Thursday, January 15, 2009
Where to begin? What the hell did I think I was doing when I first arrived? What the hell?!
I arrived at the Santiago International Airport severely under-dressed for the near freezing temps outside. Was wearing black vans, rolled jeans, gray short-sleeved shirt, and a thin, black puma jacket. Alejandro had prearranged TurBus shuttle pickup, which rung up at 10.000 CLP or about $20. I struggled to communicate to the driver just exactly where my apartment was. Since I really didn't know myself, this presented a bit of a problem. We eventually worked it out by calling Alejandro. My apartment, located at an awkward angle at the intersection of 3 streets, was always a bit difficult to describe location-wise. Oh Diagonal Paraguay 490... with Carmen... close to Alameda... you know, Santa Lucia? Gracias po.
Upon finding my apartment building, I must say I was a bit concerned. It's not the most beautiful place, it's run down, and not exactly in the safest area. Creature comforts were lacking, but I realized with time that I can live happily without all the luxuries of home. There wasn't always reliable hot water, I shared an apartment (and kitchen) with 8 people, shared a bathroom with 4 (including 2 guys), dealt with having no heating all throughout the winter, and lived in a tiny box of a room. But at the end of it all, I loved that room and the memories of my time spent in departamento 33.
Alejandro walked around with me, showing me the sights, and helping me to get acquainted with Santiago Centro. I have zero sense of direction, as many of you know quite well, so the first few days I pretty much wondered around without so much as a clue as to where I was. We ate breakfast at Observatorio in Lastarria. I remember not understanding a word that the waiter spoke (although ironically enough, I would end up befriending this very same waiter in December, my Spanish having significantly improved by then). Alejandro ordered media lunas (mini sweet croissants), mango juice for me, and orange juice for himself.
I remember thinking that the city was far from beautiful, that it was exceedingly industrial, and that it lacked charm. Lastarria was its saving grace - the lone oasis in the center of the capital of grunge, Santiago. But as I came to see more of the city, to make friends, and to get 'into the groove,' it became more and more attractive. I can say today that I love Santiago - first impressions aren't necessarily everything. Lastarria remained my favorite neighborhood, or 'barrio,' and I spent many hours there studying or reading outside at one of the myriad cafes. I frequented Observatorio, Patagonia, Melinka, Tomodachi (but only in the very beginning), and Emporio La Rosa. Observatorio for its quiche and wonderful espresso; Patagonia for the ensalada de mariscos, excellent bread, and exquisite house merlot; Melinka for torta de chocolate with Pablo; Tomodachi for wheat empanadas with corn and mochas; and last, but not least, Emporio for her phenomenal smoked salmon, ricotta, and capers on french baguette and chocolate peperoncino helado.
I did more than just eat in Santiago! Orientation occurred my second week in the city. I expected kids to be overtly social and open, but this turned out not to be the case. Marlana and I spoke briefly with a few girls from Australia and New Zealand, but left shortly after the close of the orientation without really making any solid acquaintainces. I later was to become very good friends with Esther, a law student from New Zealand. The Commission, an org created by Chilean students at PUC to help international students get to know Santiago and the U, took a group of us up to San Cristobal for an asado. Esther and I stuck together throughout the asado, empathized with one another regarding whatever study abroad issues we were having at the time, and decided coffee in the near future would be a good idea. I really enjoyed getting to know her over the months, although our coffee dates were few and far between. Law was especially rigorous at PUC, and Esther was often pressed for time or facing oral examinations. In late November her younger sister joined her in Santiago, followed by her boyfriend. They planned to travel together through January.
Pause here. When I resume, more on the U, my best friends, Pablo & Thomas, and maybe my first trip out of the city.