Metros, Busses, Taxis and Hitchhiking

Funny how you can wake up imagining your day is going to play out one way, and go to sleep thinking, ‘Wow, didn’t see any of that coming!’ Studying  abroad is a lot about expecting the unexpected.

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Chile vs. Argentina

Last Thursday I took a bus to Santiago to attend my first big “partido de fútbol” – A national soccer match between Chile and Argentina (awesome game, but sadly, we lost), and spend the holiday weekend with my host family’s family.

I slept in a rowdy hostel Thursday night – and by slept I actually mean laying there wide awake to the techno music that played into the wee hours of the morning.

Why didn’t you join the party, you killjoy? – is probably what you’re thinking.

Well I awoke around 6:30 a.m. on Friday with plans to hike at Cajon del Maipo, a national park located an hour or so out from Santiago. Despite the early start, my hiking buddy Kaitlin and I didn’t head out until almost 9 a.m. because the hostel didn’t serve breakfast until 8:30 – and I wasn’t about to leave without filling myself with all the fresh bread and jam and dulce de leche that I could eat. This girl doesn’t hike on an empty stomach.

We rode the metro (subway) to Puente Alto, the final stop on one of the lines. From there we would hop a city bus that would drive us somewhere close to where we wanted to go.

And in all honestly, we didn’t really know where that was to begin with. We had both done minimal research, and decided to ask directions and figure things out as we went along. Tooootally reliable approach.

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Performers on the Santiago metro

I love the metro in Santiago. I love watching the people and listening to their conversations. And I especially love when bands climb aboard and play music. This particular morning, we were treated to a group called “Sentimiento de los Andes.” The cheerful notes that melded together from their instruments had this exotic vibe that made me want to get up and dance, and I couldn’t resist buying their CD for just 1,000 pesos – not even $2 US dollars.

Coming from someone who likes to know the who-what-where-when-why of everything before I jump in, the unpredictability of our situation was actually pretty awesome. People here seem to really like helping “gringas in distress,” so we had no shortage of advice.

It started with a guy at the bus stop who noticed the confused looks on our faces as we consulted a bus route map and google on our phones. With his eye on Katilin (he definitely had the hots for her) he explained the route he thought we should take. Eventually, a woman who had been listening in on our conversation came up and said there was another bus stop the next street over that we should go to.

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Made friends with a mule grazing along the trail on my way up Manquehuito

The next 45 minutes was spent bouncing back and forth between stops as bus after bus passed, completely filled to the brim with people as they left town for the holiday weekend. In that amount of time, we talked to a woman holding a child, a guy who seemed to be working with the bus system, and an entire family of campers heading to our same destination. Everyone was so kind and happy to help. Eventually, we followed the family back to the metro station, hoping to catch a bus from another location.

But the time had crept by quickly, and as noon approached, a change of plans was in order. Cajon del Maipo would be too far for use to ride the metro, take a bus, hike, and take another bus and metro back into Santiago. The family (composed of a mom, dad, probably an aunt and uncle and gaggle of kids) and two other travelers gave us suggestions on other places to hike around Santiago. We decided on Manquehue, a cerro (large hill) on the outskirts of Santiago.

Another band climbed on the metro on the way to our next stop, playing edgy tango music. And this time Kaitlin and I did dance, twirling around and dipping and trying not to fall as the metro rumbled along. Hey, you only live once.

After leaving the metro we stopped at a Lider (Chilean version of Walmart) to stock up on snacks. Two smiling women in a nearby flower shop explained how to arrive at Manquehue via bus. Unable to find a restroom and in need of a “Bip” card to get on the bus, we returned to the metro station. I really had to pee, but with the holiday weekend, all public restrooms were closed and the metro doesn’t even have restrooms – public ones at least.

We asked two metro workers about restrooms, and they curtly told us there were none. A devious look crossed Kaitlin’s face and she asked in Spanish, “What if it’s an emergency?” jiving a thumb in my direction.

Oh gosh.

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Making the climb

The two men, who turned red with embarrassment, called a female guard to escort us up three flights of stairs to an employee restroom. Mortified as I was, the humor wasn’t lost on me. Kaitlin and I left rolling with laughter – after we were out of view from the embarrassed workers, of course.

Next stop, city bus.

Keep in mind, we still didn’t really know where we were going. The driver took us as far as he could before dropping us off, still a distance from Manquehue. Without a clue of where to go from there, we walked to a nearby police station to get directions from a young officer standing outside. He was more than happy to help two gringas from the United States, and offered to call a taxi to deliver us the rest of the way. We took off our backpacks and sat in the shade, chatting with the officer for 30 minutes as we awaited our next form of transportation.

He asked us about US currency, police officers in the US, where we go to school and what we’re studying, and when our taxi arrived, he told our driver exactly where to take us. We bid our new friend farewell and continued on our journey.

Our ears popped as the taxi climbed higher and higher up the giant hill. We passed swanky houses as the road snaked through thick trees and neighborhoods. Every now and then we’d catch a glimpse of the expanse of Santiago as we continued upward.

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Made it to the top!

The taxi dropped us off at the base of the trail, and two police officers on motorcycles explained where we should start.

There are two different hikes, Manquehue and its smaller counterpart, Manquehuito. Because of the time (already nearly 3 p.m.) and the heat of the day, we decided on Manquehuito, which was plenty for me after our previous adventuring. It wasn’t the easiest hike, and my backpack, loaded down with all my belongings for the entire weekend, added more than a few pounds.

An hour later as we looked down from the top, we could see mountains in the distance, tiny houses and winding roads below. Enormous buildings in downtown Santiago were dwarfed in size by our perspective from above. A white cross at the peak of Manquehuito presided over it all, a reminder to me that Easter was only two days away.

We ate oranges, took pictures and chilled before our descent down a winding gravel trail, looping back to the trail head. Unsure of how we would get back to the bus stop, we started walking. When a woman drove by in a silver car, we decided hitchhiking would be our best option, and waved her down. She pulled over and allowed our dusty, dirty selves to slide into her back seat.

Thank goodness we got a ride to the bus stop, because it was a long ways. She politely chit-chatted along the drive and pointed us in the right direction as we pulled our bags from her car. The bus approached and we climbed aboard our final mode of transportation for the day, talking about the food we would devour when we stopped.

The lone open café on the block where we stepped off the bus was like an oasis. Crappy empanadas never tasted so good.

Kaitlin and I parted ways, with her heading back to Viña and me staying in Santiago for two more nights. It was the most random and perfect day all at once.

Some adventures just aren’t meant to be planned.

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The view from the top of Manquehuito

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