The people of Santiago remind Laura Hubbard a lot of New Zealanders.
Why did you move to the city?
A job came up in the Santiago office of my company and my boyfriend and I thought it would be an adventure to spend a year in Chile and a great chance to learn Spanish.
What do you do there?
I work in marketing for a company that sells mining explosives.
What do you like or dislike about life in Santiago?
The people here are lovely and remind me a lot of New Zealanders, they are friendly, patient and welcoming but also shy. There are even some traditions here that are strangely similar to home; in the south they cook a traditional dish in the ground just like a hangi. Santiago is close to the Andes, which makes for very handy skifields in winter, yet we are just 1 hours from the coast and Valparaiso, an interesting old port city.
Coming from New Zealand, I am not used to the terrible smog that blankets the city during winter. Chile is changing to be a more multicultural country after a long period of introversion, however, for now, I really stand out here, which can be a pain.
How does the cost of living compare to New Zealand?
I was surprised to find that the cost of living here is similar to New Zealand. Wine, meat and fresh fruit are much cheaper here, which keeps us happy.
What do you do on weekends?
Our weekends are mostly the same here, though we are forever on the hunt for a source of decent coffee. In the summer the bars of Pio Nono, in bohemian Bellavista, are pumping and are a great way to spend an afternoon drinking beer and talking to street-hawkers (just watch your bag).
What do you think of the food?
Chilean food can often be a bit heavy on the mayonnaise for my liking, but the coal-barbecued steaks that are popular here are the best I have ever had. While pisco sours is the national cocktail for a reason, during September the only drink to have is a lethal terremoto (earthquake in Spanish) to celebrate Chilean independence. Made with fermented wine and sorbet they are dangerously easy to drink.
What's the best way to get around the city?
The metro is fantastic, except in rush hour in summer when it is stiflingly hot. Taxis are handy and cheap, but you will have an easier time if you can speak a bit of Spanish.
What's the shopping like?
Much the same as home in terms of selection and prices, however I love having Zara, Mango and H&M stores nearby.
What's the nightlife like?
In classic Spanish style, everyone runs a couple of hours late for social events, so dinners usually start at about 9pm and nightclubs get busy around 1am, so be prepared for a late night.
What is your favourite part of the city?
I love to walk around Lastarria, a beautiful arty area near the central city. Take a walk up the Santa Lucia hill and climb the castle for a great view before lunch at one of the fantastic restaurants nearby. Check out the market stalls and surrounding shops selling clothing by local designers (Hall Central is a good spot). Next, take a walk over to the Bellas Artes museum, the magnificent building is almost better than the art inside.
What time of year is best to visit?
Chile comes alive in September for the huge Independence day celebration on the 18th, which is an amazing experience. During the week-long party, Santiago throws off its serious facade and everyone visits big fondas (fairs) to eat, drink terremotos and dance the national dance, the cueca.
What's your must-do thing for visitors?
Chile is a beautiful and diverse country. The Patagonia region in the south is definitely worth a visit, it looks like New Zealand but on a much larger scale. If you are interested in history I would highly recommend the sad but well put together Museo de la Memoria, the human rights museum that documents the Pinochet dictatorship.
What are your top tips for tourists?
Definitely try to learn some basic phrases in Spanish before you arrive as most people do not speak English. Santiaguinos always want to look after tourists, but they can come on a bit strong about safety precautions. If you follow common sense then Santiago is a very safe place.
How easy is it for you to get back to New Zealand?
It is great having a direct 11-hour flight between Santiago and Auckland, but the 16-hour time difference makes it feel much further!
If you know an expat who wants to share inside knowledge on their home away from home, email firstname.lastname@example.org with Expat in the subject line.
- Sunday Star Times