On Friday afternoon I took off for Jorge Newbery Domestic Airport in Buenos Aires to take my afternoon flight to Santiago, Chile. Excitedly I got to the airport early in the event of having any trouble with my passport, because if you remember, I hadn’t left the country in almost a year. The 90 day tourist stamp had long since expired, but the reason I stayed is because my dual citizenship allows me to be here, and though I have papers in process, I wasn’t sure how it would pan out. Fortunately it went smoothly, and aside from an hour delay in the small International section, we were soon flying over the pampas and eventually over the sharp and beautiful Andes Mountains.
It was a clear day with a bright blue sky and I could see all across to the northern edge of the Andes chain, even sighting Mt. Aconcagua, the highest peak outside of the Himalayas and the highest peak in all of the Americas. It was stunningly enormous, and even though I saw plenty of mountains and volcanoes in my travels through Ecuador and Peru, it was magnificent. This was the first time I’d been traveling since January, and it’s amazing how even just a little bit of travel can bring you back from a slump.
Landing in Santiago, my friend Nicole and her mom were waiting for me on the other side. It was the first time we’d seen each other in over a year and a half but we found each other right away. We drove to their house in the Las Condes neighborhood of the city, one of the nicest sections of town. It’s amazing how Santiago sits on the foothills of the Andes, yet because of so much smog you don’t see the mountains with clarity even on a bright and sunny day. I was glad to be back in Santiago with a friend, and the first surprise was a house party in my honor that night.
First and foremost, we went to the supermarket for some supplies and I was able to pick up mote con huesillo, a sweet drink I loved the first time I visited. The sugary, iced tea-like refreshment has bits of cornmeal and peach. Nicole’s family went above and beyond for me, and I’m still stunned with how well I was treated there. A feast of specialty foods like Chilean ceviche, salmon and gourmet pizza were brought out as her friends showed up throughout the night. At first I was slightly lost among the Chilean dialect and slang, so from time to time her friends had to dumb it down a bit and speak in slow Spanish. I remember the first time visiting Chile, it took me about a week before I understood anything. Now, with so much more Spanish experience, it only took me a few hours to get the hook.
The best part of the night was the sense of feeling completely welcomed immediately. I was immediately joking around with her friends as if they were my own, which is something that has been harder to do here in Argentina. Out on the terrace, shivering in the night, we could see the outline of the Andean peaks and the orange lights all over the city. I had to realize quickly how much more I liked Santiago than Buenos Aires, even with just a short amount of time and limited scope. The quick reasons:
Santiago has organized streets with good public transportation, both in buses and metro. The highway system is impeccable, resembling a system you would find in the United States or Europe. This of course took years to form, but it’s obviously paid off well. I though about Buenos Aires’ cracked streets filled with dog crap, spotty public transportation and limited metro, and the traffic nightmares. For me anyway, just having the mountains in your line of sight makes any other problem acceptable. But Buenos Aires is just flat and with no natural attractions. Santiago’s architecture is decidedly modern and they are currently building what will be the tallest skyscraper in Latin America. Buenos Aires’ architecture is old and decrepit, which could be chalked up to Old World charm if they were actually 500 year old buildings, but they were built in the 20th century for the most part. To put it short, I was beginning to wonder about how I could stay in Santiago.
Celebrating long into the night, we discussed everything from politics and Pinochet to shopping in the United States. Eventually the night faded down and we went to bed, needing rest for the big day ahead: off to Chilean Wine Country.