I am so happy to have pushed myself to volunteer in Chile before turning 30. Now, my New Year’s Resolution is to figure out how to utilize what I have learned from my experience teaching abroad to continue to foster my interests in cultures, people, languages, learning, teaching, and giving back. I also want to share my travel experiences with others to help them go abroad.
If you choose Chile, here are some things you might want to know:
1. Chile is the largest consumer of white bread.
It is eaten with cheese, sliced deli meats, jam, and/or butter for breakfast and “once” (light dinner which can be as early as 5pm or as late as 9pm). Alternatives such as wheat and multi-grain bread/pasta are more readily available now in the supermarkets or bakery chains such as Olfos, but don’t expect to see it in restaurants or in a traditional Chilean home. Also, you may be surprised at how much mayonnaise Chileans eat. Go check out the mayonnaise aisle when you pass by a major supermarket. If you order a sandwich or burger, tell them “poco mayo” (little mayo) or you may decline eating your sandwich all together.
2. Salads usually consist of 2 or 3 ingredients.
Leafy greens usually consist of lettuce so ask what is available that day if you are looking for a variety of vegetables.
3. Go to the ferias (farmer’s market) for produce.
Here, you can find fresher produce at a bargain.
4. The younger generation of Chileans are more liberal with the introduction of birth control pills in recent years and the morning after pill this year.
The variety of relationships in Chile appear more widely accepted in comparison to in the United States (i.e. one-night stand, friends with benefits, divorced with children but living with a partner, etc.). Divorce is more common now than before. Don’t be surprised if someone tells you,“So what? You’re not dead!” when they are trying to set you up with a date even though you tell them that you have a boyfriend or husband at home.
5. Buses leaving bus terminals and metros are generally on time.
However, when you are planning to take a bus to another town that may be 1 or more hours away, ask 2-3 locals (not just 1) or the guy who stands on the sidewalk with a clipboard and the bus timesheet when to expect the next “micro” (mini-buses). You could wait up to 2 hours if you’re going to a small town.
6. Chile, in general, is pretty safe for traveling even if you are a female or know little Spanish.
However, some crowded cities such as Santiago Centro and various hills in Valparaiso are known for thievery (i.e. purse snatching, knocking someone down to take their backpack) so it is safer to keep valuable items in zippered or internal pockets and to not carry a large purse.
7. If you stay out late at night and you have a choice of taking a “micro” or “collectivo” (shared taxis with set routes), take a collectivo, preferably with a passenger inside already.
Micros are crowded with late night clubbers and you risk getting your purse snatched if you bring one with you.
8. Holiday shopping: There are not as many after-Christmas or New Years sales in Chile as in the United States.
There seems to be better deals online for electronics and larger items. So if you see something that you like before Christmas, get it, because it probably won’t be much cheaper after Christmas.