“Santiago is Chile.” It’s easy to see where the expression comes from – about a third of the population lives in Santiago. However, Santiago is by no means all of Chile, and so I set out with some friends last weekend to explore the territory beyond what I could see from the top of El Cerro San Cristobal.
We made our home base La Serena, a small town six hours north of Santiago by bus. On day one, we visited the nearby Valley of Elqui, which would look much like the American West if not for the vineyards covering every inch of the valley floor. The bus ride alone was incredible. I could peer straight out the bus door (wide open for fresh air) down into the valley below at each turn. The bus stopped for empanadas or soda at least twice, and played music in Spanish the whole way.
The next day we spent biking along the beach. Renting bikes in the US is strictly a business transaction. You speak with the employee in the bike shop, sign some forms, and take off. Here, on the other hand, we put our trust in a person, not in a company. The bicycle man came over to the hostel himself to walk us to what was obviously his own garage, adorned with a wooden sing reading “BIKE”. He proceeded to take out seven bikes, all different, all rusty. There were no liability forms to sign, and the only piece of paper exchanged was a map.
Once in Coquimbo, we left the bikes under the care of some waiters while we walked around the seafood and artisan markets. We felt obligated to eat at their restaurant for lunch, but it turned out to be a wonderful choice. I had the freshest fish I’ve ever tasted, which is saying a lot since I’m from Boston.
In one weekend, we hopped on buses with unpublished schedules and fares, rented bikes from someone’s garage, and trusted strangers with those seven bikes. I might have labeled these situations “sketchy” in the US, but they didn’t feel that way. On the contrary, they felt like the definition of honesty.
In the US, we erect so many barriers around personal interaction. My first instinct is always “I’ll look it up on the internet,” not “I’ll ask someone.” I didn’t realize how much I missed asking, negotiating, and trusting.
Note: All the photos below were taken in one weekend, all within two hours of La Serena.
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<p><span style="color: rgb(29, 29, 29); font-family: Arial, Verdana, sans-serif; font-size: 12px; line-height: normal; background-color: rgb(237, 237, 237);">Maya is a senior majoring in Neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University. In addition to classes and laboratory research, she enjoys running, martial arts, and improvisational baking (with variable results). Having achieved comprehension of the Baltimore accent, she hopes to master Spanish as well, and is looking forward to many adventures in Chile!</span></p>