As we made our descent into Santiago, I could see through the window of the airplane the majestic Cordillera de los Andes and its snowy caps. I was in awe admiring these huge natural wonders, wondering if any human-being had ventured through them. I announced my new discovery to my parents and told them they absolutely had to turn their attention to the windows. All this excitement made me feel more confident as I approached this new experience in a positive manner. At the age of 8, this would be my fourth temporary home. I had managed to make good friends everywhere else, so I figured that I would easily make new ones and become more Chilean.
|Chilean flag, La Estrella Solitaria.|
Our plane touched down at the Arturo Merino Benitez International Airport in Santiago. I knew little at the time that this place would become our hub for the many adventures here. We were greeted after crossing customs and officially entering Chile by Osvaldo, an Embassy driver. He did speak Spanish however, it had a much different flair and intonation that I had grown accustomed to in Caracas. Aside from this flashy new accent I was hearing, he had the appearance of an older European gentleman, the kind that reminded me of my mother's family. I decided I liked him already. He welcomed us to Santiago with the firmest handshake I have ever shared - firm handshakes being a sign of respect - and mentioned that he would be driving us to our new digs in the big city. He advised that our trip was to Las Condes, our neighbourhood, and travel time would be about 30 minutes or so depending on traffic.
The world outside the airport was quite a bit different from Maiquetia. While sitting in the car behind Osvaldo, I absorbed the countryside through my window once more. We arrived in August which meant it was winter here. The day seemed cloudy, the land was green and there was a smoky smell in the air as many people used chimneys for heat. There was no central heating like what we use in Canada or parts of the US. I could not get over the feeling of cold. Caracas was usually either hot and dry or hot and raining all year round. I saw farms surrounded by a unique vegetation. There was some similarity to Canadian forests in my mind, but not quite the same. There were towering eucalyptus trees, - still remember the soothing aroma of those leaves - long pines similar to the kind found in Spain and Italy, oaks, weeping willows or sauces llorones, and much more that I can't name. This was fantastic!
Once we arrived to the city of Santiago, the buildings and people I saw through the window told me a much different story from the other places I had lived and visited. There was a certain elegance to this place: historic buildings appeared clean as if they had been newly erected, wide avenues and boulevards full of people, taxis swimming in a river of flowing traffic. Everything was so organized and seemed to have a purpose. It felt as if my family and I had been transported to the past through some kind of worm hole while we were in that LAN Chile plane. This place looked much like Madrid when I first visited in 2004, but more structured and planned. The city was surrounded by the mountains as far as you could see. Oswaldo mentioned the Manquehue, a natural landmark the city has and a target for foreigners' weekend hikes. I was eager to get out there with my family to explore this interesting city.
|Panoramic view of Santiago de Chile and the Andes mountains in the background|
We finally reached the apartment on Apoquindo Avenue and settled in knowing we couldn't get comfortable as we would just be there for a short while. Our assigned residence - SQ or Staff Quarters in the foreign affairs lingo - was unavailable as my father's predecessor was still occupying it. He was in his final days of his posting. Usually, once a diplomat finishes his posting, their family leaves and time is allotted for house cleaning and painting. The furniture is provided but personal effects such as clothes, decorations and other things families chose to bring along are shipped separately once you are moved in. This had always been the case for my family but this was the first time I noticed the process. I also realized most of the things we had in our homes were not ours. Regardless, I was now concentrating on the new French school, a new house and again, starting a new life.