Santiago to the land of the lovelies (Part One)


I arrived in Santiago after my 23-hour bus ride (almost) without incident. ‘Almost’ in the sense that I got off the bus at a ‘pit-stop’ (I say pit as the bus terminal smelt like one) and the bus drove off with my rucksack on it. Calmly howling at the top of my voice in Spanglish while flailing my arms with decorum in the direction of the bus, I was politely assured by a bus depot man that the bus would return, it had only gone to refuel. Of course. Shrugging my shoulders with nonchalance, yeh, whatever, I knew that, I strutted off, flicking my hair, pleased I hadn’t lost my cool. Hmmm.

The second pit-stop was no more pleasant. Not because of the smell and wayward rucksack, but a Tur-Bus had just crashed 20-miles outside of Santiago killing 18 of the 23 passengers. Me and the other 20-odd passengers on my Tur-Bus re-boarded for the final leg feeling a little sombre. We all did our seatbelts up for the final two-hour journey. Thankfully we arrived safely.

I had two tasks to complete in Santiago: 1) Collect two bank cards from HSBC; and 2) Collect a ‘Red Cross’ Care package which had been sent from home (thanks, Hannah). Day one I headed to the HSBC branch where I’d been informed my cards would be waiting for me. No, madam (Senorita). They were not at the branch, why would I think they were? All cards are OBVIOUSLY sent to HSBC head office. Of course.

So, off I schlepped to Francesca’s desk, pod 41b on the 23rd floor of HSBC Premier Towers. As I tried to operate the lift at the equivalent of Canary Wharf I was accosted by a security guard. Surely someone in flip-flops, bright pink gypsy skirt and carrying a dark rucksack had no business in HSBC Premier Towers other than bad business. Wheeling the Spanglish out again, I ordered a steak and red wine. Ok, I didn’t, but that is my most convincing Spanish phrase. Anyway, handing over my passport as security I was allowed to proceed. ‘I used to be a lawyer’ I wanted to shout. I used to be like these people – exhausted, stressed. Then I smiled and took the lift barefoot (again, just artistic licence).

What the security guard and Francesca didn’t know at this stage is that they were to see a lot more of me as I returned to HSBC Premier Towers every day for over two weeks waiting for my cards. One in hand, the other God knew where – I say God because HSBC certainly didn’t have a clue.

Every day I repeated the same process – trip to the post office, trip to the bank. No. No. Nothing for you. Santiago itself was, meanwhile, keeping me fully occupied. I had another go at Spanish lessons (fail), and got my waistline into trouble with the fattening food. I’d like to pretend that two weeks of eating the Chilean national past time – anything fried, and preferably including a hot dog, was tasty work, but regrettably not. Fortunately there was plenty of chance for walking, which is a nice introduction to a girl I met in Santiago.
For legal reasons, we will call her Said Girl (if you’re reading this, you know who you are!). By some twist of fate – and perhaps one too many red wines – me and SG decided to head out to Concha y Torro wine tasting. It was rather an eventful day from which I learned the following life lessons:

– Don’t look at a map and assume the area labelled Concha y Torro is the wine region; or at least check before you walk one hour to get to a leafy residential area of that name; or at least wring your brain to remember someone saying the vineayard is one hour by metro, ergo can’t be just a bit left on the map;

– Don’t ever go out of the city limits on the one day a year when the Metro is on strike;

– If you disregard the point, above, don’t assume you can turn up at any bus station and that all buses will go to the vineyard;

– Don’t board a bus assuming you can pay with cash – an Oyster card equivalent was needed. Fortunately (?!) the bus driver was concerned for mine and SG’s upstairs lady parts (I assume this as he kept checking to ensure they were still there) and let us ride the 1 hr journey for free;

– Don’t stand next to the bus turnstyle with a skirt on – the bus passengers are separately signing up for therapy;

– Don’t give the bus driver your Lonely Planet to draw a map on…while he is driving (I’m interested in the insurance logistics if technically I am the cause of the crash);

– Don’t trust the bus driver’s ’10 minutes more’ is safe when everyone else has left the bus and there is a statistically significant chance you are being taken to his house and dungeon to rest forever with his previous victims;

– Don’t ever, ever, ever, take anything other than the Azul (AZUL I tell you) bus after you get off the free bus (or, for that matter, assume the ‘free’ bus will be free).

Despite the odds, me and SG turned up to Concha y Torro in one piece…and very thirsty. Eight tasting glasses and a bottle later, our thoughts were turning to the return journey, having shelved thoughts of this on arrival because a solution is always easier after alcohol – right?

Right! As if a fairy waved a wand, we wanted a return bus and there one was. Some other visitors on the table next to us were being ushered by their tour leader to get on the bus. We asked if we could get on it to back to the City and…the answer was yes. Bonus! It probably helped that by this point we had ‘free’ stickers adorning our chests (meaning free entry, courtesy of the security guard at the vineyard). A swift 45 minutes later and we were back in the City.

Bolstered by the success of our lovely day out, me and SG decided we would repeat the experience and travel together to Mendoza. You might think we’d had enough fun already, but Mendoza was to present its own challenges which will come in Part 2. All I will say is that Mendoza is in Argentina, i.e. requires a border crossing. And SG had lost her passport in Chile.

PS: At time of writing I have received a letter from HSBC stating that my card is now ready for collection in….Kingston-Upon-Thames, UK. Thanks. My Red Cross package is still MIA, assumed to have been taken by customs on the basis that it is more difficult to get Marmite into the country than bombs, guns and kidnapped babies.

Until Mendoza.

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