Getting Real in Santiago

Maya Silver
August 12, 2013

Santiago is very, very real. I have a home address, a loving host family, and a growing circle of friends. I take the metro, I go to class, I explore the city. I buy things like tissues and soap. In short, I’m not “traveling,” but “living” – albeit in a place where everything is different than I am used to.

I could probably stand at the intersection of Providencia and my street, spin around, and write an entire blog post about wherever I end up pointing. Although I’m actually snug at home on my bed, let’s say I did just that…

I would probably end up pointing at a pharmacy. Surprised? There are two or three pharmacies per block in my neighborhood. Unfortunately, it took me a few days and several episodes of wandering around trying not to look like a lost puppy before I realized that the same pharmacies are everywhere. Once I realized I should not orient myself acording to Salco Brand or Cruz Verde, finding my way around the city got a lot easier.

In addition to selling medications and personal hygeine items, they’re also the place to go to refill the minutes on my Chilean phone. After work hours, the pharmacies fill up with people, so you take a number from a red dispenser on the wall and wait your turn. (If you’re me, you nearly miss your turn and then have to look up your phone number in your own contacts list.)

I asked my host father why there are so many pharmacies, and he said “we’re all hypochondriacs here.” But he went on to point out that only wealthier neighborhoods such as Providencia are saturated with pharmacies. Take the metro out to the end of the metro, and you won’t see many pharmacies at all. Not only that, but while metro stops in Providencia are five minutes apart on foot, the metro stops in poorer neighborhoods are few and far between. Poorer neighborhoods are unable to afford new stops, and are unattractive investments for Transantiago (the metro and bus system). This socioeconomic inequality seems to be at the root of many issues in the news here, from student demonstrations to conflicts with the indigenous Mapuche.

Obviously, I’ve done a lot more than visit the pharmacy in the past two weeks. For example, I’ve visited the nearby cities of Valparaíso and Viña del Mar, gone running in el Parque Forestal, climbed el Cerro San Cristobal twice, started university classes, and become the unofficial empanadas taste-tester of Santiago. Going to the pharmacy may not be the most exciting thing I’ve done here, but to me surviving and thriving in day-to-day life in Santiago is the most thrilling of all.

This is the view from my apartment building (the hill is el Cerro San Cristobal). The cathedral is in La Plaza de Armas, in the middle of the city. There are many layers of art and history in Valparaíso. This is me, attempting camouflage in Valparaíso. Halfway up el Cerro San Cristobal, we paused for the view. We visited the flower market in el Mercado Central. It's too bad I can't post the smell, too. One of Santiago's many stray dogs enjoys a drink.

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Maya Silver

<p><span style="color: rgb(29, 29, 29); font-family: Arial, Verdana, sans-serif; font-size: 12px; line-height: normal; background-color: rgb(237, 237, 237);">Maya is a senior majoring in Neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University. In addition to classes and laboratory research, she enjoys running, martial arts, and improvisational baking (with variable results). Having achieved comprehension of the Baltimore accent, she hopes to master Spanish as well, and is looking forward to many adventures in Chile!</span></p>

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