With the exception of Vitacura (Santiago), every nice comuna in Chile has a nasty or poor section. Even Las Condes has a not-so-nice part of town near Colón and Padre Hurtado. Lo Barnechea (Santiago), with its posh La Dehesa district, also has some of the poorest places of Santiago along the Río Mapocho.

However, Viña del Mar has probably the starkest contrast and largest percentage of lower-class living of all the major otherwise First World comunas. Perhaps the best example of one of these sections is the spiraling hillside/hilltop section called Forestal (200+ meters above sea level). This neighborhood is comprised of both legally-titled land and homes as well as tomas (which I wrote about five years ago regarding coastal settlements in the 3rd Region)–what are effectively squatters communities without utilities formed by people taking land that does not belong to them and setting up a household with inexpensive building materials. These sorts of structures were what went up in smoke in the great Valparaíso fire of April 2014.

The blighted Forestal toma can be seen as one comes into Viña del Mar off the Las Palmas freeway. Take a look at the images below.

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The trash-strewn roadside is blight enough, but really just the tip of the iceberg when one considers the shanty style construction that is commonplace. (Believe it or not there are actually homes in here with fairly decent interiors, often owned by carpenters or handymen, but do not count them as the norm.) To live in this porquería (pigpen) is anything but paradise.

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There is often a spectacular view from these home sites, both of the distant Pacific and the towering Andes–which seem closer even though many miles further away. Life is “boring” and even quaint, with nosy neighbors and pots boiling over open fires in people’s patios. The next images are from the part of Forestal with property rights, showing a wide range of vistas, including looking across the valley to the Miraflores section. Viña del Mar has such a wonderful, cool climate and frequently blue skies that yield precious sunsets.

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How much would you pay to rent one of these places? The going rate is around 40,000 to 60,000 pesos per month, with some “chalets” fetching up to 70,000 pesos (that range is about US$64 to US$112 per month). If a husband and wife can take in $1,000 per month together, it is no surprise that many families can afford a used car and a new plasma television in their home with the significant disposable income left over after paying rent.

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The toma section, as noted earlier, has great freeway access. The roads are paved in the part that is not a toma and along them are found little markets that have inexpensive prices for most goods. The roads of the toma are dirt, and often feature men demanding coins, which are accumulated to pay for road maintenance. Corner markets and bakeries are seen but forget about finding an ATM, bank or pharmacy. There are significant dog populations and lots of children around, and in the “legal” part of the barrio people are quite friendly. I was also surprised to hear one man talk about how left-wing President Bachelet had to go. Things are not going well for poorer people on account of socialists (no surprise).

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In the tomas, especially the crime-ridden and “dangerous” section called Puerto Aysén,” there are dirt roads, and people often have dirt floors, too. The shanties up there make the legal homes down below appear relatively splendid. And certainly the rental price of a toma home must be less than 40,000 pesos per month.

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Not to worry, however, the government has stepped up with an adjacent project designed to relocate all the toma shanty dwellers. Most of the occupants do not like being forced to move into these new, white homes since they will have less space. Apparently, many plan to fight and stay put. They don’t need interventionists messing up their lives!

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Some of the shacks are in pretty bad shape in the tomas, as the images below show. The stores are run-down and the playgrounds are sad, even though the children in them seem quite happy!

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At any rate, I often talk up the virtues of Chile and leave out some of the negative aspects, like local pockets of poverty in the midst of First World communities. I have seen many Forestals in Chile, and anyone that chooses to live in Chile will eventually see many of them, too. Class D people (official designation) need to live somewhere.

On the bright side, we can say that at least the poor have a fighting chance to make a better life, largely because there is little housing regulation in Chile to force them into projects or less affordable, unsavory housing circumstances. It also is interesting to know just how cheaply one can live in Chile if he has to do so, and that even poorer people can live in a wonderful climate and have a great view from their home!

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Dr. Cobin’s book, Life in Chile: A Former American’s Guide for Newcomers, is the most comprehensive treatise on Chilean life ever written, designed to help newcomers get settled in Chile. He covers almost every topic imaginable for immigrants. This knowledge is applied in his valet consulting service – Chile Consulting – where he guides expatriates through the process of finding a place to live and settle in Chile, helping them glide over the speed bumps that they would otherwise face in getting their visas, setting up businesses, buying real estate, investing in Chilean stocks or gold coins, etc. The cost is $49.
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