The next day we did a bit of sightseeing with Leo, the Santiago native, being our guide. First stop was some hill with a giant virgin statue on top, from which we could view Santiago's smog. The Virgen San Cristobal overlooks the city and makes a useful landmark. To climb the hill we took a finicular
, which had me singing "finiculee finicular finiculee finiculaaaar... da da da da da finiculee finicular". It was the same as the ascensors
Climbing the hill in the finicular
I really liked Santiago. To me it had the feel of a modern city of New Zealand or Australia, like say Auckland. Everything was clean. The houses all had a lawn. Every household has a car or three, so public transport is shit. Tagging graffiti everywhere. Wide footpaths. It certainly made a change from downtown Buenos Aires - small footpaths, dogshit and trash and political graffiti everywhere, no lawns or trees, lots of buses (which is both good and bad).
The Virgen San Cristobal overlooking the city
Another important difference between the two cities is the women. While Buenos Aires women are slightly more attractive, Santiago women are a lot more welcoming. In Buenos Aires I hardly ever got eye contact with girls in the street. But in Santiago, man the girls loved to check us out. And not just me because I was the gringo, but the rest of the boys too. I'm not sure why girls don't in BA. I blame Buenos Aires men. The men of BA are so macho that any attractive girl walking in the street unaccompanied is used to hearing comments from men of all ages, both complementary and vulgar, and receiving head to toe leery glances. Where I come from us guys are a lot more discreet with our perving. So, BA women tend to walk the streets with a 100 yard stare, eyes fixed straight ahead and ears closed, to ignore the perving. Perhaps Santiago men aren't so brash, but the girls there loved to return our glances. We were first made aware of this while our group of 5 was waiting for the finicular to take us up the hill. A bunch of schoolgirls nearby was giggling, and the words "Backstreet Boys" were overheard. Then one of the girls came up to us and introduced herself to each one of us with a peck on the cheek. Not at all shy, but a bit young for us. A few days later Thad and I were sightseeing the downtown, and man we'd receive admiring glances from all sorts of girls: schoolgirls, university students, girls our age, even Mums with kids in tow. Perhaps sometimes it was the gringo factor - we obviously stood out as foreigners, whereas in BA it's not always so obvious (or perhaps interesting) that we're foreign.
Posse and Leo at the lookout
The main negative that Santiago has is the smog, which the locals acknowledge and are trying to deal with. The problem isn't the emmisions or the number of people - Santiago only has about 4 million inhabitants, but the geography. With the glorious snow capped Andes as a backdrop to the west, and another smaller mountain range blocking the route to the Pacific coast to the east, Santiago sits in a bowl. So the pollution has no escape, nowhere to dissipate to. I'm told it's not so bad in the summer, when the summer winds come to blow it all away. To be honest, at ground level I didn't really notice it. You could see it in the air above, as the snow of the Andes looked kind of brown instead of white. Then, from the virgin lookout you could really see it as you were sitting above the smog, so the view of the city was obscured. Still, I found ground level pollution in Buenos Aires worse, since BA has so many buses, and the buses have undercarriage exhaust pipes. The buses in Chile have their exhaust pipes at roof level, like in Sydney, so the pollution wasn't in your face. A simple enough measure that makes a difference.
180° of Santiago
We all stayed in Santiago a few more days before Juan and Posse hit the road again back to Argentina. Thad and I stayed a bit longer as we wanted to see a bit more of Santiago and its nightlife. I also didn't fancy getting back in Juan's car as I'd just gotten the petrol smell out of all my clothes by sending them to the laundromat. Which was a shame, because it was great fun travelling with them, way more fun than bus travel.
So Thad and I hung around a few more days staying in an Australian owned hostel full of gringos
(hence the Gringoland title to this post) and going out every night. Man it was expensive. Although the drinks aren't too expensive the club entry fees and taxis were killer - I heard the taxi drivers play all sorts of meter tricks. One night I bailed home early in the bus but Thad caught a cab later for $15,000 Chilean pesos which is NZ$40. At least in BA the taxis are really cheap.
We were also checking out the city in the day... I remember seeing Santiago on "Wild On
" on TV in NZ before I came to South America, and on that they showed how Santiago has a lot of Cafe Con Piernas
(Coffee with Legs), which are cafés in which the waitresses wear only bikinis. That was one of the items on my tourist checklist so we went and checked it out, not really sure what the deal was.
Café con Piernas
Unfortunately the atmosphere was more strip club than café, with blacked out windows, dark lighting and loud music. The waitresses made jaded conversation with shirt and tie wearing businessmen, much like a strip club. Or like a Japanese hostess bar. Not really my scene, but at least the coffee was really good.
One final thing I'll mention is that Santiago had a great subway system, very modern and clean, with really wide doors which made boarding easy but also means there aren't as many seats inside. Although the trains were the standard electric passenger trains running on steel tracks, the carriages had big rubber Goodyear tyres. Never in my life have I heard of a train with rubber wheels and I have no idea why, but I bet the tyre company doesn't mind!
Rubber wheeled subway train
In all, I really liked Santiago, and from what I hear English teachers can make a comfortable living, well, more comfortable than Buenos Aires. I knew that before I came to South America, but the reason I chose to live and work in BA was I'd heard that Santiago was polluted, boring, that Argentine women are better looking, and that Chilean Spanish is ugly sounding. Well, polluted yes, but it didn't bother me too much. Boring, no. Argentine women are slightly better lookingw but Chilean girls are more friendly. Chilean Spanish is different sounding and they do use some different words with super- this and super- that, cachai, but man it's not like I'd pick up the Chilean accent and it's silly to think I would - I'm always gonna sound gringo!