After two months of living in Santiago, I’m finally getting used to the big city life and Chilean culture. Here’s an update of all-things-Chile, from the very best to the very worst:
- Awe-inspiring landscapes: Chile is a beautiful and diverse country! It is home to the most arid desert in the world (the Atacama), mirror-like salt flats, imposing volcanoes, beautiful beaches and colourful coastal cities like Valparaíso, lush lakes and chilling glaciers in Patagonia. My favourite places so far have been Cajón del Maipu and Torres del Paine but I still have plenty of destinations left on my bucket list, including Easter Island. It’s a Chilean island five and a half hours away by plane from the mainland which is inhabited by native Polynesians called the Rapa Nui.
- The weather: my first month here coincided with the end of summer in the southern hemisphere, which meant temperatures were still reaching 30°c every day. This last month it has cooled down considerably, but at a comfortable average temperature of 18°c, it still makes me laugh seeing Chileans walking around in their winter coats, whilst I can still get burnt on sunny days…
- University life: I am studying at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, and have chosen to study one economics module, two history modules, and a Portuguese course. Although most modules assess you more frequently than I’m used to in Durham (e.g. for my economics module, there are 11 tests, a group project and presentation, as well as the final exam), the teachers are considerate of the fact you are a foreigner and try to help you as much as possible (muchas gracias!!)
- My housemates: in my hostel-like house, I live with two Norwegians, one Irish girl, four French people, one Chilean and one American, which means we’re never short of things to do, whether it be a movie night, a house meal, a weekend trip or a party.
- Football: after a seven-month break from football, I joined a team of exchange students to play in the Liga Feminina at my university. Although it’s very different to playing for Butler College in Durham (shoutout to JBWFC), it’s great to finally get a healthy dose of competition every week. “World Team” may not be the top of the league, but we’ve still got a lot of fight left in us.
- Dogs: if you’re a fan of dogs, you’ll love Chile! Stray, but friendly, dogs roam the streets and every corner of Santiago. There are even dogs on my campus, who are generally well looked-after and fed by the university. They either have green or red collars depending on whether they are friendly and safe to touch.
- Food that Chile does well: I can’t say Chilean food is my favourite cuisine but it isn’t all bad I promise…- Sushi is really affordable and is sold everywhere- outside metro stations, on campus, in the street, in takeaway restaurants, you name it.
– Avocados are as delicious as ever.
– Chilean wine is excellent! Cabernet Sauvignon dominates Chile’s vineyards, followed by Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Carmenère, Chile’s proprietary grape.
– Choripanes are chorizo sausage sandwiches, and are great for asados (barbecues).
– Empanadas are the perfect lunch solution if you’re in a rush. The most traditional filling is called pino, which is a mixture of minced meat, onions, black olives and a hard boiled egg.
– Sopaipillas are a type of fried pumpkin bread, eaten with ketchup, mayonnaise or hot salsa.
– Manjar is Chile’s answer to dulce de leche. If you like caramel, it’s pretty much guaranteed you’ll like manjar.
– Although ceviche is technically Peruvian, I had an amazing Chilean-style ceviche dish in Valparaíso from a restaurant called Cocina Puerto. Everything we ordered from the menu was amazing, but the swordfish and ceviche were particularly outstanding!
- Poor infrastructure: a few weeks ago, I had planned to go to Mendoza, a city across the border in Argentina. The day of my departure coincided with a rare day of continuous rainfall. All of a sudden, the streets were overflowing and certain parts of the city had their electricity and water supply cut off. It also meant that the route to Mendoza was shut off due to landslides and accidents and the seven-hour bus there was cancelled. Alas, instead of spending the weekend enjoying the hot springs and vineyards of Mendoza, we stayed put in Santiago.
- Pollution: Santiago suffers from very high levels of air pollution, which gets trapped between the Andes and the Cordillera de la Costa. In winter, the situation is exacerbated by an increase in the use of heating, so much so that the city is shrouded in a thick smog that can only be dispersed by rainfall. The situation got so dire in June 2015 that Chilean authorities declared a state of environmental emergency in the capital, forcing 1300 factories to shut down, around 80% of vehicles off the roads and strongly advising citizens not to exercise outdoors.
- Earthquakes: Chile is one of the few places in the world where three tectonic plates meet, which makes it prone to frequent earthquakes and temblors. On the 24th April, I experienced my first earthquake, at a magnitude of 7.1 on the Richter scale. Whilst Santiago may not be prepared for the rain, it’s built to withstand earthquakes up to a certain magnitude and the daily smaller temblors go almost unnoticed. Unfortunately, larger earthquakes in the past have caused significant damage, for example, the strongest earthquake ever recorded (9.5 on the Richter scale) in Valdivia in 1960.
- Chilean cheese: the queso mantecoso that Chileans love so much is a daily source of disappointment for many foreign students here, especially the French. It means “buttery cheese” and is the only cheese you can find here easily and affordably. Imagine the excitement when some of my housemates’ families brought over French cheeses when they came to visit.
- Queueing: Chileans LOVE to queue. If you enter Chile with a student visa, you have 30 days upon arrival to register it at the police station before then applying for your Chilean ID. I’d been warned by several people that you should arrive hours before the station even opens to secure yourself a place in line. Much to my dismay, arriving at 6.30am (two hours before it opens) was not early enough and I soon discovered I was 381st in line. Seven and half hours later, I walked out of that building with a validated visa, faint legs and knowledge of the life stories of my new-found Colombian and Haitian acquaintances.
- Safety: although Chile is one of the safest countries in South America, you should avoid walking around certain neighbourhoods and petty crime still occurs- and as gringos, we are prime targets! Several of my friends have been pick-pocketed on the metro and a few have been physically mugged by guys with knives. So far, I have escaped unscathed despite an attempted daylight mugging in Valparaíso (the guy ran off after Holly and I somehow managed to scare him). Fingers crossed this is the worst that will happen!
Thanks for reading, and good luck to everyone in exam season back in Durham.
Hasta luego, amigos x