Tag Archives: La Serena

Kicked out of the hostel!

‘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.

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La Serena & Coquimbo – Day 1

“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.

Nothing.

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

 

 

Coquimbo

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

Yo matey

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.

 

 

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