Solo Out of Santiago

I walk back to the hostel with Michaela and go back to work on the semi-finished bottle of rum. Max is still there, Michaela starts hanging out, the Dutch chick comes out. Several more people come out with bottles in tow. Wow, a party’s breaking out. I finish the rum really quickly and I’m getting pretty buzzed.

Someone pours me some piscola and then some more. Man, I’m getting drunk. That kind of drunk where you’re fully cognizant of how shitty you are but don’t really care. That changes when I lose my balance trying to climb between a couple people on the picnic table… As I start going down I’ve got two options, either totally wipe Michaela out or throw my weight onto my other leg and try to fall into the bushes. I opt for the bushes. Whoaa-hoo!!! Michaela saw it all go down and she asks if I’m alright but she’s laughing and thanks me for not taking her out. I pound the remainder of my drink and tap out – it’s still early (maybe 10?) and most people are just getting going, it’s gonna be a big one, but I’ve been drinking since noon and haven’t eaten since then either (Ah! THAT’S why I’m so shitty!), I know I don’t have it in me.

I lay down and fire up an Iron Maiden marathon. I don’t sleep and when most of the hostel crew roll out to the bar I go downstairs and grab a beer from the fridge for slow sipping. Only one member of the hostel crew is on, he grabs a beer too and puts on And Justice For All.

The next day I wake up late and pretty much piss the whole day away. Now that both of the boys have left it’s dawning on me that I’ll soon need to start thinking about finding employment so I do some cursory searching around for jobs. My first meal in about 30 hours is some bibimbap at a pretty legit Korean place a half dozen blocks from the hostel. Some of the best kimchi I’ve ever had, and that includes what I ate while living in Korea for a year. It’s pretty chill in the hostel when I get back. Max swings by my room with a bottle of rum, “Are you in?” “Nah man, I’m good.” “Are you sure?” He’s persistent but I need to get moving tomorrow, rum won’t be conducive to that.

Super-responsible me is up shortly after six in the morning. The game plan is to get to the subway, take the Red Line to Central Station and take an intercity train to Rancagua, from where I’m going to try to find a way out to Rio Los Cipreses national park and maybe Sewell, an abandoned mining town. Breakfast first! Nothing’s open so I eat an empanada and then head back to the room to pack. Done! Rest my eyes…

Okay, it’s ten a.m. now, try this again. I check out and my bill’s about $150 but considering I’ve been in the hostel for almost a week and ran up a beer tab that’s not bad at all. One of the owners gives me a cool-guy handshake and Michaela gives me a hug and wishes me luck.

It’s a short walk to the nearest station on Santiago’s red line but it’s inexplicably closed. Gates are down and metro workers are explaining something to people I can’t comprehend. People seem pissed. I’m on a main drag here and the sidewalks are packed, especially near the bus stations. It’s only about five miles to Estacion Central, the terminus of the intercity trains, so I decide to hoof it.

Walking through the streets I’m surprised how pushy people are, and how many people are running into me while texting. Something unusual is going on.

Hit the train station. I’d read that trains to Rancagua leave every half hour but it sounds like the next train doesn’t leave until six thirty, damn. I was hoping to get out there early and have a chance to de-funk my laundry before heading out into the woods.

There’s a market and a mall out the back so I spend an hour trying to find an electrical adapter for my gear – I’d been borrowing one of Michaela’s at the hostel and it’ll be hard to keep writing this blog without one. While buying one another customer, a dude in his 40’s with unusually large eyes, starts asking me about Canada, beginning with the standard question, while pantomiming a shiver – “Frio?” “Si, es frio.” Hahaha. “Do you like Chile?” “Yup.” “Do you like Chilean women?” “Definitivamente.” He does the universal hand gesture for big tits and I crack up.

Coffee and email time and immediately I notice the news – “Crisis in El Metro”. There are pictures of smoke rising from grates in the sidewalks. I ask the waitress what’s going on and she speaks really fast but something about an electrical failure. The news says half a million people are affected. That’s it? There are traffic jams and a few people might be late for work but I’d say “crisis” is a bit strong. I’m not sure if this is why the intercity train isn’t running until after dinner or if I just had bad intel.

