Santiago’s Farewell

We finish our last game of cards at the top of Cerro San Cristobal before commencing our last drive through Santiago back to Hotel Galerias and then onwards to the airport.  What we hadn’t accounted for was Friday afternoon rush hour traffic.

After only one wrong turn, we find ourselves about two blocks away from the hotel at a complete stand still.  Intersections are clogged, I literally put the car into Park and I exit the car to try to investigate the problem.  Two of the group leave the car and head towards the hotel by foot to collect our luggage, and before anything has changed other than a decrease in patience and an increase in car horns, they are returning with a hotel dolly full of our bags.  Putting luggage in the trunk is a not a trivial activity, and thus we begin the dance that is arranging our bags in a very particular way.  We put in about three bags and then suddenly traffic starts to move.  I jump back into the driver’s seat, the rest of our luggage is carted to the side of the road, and through the car window, we discuss a new rendezvous point slightly up ahead.  We change this meeting point once or twice and eventually just pull up in front of the hotel to complete this luggage-filling process.

The car is now filled, but our adventure to the airport is only half-complete.  It is still rush hour and the low setting sun in our eyes only adds to the adrenalized moment.  I receive honks of discontent for video-game like maneuvers such as making right turns from non-right lanes, cutting the same car off more than once, changing lanes with such frequency that it almost seems unproductive, and squeezing through spaces that makes our luggage-packed trunk seem spacious.  All that said, this video game ends at the airport’s rental car lot with full health bars and the car hasn’t even suffered a scratch in the process.  We have barely enough time to blow a sigh of relief when the parking lot attendant points out some small scratches near the trunk of the car.  Being able to talk my way out of these small nicks in Spanish gave me confidence that my language skills had advanced at least some over the last two weeks here in Chile.

We all make our flights on time and brace ourselves for the 80-degree (Fahrenheit) temperature swing we are about to experience upon touching ground in Boston.

Carreteras de Santiago

To facilitate getting around town and traveling between cities, we rent a Hyundai SUV.  However, we do not correctly predict the difficulty of driving within Santiago.  The aggressiveness of the other drivers isn’t the problem, the fact that we have to drive on the right side of the road only affects one of us, and streets are generally well lit.  The problem is Santiago’s lack of road signs.  We know that we are close because we were tracking our small blue dot using GPS, but turning on the right street becomes the challenge.  There are two moments in particular that we will probably not be soon to forget.

On one occasion, we are very close to our destination and know that we have to exit the freeway soon.  I am driving and am instructed to take the next exit on the right.  Following instructions, I take the exit and we quickly realize that this probably isn’t correct.  We have our Google Maps recalculate the directions, and the new estimated time to our destination is around one hour.  Somehow, we manage to find an exitless and endless road.  We enjoy the fact that we are climbing into the mountains and get a wonderful view of Santiago’s city lights below, but we soon realize that we do not want to continue on this winding, dark, never-ending road all the way to the top before having a chance to turn around.  Although this is technically a highway, the speed limit is only 60 km/hr and I sense an opportunity to turn around.  I can see decently ahead on the opposite side of the road and far behind on my side of the road.  I also spot a turnout on the opposite side of the road, all of which is guarded from a steep cliff.  I slow down and make a U-turn into this turnout.  I stop, wait for a car to pass me, and then merge back onto the highway now headed back towards Santiago and our destination.  First disaster averted, and I hope future never-ending roads are better signed.

The second exciting moment happens when we are driving through the city, and I am making a left turn as I am initially instructed, but then I am confidently asked to make a softer left onto a different road.  I react in time, and we start heading down this street when we soon realize that all three or four lanes of the road have headlights in them and are approaching us with seemingly decent velocity.  Many of these headlights feel the need to let us know of our error and blink their high-beams a couple of times.  We, meanwhile, stay uncomfortably stopped in the right most lane with our flashers on.  We wait for this anxious moment to subside, make a three-point turn on this semi-highway, and again continue on our way.  Second disaster averted, and I hope that future one-way streets are better labeled.

I am not completely blaming Santiago’s poor signage, the navigators within my car, or myself for these errors, but I am grateful that each error ended with no lasting consequences.

