Hate may be a strong word. I’ll say strongly dislike for most of these. Hate is definitely the world for one. Can you guess which?
It’s hard to piss me off. VERY hard actually. But when 50% of the taxi drivers blatantly rob you then it’s pretty fair to be upset. Santiago taxi drivers are shady. What makes it worse is they are so damn nice. I want to love these guys. Time and time again they got me. Now people have will say to me, “But Erick, that’s anywhere in the world”. So the fuck what? It doesn’t make it ok. It’s doesn’t mean you have to accept the bullshit. Here are a few examples:
A. My host family drives me about an hour through traffic into a closer part of town to save me taxi money. Out of the kindness of their hearts. I grab a taxi to my next destination. We strike up a decent conversation in English and Spanish. Once we arrive I look at the fare, say the amount out loud to him, and give him the money. I had three large bags so he gestures for me to grab my bags while he makes change. I didn’t think anything of it and grabbed my bags out the back as I had done a thousand times. He hands me my cash and a few coins and literally speeds off. I instantly count my money and realize he had pocketed about half of what I was owed.
B. After deciding to go out for a night on the town, 6 of us decide to take a taxi to the bar district. Unfortunately we had to take 2 taxis. I was the only one that knew where we were going so I gave specific directions to the taxi driver and sent three friends with him. I got into the next taxi with my other friends. We had taken this route several times so I knew the fare was 3500 TOPS. We arrived first event though we left five minutes later. The taxi dropped my friends of a few blocks away from where I told him. He then charged them 8000.
C. I took a taxi from my hotel to a club to meet a friend. I specifically asked the desk attendant if there was an additional charge for a called taxi (like in Bangkok) and he assured me there wasn’t and called. About 2 minutes in the taxi I realized he didn’t turn on the meter. We went back and forth about the meter being on and then I asked how much is he trying to charge me. He said 4000. That’s about 500 more than it should be on the high end but I was in a hurry so it was fine. Upon arrival he tries to charge me 7000. An argument ensued with him claiming there is a 2000 peso “call” charge. I got out of the taxi and yelled for my friend to come over. The taxi driver quickly said no problem, pocket my change and sped off. He actually gave me his card. My friend called and went off for about 30 minutes (she has her shortcomings but that woman knows how to scare the crap out of people).
These are only three examples of screw job after screw job. And this isn’t a gringo thing, On two occasions they tried to scam Chileans that I saw and countless stories I’ve heard from Chileans. So why is this kind of thing an issue. Simply put, people like me. I have a big mouth.
I make a living telling people where and where not to go. As a tourist you rely on the honestly of taxi drivers, hoteliers, police, and restaurateurs. It all starts to add up and being ripped off doesn’t make me want to revisit a place or recommend my friends to do so.
Rush Hour/Timing of daily Chilean Life
Santiago has some of the worst traffic in the world. The roads there just weren’t made to handle that many cars. And being from Austin, I can relate. I will say people are fairly polite though. If you’ve been to any major city around the world then you know what to expect.
One thing you might not expect is when rush hour actually is. Morning rush hour is from about 7-9am. Evening is about 6-8pm. This is a bit different than in most U.S. cities where they run about 6:30-8 and 4-6pm. This is a result of their work hours.
Chileans work 48 hour weeks. Yeah, they work longer hours than we do in the states. They take lunch around 2pm which totally threw me off. If I’m not fed by 12pm I’m killing someone. It’s not so bad once you get used to it but if you’re trying to lose weight the late night dinners will be a nightmare. What boggles my mind is how Chileans can drink and party until 2 or 3am and get up for a 10 hourish work day with nightmare commutes. I don’t know when they sleep. It’s quite impressive.
I was on the fence about this one. Santiago prices are fairly on par with western cities. For the budget minded, this is a problem because the benefit of Santiago doesn’t outweigh the cost at times.
Taxis are VERY cheap by western standards. VERY VERY cheap. Some $5 rides would cost you $35 in some cities. The city bus system is ok but where Santiago really shines is the underground. if you have ever ridden the London tube it’s a cleaner version of that. Very fast and consistent. But like the London Underground it closes before Midnight.
