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Published: September 30th 2017
The first granola bar of the trip! I always pack these crappy things for when I'm too busy sightseeing to eat, and need a quick boost of energy.
Geo: -29.9008, -71.2448
Breakfast with Ben and Brent, before checking out. Unfortunately today, there was no sign of Macarena 😞 Not sure if it was a scam or not, but when I checked out I was told that I hadn´t paid for my second night at the hotel. Luckily, I hung on to my receipt - innocent mistake? Who knows, but given what I´ve seen so far with the taxi situation, I wouldn´t doubt that it was a rip-off attempt.
Off to the bus station, where I noticed several Spanish-quality females also waiting for their buses. Ahh ... memories of Spain ... Interesting to note that in many Chilean stores/bakeries/fast food joints, they have a system set up where you first pay for your items, then present the receipt to another employee, who then gives you the goods. Not sure if it was for security purposes in this case, because the cashier was in a space enclosed by glass.
Off to La Serena - much is made about the luxurious nature of the buses here in Chile and Argentina, especially the full "cama" (Spanish for bed) buses, which fully recline into a horizontal position. You´ll generally find these on buses that travel
I grabbed lunch at a rest stop - pretty crappy, dry chicken served with mushy rice, and a bland tomato/corn salad. As part of the combo meal, I chose a disgusting chocolate pudding. Thankfully, I chose a decent papaya juice for the included drink, which prevented me from choking to death on any of this shabby food.
for more than 10 hours (because of the great distances here, 20-30 hour bus rides are not uncommon!) I won´t be doing any bus rides of sufficient duration on this trip to have a cama bus, only semi-camas.
The semi-cama buses recline quite a bit more than the average bus or airplane seat, and have leg rests designed to rest under your calves. I found the whole thing over-rated, probably because the seats weren´t designed for anyone over 5´-8" - when in the reclined position, the leg rests weren´t anywhere near my calves, so my legs were just sort of dangling in space. Not exactly comfortable, but it was still much better than a conventional bus, since the seats were rather plush, and there was quite a bit of legroom..
The level of service is quite high as well; there is a steward on board who is always collecting trash, and passing out pillows and blankets. You don´t even have to close your own curtains to block out the sun, because as soon as the steward sees the sun bothering you, he´ll rush over and close it for you. But still, I think the bus companies could improve their service by
Santo Domingo Church
hiring girls like Macarena to be stewards on board, instead of dudes!
I had swiped a copy of the magazine that American Airlines publishes for its passengers on our Dallas-Santiago flight, because it had articles in both Spanish and English - perfect for practice! There was an article about Finnish Saunas, and how there is an annual competition to see who can last the longest inside one. In a 110 degree Celsius sauna, somebody managed to last almost 9 minutes! How is this humanly possible?!!!!?!??
The bus made a few stops along the way at different roadside stands where you can buy fruit, snacks, and olives. I couldn´t believe how big the tubs of olives were - pretty much the size of oil barrels, there were at least 4 or 5 of them. At another stop, some dude hopped aboard with a huge basket of baked goods. He ended up riding with us for several dozen kilometres, until he was dropped off at what looked to be a factory. It was interesting to see how many employees were doing the same thing - I counted around 10 employees standing around, waiting to hop on different bus routes. They´ve got quite the
Santo Domingo Church, part II.
system set up to shuttle employees to and from the factory to sell their goods.
There seems to be all sorts of regulations for buses in Chile - numerous signs are posted on the bus stating things like "It is forbidden to speak to driver while driving" and "Drivers must not drive more than 5 hours continuously". There´s even a LED display that alarms every time the driver goes over 100 km/hr, and apparently transmits the bus position every time this happens. Exactly where it transmits to, however, I do not know.
The bus pulled into a second rest stop, where I quickly popped into the bathroom. Every time the bus stopped for an extended period, the steward adjusted the exterior LED display to show the departure time - we had 30 minutes here. But when I stepped out of the bathroom - where the heck was the bus??? I was about to panic, but luckily a Chilean dude who was on the same bus, noticed my impending terror, and pointed to the back of the parking lot. Looked like the bus was getting some air in its tires. Phew!
The dude started chatting with me and was nice enough, but I
Santo Domingo Church, part III. I expected all of these photos to turn out much better than they did!
could barely understand any of what he was saying. This Chilean accent is going to take some getting used to ... it starts to get rude when you ask a third or fourth time for someone to repeat what they just said, so I simply started nodding and smiling in response to everything he said.
About seven hours after leaving Santiago, I arrived in La Serena, and wandered over to Hostal El Punto. There was a couple from the UK in my room, Lizzy and Ben, both teachers who had decided to move back from London to their much smaller home town, and were taking a sabbatical to travel, in the process. I settled into the room, and was off to sightsee. The Santa Domingo church was an amazing spot - the setting, the lighting ... it should have been perfect for photos, but unfortunately, they didn't turn out that great.
I later wandered over to Plaza de Armas after to take some photos, and just to chill. Some local guy started talking to me in English, and was quite surprised when I responded in Spanish. I was a little leery at first, because I thought he was trying to
There was some kind of festival taking place just behind Plaza Armas, that included some traditional performances ...
hit me up for money, but it turned out that he only wanted some Canadian coins, as he was a bit of a collector. Mario was his name, and he was nice enough, but he talked my ear off for probably close to an hour. I had trouble extricating myself from the situation because he seemingly never stopped long enough to even breathe, let alone give me a chance to bail. Why don´t Spanish-speaking females find conversation with me so enthralling? 😞
It was getting pretty chilly in only my t-shirt and shorts (I was without my hoodie) - Mario noticed this and that was my chance to escape. It was good to practice my Spanish with him, but eventually my eyes just glazed over and I was simply nodding to whatever he said, kinda like how my conversation went with the Chilean dude at the rest stop, earlier today.
Back to the hostel to grab my hoodie, before going in search of dinner. Lizzy and Ben weren´t around, but a German girl named Sophie was hanging around the room, searching for her hoodie. I had earlier seen it on her bed, but it apparently disappeared. Strange ... I later found
... and a market ...
it in the bathroom, so maybe she just misplaced it herself.
Anyway, we went off in search of food. She´s teaching English in Santiago for 6 months, and speaks excellent Spanish. She had just finished high school and having just spent her first Xmas away from her family, she´s pretty homesick. We grabbed a quick bite to eat at a spot not too far from the hostel, where I decided to try the crab pie, considered a bit of a delicacy in this region.
Sophie laughed that she had come to this hostel to practice her Spanish, and it turned out that the owners are German, and the place is full of people from the UK, Canada, the States, Australia, and Germany - seemingly every country EXCEPT any that speak Spanish.
Back to the hostel, where I found a note on our door - I had earlier booked a tour to Isla Damas for tomorrow, but there was an overbooking, so instead the hostel reserved me a spot on a tour to the Elqui Valley, which was only available in Spanish. This wasn´t a bad thing, I thought, as perhaps there would be Spanish-speaking females on the tour ...
Though it gets
... where I sampled some awesome banana cake that was prepared by a nice old lady.
quite hot during the days here, it becomes surprisingly cold at night. The room was quite stuffy, so we slept with the window open, but in the middle of the night the temperature plummeted. I must be coming down with something, because I was shivering like crazy, despite curling up in the down comforter. I ended up having some hallucinatory dream, where a storm was pummeling us through the window, but I was frozen in place, unable to get out of bed to close the window. I hate getting sick while traveling!
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