THE LIFE AND TIMES OF JAMES A. BONDOUX

THE "LIVING IN CHILE" EXPERIMENT

Atacama Lodge

The remote resort outside of Pedro de Atacama where we enjoyed the desert's moonscapes and stargazed in cristal–clear skies.



Vega Market

The hustle and bustle of the huge La Vega market, where we went to stock up. Chile is a powerhouse producer of salmon, avocados, and all kinds of fruits and vegetables.



Misterio

Breakfast on the porch of the inn overlooking the Elqui Valley. So remote, so peaceful, and somewhat mystical.



Volcano

The Villarica volcano and lake of the same name. The volcano erupted shortly after our visit, provoking temporary evacuations of nearby settlements.



Osorno

The Osorno volcano. This is the view that greeted us on awakening in the vacation rental "The House of Divine Views" near Lake Llanquehue.



Poking about

Poking around the collapsed Moai on one of the hillsides where they were carved.

Restored Figures

The restored monoliths at Easter Island. They face outward, to sea, to protect the comunity.

Explora

Our hotel in the Torres de Paine national park in Patagonia.



Big Fish

Mercado Central fish guy trying to persuade Nancy to buy a fresh Congrio.



Tree house

The terrace of our apartment overlooking a leafy park. It felt like being in a treehouse, with plenty of privacy.

FierceAndean

Santiago's museum of Pre-Columbian artifacts is not to be missed. Meet a fierce Andean warrior.



Zapallar

The cove at Zapallar, an upscale seaside community of second homes. Snapshot taken from the "El Chiringuito" restaurant which serves extreely fresh seafood, being next door to the fishermen's co-op.



Coquinaria

Coquinaria gourmet shop and restaurant. Our favorite in Vitacura for Thai sauces and Macadamia nuts, impossible to find elsewhere.



Franco

Sharing some good downtime at an expat mixer with Professor Franco.

My first exposure to Chile occurred with a couple of business trips during the Pinochet years, and those had been confined to Santiago’s central business district, which was clean and engaging, but not all that different from many other "downtowns". However, starting in 2001, Kathryn and I made several visits as tourists and to experience the country's startling variety of dramatic landscapes.

We started with Patagonia, and then checked out Easter Island, the Atacama desert, the Colchagua Valley wine country, the magical Elqui valley, the Lake District and Chiloe Isand, and the Upper Maipo and Mapuche valleys scaling the high Andes, and all of the dozen-plus beach towns and seaside cities between Zapallar and Santo Domingo.

This beautiful country’s relatively high standard of living, good infrastructure, ample supply of fresh produce and seafood, first rate medical care, stable government, and recent strong economic performance make it an attractive candidate for anyone seeking a new place to settle down in.

Being ready to taper off our nomadic ways led us to the decision to experiment with living in Chile, especially since the requirements to obtain residency visas are not excessively burdensome. Santiago, a conurbation of about six million people, is replete with shopping malls, multiscreen cinemas, hundreds of good restaurants, concert halls and theatres, expansive parks and many urban services, and was, as a result, particularly appealing.

We leased a comfortable apartment in Vitacura, one of the posh parts of town, and linked up with expat networking groups and with the local Stanford alumni chapter. This resulted in a pleasant six-month stay during which we partook of the many amenities on offer, including ballet, concerts, dinners with new local acquaintances as well as visiting friends, side trips out of town, and we also tested the health care system with a couple of medical issues. All very positive.

However, after a few months, we regretfully decided to terminate the experiment. The key unsurmountable issue turned out to be language. The geographical isolation of the country ("the tailbone of the planet" according to some) has induced a general inward-looking, insular viewpoint, and also a mutation of the daily language into a quasi–separate dialect. Spoken "Chilean" is said to be seriously puzzling to visiting Spaniards, and in any event proved to be totally incomprehensible to me – although I seem to cope reasonably well with Spanish in places like Panama and Mexico.

English is neither spoken nor understood in most public venues in Chile. For instance, Kathryn participated five times a week in water aerobics classes in an upscale athletic club, and yet found hardly anyone with even a smattering of English with whom to engage in casual conversation. If you can’t understand what is being said, and if you can’t make yourself understood, you are taking on significant safety risks, particularly as you age.

Our second major problem was our inability to integrate ourselves into the environment. The traditional Spanish Catholic culture focuses on family for most social arrangements and makes it hard for an outsider with no family connection to break in.

Yes, there is a scattered expat community in Santiago, however it is composed mostly of either young people seeking to make a life or corporate career types who may be looking to a another assignment within a few years. The former are anxious to network, to find employment or entrepreneurial opportunities, and to party, and the latter are raising families, concerned about schooling and career matters.

We were unsuccessful in finding any retired, leisured expats with shared interests to cultivate. Perhaps we would have found the coastal cities of Valparaiso and Vina del Mar a bit more hospitable, but the fatal flaw of the language barrier would remain.

The gringo communities in Mexico, Panama or Costa Rica have much higher densities of expats, and most have the shared interests of older, retired or otherwise leisured folks. These other places tend to be closer to the world’s crossroads, with much greater external economic and cultural influences, and English often works almost as well as conventional Spanish.

Isolated by social and language barriers, it would have beeneasy for us to identify additional drawbacks to living in Santiago, but in the end, those two issues dictated our decision to end the experiment.

Certainly we have no regrets, as we would always have wondered about what "might have been", what living in Chile would be like for us. As to the country, we still delight in its various extremes, and intend to continue to visit as tourists.

Castro church

The Castro church on Chiloe Island. One of a number of distinctive wooden churches dating from the 18th and 19th centuries that have been declared World Heritage sites.