It took almost 2 weeks for me to get some Chilean pesos at my bank in Edmonton, and shortly – too late – before I left, I realized I’d need some more money right away in Santiago after paying my first month’s rent. I knew exchanges at airports tend to charge a lot, so I decided to take out my cash in Canada, bring it with me, and exchange it when I got into the city.
I found – no joke – dozens of cambios on Compañia street, and they were all packed. It seemed unlikely they were ALL tourists. I could find only one place that would change Canadian money, so I got a ticket, and waited almost an hour for my turn.
In the meantime, a very nice man from Santiago and his co-worker, a lady from Bolivia, let me practice my Spanish on them – I learned they were both waiters. And that’s when I started to clue in: almost all of the people in there were black, and the ones who were Latino were in their regular clothes, some with little children. They were all changing American money to Chilean. I saw two more dressed-up Chilean people – they were the only ones changing Chilean pesos to American dollars.
Almost all of those cambio customers are working in Chile at service jobs, and likely getting paid under the table and in tips. They have to change all of their earnings into pesos, and probably lose quite a bit of money every time. The people changing to American must have been either tourists about to visit the US, or (given what I discovered in China) maybe they bringing their money out of the country.
Meanwhile, I’m a white girl with the choice to be in Latin America for a year before going home. I am a very lucky bunny.