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.
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