Category Archives: Transportation

Taxi Tales: I’m Selfish because…

I’ve written about talking with Santiago cabbies  in the past**, and even though I haven’t written much of anything lately, I continue to gather material nearly every time I hop into a cab. In fact, I could probably do an entire blog on taxi tales! Continue reading

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Riding the Ramal

There’s just something about trains, especially the old ones, those back-in-time local engines that ka-chug their way through remote country villages…

Boys at window / Ramal / Chile © Margaret Snook

Summer memories in the making

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Santiago de Chile Part I: Memories by Bike

US anthropologist Kathleen Skozcen recently visited Chile for the first time and left with much to remember—and much to think about. She begins sorting through what she saw, heard, learned, experienced, and felt, forming her own memories while reflecting upon the city from the bike lane… Continue reading

Santiago Cabbie Stories: Blessed by a Taxi Driver

I got blessed by a taxi driver yesterday. First time that’s ever happened to me.
I’ve been cursed (ok, cursed at) by a cabbie—although in truth, I was actually just a convenient proxy for a certain former US president he seemed to have issues with. I’ve also been lectured to, lied to, sweet-talked, and ripped off; I’ve heard sob stories, tall tales, bad jokes, and tirades, but blessings? This was a first. And I think this particular cabbie is concerned for my eternal soul. Continue reading

Valparaíso by Trolley

What’s summer without a bit of travel, exploration, fun, and tourism? “Valparaíso en un Trolley” dishes out a bit of all that and more. Theater troupe Teatro de la Historia fills the seats of a 1950s-era green and yellow “trolebus” and rolls out on a tour that takes delightful jabs at the city’s characters while simultaneously conveying pride in this one-of-a-kind city.

Trolebuses de Chile in Valparaíso date to 1952 Continue reading

Bye-Bye Blackberry (Ode to the Santiago Metro)

It was bound to happen sooner or later. In my case it was later. After 18 years of life in Santiago, someone finally managed to pick my pocket and make off with something valuable.

The crazy thing is that I was in a hurry and was going to take a taxi… but I was coming from an all-day seminar on Sustainability and was jazzed about being more environmentally responsible. I had made little mental post-it notes to contact the mayor to find out where all the recycling centers are in my neighborhood and insist they add more. I vowed to walk more and print less. I was psyched and cooking up strategies to leave this world a better place for my children’s children’s children; I was flying high on how to do my part for the environment… so of course I couldn’t stoop to a taxi after all that! No… the Metro it would be…

Let me just say that I am, by nature, careful about my things. All zippers zipped, snaps snapped, and straps strapped. In all these years no one has ever gotten anything out of my purse without my express will and knowledge.
Wait. I lie. I DID catch a guy with his hand in my bag a few years ago, but the joke was on him because I had a bad cold and all he got–you guessed it–was a handful of used tissues. I put the bad cold curse on him. The icky kleenex hex. Served him right, and I hope he snuffled for a month.

The thing is that at one point I DID feel something odd, but felt around and reassured myself that the zipper was secure and didn’t give it a thought until I got home and looked for my keys and,  hmm, that’s weird, why is this open? But even then it didn’t register that the Blackberry–did I mention it was new? was gone… yeah, the one that contains ALL my contacts… The one I just bought for work… (it’s not a toy— no, it’s NOT!)

It wasn’t until a couple hours later that I realized I did not have it. I hunted, I scrambled, I literally dumped EVERYTHING out of the bag and yelled choice words, hoping they would conjure up a phone while inventing much nastier curses that were exceedingly more creative than the former simple soggy tissue type. I believe a pox was involved. Perhaps leprosy too. No rotting in hell for this guy–let him suffer in the here and now. Acne, flatulence, and erectile dysfunction in a Viagra-less world. May his son don a tutu and his daughter grow a beard. May his wife run off with another woman, and his mother–well,  she’s probably suffered enough with this jerk already. I suddenly liked the chopping off of thieving hands, along with an eye for an eye and not one, but a whole mouthful of rotting teeth, for a Blackberry. Maggots and molten lava…you get the idea.

I had to cancel the cell service, but since I no longer had the phone, I had to google the company for a land line number and dial, while repeatedly choosing incorrectly from infuriating numeric options (click-dial-repeat-click-dial-repeat) while yelling at the recording to GIVE ME A REAL PERSON! Turns out that that works! Gotta say, though, that the real person who finally picked up managed to calm me down and get coherent responses out of me so that she could block the line and assure me that no, I would not have to pay for any calls to Mars made in the last 2 hours.

So there it is. The price for social responsibility. So my question is: can you measure the carbon footprint of a stolen Blackberry? And am I correct in believing that I have just earned enough carbon credits to offset future taxi service?

Update: Imagine how thrilled I was to discover, when I got my monthly bill, that the ·$%&·%$ thief had manage to run up $150,000 pesos (roughly 300 bucks) in long distance phone calls to Perú, Bolivia, Ecuador, Haiti, and Cuba during the 2 hours that I was unaware that the phone had gone missing. I didn’t even know I HAD long distance service! It turns out the company turns it on automatically and you have to specifically request they turn it off if you don’t want it… so, that said, remember that forewarned is forearmed!

