How does it feel to relocate to another side of the globe? Nadya grew up in the rainy St.-Petersburg, Russia, but now lives in Santiago de Chile. She has already been enjoying Chilean life for 4 months and has agreed to tell us all about this exotic country!
Hi, Nadya! Thanks for agreeing to share your unique experience! First, tell me, how have you decided to move so far away from home and why have you chosen Chile?
My husband and I had been planning to try life in another country for years, but somehow that had never happened. Choosing Chile was accidental, we were checking the visa regulations and discovered that Chile is very immigration-friendly. You can arrive with a tourist visa, then find a job and only then get a work permit. And, well, it’s hot there, an important consideration for somebody from St.Petersburg :)
What were your first impressions of South America?
We first arrived in Buenos Aires and were exhausted with the trans-Atlantic flight and just wanted to get some sleep. We spent three days there adapting to the new time zone and sightseeing and then took a bus to Santiago de Chile. We had crossed the Andes and were approaching Santiago when it hit me. I was looking at some trees from the window, but I didn’t know their names! It was like an epiphany: I’m really in this strange country now, surrounded by something which looked like maples with cones… It felt like landing on Mars, and the barren mountainous landscape only reinforced the feeling.
And how did you find where to live in Santiago?
We lived in a hostel for three days, all the while checking rent advertisements and calling the landlords. We’ve found a room that suited us really fast, I think it was the third room we saw. The choice is a bit limited, especially if you don’t want to end up in a barn with outside bathroom, but renting a room is still much easier than renting a flat. The laws about dealing with non-paying flat lodgers are slack, so landlords are very careful about who they let in. If you call them, instead of offering you to see the flat, they would first ask you where you work, if you’re married, etc… Some even require salary checks for the last three months! Needless to say, they would never take someone without a permanent visa.
You must have met a lot of locals there already! What can you say about them?
The people here are very friendly! They would kiss and hug you in greeting and when saying bye, and they are smiling all the time! But the problem is that because of this national trait I can’t say what they are really feeling. You may think that a dialogue went very well and the person you talked to really likes you and then find out that he was not happy about it at all…. It’s very confusing! I speak Spanish, but Chilean dialect is very specific, so there are also some misunderstandings because of it. But my language skills are getting better!
Everybody here is very helpful, so if you, for example, ask for directions on the street, they will always help you. The only problem is that they will also try to advise you even if they have no idea where your destination is, so you may end up in a completely wrong place. Better use a map! :)
So what about Santiago de Chile? How does the city look like?
Well, it’s difficult to characterise the city in general, as it’s very diverse. There are rich business districts with modern glass skyscrapers and a Starbucks on every corner, and there are poor areas which look more like slums. These are mostly situated in the West. I wouldn’t advise going there at all, it’s not safe! The Eastern part of the city, however, is modern and safe, its highlight is a new 300-m tall tower which was opened only in August. In the center, there are some older colonial building with mouldings, very beautiful! The city is located among high hills, from which you can have a nice view of the city. My favourite place is a park on San Cristóbal Hill – a tough climb up but worth it!
Have you already been outside the city?
Yes of course! We’ve been to the Pacific coast and to the mountains, Chile landscape is so diverse! A nice place on the coast is Viña del Mar, it’s a touristic city famous for its beaches and casinos. It was too cold to swim in November, but we gambled a bit and won enough to have a free dinner :) We’ve been to the mountains close to the city of Vicuña, where Gabriela Mistral, a famous Chilean poet, diplomat, feminist and a Nobel Prize laureate was born. There is a museum dedicated to her and her work. The place itself is a cozy small town surrounded by mountains and vineyards. It’s also a starting point for many trekking paths, and we lived in a camping site nearby with some hikers.
Now let’s get to the last and the most exciting part of the interview: food! :) What can you say about eating in Chile?
Oh food is great here!! If you do grocery shopping at the central market or at one of the numerous migrating one-day farmer markets (“ferias”), you get the freshest fruits and vegetables! Some of the fruits I saw for the first time in my life 4 months ago, but now I buy them quite often, for example, cherimoya. Fish stalls are also very impressive, the variety is so big that sometimes I cannot name half of the fish there… Which doesn’t prevent me from buying it anyway and googling what to do with it later.
If you’re not a fan of eating at home, you can always grab something in the streets. Apart from fast-food pancakes, kebabs and grilled fish, you can also always find fresh orange juice or plastic cans with chopped watermelon, ice and a fork. Chileans are quite fond of buying stuff on the street or having takeout dinners.
One of my favourite dishes here is ceviche, which is a starter made from fresh raw fish covered in lemon juice and some spices. A popular main course is lomo a lo pobre, which is a huge steak with an egg and fried onion on the top, usually served with french fries. The portions in Chile are enormous, and they add avocado pretty much everywhere, even to hamburgers! My husband’s favourite dessert is pie de limón, which is, well, a lemon pie. Nothing too special but very tasty!
I miss some of the habitual European foods, such as cottage cheese, but Chile offers so many great substitutes, that I really can’t complain!
And what about coffee? South America is popular for it… And many other beverages :)
Speaking of drinks, I was not impressed with coffee. You would think that with Brazil right around the corner they would have an eye for good coffee in Chile, but even in cafés, you sometimes get hot water with a packet of instant coffee. Latte a la Chilena is covered with fat cream and is better avoided if you’re on a diet!
The situation is much better with alcoholic drinks. Chilean wine is very good and cheap! And, surprisingly enough, the beer is also decent. As the biggest exporter of bilberries in the region, they produce bilberry bear! Very tasty!