Search for electricity at the coffee shop, all the plugs are dead but the guy working there lets me run my cable under a door into the backroom. Time to chug coffee and get prolific on the blog’s ass. While writing I occasionally look up to watch a Mall Santa here in the train station. He’s pretty standard issue but his “helper” is a sexy 20-something chick with a nose ring and showing a good stretch of leg. Decent.

I take a break to walk around the main drag outside the train station, by now it’s rush hour and it’s ridiculously jammed pack full of people. After breaking through the fray a businessman-looking type taps me on the shoulder and rapidly tells me to check my shit – apparently he saw some young punk behind me trying to grab into my pockets. At first I thought I didn’t lose anything but thank him for the warning; as I thought about it later, I’m pretty sure I had a 10,000 peso note (about $16 USD) in my pocket that I no longer have. Fucking bastard. I’ll have to be more careful.

When I return to the station there’s a line-up already even though the train doesn’t leave for two hours. Maybe there’s an earlier one leaving now? I’ll try to get on it instead. Nothing happens for twenty minutes or so but then they start letting people through the turnstiles. The e-reader accepts my ticket and some dude tells me to go to platform four. Sweet, looks like I’m getting out early, the train’s there and it’s only 5:15.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Then I stand in another line for forty-five minutes. Nope, this is the six-thirty train. Then I stand on the train for half an hour until it fills up to the point of being unable to move in any direction. Gross. When buying my ticket the woman at the kiosk suggested I take a bus; when I told her I prefer the train she looked at me like I was nuts. Now I understand why. This train is cheap but it suuuuucks, especially when it starts moving. Unlike packed trains in places like Seoul or Tokyo, where everyone seems slightly embarrassed and deferential about the lack of space, here no one seems as bothered as me. Oh, here’s a sweaty arm in your face. Maybe I’ll step on your foot too, or smack your crotch or ass with an open palm. One dude in particular seems really “handy”, like he’s just waving his hands around hoping to cop a feel of something. Me and a girl pressed next to me look at him with the “can you fucking believe this guy” look but there’s not much we can do about it, I can’t even raise my hands up. I don’t know if a person can acquire claustrophobia but I think I might have, it’s not that hot on the train but I’m feeling crazy anxious and realize I’m covered in sweat.

What feels like six hours later (probably more like two) I run off the train as quickly as possible and breathe the fresh people-free air of Rancagua. I really can’t wait to get out into the woods now. I grab some fluids and just hike in any random direction. I do have an address of the only hostel I could find info on but checking a city map near the train station I don’t see the street on there. No direction looks any more promising than any other and I still don’t really feel like being the proximity of anyone to ask for a lift or directions so I just walk.

The way I choose is kind of rough. The area around any bus or train station generally isn’t the crown jewel of the town but this street’s pretty rough – very few people aside from a handful of drunks, and quite a few stray dogs. I pass by a windowless cinder block building with a sign that just says “Hotel”. Nahh….

I do hit the street I’m looking for, turn left and start following street numbers. I pass through what appears to be the shopping district / strip, with a pedestrian mall, some restaurants and a few clubs. I’m phasing out of party mode but it’s still nice to have the option, and my hostel is only a couple blocks away.

Hostal El Parrón is pretty nice but a little strange. No real hostel vibe at all, it’s really more of a guesthouse. There are no dorms or common areas, but there are shared washrooms if you take a cheap room like I do. The washrooms are super nice though, much nicer than what you’d find in a typical hostel. Towels laid on my pillow. A TV in my room. Slightly baller.

Head out for dinner and strike out. There are a few pricier restaurants but a shitload of cheaper shops that sell hot dogs or hot dogs chopped up over fries. No thanks. Looking for a corner store, I see one a few blocks away. Hey look, another hostel. Just marked “Hostel”. Sure seem to be a lot of scantily-dressed women standing around this strip. And some hanging out the windows of the hostel. One asks me if I want to have some fun. I decline, but I have to admit, that’s an interesting front for a brothel.

Back at the hookerless hostel and I’m cooking pasta when the woman working the night shift comes in and asks whether I’d asked the boss if it’s okay to use the kitchen. No, it’s a hostel, right? Apparently it’s not that kind of hostel either. She says it’s fine but generally speaking the kitchen’s for staff use only – very weird.