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For more on the Santiago Metro, see: “Santiago  Metro: the Daily  Crush

The Art of Artful Dodging: Avoiding Traffic Tickets in Chile

Carabinero-motoThe Chilean police—carabineros—are famous for being resistant to bribery. Forget everything you’ve ever heard about dealing with Latin American officials when you come to Chile. Don’t even THINK about offering them money; that’s a sure recipe for doom and a much closer look at the inner workings of a police station than you were bargaining for. But that doesn’t mean that carabineros always play it by the book. There are ways of getting out of that ticket looming large. I’ve heard plenty of stories about being let go…

Here are a few of my favorites:

Female Approach #1: Beautiful & Helpless
A very pretty young Chilean friend, a stunning model with no drivers’ license and little knowledge of driving, was, nonetheless, behind the wheel. She made an illegal left turn, entered the wrong way down a 1-way street, and was trying unsuccessfully to park in a no-parking zone when the local man-in-green asked her to step out of her car.

She’s a goner, right? No pu (which is Chilean for “nope”). Pretty and quick-witted, she flashes a big smile and puts on her very best gringa accent and says, “um… No…um… No sah-bair… estash-o-nahr…” (something that roughly resembles “no… to know…to park”), and throws in another big “I’m helpless” smile for good measure. He melted. Big bad meanie attitude out the window; Knight in Shining Armor to the rescue. Not only did she NOT get a ticket, but he actually stopped traffic and helped her back out and be on her way!

Now, would this work with a real gringa? Somehow I doubt it!

Female Approach #2: Turn on the Tears
In a word, cry. This seems to be the most common approach. Most of the women I know under 30 swear that this works every time. Most seem to discover this by accident the first time they get stopped and when they are really very scared and upset, “and I don’t have any money and my father’s going to kill me and I’ll never do it again, oh whatamIgonnadoooo boohoohoohoo…? Sob, sob, sob, look for tissues…sob, sob, sniff… Apparently it gets them every time, at least with the under-30s.

I can’t imagine cops anywhere falling for this kind of tactic from a man, who according to the universal rules of machismo, cannot cry or whine. And if they are even slightly intelligent, they should certainly know better than to show any sign of excess testosterone either. It’s man-to-man and one’s got the upper hand… and that hand’s holding a book of tickets. But still, there are ways…

Male Approach #1: The Absent-Minded Professor
Despite being stopped (and deservedly so) many more times than anyone could count, my husband has only received one ticket in his life… and that event is a story in itself, but I’ll save that for another day. He has an amazing ability to talk his way out of just about anything, usually without even realizing that that’s what he’s doing. He’s even had carabineros apologize for offending him, but that’s a tale that only he can tell…You see, he’s charming, intelligent, very polite… and extremely absent minded. Just the other day he was on the highway with his elderly mother in the car. It was about 4 pm when he got pulled over. The interaction went something like this:

“Your license and registration please.”

He pulls out all the papers he’s ever had related to the car and shuffles through them until the cop (or paco, in Chile), in desperation, points to what he wants. His papers are indeed in order and he knew he wasn’t speeding.

“Why don’t you have your lights on?”

He leans his head out of the window and looks up into the clear blue sky with a puzzled look on his face—completely oblivious to the law that has been in place for about 2 years that says that headlights must be on at all times while driving on the highway.

“But I’m just taking my mother on an errand…” (like that has anything to do with anything). She smiles (no tears, but now that I think of it, that would probably have worked very well too).

“You need to use your headlights on the highway.”

“Really? But I was just taking my mother…”

Realizing that my husband is a pretty harmless kinda guy, and perhaps confounded by what logic could possibly lie behind this clearly futile and seemingly endless loop of circular conversation, the paco shed mercy…

“Ok, don’t worry. You can go.”

“Thank you sir…” and puts the car in gear and starts to go. The carabinero stops him again…

“Turn your lights on… NOW!”

Oops! Red faced, lights on, and on his way…

Male Approach #1: Have a Charming Kid
Another friend, let’s call him Pedro, got stopped and knew he was doomed…went through that stop sign just a little too fast before he saw those ominous red lights atop the green and white car. His 3-year-old daughter sat in the back seat singing quietly to herself as he and the carabinero go through the required steps: the document checking, the accusation, the “Really? I didn’t see it” routine that they both know is expected but going nowhere, when suddenly the carabinero hears what the little one is singing… the Carabinero National Hymn!

The carabinero couldn’t believe his ears, and Pedro couldn’t believe his luck! It’s hard to tell who was most pleased.

You’ve got a nice little girl there mister. You have a nice day and be more careful next time.”

It turns out that the carabineros had recently visited her daycare center and taught them the song. She saw the uniform, made the association, and very innocently started on what well may be a long career of convincing carabineros to look kindly on wayward drivers.