Adventure in Santiago

I was thinking about our theme of “adventure” for this month. I believe everyday is an adventure – we never know what it’s going to bring – especially when living with a child and dogs.

However, some of my adventures came through my work. For a while, I worked on a global learning team and traveled in Europe and South America. It was always an adventure. I didn’t speak the languages, I have many food allergies so ordering at restaurants was always interesting, and navigating my way through airports sometimes proved challenging (especially in Norway!).

I think my trip to Santiago, Chile was my biggest adventure.

It started with not having a company car to meet me at the airport. There was supposed to be someone waiting for me. I admit, it was always kind of cool to arrive somewhere and see my name on a card. It didn’t happen in Santiago.

A man approached me and asked where I was going. I showed him the address of my hotel. He said he’d take me there. The car didn’t have any taxi labels or indications on the outside. I was somewhat relieved when I got inside and saw the mileage metre. Still, I wasn’t sure. I pulled out my phone and sent a text home saying I’d text when I got to the hotel. If my family didn’t hear from me, something happened.

I got safely to my hotel. On the entire 13 hour flight, I wanted nothing more than to get to the hotel and have a swim. The hotel had a rooftop pool. After sitting on a plane, I needed to move my body. I was in Santiago in May. Our spring in Canada, their early winter. It was 25C when I arrived. I went up to the roof and the doors were locked. I went down to the front desk and was told the pool was closed for the season because it was “too cold”.

After the training we were there to deliver, the project manager wanted to take me out for dinner. He told me I *had* to try a particular drink. He’s travelled the world and they make the best ones here (I wish I could remember the name!). The drinks were good. He kept ordering. I decided if he could drink them, so could I. He was a small man and I figured our ability to handle alcohol would be similar.

I was wrong.

We finally finished our meal. It was about 10:00p.m. As we were saying good-bye, I asked him which way it was to my hotel. He “thought” it was “that way”.

One thing you need to know – I’m directionally challenged at the best of times. Put me in a foreign country where I don’t speak the language, and it’s only amplified. Even moreso when with someone who is as directionally challenged as I am!

I started to walk and soon realized I was not in a familiar neighbourhood. I kept walking. I noticed a group of men starting to follow me. I pulled out my phone and tried to call home. If nothing else, it made it look as though I was in contact with someone.

I ended up in an abandoned parking lot. Fortunately, I had the foresight to keep the name and address of my hotel in my pocket. I showed it to the attendant. He looked at it. He looked at me. He tried to speak to me in Spanish. I simply stared back and shrugged. He did his best mime impersonation to tell me the way I needed to go to get back. Fortunately, it worked.

I stayed on a couple of extra days while there. I knew it was a place I wasn’t likely to return to and wanted to explore.

I bought a pass for the “hop on/hop off” bus. To me, it was a great way to see the city. I could “hop off” wherever I wanted, look around, and know there was another bus coming 15 minutes later.

One of the places I wanted to visit was the “mercado”. It was an open air area in the centre of the city. I visited some of the churches (beautiful architecture), and simply people-watched. I saw a couple of demonstrations and knew enough to avoid them. Only later, upon returning home, did I learn that visiting the mercado as a lone female traveler was probably not the smartest idea.

Leaving the country was a challenge. Apparently, I was supposed to have a yellow form from the paperwork I did upon entering Chile. I didn’t have it. The paperwork I completed didn’t have a copy for me to keep. The security officers didn’t want to let me leave. I pled ignorance. I didn’t know I needed a form, I didn’t have a form. I had my Canadian passport and my boarding pass. Somehow, I was able to convince them I was, indeed, going home.

I’m thankful for the week I got to spend in Chile. I was right – there’s nothing there to draw me back. I’m also thankful for my guardian angels who watched over me. Of all my travels, it’s the one place where things could have gone horribly wrong, and didn’t.