Worst Case Scenario Survival Handbook: The Metro


In terms of getting around Santiago, the Metro is the easier option. Still, it is not without dangers so here´s my Worst Case Scenario Handbook entry for the Metro. So grab your towel, don´t panic, and let´s go!

Scenario 1: You´re here and you need to be there

The Metro connects most major areas of Santiago, and there are stations everywhere. Once you find one, you can either buy a ticket or charge your Bip! card to pay your fare, which is about $610 pesos, but varies based on the time of day.

There are maps of the network everywhere, including here:

You’ll notice there are 5 differently colored lines, appropriately called Linea 1, Linea 2, Linea 4, Linea 4A, and Linea 5. Each line has two directions, named for the last station in the line. So to head south on line 2 you need Dirección La Cisterna. To switch lines you head to one of the connection stations, such as Santa Ana. All in all, its not difficult.

The only trick that you need to know about is the Express Trains. During peak commute hours, more or less from 6-9am and 6-9pm, the trains on lines 2, 4, and 5 only stop at certain color-coded stations. Navigating this system is fairly easy. The trains are either red or green, and the stations are red, green, or both. If you get on a green train and you want to get to a red station, you’re going to have a bad time. On the wall in the station you will see a list of the stations marked by color, so just double check the lights above the windows above the train and make sure they match the station you want.

Scenario 2: You don’t want to be a public nuisance

This one is fairly simple. Don’t walk slowly in the middle of the flow of traffic. Don’t stop in the middle of everything to take a picture like a tourist. Turn down your music, don’t talk to strangers, and remember that the seats are NOT FOR YOU, unless you are old/pregnant/injured/carrying a baby around.

Scenario 3: You have stuff, and you don’t want it to be stolen

In Santiago, a ladrón is basically a pickpocket or purse snatcher and the Metro is full of them. You don’t have to worry much about physical attacks, the ladrón preys on opportunity. They look for open bags, wallets in back pockets, distracted passengers, and dropped stuff. They’ve been known to form symbiotic relationships with others of their species; one sneaks by with a razor and cuts a slit in your bag, the other “bumps into you” and slips your billfold out.

The best way to avoid falling prey to the ladrón is to not give them the opportunity. When you enter the metro station, your backpack should metamorphose into a BELLYpack. The best purses are those that can be worn ACROSS the shoulders, and the bag should not hang on your butt but in front, where you can keep an eye AND A HAND on it. Fannypacks are actually pretty fashionable, among locals and you can buy them from street vendors in all kinds of interesting fabrics.  And finally its best not to flash around your shiny new Apple product or expensive jewelry, I’m sure the ghost of Steve Jobs will understand.

Scenario 4: That thing you like fell on the tracks

Imagine you are a perfectly normal foreign exchange student, waiting by the tracks for your train to get to class. For argument’s sake let’s say you have a moderately well read blog. And you’re running a shade late. So you pull your cheap phone out to check the time and it slips from your hand, bouncing off the platform and down into the tracks. Crud. Also everyone saw this and some are openly sniggering at the gringita’s misfortune.

Don’t panic, and find an asistante de anden. Luckily they are everywhere, especially in the more busy stations, and one happened to see the whole thing happen. He will ask for your name and RUT number and tell you to come back in a few hours. When you do, find another asistante and let them know that you are the gringita who dropped her phone. Like magic, the phone will be in the station office! Horray!

If (I mean when) more disasters befall me on the Metro I will post them and their solutions here, and stay tuned for more Worst Case Scenario Survival Handbooks!


Wine Festival in Curicó

I tried to post this yesterday but for some reason WordPress was hungry and ate it, so here´s my second attempt.

On Saturday we got up at the crack of 6am to catch a train that would take us from Santiago to Curicó, a small city about 120 miles south of the capital. It has about 120,000 inhabitants and was founded in 1743. desde santiago a curicó

We had breakfast in a cute little restaurant and then walked over to the Plaza de Armas of Curicó for the opening ceremonies of the Fiesta de la Vendimia, or Festival of the Grape Harvest. This annual event celebrates Curicó as one of the leading producers in Chile of fine wines. If I remember correctly, Curicó produces almost half of the nation´s wine.

First we checked out the market, where local artists were selling everything from jewelery to sculptures, leatherworks to paintings, artisan soaps to cacti, trees to homemade jams. Everything was locally produced but very reasonably priced. It definitely wasn´t a touristy thing, there were lots of local people there.

We went back to the stage to watch the opening ceremonies. After the mayor of the town talked for a while, the Queen of the Festival was introduced and weighed. Every year the Queen is selected in a beauty pageant to represent Curicó for a full year. At the festival, she sits on one end of a giant scale and bottles of wine are added to the other end to determine her weight in wine. Afterward she gets to keep all the wine. If I were the Queen I would wear lead underpants that day. She weighed in at about 43 bottles of wine.

After the weighing there were some performances by local musicians and then there was a grape stomping competition, which was hilarious! Each team consisted of a captain, two assistants who added grapes and carried the juice to a giant clear container, and two stompers. The stompers could only support themselves with each other, no outside help. The 8 teams had 5 minutes to mash the most juice out of the grapes. Within 30 seconds everyone was covered in grape juice and chunks of grapes were flying everywhere! In the end the time from the Las Torres vineyard won, having smushed 106 liters of grape juice! Naturally everyone wanted to buy samples of their wine.

