The address was right, but it looked like it was an apartment dwelling,with 6 buttons to ring the residents. I didn’t see any sign for a hostal anywhere.
After rolling my roller luggage in circles trying to find anything that looked like a hostal, I decided to ask these 2 older gentlemen in front of a used furniture shop. They said something about going down the street and taking a right blah blah blah.
I decided to use maps.me and find a hostal on my own.
Apparently, a typical thing in Antofagasta is to list apartments for rent on Booking.com. Not official hostals. About the 3rd hostal, I finally find a sign: “Hostal D’Milan.
The door is opened by a huge Chilean guy named Juan Carlos. I managed to express in my rough spanish that I needed a room. He shows me a room with three beds, and after some miscommunication I gather that I would be the only one in the room. I say, “Fine,” tired of going in circles. After that, he drops it:
There are no locks on the door to my room, or any interior room, for that matter.
At any other time I would have bolted. But my gut said he was true to his word when he said he would watch closely, and that I shouldn’t worry. That, and my cable lock decided it for me.
Turns out, it was one of the best decisions I ever made.
Juan Carlos and his wife Merlida took quite good care of me. Juan even took me around in his car, showing me his beachside home, and trucked me to one of the sights: La Portada, a dramatic beach with huge waves, cliffs and even Condors circling. That night, we drank jote (Red wine and Coca cola) cervezas including a Michelada (beer+salt+lemon juice), and ate boiled oysters and clams till I could hold no more.
He even took me in his car to get bus tickets out to San Pedro a couple days prior to my trip, and said he would take me on my bus out in the morning of the trip.
Hostal owners aren’t so charitable, but these two were. Don’t let the unlocked doors fool you – this is the place to stay in Antofagasta!
‘Can I have a word with you outside?’ she said, eyes hardening. By her language, I knew I was in trouble somehow. The way she used ‘…have a word, ‘ instead of ‘can I talk with you…’
I followed Alejandra, a slim Chilena woman in her 30’s, long back hair swaying and her riding boots making a hard crack-crack sound on the cement.
I sat across from her at the metal patio table. It was chilly, and I felt my body shiver.
‘We have received complaints about you,’ she said. I was thinking, ‘Whaaat?’ I thought I was very nice with the guest, social without being overly personal. I thought it must be a miscommunication, and told her so.
‘A couple arrived and said you wouldn’t let them stay. They said you told them it was full, but I checked and you still had many beds available.
I remembered them, a couple, huge backpacks, asking for a habitacion privada (private room) with it’s own bathroom. We didn’t have one, so I suggested they go to the other hostel a 15 minute walk away. I told her this.
This seemed to soften her a bit, but she stopped and started asking about what I knew about the recepcion role: am I friendly with the guests (yes), did I turn on the music? (No, no one told me to) Did I take out the trash? (Of course). She asked if I told guests about the town using the small tourist map? Before I could answer, she said, ‘I showed you this before, but perhaps you forgot,’ throwing a glare at me, before explaining all the things one could do.
‘Do you tell them about the tours?’ No, she never told me I should. ‘If you are working in reception you must enjoy being a receptionist, otherwise I will have to replace you,’ she said, giving me a hard look.
I was thinking, so what? I didn’t want to be a receptionist in the first place. ‘You have time here, so you should be looking up things to do and the attractions La Serena has to offer,’ she said. I thought, I am a volunteer working for free, and am here temporarily, if you wanted a higher level of service and knowledge perhaps you should hire someone.
I let her repeat all the things I already knew. I remember Pedro, one of the longtime volunteers saying to me at their other beach hostel prior to my leaving for the hostal downtown: ‘Oh, you are working downtown?’ he said, eyebrows raised. Pedro was a 70 year old guy from Portugal who looked a couple decades younger. He had been there a month and a half, traveling on his rented house money – like me. He said, looking down, face going dark, ‘I wish you luck, my friend. The owner is over there, and…well, I just wish you luck.’
I considered that a warning, but I really didn’t want to know. I figured so many things are due to personality conflicts, or some other individual thing that wouldn’t apply to me.
I should have asked.
I liked being a receptionist, but I had a lightning bolt of terror whenever the phone rang. That meant I had to use my meager espanol skills to communicate. I even wrote down the greeting, so I wouldn’t forget, ‘Buenas tardes, Hostal — —–!’
