Crashing the Santiago Cancer March
(This is Part 2 of the post, “3 days in Santiago”)
After completing my volunteer assignment with the preschool kids in Lima, and visiting Cusco, Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley of the Incas in Peru (see the links at the bottom of this post for more info on those events), I was looking forward to seeing my son James who took a two week vacation to join me on the second leg of my journey. His flight happened to be connecting through Peru, so we met at the Airport in Lima and continued to our first stop together, a brief three-day sampling visit to Santiago, Chile and the local communities.
This would not be an easy task. Chile’s capital and largest city is massive. Similar to Los Angeles, seeing the breadth of what Santiago has to offer requires far more time than we had in the few days we were passing through. So we zeroed in on a couple of sites and decided to just wander some of the nicer districts of the city’s central core.
Starting from our mid-range boutique hotel in the heart of the Bellas Artes neighborhood we began our day with a stroll through the long green-belt by the river on our way to hike Cerro San Cristóbal. After admiring the lush landscaping and beautiful fountains, we noticed a large gathering at a major road that intersected the park.
Not one to shy away from a crowd, I said let’s check it out. Two minutes later we found ourselves in the middle of 1000+ people holding signs, but this does not feel like a protest. I use my incredibly limited Spanish to translate several of the signs the group was holding and realize that we have stumbled into some kind if rally about Cancer.
As James looks around and I am chatting with a few folks, a few hundred bicyclists speed by as the crowd waves and cheers them on. Then the entire mass of people in the crowd begins to move into the street, sweeping us with them. Suddenly we are moving down the middle of one of Santiago’s biggest boulevards and a huge banner is unfurled before all of us people walking.
We realize we are in the middle of a March to Support Cancer Survivors and Cancer Research, in Santiago, Chile!!!
How do I keep stumbling into things like this???!!
We learned that the March is to promote the huge annual telethon in Santiago call the “Teleton”. In its 40th year, locals told us that the Teleton raises money for those suffering from a variety of hardships. Everywhere we went in the city we saw billboard advertisements and people promoting giving-back. It was great to see a community coming together, and a reassuring reminder that the giving spirit is alive and well, no matter where we are in the world.
Now if there ever was a March I should have a ticket to attend, it is this one. However, James and I want to get to Cerro San Cristóbal to take in the city views, so we peel off from the March and head toward our destination. I posted a few initial comments about our hike up Cerro San Cristóbal in the Part 1 of this post, which you can read by clicking the link here:
Here also are a couple of pics of the gondola and the city that didn’t make it in the original post.
What the Hell, let’s go to Viña del Mar! The Viña del Mar Audible.
As James and I wander through the neighborhood of Providencia making our way back to our hotel, he mentions that Viña del Mar was one of the items on his list as a cool place to see. I reminded James that I already have plans to travel to Viña del Mar when I return to the Santiago for the New Year’s holiday. As we talked more about the city, and how it was one of Chile’s premier resort destinations, James asked, “Why don’t we go tomorrow?”
For a second I wasn’t sure. Taking a day trip hours away from a home-base city and returning late the same night can be an experience. It blends the anticipation of seeing new sites with the reality that you don’t exactly know what you’ll find when you get to your day trip location or if your transportation logistics will work out as planned. If you are a planner, it is usually OK. Doing it on the fly is a different matter.
That said, the remote possibility of a big travel blunder is the stuff mini-adventures, and most great vacations, are made of.
I also thought about the fact that when I did eventually go to the area later in the year, I had chosen to get a room in Valparaíso, a bohemian community that sits on the opposite side of the bay from it’s more upscale, posh and possibly pretentious sister city if Viña del Mar. Since I had not yet figured out the travel requirements for this part of the trip, I thought taking the journey to check out the B&B and the travel scheme out was probably a good idea.
“OK. Let’s do it!”, I tell James, but I qualify it. Since we did not have a rental car on this leg of our travels, I explained to him that when briefly researching the possibility of visit Viña del Mar in a one-day turnaround trip, there were two options; 1) Do an expensive guided tour with its confining schedule and potentially boring itinerary, or 2) We can follow what my research said and string together public transportation, a charter bus and figure the rest out. I asked which one he though best ……. It was a rhetorical question. We both knew we were going to roll the dice and wing the trip on our own.
Over the next two hours we reviewed the info I had pieced together on getting to Viña del Mar. It seemed simple enough. Find and walk to the local subway station, ride the subway to Santiago’s main bus terminal, book and ride on a charter bus from Santiago to Viña del Mar’s main bus terminal (wherever that was), and then walk outside the terminal and let that ridiculous “lost gringo” look on our faces announce to the community that we had arrived.
After struggling to book the bus tickets on line for the next morning, and after reading that the bus could sell out, we decide to take the subway that evening and go to the bus terminal so we could buy our bus tickets in person. It wound up being a good plan.
Travel Tip 1: Always do a reconnaissance trip to a bus or train station THE DAY BEFORE you need to depart. Buy tickets, ask questions, find your departure gates and the information kiosks and determine how long it takes to get to the station so you are on time.
We make our way to the Bellas Arts station near our hotel. The subway is Santiago is like most major metro subways. Crowed but reasonably clean, and with lots of electronic Kiosks with poorly written instructions. We elect to go to a live person in a ticket booth. We meet our first person in South America that does not speak English. We pleasantly and comically use all the words in Spanish we know, and some sign language, and within two minutes we have electronic subway cards loaded with two round-trip tickets in hand. We board the subway and we arrive at the bus terminal.
The intra-city bus system is the life blood of most South American countries. For the most part the buses are clean, timely, and reasonably affordable. Everybody uses them, which explains why the bus terminal was packed with people and chaotic. We find our bus carrier, wait in line and greet our second pleasant but non-English speaking ticket agent who does her best to inform us that the complexity of the bus ticket purchase far exceeds the simple subway transaction. James takes the lead in handling the transaction and learns quickly that his Spanish vocabulary and my Preschool Spanish mastery isn’t going to cut it. The sweet agent turns around her monitor and points at dates, times and locations and with James nodding and said “Si” a lot, we have our tickets. There were too many people in line behind us to ask more questions like “where do we meet the bus tomorrow.” But that didn’t matter. We are feeling good, confident in fact, that we conquered this first foreign transportation challenge.
Its 10:30pm now in Santiago. we toy with the idea of walking around the neighborhood of the terminal to see a different part of the city, but a quick walk of a block or so proves to us that the old inter-city rule that bus terminals are usually in nondescript neighborhoods or industrial applies in Santiago.
We elect to hope back on the subway to our hip little enclave of Bellas Artes and have dinner. Between 11:30pm (23:30) we are eating dinner on a street packed with Bistros, all full with patrons dining at their usual time. This is how we start to roll with our new schedule in South America.