My first 48 hours in Santiago (Part I: The first hour) / by Chris Tyre

Beinvenidos! Welcome to Chile where words don’t end in ‘s’. In Chilean Spanish, if the word ends in the letter ‘s’, the ‘s’ gets dropped when spoken. I don’t recall the “silent s” lesson in Spanish class… But let’s rewind.

I arrived in Santiago late Friday morning. The sun was shining and there was no snow in the forecast unlike the east coast of the US. (Thanks Facebook for flooding my feed with snow pics.) Anyway, I always get super anxious at the airport, similar to the doctor's or dentist's office. I want to get in, get checked, and get out. But the getting out is usually more intimidating than going through customs. Hundreds of taxi drivers shouting in foreign languages, in this case Spanish, trying to flag you down with some make believe taxi rate, and the always charming, “I help you” in broken English usually followed by a toothless smile.

I dodged these taxi drivers and headed to the bus in which I was instructed by my Couchsurfing host to take. By the way, I’m about to Couchsurf in Chile with a guy I met on the Internet. (Stranger danger is only for people in suburbs.) Anyway, I took one step onto the bus and I realized I forgot to go to the ATM. (Sigh.) I go and come back. If you have never seen Chilean peso notes before, they start in the thousands. Makes you feel rich but really confused when you are handed change. Which leads me to lesson one.

I learned in Budapest a few months ago to always double check the zeros on your bills. I paid my fare, which was 1,600 pesos, took a seat in the back of bus, and we took off. I started looking at my change and I realized the bus driver shortchanged me 5,000 pesos. Welcome to South America. Now I’m a pretty laid back guy but getting screwed on my first South American transaction did not sit well with me. While my Spanish is poor I was about to have my first Spanish dispute. Upon arriving at the metro station I put my aviators on, picked up my bags, and approached the driver. I said in my broken yet stern Spanish, “Hola señor. Necesito cinco mil pesos en cambio. Yo tengo diez mil pesos por una boleta. Necesito cinco mil por favor.” He stared at me. I stared back. He handed me the 5,000 peso note and I exhaled a big sigh of relief. He knew what he did but had he said some clever comment I would have had to accept my loss. I smirked as I exited the bus and was reminded of one my favorite Seinfeld quote, “Another game for Milos!”

Onto the metro. Destination: Quinto Normal — A quaint industrial comuna (neighborhood) where I get to call home my first weekend. I took the red line to green line then walk a kilometer. I had read my iPhone notes over and over again for directions. But having never been to Santiago or any South American city before, it was hard to peg the neighborhood as “typical” or not. I strolled passed graffiti filled streets, buildings without doors, and a highly guarded building with a logo that strongly resembled Walmart’s. But finally I made it to my host’s apartment complex.

I was told to contact my host upon arriving at the airport. I was told his parents were going to be at the apartment when I arrive. Well, I didn’t see a SIM card kiosk at the airport and I nearly tried getting on a bus without money so that didn’t happen. So I had to play guess-check-and revise with apartment doors to find his. I knew he his place was 1106 but I didn’t know which building out of the six. I also knew there had to be an elevator, but it was hidden. So I trekked up eleven flights, knock on a door that I hoped would be his. I knocked and stated my name. I received a prompt reply from a woman yelling at me in Spanish from her window. Apparently he didn’t live there. At that point, I was not going to walk up and down eleven more flights of stairs possibly five more times. I had already taken two flights, a bus where I was haggled, two trains and walked a kilometer into a rundown industrial neighborhood. I was going to test my broken Spanish again at reception, or what most people probably would have done initially.

Through gestures and something that resembled Spanish, I was pointed in the right direction by security. Only to find out that neither my host or his parents were home. I had no other option than to wait. Luckily, within ten minutes a little old friendly man with a missing front tooth opened the front door for me. He was my host’s father. I put my bags down in the guest room which could have been mistaken for a closet without hangers. It had a sliding door that would slide shut on its own. Lovely. But hey, he was being gracious enough to let a complete stranger from another country stay with him so I couldn’t complain. If anything, I felt fortunate.

His dad smiled and then opened the patio door. He had an amazing view outside of the Santiago skyline and mountains behind it. There was a clear view of San Cristóbal Hill. While “neblina” or fog covered some of the larger mountains, it was beauty to my eyes. I had left sub zero temps (in Celsius) and now had the summer’s sun beating on my skin. His father led me back inside the kitchen and we shared a language lesson. He knew about as much English as I did Spanish. We headed to the kitchen where he pulled out a spoon and said “cuchara”. I would repeat and then say “spoon” in which he would repeat. I was probably a good thing that my host had a small kitchen and never cooked at home. I’m not sure how much more I brain could have handled besides basic cutlery.

After about an hour he had to go but told me his son would be home around 7pm. That gave me just under seven hours to get connected, get hydrated, and begin exploring Santiago.