"What IS that dripping on me? Is someone spitting on me from one of these buildings? Maybe shouldn´t try to figure it out now, someone might try to take my bag, I might run into someone, I´ll figure it out later."
There are people everywhere. Cars honking, people talking, I catch a word I know every so often, but much is lost on me. Santiago is jammed with people. People on the sidewalk, motorscooters in the streets, busses, people leaning out of balcony windows.
"Which way am I going anyhow?" I´d think as I walked. "The sun seems to be in a little lower in front of me, so that must me North. No maybe it is West." I didn´t know. Tall buildings blocked out the landscape entirely, and when I did get a glimple into the distance it was obscured by a heavy haze lying on the city.
Santiago reminds me of the pictures I have seen of cities in Asia. So many people in the streets that is impossible to walk in a straight line. Sometimes the pedestrians form critical masses, blocking the honking traffic for a few moments, to shuffle across the street. But somehow among the honking cars, and chattering Chileans, an overall calm remains. There are many, many homeless here. Sleeping on the streets, walking the streets. Living on the street. And many homeless perros too. But unlike the US they do not beg from me as I pass, they are just living their lives, and although I know I stick out with my pale skin and ponytail, they leave me alone.
The city is like no place I´ve ever been. Little shops jam the streets, each selling a little bit of this, or that, many times repeated upon themselves. I was looking for a little padlock, some sunscreen, and a place to change some money from dollars into Chilean Pesos. I looked in a hundred little shops all "Farmacia" or some such name, and found sunscreen easily. But it took hours of looking to find a lock. Finally after wandering for many hours, and asking many questions I came to a little ¨Ferreteria", or as it translates in my mind, an "iron store." There I found a little lock.
As for changing money... As I was walking through one of the city squares, taking a couple of pictures, a couple approached me. A woman of about 30, and a man of near 40. They asked where I was from, using English better than my Spanish, but not ideal. I gathered that they were looking to ask for money. They said they were students at the university here, explained that all universities here are private, and it is difficult to pay for an education with the wages made here. They were very interested in my life in the US, and I enjoyed practicing my Spanish as we talked.
They took me to the Catholic Cathedral, built about 400 years ago, to the presidential palace, where Pinochet had a bloody coup sometime in the 70´s, and to a couple of interesting museums which we did not enter, but they suggested. They kept mentioning how they needed money for their education. I told them I had no Chilean money with me, but if they could take me to a place where I could change money I would get some. They were very intent. This all made me a bit nervous, but I did appreciate their hospitality, and it was worth it to me to give them a few dollars for the tour, regardless of whether they were truly students of pediatrics, and veterinary medicine as they claimed.
However once they had finally found a place where I could change money (which was surprisingly difficult as no regular bank will do this) they became a bit short and demanding. It was clear they each wanted to get going, and they wanted some money before they were going to leave, so I pulled out a 10,000 peso note from my pocket (not really comprehending the value of the note) and handed it to the man. He seemed really quite put off, which I didn´t understand, and said it was really not very much. "She has to pay for school too you know." I said that just because I was from the Estados Unidos did not mean that I was made of money, but eventually gave the woman 10,000 pesos as well.
I really wasn´t sure how much I 10,000 pesos was, so I went to the quietest spot I could find near a museum and thought about it for a while. I realized it is somewhere in the neighborhood of a US $22, and felt a bit used, but figured that it was worth paying this amount to learn a bit about how the world works, so I could learn to avoid this type of thing in the future. I was glad everything had gone as it did, and decided I would stay away from anyone being overly friendly in the future.
I´m staying at the Andes Hostel, in the Bella Artes district of Santiago. It is very cosmopolitain, and located near much of the activity of the city. There are little cafes and clubs all around, and lots of little farmacias etc.
After my walk through the city with my "amigos" earlier today I figure I walked about 8 or 10 miles, and I was tired. So I went to sleep for a while at 6, woke at midnight, and am now wide awake. My body doesn´t have any idea what time it is.
In the morning I am going to find the bus station, figure out when I can leave for Puerto Montt (my jumping off point for Patagonia, and the ferry to Puerto Aisen), and try to arrange for a bus leaving the day after tomorrow. I´d like to visit a couple of the museums here, and the Biblioteca National (National Library), eat a meal somewhere (which I never did today), and repack once again before heading south. But Aside from that I´m really ready to get out of this metropolis, and go somewhere more rural.
I think I´ll try to get to Coyhaique a few days before Lindsay´s class ends, as it looks beautiful there, and I think I will be glad to get away from the city, where I am always somewhat on edge.
It is two hours earlier than Eastern Standard Time here, for those of you who may be wondering what time it is down here.
As for that water that kept dripping on me- all of the buildings have little air conditioners in the widows here, so walking the sidewalk you are constantly being dripped on from some high up window.
Send comments as you can! I´d like to know what you all think.