It all started on Thursday when I agreed to go out clubbing with my friend Doug. I was super excited to go to the club, but first he wanted to pregame, which was totally fine by me. I came to realize that what I thought he meant and what was were 2 very different things. On the way to his hostel, we picked up a 12 pack of Escudo, the Chilean equivalent of Miller Lite.
Apparently we were going to have a beer pong tournament first… Never a good idea. Of course it turned out to be a lot of fun. Doug and I were partners as we were the only people from the United States there at the time. So we became team USA and proceeded to defeat England, Brazil, and others. By the time we beat Brazil, I could no longer remember who we were playing. I did not intend on drinking half that much that night; the problem was we kept winning! Needless to say, I got pretty wasted, and had to take an Uber home while everyone else went to the club. Definitely one of my most epic fails.
Friday afternoon was way too bright for the hangover I had. The worst one yet. I slept on and off and didn’t get out of bed until about 2pm. Since it was a national holiday and the entire city was closed down, I stayed in the apartment and binge watched “13 Reasons Why” on Netflix all day long. Great show by the way.
I had 2 missions to complete on Saturday: buy tennis shoes, and climb San Cristobal hill with some people I found on Facebook. I am happy to say that both missions were accomplished in the end, though I had my fair share of obstacles. I spent 3 hours walking around the neighborhood stores and malls looking for shoes that would fit me. There are no women’s tennis shoes that are larger than an 40 (size 9 U.S.), so I had to buy a pair of men’s tennis shoes. Which only go up to 42 (size 11 women’s/ 9 men’s U.S.)! I finally found a pair I liked and that fit, but I was going to be late to my excursion because of how long the process took.
Thankfully, my new Facebook friends waited for me. There were 3 of them, Elvira from Spain, Cass from Australia, and… Cass’s roommate who was from France (Yes I embarrassingly forgot his name, I am so sorry). They were all very welcoming and kind, and we had a really nice and scenic climb to the top of the hill.
The only unfortunate thing was how cloudy and smoggy it was that day. Aside from that, we managed to have fun. It was so nice to be hiking again among trees and nature. The city wears me out sometimes.
There are 2 peaks to the hill, and we decided to go the one that has the giant statue of the Virgin Mary on it. There were multiple crosses all decorated different in different artistic styles. There was stadium seating directed towards a stage where I assume masses are held. It was a very religious place, and there were many locals sending up prayers.
On the way down we wanted to take the funicular- basically a small suspended cable car- but the line was at least an hour long, and it was already around 4pm. So we checked the older cable car tram that’s on the ground, and that had an insane line as well. We were tired, but way too tired to stand for that long, and we all had places to be. Luckily we were able to find some soft dirt switchbacks that took us down pretty quickly.
At the Baquedeno metro station we parted ways with promises to meet up at another time and get drinks. I hope we do end up hanging out, I could always do with some new friends!
Speaking of, I made some more that evening. At 8 I went to a nice restaurant called Barbazul and met up with a Chilean couple who are going to do language exchanges with me. So for the first hour or 2 we spoke in English, and I told them what I was doing here, where I came from, and asked about their experiences in New Zealand and Thailand. Then it was my turn to speak in Spanish which turned out to be kind of a disaster. Alvaro kept accidentally speaking too fast for me, and I realized how much vocabulary I still needed to learn. But they promised we would hang out again and practice more.
Easter Sunday aka my birthday started at 7:38 am. I donned my new tennis shoes and set off at 8:45 am to meet up with Tracy at the Tobalaba metro station, about a 12 minute walk. We rode the purple line in its entirety all the way East to Puente Alto plaza. It’s not exactly the nicest part of town, then again it’s not the worst either. There were a lot more feral dogs, which I have come to realize is a telling sign of monetary status of an area. The more dogs there are, the poorer the area generally is.
We met up with our new Chilean friend, Praxila and together we walked to the bus stop. It was a bit of a challenge, but thankfully we had Praxi to ask directions for us. We found the bus, flagged it down, and paid 850 pesos ($1.50 USD) for a 45 minute ride into Cajon del Maipo.
What we then realized was that Cajon del Maipo is not a place per se as we had imagined, it was a region that included lots of little towns and places of interest.
On the way up into the mountains, the driver stopped at a street-side empanada stand and asked us if we wanted to buy one for 1,300 pesos ($2 USD).
It was the best empanada I had had by far, in it was beef, onions, a boiled egg, and olives (which I took out because they’re evil). By this time it was about 11. We weren’t super hungry, but we knew with all the walking we’d be doing, we would need the fuel. Besides, there was no way I could pass up an authentic Andean empanada.
We were dropped off at a campground called Cascadas de las Animas (Animas Waterfalls). We were so excited that the day had gone as planned and we were about to hike up and see a beautiful waterfall.
