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“Santiago is just another big city.”
That’s what everyone would tell me when they said they went for just a night or two before moving on or skipped it altogether. “It’s just another big city,” they’d say. “It’s boring,” they’d say.
But I had already decided that Santiago would be where I’d spend my last ten days in Chile, in South America. I was nervous. People made me nervous. Everyone had me thinking that I was making the wrong choice. Maybe I should have decided to spend more time in Valle de Elqui. Maybe I should have decided to go down south. Or cut over to Argentina.
But I stuck with my plan figuring that, if nothing else, I could spend my last week relaxing in bed with Netflix, going on day tours, or working.
When I got to Santiago, with ten days ahead of me I realized that yes, Santiago is just another big city…
Santiago is just another big city with markets.
Lots of markets. Markets full of fresh fish and meat and fruits and vegetables. Markets where you could stop at a restaurant for lunch or pick up something to make later, for dinner.
Santiago is just another big city where those who have passed are remembered.
Where a wife might leave her husband beer. Where a family might celebrate a child’s birthday, year after year, even if that child only lived a few days.
Santiago is just another big city that hosts Lollapalooza.
Because we all know cities that host Lollapalooza are awful. Just awful.
Santiago is just another big city with a Plaza de Armas.
I don’t remember where I was or who I was with, but someone somewhere on this trip said at some point, “it’s not a city in South America without a Plaza de Armas.” And that is a pretty true statement.
Of course, I’m only guessing here that Santiago has a nice one. Because it was under construction. Along with the cathedral.
Santiago is just another big city with really good food.
One of the best things about Chile is that you’re never really that far from the coast. So seafood is everywhere and some of their best dishes revolve around seafood. And while most of the street food consisted of massive hot dogs topped with everything, the sopaipillas, fried pumpkin pastries topped with spicy salsa, are delicious snacks.
Ceviche. Because, ceviche.
Pastel de Jaibas — crab casserole.
Caldillo De Congrio — eel soup.
Sushi. Which I know is not Chilean. But it’s all I’ve been craving lately. And, hello, fresh seafood.
Sopapilla topped with spicy salsa.
Santiago is just another big city where the national drink contains pineapple ice cream.
The Terremoto, so named because of Chile’s tendancy towards earthquakes, is a drink made of a white wine, grenadine, sometimes pisco, and a scoop of pineapple ice-cream. And it will fuck you up. It will fuck you up…
Santiago is just another big city with a lot of street art.
Maybe not as much as nearby Valparaiso. But enough.
Santiago is just another big city filled with people with pink or purple or blue hair.
Not everyone. But I saw a lot of people with weird hair colors. And people with weird hair colors are awesome, right?
Santiago is just another big city where you can visit Paris and London in an afternoon.
At least on streets named after Paris and London…
Santiago is just another big city where you can easily take a wine tour.
There are plenty to choose from. But please note: a wine tour is not fun the day after you’ve had a couple of those terremotos…
Santiago is just another big city where you can climb to the top of two hills.
There’s Santa Lucía Hill…
…and San Cristóbal Hill.
Santiago is just another big city where people stop you on the street and ask you to take their photo.
I could be all Humans of Santiago. Except my Spanish isn’t good enough to ask people what their saddest moment is.
Santiago is just another big city where you can go salsa dancing.
And salsa dancing is the best.
Santiago is just another big city where they block of the streets on Sunday mornings.
So cyclists can take over.
Santiago is just another big city with a rich, interesting, sometimes horrifying recent history.
On September 11, 1973, a coup d’état in Santiago left president Salvador Allende Gossens dead (of apparent, and contested, suicide), leading way for Army General Augusto Pinochet to take over. His dictatorship lasted for many years until a plebiscite in 1988, in which citizens could vote “yes” to allowing him another term or “no” for him to be rejected. The “no” vote won with 56% of the vote, and Chile was free to find a new president.
I’d heard the story many times over my days in Santiago. But it wasn’t until I was sitting in the Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos, Santiago’s Human Rights Museum, watching a video of their 1988 national election that it hit me how recent this all was. The political commercials that played on repeat were very much 80s, very much on television, and very much in color. Something about that triggered something in me. Like you’re so used to reading things in text books, seeing all these old photos in black and white. But seeing those commercials made it all seem so recent, just like seeing videos of victims of the dictatorship’s detention centers speak out made it all too real.
If I had arrived in Santiago first I would have probably stuck to my original plan to stay somewhere for three months. Unfortunately, I arrived there last, just ten days before my flight out of South America. It was a place so many people skipped and so many people didn’t like. It was, maybe, just another big city. But it was a city I could see myself in.
I cried walking through a park my last night. Because there are so many places I see myself living. I want to live in Santiago. I want to live in New York. I want to study salsa in Cali. Flamenco in Spain. Tango in Argentina. I want to go back to Chiang Mai. I want to go to Africa, Australia, Japan. I cried because I want to fall in love. I want to get married. But I fear I will never find a man who wants the same things in life that I want. Because I want too many things. Because I want everything. Because I don’t know what I want. I cried because my life is about to take a drastic turn. And while I’m still not sure if it’s what I want. I know it’s what I need. And so, as I left South America I just had to keep reminding myself of my mantra:
I can have it all. Just not all at once. Just not all right now.