One of the reasons I haven’t posted anything for a good while is that I moved to a new country – or even to a new continent – in late July. My post-university plans had been uncertain for a long time, but I found an opportunity to study an extra semester at the University of Chile in Santiago. So here I am, thousands of miles away from Manchester and Geneva, both of which I’d called home for the past years. Time to add Santiago to the “home” category? Perhaps.
I arrived in Santiago de Chile in the morning of my 21st birthday, not really knowing what to expect. Luckily I already had one friend here, who, with all the hospitality and generosity of Chilean people (which I was to discover as the weeks passed), welcomed me to his home and country, and helped me through my first ten days in Santiago. Although I immediately felt comfortable, I must admit the first couple of weeks were tough. I had to adapt to a whole new transportation system in a totally unknown – huge – city, with no phone and no google maps. And I got by. Just about. I got lost more than once, but people on the streets are always more than happy to help, and it was never long before I found my way again.
Something else I had to get used to is the language. I can understand and speak Spanish almost fluently, but Chilean Spanish is different. It boasts an incredible range of slang, colloquialisms and insults, which people use indifferently of age and social class. The most common word is probably “weón”, which is used for pretty much everything: “bro”, “guy”, “dude”, “idiot”, and is sometimes used as a buffer word, and has derivatives; “wea”, which is “thing”, good or bad, “wevear/huevear”, which means to mess around or annoy, etc… It probably has other meanings, which I haven’t grasped yet. Another one is “po”, which does not mean anything, it is simply a buffer word, commonly used with “si”: “sipo” would mean “yes of course” or “yes, sure”; or at the end of a sentence to add a bit of emphasis. Finally, if you have a conversation with a Chileno, they will check you get what they say by asking “¿cachai?”. Cachar means to understand, to get, to see, to know, and I have heard it comes from the english verb “to catch”, although I am not sure it is the case. “¿Cachai?” then means “(you) get it?”. Moreover, in Chilean Spanish it is common to replace the “s” of the second singular by an i/y, and to lose the stem-change: quieres becomes queri, puedes becomes podei, eres is eri, estás is estay (or tay). If someone asks you “¿cachai?” simply reply, “si, cacho”, or if you feel sassy “sipo weón”. I haven’t got to this point yet, but it is only a matter of time before I do! As I pointed out, Chilean people are very kind and nice generally, and will not make fun of you for trying to use colloquialisms. In a another post, I will list and explain my favourite expressions, as there are many of them!
I was lucky enough to make Chilean friends quickly, and everyday I am astounded by their kindness and generosity. From showing me around Santiago and beyond, to helping me with university assignments, they have helped me feel comfortable and homely miles away from home.
I have also been incredibly lucky with finding a place to stay, and I now live in a big, quirky house which I share with a happy Chilean-American-French crowd, age ranging from 6 week-old to 30-something, and a cat. The neighbourhood, Providencia, is ideally situated near the city centre, and not too far away from my university campus, which is in Ñuñoa. It is also within a walking-distance of Recoleta/Bellavista, where all the fun happens at night.
Generally, in Santiago, the more to the North/East and closer to the Cordillera the neighbourhood, the wealthier its population, the most expensive areas being Vitacura, Las Condes, La Reina and La Dehesa. Providencia is an interesting neighbourhood, as it mixes historical mid-century family houses like the one where I live and skyscrapers like the Costanera Centre, which is the highest building in Latin America. This area of Providencia, which stretches towards Las Condes is nicknamed Sanhattan. West of Providencia is the Plaza Italia, where the city centre starts. From there it is easy to walk through the Parque Forestal to Barrio Lastarria and Calle Merced, my favourite places so far. Barrio Lastarria, just off Calle Merced is street full of restaurants, cafés, and shops. Most days there will also be people selling antiques, secondhand books, art and crafts on the street. South of Providencia, Ñuñoa, is mainly a residential borough, with big family homes and a welcoming atmosphere. It also houses the Campus Juan Gomez Millas, where I study at the Faculty of Social Science. Gomez Millas is a very interesting place, to which I will dedicate a whole post in the weeks to come. I have yet to visit the most popular/gentrified/artsy areas of Santiago, such as Barrio Brasil and Barrio Yungay, but I am planning on going asap. I will also introduce you to another of my favourite places soon: el Mercado de La Vega, the La Vega Market. I will not say more for now, but I guarantee you will love it as much as I do.
Finally, as university started a month after my arrival, I took the opportunity to travel to the north of the country, from La Serena to San Pedro de Atacama. I will write an extensive post about what I did and saw, keep an eye out!