I’ve been in Santiago for the past five days for Startup Chile and finally had a chance to write down some initial impressions. Jesse and I have been really busy getting our IDs, a bank account and searching for an apartment. The Startup Chile program has helped us cut through all of the red tape that others might have to go through and it’s been super efficient so far. Jesse and I have been walking all over the place, getting a feel for the city. I’ve been really impressed with all of the other entrepreneurs in the program I’ve met so far.
It’s been 70-80 degrees and sunny every single day with low humidity. The weather reminds me of Palo Alto so far. Santiago is a huge city with about 6m residents. It’s in a valley, so there are some problems with smog, but I haven’t had a problem yet. There are a few days when the mountains are a bit obscured, but for whatever reason the smog doesn’t seem to get down into the valley and has not bothered my lungs.
Santiago sort of runs west to east and as a general rule, the farther east you get, the better the neighborhood. We’ve only explored comúnas (districts) Providencia, Las Condes, Vitacura and a bit of Nuñoa and the downtown around our office.
Eastern Santiago very developed and clearly first world. If it weren’t for everyone speaking Spanish, I could be in any other mid to large city in the US or Europe. The center, where our office is located, is a little older and really busy, but still nice. There’s people everywhere during the day. It’s filled with shops, restaurants and businesses. We’re not sure what it’s like at night, but people have told us it can get rough downtown. There’s got to be at least 6-7 universities headlined by Universidad Católica and Universidad de Chile, so there’s lots of young people seemingly everywhere. We haven’t checked out the Western side and everyone’s told us to stay away.
The metro is modern, efficient and cheap. It costs about $1.25 to use it and you can get just about anywhere you want using it. There’s wifi everywhere, probably more than in Madison. There’s public wifi hotspots all over the place. People eat dinner between 830-1030 and go out to bars/clubs at 12-1, which stay open until 6am.
Not many people speak much English, but they love it when we speak Spanish, even if it’s bad. Our goto phrase has been estoy tratando de hablar español, pero hablo como un niño de cinco años, which means I’m trying to speak Spanish, but I speak like a five year old. That usually gets a laugh and then we’re free to practice. I can still understand pretty much everything people are saying, but I’m still struggling to speak quickly. I can tell I’m already getting better though.
Everyone here looks younger than you’d expect and I have a feeling it’s because Santiago is a walking city, the weather is awesome and the food is really healthy. Chilean food uses awesome ingredients, has correct, non American portion sizes, but is sort of bland. We’ve had a bunch of chicken/rice, pork chop/mashed potatoes etc for main courses. There are tons of Peruvian restaurants in Santiago and we’ve found that it’s the place to go for a good meal. It’s like Chilean food, but with more spices. I had some top notch ceviche last night. If you’re in Madison, go to Inka Heritage to get a feel for some of the stuff we’ve been eating.
Chileans excel at making sandwiches. They use really good, fresh bread, avocado, tomato, fresh wet cheeses, lime mayo and all sorts of fresh goodness. If I wanted, I could survive on the diverse array of Chilean sandwiches.
The fresh fruit and veggies are awesome and cheap. I bought medio kilo (1lb) of fresh strawberries for about $1.25 from a fruit stand and really flavorful avocados cost between $.10 and $.20. It makes buying a much worse quality avocado for $1-$1.5 seem insane in the US. I can’t wait to start cooking with these ingredients once we get an apartment.
I’m not a fan of fruit juice in the US, but the juice here is unreal, cheap and is sold everywhere. So far, my favorite is frambuesa (raspberry), followed closely by frutilla (strawberry) and piña (pineapple). It costs about $.50 for a really big glass. The raspberry juice tastes like the fresh raspberries we used to get out of my grandma’s garden and put on top of schaum torte. My family probably only gets this part, but you’ll have to take my word for it.
Dominó is how fast food should be. They are everywhere here and always busy. They sell sandwiches and hotdogs, but use really fresh, good ingredients. It’s still cheap and fast, but it doesn’t taste like fast food. Dominó would do really well on any college campus in the US. My favorite thing from Dominó so far is a hotdog with crushed avocado, tomato, cheese and a little mayo.
I’m much less hungry here than I was in the US. Part of it is that it’s warm, so my body needs less food, but I think another part of it is that all of the food is very healthy and therefore more filling than in the US. I bought an orange soda yesterday and there were only four ingredients: carbonated water, sugar (not high fructose corn syrup), orange juice and I forget the last one. Even being here a week, I already feel healthier.
I’ll have more blog posts coming about the Startup Chile program and some of the interesting people we’ve met so far. I promise my next post will have lots more pictures. I had problems with my iPhone for a few days, so I’ll be sure to put more in next time.