06.10.2012 - 09.10.2012 17 °C
Greetings from Santiago. I haven't properly updated this since April, as I couldn't be bothered in Europe, but Uncle Brian urged me to keep it going - so here we go! It's currently Tuesday midday, and I've tried to write this first blog article about four times now and keep getting distracted by things, so let's see how we go this time.
After spending a lovely six weeks back in Sydney for my sisters wedding (so amazing - especially when we surprised them dancing Gangnam Style in our bridal party gettup), I headed to Sydney Kingsford Smith Airport on Saturday morning. The airport was a little stressful as my flights had been delayed and I had a surprise stopover in Auckland, but all in all it ended up okay and I got a free $10 airport voucher which was a bonus. I had a kind of uneasy/nervous feeling when driving to the airport, I think mainly because of fear of a language barrier, but since I've been here I've been nothing but happy and excited. After many delays I was on the flight which, despite saying economy on the ticket, felt like first class for me. Seeing as I've flown budget airlines the entire year, flying with LAN Chile which serves food and little personal TV monitors was so exciting. It still wasn't quite comfortable enough to sleep, but I watched literally 21 episodes of Modern Family, Moonrise Kingdom and read some Harry Potter. About 16 hours later (give or take), I arrived at Santiago Airport.
I was supposed to be staying at Dani's house (one of my friends from UTS Housing who now works in Chile) on Saturday night, however he had to go to Viña del Mar for a family event with his girlfriend, so I booked a hostel. It was pretty easy to get a $12 bus straight from the airport to my hostel, and soon enough I was checked in. As I was driving from the airport I had this really strange feeling of nostalgia, as the scenes on the way reminded me a little bit of Kathmandu, in the sense that the drive from the airport was along a rather long dirty river and the city seems very polluted. There were also some derelict small buildings that looked kind of like slums - I didn't think there was this level of poverty in Santiago and I haven't really seen any beggars so they're probably just old sheds or something, but it was still strange that it reminded me of such a different place. Given I was so tired, and it was grey and raining (I am kind of missing the 30° weather I left in Sydney), I just spent the evening inside, meeting people and getting travel advice from other nomads wandering South America. I met one girl from Byron, Sam, who's doing a pretty amazing trip around the continent, and I may meet up with her a bit later in Cusco or something. I also met an American guy named Nick and an older guy from Brisbane named Ian - the three of us stayed up until the wee hours discussing a matter of issues, and it was pretty interesting to compare cross-cultural and particularly cross-generational views on corporal punishment.
The next day I spent the morning doing a bit of research about what to do around town and also planning a route for the rest of my journey (I'm planning to go to Viña del Mar/Valpariaso, Colca de Maipo, La Serena, San Pedro de Atacama, Uyuni, La Paz, Copacabana and Puno around Lake Titicaca, Arequipa, Cusco and surrounds, Nazca, Ica/Hacachuana and Lima - but we'll see how we go). By midday I decided it was time for me to get outside, packed a precautionary umbrella, and set off for a stroll.
The main area in all Latin American and Spanish cities is called the Plaza de Armas, which is like a large main square with a church (iglesa), government area (I forget the Spanish word) and a post office (correo I think). I vaguely knew which direction this was in so I headed there through the Parque Forrestal, and found myself in a nice little strip called Lastarria (named after a poet or painter or someone that I'd never heard of until I read the information board nearby). It was a very small alley closed to vehicles with a few stalls on each side selling used books and antique tidbits. I'm not sure if that was just because it was Sunday or if this was every day, but it was so nice to just ponder at the little knick knacks while a busker played some acoustic latino tunes in the background.
