Filed under: chile, development, food, international relations, santiago, south america, travel
My first morning in Chile I awoke feeling dizzy and nauseous. At first I recalled my doctor had said I might suffer from altitude sickness in the Andes, then I came to my senses and realised I hadn’t eaten for more than 24 hours. After devouring a muesli bar and some macadamia nuts that weren’t confiscated at customs, we ventured into the street.
I was still alarmed by the fast traffic that zipped past. Evidently highway proximity doesn’t have the same negative real estate effect it does in Australia, as we were opposite the Hyatt and next to a five-star hotel, where men in top hats and red coats were escorting people out of their vehicles.
We crossed a pedestrian bridge and arrived where our landlord recommended we have breakfast, which turned out to be a giant shopping mall, similar to but plusher than those found in Adelaide or Calgary. It began with a large plaza where about a dozen restaurants were open for breakfast. These were no cheap Latino eateries, in fact it was hard to find a word of Spanish. There were half a dozen named in English, while the rest were a mix of French and Italian. I was flabbergasted; we may as well have been in North America. For our first breakfast in South America I had a crepe and Tim had a panini, both with espressos.
We discussed cultural imperialism over breakfast, but perhaps it would be fairer to say globalisation. As much as it seems easy to blame the United States, the restaurants were generally Italian, French or Japanese inspired. Australia has a similar lack of distinct cuisine; our culinary strengths come from multiculturalism. I wonder if foreigners visiting Australia are disappointed by the lack of a distinct local cuisine? I’ve always appreciated living somewhere with such variety, enjoying visiting places like Italy and Vietnam where reliably distinct dishes dominate, but inevitably tiring of the homogeneity. Yet finding such variety here after expecting cultural immersion was unsettling.
After breakfast we wandered the mall for a while, where my surprise continued. They have Zara and Topshop and United Colors of Benetton! I needn’t miss European fashion either. This is certainly not a developing country like most of its neighbours. Granted, thanks to a mixup by our landlord we were in one of Santiago’s ritziest neighbourhoods, so this is not typical of Chile. But it is Chile nonetheless. I’d reassured wary older relatives that Chile was a first-world country, in the OECD, safe enough. I’m not sure I really believed it, but I do now.
After wandering we returned outside only to stumble upon a Boost juice. If I was shocked before I was floored now. This business founded in Adelaide had extended to Santiago! How could we not support a local business gone global? So we sipped our juices while looking in the window of the Quiksilver shop next door.
I was rather relieved we were only in Viticura for one night, because as Tim observed, we hadn’t flown halfway around the world to do the same things we do at home.
Our taxi driver sped along the highway bopping to his latino radio, squeezing between buses with not an inch to spare, braking often as other drivers changed lanes without indicating. I gazed out at the billboards, traffic and palm trees and couldn’t help but think of California. We’d noticed the smog already from the airplane windows, a brown haze laced among the mountains.
The Andes were a shock. I’ve lived beneath the Italian Alps and Canadian Rockies. Either it’s been too many years since I’ve lived beneath mountains, or the Andes are simply more stark. Small hills dotted with bushes, reminiscent of Adelaide’s southern wine region, suddenly give way to massive jagged peaks. I imagined it in the winter; the double black runs surely outnumber the blue ones.
Like Los Angeles, the smog and traffic will be what makes downtown Santiago a place I don’t expect call home for that long. Driving through neighbourhoods towards the city centre, I got the impression the income inequality also mirrors Los Angeles. As if to confirm my comparison, Tim spotted a Hollywood-esque word spelt out in white on the side of a mountain, just visible through the haze.
We arrived at our apartment building on Avenida Providencia; the taxi driver pulled Tim off the road before he got hit by a bus. The ‘avenue’ is a highway with speed limits to match. Despite this, there’s a park in the middle that apparently comes alive like those of Tokyo on weekends. We could see across the street the statue that watches over the city from Cerro San Cristobal, in South America’s version of Central Park. Finally I felt like I was in South America. Catholic statues lording over cities may be guidebook cliché, but at least it was something to differentiate here from North America.
We were five minutes early for our apartment handover, but I failed to explain what exactly we were doing in my garbled, jetlagged Spanish to the man at reception, who opted to call the local number on the piece of paper I had with details of our apartment and landlord. He put me on the phone to our landlord who warmly welcomed us but said she was running late. So we settled on the big chairs in the impressive foyer of our apartment building, watching Santiaguinos coming and going under the stone gaze of the Virgin Mary on Cerro San Cristobal. After more forty minutes we tired of this, jetlagged as we were too; luckily our landlord arrived right then.
We lugged our (my) substantial lugged up in the elevator, only to discover the landlord didn’t have the right keys to the apartment, one of several she managed. Any anger we might have felt at being messed around was diffused by her genuine warmth and many apologies. Frustration abounded however. Luckily she had another apartment free in what Lonely Planet describes as Santiago’s plushest suburb, hence we ended up spending our first night in Santiago not in Providencia, but Viticura.
We piled our luggage into her tiny car and headed up above the smog line, to a darling little apartment with mountain views on both sides. She apologised further and promised to pick us up the next day when she had the right keys for the apartment we’d paid for. We farewelled her with hugs and cheek kisses, then explored the apartment. It had proportions similar to the country of Chile – long and narrow, with the bedroom at one end and kitchen and terrace at the other. We speculated as to whether it cost more or less than the one in Providencia. Then we slept, well before sunset, felled by jetlag.