Contrary to my pre conceived ideas of yet another big, hustling capital Santiago has been one of the biggest surprises since it seems to be a really chilled out, spacious, trendy/hipster city with a cool cafe culture ( well the parts we saw).
We only spent two days there since the things of interest are confined to 3 areas that all interlinked from Plaza de Armas in central downtown area through to the two surrounding hills of Santa Lucia and Cristobal which enclose the neighbourhoods (barrios) of Bellavista and Lastarria
The city has clearly seen a huge amount of growth over recent times which makes sense since any business done in Chile, most likely passes through their capital. Unlike other cities, Santiago has the space and infrastructure to cope with such expansion.
I think everybody has seen the image of Santiago nestled in-between two imposing mountain ranges; the Andes and the Cordillera, however the one thing that the pictures don’t quite seem to capture is the sheer vastness of the flat dry land in-between the two. The city has been carefully mapped out in an American style grid with one of the best metro systems we have seen in any city.
The other thing that the postcard pictures always manage to photo shop out is the smog! Although not unbearable, it frustratingly blocks the view of the surrounding mountains. It does however, make for some of the best sunsets from the cities highest point Cerro San Cristobal which on top of an open air church as a huge statue of Maria overlooking the city.
It’s not just the city planning that is American in its style/influence, there is without question an American stamp on this city, which I think is leaving it in somewhat of an identity crises and one of the main reason why those from Valparaiso hate the place.
Although I have never been to LA, from what I have seen and coincidentally what I am currently reading about (Brett Easton Ellis book ‘less than zero’ which is based in LA) there are a number of similarities, the most obvious being the large signs on every surrounding hill with the barrios name overlooking the neighbourhood imitating the famous Hollywood sign.
Socially, you can see the influence of American sitcoms on the teenagers, who all hang out at the large mall complexes just outside of town with big group of boys and girls all frantically using BB messenger. Public shows of affection seem to transcend every age group with men and women in passionate embraces everywhere! I have read about a particular park in the city which is a place where all the teenagers go to ‘make out’ with each other….and they wonder why they are loosing some of the strong catholic traditions with teenage pregnancy becoming an ever-increasing issue.
There is also a clear version of ‘the American Dream’ here with a true determined work ethic of the majority of people moving to the city. They move here, seeking the materialistic trappings that a previously cut off and socially reserved nation are a now openly embracing. With all the good and bad that can bring, it will be interesting to see how this develops over the years since in general I would say that the Chileans are the most reserved and understated culture within all of South America (of what I have seen). I have also been told that they do, however, have a subtle yet ruthless dog eat dog mentality; Something I am sure was not always a part of their makeup. It will be interesting to see if this elbow society reaches South, to the more traditional, smaller towns.
The one thing that has spread, is the unhealthy American food! Everything seems to be fried with everyplace selling cheap hamburgers, steak sandwiches and hot dogs with the most insane amount melted cheese and Mayo that they put on everything…helps explain the number of overweight kids we have seen.
One of the main reasons to come to Santiago was for Andre to meet up with an old uni mate, Lennie ( aka Ritalin Lennie) who was a fascinating character with a wicked sense of humour about his ADD which was exaggerated even more after drinking one too many Pisco Sours (the national drink).
We also stayed in one of the nicest hostels, a penthouse above the main historical Plaza de Armas which luckily for us was buzzing with concerts and a city marathon for their version of children in need, called Teleton.