Mountains of Santiago
When you first arrive in Santiago, the first thing that strikes you is the mountains. Right in front of you, behind you, to the side—they rise up every which way. They're abrupt and startling, breathtakingly beautiful.
I landed in this city in the early hours of a morning in July. It was the middle of winter. The CIEE staff picked us up from the airport to drive us to the main office for orientation. We crowded against the shuttle's windows, eagerly taking pictures of the mountain's snow-dressed caps. When we scroll back through our camera rolls to show off pictures of Santiago to friends and relatives, these will be the first pictures we come across, the mountains, solemn and white.
When I walked back from the metro to my host family's house in Las Condes, the mountains were directly in front of me. For the entire first week I didn't notice anything else. I couldn't take my eyes off of them. There, in an outer part of Santiago, they appear so close, just within reach, immediate, a solid presence reassuring me that, so far from family and from home, everything would turn out just fine.
Santiago sits in a bowl. It's surrounded by mountains on all sides, cradled against the Chilean Coastal Range and the Andes with its various offshoots. This specific geography means that, especially in the winter, the city traps its own air pollution. The exhalations of nearly one hundred thousand vehicles have nowhere to go. The smog can diminish visibility, blurring the mountains and rendering them distant.
In class, a poetry workshop, a professor of mine lamented the scarcity of snow this year. He gestured out the window, at the mountains present and reliable. He could remember when the snow would blanket the mountains properly, he said, pushing right up against the city's outskirts. Climate change, warmer weather, dwindling snowfall. Apparently what we found so impressive was a mere diminishment of winter's former majesty.
When it rains, it rains hard. Each bout of precipitation brings a new wave of snowfall to the mountain's towering peaks. Afterwards, the air is fresh and crisp, rejuvenated. The day after rainfall is spectacular. The pollution clears, each individual rock and bush becoming visible. When we leave Santiago behind in a few short weeks, we will also have to say goodbye to these mountains. They will be the last thing in my camera roll, too, this beautiful place wishing me well on my way home.