Sojourn to Lampa

Anyone who reads this blog will realise how much I love living in Santiago, my home of two years and three months. However, it is an unrelenting city in that it’s summers are brutal, the costs are sky high and in winter it becomes a playground for happy germ families (seriously, the metro in winter is filled only with sick people).  The smog that looms as an oppresive blanket over the city is an issue every summer and winter, when anything faster than a casual stroll will leave you struggling to find a breath.  Coupled with the lack of greenery (in the suburbs we can afford) and open spaces, and it all can become quite concerning when you are the parent of a small child.

Luckily, Emilio hasn’t struggled with anything too serious, although he has had a chest infection that saw him suffer through an inhaler strapped to his face, and he’s had croup dozens to times that has forced us into the hospital’s emergency department on numerous occasions (always a fun experience).  But we do worry about him, and we both desire a garden and a life slightly outside the city.

Luis has received the subsidio, which is basically like a government top up to your savings so that you can buy your first home (you don’t pay it back but must live in the property for 5 years). Our options are limited because we don’t have alot and Santiago is pricey everywhere (even in Recoleta). We also need to make sure that we can commute into the city because that is the only place where there may be work for me as an English teacher, and Luis would still be driving the taxi. The villages on the north of Santiago’s periphery make good options as the land is very cheap and they are much closer than anything to the south (Lampa by car on a good day is only 30 minutes drive from Recoleta, for example). So last week we dropped off Emilio at the suegros and borrowed a car to have a look at our options.

It was a glorious day.  The sun was shining brightly and the sky was a deep, endless blue that seemed close enough to touch. In this kind of sunlight even the ugliest of things are transformed into pieces of unbelievable beauty and we felt this strongly as we left the city, our hopes soaring high.

 Looking out over Huechuraba

This high ended the moment we got stuck in traffic at the Pedro Fontova Norte exit, where we were stuck for a few days (a wee joke but it felt like it!). It is when you leave Santiago that you realise just how staggeringly huge it is. It really shakes up the little bubble of existence ALL of us build when you drive by so many different homes and suburbs. I like to imagine myself stepping into their shoes and living in their lives for a day.

So a few years later (!) and we finally arrived in Batuco.  Driving over a little river was almost an emotional moment for me as it seems like forever since I’ve seen water that’s not the Mapocho (kiwi’s are used to being near the sea!).  Batuco is a dusty village with quaint houses, flowers in full bloom and fences that are interspersed with green vines. The things I have come to expect from a Chilean settlement are also present: barking street dogs, swarthy youths in fake sports labels and something that always brings tears to my eyes … fields filled with litter. I don’t what that is about, do you? Who sees a beautiful, lush slice of greenery and thinks it would make a perfect dumping ground?  All the sides of the roads were lined with cardboard and plastic as well. It was really disappointing.

We looked at a few houses and all of them refused the subsidio. Why? Because all of them were built by a process known as autoconstruccion, whereby the houses have been built by the owners and often have not been through the usual legal channels. Many actually built by the subsidio as well but, as numerous owners told us, the reality of selling their homes along this channel means endless delays, checks and paperwork that the majority of them simply don’t have. You can learn more about this process here

I think sometimes people in Santiago forget or simply don’t realise the truth about many of the houses here. In all of the ones that we visited that day, and in many of the houses I have entered in Santiago, the construction has been lacking. Often walls are paper thin, windows are not double glazed or even sealed, there are cracks in walls, and openings to the sky beyond around the ceiling. Most of the houses are tiled and so freezing that it is really no wonder that sickness spreads like wildfire here.  In saying that, even these poorly built buildings are strong enough to withstand earthquakes. Two nights ago there was a magnitude 7 earthquake in Santiago (8.4 in its epicentre in the north) and everything is still standing. What I find more concerning regarding the safety of homes is that whenever there is rain everything floods, and the slightest puff of wind sends bits flying (I once watched as a particularly strong gust blew a huge piece of my neighbour’s roof away into the horizon – what became of it I never found out).

A flood-prone city

Anyway, we ate a rather miserable lunch on the outskirts of Lampa and drove past a huge swamp that’s also an ecological reserve (and I bet a haven for birdlife!).  There is a zoo with a good reputation in Lampa that I hope to one day check out, and generally its a nice little town with spectacular views of planted fields, stark hills and the Andes (but a different part to what we are used to – exciting!). We had no joy with our house hunt but I can’t think of a better place to live than Lampa – it really was like a slice of paradise!


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