While traveling, it is important for us to understand the culture, politics, and history of the places we visit. We have always believed that travel is more than just sightseeing, and there is always a human element. During our visit to Santiago, Chile, we had a unique chance to see how the locals lived, even in the poorest of neighborhoods. The family who hosted us barely spoke English, and even with so little resources, they gave us so much. It is fascinating to see a family live so happily on so little, while also being so generous at the same time. We viewed Santiago from a completely different perspective.
Our Unique Stay
We met Svin, our Couchsurfing host at his home in the San Joaquín neighborhood, which is southwest of the city center. The neighborhood was very raw, with many buildings made with sheet metal and brick. The place we stayed in had three small bedrooms and a kitchen that looked like an add-on structure with a sheet metal roof that was open to the outside. It was functional but unique compared to many of the homes we visited before this stop. This is not at all a bad thing, and it contributed to the authenticity most travelers in hotel rooms would never see.
Svin was kind enough to give up his own room to host travelers from around the world. He wanted to experience the world and other cultures, and since he did not have the money to travel, he used Couchsurfing to bring the world to him. What an awesome idea! He even had his own travel gnome that our kitties took a liking to. Prior to meeting him, he also helped us while we were in Istanbul. He was hosting a gentleman from Turkey and through that connection, we had a traditional Turkish dinner and drink at a restaurant owned by that person’s aunt. The Couchsurfing community is truly amazing.
Svin has a brother, mother, and father living in the home with him. They each had their own very unique personalities, and it was fun practicing our Spanish with them and even somehow joking around with little language in between. We instantly became members of the family. Even if we tried to cook or clean up for them, they refused and did it for us. We never expected this as we always try to contribute equally, but we quickly gave up as we got a feel for their true nature. Why is it that the poorest people are the most giving?
The family runs a small business making and selling humitas (we know them as tamales) which are corn husks filled with onion, cornmeal, basil, and chili pepper. These ingredients can vary, but this is typical. Brianna helped the family make some humitas, and it’s harder than it looks. That was definitely an authentic activity.
We shared wonderful meals and tried our best to have conversations in Spanish and put our translate app to work as needed. Through immersion, we seemed to understand more and more the longer we stayed. Luckily, Svin knew more English and could help translate for his parents. Even with a language gap, we still had so much fun together.
City Tour from a Local
Svin was kind enough to show us around the city a couple times during our stay. We hiked up San Cristóbal Hill to see much of the city from above. It was picturesque with the main city buildings towering and the backdrop of the Andes Mountains. At the top, we stopped by a funicular and watched it descend from the top.
We also went with our host to see a street market full of fresh local produce. It was huge!
In the city, we saw first-hand the ongoing anger towards the police after the massive protests that took place recently. He explained to us the chain of events as we walked to a burned up metro subway station. A rate increase on their metro transit system was the final spark after many years of growing income inequality, economic abuses, and a government that didn’t listen to their people. A group of kids rebelled against the hike, setting fire to subway stations and rioting. The police retaliated and killed many civilians leading to the outright hatred towards police.
The subway station was full of graffiti and the entry was completely closed up. It was surreal to see. Elsewhere in the inner-city, many businesses were shuttered and also covered with graffiti. I wondered what it looked like prior to the protests. Later we encountered some people protesting and chanting in the streets. It wasn’t violent but a stark reminder that these people are very upset about their government.
Svin was so kind as to spend a couple days showing us around, and we really enjoyed spending time with him. While we have stayed with so many amazing people during our travels through Couchsurfing, this was very special and we will never forget it. They made me realize how little we actually need to be happy, and also how much generosity there is in the world. In the future, I am inspired to continue to minimize my physical items and encourage others to do the same. These were some of the most genuine people I have met. We have made a true friend and we hope to see him and his family again someday. Couchsurfing is a wonderful program to meet locals and occasionally have life changing experiences.
Have you had a unique experience with a local? Tell us about it in the comments below.
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