It was early afternoon when we entered Santiago. From the first moment we left the highway and started driving in the streets of the city, we got the disorientation we always feel in the big cities. It is completely different in a small town, where we can easily guess which direction is the center and where we can find accommodation or fuel. 6,000,000 people need a slightly larger place to fit in. With the help of the GPS, we located the city center which lies around the “Plaza de Armas”. We found a cafeteria with Wi-Fi and started searching for a place to sleep. We noted down the addresses of some hostels and after having finished our coffee, we left to look for the place where we’d stay for the next few days.
Finding a place to stay in Santiago within our budget and under the condition that we could park our Vespa safely, wasn’t such an easy task. After 5-6 hours we had to settle for a 7$ bed in a dormitory. We had spent much time in Bolivia and Peru where we could stay in a double room for half this price, so we were a little grumpy when we saw what we get for 7$. The next morning, first thing to do was to go to the Greek Embassy and see how long we had to wait for the renewal of Stergios’ passport. There, we were informed that the time needed for a new passport is 3 weeks to 1 month, so we decided to look for a place to rent per month. The hostel wasn’t that bad, but there were 2-3 major drawbacks we couldn’t ignore. First of all, we were in different dormitories and since there wasn’t enough space in the shared areas (the living-room was too small and the patio too noisy), we didn’t have a place to work or spend some time. The other thing was that the hostel was full of very young international tourists who had come to Santiago to party. In the girls’ dormitory it wasn’t that bad. Only girly giggling and some liters of eau-de-toilette, but in the boys’ dormitory Stergios couldn’t get some rest. The days we spent staying at the particular hostel, gave us the opportunity to walk and see the neighborhood around it. Barrio Brasil is one of the oldest neighborhoods of Santiago with interesting architecture, cultural activity and a bohemian character. At the nearby square was where I bought my new shoes. It was a pair of cute boots bought for 1$ at the Sunday flea market. Second hand of course, so I could take all the time I needed to find a new pair for the next part of the trip to the rainy south of the country. The girl who sold them to me seemed a bit puzzled when she saw me taking a pair of socks out of my bag and wearing the boots immediately. I bet she wondered if the flip-flops were my only pair of shoes. Oh well, they were!
After one day of thorough search in airbnb, we went to see an apartment. Its owner had agreed to meet with us before renting it. It was in Ñuñoa, a neighborhood at the eastern part of the city, famous for its restaurants and bars as well as for its construction activities due to the wide interest of the constructing companies, that buy land and old houses and build huge apartment blocks. The apartment was at the 11th floor of one of these blocks and the room was spacious and quiet. The owner told us that he spends almost the whole day at work and that it would be ideal for us to stay in and relax. We agreed to pay 300$ for 1 month and with a warm handshake, we left. However, for some people a handshake isn’t necessarily an agreement…
One day before the date we had agreed to go to the new apartment, we received an infuriating e-mail from the owner. He wrote that he spoke to some of his friends who told him that he could have asked more money for the rent, so he decided to give us an ultimatum: either we’d pay 200$ more, or he would rent it to some other guy. We had already informed the hostel that we’d leave and there were no beds available anymore. We had also rejected the other 2 apartments that were within our budget and we found ourselves with no place to stay. The only option was to leave from Chile and go to Argentina, at the city of Mendoza, which was not far from Santiago. There, we could stay until the passport was ready, return, pick it and continue south. We decided to send an angry e-mail first, explaining our situation and give a general speech about dishonesty and greediness, without expecting anything in return. He surprised us though with his reply, saying that he was sorry and that – if we still wanted – he’d be happy to receive us the next day with the terms we had already agreed. We never learned if he got scared of being reported to airbnb or if he had a sincere conscience change, but the next morning we were sitting on the sofa, drinking coffee and enjoying the view from the 11th floor of our apartment.
Until that moment, we hadn’t seen much of the culture of the country we were at. However, a walk to the supermarket gave us a clue about the everyday life of the people of Santiago. The prices in general were higher than those in the neighboring countries. The choices in precooked and frozen food were endless and their prices way lower than those of fresh fruits and vegetables, or even meat. We realized that we probably had to change our dietary habits in order to keep the budget down. Of course, it didn’t take much time to find the alternative, so that we wouldn’t lose our Greek salad. We discovered that there were many interesting products at the central marketplace. All kinds of veggies, fruits, meat etc. I was very happy to buy my favorite strawberries much cheaper than in Greece, so every few days we were filling our fridge with everything we liked.
