Home sweet brand new city

Hello from Santiago! On Thursday we left Algarrobo and drove to Santiago along the same looks-exactly-like-NorCal route. We went to the SIT House (aka la Casa SIT), took a quick tour, and then came downstairs to meet our host families. So exciting!

My host mom’s name is Ana Maria. She lives alone in a huge apartment in the Las Condes neighborhood of Santiago. Her two kids are grown: her son lives an hour and a half south of Santiago, and her daughter is currently in North Carolina getting a masters degree at Duke. She has a cat named Dalea who is very sweet (and I am taking my allergy medicine religiously so I can be around her). Ana Maria is (was? I think she might be retired) a child psychologist, and we’ve had a few interesting discussions about psychology and child development. Weirdly enough, my vocabulary seems to be better with technical psych terms than with basic words about, say, food. Did anyone else not learn the word for raspberries in Spanish class? Apparently it’s frutilla. Useful information!

I mostly spent Thursday hanging out and getting myself settled in to the apartment, and then Friday was a day for adventuring. Ana Maria and I went over to her cousin Mónica’s house, where my friend Nora is staying, and we all went out and wandered around the Ñuñoa neighborhood to buy various things Nora and I needed, like cell phones and shampoo. The store we went to for toiletries was completely different from anything I’ve seen in the US; there was a counter that stretched all the way around three sides of the store (the fourth was open to the street), with all the products on shelves behind the counter. To buy anything, you had to catch the attention of an employee, tell them what you wanted, and they’d put together a basket with whatever you told them, ring it all up, and give you a receipt. You then went to the cashier to pay for your stuff and got another receipt to give to the employee in the bagging area, who would check your receipt against your basket and give you your toiletries. I think I could have handled the system okay, but it was so loud and the employees spoke so fast that Ana Maria and Mónica did most of my shopping for me. I’ve never thought I’d see the act of buying toothpaste turned into a weird game of multilingual telephone, but I guess that’s the way things are here.

After our shopping adventures, we went back to Mónica’s house for lunch, and then Ana Maria took Nora and I to a metro station so we could meet up with some other people from the program at the Casa SIT. The plan had been to go exploring from there, but none of us really knew where to go, so first we headed to an hípermercado (a store kind of like a Walmart or a Super Target) to get cell phones for people who didn’t have them yet and try to figure out the ATM. (There’s a button for foreign customers that lets you switch the language to English — cheating, I know, but I could not for the life of my figure out what any of the regular options meant.) We wandered around Barrio Brazil for a while, got some ice cream, and sat in the shade of the plaza eating it, and then headed back to the metro. Nora and I were both going to go back to my house, and when we got on the metro we were way earlier than we’d said we’d be… but then we got lost, and by the time we finally made it to the apartment we were right on time!

Yesterday was a bit more low-key: I went out with my host mom in the morning to see an art exhibit (which turned out to have just closed, so we saw a different one instead), then a bunch of my program friends came over to use our apartment building’s swimming pool! The pool isn’t heated, but in 94ºF weather cold water feels reeeeeeally good.

After that I trekked over to Bellavista, a more touristy and nightlife-y neighborhood closer to the middle of Santiago, where I met up with friends for dinner and (ostensibly) to go out. Dinner was lovely, but I was fading fast by the time we set out to meet up with other friends who were at a bar. When we finally found them (after walking in circles for a while), the bar turned out to be completely full of Chileans, which was cool, but it was crowded and noisy and everyone was smoking. I can handle crowds and noise, but crowds + noise + cigarette smoke everywhere is really not my scene. When we all headed out to try and find a club, I found a friend who was planning on heading home early and started trying to figure out how I could get home too. We were with a few Chilean students (friends of friends of the friend who also wanted to call it a night) who understood the bus routes and happened to be going to the neighborhoods we lived in, so we said goodnight and headed out. We took the micro (Chilean slang for bus), which made lots of abrupt turns and sudden stops, but was pleasantly not full of drunk people and stopped maybe fifty yards from my apartment building. One of the Chilean students got off the bus with me and walked me the very short distance to my building’s gate, and then headed off to his house (which I guess was either on the same block or one very nearby). I got up to the apartment at about 1 AM and collapsed into bed.

Overall, I think I’m adjusting pretty well; I can already tell that I’m understanding more Spanish than I did the first day, which is the main thing I was worried about. Chileans talk FAST, and they drop a bunch of consonants, especially Ss. I’m getting better at picking out where one word ends and another begins, though, and once I’ve figured that out it’s a lot easier to understand. I’ve also started picking up the slang: micro for bus, pololo for boyfriend, harto instead of mucho and ciao instead of adios. There are still a few adjustments I have to make, and some I’m not sure I’m ever going to get to: I just don’t think I’m cut out for partying until three in the morning. But we’ll see. Anything is possible! I’m in Chile!