Sunday, April 6, 2008

Santiago, Chile

My first glimps of the Andes I spent almost a full day on a bus from Buenos Aires yesterday—with a whining boy sitting right behind me. I wanted to kill him, but refrained. Although I paid for a full-blown bed on the bus, I ended up on a regular, Greyhound-like, bus—thanks to some rich guy in Buenos Aires. It was a tough trip, but I made it.

My first glimpse of the Andes reminded me of a combination of Death Valley, the Grand Canyon, and the Cascades. Maybe a bit Himalayaesque, too.

I noticed the same thing I notice every time I've approached a large city—poverty in the form of shantytowns. They were scattered around the highways for miles before we arrived in Santiago proper. Pretty awful looking places to live. Garbage everywhere and terrible brick and tin shacks.

After getting into the city, what I noticed was that Santiago is a low city. That is, most of the buildings are short. My current standard of comparison is Buenos Aires where few buildings are shorter than four or five floors. In Buenos Aires, you can either see a  long way down a main street or you can see across the street. That's about it. In Santiago, you can actually see across the city—at least in places. There also appeared to be a lot of smog as we came down into the city. That's just my cursory first glance.

After arriving, I spent the first several hours in my room The whining childon my laptop, catching up on business, photo editing, and blogging. A bit later in the evening, I walked about a half-mile to the local supermarket to get some cheap grub. Then I went back to my room, ate, did a bit more work on the computer, and watched a few episodes of Family Guy—I downloaded season six since I had seen only a few episodes from that season before leaving on this trip and I was going through withdrawals. I think that I just needed some comforts from home, so I downloaded something familiar a few weeks ago.

This morning when I was at the front desk for a room reassignment, as my single  room had already been reserved for tonight, a British woman named Bev came into the hostel for a double room she had reserved. She is meeting her daughter here to spend a few weeks together—her daughter is on extended travels in Latin America. As it turns out, the daughter will be a day late and Bev arrived before checkout, so her room was not available yet.

She wanted to get some food and I knew where the supermarket was, so after I showered, we walked together to buy food. We bought enough to build some basic subs, along with a few pieces of fruit. We sat out in a small courtyard inside the hostel and had a really nice lunch together, discussing our lives and our plans. She had recently volunteered in Rwanda for a few months and so is accustomed to adventures. We're planning on having dinner together tonight—I'm not The border crossingimplying that will be an adventure. In fact, I'm hoping it won't.

When moving my bags to my new room, I met Andrew, a Scot. He's taking up to a year or more traveling all over Latin America. We talked for some time about Spanish, travel tips, our agendas, and our countries. I learned that the most popular drink in Scotland—more popular than Coke—is Irn Bru, and that in Glasgow, they also refer to Irn Bru with the term ginger. But there's also actually a drink called ginger. Quite frankly, I'm confused about the whole thing, but enjoyed hearing about it.

Some freaky hairpins coming down into Chile from the top of the AndesWhen I was back in Uruguay—or some such place—I learned from some Europeans, if I recall correctly, that when they eat out, they ask for a Coke. The waiter then responds "What kind of Coke?" They answer with the kind of soft drink they want. Coke should be flattered.

Also while moving into my new room, I met the house keeping lady, Olga, who likes to go by Magdalene. She and Andrew and I had a nice conversation in Spanish.  Practice makes perfect, but I have a lot more practice to go before that happens. I shared the story of how my camera bag was stolen, and she described walking down the street late at night with thugs on both sides of her, but how God protected her. She's going to pray for my protection, too, and she said I have a good heart—if she only knew. I gave her a hug. She returned a while later with a religious tract for me. More Spanish practice, I guess.

Inside the busWhile making my bed—another traveler had apparently left this particular bed this morning—she pulled the bed out from the wall for some working room. The bunk bed rocked back and forth a bit so she hand tightened some loose nuts on the bed. Interesting. Would it better to be on top where you would fall a greater distance or on the bottom where you would get crushed? I'd better choose carefully.

Anyone like math? When you buy stuff here, you deal with big numbers. A few groceries? Several thousand pesos. A cab ride? Several thousand pesos. A week in a hostel? Fifty or sixty thousand pesos. Right now, the exchange rate is 450 pesos to the dollar. I don't know much about economics, but I guess it comes down to inflation. Things get more and more expensive, so it takes more and more money to buy what you want. Eventually, when things get to a certain price point, instead of Slums on the outskirs of Santiagohanding over a suitcase of money to make a purchase, the government will just print a ten-thousand-peso bill so you don't need such a big wad of cash to buy a banana. With a healthy economy, things should get cheaper, like computers in the States, but even that doesn't always happen, like with cars! I don't understand why some things follow that pattern and others don't. Any economists what to share? That's the extent of my knowledge of economics, and heck, even that could be wrong!

Here are my plans for the week:

  • See what's required to drive in Chile and Argentina
  • See if I can get a new driver's license, as mine was in my camera bag
  • Get a new map or two of South America and Patagonia (camera bag)
  • See about getting a car—I'll either rent one or buy a used one
  • Follow up on my insurance claim for my stolen bag—almost $9,000 in lost gear
  • See some of Santiago and take a few photos
  • Figure out where to go from here—it will definitely be south, but where, exactly, I don't know

Oh, by the way, most of the photos in this blog were shot from inside the bus—sorry about the glare, etc.

Ciao for now.


Jill said...

Glad you made it to Santiago :=)

Two thoughts: Here in Texas, soda/pop is also generically called "Coke" - whether or not it's the true Coca-Cola product :=) Secondly, I bet Mother would be tickled to know you're spending some time in the city where she lived for a number of years...

Anonymous said...

I thought the difference in the pictures was just due to the inferior camera, but of course shooting through glass is a challenge. Good to see you made it to Santiago safely, don't let your guard down, and your housekeeper may be right!


Anonymous said...

P.S. I bet the hairpins would have been a lot more fun on a bike. One with a motor of course!


Anonymous said...


This sounds a bit like "Heart of Darkness" or some other deep and psychological thriller.

I mean hey, if you're not into anything more serious than considering the immolation of some screaming brat in your immediate vicinity for hundreds of clicks, certainly you couldn't merit anything worse than a forced appointment with Carl Jung (although perhaps that could have led to a long vacation in the local hooch).

You'd certainly be in good company - Gustav Mahler narrated his life story to Sigmund Freud just a bit more than a century ago.

Anyway the pictures are looking good, especially the "alpine lake" and the switchback highway. The only thing I was left to wonder was whether the kid in the other frame was the operatic screamer?

Bon chance,


Jay said...


Some of the images (thumbnails) have a description if you hover over them. This will answer your question.


Abhijeeet Thacker said...

Awesome pic of hairpins :-), would love to drive my bike on that

Anonymous said...

"Some of the images (thumbnails) have a description if you hover over them. "

Not if you're browsing in Firefox it doesn't.

LT said...

Glad to be out of BA?!! Thanks for keeping us updated!

Sue's parents just left after being here for 2 weeks, so 1st time to get to computer for a bit. Sorry to hear about the camera, but hey - I still expect the same quality photos as before - if not better - cuz you know you have to work hard!!

Glad you're having fun (of sorts)!

Cheryl said...

You'll enjoy Chile. It's very pretty and clean. By the way, those "hairpins" as everyone is calling them are called "caracoles" by the Argentines and Chileans. Just thought you might like that tidbit.
We just went to Little Corn Island for a few days and decided that it's definitely a place you'll have to visit. So beautiful!!

Jay said...

Actually, Cheryl, that rang a bell and so I looked in my itinerary (really a list of suggesions) and I already had "Corn Island" listed! I'm looking forward to it!