Following the ordeal of our arrival into Valparaiso, when it came to the morning of our departure we wisely made the decision to catch a taxi to the bus station. At one point we were attracted to the idea of taking one of the funny old trolley buses across town but just as quickly gave that away as pure folly.
Transit days always provide a level of stress and anxiety and we knew we were setting out for a series of big events that day. We were meeting up with Sarah at Santiago airport for a 1.00pm flight to Puerto Montt and then on to the island of Chiloe, in the south of Chile, for a few days.
The streets were empty at 7.00am and our cab driver had us at the bus station with plenty of time to buy our tickets to Santiago. Several companies run regularly between Valparaiso and Santiago which gave us a plenty of choice. We chose Turbus (because we liked the colour of their buses) and at the counter we engaged once again in the merry dance around Spanish and English with the ticket seller. Luckily we were just buying 2 tickets to Santiago on the next bus, so not much to do other than to use sign language and say Santiago. Too easy, or so it seemed at the time.
The ride was brilliant. We had top deck front row seats and enjoyed the expansive views as we passed the Casablanca Valley wineries along the road. The highway spears through several mountains and we had already learned Chile is the earthquake capital in the world. It was quite eerie going through the long, dark tunnels and we were relieved to get out the other side safely. There’s a level of anxiety being in a country where earthquakes are common.
There is no bus directly from Valparaiso to the airport so we were to get off the bus at Pajaritos metro station and transfer to one of the frequent airport shuttle buses. From our birds-eye spot up on the top deck, we imagined we would have fair warning of our approaching stop. The driver pulled in to what appeared as no more than an unmarked siding on the outskirts of the city. We didn’t think much of it because along the way people had got off and on the bus at random unmarked stops. As we pulled away we noticed a sign that looked something like the name of our stop, Pajaritos, but we weren’t 100% certain. By the time we got down the stairs of the bus and tried to communicate with the driver, we were well out of the stop and the driver had no idea what we were asking him. We realised that was our stop but too late, we had no choice but to sit there feeling a bit silly and wait for the next stop, and to breathe.
We really did believe it would all work out ok, but sitting on that bus for the next 20 or so kilometres did have us just a tad concerned and hoping that we could get off near a Metro station so we could get back to Pajaritos. Having already spent a couple of weeks in Santiago we’d managed to understand a bit about how the Metro system worked so we felt fairly confident.
Then into our lives entered a helpful English-speaking passenger who took pity and assured us that this bus would indeed terminate at Central Estacion, where we could catch a train back to Pajaritos and then connect with an all important airport transfer bus. Thank you lovely Chilean gentleman.
Except that there was a massive gridlock around the station with around 100 bus drivers vying for front of queue position to get their monster buses (and anxious passengers) into the terminus. We were around number 87 behind the head of the queue. So there we sat in our top-level, front row seats for ages, calmly observing the jammed up traffic around us, feeling quite useless and helpless.
An amazing thing then happened. Our driver backed that massive double-decker up just a bit, turned down a tiny side street and then made a genius detour around the whole bloody mess and got us in through a side entrance, landing us safely in an empty loading bay. Took no longer than 5 minutes and it was a strong resolve for me not to hug the driver as he dragged our luggage out from the hold after we disembarked. I think now that he may have preferred a tip rather than a hug but being Aussies, we didn’t think of tipping at the time.
Bang, we hit the terminus ground running and snaked our way through the busy crowds to the ticket office, thankful again for our light luggage. I stood guard with our suitcases while Dave headed to the kiosk and worked his magic with the ticket seller. It took only a few seconds for a security guard to wander over my way and just hang around, leaning against a bollard, glaring around at the crowd. Despite our best efforts we sometimes can’t help but stand out as hapless tourists in a foreign land and this obviously was also his view of the situation. I realised then that here was another guardian angel, just loitering around long enough to make sure we were able to move on to our next point, without harm, under his watch.
Making it to Pajaritos unscathed, it occurred to us that the bus terminal looked a whole lot different on the inside than from the outside from the bus so it wasn’t surprising we missed it. By this stage we’d seen a few Chile bus stations, and as we waded our way past sleeping and begging backpackers (begpackers, as they’re known) spread out all through the walkways, as well as the ubiquitous street dogs and the inevitable dog shit, we finally found the bus departure point.
We (comically) negotiated payment of the fare with the bus driver and then finally we were on our way to the airport, comfortable that the time constraints were now behind us. At this point we had been on the go in transit around 4 hours since leaving Valparaiso and we felt harried and hungry, and looking forward to meeting with Sarah who had flown overnight from Mexico City via Peru. When we found Sarah she was also feeling a bit ordinary, and after our initial “hello we’ve missed you so much!” hugs, we three made our way through the terminal in search of soft couches and strong coffee while we waited for our plane to board.
The flight south was thankfully uneventful and we arrived at the tiny and quirky Puerto Montt airport ready for our next adventure. We had previously considered hiring a car for our few days of exploring Chiloe but didn’t get around to organising anything online so were not overly disappointed when the car hire desk clerks told us that they had no cars available.
Plenty of cabs were there waiting for us in the rain and it was an easy 10 minute ride to our hotel, with Sarah practicing her “Mexican Spanish” with the “Chilean Spanish” speaking driver, neither of whom could fully understand the other.
We managed to explore only a short distance from the hotel because of the rain. It was around 6pm and none of the restaurants were yet open for dinner, so we wandered to a nearby shopping mall and found the food court – much the same as a food court anywhere in the world, except this one sold beer! Oh, and of course the supermarket had wine. Happy days.
Despite some initial misgivings our hotel turned out to be terrific and we were thrilled with the massive rooms and misty rainy views. It was a great find and highly recommended. The included breakfast, though, was dreadful but our expectations were set low because so far in Chile we’d not had brilliant culinary luck.
It really was a big transit day for us, though we had no idea what was in store for us the next day on our bus trip from Puerto Montt across to Chiloe! But that’s a story for another time.
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