As I make my way around the world traveling with a group of 24 amazing souls, I'm dedicating this series to capturing my first initial impressions during my first week in a particular city. Then again will reflect on "lasting impressions" bookended at the close of each month along this journey. All will encompass observations and first-hand experiences of the city, culture, people, and vibes.
This is just one way I want to document these fleeting moments as I absorb the newness and uniqueness each city holds from the lens of yours truly.
📍Santiago, Chile - The capital of Chile
Photo courtesy of @gebner
In no particular order, here are 13 of my top first impressions!
1. The pigeons are fat. 🐦I say that in the most endearing way. I sort of have this weird connection with birds which hasn't fully manifested into the "bird lady" phase yet - but one thing I noticed right away was that the pigeons here are plump and pretty IMO. I adore them and die of cuteness every time I pass them waddling and pecking about. I admit I have the overwhelming urge to pick one up and give it a quick squeeze. I guess they just get to make me smile and joy-laugh for now but I'm secretly obsessed with them. Just look at these chunkers!! Photos were taken at the beautiful Parque Forestal after a morning run.
2. Recycling is major here ♻️🙌♻️YESSSS. Due to their positioning in the valley with mountains surrounding them, they don't have a lot of ventilation so the city is keen on reducing waste. Infact they've banned plastic shopping bags!!! That makes my heart sound trumpets every time I think about it. The US of all countries could learn from this and needs to jump on enforcing this policy asap.
Along those same lines the first Chileanism I experienced happened right after touching down in this beautiful city. Note to travelers: 🚫🚽DO NOT FLUSH TOILET PAPER. 🚫🚽This is the case in every bathroom I've been in this city.
3. Empanadas everywhere. 🥟🥟🥟Literally, everywhere. Of all sizes and of all kinds. If it's not official already it's given me the impression they are the national food. I really tried to get into them by trying a few different flavors, but I have to concede, they're just not for me. BUT to make up for it, avocados are so abundant here which I love, love, LOVE. They're offered commonly in dishes in general and requesting guacamole at restaurants won't get you a funny look from the waiter/waitress - even if it's not offered on the menu. :)
4. People of Santiago do not tend to speak English. 🗣️"Habla Ingles?" is usually followed up with "Un poco." - which means "a little." On top of the fact that they responded in Español kinda makes that point abundantly clear. Not that I'm implying there is anything negative about that, it is simply a true statement and relevant bit of info I think others could benefit from to set expectations when planning a visit.
Communicating for food orders or at stores has created a unique challenge for me. It's provided a strong opportunity to ramp up on my Spanish speaking skills which kicked in at a rapid rate, mainly for survival.
It's amazing how quickly our minds will assimilate language when you're forced to speak and understand it for basic necessities. Getting through communication on lunch orders and checkout lines at the grocery store are always mini victories that make the outcome that much more rewarding.
5. Chileans are community-centric and value equal rights. 🏳️🌈They're also very passionate people who feel the necessity to express themselves through demonstrations, marches, etc. I've seen two so far in the past week I've been here.
I've been told the marches are generally passive but on occasion can get a little heated. Here's a rainbow wall mural I got to enjoy for a week just outside my window!! Taken the day of the eclipse, actually :)
6. The most talented pickpocketers reside in South America. 🦹 (Please note: this is an unofficial statement that is based on first-hand observations and anecdotal information passed on to me.)
I was warned about this in advance my many, many, many people. From friends who have lived in or visited the region as well as by the locals themselves.
The general consensus: just be smart about your surroundings and belongings.
It's funny to think I really have no fear about traveling or being in places I don't know the native language—not to mention thousands of other variables I cannot control. My only vital concern now and leading up to my arrival was the paranoia of pickpocketers.
Heeding all the advice I've received, I cracked down on my efforts to avoid this at all costs in hopes of creating a bubble of immunity. I know I already stand out with blonde hair and eccentric clothing, so my list has included the following:
- Be hyper-aware of my belongings esp walking in pedestrian traffic.
- I have things on lock. Meaning, nothing in outside backpack pockets (or nothing valuable anyway).
- Phone in front pocket or double fisting it while holding close to my torso. Additionally, when I know I'll be needing to use it for directions I'll be sure to have my earbuds plugged in to create a little leash if you will. I feel like this prevents it from getting snatched up if it's connected to you. Not to mention if a thief is bold enough to grab and snap it out, it creates a millisecond delay from resistance and will be easier to spot them as you will be pulled in their direction.
