chile - anonymous' reflections after years there in their 20s

posted by anonymous on 11/14/13.

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How much time have you spent in Chile?

In total, I have spent about a year in Chile. 3 months in 2006 and about 9 months this year (2013).

How old were you when you came to Chile? Where were you before?

The first time I came to Chile I was 19 years old. The second time, and for a more permanent move, I was 27 years old. Before my tourist/school trip in 2006 I was living in the state of Wyoming. Before my move this year I had been living in Bellingham, Washington.

What brought you to Chile? What made you choose Chile over any other place you could've gone?

I studied teaching at Western Washington University, my major was 'Language, Literacy, and Cultural Studies' with a minor in Teaching English as a Second Language. As a secondary motive, I came to Chile to teach English. My main motivation was to spend time in Chilean Patagonia. This area is one of the wildest and least populated regions in the world. I had been to the town I am now living in (Coyhaique) before and really liked the area.

Describe the town or city you live in in Chile and your impressions of it.

The town I live in (Coyhaique) is the larges town in the region of Aysén. It has about 50,000 inhabitants and makes up half of the regions population. The region is about the size of Tennessee. The town has seen a huge change in the last 20 years in it's population and resources. In the early 90's there was a quarter of the vehicles that there are now and more than half of the streets that are paved were not. Now there are cafes, plenty of good restaurants, a brewery, and a Cinema that is open once every two weeks.

The town is located on the Eastern slope of the Patagonian Andes and close to the grass planes and border with Argentina. The climate can be wet and cold in the winter but is usually dry and warm or hot in the summer. Compared to the only town on the West coast which receives 3 times as much rain as Seattle. Coyhaique is surrounded by mountains and because of this can become very smoky in the winter when people burn fires to heat their homes. Electricity is very expensive (as is other things) and is used as little as possible.

The Aysén region is the 11th region of Chile and is located as far South as British Colombia is North. There is no land route to any other region of Chile unless you cross into Argentina. Because of the isolation this region has been slow to develop and is one of the most expensive areas in South America, much like Alaska in the U.S. There is a highway that runs North-South in the region for over 1,200 km and only a small portion is paved. The population density of the region is ~1 person per square km, compared to Wyoming which has a density of 2.4 people per square km.

All these factors add up to make a person feel very alone and very far from anywhere else. This can be a positive or a negative depending on the person. I personally like the slow pace that adds a uniqueness to Coyhaique. Although it can be very boring and almost depressing in the winter due to the lack of activities, events, and sunlight I feel it is made up for by proximity to a truly wild landscape. Once you leave town it really feels like your 'out there' being that you are surrounded by what seems like limitless wilderness.

How does the town/city you live in compare to other cities/parts of Chile? What drew you to the city you live in over other cities in Chile?

Other cities that I have been to do not compare in natural beauty or the

wilderness feeling. Coyhaique stands alone (as a larger town) in this respect but lacks in many others. There is very little in the way of a social scene here, and one must be very independent and self motivated to be able to get through the long, dark winter.

The lack of a social scene here in town is due to many reasons. The first is that there is no University in town or in the region. This has the vast majority of young people moving North. A second reason is that people move here to make and save money. The government subsidizes many jobs here in order to attract people to the region and people move here temporarily for the sole reason of saving money. This creates a community that is usually not willing to splurge on fun things.

Culturally this city and regions is very special. A brief history sees Chile loosing a lot of Southern land to Argentina during their war with Bolivia and Peru. In order to keep what part of Patagonia (the southern tip of South America) they had left they offered benefits for moving here and settling the land such as free land. Once here the culture mixed heavily with Argentina due to the only physical routs anywhere only lead to Argentina. A wild west or cowboy culture developed in the region that seemed much more Argentinian than Chilean. This culture, which seems to come strait from the 18th century, is still around. Living mostly off the land in remote areas, driving sheep or cattle, only having horses for transportation is the way of life for many residents. The roads here are only a few decades old and have been affecting this cultural tremendously.

A friend has told me that many of the Gaucho (cowboy) families in the region have only recently been connected to electricity, TV, the internet and the outside world. Many are having trouble adjusting to 200 years of progress in the time span of about 2 decades and because of this there are huge problems with Alcoholism.

What are Chileans like? In what ways are they different than people in other places you've lived?

Chileans are really tough to categorize due to their many quarks. If I had to use only a phrase it would be ‘genuinely friendly.’ Not the friendly that you get in many places that is usually more ‘custom’ than true friendliness. The problem with this is that the friendliness can be overshadowed by their skepticism of outsiders. Many people take some warming up to in order to really get to know. That said, Chileans have overwhelming been the nicest people I’ve ever met. They will bend over backwards to help someone in need and there is a general culture of helpfulness in Aysén, with little exception.

