After flirting with the Chilean border a few times, getting right up close to it and then backing away into Argentina, I finally made it across on a bus from Mendoza to Santiago.
Santiago and I did not get off to the best of starts. But it has grown on me, so much so that I have extended my stay here. Twice.
I got the bus from Mendoza. It’s billed as a 7 hour journey, although it often takes longer because the buses get backed up at the border.
We didn’t do too badly at the border. We all trooped off the bus and into the passport control office; one queue to be stamped out of Argentina and then another queue to be stamped into Chile.
Then we dragged our hand luggage into customs in another building and stood with it whilst the guys checked the bus. The bus baggage went through the x-ray and they picked one suitcase to search. ‘Who has the green case?’ they asked, and a woman stepped forward and prepared to display her knickers to the whole bus.
Pretty good so far.
As soon as we hit Santiago though, the traffic was completely gridlocked, which meant the bus took over an hour to get the last 500m to the station and the cab took an hour and a half to get across the city to my apartment (‘the women are marching’, my cab driver said, by way of an explanation; it was International Women’s Day).
The cab driver took my only bit of Chilean money (10,000 pesos, around £10) and I needed to find a cash machine, nobody could understand my accent (something that happens a lot when I get agitated) and I had the thirst from hell. The doorman in the apartment building couldn’t understand the concept that a key had been left for me (I told him three times, in Spanish, to be met with blank stares. Finally I showed him the email and then he repeated exactly what I’d told him as if in total surprise ‘oh a key has been left for you’. What did I say?
The Chilean accent is one of the hardest Spanish accents that I’ve had to decipher (yes, I know I said that three months ago about the Argentinian one but this time I really mean it). It comes with the added problem that they don’t seem to be able to understand me either.
Anyway after our awful first night together things started to get better between Santiago and I.
I had booked a small apartment/room (just a bedroom, bathroom and small fridge, but I couldn’t face another flat share). Then I discovered that there was this awesome swimming pool on the roof of my apartment building.
The next morning, I headed for Cerro San Cristobal, where you can get these great views over the city, which seemed like a good place to start.
Santiago has never been somewhere I was desperate to go. Compared to Buenos Aires with its tango and colourful markets or Peru with its Inca trails, Santiago maybe didn’t appeal so much. However it has definitely grown on me. It has a much dryer climate than Buenos Aires, similar to the South of Spain but in reverse. The food is better (depends on your point of view of course, but less meat and salt, more sushi, fruit and salads. I am starting to get used to the accent.
Next week I move into a small studio flat that I have rented for a month, opposite to the Fine Arts museum.