I think that could describe my first couple of days here pretty accurately.
I got up nice and late on Wednesday morning to finish packing my things and have a hearty breakfast of bread with quesillo and peach jam and an empanada. Eventually we set off for the church where we met our host families to say goodbye and get on the bus to Santiago.
I hate saying goodbye. That was not an easy moment, even though I’d only lived in my family’s house for ten days. I am lucky enough to have a standing invitation to their home, and I fully intend to take them up on it when I get a long weekend later in the semester.
Then came what felt like the longest bus ride ever- and it only lasted four hours. I need to figure out how to sleep while traveling.
And then we arrived.
We went into a tunnel, and when we came out of it, suddenly we were surrounded by cars and buildings and people. Santiago is definitely a big city. It does not have a skyline, however. Why? Because Chile has earthquakes, including a large one that occurs about every 25 years. While all new construction is built to withstand seismic movement, height doesn’t play the same role in Santiago’s architecture as it does in the US’s largest cities.
I managed to get completely unpacked that night, and then had time to start filling in the calendar my family had waiting for me on my desk. Previous students also left travel guides and Spanish-English dictionaries on the bookshelf, leaving me pretty well-equipped for a semester in this city.
Let’s learn the metro!
Santiago has a great metro (train/subway) system, consisting of six lines denoted by color and number. It’s important to know which stations are combination stations (meaning you can transfer lines) and how the express trains work during rush hour in the morning and afternoon (you take the train with the light that corresponds to the express route, not the line your stop is on!). I was very lucky that my host dad took me all the way to my final destination on Thursday, explaining the metro system and my routes the whole way. I’m also lucky that other students live near me, so we were able to get to our stop together on the way home.
It was a long day, with no real break besides lunch. Let’s review all the places we saw in central Santiago our first day in the city:
CERRO SANTA LUCÍA
Santiago is constructed around big hills- remember, it’s not that far from the Andes! One of the biggest, which also serves as a landmark for city dwellers, is Cerro (hill) Santa Lucía. The very top of the hill provides great views of the city, and when we went, it was packed with visitors trying to get photos.
See that haze in the photo? That would be smog. You can see the snowcaps on the mountains through it, but since the smog obscures the rest of the mountain, it looks as if they’re just floating there, like a mirage. I’ve heard the rain helps dissipate the pollution, so hopefully we can make it back up the hill when the city gets clean again.
Next was El Palacio de la Moneda, which is currently the residence of the president. We couldn’t get very close to it of course, since it’s where the president lives and all, but here’s a picture!
There was also a protest happening on one of the side streets, but they blocked it off, so we couldn’t really figure out what was happening there. We did hear “igualidad,” which may point to a protest about equality in education, another topic which I’m sure I’ll write about later.
Beneath La Moneda is a cultural/art museum, which to me was just like any other little art museum but with specifically Chilean exhibits.
We were swept off to el mercado central (the central market) for lunch, but were nearly immediately sat down at a table. Therefore I have not explored it yet nor do I have any pictures. But I ate fish! It was really delicious. You can tell they’re close to the ocean here.
Next up was the Plaza de Armas, which is basically the very center of Santiago (if I understood our tour guides correctly). Right off the Plaza is the Cathedral of Santiago. Santiago actually means Saint James. Therefore it’s not just the Cathedral of the city of Santiago, but the Cathedral of Saint James. The cathedral is massive (hence cathedral) and filled with altars and religious art. I’d like to go again to see it fully lit, since in the dim lighting it was difficult to see the intricate artwork on the ceiling.
One more stop! And that was to another art museum, El Museo de Bellas Artes. The museum managed to hold a lot more art than I thought it could from the outside, once again with a focus on Chilean creators.
That’s about it! Today I got to and from campus all by myself. I even reloaded my metro card! I then spent around seven hours in meetings regarding a lot of important stuff I have to do early next week. In Spanish.
Oh, and regarding food: my bread intake has plummeted drastically. I went from about three pieces of bread a day, to one hallulla yesterday, to just half a roll today. I had no tea yesterday, but I finally broke (finally…as in 24 hours) and asked where it was in the house and had one cup today. Still: just one cup! After at least three a day in Linares. I mean, I’m being fed very well. It was just a big difference very suddenly!
Coming up: La Isla Negra, the home of Pablo Neruda, and reflections on settling in.