Hiking in the Cinque Terre

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Using Santiago's Metro

One of the challenges you have to overcome when visiting a foreign country where your language is not spoken is learning to use public transportation systems and deciphering the maps that help you use them. Even in your own language, when you're simply going from a city with no metro (e.g. Asheville or Charlotte) to one with an extensive network (e.g. New York City), this task can be very daunting.  So, imagine arriving in NYC and maps being in a different language, and everyone around you speaking a different language!  The stress and bewilderment get multiplied significantly.  Yet, to know a city means to really explore it.  And there's no better way to work your way around a city than to use mass transportation.  In Santiago, a city of 3 million, it was no different.  Although not nearly overwhelming as our initial struggles with metro maps in Seoul and Moscow, we had our frustrations. We walked down the metro steps very close to our apartment, and we approached one of the big wall maps.  We had a little notebook with the name of the stop where we wanted to go.  And we simply counted the number of stops from where we were.  After that, we wrote down our destination on a slip of paper, slid it under the glass at the ticket window, and then waited for the lady to tell us how much.  We signaled two tickets with our fingers.  She nodded and spoke in Spanish, which we didn't understand.  After realizing that the cash machine's register was not turned so we could read the amount, we pulled out our calculator and pushed it to her.  She smiled, keyed in the amount and then we passed her the cash.  The metro was so noisy and busy, and the line behind us (and on both sides!) was filled with locals who were in an obvious hurry.  But because we were prepared (name on paper, calculator, money ready), we moved through about as fast as anybody.  And on that first day, just overcoming that early dread and doing it, we created a system that made it easy over the next several days.  And yes, I did try on occasion, when the metro ticket window wasn't as busy, speaking the name in Spanish.  After the third attempt at this, we realized it was less worrisome for us and less irritating to them, simply to pull out the slip of paper with the name on it.  Almost always, I would get a smile.  I think they appreciated our efforts in making the transaction more efficient. Of course, after getting your ticket, the next step was finding the right line, heading in the right direction and getting off at the right spot.  Sometimes that's fairly easy (the more you do, the easier it becomes), and other times you can get really turned around.  Again, with the right partner and a bit of patience, it's very manageable.  And, you never know.... like we did on our first metro ride, you might get some help from a local.  A couple of stops before our exit, I talked with a young Indian guy - from my travel experience, I knew could speak some English -  who was super-friendly, and living and working in Santiago.  Although I was fairly confident of our stop, I used that moment to confirm it.  Everything worked out, and easily by day three we were using Santiago's metro with confidence.

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