The other thing was that they only gave me a 30 minute training with a staff person who didn’t speak english well. So, she demonstrated the job using a combination of Spanish and English, and I responded in bad Spanish. Nothing was written down, no checklist to follow, no price list, just 30 minutes and ‘here’s the phone!’
The only thing I could think of was that it was some sort of weird miscommunication with the couple, and said as much, ‘I don’t remember exactly, but for whatever reason we couldn’t accommodate them. But instead of sending them into the night, I got on the phone and made sure there was a room for them at the other hostal.’
Part of me was wondering if this was just a way to tighten up the work. Some sick workplace S&M. But, one thing I’ve learned is to always know you have self-worth, and to stand up for yourself, use your words, and state the facts. If I have done my job, and have nothing to be ashamed about, well then: I have nothing to be ashamed about.
Well, maybe I did something unintentional. ‘I’m sorry if there was something I didn’t understand. But we were communicating in English. But that wasn’t their first language, so maybe that’s it.’ She seemed to accept this, and said, ‘I’m going to Santiago tonight, so I won’t be back for a couple days.’
The next day, I received a whatsapp text from her, ‘We received another complaint, we cannot have you working recepcion anymore. You can stay and do hard garden work for the rest of your time here, or you can leave. Please let me know.’
W The actual F? I thought back on my work time there: There was one time I asked if a guest could help me with a call in Spanish. Another time I stopped checking in a mother-daughter to deal with a couple Chilenos deciding they didn’t want to stay, making the mother-daughter folks wait. Could that be it?
I decided it didn’t matter, and that I didn’t want to stay at a place that didn’t want me there.
Also, I thought back on Pedro’s warning, and that this was probably something that happened repeatedly. Their training sucked, and the owner was a bitch. That’s what I was thinking at that moment. They expected a volunteer, who is only there 2 weeks, to know all the details about their city and all the tours, plus all the small details of opening and closing the hostal, and were pissed off when things went wrong. I didn’t want anything to do with all that.
I just had one ameliorating thought: At least I can get a blog post out of this.
“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.
Thar be pirates!
Vegetable Market at Coquimbo
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.
Ride an inauthentic Pirate Ship, matey!
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.
Hmm, some racist imagery on a restaurant wall in 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…
Some sort of fig treat, $300 pesos
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.
Vegetable Market at Coquimbo
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.
See Sea Lions?
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.
I leave Santiago, the capital city of Chile in a couple days. I’ve been in Santiago since the 9th of May, and will leave on the 31st for La Serena, a smaller coastal city. So around 3 weeks, 1 month total in Chile.
Today, I met 2 groups of people from Los Estados Unidos (USA). One group from Philadelphia, and one from Chicago. Interestingly, a local here told me that Americans don’t say what country they are from, they only say what city, assuming everyone knows where that is. Both told me that they were here just for 2 days.
‘Where were you before Santiago?’ I asked, assuming a longer trip.
‘Chicago,’ he said.
‘Oh, this is your first stop. Where are you going after Santiago?’
Wow. 2 days, probably at least 10 hrs flight not to mention any layovers. For only two days.
It blows my mind how people only stay for a couple days. It’s not even long enough to get rid of jetlag, get drunk and recover the next day. How do you do that? I just smiled, and said, ‘Wow, nice!’
And here I am, leaving Santiago for my 3rd Chilean city.
When I was returning on a bus from Valparaiso, the woman next to me asked, ‘Do you know where we are?’ I looked out the window. I knew we were in Santiago, but besides that I couldn’t make out any specific landmarks. ‘It all looks the same to me,’ she said with a sneer. ‘I thought Buenos Aires was a prettier city.’ I looked out the window. I could see what she meant, mostly 2-3 story buildings that were mixed use of storefronts and dwellings.
‘I think that there’s a lot to Santiago. I think, like Denver, it’s a city with a lot of heart,’ I said. I could tell she was just sick of traveling in a bus all day, but I really didn’t want to hear the typical tourist slagging the city they were vacationing in. I’ve come to love this city, and a part of me is sad to leave.
Admittedly, another part of me is sick of the city, and when that happens, when I feel the sickness that is a sort of hatred for the little things – crowded metros, ugly graffitti, rainy weather – what have you – I know that it’s also a good time to leave.
