Category Archives: career break

I spent the bulk of my time dreaming of how I could get off the damn bus

Based on the notes I took during this (what turned into a nearly 10 hour) ride, I am confident that I spent the bulk of my time dreaming of how I could get off the damn bus.

My notes are pretty funny to read through now, after the fact. I have 28 pages of notes/scribbles/complaints from my bus ride, just complaining to myself.

Before things went from bad to worse, I had attempted to break out the ride into activities:

Look out window / 1 hour
Write / 1 hour
Read Chile (in Lonely Planet) / 1 hour
Read book / 1 hour
Nap / 1 hour
Movies / tbd
Eat / tbd
Organize bag and dump trash / 30 minutes

It started out simple. I even noted that I “revised thoughts on long haul buses. This is not Greyhound. And better than coach on an airplane.”

After all, we had meal service. I was served food…twice.

First, a sandwich which tasted better than it looked.

sandwich

And a special guest. A guy with a butcher’s coat and sunglasses jumped aboard to sell empanadas and would ride with us for a few miles before hopping off. In case you are wondering, the bus smelled delicious but I passed on the opportunity to purchase the empanadas, wherever they may have come from.

I even noted that it felt somewhat safe because cops would randomly come aboard, walk the aisles and leave.

I admired the scenery, with switchbacks sans guardrails, homes in the middle of nowhere and the vegetation once we decreased our elevation.

I was playing around with the exchange rate so I had an idea of what $10USD and $20USD would equal in Chilean pesos. At the time I was traveling 9500CHP equaled $20.55USD. I noted that “it makes me nervous with so many zeros.”

I wrote some words I learned “palta = avocado,” aceitunas = olives” and “para llevar = to go”

I made notes about my fellow passengers. I came up with stories on why they were traveling and where they were headed.

“Flowing chocolate milk…with rocks.” Apt description of the fast-moving brown river, considering the other notes I made, that include: “rafts, going in that water???” “lots of rocks” and “where’s the nearest hospital?” (perhaps I was foreshadowing for what was to come).

Then, another meal service later, with an assortment of crackers, cake, marmalade, teas, coffees, instant milk and a variety of sugars. I don’t drink coffee but I finished everything else off….once my bus neighbors finished yet another diaper change (and their aversion to throwing the dirty diaper in the trash, instead tucking it into their diaper bag). At the same time, their second child was having a meltdown, throwing a bottle of milk. The image and stench of the bus bathroom memory was still worse than then smell of countless diaper changes and spilled sour milk just a few feet away.

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And then my ride went from tolerable, to painful…

In reality, looking at these 28 pages of notes, forget my timeline of activities I could do to while away my travel time. Instead, I spent the bulk of the time on the bus detailing my misery in chicken scratch.

A movie with English-language voiceover couldn’t entertain me. The words didn’t match their mouths and I started to unravel. This was the beginning of the end, though this hiccup would be the least of my issues as I became increasingly more cranky on this seemingly never-ending ride to Santiago.

I have notes like “This bus ride is making me nauseous.”

“How gross?” I questioned in advance of checking out the bathroom situation after a few hours. “AWFUL,” I responded, noting my attempt, but instead choosing to hold it.

(I assume this was directed towards the baby) “This ride is awful. And guess what, I want to scream and cry too.”  “Super crankified.”

I also had jotted down “Cute kid. Not so cute anymore. Throwing food. Sister is crying. I’m cranky too.”

Using the logic from the time that had elapsed, the Lonely Planet and whatever signage appeared on the roads, I was creating crazy math equations and sketches, passing a good chunk of time. I was definitely getting frustrated because my answers were “No idea how much time is left” and also, the much more colorful, “No F idea.”

My misery crossed language barriers and was documented in my notebook in both Spanish and English.

To top off my bus misery was the added uncertainty of my arrival in Santiago.

