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Reflections from Buenos Aires

I have so much blogging to catch up on! These last 2 weeks have been a blur – first a trip to Buenos Aires, then Anuprit and Geoff’s birthdays, and now the Chilean National Independence Day, dieciocho. All while trying to get work done for our October Gym-Pact pilot!  Needless to say, 24 hours a day have not been enough.  But Buenos Aires was such an experience that I need to at least write out my impressions, if I can’t get across everything I saw over the 7 days there.  The city has given me more perspective on Latin America, Chile and my own experiences.

Upon arriving in Buenos Aires, my first impression was, of course, of the differences from Santiago.  Cafes on every corner, greenspace, a restaurant culture, unique crafts being sold in markets, architecture, blue (smog-free) sky, and most of all, an overwhelming sense of scale and grandeur from a city that prides itself in its culture and past.  All these things I had been craving in Santiago, and experiencing them all at once was sensory overload but not in an unpleasant way.  We spent the first day just walking and taking it in.  There were those spontaneous surprises around every corner – street musicians, 2×1 café con leche, a public garden, 3-story high graffiti art – that made Buenos Aires seem endlessly large and ripe for exploring.

Buenos Aires had a distinctly Italian flair – from the accent of the Spanish to the cappuccinos to the tricky cap driver who tried to charge us $140 USD for a 140 peso ride.  But it was also different in that it wasn’t solely focused on a grand past, but also looking to its future.  This we saw in the beautiful Palermo Valle where Argentina’s startup scene convenes.  The Argentinians are naturally more entrepreneurial (maybe because they are more willing to argue?), but most of them also have a deep respect for the Chileans when it comes to business, despite the natural neighborly rivalry.  One Argentinian entrepreneur told me that the Argentines are better at starting businesses but the Chileans are better at growing them.  This statement didn’t surprise me at all.

Given their complementary strengths – Chile with its orderly, business-friendly government, fervent anti-corruption (fought with a mountain of paper receipts), straight-forward people, and safe, easy-to-live-in capital, and Argentina with its creative, artistic spirit and rich culture – I am surprised the two neighbors don’t work together more often.   Indeed, many Chileans I spoke to have never even been to Argentina, and vice versa.  This is a tragic loss of opportunity that can very easily be remedied.  I don’t pretend to be an expert on Chile-Argentina relations, and I am sure there are many historical and cultural reasons for the rivalry, but still, going forward, I think there is always opportunity when different strengths come together.

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Valparaiso & Vina del Mar

We finally had some sunshine this weekend and I took a trip to the nearby seaside cities, Valparaiso and Vina del Mar.  Geoff and I met up with Mirko, a native Valparaisian whose aunt gave us a ride into Santiago the first week – just a testament to the kindness of strangers here!  Mirko was awesome and spent all day taking us around both cities.  Here’s what we found:

Valparaiso from Mirko's rooftopColors in Valparaise

Valpo was charming and stunning, full of the traditional colors and architecture that was so different from Santiago.  There were very few high-rises and the streets were quiet, especially up in the hills.  Mirko told us to come back for New Years in Valparaiso because the hills rising up around the sea makes for a natural amphitheater for the fireworks show.  Valpo is also famous for the ascensores, or almost vertical lifts that bring you up the steep hills.  The view from the tops were gorgeous!

While Valpo has suffered from a down economy, I think due to its proximity to Santiago, charming feel, cheaper cost of living, not to mention the smog-free air, it can really become an entrepreneurial hub for Chile – a sort of Silicon Valley to Santiago.  Especially because the technical institute is located there as well.  The only thing missing is a high-speed rail line connecting it to Santiago.  Unfortunately given the costs and the lack of local funding, that doesn’t seem to be in the works any time soon.  Nonetheless, it was a breath of fresh air to visit!

Valpo architectureOld meets new

Valpo waterfront  Graffiti art

Vina was a much different feel – much more modern, sleek and the typical resort town. But I found myself liking Vina more than I had expected. Rather than being overly commercial, the boardwalk has its own charm and a distinctive Chilean flavor. The handmade churros, teens on tightropes and artisan market definitely helped!

Vina del MarAnd finally, some pictures of our adventures in Santiago as well!