When in Chile, we fully understood how’s life in a seismogenic area!
As we all know, “time flies” and 1 month in Santiago passed faster than we thought. The first two weeks we were at home writing and editing the stuff from Bolivia. When we uploaded the story, we started going out more, so that we’d take a better look at the city. All big cities have more than one reality. Ñuñoa, the neighborhood we were staying was a middle-class area which had many things in common with that of a European city. Life was fast, people getting on and off the numerous buses, eating a quick lunch on their break from work. All of them with smartphones in their hands, listening to music from earphones and looking busy. From the 11th floor, we could gaze at the people passing-by and we could feel the city’s pulse…and the earthquakes! When in Chile, we fully understood how’s life in a seismogenic area. From the many earthquakes we felt, two scared us and made it to the news the next day. 6.5 and 6.9 is not just a small tremor! However, since the locals didn’t seem to care that much, we decided to follow their lead.
One other neighborhood we visited in Santiago was Las Condes. The Greek Embassy is there, so we went more than once. Things were different there. Four-lane avenues and glass skyscrapers with huge signs of banks and multinational companies made the people look tiny. In the smaller roads around the area, there were houses hidden behind concrete fences, but the biggest construction was a skyscraper called “Costanera Center”. As we learned later, this building is the highest in South America. It didn’t surprise us. It looked as if the only reason for its existence was to break as many records as possible. The tallest building, the biggest shopping center, the most controversial construction of the last decades. Many people had opposed to its construction but the businessman behind it, won. It was his dream to put his signature in the sky of Santiago, so he built his “Tower of Mordor”, as many people call it. Now, everyone has to accept it, having two options: ignore it or “benefit” from its cinemas, restaurants, shops, bars etc. With this in mind, we decided to see for ourselves how big it is. Its size is indeed intimidating and from the last floors, which were recently opened to the public, the visitor gets a 360 degree view to Santiago.
Among Santiago’s multiple realities, there are the neighborhoods of the underprivileged. The least “lucky” locals who haven’t found their place in the Chilean society and the immigrants from other countries of South America and Africa, who came to find a job in the developed economy of the country. Behind the tall buildings, there are the neighborhoods with short ones. The neighborhoods where people shop from the small open-air markets and others come only to spend some hours in the “per hour” hotels. Higher education is not accessible for many people, since tuition fees in Chile are not for everyone. This leads many young Chileans to Argentina for studies or simply excludes them from education. Is somewhere in the collective memory of the Chileans the 17year dictatorship of Pinochet? Does anyone remember the 40,000 souls, lost during those years? Who profits from this “developed” economy? Some months after we left, there were some big student demonstrations against the cost of education, which lead to riots with the police…
Is somewhere in the collective memory of the Chileans the 17year dictatorship of Pinochet?
We spent most of the time strolling in the streets of Santiago, taking pictures and talking. We also had to visit the Greek Embassy 2-3 times, as bureaucracy always causes troubles. We got to know the people working there and we learned some useful information. First of all, we were told about a Greek restaurant which made gyros and souvlaki! It was in the town Castro, on the island of Chiloe and we started having second thoughts about not having Chiloe in our itinerary. A young guy from Greece, escaped the Greek crisis and had recently opened the place doing some great business, as we learned. The other information helped us solve the mystery of the failed renewal of Stergios’ passport in South Africa. One year ago, he had gone to the Greek Embassy in Pretoria with no more vacant pages left at his passport. After a bitter encounter with the chaotic Greek bureaucracy, and the threat of having to go back to Greece, he only made it to pay for a new passport but with the same expire date as the old one. As the helpful and polite employees of the embassy in Santiago explained us, it was the employee’s fault, who just refused to help him and chose to make his life difficult. Happy to know it and with nothing that could now do, we decided no to think about it again.
The new passport came, as promised, after 1 month with no nasty surprises. There was nothing left for us to do in Santiago. The last few days, the urge to hit the road had become intense again and we had already made the plan for the next part of our trip to the South. The summer was now close and the snow had almost completely melted from the peaks of the Cordillera. We knew that we would celebrate Christmas somewhere in Patagonia, but where?
To be continued…