Normally I wouldn’t care about a TV in the room but I turn it on for kicks and First Blood’s on. English too, just Spanish subtitles. Will Teasle’s about the take Rambo into custody. Ohhhh shiiiiiit. No way I can sleep with this going on, and I can’t believe my luck when Rambo II is on after that. Somehow I do though…

Morning. First things first, my laundry reeks. Find a laundromat and they tell me it’ll be ready on Monday (it’s Saturday now). Nope. Pay an extra couple bucks to get it done today so I can get out of here ASAP.

Real life is encroaching more and more on this trip though, and I need to do more important things than laundry. I fix up my resume and fire it out in a couple of directions that some friends had given me leads on. Hopefully one bites but as more time goes by and I get more serious I’ll widen the search. I know I’ll find something to do once I hit TDF and call it quits but it’ll be good to figure it out now so my mind’s clear for the rest of the way.

Walk around town and there’s a much nicer part I totally missed, actually the whole town is a lot nicer by the light of day. Still not a lot going on though. Two exceptions are a one-man-band duel and what I guess is a pretty lame zombie walk. Most people just have ripped shirts and/or fake blood. Lots of people walking who just look like metalheads with fake blood on their face.

Very strange thing about walking around here – no one looks twice at me. It’s not like in the Bellavista neighborhood of Santiago, where everyone’s yelling at you to look at their menu, and it’s not like anywhere else since Guatemala, where I’ve obviously stuck out as a gringo. There don’t seem to be any tourists here and most people are as white as I am so I easily dissolve into the crowd.

Head to the bus station to try to figure out how to get west to Rio Los Cipreses… striking out. Doesn’t seem to be an easy way over and I don’t want to dump a ton of money on a 25 mile taxi ride. Don’t want to walk it either. I might have to reconsider this… the next park further south apparently has a bus that’s easy to find.

I look into the nearby abandoned mining town Sewell, a UNESCO heritage site. Same result as Rio Los Cipreses, there doesn’t seem to be a bus out there. When I get back to the room I do some research and from what I can find it looks like access is still controlled by a mining company and you have to join a group leaving out of Santiago to get in. Shit.

Saturday night and I’m spinning my wheels on what to do… With clean clothes and resumes out I’m ready to head out but it’s late in the day. I get a weird idea… It’s Saturday night, I could stream a hockey game! I grab a box of wine and talk shit to some folks back home who are also watching the game. After the first game there aren’t any good later games on so I ask the girl at the door if the bottle shop is open. Nope. Can I buy snacks anywhere? Go into the gas station and they have beer! I walk back in and excitedly tell the girl at the desk I found booze. She’s unimpressed, shakes her head and tells me to be quiet.

The next day’s a total write-off. Wow, I really didn’t need that extra beer. One big difference about traveling solo now is that if I’m written off, I’m not holding anyone else up, so I don’t feel bad about lying around for the whole day. I’m not in a hurry and there’s nothing going on in this town anyway, not missing much.

The following day I get up early and make my way to the bus station. I try to figure out the Rio Los Cipreses mystery again but when I strike out a second time I decide to just hit the road. I want to get to the south, to the wild part of this country. Puerto Montt is apparently the gateway to Patagonia so I try to find a bus leaving for it… I’m successful but it doesn’t leave for another seven hours.

I take the time to explore Rancagua some more but still don’t find anything terribly interesting. There’s a university campus here but it doesn’t feel like one, there are a lot of young people around but very little happening.

When trying to get a bottle of water at the bus station two things I’ve noticed about Chile culminated in this example of crossed wires…

1. Since arriving in Chile I’ve had a lot of difficulty communicating in Spanish, the Chilean accent is odd. They drop the letter S a lot, Gs sound slightly different (more aspirated maybe?), they use unique expressions, etc…

2. The vast majority of Chilean food seems to be a pile of fries, usually with meat piled on top, occasionally with an egg or a vegetable.

I tried to order a bottle of water, that’s it:

Me: “Una botella de agua, por favor.” (A bottle of water, please)

Cashier: “Papas”? (Fries?)

Me: “Agua.” (Water.)

Cashier: “Papas?” (Fries?)

Me: “A – gua.” (Wa-ter.)

Cashier: “Pa – pas?” (Fri-uh-ies.)

I spend the rest of the day watching buses come and go and telling bums to scram but shortly after 7 the bus shows up and I climb on. The mountains to the east look pretty sweet in the sunset and I nod off shortly after dark.

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