Leave while you still love it, but a small part hates it.
Then you can feel hopeful for the change rather than fully despairing for something lost.
The two places I have been to in Chile, Frutillar and Santiago, a part of me wanted to stay. And it’s not even the things you are told to go see that I miss, not the museums, or monuments or architecture. It’s the little things.
It’s the desire for the familiar. I had my routine, I know where my favorite pie de limon is, my favorite cafe, a few restaurants that are good, how to ride the metro and where my favorite park is. I know some good places for a nice view of the city, and where to get good fish and sushi. I’ll miss the tree lined boulevards and street food stalls. Yes, I will miss this familiarity. And familiarity is a comfort, like a warm blanket, that you do not want to shed.
But, if you don’t, you may miss out on another place that is just as great, and in some ways may be even better.
That is my barometer then: Un poco enfermedad, con mucho amor.
Already 1 week more than most Norte Americanos take for their yearly vacacciones. I’ve visited 3 cities in Chile, went to 4 museos, took 2 walking tours, rode planes, interstate overnight busses and figured out the Santiago Subway.
As a volunteer at 2 hostels, I’ve created a logo, then animated it, learned some bartending, cleaned bathrooms, served breakfast, lit outdoor heaters, learned how to barbecue – Chilean style, and gotten to know around 15 local Chileans by name.
And next week I go to volunteer at a 3rd.
3 weeks. And I see a line of endless days stretched before me like the long hallway to the staff bedrooms at the latest hostel I am volunteering at.
Occasionally, I meet hostel guests who have been traveling for months – 5 months, 8 months, etc. Universally, to me they seem a tad…weary. But also: if they weren’t fluent in Spanish before, they certainly are now. Some still have fears, which I thought would disappear after awhile, fear of theft, of more egregious things, even murder by gangs while traveling the remote byways of South America by car. But they are also more street smart. While newbies may not lock their belongings, longtimers always do.
They do less of the tourist things, maybe one or two in the town they find themselves in, but not the daily trips like I find myself taking. Nina, a German voluntario who has been traveling for 5 months said, ‘Yeah, that’s what you do in the beginning. After awhile it’s enough just to interact with the people around you. Maybe see a few of the sites.’
I’m struck by how many young people travel for months in the hostels I meet. 3 months is not unusual – travel all of South America during a break. Sounds fine to me, but was nothing I thought I could do at their age. I was busy being in school, then in my career, getting married and divorced. Maybe they are the cream of their respective nation’s crop, but it’s hard to figure this out as I am surrounded by these adventurers.
Like me now, I guess.
I tell people that I am traveling for a year, and every time I say this I feel like I am saying, ‘I am exploring the solar system…’ Like it’s a phantasy, and I used to let out a little laugh when I said it. Now, I just say it as if it’s a fait accompli, flat smile, studying their reactions.
Most they think it’s great, ask about my itinerary. The longtimers mostly do the same, but sometimes just nod, like: you really don’t know what you are in for.
I don’t, it’s true. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
“My cousin Roland Blas did the ancestry research and he didn’t find any record on him other than the name Don Jose Liberato Guerrero born in 1840 and must have immigrated from another country as a spanish soldier and settle on Guam and married a chamorro woman. Spanish records shows that on october 23, 1857 he sponsored a sailor from Val Paraiso City, Chile and settled in Hagatna, Guam. So there is really not much to go by. We don’t even have the name of the sailor he sponsored. It was assumed that he is from Val Paraiso just because of his sponsorship. Another assumption is maybe from spain as he was a spanish soldier. So don’t sweat it especially if the place is dangerous.”
My mom wrote this to me as I was considering my next move. I had heard from more than one person that the thieves were, well, thick in Valpo. One scam was a person would squirt mustard or water on a person, and while acting as if they were trying to clean or dry the person they would also be pickpocketing them as well. I heard this from more than one person. Facundo, in Frutillar, told me about a woman he met who had everything stolen from her, including her cellphone, purse, and backpack in Valparaiso. Ricardo, my host in Frutillar put it this way:
They have very high unemployment with all the young people there. And whenever that happens wherever that happens, crime follows as a result.
The stories had me rethinking my plan on going to Valpo, but Ricardo told me, ‘You must go. Your great great grandfather is from there. You can’t go to Chile and not go there.’
