Lord! How amazing it feels walking into a wall of dry heat coming from the sludge and snow of a winter in the UK! Things here are dry and arid, and after 15:00 one stays out in the sun at one's own peril, as el niño (the little boy) is working overtime and within 10 minutes one's shoulders become unpleasantly pink and crispy.
The City of Santiago itself, happily esconsed (esconced?) between the Andes and the Pacific Mountain ranges, is an oddball mix of old Spanish colonial and new build, sky high tower blocks. I'm told that as more and more people move to the city (although I'm not sure where from, as 80% of Chile's population already lives here!), the government has set about hastily building apartments blocks to try avoid the accumulation of slums around the Santiago's peripheries. Sadly, Santiago is seen as the somewhat less attractive and less talented younger sibling of all the great Latin American Cities. I bought a Guide Book (in Spanish) which opened with: "Although not as cultural as Buenos Aires, as intriguing as Mexico City or as exciting as Rio de Janeiro, Santiago is..." Way to sell a city!
As I went to "pasear" (wander around walking) in my first few days I was struck by the sharp contrasts between a modern city, and an older, more delineated world. Walking down the high street there are people (like myself) with earphones in their ears, and hands-free phones wearing suits and ties, but then one turns a corner and there is a street vendor selling fruit off the pavement, or an old man shining a working gentleman's shoes. Walking from street to street you feel like you are weaving your way between two eras, rather than two city blocks.
For all their bloodlust and ruthlessness, the Spanish sure knew how to plan a city! Everything is square and divided into blocks (as it is throughout most of the Americas), making it very easy to find your way around. Although, I must add the Spanish, a race not usually know for their stature, sure had a thing for giant doors. Means of intimidation, perhaps? As I walk past a towering entrance I can't help but imagine how this strategy must have backfired when the cowering masses huddled outside a great city building waiting to be shocked and awed by whatever mighty force of nature should come out of the 5 metre high doors... and out popped Juan Miguel Figueroa*, all 5'5 of him...
An advantage of having mixed race heritage is that I manage to blend in with the natives in most parts of the world. Here, no one questions that I am a Latina, speaking to me in Spanish and likewise ignoring me when it suits them which is very fortunate as I will have ample opportunity to better my Spanish!
As far as first impressions go, that should be it for now... My First impressions will be rather extensive I think, considering how little I know of this Country... Back soon!
*Token Chilean Name: everyone here is call Figueroa!