Santiago - 11th July 2008
15.08.2008 7 °C
The more I lost myself in the surrounding streets, the more I looked around. The city was nice. Neat. Orderly. And commercial. Every type of business from banks to pharmacies, to bookshops, so many bookshops, large supermarkets were all around me. And they were all big. With glass fronts, modern interiors.
Santiago is familiar on first impressions and second impressions.
And if you’re from Europe, you really do occasionally wonder where exactly in Europe you’ve just landed. Only the names of the shops were different. Replace M&S with El-Tit (I’m serious!). Replace Carrefour in mainland Europe with a chain called Jumbo in Chile.
Thankfully I didn’t see a Starbucks. God is good. He didn’t put one in my way that first day which was nice of him.
In the next few hours, I bought one of my favourite books called “The Alchemist” in Spanish. The lead character in the book, funnily enough is called Santiago. Every time I read Paulo Cohello’s 205 page masterpiece, I always find something different. It’s like it was written especially for me. It’s a magic book. I do believe this!
Anyway, I managed to haggle the price down from 7,500 pesos to 6,800 pesos (around £6.80). I also spent some time chatting in Spanish to shopkeepers who clearly had great pride in their city. As is normal, wherever I travel, they were ar more interested in my origins than the fact that I was born in London. Whenever I told anyone, my ancestry is Indian, I try to judge their response.
In Spain, more often than not, I get an “aaah si? Me encanta India” followed by how much they would love to go....
In Chile, the reaction I got thus far is of mild interest but is not met with anything like the enthusiasm there is in Spain. Instead the reaction is one of bemusement. It is probably unusual for the everyday Chilean to be met with an Indian speaking his language.
Next I tried the Metro system. It's very impressive. Far more impressive than the London Underground. The trains were are really clean, modern and quick. Ticketing works through a card called BIP. It's the Oyster system basically. 5,000 pesos bought me 10 single journeys which is 50p per trip. Not bad eh?
I made 2 observations about El Metro
1) Its always busy. At 3.30pm or 11pm at night.
2) Its almost identical to Barcelona's Metro system. From the way the lines are labelled to the design of the station layout. You could I'm pretty sure lift the Barcelona Metro system and transplant it into Santiago and few would immediately notice.
Its uncanny. Anyway it's a damn good metro and I'm sure I'll use up my "diez viajes" before my time is up.
All these similarities with a European city were starting to take their toll on myneed to experience something diferent. I had to get out of Santiago which was certainly not my intention before I arrived, but seeing as I would return in a few days, it made a lot of sense.
I took my rucksack, unopened from my bed and hopped on to a bus headed south towards a volcanic town called Pucon.
My Lonely Planet guide (I am at the end of the day - a tourist) told me Pucon is famous for 2 things - A volcano (Volcan Villaricca) and some very nice natural lakes. I was also informed that "neighbouring" Pucon was only 11 hours away! That's like driving to Norway from London! Madness. Its times like this that you either appreciate or are dismayed at the size of the UK. It really is tiny compared to other countries. 12-20 hour train/bus rides are commonplace here, as they are in India, the US, Australia etc.
I left Santiago happily at 10pm and arrived in Pucon the next day at around 9am when...