I know that the theft probably happened outside the tourist sections of town, and I heard that if you stay away from a certain side of town (north?) you’d be fine, but how was I to know what from what? After contemplating getting a bus on my own, among other plans, I decided to just join a tour.
I’ve always been a non-tour, non-cruise sort of person, but as far as sticking to the tourist areas and being with a group of people with a guide shepherding us all seemed like a good way to check out the city for the first time.
Vina Del Mar
The tour was split to 2 different places, Vina Del Mar, or “Vineyards facing the sea” – something like that – for the first part of the day, then Valparaiso the second.
Vina Del Mar is a big wine growing region of Chile, and our first stop of the day was a vineyard – and at 10 am I found myself drinking a sweet red, a sweet white, and a dry red. Samples, but still – sorta early in the day for that, right?
I heart medialunas
Almuerzo. Apparently Chilean Sea bass is just called “Sea Bass” in Chile.
I made a stop in the restaurant inside the vineyard and discovered my old Buenos Aires breakfast food – medialunas, washed down with a nice cortado coffee!
We also visited this impressive rounded stadium, which also had some statues of Pablo Neruda at the entrance:
In fact Neruda was sort of a underlying theme to the whole thing, with photos, paintings, and tchockes galore being sold imprinted with his image. Chile is very proud of their native son, as they have a right to be. He is arguably the 20th Century’s most noted poet in the world. That he is also Chilean has to be a point of pride (and source of tourist revenue).
He is everywhere, and became a sort of stand-in for Don Jose Liberato Guerrero, the abuelo de mi abuelo de mi abuelo…
We also visited a place that had one of those sculpted torsos with the huge heads from Easter Island. And I thought, “Maybe I should go there?” But, as this Dutch person on the tour told me, who had travelled for a year and a half in her younger days, “You soon realize you just can’t go everywhere, and so you go where you can.”
We had Almuerzo (lunch) at the coastal restaurant in Vina Del Mar, and I was right: Chilean Sea Bass in Chile IS just called Sea Bass.
Valparaiso is hilly and picturesque, with paintings and colorful arty graffiti decorating the walls, and multiple houses tumbled together in bright colors befitting the seaside town of Pablo Neruda. Apparently he had 3 houses he owned, and one of them was a sort of museum that was part of the tour.
The walking tour went past all this great outdoor art, and Neruda seemed to pop up everywhere.
Pablo Pablo Pablo
Mucho gusto enconocerlo Pablo
Todos los Pablos están serio…
You talk to Pablo you talk to me!
Pablo y Yo
Pablo en arte
I think a few actually are…;-)
Steep hills filled with art
I am soon stoned!
Pablo y Yo
Walking the colorful art-filledstreets, I felt that I would have had no issues in Valpo – it is a city like other cities, with all the dangers and precautions one had to take in any city you find yourself in. And as a person who has travelled through New York, San Francisco, Buenos Aires, et al, I should not have been as concerned as I was.
But, like the venerable Mike Tyson said, ‘Everyone has a plan, until they get punched in the face.’
I knew that I would not find any information about Don Jose, but perhaps my photos of Valpo could assuage the searching hearts of my relatives, perhaps show parts of Valpo so that they may see what he might have seen, experienced a bit of what he might have experienced traversing the hills and streets full of art many decades ago.
I feel the spirit of Don Jose here, though. I feel a sort of kinship. What it must have taken for him to travel by ship to a tiny foreign island, marry a native there and start a family. And leave beautiful Valparaiso behind.
Buying a bus ticket in Chile can be difficult, unless you know the correct place to go. And going to the bus station in small towns in Chile may not work, as they have varying hours of operation. Luckily, there is a new company started in January 2015:
Unlike the other bus websites such as Thaebus.cl or Turbus.cl, Recorrido.cl allows the input of your Passport number, instead of the Chilean RUT number. Recorrido also allows you to pay for a bus ticket through Paypal.
One thing to remember is that you do need to be able to print your ticket to bring with you to where the bus picks you up, (which may look to you like the middle of the road)! Remember this, because they will not accept electronic tickets.
The other way that works is to go to the station during their operating hours and purchase a ticket there. In Santiago, this worked for me at Alameda Station. I was able to select my seat, and purchase the ticket with my credit card.