When we walked inside the visitor’s center, all ready to go, we were told that the hike was a guided one and it cost 7,000 pesos ($12) a person. Not only did we really not want a tour guide, we didn’t think we would have to pay to hike up a trail people use every day. Not to mention, we were trying to be as frugal as possible. So we declined the guided hike, left Cascadas de las Animas, and continued to walk up road in the direction we had originally been going in the hopes of finding a hiking trail.
No trail appeared, but what we did come across was an older lady probably in her early 70s that offered to show us a river. We agreed, happy for some sort of direction now that we were lost and unsure of where to go next. As appreciative as I was of the woman’s service, she started to get on my nerves by constantly telling me how serious I looked, and that I should smile. She attempted this by tugging on my ear… I told Praxi to tell her that if she made me some coffee I would smile. Even though I was being sarcastic I think she actually translated it for me.
The river was beautiful. I had seen on an uninformative website that there was white water rafting, and now I could see why. The “rio” wound its way between the mountains and was littered with boulders.
After resting for a bit, we decided to press on, and try to reach San Gabriel, the next town where we hoped would have some hiking trails. Since the buses only ran every 30 minutes, we decided to just walk while attempting to hitch a ride.
Sadly no one pulled over for us, but there was a truck that pulled over to let out some kayakers. We ended up talking to one of them that spoke English very well and said he was from the area. According to him, we were 15 km from San Gabriel and it would take us forever to walk there. When we asked about hiking trails, he drew a map in the gravel and showed us where we could find one next to the river. We thanked him and continued on, thumbs in the wind.
Luckily a bus came into view and we flagged him down. Finally we had a ride to San Gabriel.
Once we arrived, the bus dropped us off at a fork in the road. According to the Chilean’s dirt map, we were supposed to go right and find a trail after crossing the bridge over the river. We crossed the river and still no sign of a trail. So we stopped and Praxi asked some locals about a trail. They said that there was one around the bend in the road. We thanked them and walked on. A dog that might or might not have belonged to them got up and decided to follow us for about half a mile before finding his own way. Turns out there was no trail after the bend in the road. Just more fields and small huts and houses.
Now, I have been told by many people that you cannot trust a Chilean when asking for directions. That they will never tell you no, or admit they don’t know. They will just make up some lie and send you on your way. We are 90% sure this happened to us the entire day, every time we asked for directions.
As frustrating as this was, I couldn’t get too upset. Though we were lost and walking on the side of the road instead of a trail, the scenery was breathtaking. Mountains rose above us on all sides, and in the distance were more peaks, all of them streaked with different colors. The other 2 kept asking if I was disappointed with how my birthday “hike” was turning out, but honestly, it was just fine.
I had mostly wanted to get out of the city, which I did; and yes we were lost, but we were lost in the mountain villages of the Chilean Andes, seeing things I would have never seen if I had decided to stay in the city and simply get a drink or go shopping. For example, in one of the fields was a flock of turkeys and an ostrich. See the brown speck on the bottom right? Yeah, that is freaking ostrich. Probably one of the last things I expected to see out there. For a moment I even questioned myself as to whether there was a native species in South America. There isn’t.
After a point, we were too tired and decided to turn back. We stopped at a small cafe and got something to drink, then continued on to where the bus dropped us off. We knew we would have to wait a while, this time we took the left fork and meandered up the quiet street, knowing the bus would come down that direction anyways, and we could flag it down. We passed a very run down bar with a horse and a dog park out front. Of course I couldn’t resist… I had to pet the horse. He tolerated me.
As we continued up the street, we saw the smallest church I have ever seen. For those of you who are curious, it was Christian.
On the way back down the road, we saw the owner of the horse (and apparently the dog too) making his way towards us. It was instantly apparent by his slurred greeting that he was already drunk by 2 in the afternoon. I was concerned for the horse; how far and hard he would ride him in that condition, but my fears were quickly put to rest when he pulled up to his house, not even 100 ft from the bar. Perhaps walking was too difficult at that point, but then I wondered how he could have gotten on the horse in the first place! It will forever remain a mystery.
Once we got to the bus station, we had to wait an hour and a half for the next bus. By this time it was getting chilly and the wind had picked up. About 10 others were also waiting. To pass the time we talked while I pet the stray dogs and pulled little ticks from their ears. At 4:02 the bus arrived. There was a mad rush to get on and get seats. Tracy and Praxi each got one, but those were the last. They offered to take turns, and I told them I’d let them know when I needed it. Thankfully the girl next to Praxi got off only about 15 minutes later, and I dozed the rest of the way back.
By the time Tracy and I reached our familiar Tobalaba metro station, we felt as though a week had passed. As exhausted and hungry as I was after our journey, I was happy. I had promised myself that I would spend my 25th birthday in another country, and it was so satisfying to keep that promise to myself. Even though didn’t go as planned at all, it was still an adventure in a picturesque location in South America, and that’s the best kind of birthday party i could have asked for.