Tag Archives: Transportation

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 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!


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


Chile by Air (and coolest job in the world)

This gallery contains 11 photos.

I love my job. For me, it just doesn’t get better than this–a day’s work that includes flying over the mountains, through the valley, out over the sea and back again for a day of wine tasting in the Colchagua Valley, with good food and great company to boot! Check out the view! Continue reading

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.

I was a Peruvian Dishtowel Smuggler

Ok, so I’m not Peruvian. And I never intentionally smuggled anything… Aw shoot. Wait—there were those Chinese chili peppers tucked into my coat pockets that one time, but I swear it was before I worked in the wine industry and really-really, truly-truly became convinced of the whole SAG take on Chile being an agricultural island thing. But I really do get it now and it will NEVER happen again! Really, truly, honest, cross my heart, stick a needle, swear on a stack, and all that! Ya lo cacho… I completely get it now, AND, as much as I really love Chinese red peppers and Indian black mustard seeds, they will never-ever enter the country by my hand (or coat pocket) again! (Phew, Wow- Confession IS good for the soul!)

I hadn’t thought about this for a long time, but Eileen at bearshapedsphere started a group blog on border-confiscated items. I posted my original story on the sad loss of delicious spices intended for the curries of my dreams, but the memories started flooding in. Here’s another, although technically it wasn’t me that suffered the loss this time…

Ok. So the story goes like this. Without delving into dramatic personal details, my daughter and I lived in Chile for a few years as tourists (despite my earnest yet futile attempts to “legalize” my status… but that story’s for another day). Anyway, before I became legal-by-marriage, we were forced to leave the country periodically and re-enter in order to renew our tourist visas. And, as just about every ex-pat in limbo with residency-in-waiting knows, that means 3 or 4 weekends in Mendoza, Argentina per year.

We were only a month shy of the big day, but bureaucracy trumps love and wedding plans, so, off we went, yet once again, my daughter and I and husband-to-be (HTB) aboard a bus and Argentina-bound. Even before we pulled out of the station we couldn’t help but notice a group of 8 or 10 Peruvians who made a fuss about changing their seat assignments. It seemed odd, considering that the bus was only half full and they could sit wherever they wanted, but they insisted that the official roster be changed to show 2 here, 2 there, another 2 over there, etc., dispersed throughout the bus. Curious, but it would all become clear in due time.

My preteen daughter was sitting in the seat behind HTB and me, and suddenly I was very aware that one of the Peruvian men was talking with her… the protective Mom instinct kicks in and I demand and explanation, of course. He was asking her to put a dozen pairs of (new) tube socks in her bag. No way! (How many times have you been warned not to transport goods for someone else?) Besides, our status in Chile was iffy enough as it was (C’mon, 3 years on a 3-month tourist visa is no cake walk!) I didn’t want anything in the world to jinx it just before the wedding, and I certainly didn’t want my KID to get mixed up in any kinky socks affair! Case closed.

Fast forward several hours and countless curvy switchbacks up the mountain to the Argentine border, where the whole seat-changing scheme unfolded. We were lined up by seat number to go through customs, and at that time Argentina required Peruvians to have a certain amount of money ($300US I think?) to enter the country. Clearly the group did not have enough money, so they went through the line, showed the dough, passed through customs, and handed the $300 wad on to the next person down the line. Hmmm. We noticed. Mouths shut. None of our business.

Next step: we had to place our bags on a long row of tables and police inspectors took everything out and rifled through it. Much to my disbelief, out of the bag I was sharing with HTB came a dozen brand new dishtowels that I had never seen before! WHAT?? I assume the officer did not see the extremely nasty look I gave HTB because I’m still here to tell the story, but man, was I MAD!