There you go! If you know of another way to purchase bus tickets in Chile, please leave a comment below!
Who knew I’d be designing logos again a couple decades after I ended my graphic design career?
I had a little miscommunication about the volunteer requirements – I thought I’d be working on Odoo, but I guess their immediate need was to transfer email servers. That, frankly, was waaay out of my skillset.
So, after some back and forth about what I could do (and couldn’t do) it was decided that I’d take a shot at redesigning one of their logos.
I had a bit of a throwback emotion to my old working life – having to discuss what was expected of me, and what I could realistically provide. Just because I’ve worked in the tech industry for 20 years, doesn’t mean I’m also a developer, a network admin, or understand how to transfer to a new email server!
But I do not want to freeload either, I want to be of service. They provide a house, an excellent wifi service, 3 square meals – and I don’t just expect it all to be free.
So, I’m designing a new logo. I find it sorta refreshing to do this again, especially since my career isn’t on the line – I just want to do good work in exchange for their hospitality.
Voluntourism is an interesting way of doing travel. You have interactions with the people of the area, you do some sort of service in exchange for room and sometimes board. And you have a person to get information about the area you are in. I’ve budgeted for about $30/day for the year, and any day I can either do voluntourism, or get paid work is another day I can extend my trip.
Frutillar Bajo is kind of the main tourist part of Frutillar (I think). There’s also a “Frutillar Alto” which is sort of newer (if 100 years vs 200 can be considered “newer”).
Funny, you start the morning thinking you’re isolated and not able to contribute in any meaningful way, and then you start work on an interesting project, and then find out the town is a pleasant 40 minute walk away!
I was just contacted regarding doing house-sitting for 2 months in Bariloche, Argentina. I planned to go north to Valparaiso and La Serena, and maybe find some desert heat east to San Pedro de Atacama, but we’ll see what Destiny has in store for me…possibly in Bariloche!
But, Bariloche, while in Argentina, is still basically in the same region – a lake region with similar cold and rainy weather right now. And, I need to find some climbing soon – the El Muro gym in Santiago slaked the climbing thirst for a bit, but perhaps made me thirstier in the long run. Will need to find a solution soon!
It must have been strange to see this Norte Americano, with the flat-brimmed light grey baseball cap approach her at 10pm near a bus stop where she was playing with her 7 year old boy.
Earlier, around 4pm, I started the hike to visit “La Virgen” – a famous statue of the Virgin Mary on top of the highest hill in Santiago.
By the time I had started down, it was getting dark fast.
It took over 3 hours for me to hike up, and I didn’t start to head down till after sunset, around 7:45pm or so. In the darkened terrain I didn’t notice how the road down looked different till I was a quarter of the way down. At that point, a certain inertia took over, and I thought: ‘I’ll figure it out once I get to the base.’
But, the surroundings looked completely different – more like a suburb than part of the city center. And there were tall gates lining the highway, with barking dogs to keep people from approaching too close. I passed a couple of guys sitting on an old ratty loveseat who said something to me I didn’t recognize as I passed. I knew at that point that this was not a situation I could get out of by myself – I would have to ask someone for help.
I went into a small grocer and asked, ‘Necisito direcciones.’ I pulled out the map and pointed out where I was trying to get to.
‘Esta lejos,’ he said. It was far. How far? ‘Tan lejos caminar.’ Too far to walk.
He tried to explain how I needed to get to the metro (subway). What he didn’t know was that I had tried to get a metro card earlier, but my card was rejected because I failed to notify my credit card company of my travels. ‘Pero, me gusta caminar.’ But, I like to walk.
A younger man walked in, and asked about the situation. I could only catch a few words in his rapid Spanish, something about it being way too far to walk, that I needed to go down this street, and take a left, and a right blah blah blah.
He seemed to get increasingly frustrated every time I said I wanted to walk. I was wondering why he was getting so worked up, and in my ignorance of language, body language, I thought the worst. I went, ‘Bien, qual modo esta metro?’ Something like: Okay, which way is the metro?
He thrust his arm to the right, and I left.
The route followed more of the high fenced wall, then I moved to the other side, which turned from a sidewalk to a wide dirt path. I passed a construction area, and a security guard took a look at me, then down to his paper he was reading.
