Once I got off the bus and grabbed my bag, I walked into one of the most chaotic scenes I have ever witnessed. And I’ve been in Port Authority in Manhattan on a summer Friday when a bus breaks down in the tunnel.
There were crowds like I had never seen before. There was no semblance of lines. And there was so much luggage.
When I did figure out a line, and finally got to the ticket window, I was told that there were no buses to Vina del Mar (Vina) until tomorrow.
Okay, I had thought calmly. Just need to create a Plan B.
Feeling cranky, hot and overwhelmed, and with a rucksack on my back and a day pack on my front, I walked out of the bus terminal and landed in an outdoor market attached to the bus terminal. I stopped into a the first shop that was separate from the vendors lined up throughout the garden area. It happened to be a jewelry shop. I explained my situation to the man and woman in the shop.
They listened and the woman smiled and took me by the hand. Together, she and I headed back into the bus terminal. She found me a bus company that was still running late into the night and she went right up to the window, with no regard for the line, and she wrote down the next few available departures – which were hours away.
I didn’t purchase the ticket at that time because the line was too long and I had to think about the timing of my arrival. My concerns were on both ends of the travel. 1. I didn’t want to hang out in the Santiago bus terminal for hours and 2. I didn’t particularly want to arrive into Vina in the middle of the night either. I needed to think about my options if I were to spend the night in Santiago instead.
Note to future self. Should have just purchased the ticket and figured out the actual plan in the hours I had to wait in the bus terminal. As I’m writing this, I realize how overwhelmed I was because I wasted so much time deciding if I should stay in Santiago or leave for Vina, when in fact, I had likely secured a place (Cara’s hostel) to sleep in Vina.
I walked over to the internet cafe – where every single person on every single computer was looking at Facebook. After what felt like an eternity, I was able to get online and send a few emails asking about availability for that night. I figured if I needed a place to stay, I could check back in a few minutes to see what kind of replies I would receive.
Next, I bought a calling card. Went to the phone booths and tried calling Cara to give her a heads up on my timing and whereabouts. Remember, I had been on a bus for most of the day already and I didn’t have a cell phone.
Back to the internet to check on availability in Santiago for the night. All negative. My best bet was to leave for Vina on the first available bus, whose departure was still hours away.
Now it was time to navigate and try to purchase my bus ticket to Vina. Of course, since time had passed, the once available buses were no longer available. After finally securing the ticket, I went back to the phone to call Cara. Got her! I let her know if she didn’t receive an email from me by 10.30 that night, I would definitely be en route and we’d connect at the hostel over breakfast in the morning. Could she please confirm with the hostel that I would be needing a bed that night. Yes, she would. So I had a place to sleep, if I could only get there.
And now that I had a plan, it was FINALLY time to find a bathroom! I went back to my new friends at the jewelry store and they asked for a status on my next steps. At this point, I had to go. I left everything – minus my passport and some coins – and ran to the ladies room. Yes, you have to pay to pee. Which actually, was a nicer (read: cleaner) bathroom than you may have expected.
When I got back to grab my bags, the couple handed me a hand-drawn map of Vina with notes. They marked exactly where I would find a cab once I disembarked, they warned me not to go with anyone waiting on the street and emphasized to be careful because of the late hour.
I thanked them profusely for their kindness and apologized for my incorrect grammar but wanted them to know that they were my guardavidas (lifeguards), a word I learned in Uruguay. They smiled and shared some kind words which really helped my morale at this point. We hugged good bye and I made my way back into the bus terminal. For what, I wasn’t sure. How would I kill the next few hours? Eat? People watch? Wander? Rest?
This would be a long wait.
The terminal was an indoor/outdoor terminal. It was crowded. It was hot. There were loose dogs – though they looked well-fed – roaming the terminal. It was not somewhere you could grab a seat and wait. You’d be lucky to find enough floor space that wasn’t in the way of the hundreds of people trying to get where they needed to go. Wandering the station wasn’t the greatest option for me because I was carrying a bag on my back and another in front. And it was crowded. And hot.
The bus terminal was an assault on every single one of my senses.
My frustration had piqued. After spending the better part of the day on one bus, a few hours in this terminal had me ready to get back on another bus.
Just had to wait a little longer.