Going through the archives of photos, we found pictures of our first excursion overseas. The memories and stories of traveling while we were still green remain vivid.
Mitch had long wanted to go visit South America. It took his mothers suggestion to invite his then girlfriend of five months, Tamson along with him. It was a bit of a punt, especially traveling to such an unknown location. It was the days before smartphones (Well, ones that we could afford) and we planned long and hard, with written itineraries and some pre-booked travel packages to get us started.
With the best discounts running on GAP Adventures, we picked the route that took us between Bolivia and Peru. The heart of the former Inca Empire.
Santiago, capital of Chile was the main port of call flying from Auckland. Now, all research and advice on websites had said to get a shuttle from the airport. Piling our backpacks onto our luggage trolley, his was our first task. We were completely unprepared for the maelstrom of activity awaiting outside for us. There was no family waiting for incoming travelers, only a scruffy horde of taxi drivers. We also had only US dollars and no Chilean pesos, so no way of knowing how we would make it work. One enterprising man in a suit thought it best to begin loading our bags into his car right away, while Mitch tried negotiating shuttles. That however, was a story in itself…the picture of the new model shuttle as it tuned out, wasn’t what we had paid about US$30 for. He phoned his awaiting friend, a burly guy with a long pontytail, beard and cotton track suit, who arrived in a beat up Chevrolet – complete with a crack across the front windscreen. This was a bit to much for us, but before we had chance to protest, our bags were loaded into the back. Mitch recalled with horror the last words Tamson’s father had said on departure “You look after my daughter”. So far, we were off to a good start.
As we sped through the dusty highways, we saw a coal fired power station belch onto the neighbouring suburb. A horse and cart moved along the streets below. The shrouded smog of Santiago slowly came into view. The tension was building. Who was this taxi driver? There was nothing that signaled that he was official. He just had a cross swinging from his rear vision mirror, latin music and a cellphone. At least he was religious…
He eventually dropped us off, a few hundred metres down the road from the hotel and motioned in its direction. On arrival to sanctuary we just felt like having a good rest. However, as it turned out, our booking had not gone through and we were led down the road to a lamp shop to negotiate new accomodation. Again, as fresh as we were, this was all a bit too much for us. After some time, we were offered an apartment nearby the University, for three times the rate. We took it. To be fair, they were helpful, they even organised us a return shuttle to the airport the next morning for our flight out to La Paz at only US$20. Mitch used the clock on the wall to set the time for his watch and we made our way out into the city.
We didn’t really know where we were going, but headed towards San Cristobal, an area famous for its nightlife and restaurants. However, we weren’t currently in the mood for it. At the foot of the large hill we found the Santiago Zoo, a large collection of locals and a llama on display. After what we had been through, we weren’t feeling safe even in this setting. We stuck out. Two kid tourists from New Zealand, in t-shirts and trackies, lost on their way back. We encountered a few beggars and con artists – really forward in their approach. We just felt we couldn’t trust anyone, which was quite sad. Getting an early rest was probably for the best.
The following morning, the smog had cleared and we had a spectacular view of the snow covered Andes. The taxi was late in arriving and it had never called as arranged. Mitch turned on the television to the news and noticed the time wasn’t the same as that which was on the clock. We were an hour later in the day and it was actually 9:30am! Shit! With an international flight to La Paz at midday, we needed to be at the airport now! Conveniently the concierge who arranged the taxi was “away” when we went to find them, so we had to arrange another.
Mitch flagged down a cab. As the brakes screeched to a halt a friendly old face peered out. Aerporto! Mitch said in his best broken Spanish. Once in the car, Mitch explained that we wished to go to the airport now and would pay US$50 to go. Fast! Vamos! The old man nodded his wrinkly tanned head; Si, Si, Si! Aerporto! – taking the crumpled note.
The taxi didn’t quite take off with a bang. Instead it seemed to head in the opposite direction! We asked where we were going? “To go to get gas” was the response. As it turned out, his nephew owned a gas station on the other side of town and he always got his gas from there… Mitch, leaning over the seat, was at boiling point. The tank wasn’t even near empty! But eventually we got on the road and arrived back where we began at the terminal.
Thankfully all had worked out well. The flight as it turned out wasn’t an international one. We flew first to Iquique, then went through customs and boarded another flight to La Paz, so had no security or other controls. We were late enough as it was for a domestic flight!
After this first travel experience, we were not in a rush to get back to Santiago and at the time felt a bit cheated. We wish to go back one day with more experience behind the ears and give the place a good chance.