Groceries and restaurants are a bit mid range with a few items being outrageous. $6 for a can of whipped topping. So if you want to get things a bit naughty be ready to pay. Vegetables and fruit are relatively inexpensive and actually some of the best I’ve had. Chilean potatoes are the best in the world imo.
Restaurants run the gamut from cheap to expensive. Mid range and up don’t offer the quality for the price in most cases. The markets have the best food in the city with reasonable prices. An old travelers trick, if day laborers eat there then it’s usually worth it. Cheap and hearty.
Similar styles with similar prices. They have several American stores. I went to two malls and the prices were pretty much what you would expect in the states. I also discovered “Farias” which are small organized fashion bazarres where local designers (and bootleggers) sell their wares in various parts of the city. You can get some real bargains.
Much of the sightseeing in Santiago is free or very cheap. Sightseeing isn’t bad on the wallet although very limited.
Hotels and hostels
Again, depends on you. Hostels are very reasonable. About $15 a night in some of the cities best. Hotels on the other hand are a bit westernized without the same standards. The chain hotels you can guess. Prices are locked and accommodations are the same. The Chilean chains/owned are a far cry from westernized with often spotty hot water, suspect air conditioning, and sub par “free” breakfast. All of this at western prices. No thank you.
American Culture/Identity Crisis(hipsters)
Warning: This gets a bit long winded so I’ll paraphrase. I hate Chilean hipsters that think they know everything about the world when they truly don’t know a damn thing. They truly damage the image of Chileans with their negativity and asshole contrarian culture. OK. Carry on if you will.
Santiago is a U.S. city. The good and the bad. It’s depressing as a traveler to see it. If someone asked me where the easiest place to travel in South America was for U.S. citizens I would say Santiago. There is no culture shock. The main difference is Spanish and in many places (Texas and California) that isn’t even a barrier. So why is this a problem? Well it’s two fold.
Chile has a reciprocity fee of $160 meaning that we have to pay to come into the country. It’s fair because Chileans pay the equivalent to come to the U.S. The problem arises when you ask if it’s worth it when you factor that into the price of a plane ticket (which includes some ridiculous exit taxes). There is NOTHING about Santiago that is a “must see” (granted, a few experiences I will return for) so if you’re coming just for Santiago then you may want to reconsider. The Andes are stunning but you can see those from Argentina. The wine is delicious but again, Argentina is right next door. Santiago is by all accounts just like home. A traveler looking for a new and exciting experience just won’t find it in Santiago. The next issue that arise from this “Americanization” are HIPSTERS (if you want a definition PLEASE message me).
I consider these to be the “other” Chileans. The ones that seek the conflict. Those that complain and complain and complain some more without actually doing anything about it. We know them all too well in the U.S. (cough cough Occupy movement cough cough). They bitch and moan about what the U.S. has done, how conservative Chileans want to be like the U.S. , and how they are the true future of the country. YET they embrace everything American that they hate. That whole fight the establishment thing, where do you think that came from? The “rogue artist” persona? We perfected it (Andy Warhol ,Annie Leibovitz, Kurt Cobain). I mean even the music they idolize is generic. Bob Marley? Come on. These are the people who turn their nose up when you say you’re from America and call you gringos. If they wanted a conversation about U.S. international policy then that’s one thing. What they want is validation for their narrow views and a chance to bash Americans to an American. Although increasingly annoying being told how evil you are your government is, I can understand the frustration. They make valid points.
The U.S. did support the Pinochet coup (along with several other nations they fail to remember), our U.S. corporate structure has forced its way into Chile, supplanting the indigenous culture, and we love to spread our beliefs around the globe like wildfire. These things are all true and I have stood against each in varying shapes and forms. But the same as I say to the “hipsters” in the U.S., what exactly are you doing to solve the problem? Protesting and complaining will only get you so far. Tangible action needs to be taken to force the change you want and the days of just complaining about things are over.
