“I counted how many countries I’ve been to, and it added up to 33,” she said. She turned to the young frenchman named Sebastian, and said, “I bet you’ve been to a bunch more.”
He said, “I dunno. 36?”
Let’s see, I’ve been to Thailand, various parts of Mexico, Panama, and various states in the United States, of course. Oh yeah, Scotland, England, and a trip to Buenos Aires, Argentina. And now, Chile. Eight? Really?
You think you are well travelled just because in comparison to your fellow Americans you’ve visited one country in Southeast Asia, a couple trips to Europe and a couple trips to a country in Central and South America, whereas they just visit Cancun.
And then, you encounter real travelers.
Bus Technical Difficulties…
“We tried to contact you with a phone call, but were unable to connect…” started the (translated) message from recorrido.cl, the online website to purchase bus tickets.
So, the ticket I purchased was no longer valid. Just a roadbump in travels one has to deal with. A visit to BusBud with another ticket, and I was sorted, perhaps minus another $15 USD.
This bus was not as comfortable as the last one I took, didn’t recline as much, so I found myself in the morning sorta scrunched up in a ball, nearly upside down.
In La Serena around 5:30 I told the taxi guy, a grizelled Chileno around 60 years old I guessed the name of the Hostal. He rumbled something in a low rough voice in reply that I didn’t understand. I replied, ‘No se.’ I don’t know. He rumbled something else. ‘No entiendo,’ I responded. He motioned to the trunk, and I tossed my luggage in.
Frankly, I didn’t really understand what he was asking until I sorted the individual words out later. ‘El Arbol? Al Centro o cerca la playa?’ he said. I found out later that they had TWO hostals with the same name in town, one near the beach and one in town. But at the time I was just riding in the car, hoping I didn’t get carjacked. It was a company car, though, metered, so less issues than the unmarked ones.
We rolled into a suburban neighborhood in front of a large 2 story house, and stopped. I waited a second, ‘El Arbol?’ I asked. ‘He pointed to the sign, ‘El Arbol.’
I got out and stood with my bags outside the locked gates, and pushed the button.
It was still dark, and a bit cold. Luckily I was wearing my puffy and my running pants (in lieu of long johns). I debated whether it was better to wait in the light of the streetlights, or in the shadows of the facing fence across the street.
I opted for the shadows. I sat on my suitcase thinking, ‘This must be a little bit what’s it’s like being homeless.’ Not really, but I was feeling a tad homeless at the moment. After awhile I walked around a bit in the neighborhood, towards the distant lights of the Chucky Cheese nearby. Yeah, THAT Chucky Cheese, alive and well in La Serena. After passing a couple guys in the park, and in the street, looking over my shoulder as they passed I thought it might be safer heading back.
Luckily, an older lady was at the gate. She motioned to me, saying something like, ‘Quieres ver adentro la Hostal?’ Eh, something like that: ‘You want to go inside the hostal?’
I followed her in and she motioned to the couch, placing two white pillows, and motioning to the blankets, saying something like, ‘You can sleep here.’ So, I did.
After awhile, guests started coming down for breakfast. Once the receptionist arrived, I found out I went to the wrong hostal, and had to walk to the other one near the beach.
The older lady who let me in, who I found out later was the breakfast cook, cleaning help, insisted that I have breakfast. She kept touching my shoulder as she served me eggs, toast, coffee, and oatmeal. She reminded me of my mother, and I hugged her before I left. She said (translated) ‘A full belly makes for a full mind,’ gesturing to her belly and her head.
I forgot to ask her name.
El Arbol – Beachside
The El Arbol hostal near the beach was a well-kept hostal, single story, that at capacity could house up to 40 guests. Low season now, so only 13 or so. Alejandra, the owner, a Chilean woman in her 30’s I guessed showed me to the voluntario housing, a converted shed. A guy from Portugal, named Pedro greeted me in English while lying in his bed, and we talked of the sights I should see. He told me to go to Coquimbo, to visit the fish and vegetable mercados, eat a cheap lunch, and see the sea lions.
“The sea lions come right up onto the street, where they are fed at this fence,” he said.
He told me I could take any bus heading east for 600 pesos.
Apparently, he was wrong. After going around in a spaghetti-like route in the neighborhoods, the bus driver turned around, surprised I was still there. He said something I didn’t understand. I just said in response, “Coquimbo, al centro?’ Coquimbo, town center?
He shook his head and motioned outside the door, saying something about another bus. I got out and after awhile, took another bus with a sign saying Coquimbo.
It’s funny being in a country looking a bit like the locals, but by my clothing and manner, completely different. And language can be as solid a barrier as anything else. So, one becomes like an observer, only occasionally interacting, mostly to say, “I don’t know” or “I don’t understand.” The language of commerce is easier: How much is it? I would like to have…, the check, por favor…
Eventually, I found myself at the fish market – like La Vega in Santiago, rivaled, and in some ways surpassed the fish market in Seattle. They had seafood cocktails of various varieties: fish, shrimp, octopus and clams in a single ceviche looking plastic container.
Later I strolled a huge covered vegetable market, looking at the colorful vegetables and fruits. A visit to the bathroom, and I exeited, but a lady yelled something like, “Oye!” Apparently, I failed to pay the 200 pesos to use the bano.
I followed the board walk, and then heard a weird prehistoric sound, like a film dinosaur, or something from National Geographic: A sea lion.
Actually, not just one, but several. Just beyond a wire fence with the remnants of fish scraps drying on the wire edges. They were huge, and close enough to touch. Seeing one close up, with their huge heads, and their prehistoric sounds, they looked to me to have heads of a lion, and the smooth body and flippers of a, well, sea lion. Heh.
I wondered what it would be like to see one close up while scuba diving. I heard they have diving in the area. I guess one of the things they do is “mouth” you. If you don’t know this, you might think they are trying to eat you, and as much as I would try to fight the urge to freak out, encountering anything underwater that is bigger than you are is a tad freaky anyway, not to mention something opening their mouths and clamping down on you!
Here, they looked fat dumb and happy, if a tad overfed and gluttonous. Fish bits hung off their maws, and dripped down their chest. Occasionally, they would rear up and become statues, absorbing the bright sun.
I feel you, I thought, myself basking in the sun. I think I will enjoy La Serena.
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