May 8, 2011
OK, it’s been a long time since I’ve taken a bus. Before Alberto and I took the bus to Viña del Mar, I don’t think I’d been on Greyhound type transport in more than 20 or 30 years. Karen and I did take an hour bus ride in Taiwan. But that didn’t leave me prepared for how far buses have come. We’re talking WIFI, in-flight… er… in-ride movies, up to the minute reports on the current vehicular speed. Geez!
Carol and I got to the bus station in plenty of time. I wasn’t sure what the on-board bathroom options were going to be so I decided to play it safe by using the facilities in the depot. Ha! We’re talking two flights of stairs up, only to find a pay toilet. And not the kind that you slip your Chilean moneda into either. Nope, they don’t do things that way in Chile. You have to purchase your toilet token from kiosk strategically located between the sala para caballeros y la sala para damas. “A vending machine?” you ask, with more than a tinge of incredulity. Double Ha! No siree. This is a staffed kiosk doing a booming business selling tokens to those in dire need personally. Looking back on it I realize that I missed another great photo op. But I just couldn’t bring my Scotch self to part with the pesos necessary to use the facilities. I decided to take my chances on board the bus and headed back down the two flights of stairs.
Carol is a smoker – a very considerate one – so she took the remaining minutes to get her nic-fix before boarding. We (and especially she) were happy to discover that this wasn’t a nonstop ride to La Serena, and there would be opportunities for breaks (and cigarettes) along the way.
La Serena is a coastal town about a six and a half hour bus ride north of Santiago. Chile changes profoundly as you go north. It becomes much drier and warmer. Antofagasto, where I’m going to be next week is even further north, and is located near one of the driest deserts in the world. The landscape on our ride reflected the change in climate. Lots of cactus started showing up, along with vistas that could have been taken from old issues of Arizona Highways. The driver of our bus was in his own compartment, separated from the rest of the bus. This was not for security reasons. At least not in the sense of terrorist security reasons. It was to keep the passengers from distracting the bus driver by talking to him, or placing loudly screaming children right behind him. Seemed like a good idea.
There were two flight… er… ride attendants to service the passengers. You know, handing out pillows and… um… handing out pillows. Stuff like that. Really, it’s amazing to me how staffed this whole country seems to be. There are the concierges at our hotel (and there are often more than one). And there are the restaurant hawkers who stand in front of the restaurants pitching the daily specials and encouraging the reluctant to come into the restaurant by standing directly in front of them as they try to pass. The attendants on the bus are especially amazing because fuel is very expensive and the tickets are breathtakingly cheap. (Something less than $20 for a six hour bus ride). I suppose the owners must use more money to pay employees and keep less of it themselves. Hmmm.
Periodically during the ride somebody would walk up and down the aisles hawking snacks, drinks and candy. The on board movies were “Something About Mary,” “What Women Want,” and “Tron.” You could listen to them with little ear buds like the ones you use on planes. But they did not have these little ear buds on the bus. Let me repeat that. They did not have these little ear buds on the bus. Not even for sale? Nope. Candy? You bet. Drinks? Up the wazoo. But ear buds? Fuhgetaboutit. You had to buy those in the bus depot, presumably somewhere near the bathroom token kiosk. It was OK with me. It allowed me to get in a couple of extra Spanish lessons by watching the movies and reading the Spanish subtitles. And by the way folks, they don’t call it Spanish down here. It’s Castellano, thank you very much, and since I’ve got plenty to identify me as a Gringo already. I don’t need to be drawing extra attention to myself by saying: “Si, yo hablo Español,” when it should be perfectly clear that everybody is hablando Castellano.
So it was double and a half feature night at the movie (I only got to see half of “Tron”). I paused once in a while – during the action scenes and the long kisses (no dialogue there) – to look out the window and see some great scenery. And dogs. There are dogs everywhere in this country. They sack out on the streets, they get into garbage. They trot from one place to another in between the pedestrians. Everyone seems to ignore them and for the most part the dogs ignore them back.
We arrived in La Serena around 20:30 (Chile is on the 24 hour clock) and got to our ocean front hotel – not to rub it in or anything – around 9:30. This was the Saturday night when the time was scheduled to be set back an hour. (Remember, it’s fall here.) So we were looking forward to an extra hour of sleep. It was a swell room: clean, cute, colorful and comfortable. We wandered down the beach to a seaside seafood place and had a late dinner, then came back and crashed.
Mother’s day was lovely. Carol and I spent the first part of the day walking down the beach seeing the sights and taking a shameless number of photos. The beach was open for swimming. It was pretty cold, but I saw a Heinekens ad that might explain the four takers. Doubtless I would have joined them had I thought to bring my swim suit. But the forecast had predicted cold weather so I’d left it in Santiago. Later it turned out to be a pretty nice day. Maybe I’ll get my chance in Antofagasto.
To celebrate the day, I tried to get some shots of mothers with their children and was moderately successful. But I couldn’t resist taking the shot of the father running along side of his daughter, for an intermediate skating lesson. He looked pretty pooped.
I took lots of shots of birds: gulls, albatross, pelicans and egrets (I think). There were plenty of boats that you could rent to take out. And boats being built. And boats being painted. And boats being used religiously.
There were joggers and folks at exercise stations. Looking at all of that activity made us feel like we should eat so we were stopped by a restaurant pusher and had a meal at a place with the worlds smallest urinal (NO, not on the menu). I think maybe it was from a Barbie accessory set. No laissez-faire aiming on this one, guys.
After that it was more walking around. You see things here that you just don’t see in Sarona, WI. Like the tsunami evacuation route.
Then it was home and Skype conversations with family. I spent mother’s day last year with them, cutting flowers from the hospice’s lilac bush and giving them to my mother. This Thursday will be the one year anniversary of her death. I have the day off, which seems like a good thing. It’s the only weekday I get off for the whole trip. I have no idea what that means. But I’ll be glad to have the day free.