Our Trip Begins Part III: Santiago – the bad and the ugly

J-n-O’s 1-Step Guide to Buying a Used Car in Chile

Step 1: don’t!

We spent the weeks prior to our arrival here compiling various info on how to navigate the Chilean bureaucracy and buy a used car as a foreigner quickly and easily – in fact, we were all but ready to publish a handy guide for other foreigners to use. What we didn’t count on was not being able to find a suitable used car in the first place. We were somewhat aware that the used car market in Chile is significantly more expensive than in the States so were prepared to pay a significant premium to pursue our road trip dreams (actually, the local market is quite strange in that every car seems to be about 3 to 4 thousand US dollars more – thus, a car that would cost $21,000 in the US costs about $25,000 here and a car that would only be $3000 in the States is $6000 here for no apparent reason, which really forces a buyer away from considering cars more than 4 years old). But what really sunk our dreams was the horrible selection of used cars here. There just aren’t that many used cars for sale, especially ones that Ognen can drive comfortably. And those very few that are available (of which we saw every single one) are generally in very poor condition and what’s described as “impeccable” in a Santiago paper would barely pass as “fair” in the Bay Area. In the end, we just couldn’t bring ourselves to plop down $15,000 for a year 2000 Toyota 4Runner with 100,000 miles on it in average-at-best condition. And that’s how our how-to-buy-a-car-in-Chile guide was reduced to this one tedious step.

On the Bright Side

Our fruitless car search allowed us to see Santiago in a way few foreigners do – or locals too, for that matter. We literally worked overtime for two weeks going to every single corner in the massive city outside the rather small central and touristy area in pursuit of that elusive car that would actually match its advertised description (perhaps it was in the El Dorado neighborhood). And although friends and family living in Santiago were visibly upset to learn that we strolled around certain parts of the Penaloen, San Ramon and Quinta Normal districts in our spankin-new North Face gear with laptop, gps and mobile phone in full view, we think it’s just further proof that you shouldn’t always believe all that you hear and have to find things out for yourself at times. Really, these places are not so bad (in broad daylight, that is – we’re not stupid and no way we’re going back there alone at night). Plus, we look so much like the locals that we easily blend in anywhere.

Our repeated treks across town also allowed us to fully test all the features of Transantiago, the new Santiago public transit system that was launched a few years ago. Although still somewhat controversial and suffering from a poor reputation due to its problem-plagued initial launch, we think the system works really well for such a big city and is surely a great improvement over the anarchy that prevailed in the city’s streets until 2006. There is room for improvement, of course, which is why we’ll be sending our feedback on the system directly to one of its designers (who just happens to be Ognen’s GSI and professor at Berkeley and so is eager to listen to our well-meaning but almost surely misguided feedback).

Roadtrip Plans RIP?

Not yet. Rather than give up on our roadtrip idea after our failure to buy in Santiago, we’ve actually cranked up the complication factor and gotten both of our families in the States involved (unwillingly, perhaps) in trying to ship us an old VW Eurovan down here. If all goes according to plan and we somehow figure out a decent shipping option and a way to transfer title in California without us actually being present there, we should be expecting a shipment of a cool ride in a port somewhere in northern Chile in little over a month. Yes folks, this is what it has come down to, believe it or not..

And in the Meantime?

We’re now in our fifth day of traveling around Chile by bus and backpacks. So far so good – it’s been working out well, actually, so if the thing with the car doesn’t work out, this is how we’ll keep going. Blog posts and pics on our actual travels and impressions soon to come.

How About Some Pics from the Trip so Far?

Well, that’s another small misfortune that’s befallen us right out of the gates. We have some nice pictures that we’d like to share already but they’re trapped in our cameras as we’ve failed to take some cables that would make for easy uploading… but don’t worry, this is a problem we’ll likely be able to solve on our own rather quickly without engaging the services of our loved ones and international freight companies.

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