Once back on the bus and starting to roll, I laid into him, “How COULD you? You KNOW that our status is iffy, You KNOW that I told the guy we wouldn’t take his socks, WHY would you accept towels? And WHO travels with dishtowels anyway?” “Look,” he says, all righteous and innocent, “he’s just a poor guy trying to make ends meet. Back when I was a student, Argentina treated us the same way. I just wanted to help him out. What’s it hurt?” Grrrr…

Before I could continue, the bus came to a stop and 3 uniformed officers boarded. They were looking for Peruvians. Seat 1: “show me your money.” Out comes the $300. Seat 2: “show me your money.” Out comes the money… and so on, until they reached the young woman who could only produce $120. “Come with us,” they said.

They took her off the bus for questioning. We waited for over an hour, and finally we moved on… without her. The Peruvians aboard were clearly upset. One of their own was left behind to an unknown destiny. Would she be arrested? (Surely so.) Returned to Chile? Deported to Peru? It was all in the air. The Peruvians who had boarded with such high hopes of selling their wares in Mendoza and returning with something in pocket for family and wellbeing were clearly distraught. They huddled and spent the remaining hours of the journey locked in group prayer… until, of course, the time came to ask us for the dishtowels back.

Santiago Cabbie Stories 1

I talk to taxi cab drivers (cabbies). I know there are other foreigners who dislike being singled out, who hate that “where are you from?” question that we always—always—get. But I really don’t mind. If I’m not in the mood to talk, I just say “Estados Unidos” and go back to whatever zoned out, tuned out pre-question place I was in … but usually I go for it… it’s an opportunity to get a tiny bit of insight into the life of someone I am not likely to cross paths with ever again. We’re a mutually captive audience for 10 or 15 minutes and I really like to hear their stories… and sometimes they want to hear mine.

Today my driver was a  nice grandfatherly type gent who proudly announced that he’d been working for 60 years. “Yep,” he said, in what I’m sure is a story he’s told a thousand times, “I started working when I was 10. I’m 70 now, and still going strong.” I urged him on as we zipped along through the public transportation fast lane in full-on rush hour. “I’ve been married for 44 years, and never an argument.”

“Aw, c’mon!” I tell him, “Everybody argues once in a while!” “Not once,” he insisted. “We didn’t own a thing when we got married, not even a plate, just the bed I slept on. She was 6 months pregnant, and we pulled together and did alright. Raised 4 kids and 12 grand children,” (while I’m thinking that this gentleman’s gentle wife probably would not be at all happy about him telling every gringa that comes along that she “had to get married” all those years ago…)

“I was a carabinero for 34 years,” he announced as we whizzed past the presidential palace. “I was right there inside La Moneda on September 11. It was really something.”

“I bet!” And I dared ask the question that we all learn quickly not to ask. “Were you an Allende supporter?” “Me? No, we were neutral!” Hmmm; a guarded answer if ever I heard one. I baited: “A friend of mine said that if it hadn’t been for the golpe, Allende would have simply been remembered as the worst President in Chilean history…”

I was fully aware that “golpe” is a very loaded word, and you can often spot a Pinochet supporter by their reaction. They call it the “pronunciamiento militar.” I wanted to see where he would go. He chuckled. “Yeah, he’s got a statue and everything.”

“A statue?” I’m really wondering where this is going…

“Here in Chile, everyone who screws up gets a statue!” Ah! Here we go! True colors! Not in any defensive or offensive kind of way. Just expressing his honest opinion to someone who genuinely wanted to know it.

“Do you know about President Balmaceda and the Revolution of 1891? 11,000 men died—11,000! And then he committed suicide—so what happens? He gets a statue… right there next to the obelisk in Plaza Italia (a key spot in the city).

He was just getting warmed up, and just as he gets to the part where he says, “yes indeed, it was once de septiembre that turned this country around, alright,” we came to my stop. Even so, I couldn’t help but notice that he was careful not to say it was Pinochet, but rather the events of the golpe that were responsible for the change.

Hmmm… whether or not he was truly “neutral” this particular carabinero was at least pretty diplomatic!