“You know, I think Santiago is my favorite city I’ve been to yet.” Daniel says as we walk back to our house from lunch at the market one day. Our tummies are happy and full and we take turns sipping on a jugo natural, or fresh juice, just blended 3 minutes ago. An addiction that must be fueled daily.
“Hmm really? But you’ve been to Paris and you love Berlin and Prague.”
“Yeah, I do. But I really see us living here. Everywhere else was missing something. But Santiago has it all.”
I contemplate this on the rest of the walk back. We’ve been here for exactly a month now. How the time has flown by! But at the same time, it’s been good and slow, and we’ve settled into a comfortable little life. It’s amazing how even a little bit of time, how lingering just a little bit longer at a place, will breed routine.
The truth is, I was never too excited about Santiago (it was Daniel’s dream, not mine). I never even did too much research, and so I came here with absolutely zero expectations.
I didn’t hide the fact that I experienced a wave of panic upon arrival, afraid that I couldn’t last a month in the dirty, gritty city. But something changed along the way.
I’ve realized that despite the fact that we are on the other side of the world, and where we don’t speak the language, I’ve never felt out of place here. Santiago has felt like home almost immediately. And after a month here, even the foreign sounds of Spanish constantly buzzing around no longer sound foreign, (even though I still don’t understand most things. Note to self: try harder to learn Spanish in Buenos Aires).
Despite a less-than-impressed first welcome, despite the sidewalks constantly reeking of urine (human or dog, who knows?), despite the suffocating second-hand smoke situation, despite my camera being stolen on our 4th evening here, I’ve really grown to love this city over the past month.
It’s hard to pinpoint when exactly was the moment I fell in love with the city. But it wasn’t an immediate love, nor is it a love that I can adequately describe in words.
It’s the sense of belonging I feel when we stroll into the market for lunch, straight to our favorite corner stall. Getting a hug and kiss from Yuly, our friendly vendor, almost makes me feel like a local. They see us coming and always have the table set for us by the time we get there. Our table. During the course of lunch, we attempt to chat in Spanish, no doubt with a lot of blank stares on my side. Until she gives up and laughingly says “you don’t understand anything I’m saying!” Nope. Well, I understood that.
Sweet, plump Yuly…will you remember us when we return?
I love the evening strolls along Paseo Ahumada, Despite the chaos of the crowd, I feel completely at peace. We walk in content silence, and yet both of us instinctively knowing to turn into our favorite gelato shop. The only argument we have is whether to share a cup or get our own.
And Emporio Zunino, the best empanada shop in town, with only 3 items on the menu. We get our empanadas steamy hot and cannot be any happier with a $3 dinner, chowing down on the street corner. The cheese empanada with flakey crust is absolutely heavenly, but probably more calories and fat than anyone should be allowed to consume at once. I briefly feel guilty but decide I’ll gladly get fat if it means I can eat like this everyday.
Or maybe we decide we want to enjoy dinner from the comfort of home. Which in that case, we head to the local Peruvian place around the block (the same place we discovered our very first night in the city). Sometimes we get chaufa con pollo and sometimes lomo saltado, but always a torta tres leche. And after the take out containers are all empty, we wonder why we didn’t order two slices of cake.
It’s the little bits of familiarity, like wandering through Plaza de Armas and looking for the resident chubby stray, whom we affectionately call El Gordo. We see him almost daily, but I still laugh each time when I spot him, sitting like a humpbacked old man, too fat to move.
It’s the proud feeling that comes with being such regulars on the metro that I have learned the routes like the back of my hand, no longer needing to study a map. It’s the excitement of riding the metro, knowing that a new part of the city awaits when we step off. A new adventure.
Even during our “working days”, it’s the feeling of calm and at-home, like finally understanding this is how life is meant to be lived. Never feeling more carefree or happy. Both of us silently working on our laptops, against the backdrop of busy streets. Slowly watching through the open French doors as the sky transforms into gradients of gold and orange as the sun sets. And come night, falling asleep to the tune of music floating up from the restaurants downstairs.
All this and so much more. Still so much to discover about Santiago.
And I decide I am really quite alright with this life. I could very easily settle into a nice little life here.
But the world is big and there’s still a lot to see and experience. Yes, I truly loved Santiago. But I also know I will love a hundred more cities to come. And probably love even more so. Although Santiago will forever hold a special place in my heart for being my first introduction to long-term travel. And travel on we must. So we pack up our bags, leave behind the keys, and keep on moving. And look forward to be charmed by another city.
Bye beautiful, charming, delicious Santiago! Until we meet again! And maybe even for longer next time.
But for now… rest of the world, here we come…