In the evening, I grab a mote con huesillo, Chile’s national non-alcoholic drink (or at least, it is marketed as such) and I sit on one of the benches on Plaza las Armas. Most of Santiago makes a similar move at this time of the day—this is a prime spot for free entertainment and there is plenty of seating space. Worst case scenario, if all the benches are taken, just sit on the statue of Pedro de Valdivia—the horse won’t go anywhere, I promise.
There, you can watch kids playing in the fountain, buskers making people frown or smile, preachers, artists, chess players… and if you need anything, like water or coffee, just wait for a vendor to come by or walk to the nearest cart packed with snacks and drinks sitting on ice.
Santiago is crowded. During the day, the pedestrian streets around Plaza las Armas are packed and so are other hot spots in the city, like the Mercado Central and the Alameda. Don’t even get me started on the subway—sometimes, the doors can barely close.
Yet, interactions are smooth and everyone seems happy enough in this giant beehive where the human scale isn’t lost. Navigating the streets is easy if you go with the flow—slower in the pedestrian streets as people wander around to check out brick-and-mortar stores and products displayed on a piece of fabric on the pavement, faster in the business district where people have a specific destination to reach and no time to waste. If you enjoy urban settings, Santiago is easy on you. It feels safe and homey. Sure, it’s dusty and there is no rain to wash the streets clean at the end of the day but garbage doesn’t pile up like in other capital city and overall, it feels pretty clean.
Much like in China, this is an homogeneous population but for newer immigrants from the Caribbean, Venezuela and Colombia. The dominant hair colour is black, average height for both men and women seems to be between 1.55 m and 1.75 m, skin tone range from dark copper to light latte. With their dark, straight hair and black eyes, many Santaiguinos look vaguely Asian, a bit like Mark. Unlike in Brazil or Argentina, there are no blond hair and-blue eyes Germans here.
Some cities are fascinating because of their landmarks, their history or their setting. Santiago does have a bit of everything—great museums, a cultural scene, an unpretentious artsy and intellectual side… but I think I like the city because of its people.
Santaiguinos bring the city to life. They are its art and soul.