8pm – Off the bus and breathing Chilean air..I still want to throw up a little. We make our way to Information at the crazy Alameda Bus Terminal, the main stop for international buses arriving in the capitol city of Santiago. The attendant doesn’t speak English and rudely dismisses our request for directions to the nearest underground train station because it is too much effort for her to try and understand my broken Spanish. Luckily there is a kind old cleaning lady nearby who overhears our simple request and gestures for us to follow her.
We walk and walk, I want to die, and after making it down the crowded street the subway station appears before us. Lots of stairs later, and after passing a lady selling sushi in the subway tunnel, we are finally on a train for 650 Chilean Pesos each – that’s just over 1 US$. The metro system in Santiago is excellent, fast, sparkling clean and super efficient.
A few stops later we get off and need to make it up a lot of stairs to the outside world of the Providencia suburb of the city. Our CouchSurfing host, Gonzalo, lives in a beautiful leafy area in a modern multiple story apartment building. I’m sure I will get to enjoy my surroundings once I don’t feel like I’m dying anymore. (I will stop feeling sorry for myself soon..)
After walking for what seems like a 100 blocks, T being my champion and carrying most of our luggage, we finally make it to our new friend’s 8th floor apartment. With a beautiful view over the city and the Andes Mountains in the distance, we feel at home immediately.
Gonzalo’s friend, Marina from Australia, is also staying at his place for a while before returning home after a year on the road. We all connect quickly and get along like a house on fire. Gonzalo ordered sushi and it arrives about a minute after we have. I couldn’t have any but T says it was amazing.
In the three days that we spend with Gonzalo and Marina we discover the biggest shopping mall in South America, find some rooibos tea – an absolute godsend for me – we buy some hiking gear for our upcoming Inca Trail trip and get to know this lovely place a bit better. We walk through the old and new city on an awesome tour Gonzalo gives us. We visit an outdoor sculpture park with marvellous art on display. We have a drink in Bella Vista where the trendy hipsters hang out and see some talented street musicians that would blow your mind with their skills. One of which is a solitary saxophone player I spot in a park.
His name is Rodrigo Morales and he is extremely excited to share his story with me. He loves his saxophone more than his girlfriend and he has never met anyone from South Africa before. He also enjoys having his photo taken, again and again and again. We spend a bit of time on the grass listening to his tunes, watching the world go by. There is a culture of excessive public displays of affection in the parks of Chile amongst the young people. The reason – young people typically live with their parents until they are about 25 years old, so this means no touchy-feely-ness at home, so it all happens in public. The result – a lot of paired up bodies cuddling the crap out of each other in the country’s parks.
On Saturday morning we need to get some admin done at the SA Embassy which is at the home of the Ambassador while they organise their office move. I know we are slightly homesick when we both beam with happy excitement at the sight of our beloved colourful flag. Everybody at the embassy is very friendly, welcoming and helpful above and beyond. By the time we leave we collect hugs and good advice and good luck wishes from all. What a great experience!
In the few days we spend with Gonzalo he becomes like a big brother to us. And chatting to Marina so easily, you would think we’ve known each other for years.
This is why we travel – to connect, and learn, and share. We shared our stories, our hopes and our dreams for the future. We all gather each other’s advices and part ways with new friendships to carry on our respective journeys. Marina heads back to Australia, we are off on the rest of our trip and Gonzalo is excitedly working on his international student exchange program. I know we will meet again one day..maybe sooner rather than later.
Santiago is a small, clean, safe and friendly city. It is a bit pricy but definitely worth a visit. When in town have a “completo” at a place called HOGS on Avenida Los Leones – you won’t regret it!
Tomorrow we are off to the winelands of Santa Cruz in the south..feeling refreshed and ready for adventure!