Sunday, September 18, 2011

La Serena

As I had the entire past week off from work due to the Institute closing for holiday, I decided to do a little traveling. Initially I wasn't sure where to go, so I consulted my Chile guide book for some ideas.  Immediately the telescopes in La Serena caught my eye.  It was about a 7 hour ride by bus, but was pretty economical ($17000 pesos round trip, about $36), and they have some of the most powerful telescopes in the world.  This is all due to the 0% humidity they experience for about 300 days every year, and the relatively high altitute.  Tours were every night, weather pending.
I end up taking a midnight bus out of Santiago, and arrive in La Serena at about 8 am on Wednesday.  The first hostel I had researched was completely full, so I went to the second - "Hostel El Punto".  I walked in the door, and was immediately greeted by a 6'6 German man named Jan (pronounced like "yawn").  We alternated between his heavily accented English, and German-accented Spanish, which I enjoyed a lot.  My room wasn't ready yet, so I put my bag into a locker there, and took off to see the city.

As it was about 8:30 AM at this point, the city was still pretty much asleep.  I decided to walk down to the beach and have a look around.  Truthfully, it was much further than I expected - I think I walked for about 45 mins before I arrived.  But it was kind of nice being there early on - there were essentially no other people anywhere nearby, so the local animals and birds were still milling about.  Here's a few shots:
 The local car dealership on the way to the beach.  It would have been cheaper for them to advertise which brands they didn't sell.
 The path along the way to the beach...

 ...and how far I'd already come.  It's not quite a "seaside" town.

 Once I got there, the view was pretty nice.
And the local gulls.  There were some other birds out there diving into the water for fish, but it was too far away to get a decent picture.

Now, you may have noticed in these pictures that it's pretty overcast.  I was currently hoping that this was just a morning phenomenon, and that maybe the cloud cover will burn off by 7:00 pm, when the tour is scheduled to start.  300 days a year, right?

After walking back, I went into a little Japanese garden to read for a while, and just hang out.  There were a few birds here who were much less afraid of humans than the other gulls. 
 The black swan, her half-brother, and the duck entourage.

 A wider view of the park.

For mom - the lilac trellis area (I think they're lilacs).

And later on, I continued walking up to the archeological museum which contained a couple interesting artifacts.  Here's a couple from there:
 One of the Easter Island statues.  This one was about 9-10 ft tall.

Apparently the natives used to use boats like this to TAKE DOWN WHALES.  This was a 6 ft long raft.

And of course, the clouds never burned off.  I chose one of the 65 days out of the year where there was no tours, and humidity above 0%.  Fantastic.

I decided to drown my sorrows in some Ceviche - raw fish with fresh vegetables in a citrus juice.  It's really, really good.

So then I ended up going back, and hanging out around with some other tourists at the Hostel.  The majority of them were actually from Germany (probably because of the staff), so it was kind of fun to talk to each other with our amateur Spanish.

All in all, my time in La Serena was pretty fun, despite not being able to see the telescopes.  No matter, I'll get to see them one day, whatever it takes.  Now all that was left was to go home.  Easy, right?  I already had my ticket, all I had to do was go down to the bus station and wait for my bus the next day.

Thursday afternoon, I get to the bus station.  My bus is scheduled to leave from there at 1:00 PM (13:00).  To be safe, I arrived at the station at about 12:40, and sat down to wait for my bus to arrive.  While I was sitting there, I noticed that often the busses would say "leaving at: 12:00" despite the fact that it was already 12:45.  For example, I took the following picture at 12:55:
(If you can't read it, it says it's leaving at 11:45. I guess not.)

So of course, many busses come and go, but none of them are mine.  13:00 comes and goes.  I sit patiently for another 45 mins or so, and then I go up to the sort of "manager" of the station area - he directs the busses in and out.  I ask him where my bus is, and if he knows anything about it.  Of course, he does not.  I show him my ticket to confirm that he doesn't know where this bus is, and he responds by saying "Oh, Fullpass.  You can take any pullman bus that comes in."

"Any pullman?"

...You probably know where this is going now.  But regardless, continue reading!

 How can you say no to this face?

So the jackass tells me that I can get on any Pullman Bus, so I look around and realize "Oh, here's a Pullman, and it's on time!"  I get in line, and when the driver comes to check my ticket, he looks it over carefully for a good 20 seconds, then rips it in half, and nods to me.  I smile - it worked!  I got on the bus, which was essentially empty at this point.  I take a seat on the upper deck, towards the front so I would have a decent view of the area.

A view towards the back of my double-decker bus.  Sadly, I never got the chance to make friends with the man behind me.  He seemed like such a delight.

So after I get on the bus, the conductor starts to come around, and asks to see my ticket stub.  I show him the ticket stub, to which point he looks it over thoroughly again, then smiles.  "You're actually in seat 40," he says to me.  I thought it a little strange that they had assigned seats here, especially when I wasn't scheduled for this bus, but who knows?  I move further towards the back, and sit down again.

10 minutes later we pull into La Serena's sister city, Coquimbo, and more people board the bus.  And of course, as soon as we pull in, somebody with the seat 40 ticket gets on and asks for it.  I get up and move to another empty seat.  Then the bus slowly fills up, and I am ousted again.  At this point, the conductor comes up, sees me sitting in a different seat, and asks me to "step outside to talk".  Fantastic.

At this point, he takes a closer look at my ticket and then tells me what I already knew - that this wasn't my bus.  "Pero no hay espacio por mi?"  I ask, further explaining that my other bus never came.  He looks over the bus roster, and then writes "33" on my ticket.  I go up and take seat 33.  I had that seat for a solid 4 minutes before the guy with the seat 33 ticket shows up and kicks me out.  The conductor comes up again, and tells me that I need to wait for my own bus.  Fortunately there is a ticket counter nearby, and the lady there is able to assist me with sorting this out.

By some stroke of "luck", my bus arrives 5 minutes later.  After a lengthy discussion with the driver AND conductor AND ticket counter lady, they figure out that I am actually supposed to be on this bus, and that my mutilated and scribbled-over ticket is actually for this bus. 
 My ticket.

I get on, take my seat, and promptly fall asleep.  When I wake up, I catch the end of "Undisputed III", which is essentially a ridiculous MMA movie from Russia.  Pretty enjoyable actually, for what it is.

We arrived in Santiago a few hours later, and before we were allowed off the bus some Customs/Police officers boarded with a couple canines and sniffed everybody down.  Sort of intense, as these guys again were in full tactical gear and armed for action.  I wouldn't want to be a drug runner down here.

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