In regards to Chileans, there have been some things that have been tough to come to terms with as an American living here. The first is the culture of being late. A story that sums up this part of Chilean culture is as follows: I generally show up to a social gathering about 45 mins – 1 hour later than the ‘starting time.’ At one gathering I was invited at 9pm, showed up to the house at 10pm and no one was even home. This lateness does not usually apply to professional settings. I work in a school and tardiness by teachers is not usually acceptable.

A second thing that I have found difficult is that many times people have been unreliable and do not communicate constructively. In living here and experiencing things for myself and experiencing things second hand through others I have generally noticed that plans can’t be counted on until the activity is actually happening. I have been let down many times by people not doing what was discussed, not showing up, and this generally happens with no communication. It seems that people are trying to avoid letting me down by not telling me that they are in the process of letting me down. It then seems out of place to call them out on it.

What I have been describing in the previous paragraphs apply to the classical Chilean, one you might find anywhere. But it does not apply necessarily to Patagonians.

On the topic of Patagonians: culturally this city and regions is very special. A brief history sees Chile loosing a lot of Southern land to Argentina during their war with Bolivia and Peru. In order to keep what part of Patagonia (the southern tip of South America) they had left they offered benefits for moving here and settling the land such as free land. Once here the culture mixed heavily with Argentina due to the only physical routs anywhere only lead to Argentina. A Wild West or cowboy culture developed in the region that seemed much more Argentinian than Chilean. This culture, which seems to come strait from the 18th century, is still around. Living mostly off the land in remote areas, driving sheep or cattle, only having horses for transportation is the way of life for many residents. The roads here are only a few decades old and have been affecting this cultural tremendously.

A friend has told me that many of the Gaucho (cowboy) families in the region have only recently been connected to electricity, TV, the internet and the outside world. Many are having trouble adjusting to 200 years of progress in the time span of about 2 decades and because of this there are huge problems with Alcoholism.

Was making friends and meeting people in Chile in general easy or difficult? How did your social life evolve? What did you do to meet people? How does your social life in Chile compare to how it is/was in other places you've lived?

Due to the fact that there are fewer people here who are my age I can start by saying that I have few friends in Coyhaique. Of of the friends I do have maybe 1/3 are gringos. Making friends has been difficult because my Spanish is still not so good and people generally don’t feel that a friendship is worth the effort communicating. There are exceptions to this and those people have become good friends but communication is still hard. I took 2.5 years of college Spanish before coming here but Chilean Spanish is so different and fast it has been like learning a new language. I don’t have nearly as much trouble understanding and communicating in Peru, Bolivia, or Ecuador. If someone want to move somewhere in order to learn Spanish, do not move to Chile.

How does your race, nationality, gender, accent, etc. affect how you are treated or how people react to meeting you in Chile?

Being a white male from the United States has generally had very positive effects. People assume I’m well educated, hard working, and punctual; which has helped me find jobs. The one problem my origin causes is that people will try and over-charge me for things.

How does the language barrier affect you (if it all)?

It affects me quite a bit. As I mentioned before, the Spanish they use here is far different from what I learned and adjusting has been difficult. The difficult part normally comes when Chileans don’t realize how different they sound and expect others to follow. I have a Spanish (from Spain) acquaintance that says that he has a lot of trouble understanding the Chileans. Chilean Spanish generally cuts consonant sounds, drops endings to words/verbs (which is generally how you can tell who the subject of the sentence is), and mashes all the different words of a sentence into one stream of sound. For example: ‘Nos vemos el dia Sabado’ (we’ll see each other on Saturday) is cut to ‘noveo diaSau’ and ‘mas o menos’ (more or less) is cut to ‘maomeo.’

There are also whole books written that contain 'Chilenismos' or words that are only spoken in Chile.

Do you have any observations or stories to share about dating, relationships, gender norms, or sex in Chile? Or any impressions of how these things are different in Chile than in other places you've been?

Chile is technically a very Catholic country but I have not sensed that in the slightest. The idea of marriage here has lost popularity at a staggering rate. The people age 55-80 are usually married, people 35-55 are generally divorced with kids, and people 18-35 will never marry and might be living with a partner and their combined children. Teen pregnancy here is also really high (as young as 11 or 12) but the rate is falling.

