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How to Get into Santiago from the Airport…without a taxi!

I landed in Santiago on Friday morning, jet-lagged, sticky, bleary-eyed, and with a stomach dancing about in what Syreena assures me is excitement, not fear. I broke down the things I needed to do into tiny steps. First, immigration and customs. I did NOT have to pay the silly $100 reciprocity fee (only because I paid it the last time I entered Chile), and the immigrations official barely glanced at me (he was deep in conversation with a…friend? Co-worker? The second man wore a green polo shirt and jeans and turned a smart phone over and over in his hands as he listened to the official’s story). Customs waved me through, and then I was running the gauntlet of “Taxi? Taxi? Miss? Taxi?” Lonely Planet quoted cab rates at CHP11,000 (USD$23), but as I’m operating on a strict $20 a day budget, this was out of the question. Also, boring. Santiago has a modern and quite user-friendly public transit system, and I was determined to make my own way to EcoHostel, the hot-shower-and-take-off-my-hiking-boots light at the end of my tunnel.

There are two ATMs in the narrow arrivals terminal, with a uniformed security guard to watch the backpacked-backs of the Gringos and Europeans fumbling with money belts and wads of pink pesos. Got cash. Set my luggage in a corner and sat down for a minute to regroup and consolidate my carry-ons into my large pack. Public transit with a 60-liter pack requires organization. Careful not to put any valuables in the outside pockets, I also stuffed CHP20,000 into my bra (hard for someone to pickpocket that without my knowing about it). The Centropuerto and Tur Buses waited just outside the terminal. I paid my CHP1,400 and sat by the back door (the correct exit point). The first thing I saw as we pulled out of the airport compound was a PATAGONIA SIN REPRESAS billboard. A bubble of excitement swelled and burst, and I leaned my face against the window to hide my huge grin. As the bus neared the center of town, I asked the person behind me to tell me when we got to Pajaritos, the start of the Santiago Metro. Centropuerto also goes to Los Heroes, another stop closer to the center, but the metro is famously overcrowded. Hopping on at the start of the line meant I had room for both myself and my backpack to sit. At Pajaritos, I bought a “Bip!” card.

“Can I buy a B.I.P. card?” I shouted to the heavyset girl behind the window. She looked back blankly. “Bay, eee, pay?” I tried, enunciating each letter in the acroynm.
“Ohhhh. Beeeep?” Oh. Bip! is not an acroynm, but a clever onomonapoeia of the noise that the card reader makes when you brush the card against its face. “Vale miltrecientos” (it costs CHP1,300), the girl said, at the exact second that a train passed below us, washing away everything she said except for “ciento.” I thought for a minute.
“Uh…yes, I want to go to el centro.” I could feel the clerk’s sigh through the window.
“NO. VAH-LAY MEEL TRAY-SEE-EN-TOS.”
“Ohh! Okay!” I slid the plasticky notes under the glass, plus a few extra thousand to load the card for use on the subway and buses.

Still life with Fish

Large, easy-to-read maps of the Metro hung on the walls above the stairs, and I quickly deduced that I needed to catch the train toward Los Dominicos. The Metro is clean and well-organized. A disembodied voice announces each stop like any subway in the world. Universidad la Catolica was mine. My strategy for any crowded public space is just to keep moving, leave my hands in my pockets or on my purse, and go with the flow of the crowd until it breaks up and I can step away to get my bearings. I like to stand with my back against a wall or pillar to eliminate the possibility of someone helping themselves to my back pockets or backpack. I consulted my city map, but I needed to ask a peanut vendor on which street I was standing. After an easy,

ten minute walk, I was ringing the doorbell at the EcoHostel. It’s clean and cozy. Dorms line one side of the hallway, the other is open to two small courtyards

with hammocks, chairs, and tables for dining al fresco. There’s free wifi, and breakfast is included (typical for Chile). The showers have plenty of water pressure and the kitchen has a stove, microwave, fridges, and most cooking supplies. A dorm bed is CHP7,000 a night, a private is approximately double that.

A weekly farmer’s market was sprawled across several blocks on the next street over, and I wandered for an hour, buying vegetables and other treats to sustain me for the next week. I’m anticipating being in Santiago for at least one week, but more likely it will be close to three weeks. I prepared an early dinner and brought it out on the patio, inexpressibly pleased with myself. I’m finally here! Ya estoy!

**

You likely noticed the new item in my sidebar: “Help fund this story!” With a big 0% underneath. This, my friends, is the link to my fundraising website, sponsored by Spot.us, a unique site designed specifically to help freelance journalists fund and publish their work! I mentioned above that I’m traveling on a budget of $20 a day. I’m traveling on my savings account, which isn’t huge, but at $20 a day, will carry me through the end of February. $20 isn’t much. Accommodation alone in Santiago costs $15 a night. For the past six years, I’ve traveled around the world, always on my own dime. I’ve always managed to work and save before or during my trips. I’ve never asked for money before – of course not. I wouldn’t ask someone to fund my vacation. This trip, though, is different. The point of this trip is work – I’m actually working as a journalist – but as a freelancer, I won’t get paid unless and until I publish my story. I accept this. It’s good motivation to work hard, to push myself. But I could use your help to gain some breathing room. So begins operation Fund Susan For a Day! $20 will fund one day in my life on my mission to get published. Think you can help?

Please visit the website above. Clicking on the sidebar will bring you to my proposal. Visit, read, and think about it. Clicking doesn’t cost you a thing. You’ll notice that on the right side of my Spot.us pitch is a list of fun incentives. Even donating $5 gets you a little something. Spot.us requires writers to set a deadline for themselves. It’s a way to encourage us to network and actively raise funds. My goal is to raise $2,000 by February 1st. That’s 100 $20 days. Or, it’s enough to cover a $1,500 round trip ticket plus $500 for travel within Chile.

If you decide to donate, you will be required to create a username (with your email address) and log in with a password. Spot.us does not spam. You’ll have the option to pay with a credit card or PayPal. Spot.us will charge 10% of whatever you choose to donate for their operating costs. And then that’s it! I’ll be in touch with profuse thanks and to make arrangements to send you whichever incentive you have earned.

Thanks for reading, thanks for your time, and thanks for your support!

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