I was going to be arriving in the middle of rush hour. I needed to secure a seat on a bus for the 90 minute ride to Vina del Mar. Friday. Summer. Rush hour. Didn’t I just do this the week before in Buenos Aires?

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La Frontera to Santiago (in photos)

Rafael was 100% right. The scenery on the bus route was stunning. From Mendoza to the border, there were snow-capped mountains on one side of the bus and desert on the other. Views on either side were incredible.

I knew that the bus would make no stops, other than at the border, from Mendoza to Santiago. I didn’t know how much farther we had left but I just couldn’t wait to get off this bus, even if it would be just a quick stop. Quick…ha.

We slowly approached the border station at Paso Los Libertadores, a well-traveled crossing, in both directions, linking Mendoza and Santiago.

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I snapped some photos around me as we were waiting, and waiting, and waiting, to pull into the crossing.

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Unfortunately, the wait to get off the bus took an extraordinary long time. More so, because I wanted to get off the damn bus and probably even more so because I had to go to the bathroom pretty badly since I refused to go on the bus.

Even more unfortunate, is that the border stop took just shy of 3 hours from the rolling stop to the bus moving again.

THREE HOURS. THREE. HOURS.

What I didn’t understand was the process. There were many lines we had to enter and I’m sure each served a purpose but it just took so. very. very. long.

The bus first had to go through a line because we were departing Argentina. Then the bus went through another line because we were arriving into Chile (um, duh). Next, get off the bus and wait outside, on the Argentina side, for the dogs to sniff the bus. Once complete, enter the next line inside the building.

Once inside the building, everyone on the bus lined up, like it was a police station line up, with our driver and his co-pilot leading the way. There were tables in front of each of the two lines. Bags went on a conveyor belt. Once the bags from under the bus were through, everyone on the bus had to put their day packs through.

Somewhere in this long line, we waited in line to get passports stamped and probably go through customs. At some point, I was able to get to the bathroom. I walked into a bathroom that had at least an inch of water on the floor from wall to wall. I had to go so badly that I didn’t even care. I just told myself that the sink must have overflowed to avoid thinking about the toilets overflowing with something much worse than water.

Waiting, waiting and more waiting.

Once we had all gone through the line, the bus driver got the okay and motioned everyone to collect their stuff and get back onto the bus.

Once we were back on the bus, the scenery changed slightly after passing through the border and as we headed down the mountains.

Switchbacks ahead!

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By far, of my bus photography, this photo (below) is my absolute favorite. Much of the ride down the Andes on the Chilean side was on roads, with views, like this.

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I wasn’t sure if the 3-hour border stop was included in the 6 to 8 hours so I was hopeful that Santiago would be close as we came down the mountain.

It didn’t bode well for a short leg. Soon after we got going, the ‘co-pilot’ put another movie on.

 


Mendoza to La Frontera (in photos)

Because of the turn of events towards the end of my time in Mendoza, there weren’t many photos. Until now.

The ride to the border, la frontera, was long but I occupied a good chunk of time taking photographs out of the bus window.

I thought that the scenery was very similar to North America’s southwest.

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Look closely at the below photo. A river.

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Mountains and cactus and desert.

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And more mountains and desert.

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Some greenery.

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And of course, snow on the mountaintops. We were traveling through the Andes and so one of these peaks in the distance could be Aconcagua, the highest mountain in the world after Mount Everest. But unfortunately, I cannot confirm which one.

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Some more interesting views out of the bus window before I started to get restless.

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My backup plan consisted of a bag of ham-flavored potato chips. Don’t judge.

Rafael and Gustavo assured me that I would be well-fed (sandwich, hot meal, chips and a drink) on the bus ride from Mendoza to Santiago.

However, this would be a long day of travel (I just didn’t realize how long) and I wanted to make sure I had my own snack back up plan. I was warned by several travelers and the woman who sold me my bus ticket, not to pack any fruit or anything with seeds for this ride because it would be confiscated at the border checkpoint and hold up the whole bus through customs.