I then wandered over to Cerro Santa Lucia. Cerro is 'hill' in Spanish, and there are two important ones in Santiago - Santa Lucia and San Cristobal. To enter I had to sign in and give my name and nationality, for what I do not know, but it was free so whatever. As I was walking up I had another strange nostalgic moment where I likened the area to a small park I'd visited in Phnom Penh, which went uphill through beautiful greenery and tall trees to a pagoda. Of course there wasn't a pagoda atop Cerra Santa Lucia but rather a nicely decorated area and viewing point. The views from the top were expansive, and I can't imagine what it will be like from San Cristobal (much taller), but it was disheartening to see that the Andes which surround the city are pretty much invisible through the thick pollution and fog. Perhaps after the rain has cleared I'll have more luck. There were some beautiful buildings around the park, and after meandering back down the hill I was back on the street.
I then set off to visit the Plaza de Armas. It was packed with people and was pretty cool - buskers, children, beggars, etc, and was surrounded by nice buildings. I wouldn't exactly call it picturesque but it had an interesting ambience. Some strange old man came up to me and tried to talk to me, and I had to be pretty obvious and rudely turn away and pretend I didn't like to drink or eat or have an email address, but eventually I got away. I wandered around for a little more, finally found a money exchange that was open on Sunday, and then it began to rain. I slowly started walking back to the hostel, with a quick stop for some Dulce de Leche and Chocolate Hazelnut at Emporio La Rosa (an ice cream shop recommended by Aunty Anne). Something that was strange here was that you had to go outside, buy a coupon for two scoops at the stall, and then go to the ice cream stand to choose your flavours. I was pretty confused but eventually got there and was soon strolling home with my umbrella and a cup of ice cream.
I got back at about 5pm, which meant I was able to check into my room at the Casa Loca (the name for our house at Ecela Spanish school). I got my stuff from the hostel, said goodbye to Ian and Nick (Sam had left in the morning), and walked to the apartment. By a stroke of luck the hostel I'd booked (which was the cheapest) was only a five minute walk from the house, so I found my way very easily. I was shown my room and met a few of the other housemates (I still am trying to figure it out - it's confusing who actually lives there and who are just students from school who come to hang out). It's a really nice house, and we even have a beautiful dog called Primavera (Spring in Spanish). I then found a small supermarket and bought some fruit and yoghurt for the morning, and waited for Dani and Carla (his girlfriend) to pick me up as we were meeting for dinner.
At 9.30 they came over and we went to Bellavista, the 'nice' area to go out to dinner, though also seen as touristy (even the prices were shown in USD!). I'd never met Carla before so it was really nice to meet her, she's lovely, and it was fun catching up with Spanish Romeo too. I think I'll see him a bit later in the week too.
When I got back I hung out with my roommate who had now arrived. Her name is Mariana and she's from Brazil. She's quite different to me but is very sweet. By about 1.30 we headed to sleep - it seems she goes to bed quite late and skypes her boyfriend then, which I haven't minded so far but I think I'll try to start sleeping earlier from now on.
On Monday morning I woke up bright and early to go sign in to Ecela. Mariana woke up with a stomach ache and had to miss the first day, but she's better now and came to class today. Conveniently, Ecela is on the same road as our apartment - about a five minute walk up the street. I was placed into A1, the beginners class, and met a few people that were hanging around before we started at 9. There are 6 other people in my class - Lindsay, Lorenzo, Eva, Stijn, Louz and Marc from the US, Korea, Belgium and Switzerland. They are all really nice, as is our teach, Ximena. We had a different teacher for our second class, Juan Francisco, as Ximena had a doctors appointment, but for the rest of the week we'll be with Ximena.
After class finished we were given some empanadas as a sort of 'cultural welcome', and then I headed home to try to write out some of my Spanish and make my third attempt at blog writing. Clearly that failed and I just hung out, and then at 5 we all headed to an Asada, which means BBQ - a very popular activity in Chile. It was cool to hang out, have a few beers and meet new people, and after it finished at 8 a lot of us came back to Casa Loca. Nothing too eventful happened except playing uno, which I haven't done in years, and eventually I made it to bed.
Which brings us to today. It's only 2pm so the only thing I've done is class - which was full on but interesting. I have a lot to practice but I'm thinking of getting some extra private lessons so I can really focus.
Anyway, I'm starving so I'm going to try to find something to eat and then do something with my day before the fortnight is over and I haven't seen anything.