|My flight was uneventful and I actually slept a few hours and we arrived in Santiago at about nine in the morning. I went through immigrations and customs, I went and found the Eurocar stand at the arrivals. I've never seen so many people waiting for disembarking passengers in my life. There must've been 200 or 300 people with name signs waiting for people. I got in line and waited my turn at the Eurocar counter but when I got to the counter my car was not ready. This is because a few days prior to my departure from Los Angeles I realized that I had reserved my car for Sunday when in fact I was not due to arrive to Santiago until Monday. I had called the car rental agency and explained in my rusty Spanish that I would not arrive until Monday and she said no problem. Well, it was a small problem because I had to wait an extra hour for my car but no big deal. The man in the garage was extremely delightful and he showed me the car and we exchanged translations of different words that we did not know in each other's language (he wanted to know the English word for the lug nut wrench) He also reminded me that in Chile you must drive with your lights on at all times. I had read this in the travel book but I had forgotten already. I need to come up with some sort of daily reminder so that I always turn on the headlights.
It was too early to check in to my apartment so I found a grocery store and shopped for the essentials. I was just going to park in the strfeet in a shady spot for a few minutes but then saw that there was a street parking situation. In Santiago, there is an "Operador" person on each block. When you park, she or he comes and prints out a receipt with the time on it which you put on your dash. Then when you come back she enters the amount of time and charges you accordingly. You need cash and I didn't have any yet and wasn't in an area with an ATM so I pulled into a gas station and hung out for half an hour and ate my roll with some cheese slices.
Well, my first thought as I lounge in my Santiago apartment is that I hope there is not an earthquake. I stepped out onto the small balcony and noticed that it was tilting towards the street 19 floors down. It was quite scary. There are no double or triple pane windows. Single pane so you can hear the street noise very clearly 19 floors up. The doors are thin as are the walls but overall the apartment is fairly comfortable and surprisingly quiet at night. After I got settled into my apartment I walked up to the Plaza de Armas and was stunned by the number of people in the pedestrian zone. There were literally thousands of people in the pedestrian zone walkways at about 5 PM on a Monday afternoon. These were not tourists. They were locals who were shopping and trying to get somewhere after work. This went on for blocks and blocks in all directions. I guess that is what happens in the center of a city with 4 million people.
The next morning I joined a 10 am free walking tour. We spent four hours walking all over the city. Lots of stray dogs here but apparently the number has gone down in the past years.
Unfortunately it has been very hazy out so my view of the snow capped Andes has been impaired. Not sure if it's the weather or smog as come to find out Santiago is near the top of the list of high pollution cities. Mostly because it sits low in a valley so the smog settles in and can't escape. A few of my pictures show peaks of the mountains.
My second full day I lounged all morning and finally got motivated and left at noon. I had two things on my to do list. Go to the library to use their printer and exchange my dollars to pesos. I brought about $600 to exchange because I need to take a lot of cash with me to Patagonia as there are only a couple of towns that have an ATM and hardly anyone takes credit cards for anything. Plus, sometimes ATMs are finicky about foreign debit cards so better safe than sorry. My goal is not to have to sleep in my car. My daily withdrawals from ATMs are limited in amount AND I discovered the fees are very expensive. The fee to get about the equivalent of $300 was $9!!! Since I only get 5 fee free withdrawals per month I'm glad I brought the US dollars as I calculated it was cheaper to go to a casa de cambio. I found one and exchanged the dinero and set off to the library. Pretty much all libraries have computers and printers for use and I had two reservation forms I needed to fill out with my credit card Info and email back to the places in Patagonia. I went to the Biblioteca Nacional and printed them out. I hate having all my info out there by email but there is little choice. You can't even call in the info. I asked and they said the form is mandatory. I've discovered that in many ways Chile needs to automate their country more. It's just surprising that one of the largest ferry operators in the country does not have a method of paying online.
Many things here just aren't run efficiently - it appears that they keep things inefficient to keep more people employed. For example, in a medium sized store near the central market, you tell the man why you want - everything is behind the counter. He gets it and gives you a little receipt with the price but he keeps the product and sends it down to another man at the end of the store. Then I take the little receipt to the cashier behind a protected cage on the opposite wall of the store. I pay the cashier and get the receipt that I paid. Then I go back to the man at the end of the counter and show him my receipt and get my products. Phew!! That was very confusing. They must have a lot of theft. Larger stores and little tiendas don't have this ridiculous system. But the larger stores do have a lot of security people.
I wanted to go to the national museum but they wanted me to leave my little backpack in a locker which I was not willing to do on this occasion since I had about $700 and my passport with me. I couldn't carry everything in my pockets in the museum so I decided not to go. Instead, I wandered around.
I'm fairly fluent in Spanish when it comes to reading and writing. But listening and speaking are different matters. I'm watching TV mostly in English but there are Spanish subtitles and Spanish commercials so that coupled with being out and about has improved my listening comprehension. I just really suck at speaking although I can muddle through a conversation.
I need to talk about the financial situation here in Chile. Contrary to popular belief, things are not cheap here. In fact, Chile is apparently the most expensive South American country. The exchange rate is about $1 to 622 Chilean pesos which is about $1.60 for 1,000 pesos. A nice lunch will cost you about $15. You can get a burger at a hole in the wall for about 3,000 clp which is about $5. Wine is relatively inexpensive. The off the beaten path places are a bit cheaper but you don't come here to live cheap. I do think that housing here is inexpensive compared to the price of other things. And once again, the best produce is sold on the street by vendors.
They have frozen yogurt places like ours but I went to one where they take a plain yogurt frozen patty and then they mix if with whatever you want basically putting it all together in a manual mixer. I just got blueberries and it was really good. No added sugars or preservatives.
Come to find out that the haze was just good ol smog. I'm not a huge fan of Santiago for this reason. It's a shame too because the views would otherwise be astounding.