I got back last night from a weekend in Santiago. I've left the Valparaíso area a few times already in the two months that I've been here (to go to Patagonia, as well as Casablanca and other smaller towns around here), but this was the first time I'd left to go to a big city.
Santiago is a big, big city. It has about 5 million people just in the city itself (as a comparison, Valparaíso and Viña del Mar have about 600,000 between them). Because it's so big, it has a lot of things that I hadn't fully realized I hadn't been seeing in Valparaíso, but that I'm used to seeing in the US. There were a ton of North American chain restaurants (especially in the wealthier areas of Santiago), including Denny's, Fuddruckers, and Applebee's. There were clothing stores with big brands like Puma and Patagonia. Most of all, there was green space- and a lot of it. There's a big park right in the middle of Santiago Center called "parque forestal" (forest park), with trees and benches and grass. Valparaíso has one park that I know of, and it's pretty far away. I hadn't realized how much I'd missed walking in green areas- something you start to take for granted at Lewis & Clark, which has an extremely forested, green campus (as a side note, did you hear that Lewis & Clark just was named the US's most "green" school?) The main route that I walk in Valparaíso is a dirt median lined with palm trees on a fairly busy road, that's very rocky and noisy and not relaxing like a lot of parks. Santiago also feels very clean compared to Valparaíso. I think part of it is that, as a bigger city, they have more people available to work on keeping it clean. I think it also rains more, which helps a lot, and they have way fewer dogs (at least per capita), so there's less of the mess on the streets that comes with having dogs everywhere.
I was surprised how comforted I felt in Santiago. It felt so much more similar to US cities than Valparaíso, and like I said, until now I hadn't really realized fully how different my life in Valparaíso is from my life in the US. I still have access to most things here, but it's all different brands and looks different than what I was used to. I hadn't realized how big of an impact that had been having on me until I realized how nice it was to see products and things that looked the same as they do at home.
We went to the city on Friday as part of the program that I'm studying through, CIEE. We were in two groups (split up based on what class we were taking with the program). My class (a history/geography class) started out at La Moneda, the presidential building (but not, as I learned, where the president lives). We watched the changing of the guard ceremony (which was very similar to the one in London at Buckingham Palace) then visited the cultural center inside the building, which had a free exhibit on Islamic art.
|some textiles as part of the exhibit|
Finally we went to the Gabriela Mistral cultural center. The exhibit we were going to see (surrounding the recent history of Chile) wasn't open, so instead we looked at an exhibit with art made from around Latin America.
Most of the people in my program decided to stay the whole weekend, since we were already there. That first night I got Korean food with a few friends (that's another thing I hadn't realized I'd been missing- food from other cultures! Almost all the food I've eaten here has been purely Chilean, and while there are a few Japanese and Peruvian restaurants in Viña, I hadn't seen Mexican, Chinese, Korean, or Italian (among many other cultures) food in this area).
The next day I went up to the top of Cerro San Cristóbal, one of the highest hills in otherwise relatively flat Santiago. The view was amazing. We took a funicular (elevatorish thing, kind of like a roller coaster car that goes straight up some tracks) to the top.
|one of the views of the city|
After wandering around the top for a while, we came back down and went to a fish market called Mercado Central for lunch. Then the group split up, as some went back to Valparaíso. I stayed one more night with a friend. We hung out at some parks, went to a public art museum, and sat in a lot of cafes.
It was a really nice weekend, and I already know I'm going to go back to Santiago before the program is over. It's very close (only about 1 1/2 hours by bus), and there's a lot to do. I'm glad I went!
Please email me with any questions you have about studying abroad or Lewis & Clark! I know everyone is finalizing college choices right now, and I'm here to answer any questions you might have. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org.