If you’re in South America and ask other travelers what they think about Chile, you’ll hear two different things over and over: Chileans speak fast and everything is much more expensive. I guess it’s not surprising then that those were pretty much the first two things we noticed when crossing the border from Bolivia into San Pedro de Atacama.
The language, I knew, would sort itself out in time. They speak Spanish there, like pretty much everywhere else we’d been, they just hurry all their words together. In previous border crossings, I noticed the weird phenomenon where, on one side, I understood almost everything said to me and on the other, practically nothing. My Spanish usually isn’t good enough to pick up the reasons why; it could be the speed, the accent, or the slang. The tiny improvements I gain in comprehension over the next week are too small to notice as they happen, but after seven days or so, I’m usually doing alright again.
I never got to that point in Chile. We were in and out of the country too fast.
(Interesting note about Chilean English: We were told that Chileans learn “American English,” rather than “British English.” Not that there’s a huge amount of difference between the two, but sometimes you notice the changes. Flat for apartment, that sort of thing. You would think that learning American English would somehow make their Spanish easier to understand, wouldn’t you? Well, you’d be wrong.)
The sticker shock in Chile was harder for us to deal with. Coming from Bolivia, we were used to paying, oh, about $20-25 a night for a nice private room. Our first place in San Pedro ran us $42 and we had to live with a shared bathroom. (They even charged us for towels, $2 a piece!) The hotel reception guy saw our hesitation and asked if we were coming from Bolivia. We nodded and he said, “Yeah, tourists from Bolivia always want lower prices. It’s just more expensive here.”
Later on, in La Serena, I wandered into a music store and looked around at the prices. Figuring the Twilight sensation would be a good place to do a price comparison, I checked out what it would cost to buy a book, a DVD, and a Blu-Ray disc of the first in series. Roughly: 10,000 pesos for the DVD, 13,000 for the (trade paperback) book, and 22,000 for the Blu-Ray. That’s $21.25 (DVD), $27.65 (Book), and $46.80 (Blu-ray). Not everything costs more than it does in the US, but media certainly does.
It would have been easy enough for us to stick to our $100/day budget if we were only concerned with food and lodging, but we had two other big expenses to consider: Excursions and transportation. I haven’t look over the budget too closely, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Chile was the first country that broke our budget. In that respect, it was a good thing we got out of there so quickly.