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Why Santiago? Reasons for why I fell in love with Santiago de Chile

In Chile, I had a lot of people ask me, “Why are you in in Santiago, if you come from one of the best countries in the world?”

It is true that New Zealand is beautiful- it is rated as the second-best place to live according to the Legatum Prosperity Index. According to Deutsche Bank, my city, Wellington, has the highest rating of ‘quality of life’ in the world. New Zealand has a delicious, fresh gastronomic scene, the famous All Blacks, a large and clean coastline, and mountains filled with wildlife and greenery. Kiwis live without worry, in a super-chilled out way. New Zealand has a special place in my heart, and I will always consider it my home.

However, there are lots of things in Santiago de Chile, a city of 6 million people, that I have grown to love. When I leave this city, I will miss these things very much.

The Sunrise from Mount Victoria, Wellington City

The Sunrise from Mount Victoria, Wellington City

For this reason, I would love to explain the things that I love about Santiago de Chile, covering its cultural, food and customary aspects.

I will start with the Andes mountain range. Never in my life have I lived in a city surrounded by a range like the Andes, which is not your typical mountain range; we are talking about THE ANDES. When the sun sets in Santiago, the sun rays reflect pollution colours onto the surface of the Andes, converting the mountains into  beautiful colours of violet, pink, yellow and orange. In winter, it is possible to ski on the Andes; this was one of the most unforgettable experiences of my life. After skiiing on the Andes, it is actually possible to go to the Chilean coast in one hour and a half:  there are very few cities in the world with this kind of advantage.

I could talk for years about the wonderful Andes mountains, but it is not the only thing I loved about Santiago.

Santiago has lots of parks, but what I liked most was how the people use the parks for their day-to-day activities: to play, share food, chat, partake in exercise. In my country there are lots of green spaces, but they are not used like the green spaces are Santiago. The way these parks are used depicts a lot about the Chilean way of culture and attitude, which is to always spend a lot of time with family, friends and acquaintances. I was surprised when I attended university in Santiago, in which I bore witness to all the students playing football, volleyball, or dancing Salsa or K-Pop during the (compulsory) lunch hour. They really love to embrace life!

I love the diversity in Santiago. Santiago is a really big city, in which you can find practically anything… from the worst coffee (AKA Nescafe) located in the Central Station, to the best V60 coffee in Barrio Lastarria.This diversity includes, for example, the miles of shops located in the city center which specialize in spectacles. To the side of these shop, are shops that specialize in spare cellphone parts, or hairdressing tools. It’s random, but really convenient if you are after a very specific or cheap product. Furthermore, the recent immigrant flows from other South American countries have caused an explosion of international cuisine and foreign goods. I love that I can buy a lomo saltado(a Peruvian dish) at the restaurant to the right of my apartment, or arepas (Venezuelan street food) in the store located to the left of my apartment. As well, the immigrants are super friendly, and I have been able to converse about the histories, current affairs and cultures of Latin America with them. I think that diversity can be wonderful thing if we accept and celebrate differences between countries and cultures.

Latin America is a really fun region, but it is also a region that is known for being disorganized and slow. Chile is the regional economic leader. Due to their economy, Chilean institutions and organizations are comparatively reliable. Specifically, the Carabineros de Chile (the Chilean Police) are trustworthy. Recently the Carabineroshave been given a bad reputation, due to the shooting of (indigenous) Camilo Cantrillanca and the violence institutionalized in these armed forces, especially during political protests. Nevertheless, as a foreign, young woman, I truly feel safe when I see a Carabineropatrolling the street. For me, this particular institution represents the organization and security that a well-developed economy brings to a country.

I have a love-hate relationship with the Chilean language. The official language of Chile is Spanish, but at first their language appears nothing like Spanish, due to the amount of slang (which consists of mostly vulgar words) and the accent. It is hard to learn the phrases and understand the accent, however, I learnt to have fun with the culture that is the Chilean way of speaking. Your friend is a ‘wea’(use this word with a lot of caution), and if you want to know if the guy understood you, you say “cachay weon”(do you get it, dude?)  where he should respond “ya po” (yeah mate) or “no po) (nah mate).

Chile is the place for you if you do not like healthy food. Do you want to eat ice cream for dinner? This is acceptable. Do you want to eat pasta without vegetables, and with a huge serving of avocado? Chile is the place for you. Do you hate drinking water, and only want to drink Coca Cola or alcohol? You should really consider moving to Chile. Chilean food, according to me, is great ‘drunk food’ or ‘food kids eat when their parents aren’t looking’. It was difficult to eat well at times, but I fell later discovered Santiago’s magnificent street food. In summer there are huge cups of chopped-up watermelon, rock melon, strawberries, or grapes. You are able to buy (Chile’s attempt at) sushi for less than USD$4, an empanada for less than $1.50, or a bag of avocado for less than $1.50. Due to the huge amount of food and safety regulations in New Zealand, there are very few street sellers, in which they sell this type of cheap, convenient and fresh food.

The Chilean metro is one of the best public transport systems in the world. There are 6 lines of metro, and all of them operate efficiently, punctually, and frequently. The metro runs from 6 in the morning, to 11 at night. I love that everyone uses the metro, regardless of whether one is a high-ranking diplomat, a CEO, or a street seller. EVERYONE uses the metro. Not only is it great for the environment, the metro is a super-efficient way of commuting (NZTA should learn a thing or two). It is possible to go from one end of the huge city to the other in less than one hour.

Santiago is a progressive city in terms of urban and environmental policy. Two examples: the electric buses that were implemented last month in December 2018, and Chile as one of the first places in the world to ban plastic bags. When I go to the supermarket now, I have to bring my reusable tote bags, which is super cool for the environment.

Every city of such a large size has its bad aspects; city people have a reputation for being not as friendly; cities generally contain large amounts of pollution or smog;  and a lot of insecurity and robbery at night… but these are not factors that should represent Chile, they are factors that should represent large cities in general. Nevertheless, the local and central governments of Chile are trying to be a role model for the world in terms of the environment and for this, I respect them very much.

Thank you Santiago for being super Bacán! Hasta Luego!

Chilean Street Food