I sat down with a very successful business owner and asked my standard “what is Chilean culture” question and he brought up the recent student protest movement. This is a person who by all rights profits from the status quo. He said the following, “Although I may not fully agree with these students message and how they are going about spreading it, I support their right to do so. I’m proud as a Chilean to see them acting and actually doing something for a change”. I also had an opportunity to sit down and speak with workers of the striking postal service. Men and women that put their jobs and families at risk to make a positive change. It may not make a difference but it sure as hell shows guts and resolve when their truly is something at risk. Easy to be an “activist” when you don’t have to put food on the table or a roof over your own head. AGAIN these people ARE NOT representative of 99% of Chileans. They are a small but vocal subset of an otherwise open and wonderful community.
Sidenote: I can’t stand “hipsters” no matter where they are from!!! I can assure you I feel exactly the same about the ones in the states. The following photos are of the postal workers protest that I had the chance to cover and interact with. I have the utmost respect and admiration for them. They are in no way considered part of the group above.
From a tourist point of view you don’t want to go somewhere you feel unwelcome. Most Chileans made me feel VERY welcome and happy. But if I ONLY ran into a few of these “hipsters” I may have a totally different view of Chile as a whole and that’s sad.
Note: I know some of my Chilean friends are going to be mad at this. Luckily I’ve said all of this in person so it shouldn’t be a surprise.
I attended an art installation commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Pinochet Coup. As an art lover one of the first things I noticed was the vandalism right in the middle of the piece in spray paint. I brought this up with one of the piece organizers who seemed bothered by my observation. Not that it was there but that it wasn’t a big deal. I then pointed out that Santiago has possibly the most vandalism of any major city I had seen. His response was disbelief and excused it by saying it happens all over the world. Ohhh no. Not to the extent of Santiago. From national monuments to park trees. Vandalism is everywhere and it greatly degrades the beauty of Santiago.
Street art and vandalism are two entirely different things. Creating an image of community pride, Chilean culture, or a historical event is one thing. Spray painting, “Erick was Hereeee!!!!” In black spray paint on a national monument is another. I found this surprising and sad at the same time. In places like East London graffiti artist are often revered and respected. This is similar in the Bella Vista area BUT vandals have no qualms about making their “tag” all over their amazing pieces.
RIGHT IN THE CENTER OF THIS PIECE. SILVER SPRAY PAINT. BLATANT DISRESPECT
WRAP IT UP
In short, Santiago is BORINGGGGG. I would say Santiago is good for a few days tops and then move on to the north or south. The museums are ok, historical buildings are decent (minus the ridiculous amount of vandalism), and culture is a bit lacking in the city itself. The interesting thing is the further away from the city you go the better it is. The vineyards are great, skiing is some of the best in the world, and trekking is spectacular. Santiago is merely a hub for the rest of Chile and that’s fine. It serves its purpose well. Although I enjoyed the nightlife it wasn’t anything special. I’m lucky to have met a few people that showed me to hidden gems of Santiago but I had time. Most tourist don’t have enough time to see these. Some of my Chilean friends will read this and give me crap for all the stuff I didn’t see but what many need to realize is I write as a tourist. And the fact remains, most western travelers to Santiago don’t have the time to see these things.
Although it largely lacks in several areas for me as a tourist, it makes up for that with the amazing people. Chileans are some of the most gracious, open, and honest people in South America and it’s hard to say anything bad about them. They are a people who have overcome some huge hurdles and still carry on with smiles on their faces. This is admirable. Santiago has quite a bit of growing to do if it wants to become a true travel destination in South America. It lags far behind Rio and Buenos Aires as the must see places in SA.
My current recommendation is to visit Santiago for a few days. Visit Barrio Bellavista, the amazing parks, Ski in the Andes for a day or two, and try some Pebre with papa fritas. Then head north or south. You can’t go wrong in either direction. These aren’t going to prevent me from returning to Santiago but they are a deterrent to me spending much time there or recommending others do the same.