Strange but True Cultural Preference in the Southern Cone

They have really thick window shades to block the sun when you go to bed / wake up in the morning.

As someone who prefers a very dark bedroom when sleeping, I loved this about Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay. When I stayed at people’s homes, they all had (at times fancy) window shades that kept the bedroom unusually dark.

Always fascinating how these cultural preferences evolve…

Myths About Chile

A guy I met traveling, Pinaki, begins a post on his own travel blog with: "I'm sorry Chile. I really am." He goes on to discuss all the misconceptions he had with Chile before arriving. The bottom line for Pinaki is that Chile exceeded expectations.

I had high expectations for Chile, and they were met, so while the way my thinking evolved was different, we ended up at the same place: we both love Chile.

Some myths about Chile:

It’s boring. This is most common. I'm not sure what this means. It's true that Chile is socially conservative. Divorce only recently became legal. The Catholic church has a strong grip on everything. Okay. Fine. It's also less cosmopolitan than Argentina. Agreed. But there's still plenty of "action" in Chile, plenty of culture and excitement and dancing and craziness. And an entrepreneurial people who work hard and play by the rules.

It’s expensive. After Brazil, Chile is the most expensive country in South America. This is true. Still, I had several USD $5 meals, and a metro ticket will cost less than USD $1. So it still felt much cheaper than the States. And of course with the expensiveness you get the safety and stability that a Peru or Bolivia or Ecuador can never provide.

The people aren’t beautiful. Whatever. It’s true the women don't blow your socks off and the men…well, let’s just say that mullets must be an acquired taste. But there are enough pretty people. And who do you think YOU are anyway, a model?

You can't understand their Spanish. They talk quickly. They eat the ends of words. They have lingo. But even me in all my Spanish amateurishness could get around alright, and I'm sure in a month or two's time I could understand and speak Chilean Spanish well enough.

Valparaiso, Chile



Valparaiso was perhaps my favorite city of my South America trip.

First, it's only a two hour bus ride from Santiago, so easily accessible from a major metro area.

Second, it's physical set-up resembles San Francisco in its hills! There's are hills filled with colorful houses (and run-down shacks, alas) that sit atop the main town area bustling below.

Third, there's an artistic, laid-back vibe that seems authentic to the place and very accessible. I'd analogize it to Carmel or Monterey, California.

Walking the streets of Valpo, staring up at the hills, staring out at the water, eating some ice cream while sitting in a park: it's all just lovely lovely lovely.

I stayed up in the hills, which, come sunset, creates an awesomely tranquil and romantic setting to look out over the water and boats. The one downside to staying in the hills is that restaurant options are limited — best to explore the downtown area by day, and eat dinner there, before retreating up for nighttime.

Santiago, Chile


Chile is the Switzerland of Latin America. Chile is the Japan of the Southern Cone. Santiago is Zurich. Santiago is Tokyo. Valparaiso is St. Gallen. Valparaiso is Kyoto.

OK. This might be stretching it. Chile is still a developing country, with all that that entails. But it is striking to arrive in the country after time in Argentina and Uruguay — it feels like arriving in Hong Kong or Japan after time spent in China and India. (Granted the contrast is not as stark; but then, nothing compares in intensity to India.)

The Santiago airport is clean and well-signed, and the personnel are helpful and professional. I got in a taxi at the airport, and he looked at my address, conferred with a colleague about the best route, then called the office en route to double check directions. The highways were exceedingly well lit (it was night time) and all traffic laws were obeyed to the T.

I spent the night with a friend in Vitacura, a tony neighborhood in the north of Santiago. The next morning I went for a run in this Atherton-style hood. The air was crisp and cool and the Andes mountains served as an unmatchable backdrop. (Think: Boulder Flatirons, except grander.) Again I noted how everyone obeyed crosswalk signs and how well marked everything was.

The next night L, D, and I shared a couple bottles of Chilean wine and several plates of tapas at a hip, loud wine bar (that turns into a dance club at midnight). Spanish was the common denominator, so I got plenty of practice. Wine always loosens the tongue as well, especially when it’s a foreign language.

Vitacura is not the real Santiago, so I spent the next six nights in an apartment in Barrio Brasil, a neighborhood near the center of town that’s full of students and nightlife and restaurants. It was an ideal location and the apartment set-up worked well as it allowed me to buy some groceries/food.

I took the same approach to Santiago as I did in Buenos Aires: walk around, more or less randomly. There was plenty to see, including ample mullets (the fashion choice of most Chilean young men), spontaneous dance protests in streets, school children, and more. I walked to the zoo and metropolitan park and to get there I had to walk through the Palestinian neighborhood. I know this because a guy came up and asked if I needed help (it’s happened three times so far in Chile; didn’t happen in Argentina or Uruguay) and he told me there are 70,000 Palestinians living in Santiago.

Food in Santiago is still heavily meat-based but not as much as in Argentina and Uruguay. Churrascos are the go-to. “Completos” are just hot dogs but with loads of sauces on top. The produce and fish are tasty, thanks to Chile’s coastal location.

The Santiago metro is the best I’ve ever used, anywhere (Japan is probably better, but again, Japan is a separate category). The trains come every two minutes or so; there are a million people standing around to help you through every stage; queues are formed and respected; the trains are trash-free and well-signed; and the coverage of the subway/metro is vast. You can get anywhere on the subway, it seemed cheap, and very user-friendly.

Pollution in the city? Yes, it’s there, and the smog and so forth is as advertised. But it wasn’t as oppressive as I expected. Some told me it would be impossible to run outside due to smog. Not so.

The city is segregated by class and in the nicer neighborhoods there isn’t much poverty to see or deal with. The wealthier suburbs are incredibly American-looking. Similar looking homes, trimmed grass lawns in front, etc. I was told that American ex-pats can live in one of these suburbs and feel right at home.

Bottom Line on Santiago: I love it.

Culture of Intelligence in Chile

In metro stations there are bookshops and what appear to be mini-libraries. In Plaza de Armas there are at least 30 chess tables set up and lots of businesspeople wearing suits competing over their lunch hour. People read on the subway. Just three signs of an overall culture of intelligence that I notice in Chile.

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