I kept looking behind me, expecting me to see the young man with a group of friends after some easy prey. In my anxiety, I couldn’t grant him the benefit of the doubt. I just kept walking, even though I knew that really I should just stop and try to find another place to ask for help.
For all I knew I could be walking exactly away from where I wanted to go.
I thought of the worst. His last known location was a hostel in Santiago, Chile. He told no one his whereabouts. The last photo he posted to his Facebook account is this one:
A young guy passed, and I was about to ask him, but I saw him stumbling and weaving – casualty of a night out.
Finally, the bus station came into view, with a few people waiting for a night bus, and the young woman playing with her child.
Her eyes were wide, cautious, as she assessed me. I tried to look as harmless as possible as I asked for her help. She was possibly the best person I could have asked. She told me her name, but I have forgotten. I will just call her Mary.
She told me that the men were right: it was way too far to walk. ‘Cinco kilometres.’ 5 kilometers. She didn’t know how far I’ve walked, but walking that far, and not knowing my way, would make things difficult.
She spoke some english, ‘You are in a poor neighborhood,’ she said. ‘I am poor,’ she said and laughed a small laugh. When I speak Spanish or French, and other people respond in English, (like in Monreal) I think they believe I cannot speak their language well enough, and instead of hearing me mangle their language that it would be easier if everyone involved would simply speak English. They are right.
But her motives seemed more simple: she knew I could understand her little english better than her spanish. I responded in my meager spanish for the same reason.
Yes. All my life.
Cuanto anos tiene? (pointing to her boy)
He is 7 years old.
I have 2 kids, my other kid is 3. I am a young mother (laughs).
Cuanto anos tiene?
I am thirteen three.
I did the calculation in my head. She should be 21 now if her oldest son was 7. Something lost in translation.
A taxi passed. I said I could take a taxi. ‘No, it is too expensive,’ she said. ‘It is very far.’ She saw me take some peso coins from my pocket. ‘The bus does not take money. You need a card.’
Pero, no tengo una carte.
I will talk to the bus driver.
After about 30 minutes, the bus arrived. She stepped up ahead of me, and I could only catch a few words, but the gist of it was: He is a tourist. He doesn’t have a card. Can you take him to the station?
He nodded. ‘He will take you,’ she said, and offered her cheek. I only encountered this in Buenos Aires, the cheek kiss, and I brushed her smooth cheek with mine, air kissing.
I felt so grateful to her. I wished I had given her a card, an email address, something to stay in contact. And I regret not taking a picture. But perhaps this is for the best. She probably had a husband, or not, or whatever. And this way, it was another selfless act from a young woman to a foreign clueless traveler.
I pondered my luck. I have, except for a couple exceptions, felt fortunate in my life.
Then a thought crossed my mind: why was she playing with her kid at 10pm on a Saturday near a bus stop? And then a thought: there probably were no playgrounds in her neighborhood. That she worked odd hours, and this was time she made for her eldest son. And a bus stop with people is a safer place than a random piece of dirt.
I made it back to my hostel, to my Macbook Pro, my iPhone 6s, my ability to make money, and realized I had no problems at all. I turned on the light to my shared room, and my roommate shaded his eyes, and I quickly disrobed, turned off the light, and went to bed.
It’s been a couple decades since I spent time in a hostel. My funny first thought was “this must be a little what prison is like.” New guy, have to position oneself in the hierarchy, punch out someone, or be someone’s bitch. But “little like prison” really means “very little like prison.” Nice desk person, everyone quiet and respectful as befits a shared space.
Acrobatic busker act during traffic stops
“Un chico” size is a single small fried donut, 100 Chilean pesos, or 15 cents USD.
A Viking themed restaurant.
Magic of using Google Translate app. This is the “before” photo…
… after Google Translate
Interesting looking busses
I don’t think Tom knows about this.
The airport lounge during my overnight at the Lima Aeropuerto. Could only use it for 3 hrs at a time. Rested there when I arrived, slept out in the main airport seats, then went back prior to my flight.
Market in Santiago
Hamburger Italiano had slices of beef, guacamole, tomatoes and mayonnaise. Not sure what was so “Italiano” about it.
Fried empanadas had cheese in the center.
Would like to find out what mountain that was – largest on the horizon.