A view from Maria Angola  View from our hotel window in Santiago

After 2 nights at Elqui Valley,  we headed back to La Serena.   Elqui Valley was truly beautiful, but remote, and we have had enough remoteness on the boat.  By leaving Elqui early in the morning, we were able to drive back to La Serena, return the car and buy our ticket to Santiago.  On the bus to Santiago, we were again subject to the worst American movies I have ever seen.  Peru buses, great movies, Chilean buses, not so good.  That wasn’t the worst part of the trip.  We were due to arrive in Santiago around 3:30 pm.  We had almost made it, only about an hour and a half out when the bus developed problems.  The driver pulled to the side of the road and for awhile, no one knew what was going on.  Finally the steward came through the bus and said something about “No agua” and was gathering bottles.  We saw him cross the highway with 4 empty liter bottles and realized the bus must be overheating.  So we waited.  Buses pulled up behind us and then moved on, and I wondered what they would do if they couldn’t fix the bus.  Would they get a different one or would we be put out into the road?  Not too long later, the steward came in, said something in Spanish, and everyone jumped up and started gathering their things.   We had no idea what he said.  He came up to us and repeated it.  Realizing we still didn’t understand, he said something and then drew his hand across his throat.  I got the idea.  “The bus is dead?”  I asked.   He nodded and said something else and pointed out the window.  “There’s another bus and we can get on it?”  He nodded.  Now, I have no idea how I figured out what he was saying.  It felt a little like the TV show with  Timmy trying to understand what Lassie is saying.  “Woof!  Woof woof!”

  “What is it, Boy?”

  “”Woof! Woof woof woof! Woof!” 

 ”The bus is broke down?” 

 ”Woof woof!  Woof!”   

 ”We need to move to another bus?”   

 ”Woof!”

Of course by the time we understood what was happening, everyone else had gotten on the bus, so the places to sit were few.  We couldn’t sit together.  Dan sat at the front, Tristan was sitting in front of Tessa, and I had a choice to sit next to the dangerous looking man sitting in front of the bathrooms, or next to the man who was sitting across the aisle from Tessa. I chose the latter, not because I was necessarilyworried about the guy, but I was worried about the bathroom.  Dan had told me earlier that the bathroom on our bus what about to overflow.  This bus was less luxurious than ours.  I couldn’t take that chance. 

 I was having trouble maneuvering down the aisle, with my backpacks, and the unsympathetic driver couldn’t care less.  He started off before I could even get to my seat.  As the guy near Tessa realized I was going to sit next to him, a look of fear came over him.  I’m serious!  He really didn’t want me sitting next to him and I have no idea why.  When I was settled in the seat, and had everything put away, I looked at him, wondering if I should say something, and realized he had put his coat over his face.  I mean really!  If you don’t want me sitting next to you fine, but you don’t have to be so rude!

The journey continued, but now, since we were held up, we were hitting rush hour.  Santiago is infamous for bad traffic and we were in the thick of it.  We were on a major highway, probably about 6 lanes of traffic, and it was gridlock, with people changing lanes and driving on the shoulder and other bad behavior.  It was crazy, but it was about to get crazier.  A few of the passengers decided that instead of waiting until the bus reached its final destination, they were just going to get off on the expressway.  This, apparently, was a common practice, as the steward, while the bus was stopped in gridlock,  jumped off with the passenger, opened the cargo hold, and took out the passenger’s suitcase.  This didn’t just happen once, it happened at least 5 times, with the passenger scrambling across lanes of traffic.  The driver may have stopped, but he clearly had no patience for it,  as one time he took off, causing the steward to run to get back on the bus.  It was truly dangerous and crazy. 

As we entered Santiago, heading down dark back streets, I was silently praying that we would be dropped off at an actual bus station, not some back alley.  I just couldn’t handle it if we were dumped,  in the dark, in the middle of nowhere.  Luckily, we were dropped off at a huge bus terminal, with plenty of waiting taxis.  We had planned ahead this time, and made reservations at a hotel called the Maria Angola.  It was located in the neighborhood we were interested in  and was highly rated by users.   We finally made it to the hotel around 8 pm after a harrowing ride with a cab driver  who drove at breakneck speeds through the streets of Santiago.  I thought that at any moment we would be  hit by a car running a light, or pulling out in front of us.  He was driving so fast, there was no way we could have avoided an accident.  I don’t remember ever being that scared in a taxi, and that includes the time in New York City when the driver fell asleep. 

The hotel was nice.  Our room was on the top floor, the fifth floor, which the elevator didn’t go to.  We had to ride to the fourth floor, then up a flight of stairs, and down hallway to our “Penthouse”.  This was the only room that could accommodate us,.  We had three single beds and a TV in one room, a large bathroom in the middle, and Dan and I had our own seperate bedroom, complete with TV in the back.  Very nice!  The hotel clerk was very  nice, spoke passable english, and helped us order a Dominoes pizza.  Life was good!