Househunting in Batuco

Yesterday we drove around Lampa and Batuco again in search of house options. I should say in search of liveable house options.  We have a very small budget to play around with but we have to use the subsidio or we will lose it,  We have had to come to terms with the fact that we will either get the land but not the house, or we will get a semi-properly constructed house but not the space. Yesterday was pretty dismal. To recap:

House 1 – refused to be viewed. Owner said the only option was to buy it based on how it looked from the road. Then he abruptly disappeared. This attitude has been pretty consistent with our experiences so far, with people barking “just look from the road” down the phone or hanging up because they can’t be bothered going through the effort of showing someone the house. This goes back to customer service in general here, which I have pointed out a few times: it just doesn’t exist.

House 2 – was completely enclosed. The entrance was a wire cage and the sitting area was completely windowless and dark. There was not a spec of light anywhere in the house. The yard was also enclosed and flled with junk all balancing precariously on top of one another. You reached the top floor via a steep staircase that was completely exposed to the elements. I left this one feeling incredibly depressed because I was struggling to find any redeeming qualities, or even common ground with the owner. I just cannot understand who would want to live like that? It couldn’t be for a lack of money as the entire house was outfitted in quality goods and flat screen televisions. I just don’t get it.

House 3 – this mood persisted with the third house, that had a lot of land but a barely-there house. We didn’t enter this one, just looked from the road as the elderly gentleman who lived there never came to the door. This one almost made me cry. Absolutely everywhere I looked was filled with mountains of junk: in front of the house, to the side of the house, in the house … one would barely be able to squeeze through the gate because of all the rusty chair frames, broken toys, tyres, metal sheets etc. This was clearly the home of a hermit who ( I deduced in a moment of Freudian expertise) was burying himself away from the world. Luis agreed that he maybe had some issues, but the unfortunate fact is that EVERYWHERE we looked we witnessed this same thing. People are not throwing broken things away, instead just pile them up in mountains in their gardens to spoil beneath the rain, wind and sun. Beautiful spaces of green are spoilt by paper and plastic rubbish, ruining what would be lovely surroundings. What is going on here??

House 4 – we suddenly left the dusty streets of what I had assumed was all of Batuco and entered a poblacion, a residential area where all the houses looked the same. The roads were narrow and busy, and there was row after row of white, 2-storey houses. House 4 was built relatively well and would only need minor tweaking. The living space was small but the bedrooms and kitchen were large, and there was plenty of space outside to make a patio and tiny garden. The house was behind a fence and the street was gated. We could easily see ourselves living there and it was well within our budget, with room to spare to make the minor adjustments it needed. We looked up and the air was clean and clear. But the area was not so good, we had to admit. Flaites do seem to exist everywhere. We will probably buy this house, but I highly doubt I’ll want to make the commute to Santiago every day. It feels very, very far away.

House 5 – we didn’t enter. It was in Lampa, a small town that I really like. I get good vibes in Lampa. But the house we saw had no outside space, the area was very poor, and we saw people selling pasta base. Nearby was house 6 but we couldn’t go in as it is occupied by renters, who were very rude to us and the owner said were likely to make problems about leaving.

So there you go! We desperately want to get out of the city and into the fresh air. Maybe plant some veges. We are going to look at Melipilla next, which is much further away but a nicer area. It’s a scary thought to think about living somewhere else, especially with a toddler. It makes me realise how much of a home we have made for ourselves in Recoleta, the barrio I hated at first but have now come to love. I’d be very interested in hearing anyone’s stories about their big move, especially if its to someplace away from Santiago. So get commenting!

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!