During a long four-day weekend off of classes in Buenos Aires, I decided to take advantage of the cheap flights to Santiago, Chile. This would be my first trip anywhere (let alone a new country) by myself as well as my first stay in a hostel. I booked my excursion with no plans besides my plane ticket and hostel reservation.
On Friday and Saturday, I had enjoyed simply wandering somewhat aimlessly about the city on my own during the day and then returning to the hostel at night for dinner and the (literally) daily fiesta. On Sunday morning, however, I wanted to do something more specific/planned, but less expensive than the tours most of my new hostel friends suggested. At breakfast, my new German friend Debbie told me about her plans to climb Cerro Pochoco, a “mini-mountain” accessible by Santiago public transit. This sounded perfectly accessible and affordable, so I did a little research while my phone recharged and then set off determined to climb a mountain.
After two hours navigating the Metro (subway) and colectivos (buses) to the outer limits of the city, I arrived at the end of my Google directions. Looking around, I did not see the parking lot and trailhead I had read about online. After wandering about for a bit and receiving confused, contradictory directions from two different locals (I did not have data to search the Internet for answers), I noticed a street sign labeled Calle Cerro Pochoco. I double-checked my phone and realized that Google Maps had directed me to a street named after Cerro Pochoco instead of the actual Cerro Pochoco. I was on the wrong side of the city.
A little dismayed, I began walking back towards the Metro station when lo and behold I ran into Debbie and her two friends. They had made the same mistake I had. Her friend Servi, who could use data on her phone, set a course for a new cerro to climb and invited me to come along. I agreed and we set off on the Metro together.
Through the train windows, the bright canopies of a féria caught my attention, so I left my new friends and hopped off the train at the next station. This féria was very different than those I had visited in Buenos Aires. The férias in Buenos Aires were full of artists and vendors selling crafts and homemade goods, whereas this was more like an open-air Walmart, with everything from fruits and vegetables to toilet paper, clothing and books to small electrical appliances. The best difference of all was that it was not intended for tourists. I was the only white person (and probably the only foreigner) there. Instead of tourists looking for souvenirs, I met Chileans doing their grocery shopping.
After walking about absorbing the authentic Chilean culture, I enjoyed a hearty lunch of whatever the amicable waitress recommended because I didn’t recognize anything on the menu. It was an excellent opportunity to talk to some more locals, eat affordably for the first time that weekend, and enjoy the sun and the heat after three weeks of cold in Buenos Aires.
I had noticed I small cerro in the distance and started walking off my lunch in that direction. I noticed some families and dogs climbing around and found the entrance to a rough trail. Once I reached the top, I realized just how far from downtown and how close to the Andes mountains I had wandered. Even from such a small cerro, the views were breathtaking. After catching my breath, soaking up the moment, and taking some obligatory selfies, I started heading back “home” to my hostel, completely satisfied with “lost” day.
The one time I tried to make a plan, it failed. But that mistake created my favorite day in Chile (and one of my favorites all summer) and provided an opportunity to experience a side of authentic Chilean culture far from the city center.
Amber Litteken is a freshman at the University of Missouri-Kansas City majoring in Instrumental Music Education and minoring in Spanish Language and Literature. Amber will spend six weeks of the summer abroad with the UMKC Faculty-Led Spanish Language Summer in Buenos Aires, Argentina as a Gilman Scholar. Amber is from Breese, Illinois and plays bassoon.
Disclaimer: Student blog entries posted to the Roos Abroad Blog may not reflect the opinions and recommendations of UMKC Study Abroad and International Academic Programs. The blog is intended to give students a forum for free expression of thoughts and experiences abroad in a respectful space.