I’m on a rollercoaster of emotions when I arrive in Santiago, after the border crossing. I love this city, but I’ve never experienced it alone even if I entertained fantasies about moving here—“be realistic, Juliette!” “Yes, Feng…”.
It’s 40⁰C, the taxi driver is talking way too fast and once again, I realize that even though I know the city very well, it’s going to take me a bit of time to adjust to Chile.
“I’m from Argentina,” the taxi driver says apropos of nothing, as if he wanted to confuse me even more because I’m just coming from Mendoza, but I did cross the Andes, didn’t I? “Big country, Argentina. But Brazil is bigger.”
I nod politely.
“Which country is bigger, Canada or Brazil?”
“Canada,” I reply, absentmindedly.
“Huh. I think it’s Brazil.”
“I’m pretty sure it’s Canada, second after Russia.”
“How about China? That’s big. Argentina too.”
It’s not a fucking contest and frankly, I don’t give a damn. I’m not being patriotic, it’s just a fact that Canada is the second-largest country.
“Oh well, I don’t know.”
“Brazil is definitely bigger.”
I feel like I’m chatting with Mark, one of those conversations where logic doesn’t matter.
Then he starts listing the smallest countries—Uruguay, Switzerland, Panama…
“Liechtenstein,” I pip in.
Why did I even say that? He frowns, as if I was cheating playing a game I didn’t ask to play. Never mind.
It takes the driver a few attempts to find my street but he finally drops me off in front of the studio I rented for a few days. I found it on Expedia but I have to contact the owner to get the codes for the front door and I don’t have a phone. Admitting you don’t have a phone—and that you’re not on WhatsApp—is the tricky part, but the doorman finally lends me his and I’m able to get the apartment number and codes.
I’m hot, exhausted and I feel I’m about to cry even though there’s absolutely nothing wrong. I mean, I made it, I’m in Santiago, the studio looks nice, why am I so weak?
I hate these few hours or days when you’re both feeling exciting to be in a new place, yet completely confused and out of sync with locals. When I’m with Feng, it’s easier, we can pretend it’s us against the world and do things our way until we catch up with local customs. But when I’m by myself, I stand out—without a teammate, I have to adapt faster. No one knows I’m exhausted because I spent the day on the bus, that I’m fumbling around my bag for change because I still have Argentinian pesos in my wallet, that inconveniently, by law, as of today, no plastic bags can be given in stores anymore and I’m the only one who doesn’t know it (how am I supposed to carry everything back to the studio?).
I start tearing up walking by Mark’s pizza place, exactly where, a year ago, he was crying because reasons (parental veto on playing video games at the Internet café, I believe). Then I cheer up when I walk by two guys drumming and the lively Calle Catedral. I smile when I see some of the places I used to go to, I get lost in a neighbourhood I don’t know.
I’m happy to be here, yet I’m wondering what the hell am I doing here.
It’s hot, very very hot, even for Santiago. It’s different than in Argentina. I can’t explain it, can’t pinpoint it, but people look different and act differently, which is normal because it’s a fucking different country, but for me, the transition was too fast—I was on one side of the Andes this morning and I’m on the other this afternoon.
Sunset is later in Chile. Everything is late too, and so am I. It’s 10 p.m. and I’m queuing at the supermarket—this time with a reusable bag—along with half of the population of Santiago who’ve just remembered the supermarket closes at 10 p.m. like it does every day.
I need to eat and sleep. I’ll be okay tomorrow.