We walked out of the airport and to our surprise, the first thing we saw was a tall Holiday Inn, a telling sign that this country would be much different than Kenya.
After we piled in to our big gray bus, without our luggage, (which we were told was mistakenly sent to Lima, Peru and would arrive on the next flight to Santiago) we made our way towards our hotel in the city. The highway and the driving style was nearly identical to what we are used to in the United States. The earth by the side of the road looked burnt by the winter, barren and raw with only thin, decrepit looking trees scattered around. It felt like it was about 50 degrees outside, crisp and clean like a perfect New England spring skiing day. If we looked to our right we could see the outline of mountains through the fog that I learned is pretty consistent in Santiago because the mountains trap in the clouds and pollution from the city. As we drove closer to our hotel we could see snowcapped peaks of the Andes if we peered through the clouds and between the dozens of towering skyscrapers in the city.
At one point on our bus ride, our professor Anny reffered to Chile as a third world country. As we drove on beautifully paved roads, with actual speed limits and smooth traffic, then through a mile long tunnel that emerged at the foot of a city full of modern buildings and colossal skyscrapers, I couldn’t help but disagree. As I watched dozens of people running or walking their dogs in the park on my right I immediately thought and actually said under my breath, “There’s no way this is a third-world country.” So far I felt like I was driving from Shrewsbury to Boston, the only difference being the incredibly beautiful mountains all around.
The modernity and architecture of the skyscrapers was stunning. A few of them closely resembled the John Hancock building in Boston. The streets were quiet and peaceful and the financial capital of South America seemed surprisingly underpopulated. At one point when we were walking to lunch, it was eery how empty the streets were. After lunch we took the subway to a wealthy neighborhood of Santiago to take a tour of one of Pablo Neruda’s houses. The subway system made Boston’s T look awful. The trains here were cleaner, moved twice as fast, and offered a ride that was a million times smoother. It was something I completely unexpected from this “third-world country.” When we climbed the stairs and emerged on the streets downtown we became immersed in the culture of Santiago. Bright cafes and bars were filled with young people smoking and drinking, small, colorful houses lined the streets near Pablo Neruda’s house (an artistic delight in itself), and restaurants lured me to read their menus with patios full of customers. Even downtown, the city still seemed quiet and empty. There were friendly stray dogs roaming the street looking for food and attention that amazingly only crossed the street when the green walking sign flashed on the other side. It was like they were people themselves, intertwined into the culture of downtown Santiago. The city seemed so creative and unique.
However, I learned in Kenya, and Ecuador for that matter, that a country is much more than its big city. Actually, it is seems just the opposite, that the rural parts of the country make it what it is.
As I write from the balcony of my hotel room on my first night in Santiago, I know that as I travel around the country my perspective of Chile will be molded everyday. For now, I could definitely see myself getting used to this quiet, artistic city but I am excited too see what the rest of the country is like.