It is difficult to summarize all the things we saw and experienced while studying abroad in Chile, mostly because every day was packed with things to see and do. In sum, I have 4 observations I want to reiterate about the country.
A Better View of Santiago
A group of us took a walk during some free time in Santiago to visit a vantage point via an incline up to San Cristobal Hill. Every single day in Santiago was sunny with zero chance of rain and about 85 comfortable degrees, but as we took the incline up the steep hill, we saw clouds for the first time in the sky. They weren’t storm clouds, just a cloud cover over the sun that actually made the heat a bit more bearable to walk around in. It was a beautiful sight, with these clouds just hovering above the city as we got our first look down onto the city of 6.7 million people situated below us. The urban sprawl went on for miles, jutting up against the Andes Mountains that run to the East of Santiago.
The city was founded in 1541 by Pedro de Valdivia and was given its name. Santiago is home to many upper and middle-class families, and as such, there is a greater level of income inequality. There is an evident divide between the very nice neighborhoods in the downtown and central areas of the city and the outskirts, where the poor are often housed in “poblaciones,” or housing developments. While walking to get to the incline, we saw a lot of homeless people sleeping in the parks we walked through and on the street selling odds and ends. When we talked to our tour guides, it seemed like a lot of Chileans that spoke English fluently learned it in private schools. We also learned that 78% of Chilean business firms are family businesses, and this makes up 63% of the total employment. Similar to the United States, Chile’s inequality can most easily be observed in and around its metropolitan areas.
I was excited to learn that Chile has street dogs that live in the wild, similar to when I saw them in Asia. Comparatively, dogs in Chile were cuter because they were mixed German Shepards and other furry breeds. These dogs didn’t go hungry, some were even quite fat. The locals and tourists that interact with them will often feed them and they live quite a good life. In Valparaiso, I noticed there were even small dog houses placed intermittently on the streets as we took our walking tour. Many were asleep on the beach when we walked on the pier in Vina del Mar. They seem to have quite a nice life carved out for themselves. Viva la vida perro!
My friends were probably annoyed at how often I had to stop and admire the plants that lined the streets, as I can be quite distracted by nice vegetation. Any plant lover would really appreciate Chile’s native species; there were often beautiful jade trees, cacti, wild aloe vera, palm trees, and succulents larger than I have ever seen before. The comfortable Mediterranean climate in Santiago and Valparaiso must be the perfect place for them to thrive. They recently have been experiencing more of a drought, and the arid climate is moving further south due to climate change. There are obviously terrible things that can come with this type of global warming, such as more intense earthquakes in this particular country, but there are upsides Chileans have noticed. For example, with the warming of temperatures further south, they are able to grow strawberries and grapes for wine in different parts of the country than previously.
Valparaiso is a coastal city that used to be the largest port city before the opening of the Panama Canal, and definitely looked industrial along the harbor. We took a walking tour to get a sense of the city’s most unique attribute: the street art. Art murals that reminded me of the Wynwood district of Miami were colorful, political, expressive, and mesmerizing.
I couldn’t help but to take hundreds of photos as we shuffled through the brick streets, up and down some extremely steep hills. The graffiti is a bit of a reflection of the population of Valparaiso, tourists had to take a bit more precautions when walking around the area at night. It definitely had a bit more of a grungy feeling to it than Santiago did during our previous nights out.
There was a clear divide between Valparaiso and its sister city, Vina del Mar. The rich people in the area situated themselves along the nice coastal beaches in Vina, leaving the less wealthy to live in Valparaiso’s smaller apartments. Despite this divide, it was also clear that the people of Valparaiso were enjoying themselves in this unique and vibrant arts community.