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Goodbye Santiago, Hello Castro

There were a couple of words and a couple of phrases that I learned fairly quickly on arriving in Santiago a couple of weeks ago. For instance, Stacey taught me that the two most important words to know on the Santiago Metro are “Salida”, which means “Exit”, and “Permisso”, which translates to “Get out of my way before I knock you face-first to the ground on the way to the Salida”.

I also picked up a couple of phrases very quickly. The first phrase was “El Hombre Araña Tres”, which translates directly to “The Man Spider Three”, or indirectly to “Spiderman 3”. It was all over every billboard and bus stop during the weekend that I arrived, but has since been replaced by advertisements for the new Pirates of the Carribean movie. (J’s are pronounced as H’s in Español, so I guess Johnny Depp’s name sounds more like Honny Depp.) The other phrase I very quickly learned was “No Tengo Frio”. This translates directly to “I don’t have cold”, or (in other words) “I’m not cold”, and I’ve now developed a reflex response towards anyone who approaches me with the words “¿Tianes frio?”

People in Santiago continually asked me if I was cold, and even on very sunny days it seemed to be that everyone would be walking down the street wearing big, thick coats. During my classes of Español, we never actually had a day when everyone else didn’t want to close the window immediately to prevent a cold breeze from coming in, even though people in Wellington would have been skipping work to run to the beach on such a day. Furthermore, it never actually rained during the time I was there. The closest it came was some light spitting, but it really wasn’t enough to bother with a raincoat because it would have gotten just too damp to conveniently roll up again afterwards without having to dry it out.

Pollution in Santiago is another issue of course. On what seemed to be a bright sunny morning, we turned on the TV to see the morning pollution report claiming that it was the most polluted day on record in Santiago this year. 25 minutes later, walking to the Escula de Español, we passed the television crew packing up their pollution measuring device in central Santiago. More than a few times, I’ve noticed parents walking their children to school with a mask over their child’s face, and it was only more recently that I appreciated why.

So anyway, we’re now finally out of dusty, polluted Santiago. Hooray.

Last Friday evening, we made our way to the central Santiago bus terminal, where we had pre-booked tickets for a bus to Southern Chile. We even met the Canadian guy again, whom I mentioned in my previous post. He tried to convince us that we should go on the other bus company which was cheaper and just as good, but we didn’t. We’d understood that we’d be on one of the impressive long-distance double decker buses that we’d booked the tickets for, but unfortunately it appears they’d changed it on us, presumably because not enough tickets had been sold. Seats 3 and 4 were still right at the front of the bus, however, so for the first couple of hours we still had a nice view out the front of the bus.

An hour or so into the journey, the bus was directed off the road into a line of buses, all of which appeared to be bieng inspected by the local equivalent of the traffic police, or transport officials. Our bus made it through after about five minutes of talking, including a couple of police officers stepping into the start of the bus. The driver of the bus next to us seemed to be having a few additional problems, having to hand over his licence, and I’m not sure what happened to them. Most notably though, a television crew was there filming the whole thing, so I guess it’s possible that Stacey and I ended up on TV somewhere in the front two seats. If so, it might have shown me waving my camera around and taking photos of the TV crew.

The attendant on the bus (I’m unsure what the proper name is) was very attentive and polite for the entire journey, and I was impressed. We were offered mineral water, a pillow, a blanket (which he draped over people), and he even sprayed and wiped every window in the bus when they fogged up. I was half expecting to see him abseiling outside the bus and cleaning the windows on the outside, but the official go-to-sleep time arrived too soon. Curtains were closed, seats were pushed back, foot-rests were raised, and everyone on the bus began to dose off. I woke up a few times, including at exactly 2.30am, noticing that the bus had stopped and that the drivers were switching. The company we’d chosen has a policy of not letting drivers drive for longer than 5 hours, and I was quite impressed at precisely how punctually they were switching. It happened again at exactly 7.30am. The bus pulled over on the side of the road, the drivers switched, and the journey continued.

It was quite interesting to notice that having woken at about 7am, which I’d been doing for the previous two weeks, it wasn’t light outside. In fact, we had driven almost directly south non-stop at 100 km/hour for almost 10 hours by that time. This is probably the equivalent of travelling from somewhere like Auckland to about Oamaru, and the change in latitude would have meant that following an overnight bus trip, the Sun was suddenly rising much later in the day.

We arrived at the bus terminal in Puerto Montt, our initial destination, in late morning. Puerto Montt is about as far south as is possible to go on the main highway in Chile. Beyond it, the roads start diverging around a variety of lakes and interestingly shaped coastlines. After dodging several people trying to sell us accomodation, we found that there were a couple of companies offering services to Castro – the town we were aiming for that evening. Conveniently, one of them was even running 15 minutes late, and the grimace on the face of the guy who suddenly had to figure out how to cram our packs into the already-full luggage compartments was a small price to pay for an immediate departure.

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Castro is the Capital of the province of Chiloe, which is an island not far off the coast of mainland Chile. It’s connected by a continuous conveyor belt of vehicle ferries, any of which will be happy to transport a Yak (or similar) for the right price. The bus services go direct from the main continent to Castro, including the ferry ride in between. The ferry on which we traveled on the way to Castro also had a special price for transporting household rodents, as Stacey noted. The ride was surrounded by several groups of frolicking seals, none of which were polite enough to stay still for me to take an impressive photograph. The ferry rocked slowly as we waited for our bus to drive off at the end of the crossing, but it was a little disconcerting that the bus on which we were sitting seemed to be rocking at a different rate from the large truck-trailer unit parked next to us, about 40 cm on the right. But we got off it safely in any case.

The best thing about driving into Castro was that there were actually signs of real rain for a change. Looking out the window onto the streets, a couple of people actually had real raincoats. By this time I’m releived that we might actually be entering a climate that I’m a bit more comfortable with, and so far I haven’t been disappointed.

Before long, we made it safely to the hostel in which we were staying, having only to repel a single invitation to get us to stay at the hostel next door instead. A few things have happened by the time I’m writing this, but I’ll save them for later entries.

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