America,  Chile,  TDM,  Travel Journal

Chile (South America): Very mixed first impressions

I warn you: this isn’t a very joyful post. Morale has fallen well during these first 4 days in Chile.

Our biggest problem is communication. We understand NOTHING in Chilean Spanish. Let me give you a simple example. We only wanted to do laundry at our hotel. After 5 minutes, we finally understand that the guy has a washing machine and is going to do it for us. “Cuanto cuesta?” (how much does it cost?), it’s not a difficult question isn’t it? and the guy answers us with a monologue where we can’t even understand a single word. Why make it complicated when you can make it simple?

Following this problem of communication with almost all the Chileans that we cross on our road, we see ourselves moreover swindled by a UBER which leaves the meter running 10 good minutes after having deposited us at the airport (following complaint, Uber will refund us the entirety of the race, too bad for him!)… or a cab which charges the meter whereas there is a regulated tariff for any transfer from the airport.

My credit card is also on strike, I can only withdraw every other day, 200 000 pesos max at a time, with a 6000 pesos charge each time. Several hotels refuse credit cards, at 35,000 pesos at night, we won’t last long.

Last thing: half of the addresses cited by Lonely Planet no longer exist. The prices quoted are incorrect because of the very high inflation in South America.

All of this puts us in a stressful situation that considerably reduces the pleasure of the trip. We haven’t felt this bad since Birgunj. Several nights in a row, I can’t sleep.

If in a safe country like Chile, we are being ripped off, how will it be in less safe countries like Bolivia and Peru, where things are more serious than a simple scam? Note: finally in Bolivia and Peru, we were not scammed at all 😀

Where did we screw up?

The advantage of these sleepless nights is that you can take more distance and better analyze the situation.

All on board, I realize upon inquiring that Chilean Spanish is very difficult vs. the other countries in South America because they use a lot of slang and do not pronounce S. No wonder I don’t get it!

Then I realize that my Michel Thomas learning method puts too much emphasis on the ability to SPEAK and less on listening comprehension. So, I get out my sentences without too much difficulty but I don’t understand the answer. By realizing this point, I immediately turn to the MosaLingua method, which is more conducive to oral comprehension and is complementary to the Michel Thomas method. It is still too early to judge the effectiveness of this method, but after 5 hours of learning, I listened again to the song “Me gustas tu” by Manu Chao and suddenly I understand the lyrics much better.

In general, travelers usually start with Central America first before attacking South America. Thus, they already have several months of practice with natives who speak a more understandable and especially … slow Spanish. Our mistake was to start with Santiago (thinking that only Santiago served Easter Island). We should have started with Lima which also has a direct flight from/to Easter Island. Those who really don’t speak Spanish can even start with an intensive Spanish course in Guatemala City by staying with a host family. And only then they travel. My mistake was my overconfidence in my ability to learn a foreign language without practicing with the natives, while I was in quiet travel mode or in Asia and New Zealand.

A friend also explains to me that the 3 countries: Chile, Argentina and Uruguay have big liquidity problems, hence my difficulties to make withdrawals. And that it was necessary to withdraw a lot in Bolivia or Peru before going down south. Or to come with a lot of US dollars. We found two solutions: xoom for Chile & Azimo for Argentina

If the hotels where we were staying refuse payment by card and do not speak English, it is because they are small and more accustomed to Hispanic travelers. From now on, we will only sleep in big hostels. It will be cheaper and there will be more English speakers, perhaps forcing the hostels to recruit English-speaking employees.

As for the scams, it is now necessary to operate in the Indian and Nepalese way: ask for prices before, systematically; prefer prepaid transfers rather than cabs, and not to arrive in a new city on Sunday (we were surprised by the few services open at the airport but here on Sunday, it is the day of the Lord).

Let’s keep our fingers crossed that it will be better in the future! 🙂 In the worst case, we will spend 3 weeks in Sucre (Bolivia) to learn Spanish hihihi

So, instead of staying in Santiago for an eternity, we’re going to flee to Patagoniarather quickly

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