My backup plan for, what I was told would be, a 6 to 8 hour bus ride depending on the border situation, consisted of a bag of ham-flavored potato chips, both pizza AND cheese-flavored crackers, a Sprite and two juice boxes. Please don’t judge.

jamon serrano lays

I had never crossed a border by bus before. Plane? Check. Ferry? Check. Car? Check. By foot? Check (later in my trip).

The idea of crossing a border by bus excited me, probably way more than it should have. I didn’t know what to expect other than…

  • The actual time at the border could be long,
  • The bathroom situation on the bus wouldn’t be ideal and, what got me on the bus in the first place,
  • This was a ride to be done during the day because the scenery was not to be missed.

Turns out, all true.

When Rafael took me to purchase bus tickets, he had reserved me a single seat upstairs, and not in the front row, because he said the cross wind from the Andes paired with the windy roads could make someone very ill. My seat was terrific except for the young family in the two-seater across the aisle that, what seemed like every 10 minutes, used the tray tables as changing tables for their baby, who had frequent bowel movements.

Knowing what I know now about bus travel, it wasn’t a bad situation at all.


The pharmacist doesn’t have the exact prescription in stock…

In the morning, Marisa and I promised to meet again in the States and parted ways. I headed to the pharmacy and she headed to work. My bus departed at 10.30 and I had a major errand to run.

I had briefly considered waiting until Chile to fill the medication but I figured as a precaution both in terms of my health and the legalities of filling prescriptions across country borders, to take care of it in Argentina.

I had trouble understanding what the two women at the pharmacy were trying to tell me. I figured it had to be important because one of them told me to stay and she returned a few minutes later with an English-speaking woman who owned a nearby shop.

My new translator explained that, “the pharmacist doesn’t have the exact prescription in stock so she’s giving you something close.”

What?! In the States I can’t change from pill to liquid at the pharmacy even when it’s the same medication and here I’m getting “something close?”

This sentence was so out of the ballpark of anything I could have expected them to say, it was no wonder I was having trouble translating.

I left with one prescription and one OTC medicine that the pharmacist recommended. The prescription was a powder; just add water and no refrigeration necessary. Score.

But, how the hell am I going to finagle taking this on a bus?


I seemed to time it so that I would be departing major cities, by bus, on Friday afternoons, in the summertime

I was still pretty panicked, probably because of the injury, the blood and the mate (and all of its caffeine, I had enjoyed earlier with Rafael) so I couldn’t even enjoy our lovely meal on the house. I’m pretty confident that Marisa was equally as nauseous by all the blood we had seen, and so we agreed to call it a night and head back to her place.

Back at Marisa’s, once comfortably in pajamas (which was all we really wanted to do anyway), after presenting her with her new wok (which she loved), I checked email and saw a note from my friend from New York, Cara. I knew we would be meeting up at some point in the Santiago / Valparaiso area and now was my chance to make plans, with a solid internet connection.

Cara shared with me the name of the hostel she had booked in Vina del Mar, a beach town just shy of two hours from Santiago. I emailed to make my own reservation not knowing how long it would take or what time I would be arriving. If anything, Cara was going to alert them that I was coming so I’d be guaranteed a bed. At least now I knew I would have a place to stay the following night (even if I didn’t realize how much energy it would take to get there).

I was sensing a pattern.

I seemed to time it so that I would be departing major cities, by bus, on Friday afternoons, in the summertime.

Fail.


If you are keeping count, that’s two countries and two doctors. And I was only on day 16 in South America.

Let’s just recap the situation to let it all sink in.

  • I’m in a fancy hotel in Mendoza.
  • I have injured myself in the most ridiculous way possible.
  • I have a doctor who carries a Caboodle.

Because of this situation,

Could I make this any more difficult?

I left with a prescription for an antibiotic, shared my thanks and headed back to Marisa at our table.

If you are keeping count, that’s two countries and two doctors.

And I was only on day 16 in South America.