Oh Santiago, it wasn’t (completely) your fault.
I really wanted to like you. You seemed like the sleeker, moderner cousin to Buenos Aires. Chile has the best economy in South America, and you struck me as a city that really had itself together. Something about the name, Santiago, is so beautiful to me. If we’d really hit it off maybe I would have named a cat after you someday.
It wasn’t to be though.
Some cities you immediately connect with. You’re taken by their beauty, or energy or even their unique grittiness. Santiago wasn’t one of those cities. Not for me, and not for Mike. Try as I might I couldn’t get a handle on this enormous city (population 5.5 million, nearly twice as many people as in Buenos Aires).
It was mostly our fault. We had ten whole days to spend in Santiago, a huge amount of time to really get to know the city, and we completely squandered it. April is mid-fall in Chile and the weather was cold and damp. First Mike got a terrible cold, then I did. We spent the majority of those ten days huddled in our rental apartment, sniffling and shotgunning orange juice.
Cold, sick and more than ready to go home after over six months abroad, it was hard to get enthusiastic about sightseeing. Still, Santiago, when we did manage to pull ourselves out and explore you didn’t do much to sell yourself. It was still cold and now a thick brown smug hung in the air that gave me flashbacks to my constant cough in China. The Mapocho river trickled through the city, a sluggish brown color. All around was gray and gritty. I went back to our apartment and my new hobby of sniffling under the covers.
Things did improve from there though. We had a couple of really nice, sunny days where we wandered the city without much of an agenda. We ate brilliant yellow paella at the fish market and twice visited the most delicious sushi restaurant of my life (more on that later). We shopped in the crafts market for lapis lazuli (only mined in Chile and Afghanistan). We took a day trip to pretty Valparaiso. We even climbed St. Lucia hill for a sparkling view of the Andes which tower over the city.
Clearly Santiago, you have a lot to offer which I completely missed out on. I don’t feel nearly as bad about it as I probably should though.
In the past I would have beat myself up over screwing up a city like this. On my trip through Asia last year I was constantly worried that I wasn’t taking advantage of my travels to the fullest. I guilted myself quite a lot when I wasn’t feeling enthusiastic. Things have changed since then, I am much more forgiving now. Sometimes you just can’t connect with a city and that’s okay. Sometimes you just don’t have the energy, and that’s not your fault.
I know I will return to Chile someday. I want to see the Atacama Desert, Easter Island, the lake district and, of course, Patagonia. I’m sure between all that I’ll get another stab at Santiago. When I do I’ll be sure to pop a lot of vitamin C beforehand.
Have you ever visited somewhere you just couldn’t connect with?