1300 Miles

Thirteen hundred miles at an average of 65 miles per hour takes 20 hours.  Then add an extra hour because from Grand Junction, CO to Milwaukee, WI, we will pass through a time zone.  That would mean arriving 21 hours after departing.  And lucky for us, it takes slightly less, but not by much.  The time is filled with books on tape, music, podcasts, discussions of grand plans for our apartment in Boston, and some sleep (but not by the driver of course).

colorado rockies

We tap the Rockies, enjoy Nebraska and Iowa from the highway, and then almost get to Chicago when we head North to Milwaukee to meet up with Becky.  This is the same Becky that we traveled with in Sicily about a month ago.  We stay with Becky’s friend’s friend just outside Milwaukee.  We arrive late, but have the whole next day to recover starting immediately with pancakes and coffee in the morning.  We then head into the city of Milwaukee, enjoy a couple beers at Lakeshore brewery, followed up by a walk along the lake, and eventually end back at the house for swimming pool games.  Today is another great break from the other part of this adventure, which takes place mostly on the open road.

the house outside Milwaukee

Naturally Unnatural

The best national parks are those that seem naturally unnatural like Arches National Park in Utah.  And because today’s drive was a manageable six hours in the car, there is some time to explore Arches on the way to Grand Junction, Colorado.  Its sandstone arches and other fantastically unusual geographic formations that cover the Moab Desert are breathtaking.  We start our park exploration in the comfort of the Prius and are therefore oblivious to the rising temperatures outside.  At a temperature over 100 degrees, we step out of the car and quickly decide that the heat is not horrible, it being a dry heat.  About five minutes later, we change our minds.  It’s hot outside!  We take a hike to have an upclose view of a famous arch, and while walking in sandals, we start to feel that we are not entirely prepared for this adventure.  As we see others in their high-top hiking boots, we comment that the sand feels a little warm on our toes.  Nonetheless, we make it to the arch and back, grabbing a couple photos in the process.

Arches national park


In Grand Junction, we crash with my Aunt- and Uncle-In-Law in their place that overlooks the Colorado National Monument, which in the morning provides a tranquil and beautiful start to the day.

colorado national monument

Red, White, Blue, and Double-Yellow Lines

The road from Rome to Deer Valley is short in time, but not in distance–especially when covering most of California in the process.  My yet to be named Prius is waiting at home in La Canada, CA nine-ten-eleven, and although it has been driven in my absence, the odometer reads only a couple hundred miles more than it did 5 months ago.  Little does the unsuspecting Prius realize that it will gain almost 5,000 miles in the next couple weeks.

After unpacking, packing, online tutorials for school, a fabulous family reunion in Santa Barbara, and two days of friends in the Bay Area, I pick up Gabe in Redwood City, and we set Park City, Utah into the GPS.  In the ten days that I was “home” in California before setting off across the country, I had no time to experience jet lag, culture shock, or sleeping in.

Deer Valley, UT

That said, before I know it, Gabe and I are enjoying our last In-n-Out Burger for a while when we pass through Reno, and it is more accurate if I pluralize “burgers.”  For lunch, we share a regular fries and animals-style fries, which I devour along with a cheeseburger, an animal-style double-double, and a Coke.  In between long stretches of open road filled with good tunes including a tractor playlist, “This American Life”, and in depth discussions about the wikipedia article on Mormonism, we make a couple more bio-breaks to refill the Prius and empty our bladders before eventually arriving in Park City.  Staying with a friend from university, we wake up the next morning to a beautiful day.  Our friend has to go to work in the morning, but her two roommates are gearing up for a hike and we invite ourselves to tag along.  We quickly realize that we should have waited for them to fully gear up so that the spandex, hardcore shoes, and camelbaks could have provided us a hint of what we were about to do.  Hiking up and around Deer Valley to about 10,000 feet, we learn a lesson about lung capacity while we enjoy the stunning views that surround us.

After a full recovery day in Park City of hiking, eating, cooking, and exploring Main Street, we leave for the very reasonable drive to Grand Junction, Colorado.  I am not sure if the hardest activity of the day in Park City was the hike or kneading the homemade pasta dough, but whichever the case, we had a fun-filled stay in Utah.