- Walking fast and limiting to only daylight hours whenever possible. Powerwalking is my natural speed so this is not a problem for me. :)
- Limiting alcohol consumption when going out to a level I'm still coherent and aware (since they primarily target tourists and drunk people).
If I go out at night, I'm prepared to tape my phone to my hand. Kidding...well maybe. We'll see. So far 2 other friends have gotten phones snatched up in 7 days so this is a real thing, people!
As they say, the only way to catch a thief is to think like a thief, and I am determined with all my will to outsmart them :) Fingers crosssssssed. 🤞🤞🤞
7. Salads and juices are not a local thing. 🥗I'm not sure the vegetarian and vegan diet is very prominent here, which may be due to the benefit of localization of their food source for the most part. I wonder if this has ensured they haven't been infected by pesticides, growth hormones, and other negative impacts the mass consumer food industry poses on American bodies.
Meats, carbs, sweets, and frozen novelties are copious in all directions, everywhere. Not so much with the leafy greens and if you order a salad it may appear they threw in with the best of intentions, all that was available in the kitchen or bar that remotely was considered a vegetable.
Moving on to salad dressings, what is offered is olive oil, vinegar, and sometimes a lemon to squeeze. In tandem with that, ranch dressing is pretty much non-existent despite my desperate cravings. HA. Any close comparisons are mildly flavored at best. It's not a bad thing at all...just interesting to compare and contrast to the love addiction I developed around ranch dressing.
The food here is mostly flavored naturally with real ingredients and accented with seasoning - at least that's what I'm picking up on my palette. I can respect they approach their cuisine from that standpoint. Another interesting fact, pepper is not so often available or only upon special request.
8. Street fleets!! (As in street-mini-flea-markets). At least, that's what I call them. Local vendors hit the streets to sell their products and food to earn a living. They drop blankets on the sidewalk to spread out items for sale. Food vendors sit behind their simple setups of pop-up coolers, signs, and menus on cardboard. The food is prepared in the kitchens of their very own homes, which makes it special and authentic. Yet at the same time, one could wonder about the sanitary conditions it was made in, HA. Nonetheless, because it's made by hand and small batch from a level of creativity many talented chefs aren't able to bring to big storefronts....IT'S SOOOOO GOOOOOOOOD.
9. Things here in Santiago are relatively expensive. 💰No one has been able to come up with a logical answer off hand—but it is definitely a curious thing. To make up for it, decent wine here is super cheap and easy to find.
10. The wine is incredible. 🍷So pure and flavorful. A fellow remote said she typically gets headaches from red wine in the states and had no problem here whatsoever. There's some magic in those delicious grapes for sure. Salud!
Photo courtesy of @aroadkestraveled
11. Cafés, cafés, cafés. Cute and delicious each in their own way. Major food chains are here but comprised of MAYBE 5% of all the restaurants I've seen. The rest is left to unique and tasty small restaurants aligned on the streets and street corners. Here's a picture taken in the heart of a charming cobblestone-like neighborhood bustling with life and featuring the massive "Chewbacca house," as I call it. :)
Photo courtesy of @aroadkestraveled
12. A fish out of water. 😳With blonde hair, space leggings, rainbow shades, silver boots, and Star Seed swag, I tend to stand out against the darker features of the crowds cloaked in their dark winter wardrobe. HA. At the risk of sounding narcissistic, my foreign features and eccentric wardrobe have gotten some looks and rubberneckers by passers-by needless to say.
For a brief moment, I wondered if I should conform to the locals like some of my smart new friends for the sake of security, safety, and the innate desire "fit in." But ultimately, I have chosen to be me at all costs and shine my light brighter. Otherwise, what's the point?
Photo courtesy of @juliarose_photos
13. Street dogssssssss!!! 🐕🐕🐕The most heartwarming and unexpected encounters as you're walking or running around are the street dogs! :) Notice I did not say "stray dogs" because they do not appear to be lost or neglected. They're usually found roaming around in parks and at random inner city spots. Most of these canine cuties are taken care of by the community. This is what I'm told by our local expert who told us the shirts they have on their body indicates that a community is looking after them. The true Chilean community-centric way!
Here's a picture of a set of dog houses nestled in a park I was running in one day along with a shot of me taking in some puppy time with a sweet pooch who escorted us all the way up the San Cristobal Hill.
Doggie photo courtesy of @ruben305rosado
That's it for my initial impressions of this city. I look forward to seeing what lasting impressions this city leaves on my heart and those around me. Stay tuned for my wrap up of this city adventure at the end of the month. Ciao for now!