Santiago stands out as one of the most vibrant and modern cities in Latin America. Set against the dramatic backdrop of the Andean peaks, it boasts an impressive collection of world class museums and galleries, an enticing food scene and some top tourist attractions.
It’s also a convenient place to live with a wide range of fresh food markets and neighborhood jumble sales where you can buy anything and everything you need at bargain prices. Then there are the malls with their big brands and an eclectic mix of trendy boutique stores.
But to stock up on essential items throughout the day you don’t need to go anywhere: they come to you. Standing on buses, street corners, and outside Metro stations all over Santiago are hundreds of colorful vendors offering all manner of products. Good humored and and generally pleasant, these ubiquitous characters are an essential part of daily life in Santiago.
Stepping onto the bus in a frazzle after sleeping through your alarm, you realize that you left home without brushing your teeth. No need to worry. Chances are that within a couple of stops a friendly chap selling chewing gum will board the bus. Do you have a sore throat? That’s not a problem either. He also has two types of soothing eucalyptus lollies among his wares.
“Good morning ladies and gentlemen,” he says, launching into his sales pitch. “For your convenience this morning, I have a broad selection of mints, chewing gums and sweets at very low prices…”
Passengers signal to him and press coins into his hands as he makes his way through the bus. When he has finished he thanks the driver and hops off, ready to find a new bus and repeat the process all over again.
Other characters you might come across on the bus are the elderly gentleman selling stationery items or the young man with ID wallets and purses. All at exceptionally low prices.
If you’re lucky you might also meet a joke-telling clown or a group of buskers with guitars, Andean wood pipes, bongo drums and a small hand held speaker. The quality of the music is remarkably good and it sure helps to liven up the morning commute. Definitely worth the 100 peso donation.
Off the bus, you remember that you left your packed lunch on the kitchen bench. That’s OK. Walking to the office you’re bound to come across that friendly woman selling soy or perhaps even black bean burgers. A good completo hot dog, churros, a tasty berliner pastry or a Super8 – Chile’s answer to the Kit Kat – are also never hard to find.
In winter, you can warm yourself up with a piping hot sopaipilla – a fried pumpkin bread – while in summer, there are people selling mote con huesillos – a refreshing seasonal drink. Fancy some cold water or ice cream? Head to a city park and listen for the battle cry of “helado-elado-elado-elado” (“icecream-icecream-icecream-icecream”) or “aguitaguitaguitaguita” (“littlewaterwaterwaterwater”) from the enthusiastic vendors with their portable iceboxes. These guys even have a special Chilean slang name: “el chocopandero”, which comes from “Choco Panda”, a traditional chocolate-covered ice cream made by a brand called Panda.
So as you make your way around the city, make sure you carry some spare change. As well as making life that little bit more interesting, the street vendors and performers can also prove to be very useful. Santiago just wouldn’t be the same without them.