Gwen and I have this obsession with The Amazing Race. Not so much with *watching* the television show – though we do that, intermittently. But, even with having seen fewer than even 20% of all the episodes of this show ever produced, we are convinced we would rock the concept. We’re all modest like that…
To prove that we’d rock it, we do our own version when we travel. This means that, whatever we happen to be doing becomes a task in our own amazing race, and we award ourselves points for everything we do successfully and every time we overcome adversity and of course each instance where we have a lot of fun. And yes, we do know that the television show doesn’t actually have *points* (nor does it have a shop for shoes segment, and we rock that one too), but this is *our* version of the race. Last fall we conquered Western Canada (awarding ourselves about six million points for our scary crossing over Vermilion Pass in a tiny car during a snowstorm at night, and additional bonus points for how much we enjoyed each and every hot springs pool we subsequently soaked in). This time, we took the race to South America.
We started by flying to Santiago. Well, not entirely true. We started by checking out the new international Maple Leaf Lounge in Toronto, and convincing ourselves that it was the best idea in the world to drink several glasses of wine since it was an overnight flight and the wine would make us sleep. And you can tell me anything you like about alcohol and eight thousand feet pressure and respiratory rate, I will counter with: I slept for seven of the twelve (we sat on the tarmac after boarding for over an hour) we were in that plane. And I *don’t* sleep everywhere. I’m actually very bad at sleeping in places other than a bed. Sleeping in planes is Gwen’s skill (we feel the need to balance the skills in our amazing racing abilities). But I slept.
And then it was morning, and there were snow-capped peaks outside my window, and I convinced myself that every one of them was Aconcagua (and one of them actually *was* Aconcagua), and then down into the smogbowl that is Santiago, and instant summer. Ha! It was like going to Alberta in reverse! We stopped at customs long enough to award ourselves points for being prepared enough to have pens handy (the ones supplied by customs were *all* broken, so we got bonus points for lending our pens to other people) and more points for our luggage being first off the belt. Our race, our rules.
Of course, two white girls noisily congratulating themselves for earning points in English inevitably get the friendly Chilean airport support person picking them up, which means that we were escorted to the bank machine to get our cash and had our taxi called for us in the crew area, and *of course* paid far more for said taxi than we would have if we weren’t said white girls humouring the friendly Chilean airport support dude. We thought about it, and decided it wasn’t worth getting upset about, instead awarding me some points for still having some small Chilean bills from the last trip and actually bringing those so we could tip the overpriced taxi procuring man.
(For the record, should you go to Santiago, if you take the official airport taxi called by the official airport guy, they will happily fleece you 20,000 pesos to go to the centro on congested roads. If you take a regular taxi from the city, you will pay 14,000 pesos including highway toll to go the superfast way, and 12,000 pesos on the congested roads. Much more cheaply, you can take the Transvip shuttle. Or you can get a taxi to the nearest metro station. But we had luggage. And it was a race! A race to get to the first pisco sour and empanada, at that stage, but hey, we had the points to afford it. And we had luggage. Way too much luggage for a 2.5 week trip, but there was going to be desert, and altitude, and damp coastal stuff, and work stuff, and hot summer days stuff and…)
In any case, our expensive taxi took us directly to the Andes Hostel, where we came across the one person working there who was not bubbly and wonderful – but we didn’t care. We ditched our luggage (the room was not yet ready) and went off seeking more points. Which we earned by eating empanadas at the Plaza de Armas (points awarded for not getting pickpocketed), purchasing a cell phone (major points to Gwen for that one, great idea), buying the phone card to go with it (several points, though we did not achieve the maximum, since we never did figure out the long distance or even the prefixes – I solved all of this by giving people *our* number, and when they called us hitting save for their number, and subsequently calling only those people! And we did get points for switching the interface from Spanish to English).
Our navigation that first day in Santiago left something to be desired. Essentially, if something was 500m away, we would walk approximately 3500m in a perfect spiral until we hit it. Fortunately, there are rivers which mark the boundary of the centro, otherwise the spirals would have gotten very big. No points for navigation. When we got back to the hostels, we graciously awarded some points to the hostel staff for putting our luggage into our room. We stopped long enough to change out of our plane clothes (which were, technically, pants, but felt more like pajamas) before eagerly going in search of points.
One of the few episodes of the televised Amazing Race that both Gwen and I had seen involved going up the funicular to the statue of the Virgin on Cerro San Cristobal. We decided to do the same, slowing down only to scope out the patio beverage possibilities in Bellavista en route. And then, we cleverly didn’t buy an up and down ticket for the funicular, we bought an up with the funicular, down with the cable car ticket. The lady at the ticket booth made it perfectly clear that the cable car would not return us to the same spot, and we were in perfect agreement that this was okay with us without so much as glancing at the map. Between the two of us, we have five geography degrees, we don’t *need* no stinking cartoon map!
So, funicular to top, lame easy challenge, whatever. Look at the church at the top – it was pretty enough to make the girl who went on a Birthright trip last year proclaim she’d go to mass here – and gaze up at the massive statue of the Virgin. We were in awe of the Virgin, since we realized that you could probably see her from lots of different places *and* there were floodlights, making her a useful navigational beacon at night too! There was some obligatory poking into a chapel and some points were awarded for resisting the lure of the cervesa up there, since we had Bellavista plans. And besides, we still had our cable car tickets!
The cable car was interesting. Great views. Several moments where I found myself thinking, engineer is one of the most prestigious professions in Chile, so this little glass and steel box will not now plummet me to my death at the *beginning* of this trip, even though it totally feels like it. And then we were down again.
And nowhere near Bellavista. And not in possession of a cartoon map. But we did have comfortable sandals on, and we knew enough to keep the damn hill on our right – even though that meant crossing a big street, and skipping around a lot of dog poo. We saw at least 145 stores that sell lapis lazuli jewelry, remarkably few dogs considering the volume of poo, and not much else. Except at the end of the walk, where we saw a great courtyard off Pio Nono and in that great courtyard saw big red cushions on a sunny bench outside a restaurant and then we saw the jug of beer on the menu and points were awarded.
You’re probably thinking we don’t deserve that many points for our crappy navigation in Santiago that day, but keep in mind we were *scoping*. We had to know what there was to do! Besides, let’s put this into perspective: the first person who called us on our cell phone was Humberto. Humberto *grew up* in Santiago. He picked us up at our hostel. He heard our description of the big houses we’d seen, and of drinking beer in Bellavista. He asked if we’d like to see a “not so nice” neighbourhood, and then he started driving.
It was very interesting. Especially the part where he said “don’t worry, I have a gun” (it took ten days to work up the nerve to ask him if he was kidding!). It got even more interesting when Mr. I grew up in Santiago confessed to being completely lost. And interestingly enough, even the natives apparently subscribe to the travel in spirals til you magically get there school of navigation, because I think we drove the entire ring road. I know that I was watching the lit-up Virgin, and that we frequently passed under the purple lights and Humberto’s transponder beeped. And that we maybe made fun of him. He finally decided to get off the highway, but only because the highway ended. He also got a parking ticket while we were in the restaurant (where we earned pisco sour drinking points). So don’t give me none of that you touristy girls are far too dippy to rock the Amazing Race stuff, he was local. On the other hand, he does know how to use the Chilean cell phones, so points for him too.