The Fine Details Of Survival
|By Jon Steele
been living in South America; near Santiago, Chile off and on for almost
three years. Usually, I spend six months in the U.S. and six months here.
wanted to get out of the U.S. Why? Well, when I stood back and took a cold
harsh look at it, I realized, the U.S. is not really the land of the free.
In fact there is very little freedom at all. I guess you could say I was
sorely disenchanted with life in the U.S.
got much worse after September 11th. Now the U.S. is like one large prison.
The government now has the right to pry into your private life under the
guise of so-called Homeland Security.
fact many of you may not know it but the Legislative branch is seriously
considering making background checks on all potential passengers mandatory.
Delta Airlines are one of the first airlines to test out this new system.
What this means is if you have anything in your background that is questionable
or suspect, YOU WILL NOT BE ISSUED A TICKET TO FLY. It’s called a “No fly
list” and every airport soon will have one. Doubt me? The ACLU filed a
lawsuit on the behalf of two people who were refused tickets at San Francisco
International because they were on this no fly list. So basically, that
little fight you had at the local pub could be enough to restrict your
travel if the powers that be deem it so.
much worse for you if you happen to be of Arab or other foreign descent.
Like I said, America is not so free and I got to the point where I was
sick of the facade a long time ago. I began searching for a place where
I could live free long before all of that and I found it in Chile. When
I tell people I live in South America they usually look at me with the
most horrified look on their faces. That’s because, the words “South America”
conjures images of guerilla soldiers in camouflaged fatigues traipsing
through the jungle with automatic weapons slung over their backs or very
large man-eating snakes.
their minds reel back to the last CNN footage of some poverty stricken
village in some place you can barely pronounce the name. Yes, quite frankly
this does exist but this is not ALL of South America. Americans as a
whole have been conditioned to believe that South America is a terrible,
god forsaken rough place to be, but I can tell you from personal knowledge,
nothing could be further from the truth.
Chile is a city with well over 5 million people. It’s one of the most advanced
cities I’ve ever lived in. It’s also one of the cleanest cities I have
ever observed. Everywhere you look you can see European influence in the
architecture of the buildings and the make up of the city overall. There’s
a large German population here but then you have to remember that during
World War II, after the fall of the Third Reich, many Germans escaped to
South America, most going to Argentina but many finding their way to Chile.
influence can be seen everywhere, from the architecture of the buildings,
to the styling of the homes.
tell you now; you must speak at least a bit of Spanish if you plan on exploring
the world here. You’ll see many storefront signs in English but this in
no way means the proprietors speak any. In fact most people only speak
Spanish. I’ve chosen to “learn on the job”. When I first came here I spoke
virtually no Spanish but now I can speak what I call “Survival Spanish”,
and that is, just enough Spanish to get to where I need to go on any given
day. But not to fear, Chileans are all natural teachers and if you don’t
know the language expect to get quick lessons from any Chilean you come
into contact with.
is primarily how I’ve learned. When you first get off the plane and come
through the customs area be prepared to pay an entry fee. The cost;
currently it’s $75 dollars to enter the country but you pay only once and
that’ll cover you for the next ten years. They’ll staple a special permit
in the back of your passport, and I advise you to never remove it or lose
it, or you’ll have to pay again.
when you clear customs.
The cost is
minimal, about $5 dollars and this will cover you for any medical attention
you may need, just like having an HMO in the U.S. but in this case if
you actually need medical attention you’ll get it.
