Curico was interesting. It’s a small town of perhaps 100,000 people, a couple of hours south of Santiago. Whereas every third shop in Santiago is selling Ice Cream (and Nestle has really cornered the market here), every third shop in Curico is full of video games. When I managed to translate a phrase at my Escula de Espanol to explain that we were going to Curico for the weekend, the immediate question was “Por que?”, or “Why?”. This isn’t too surprising-a-question, because people have about the same reasons to go to Curico as they do to go to somewhere like Levin, and it’s not typically considered a tourist destination.
The reason we went to Curico is that it’s where Stacey’s former host family lives, from when Stacey lived here in a student exchange programme back in 6th form. The Friday night bus dropped us off in the middle of town, which has apparently changed a lot since Stacey was here last. It used to be a fairly empty town without much to do, but there was a now lot of activity, and personally I found it much easier to relate to than Santiago. (It’s actually possible to walk around the centre of Curico.) Stacey managed to find where we were going pretty quickly however, despite the changes, and before long Stacey was having a great conversation with her former host mother while I was demonstrating my ability to repeat the words “No” and “Si” over and over again to one of her former host sisters, and a friend.
On Saturday, we caught a local bus out to a small village at the base of part of the Andes, called Los Queñes. The trip took a couple of hours, including several stops at which the driver delivered all sorts of things to people who happened to be waiting on the side of the road, presumably expecting it. The village itself was mostly closed. Even though it’s a common tourist destination for people living in Santiago, we were a bit late for the tourist season. The streets were mostly dormant, and even the information boards about where to find things like local tracks had been boarded over.
It didn’t take at all long for us to be adopted by one of the many stray dogs, however. He followed us around for the entire rest of the day, which was probably at least 10 km of walking. We didn’t actually manage to find any of the tracks up into the hills, unfortunately, but we did follow a road on a big circuit out of town and back again. At the end of the road was a big, impressive monument to concrete workers, which stands out to me because it’s the first monument I’ve ever noticed here that isn’t glorifying a war hero in one way or another. In fact, the National History Museum back in Santiago is a non-stop history of war in Chile from the very beginning until an abrupt stop in the early 1970’s, the facts of which it doesn’t attempt to interpret. (They’re still very controversial.) It goes to show just how significant and important the military is to Chilean people, although it was refreshing to see something that glorified the manufacturing of concrete.
So the visit to Los Queñes wasn’t quite the day-hiking in the Andes we’d initially hoped for, but it was interesting all the same. After another evening in Curico, and a Sunday morning walking around town again, we made our way to the bus terminal for the trip back to Santiago.
Frequently in Chile, people have been telling us that it’s not necessary to book in advance for most transport. Buses all over Chile are at least as frequent as domestic flights in New Zealand, and they’re much cheaper. Between Santiago and Curico, for instance, the buses leave every 30 minutes or so, and that’s only for a single company. Even the Canadian-accented guy who stalks obviously foreign tourists at the Santiago Bus Terminal, befriends them and tries to direct them to places who pay him money, assured us that it wasn’t necessary to book tickets for somewhere like Curico. We’d booked them anyway, however. It was a good thing we did.
In New Zealand, Mothers’ Day is a sentimental day that makes a nice excuse for retailers and greeting card companies to impress on people that they need to spend and Spend and SPEND. In Chile, Mothers’ Day is important for family reasons, and what we hadn’t predicted was the sheer number of people living in Santiago who had grown up in Curico, then moved to the big city. These people had all made their way to Curico during the weekend, where they had left their families, and they were all intending to get back to Santiago on Sunday night.
So the bus terminal at Curico was buzzing with people when we got there. We were told we were very lucky to have had a ticket, because there was absolutely no space left on any of the buses going that night. Instead, they were putting in an extra bus, only for people who’d paid for tickets in advance, and we’d have to wait another 2.5 hours for it. The 2.5 hours sitting on a seat at the bus terminal, during which time only two people approached us asking for money, gave Stacey an opportunity to catch up with another of her friends whom she hadn’t seen for 9 years, who dropped by to say hello and have a chat.
Overall it was an interesting weekend.