious snow caped Andes. The perks.
Yeah.. I think we will settle in just fine. And I still have loads to see.