Friday, 29 March 2019

Nothing luke warm about Chile

Well, where to begin. We are here in Chile. The flight was tiresome and very long. The train from Norfolk broke down so had to wait for ages outside Stowmarket then swap. Then tube across London, flight to Paris with a couple of hours stopover there and then the 14.5 hour schlep to Santiago. We arrived knackered and Rachel sporting a furious headache and sniffing like she had man flu.

Flying over the Andes. Out of shot is Rachel groaning
The school has put us up in a homestay for a couple of weeks. Our landlady is about 75, lovely and completely obsessive. She cleans the spotless duplex everyday from top to bottom. But, weirdly, she only sweeps the carpet (which seems somewhat at odds with her fastidious cleaning regime). We get a simple breakfast and varied yummy dinners everyday. These meals which are taken by all of us can be a little strained. Then, no sooner has the last mouthful gone into my mouth she is up and at ‘em. Clearing the table, washing, drying and setting all straight. We cannot help. We tried. She sweated and looked very uncomfortable so we left it. She is so obsessive that we cannot even make a cup of tea without here scurrying to her kitchen to shoo us out so she can do it. Rachel did balls it out one day and had to complete the task with her watching like a hawk watches a mouse. 
Chess playing it the square
We were supposed to have arrived in Chile 12 days previously in order to complete the jobs of finding a permanent place to live, sorting out identity cards, bank accounts, phones, and various bureaucratic feats of translation whilst getting to know our way around and ways of both the city and the places we work. However due to slow work by solicitors drafting our contract and the Chilean immigration peeps, we arrived with seemingly only a couple of days spare. Worry not, said the director, we lied. There’s another week really so go forth and deal with shit! As it turns out we are now nearing the end of the month and have only put in about 10 hours each anyway. Seems almost criminal to going to head office to collect a month’s money for such paltry effort. More on that later.

One of many fountains in Santiago
Chile is so much more than we thought it would be. It was never on our radar and we had always spoke of Ecuador, Peru, Colombia as places to visit. But here we are and we love it.
The country only has something like 17 million people in total so, apart from Santiago, where 7 million people live, the rest is pretty empty. Geographically it is roughly 4,300 km long by 177km wide. On the west is the Pacific Ocean and in the east The Andes. In the north there is Atacama desert and the south, Patagonia. It has been, in effect, an island up until about 30 years ago.

One of many parks in Chile. Possibly the only shot ever taken
without hundreds of couples sprawled on the grass
The people are without doubt the friendliest we have encountered anywhere. I recently read that Chile is the happiest place to live in South America. The locals try to be helpful, they smile and laugh a lot. Kissing is the traditional greeting and the parks are rammed full of canoodling couples who occupy nearly every piece of spare ground there is. 

Collectively they are not shy of talking and seem very respectful of our clumsy Spanish.
The sun shines every day. We have been here for three weeks and only seen clouds for a couple of hours. It’s just coming into Autumn here in the Southern hemisphere and the days are about 30 degrees with the nights dropping to about 18 – 20 degrees. It’s a dry heat so, unlike living in the Far East we don’t have to deal with humidity. It’s perfect. We have aircon but have not used it. Not even needed a fan at the hottest parts of the day.

The city is sprawling with arty, bohemian areas, business areas, huge uber modern shopping malls and heaving markets crammed with stalls and shops selling anything you can want. We walk around smiling the whole time because of the ambiance, heat and sound of Latino music that pervades any walk through the streets. There is definitely a European feel to the place as opposed to an American one.

Chilean wine is cheap. Even the cartons contain good quality reds and whites whilst rum, gin, vodka et al cost about £6.00 a litre. We are fairly frugal in our spending and this is just as well since generally it’s not that cheap compared to other South American countries. We could end up spending a fortune but there are plenty of cheap alternatives to eating out and since we have our own place can cook when we want.

Say no more
Our school has nine branches around the city and is, along with the British Council, the most respected language company in Chile. Everyone has heard of it and our kudos star has risen because of it. We are based in Las Condes – a more upmarket part of the city with tree-lined streets and little parks all about. We have an apartment that is a15 minute walk from our main office, although we do have to travel to a satellite branch on Monday and Wednesday evenings which involves a bus ride. The branch manager is a guy called Ivan. A very charismatic and laid back individual that thinks at 5ft 9ins, I am tall. I am so pleased. He tells us not to worry and eventually we will get more hours but for the moment just enjoy all the time we have off. The other local teachers are lovely and supportive and seem to all do more work than us. I wonder whether as token Brits we are treated a little differently. We will see as time goes on. For now we will struggle through with our 9 hours a week and, whilst not teaching, chat to Ivan or the others, go to the gym or mooch.

The Blender buidling - Apparently we will be
doing business lessons in there
We have joined a gym called Pacific with has 60 branches nationwide and loads in Santiago. For about £15 a month we can go to any of the gyms and do classes or use the machines. This will be a great boon for us as we love being able to work out and, when we are travelling proper, is the one thing that we miss a lot.

I mentioned that we are living in Las Condes. A feat that took some doing. It is one of the most expensive parts of the city so we are pleased that our 50m flat has only set us back about £600 a month – we do get a £200 subsidy from the school but even so…. We have a one bedroom place with a balcony big enough to enjoy sitting on. There are nice gardens at the front of the place with a decent sized pool we can enjoy that is surrounded by loungers. There is a gym, meeting rooms and party room for hire as well so if we are taken with the idea of relaxing or exercise it is only a matter of jumping in the lift. We were a little premature in saying yes to the apartment but that was due to the lack of responses from estate agents. Consequently, when we moved in we were surprised to find it filthy with horrible worn out cutlery, crockery, etc. All is good now though. We chucked out the old and brought in some new and brazened out the situation with the landlord who has agreed to reimburse our costs. In fact here has turned out to be something of a good egg in the end. We are sat in our tower typing this blog and looking at several other blocks facing us. We can see all of humanity from our window. It takes some getting used to since they like to party at the weekend and there is little privacy but we will get used to it, like anything else. It’s a trade-off. This is a most excellent location that allows us access to anywhere in the city via the Metro which is only a 4 minute walk away. We can walk to work and the nearest gym. And, I guess, we feel safe here. The most likely bother we will get will be from a chihuahua with small dog syndrome.

This feeling. This situation. This life. This is why we travel. This is why we keep doing what we do. We can’t wait to eat up Chile. To make Chilean friends, enjoy their company, frequent their bars and dance at fiestas. To explore the city to spend time at the coast or in the mountains walking or simply hear the murmur of voices, catch different smells and eat different foods.

Adios Amigos or as they sometimes say in Chile “Ciao Piscao”.

(Meaning ‘See you fish’ just like, the sadly less popular saying, ‘See you later alligator’.