I know, I had to have an emergency operation just a few months ago. I
had to have my appendix removed, the insurance I got at the airport made
things easier for me and kept the cost down.
no doubt now wondering what the hospitals are like here. You’re probably
thinking that you hope you never wind up in a hospital here but I can tell
you this much, I would prefer to be operated on by a Chilean doctor than
an American one.
doctors here take the practice of medicine extremely serious, like being
an artist taking art to an almost spiritual level, and no they don’t play
golf. If you wind up in the hospital for something here, you’ll be in good
hands. Again, I know from first hand experience. Here, they’re not concerned
about your Medical card and all that red tape crap you would face in the
states, here they put the patients’ health first, money matters later.There
are all the comforts of the U.S. here. Yes, they have Blockbuster Video
on just about every corner. Yes, they do have McDonald’s here, and
Burger King, even Kentucky Fried Chicken. On Friday nights in my house
it’s usually Domino’s pizza night. I may have a few of my friends over
and we just order some pizza and watch a movie on cable TV. This is a service
oriented country. They will deliver just about anything to your doorstep.
Yes, you can even call that order of Kentucky Fried Chicken in and they’ll
bring it to you.
a nocturnal people. Once you make a few friends, it’s not uncommon for
people to come by your house late at night and stay late. This was something
I had to get used to. Fridays are usually the days that you’ll have an
unexpected guest. They may just drop over for a cup of tea…………at 11pm and
stay till 2am. This is considered normal so if you are not a nightowl,
develop the habit.
easy to find a place to live, with a little persistence, an apartment was
secured with a rent of approximately $200 dollars monthly. It’s an older
building but very clean and well maintained. The neighborhood is very upper
middle class. If you’re looking for an apartment my advice is don’t go
for the newer buildings. They build new housing developments here all the
time and they’re always swanky, with a long waiting list to rent but the
apartments are terribly small. Apartments in older buildings are much much
larger and have more character. In fact my apartment is a two bedroom,
one bathroom with a great view of snow capped mountains from my balcony.
this country if you like your apartment you can actually buy it. In the
U.S. apartments are strictly for renting and only condos can be purchased
but this is not the case here. The average price of a new apartment is
about $35,000us, depending on the area. The economy is very stable. The
currency here is the Peso and it fluctuates daily but it averages about
680 to 1. So for every $1US dollar it is 680 Pesos.
what are some average prices for things? Well a combo meal at Burger King
averages about 2200 Pesos (about $3 dollars US). A soda from a vending
machine is 300 Pesos, or less than 50 cents. On Fridays for the pizza combo
at Pizza Hut, it comes to about 7500 Pesos (about $10 dollars), you get
a large pizza and a one liter bottle of coke and bread sticks. Definitely
a deal for a pizza lover. Off brand cigarettes if you happen to smoke will
cost you about 200 Pesos. The most popular brand of cigarettes is not the
American ones believe it or not.
political climate is very stable here. You don’t have to worry about any
coup attempts, or someone trying to overthrow the government, although
the CIA was stupid enough to try that in the 70’s (can’t just leave well
enough alone, can they?). Occasionally, in the beach town of Valparaiso
you get some students protesting about not having enough ice cubes in the
cafeteria for lunch or something but other than that, life is calm. If
you don’t own a car, no problem the public transportation is absolutely
the best. Buses run in all directions very frequently and all night.
If you miss a bus to downtown, not to worry, your wait time for the next
one will be about ten minutes max. They begin to run a bit slower after
about 2am though. The fare: 330 Pesos, again, less than 50 cents. There
is a subway system, and it is rivaled only by the English Tube. The
trains are on time, speedy and very clean. You’ll find no graffiti on them.
They’ll take you just about anywhere you want to go. I’ll tell you now,
the buses and subways are always crowded. Expect close quarters on public
transportation at all times.
