Sunday, November 7, 2010

Botanical Gardens and El Cajon de Maipo

The time has been flying by here, and it is hard for me to believe that I will be flying home in about 6 weeks. Making Chilean friends and having more of social life than I ever had back home makes the time go by that much quicker.

Some of my Chilean friends invited me to go with them to the botanical gardens near Cerro San Cristobal, and it was a really nice afternoon. The gardens were organized based on geographic location, with another area decidated to plants organized based on natural remedies used to cure common maladies. Families wandered around with their young children, and others sat and enjoyed the warm sunny weather, while others played soccer and kicked a soccer ball from one area up a hill to another area much higher.

Here are some pictures of the gardens and the view we had:

I particularly like the view in the last picture.  Looking at it with my friends, I was able to locate us and see various parts of the city.  The tall building with yellow at the top is currently under construction, and I pass it on my way to one of my classes each Tuesday and Thursday morning.

Near the end of our time there we rested and came across a dog that I could not resist taking a picture of while he was sleeping:

Then this weekend I went with a friend to El Cajon de Maipo. We packed sandwiches, a liter package of juice, and some chocolate before setting out on our adventure. I knew that it was outside of Santiago, but I had no idea how far out of Santiago we would go that day. In the end, we traveled 78 km outside of Santiago. How do I know this? It is thanks to the technology of GPS and internet capabilities on cell phones.

It started out with the metro ride to plaza puente alto, and then we had an hour long ride on the metrobus to the base of El Cajon de Maipo. Once we got to the base, he told me could hike for a while. We started at an area with a tunnel rising up into the side of the mountain, and here are some pictures of our view at that time:

After about half an hour of walking, we grabbed a colectivo, and we took it for about a 15 minute ride further into the area. After that, we hiked a bit more. We got to an area where a sign told us we were 25 kms from the embalde de yeso, which is the heart of the area.

Javier told me that we could walk it in about an hour, but after only making it 2 kms in the first 10 minutes, I started to have my doubts. After telling him that, he told me not to worry becuase we could hitchhike to get there. The area that we were walking along was set up for cars and wasn't designed for people walking, so I started to give the idea some thought.

Before I could consider it any further, a grey pickup truck passed by, and Javier stuck out his thumb. It stopped about 20 feet in front of us, and Javier went around to the driver to talk to him. Apparently they agreed to let us hitch a ride, and I looked forward to sitting in the comfiortable seat for a bit.

But I was wrong. We weren't sitting in the back of the truck. Well, we were, but not in the back seat. We were riding in the cargo area of the truck. As I sat down, I noticed cigarette butts and dirt in the crevices of the cargo area. The ride was a bit bumpy due to the uneven road along the way, but it was well worth the 25 minutes of discomfort for the distance it took us.

The truck stopped, and I realized that it was our stop. We hopped out and thanked them, and they continued on their way. This was the view:

We then went a bit further around the corner, and we found this view of the Andes mountains:

I know it sounds cliche, but I remember reading a quote that said, "It doesn´t matter how many breaths you take in life. It matters how many times your breath is taken away." This definitely qualifies as one of those times.

After walking around and snapping pictures, we decided to head back. There was three problems with this:

1. We were 25 kilometers (or about a 3 hour walk) from the base of the montain where we started.
2. There wasn´t any public transportation back.
3. There weren´t any cars going back at the time.

Javier didn´t seemed worried at all about this. I had a bit of a different feeling about the situation seeing that I´m a person who is very much fixed on schedules, planning things in advanced, and certainty. I took a deep breath as we started the walk back. Javier assured me that we would find someone to catch a ride back with eventually.

As we walked, I turned around everyone once in a while, in hopes of seeing a car coming down the road towards us. My eyes were greeted by a lonely road, and I began to miss the dust that kicked up as cars passed us at the top that I had ironically scorned at that time. We reached a group of men relaxing by a small waterfall, and after sitting down on a rock I noticed that they were packing their things up and were getting ready to go in their van.

Javier asked them if we could catch a ride, and it turns out that they were working in an area filming a movie only about 10 minutes down the road, but they would take us that far. So we hopped in for the short ride.

After that we were on the road once again. We walked for about another half hour, and after several unsucessful attempts we got lucky: a grey truck stopped for us. At first I thought it was the same truck that took us up, but this one had bars up behind the rear view window. I ended up being very grateful for them, as the ride down was way too bumpy to sit, and Javier advised me to stand for the entire ride. We were going between 30 and 40 mph down the hills, so I held on and kept my knees bent so that I could maintain my balance. The wind was blowing past us so quickly that I almost lost my hat, but the view was amazing.

After about a half hour ride, the truck pulled into a parking spot on the side of the road next to a small stop we passed on our way there. We thanked them for the ride and decided this was a good time to stop for something small to eat, as it was almost 5:00 and we had not eaten since we had the sandwiches we packed at 11:00 or so. We got fresh empanadas, and they were delicious.

After that, we continued our journey by walking. Luckily, a colectivo passed by, and rather than taking it and then switching to the bus for the hour long ride to the metro we paid a bit more and got to the metro in about 50 minutes. When we got in there was an old couple there already, and it turns out they were church missionaries from Wyoming.
We got to the metro and made our way back to Santiago. The round trip came to around 160 kilometers (Javier checked this on his phone´s GPS). 2 ham and cheese sandwiches later, 2 empanada napolitanas later, 3 liters of bottled water later, about $17 in colectivo and bus fares later, and with dirt caked onto our legs, arms, and clothing, we arrived in Santiago about 12 hours after we left.

If I had gone on my own, I probably would have done a lot of research to see what the bus routes were and how to arrive there. I probably also would have only stuck to what they would show and would not go off the beaten path. But this experience was so much more meaningful due to the spontaneity that still makes me a bit nervous and anxious at times.

I´m glad I accepted these invitations.  As I think about it, my time is winding down before I go home for the holidays.  I only really have about 6 more weeks until I fly back, so I want to make the most of that time before I have to endure what will be my third winter in 12 months.  Rather than think about that, I´ll go out and enjoy the summer weather for now.

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