Chilean culture is very ‘Machismo’ which means that men are in charge, they go out and get things done around town while women are left at home to clean and cook. Not generally a place where a hard-core feminist would be comfortable. But these are norms and not usually held with ill feelings toward people of the opposite sex. These norms are changing quickly.

I have a girlfriend and have not tried my hand at dating here but from my experiences I do not think it would be difficult for an average looking American to find girls to date. The girls here seem to be attracted to white, European / North American types.

Any social/cultural advice for others who might come to Chile? How do people in Chile socialize differently than other places you've been?

People in their 20s and 30s here socialize very similarly to those in the U.S. They like going out for dinner, drinks, dancing. Get-togethers at houses are very popular. This country is probably the most modern in South America in both their infrastructure and social living.

What sort of work/school do you do in Chile? What's it like working (or studying) in Chile compared to what it was like where you lived before?

The area I live is heavily influenced by the tourist season. Because I am fluent in English and having a working knowledge of Spanish it has been easy to find work in Tourism. Because of my language and background in education I have been able to find steady work in this field as well. Currently I work as a Pre-Kinder to 3rd grade teacher in a local school from Wednesday to Friday and as a fly fishing guide from Friday afternoon to Monday evening.

Does your money go further or not as far as it does in other countries and cities? Are you able to afford a better standard of living than in other places you've lived, or able to afford less?

One thing I was surprised to find is that Coyhaique is the most expensive place I’ve been to in all of South America, due to it’s remoteness and being in Chile. Chile, along with Brazil, is the most expensive country on the continent. I have found the price of living here to be very similar to the price of living in Bellingham, WA, where I was living before.

What things are more expensive than you are used to and what things are cheaper?

Almost everything here is the same price as in the U.S. but I'm not able to shop at the same thrift stores such as Grocery Outlet. Fuel is more expensive, utilities are more expensive, beer is more expensive, and used vehicles are more expensive. I paid about $6,000 for a 1995 Nissan Pathfinder in ok condition, they go for $3,000 in the states for the same quality.

One thing that is cheaper is the wine, it is far better than wine in the U.S. as well. When I moved here I was more into craft beers but since those are at least $3 for a in-store 12oz bottle I have switched to wine. I usually pay $4-$6 for a bottle of wine and it compares to wine that is over $30 in the U.S.

How much is an average rent for an apartment? A beer at a bar? A meal at a restaurant?

Because of the fact that when I move home I won't be able to take much with me I have found myself buying fewer frivolous things. I therefore have a larger expendable income and don't mind paying a little more for a nice place to live. The apartment I'm in has two bedrooms, a small kitchen, a bathroom, living/dining room and a huge balcony that looks out over a river and to the mountains. It is in one of the nicest areas of town. I pay about $700 in rent alone but split that with another person. The same apartment with view might be quadruple in a place like Boulder, CO.

I don't go out for beer much because people here don't go out that much and the brewery is really no good. People generally are invited to someone's home for drinks and conversation. A beer at the brewery is about $4-5 per pint.

I don't go out for meals much here because I'm fairly sure that I can't find any good deals. When I do eat I normally feel like I payed exactly what might be fair or more. I had a lunch special a while back at El Tunel Cafe and payed $9 for a crummy salad, 2 pieces of bread, half an avocado, soup, and some fruit at the end.

Any good stories you can think of that you haven't mentioned yet?

Not a story but a general sense of getting around. Before I bought a vehicle my main way to get around the region was hitch hiking. It is a very common practice here among locals and is very safe. It is also a great way to meet interesting people and get a real taste of their culture. I have made fairly good friends with people I have gotten rides from.

What are your favorite things about Chile? Least favorite?

Favorite: the ability to get out of town and see a way of life that hasn't existed in the U.S. for a century or more. (regional, not all of Chile is like that)

Least favorite: How expensive it is to live here.

What do you miss while living in Chile?

I miss the punctuality of people in the U.S. I waste a lot of time here waiting for people to be ready or decide when they are ready to go somewhere. I miss craft and brewery beer. It exists here but is rare or expensive. I miss family and friends and being able to connect with someone on the deep level of sharing a history.

Would you recommend Chile as a place to live, travel to, or neither?

If you can afford to live or travel here it is a great way to experience South America. If your on a budget you'd seem more for cheaper in other countries. It is worth seeing the incredible geographic and cultural changes between the North and South of the country. Most importantly, and I said it before, do not move here to learn Spanish.

1 comment

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posted by mercurio on 02/04/17.

0 votes.

hey, I really like what you wrote here, by any chance did you visit reserva nacional rio simpson??? I need some info about it

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