suggest going to the mall and getting a prepaid cell phone so you have
some local number for contact purposes. My mall of choice for a cell
phone is the Apumanque Mall. I got a cell phone there and it cost me a
“whopping” $40 dollars. I had the phone operational and had a phone number
in less than a half hour. The beauty of their cell phone system is that
it’s based on the European system, meaning, you don’t have to pay for any
received calls. In plain language, if someone calls you, it cost nothing
to answer your phone, you pay only for outgoing calls. This is much better
than the greed driven cell phone system of the U.S. where it costs you
to make and receive a call. So basically I bought two phones, one to
carry with me where I go and one that I leave at home which is strictly
for home use. Sure I could go to the phone company and get a regular line
but I am just a bit lazy. Besides, with the prepaid, my name is on nothing,
thus keeping with my low key approach to things.My internet connection
is a high speed DSL line, and it cost approximately $22 dollars U.S. a
month. I can’t complain and installation was free along with the first
love music, art and movies. Especially art, in fact one section of downtown
is devoted to the “starving artist”. There’s a large town square type of
area that is populated by all types of artists. It’s called the Plaza de
Armas, in downtown Santiago. There you can have your portrait painted or
find some of the most enigmatic and original art imaginable. I know, I
like to go there to buy new pieces for my home, I love art, what can I
say? There’s a guy there who paints masterpieces with nothing but his finger.
If you ever go to Santiago, go to the Plaza de Armas to watch him paint
something, it will be well worth it just to see his technique.
you’re downtown and get hungry there’s the world famous Café Colonia.
Order a pork sandwich with cheese (“Lomito”); you’ll be glad you did. The
place has been in business for over 30 years, a hidden gem of the downtown
area. It is a Bavarian styled tea house, with lots of finished wood and
quite cozy. Old world charm at its best, with incredibly good food at better
than reasonable prices.
a bank account. Unless you are paying cash for your place outright you
will need a bank credit to get an apartment or a house, unless it is privately
owned. Then it is a matter to be worked out with you and the owner. Your
bank credit is based upon how much you have in the bank. If you open an
account with say, $5000 dollars US, this will allow you the latitude to
be able to get whatever you want because what you put in becomes your line
of local credit. You don’t need $5000 in reality but that is a healthy
amount to the bank and potential creditors.
average cost of a house here is about $55,000 dollars US. For a few dollars
a day you can also get a maid. There’s readily available land that can
be purchased. It all depends on your tastes. If you wish to live in the
mountains which are about 25 minutes from downtown Santiago, you can find
a lot to build a house easily. The average price for an acre or lot is
about $7000 give or take. The mountains are beautiful and the streams are
the best for fishing.
snows in the mountains during winter, perfect for those cozy nights by
the fire with your loved one. The winter here is not brutal or too harsh,
just wet. The rainy season is bad (May-August), in fact every year some
houses are always washed away by flooding, this usually occurs in the poor
parts of town, but the locals always pitch in to help rebuild whatever
a family may lose. People do look out for each other here.
by the ocean is a bit more, there are a few places I can recommend that
are selling lots of land near the sea for about $6500. When buying land
always ask about water and utility connections. If you want to have a small
cottage or house built there are many options. In the mountains there’s
a company that makes prefabricated real log homes that go for about $12,000US.
They’re very nice and easy to warm in the winter. Regular prefabricated
houses cost about $16,000US. Or if you happen to have some carpentry skills
you can build a house for about $5000 here. I’ve begun the latter and I’m
enjoying it immensely. Building materials here are cheap, it’s a builders’
paradise. In the U.S. a 2 X 4 at your local Home Depot will run you $3.29
per stud. Here the cost is a little over $1 dollar US.
is the wood so cheap here? The Chilean style of building does not use wood.
Most houses are made out of mortar or cement. In fact, it’s an understood
fact that poor people live in wood houses. You should’ve seen the look
on my friends’ faces when I told them all houses in the US are built from
wood. One of them remarked, “But I always thought the US was a rich country?”
Personally, I prefer a wood house over a mortar and cement one, but this
is just my preference.
secret to “Bi-Continental Living” always lies in how much you’re paying
for where you live. Why pay for a hotel when you can have a house or apartment?
If you can own or rent a small place, this will save you thousands in the
long run versus hotel costs and such. When you are not there, sublet and
three month visa is about $100 dollars US. You can stay visa free for the
first 90 days, then after that period you have to leave the country or
get the visa. What I’ve done in the past is simply get in my car and take
a drive over to Argentina. I cross the border, get an exiting stamp and
spend a night in some small rustic town in Argentina. The next day I return
to Chile where I’m good for another 90 days visa free. There are visas
available allowing you to stay longer but then it gets a bit complicated.
