My first weekend exploring Santiago was a whirlwind! I only have class Monday through Thursday, which means we get a three day weekend to do whatever we choose. On Friday, a couple friends and I decided to go to Cerro San Cristobal which is a hill in the middle of the city with a statue of the Virgin Mary at the top and a zoo! You take a funicular to the top of the mountain and then you have the option to climb the rest for amazing views of the city and to see the Virgin Mary. There is also a small church and an outdoor mass area built into the gardens. The statue of the Virgin Mary has a sanctuary inside of it reserved for silent prayer. It was beautiful. I wish we could have spent more time on the hill, but I will definitely be going back to get some souvenirs and enjoy the views once more before I leave.
After Cerro San Cristobal, we went to Sky Costañera which is the tallest building in Latin America, also attached to a giant mall. This building has a complete 360 view of Santiago. You take an elevator up 64 floors to the very top, which has two tiers. The first tier is the main floor and the second tier is called the sky deck. It has an open ceiling and glass windows. I could feel the cold air rushing in as well as some rain drops. The views were probably the best I have ever seen of any city. I didn’t realize how big of a city Santiago was until I saw it from above. The buildings stretch for miles and the Andes mountains envelop the city. Santiago houses more than 5 million people! A pretty big difference from Bilbao and Reno. We watched the sunset and once it got dark, a live musician started playing American songs on the sky deck and they were handing out free glasses of wine! It was such a cool experience. I didn’t want to leave that moment.
On Saturday, my friends and I decided to go to Cajón del Maipo, which is located in the Andes mountains and offers hiking trails, hot springs, horseback riding, river rafting, zip-lining and incredible views of the mountains. We were attempting to go to Embalse el Yeso which is a reservoir in the Andes mountains. We all took a bus that headed to Cajón del Maipo, but little did we know the bus ride would be about two hours. We paid the bus driver to take us to San Gabriel, which is where they told us Embalse el Yeso would be. When we arrived, the bus driver dropped us off in the middle of nowhere and said it was the last stop on the bus. We tried to ask him how to get to Embalse el Yeso, but he just took off without giving us a map or anything. So, at that point we were stuck in the mountains with no sense of direction and guess who had to pee. There was nothing in sight for miles so I just popped a squat behind a rock and hoped for the best. Another incident of me desperately having to pee in the middle of nowhere. I’m not shocked.
After my bathroom experience in the Andes, the Slovakian couple and Australian couple that were with us eventually pulled over a taxi driver and asked him how to get to Embalse el Yeso. The driver said it would take about four hours to drive there. We did not have that much time, considering it was already 1:30pm at the time. The driver gave us a map and we had to pull over the next taxi driver we saw to at least take us somewhere close that preferably had food.
Once we found a new taxi, he let us put all of our bags in the back of the car and he told us we could go to Baños Morales, which is a hot spring that was closest to us. He said it would be about a two hour drive to get there. Mind you, his car was a small five seater and there were seven of us. Of course, because I am so small I was the one laying on top of everyone in the back of the car up a sketchy road in the mountains. The driver stopped a couple of times so we could take photos of the waterfalls and wild horses which was nice (little did we know he would charge us extra for it at the end). The drive ended up being more like an hour than two hours which I was thankful for so my head was no longer smushed on the ceiling of his car. He dropped us off in a small dilapidated village and when we asked about where the hike started to get to Baños Morales, he said it would take at least another two hours to hike there. Every person we asked told us something different and by that time in the day, it just wasn’t going to be possible for us to see any attraction in the mountains.
Since we hadn’t eaten lunch yet, we stopped at the pizza place in the village. Luckily, it had a proper bathroom which I was so happy to see. The food was great and our waitress helped us with finding the bus to take us back to Santiago. She was a true lifesaver. The bus came at 4pm and of course we hopped on with all our stuff once again. I stopped paying the bus drivers because they were only taking advantage of the tourists and didn’t make some people pay. I could tell they just really did not care about anything. Our bus driver on the way home made a couple of “personal” stops to get things for himself. It took us another three hours to make it back home to Santiago and we were exhausted. We spent pretty much the whole day traveling and not getting to see much in Cajón del Maipo. But it sure was a cool experience!! I get to say that I got lost in the Andes mountains and peed in the wilderness once again. Seems to be a trend for me when traveling to foreign countries.
On Sunday, my friend Emily and I went to a famous museum here called Museo de Bellas Artes. I am not much of an art person, but I always love seeing museums and learning more about the Chilean culture. It was pretty fascinating and also free like many of the other museums here! Afterwards, we headed to Plaza de Armas and got to see a cueca dance competition going on in the Plaza. Cueca is the typical dance of Chile and basically everyone knows how to do it here. It was a very relaxing Sunday night considering the crazy Saturday we had just had. My first weekend in Chile was a success and I couldn’t ask for anything more. This weekend, USAC is traveling to Valparaiso and Viña del Mar which is on the coast of Chile. More photos and adventures to come!