We flew from Dallas to LA via Memphis (opposite direction - but the cheapest option) where we stayed the night in a cheap airport hotel. The next day we were subjected to the true madness of LAX. The chaos of massive lines, not enough staff and people scrambling to meet their flights created a rather stressful environment that need not have been. Never the less we made our flight - and arrived 8 hours later in Bogotá, Columbia. After one hour transit we flew 5 hours to Santiago and arrived safely to our hostel at 6 am. Having to wait until 1pm to check in we were grateful for a warm shower (hot water doesn’t seem to exist in Chile) and a gorgeous room to ourselves complete with balcony and a view of the Andes.
Feeling pretty jaded we spent our first couple of days catching up on sleep and checking out the local neighbourhood. On Saturday we ventured into the city to have a look around and discovered the elevator shaft that was used to rescue the Chilean miners on display in the city square.
Our first impressions of Santiago are that it is a large dirty city with many stray dogs and street stalls combined with a few nice colonial government buildings and loads of trees. Nice enough but still just a big city that does not really cater for the tourist. That evening at our hostel we enjoyed tucking into some decent beef steak cooked Chile-style on a charcoal BBQ. On Sunday we woke to a stunning Summer day so hiked one hour up the hill to Cerro San Cristóbal for an excellent 360 degree view over the city. Although we were aware that over a third of Chile’s 16.8 million population live in Santiago - we had no idea how sprawling it was. Crammed high rise buildings boarded by the beautiful Andes and blanketed in smog; the vista was strangely beautiful.
With intentions of staying in Santiago for one month while we attend Spanish language school, we booked our hostel for one week hoping to find other student-type accommodation once in the city. However after checking out several different types of accommodation we decided to stay with our original choice and booked the remainder of our 5 week stay with Vantana Sur Hostel.
Our new home is pretty sweet for a hostel in a big city, it is located in the very leafy and beautiful suburb of Providencia. It sleeps a maximum of 20 people, has a great vine covered outdoor area and pool, but most of all a relaxed environment amongst the chaos of Santiago. The owner and staff are extremely helpful, Evan in particular assists us with our Spanish homework and gave us a salsa lesson during the week.
Although we will be changing between the dorm and a private room, this is a compromise we chose over paying top dollar for one tiny room in the other rather terrible options we had seen. Turns out Chile is one of the most expensive countries in South America, something we had not been prepared for, but we have committed to being here for school. After travelling through Europe and the US we are used to expensive destinations and can look forward to finally reaching the cheaper places soon enough!
Monday morning we turned up to school to be told that the beginner classes would start the following week at the start of the month. Feeling none too happy about this we expressed our concern and the school provided us with an additional week of tutoring free of charge. So week one of class was a steep learning curve for us - just the two of us and one other student. The teacher speaks only Spanish and with English banned in class, this makes it rather challenging and frustrating at times.
The school is a great and positive learning environment - the teachers are encouraging and very patient. At the time we arrived the school had about 15 students from around the world all at different levels of Spanish. Friday was the last day of the month so several students graduated and we all celebrated with a potluck lunch at the school. We brought asparagus rolls and were introduced to the delicious goodness of empanadas. They are hot meaty filled pastry pie-like creations. Friggen awesome. After some great local wine and compulsory participation in the Spanish Karaoke we headed home; proud that we had survived one week of school but ready for our mini break on the coast for the long weekend.
And for those of you wondering we, or rather David’s ‘Lewis’ negotiating skills, sold Daisy the car for $200 less than what we bought her for – pretty sweet deal. (Thanks David you are a LEGEND!)