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Quite a lot about a small part of Santiago.

Quite a lot about a small part of Santiago.

This is a story written by my friend Daniel Hagen, who introduced me to South Africa and showed me its true culture and people. He has recently moved to Chile to teach English. If you would like to hear more of his adventures visit here! -Evan

Quite a lot about a small part of Santiago.

“I grew up in this town, my poetry was born between the hill and the river, it took its voice from the rain, and like the timber, it steeped itself in the forests.”
– Pablo Neruda
Saddam Hussein is alive and he drives a taxi in Santiago. I saw him just the other day. I have now spent just over a week in Santiago, having arrived in less than ideal circumstances.  Getting from Brazil to Chile was not a pleasant experience, with a needless transfer not helping matters. The only positive from this leg of the journey being the moment I saw the Andes for the first time as I pressed my face against the window and watched them edge closer and closer. However, taking a flight at 2am out of Sao Paulo with 4am connections in Buenos Aires pretty much equates to no sleep at any stage of the process. Still, arriving in Chile and sweeping through passport control, appropriate soundtrack playing, left me feeling incredibly optimistic and excited for the adventure that lay ahead. Fatigue, dehydration, congealed toothpaste (see previous) and sleeplessness stepped aside to allow the bouncing excitement to rush in and do skips around the baggage belt. I had made it! Ayoba.

 

Andrew & Hayley, it’s the Africa shirt!

 

Unfortunately my baggage had decided it would much rather spend the day in Buenos Aires instead, allowing the fatigue, dehydration, and sleeplessness to kick down the door of my disposition and violently evict the rowdy house-guests who were clearly enjoying the experience of arriving in a new country far too much. On the bright side, mine wasn’t the only luggage not to arrive in Santiago, on the down side, this meant standing in a three hour queue with a few hundred other luggageless persons.
All in all, the whole state of affairs resulted in the nadir of the trip so far, although I was reunited with my luggage within a day so all’s well that ends well; even if wet underwear from the beach in Brazil did not end well for the garments which surrounded it for 48 hours. Time since then has passed at an alarming rate, although I have attempted to learn a few things along the way.
I have learned that Spanish is not impossible even if I am fairly hopeless in comparison to many of the Americans in my programme. I have learned that I am not particularly good at Salsa, hopefully by the year’s end I can upgrade to the status “mostly harmless” in terms of stepping on people and swinging them into pillars. I have learned that only 4% of Chileans speak English which makes the overlap between my Spanish and their English incredibly narrow.
Big parks and plenty of big buildings. Santiago is a-buzzin’!

I have learned how to “Metro Surf” (good substitute for the “real” thing, involves standing with your legs apart and stiffened and not supporting yourself with hands on a jolty train; great for fitness and personal hygiene!). I have learned that Chile has excellent beer (a true mark of a civilized country), and that Chilean school-goers wear uniform (another mark of civilization). I learned other things too, such as the fact that all Chilean firefighters are dedicated volunteers and all their equipment is donated. Incredible. Aren’t volunteers just the best? I have just learned that three four of my friends are currently violently afflicted with food poisoning. I have also tried to learn a few things about Santiago too, although leaving the social incubator of the hostel requires a strong will, high SPF protection and a well-stocked wallet. And it is always worth it.

Love padlocks on a bridge. It’s symbolic because they’re locks
Santiago itself is what I would describe as a very “interesting” city. Narrow and colourful streets, beautiful parks, thousands of seemingly well-fed street dogs, glass highrises and tiny houses. The streets and public places are all canvases for some form of expression, and Santiaguinos must have an awful lot to express since no wall, street corner, park, or open plaza is wasted. This part of the city is covered with murals and various forms of street art, while busy intersections are guarded by clowns, jugglers, puppet shows and musicians of every variety (often in large groups). A quick walk around the block near Bellavista (between the hill and the river alluded to by the great Pablo Neruda) in the evening will carry the soundtrack of Ray Charles, symphonies by Elgar, and the occasional irrepressible drummer making rhythms I do not fully understand and probably never will.
There are quite a few charming little streets like this one about.
From about 4pm onwards, open plazas are the stages for street shows and morality plays (due to my lack of Spanish, I am never quite sure if these morality plays are highly controversial critiques of the Church or in fact appeals to faith). In any case, people have a lot to say and a lot to share, and a major stakeholder in Santiago’s streets, the dogs, are not marginalised from these forms of expression either; making up for an enthusiastic background cast who isn’t quite sure of the script but are just really excited to be there. And of course, impromptu salsa. The dogs are generally less able to contribute to those performances and steer clear. With this much to take in on a daily basis I have found it difficult/pointless to sleep. After all, this city never sleeps at night so why should I? This will catch up with me very soon I suspect.
Importantly, there is plenty of space to exercise and run. The parks are beautiful and well-used, with exercise equipment, miniature libraries and attractive landscaping. Chileans appear to be rich both spirit and in social capital. City running is not something I am remotely familiar with, but I have found that it is just like trail running: just substitute tree stumps for sleeping dogs, rocks for verges, boulders for prams, and high speed busses for…Running down quieter plane-tree’d streets has proven to be a fantastic distraction from the miserable process of finding a place to stay in Santiago (procrastination making it all the harder). Unfortunately, either due to my lack of fitness or the rather smoky atmosphere most of my sprints start strong before devolving into unflattering cycles of oral distress. Cough, hurl, spit. And repeat. I may just be sick, but how can anyone know either way? More running data needed before any meaningful conclusions may be drawn.
As you can see, I am quite fond of parks. I promise to take other pictures too.
No teaching as yet, with the week being spent on orientation at The Language Company, a business full of lovely people who are determined to ensure that nothing whatsoever goes wrong for us new residents of Santiago de Chile. Spent a perfect afternoon in good company on Cerro Santa Cristobal, according me my first view of smoky Santiago from a perspective other than street view. Taking a bus to the top, we were able to spend three hours at a perfectly situated swimming pool; an oasis of grass, landscaping, and a huge crystal clear pool to restore the mind. From this outlook I was also able to confirm what I had long suspected, that Santiago is a really big city which I could not cross in a day, even if astride the fastest Llama in the land. It was truly fantastic to gain some perspective on where I am at last, to know what kind of city I will be dealing with for the year ahead, and to realize that there is just so much I have to learn and see.
I like it here.
A Santiago street dog, woken up by yours truly for the photo, and petted for his troubles.

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