Living in Santiago as an American for One Month
Visiting Santiago is like visiting your cousin’s place. It’s somewhat familiar, perhaps it’s a little dirty, you’re glad to arrive, and you’re even more happy to leave. After a month living in Primo Santiago, Cousin Santiago, I have a few thoughts to share as an American living in Santiago.
I lived in Santiago as a single female traveling solo as part of my 4-month Remote Year experience. Remote Year provided my housing and my office space, while also including a few extra activities. For more info about my Remote Year experience, check out this article.
Do You Love Santiago?
What I’ve learned about traveling around the world: the more the locals love their town, the better it is. I have found that when tourists, locals, and visitors exclaim, “I love that city,” I know I’ll find engaging people, enticing foods, and interesting places. But when I mention a town or ask the locals how they feel about their city and they respond lukewarmly, I know it might be a bit of a challenge.
In my month in Santiago, not one person said they loved Santiago. No me ama Santiago.
Not even the locals.
They like it. They don’t love it. None the less, I tried to make the best of this southern South American city that looked like Spain and tasted like England.
Attractive Santiago Is Filled with Parks and Libraries
The things I loved about Santiago; the mountains, the river, and the amazing system of parks and museums throughout the city. The divine February weather offered warm days, cooler nights, and only one half-day of rain. The dry warmth required shorts, skirts, t-shirts and dresses. In addition, Santiago’s location jumps off to great destinations nearby like Valparaiso, Viña del Mar, and Patagonia. Plus, a cruise to Easter Island departs from here, and Australia and New Zealand are reasonable flights away.
Free Unique Things to Do in Santiago
Each Santiago day began with bright sunny skies where I walked through Parque Bustamante and Parque Forestal. Locals engaged with the parks as their outdoor playgrounds, working out, meeting friends, kissing each other, and biking on long trails. Beautiful large statues, monuments and libraries dotted the parks every couple of hundred meters, telling historic stories through moments and men. Every other corner attracted delicious flavors of boutique ice creams, and empanadas spilled from makeshift vendors and permanent stands alike. It was easy to find free things to do in Santiago as an American.
From Ice Cream to Museums, My Favorite Fun Things to Do in Santiago
Some days I worked in the co-work space and chatted with my fellow remote workers in a workspace that hustled with start-up entrepreneurs changing the world. Other days I escaped the English bubble and adventured into the city, constantly worried that a pick-pocketer might snag my cell phone. With my prestigious attitude, I popped into the amazing PreColombian Art Museum where my snootiness got knocked to the street. I was simply overwhelmed and extremely impressed by the exquisite collection and interpretation of the artifacts of Latin America’s indigenous populations, including my beloved Zapotecans.
My awe continued in the Museum of Human Rights and Memory, where a vivid story of vitriol and vice played out through journalism’s pictures and stories of the Pinochet era. Although a well-told story, it lacked pretense and post-drama and the impact or lack of impact that Ronald Reagan and his American interference did or didn’t play to Pinochet’s pleasures.
Earthquakes in Santiago Come in Flavors
Of less elegance and of sheer fun, my visit to La Piojera opened up a side of Santiago I found endearing and telling. Within this old bar, tourist trap, local hangout, and colorful corral of chatty insta-friends, Santiago’s love-affair with earthquake engineering plays out in a series of drinks.
Made from a base of fermented wine and pineapple ice cream, La Piojera pours a trilogy of tastes with earthquake themes. The first, the Terramote, a red drink to shake you awake, is followed by the Maremoto, or tsunami, a blue drink that washes away the red, which is finished with the third drink, the Réplica, or aftershock, a brown drink that forces you off the bar stool.
Terrible drinks mix with terrible bar food; thus you must order the chorrillana, a plate of french fries topped with sauteed beef strips, onions, and two fried eggs. Combined, the drinks and the food make a great foundation for fun and friendly banter with locals wanting to Spanglish with you in good cheer.
Grab a Bike in Santiago with a Few Friends
On Sundays, like elsewhere in Latin America, Santiago blocks off its main streets. Hordes of wheeled and footed folks take to the streets and exercise their way through the town. Over 20 miles of roads stay blocked, and I believe perhaps the entire town comes out for free air and fun atmosphere. Fresh fruit juice vendors set up shop along the way, makeshift black marketers sell treats, and sports-gear enthusiasts hawk bike jerseys and socks. My friends and I enjoyed a morning ride for two hours and never completed the entire route.
My Number One Most Favorite Thing to Do in Santiago
My number one most favorite thing to do in Santiago involved waking through the old fruit and veggie market called La Vega. Of course the smells, colors and tastes tantalized my entire body, just like these large farmers markets always do worldwide, but Santiago’s charm and camaraderie endeared me to frequent returning trips. I slowly made friends with vendors when I explained in Spanish I was completely intimidated with how to buy things I couldn’t pronounce in amounts I didn’t understand. They hugged me and welcomed me, often throwing in an extra piece for extra measure. I returned with many of my Remote friends.
Three Santiago Surprises
Santiago surprised me in three ways.
In a country named Chile, I expected the food to have flavor. It had zero. It was some of the blandest food I’d ever eaten, even beating out British flavors. No salt, no pepper, no vinegar. But plenty of oregano. Go figure.
Although there were a few exceptions, including a wonderful lady I met through a Facebook group and the local team who worked for Remote Year, I found Santiagons cold. Although they would open up after I approached them and engaged in conversation, they generally were not curious nor inviting.
Finally, my third Santiago surprise was their appearance. I frequently played a mental game in my head as people passed me in the street. Local or foreigner? Because of the European, and particularly German, influence in their history, I constantly found myself guessing where people were from based on their appearance and clothing, and I consistently found myself corrected.
Saying Goodbye to Santiago, Chile
Despite some very fun experiences not discussed here including white-water rafting, hiking Mt Cristobal, and playing ultimate Frisbee with the locals, I was ready to leave Santiago after five weeks. Three weeks would have been enough. I gave Santiago a virtual hug, and like what you say to your cousins when you leave their houses, I said I’d be back soon. That may or may not be true.