Crossing the border may seem like a “pain-in-the-ass” thing to do but this
way I avoid going to the visa center where they have incredibly long lines.
You get there and you’d swear they’re giving away free Rolling Stones tickets
or something. Besides, these little trips allow me to develop contacts
in Argentina as well and you can never have too many contacts. Networking
is still the name of the game in any country.
is only a few hours away and the drive is breathtaking through the mountains.
Along the way there are numerous roadside cafes where one can get a cake
and some coffee or tea and a sandwich which is the standard version of
the Chilean “snack”.
are by nature a curious people. In fact their curiosity borders on just
plain nosiness. Expect to be stared at alot wherever you go. Chileans mean
no harm by it at all; it’s just how they are. They don’t know that staring
is considered rude by American standards. They’re also very accepting of
other races and cultures. If you look hard enough you will find Arabs,
Asians, and black people. Black people are especially stared at by Chileans
but it’s by no means a racial issue. The fact is many Chileans have never
seen a black person up close, except for on television. The best thing
to do when being stared at is just smile and wave.
is also a necessary part of the culture. You must tip the parking lot attendant,
the bag boy at the grocery store and for small services done. The standard
amount is 100 Pesos for any small service. You can tip what you like but
this is about the accepted average. In a restaurant though, your tip
should be about 500 Pesos which is still less than a dollar but considered,
by Chilean standards, a respectful amount. If you are at home
and have some food delivered then the appropriate amount is between 300-500
Pesos. It will not take you long to learn the correct amounts for the correct
quick word on food shopping; the biggest retailer is Jumbo. This is like
the equivalent of Wal-Mart in the U.S. The next biggest chain is Unimarc.
What I want to warn you about is the food items itself. No the food
is not bad, but the packaging is small. In fact ALL the food packaging
is small. You know that jumbo bag of Ruffles potato chips you’re used to
getting and enjoying? It doesn’t exist in Chile. All food packaging is
very small. Personally, I think this is a plot to keep you coming back
to the supermarket to spend money, but again this is just my opinion. You
have to get used to this. Many food items are seemingly for single use.
example, I bought a package of bacon, and later when I decided to make
a BLT I found, when I was done cooking, there were only three slices left.
Get used to everything being smaller, but on the bright side, food is very
Now I want
to talk about the one area I have not covered up till now, and that is
the local police. The police here are unlike any I have observed in the
world. Their uniforms are green - like the military. What I want to
focus on is this; if you ever get into any type of trouble, DO NOT TRY
TO BRIBE THE COPS! The cops here are very poorly paid, but they do have
alot of pride and honor. If you suggest a bribe or even hint at it, you
may find yourself in the local jail. The police are poorly paid but from
what I have observed these cops have the most integrity I have ever seen.
Sure you get corrupt cops wherever you go, and there may be some in the
local police here, but overall, these cops are the most honorable and friendly
I have ever seen, and I don’t particularly like cops as a whole but these
police have my respect.
rules for dealing with cops here: don’t be arrogant. Nothing will get you
in trouble faster than arrogance. You can call the embassy all you want
but I can tell you now very little will be done if you get hauled in because
you were acting out to a cop.
eye contact at all times and smile. Be touristy, not smart alecky. If they
want to search your car, let them, remember you’re not in Kansas anymore,
and your rights in the U.S. don’t apply here. Don’t flaunt the “but-I-am-an-American”
crap; it has very little value here. If they ask to see your identification
take care not to let money show, or they may feel you are trying to suggest
a bribe and then you’ll be in serious trouble.
cool and cooperate and you’ll be ok. If anything, most will just let you
off with a warning for whatever you’re doing, but this in no way translates
as you being above the law. All I am saying is that these cops are not
petty, and they’ll let a few indiscretions slide but don’t push it, you
don’t have a license to thrill.
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