We all bought keepsake wine glasses and each got a sample of a different kind of wine so we could pass them around and try them all. I can´t remember the name of mine since I don´t know much about wine but it was tasty! There were tons of food stands so I got myself an anticucho, a typical Chilean and Peruvian food that is basically a kebab with pork (or heart meat in Peru) and a chunk of bread at the end. Cucho means depressed in Spanish, and I was definitely anti depressed!

I was extremely happy with this decision: the meat was juicy, tender, and flavorful and eating anything on a stick is just fun! For dessert I got an ice cream cone, and for a while I walked around with a half empty glass of wine in one hand and an ice cream cone in the other and was the happiest person in the world.

Next we all piled into a bus to head to the San Miguel Vineyard. We had a lovely tour of the fields by bus so we got to rest our feet while being told by the guide about how wine is made in Chile. We got to see a giant refrigerated warehouse of kegs of wine, and the underground wine cellar where they age wine for up to two years. They have a room underground where they have bottles of every variety of wine from every harvest back to 2001, all coated in dust and stacked in shelves up to the ceiling. Back above ground, we were treated to a wine tasting. They taught us how to properly sample wine, what to look for in the color and smell and then taste. Everyone else was like “Mmm, yes, I do detect an aroma of chocolate with overtones of cherry” but I was like “Yum, this tastes like white wine!”

Everyone else with their wine

Me with my wine

Finally we got on a bus to head back to Santiago. All in all it was a fantastic day! Here are the pictures:

Routines are Good

I like to have routines. A good routine is like a good gif: it’s soothing in its predictability, and if you pick a good one it’s still satisfying to watch it repeat. Like this super creepy one of Bill Nye the Science Guy demonstrating the science of pianos and the stuff nightmares are made of.

So what I’m trying to explain is that now that all of my classes have been finalized this has been my first official week of my new routine. Every weekday morning I wake up to my first alarm, laze about in bed and curse the morning until my second alarm 5 minutes later, get up and get dressed. The rest of the family has usually already left for the day, so I make myself breakfast, usually toast with peanut butter and homemade raspberry jam that my host mom makes with black tea. (Two side notes: peanut butter is ridiculously expensive here so I bought my own little jar for like $5 USD, and I drink tea now because energy drinks are also expensive here). I make a sandwich for lunch, arrange my hair and brush my teeth, and I’m off to the micro. The micro takes me to the metro, and the metro takes me to class.

Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays I am at the Universidad Diego Portales from 10-12:50, and Tuesday and Thursday I have one class at the Universidad de Chile and then a class at the IFSA office so I end up in class from 12 to 4. I really enjoy my classes, they are super interesting and all of my professors have been super understanding and helpful. Soon I am going to post a Survival Guide to your First Week of Chilean Classes because things are a bit different. I’ve made some friends, all of which have also been really helpful by teaching me the ropes and showing me where things are.

I usually get home from 3 to 5, take a little 20 minute siesta, and then get started on my homework with a mug of tea. Dinner on a weeknight is around 8:30, on a weekend more like 9 or 9:30. My host mom almost always cooks, but sometimes her boyfriend helps too. The food is excellent and there´s always way too much of it on my plate! Everyone eats together at the table.

Weekends are great, my friends from the program usually try to get out and see something interesting (see my posts about the zoo, cemeterio general, etc.) and then I spent the rest of the time hanging out with my host family. They are all so kind to me and super inclusive but without being overbearing. I can hang out in the living room and do homework while the boys are playing video games and feel completely at ease. Also Tutín (too-teen), the little dog that belongs to my mom’s boyfriend, loves me and always snuggles up to my feet which is adorable. Here are some pics of Tutín, aka Tito or Tontín (a combo of tonto, which means stupid, and his name).

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Keepin it Classy at the Zoo

Yesterday was a really fun day.

First I went to the first class of Art, Museums, and Education at la Universidad Diego Portales. It was an excellent class; its super small (only 8 of us) and the professor speaks really clearly and is mindful of having 2 foreign students in the class (there is also a girl from Germany). For example he mentioned a traditional Chilean dish and made sure we knew what it was before continuing. His teaching style is really progressive, also. We spent the first class jointly constructing definitions for “Museum” and “Education.” I was really excited that the idea I volunteered (Museums are organizations that seek to promote cultural development in society) was incorporated into the class’ definition. It gave me a real confidence boost to feel like people knew I had intelligent thoughts and I could express them in Spanish.

After class I met up with some friends and we went to the Zoológico Nacional de Chile. It was tons of fun. The zoo is built on the side of Cerro San Cristóbal (St. Cristóbal Hill) and is part of the Parque Metropoliano. It houses over 1,000 individual animals spanning 158 species. They have several programs to breed endangered animals as well as one of the leading veterinary programs in South America. The zoo opened in 1925 and to this day is well known as an excellent educational resource.

After the zoo we stopped into the Plaza Bellavista, a very touristy little nook but with interesting artists and souvenirs.


How to Get Your Cédula de Identidad

Today I went to the lovely Servicio de Registro Civil e Identificación to get my Cédula de Identidad, which is your id card in Chile. Everyone gets one, foreign or citizen, and you also get a RUN number, which is much like a social security number in that it is unique to each person.

With these simple directions, you too can follow the appropriate procedures to get this nifty card!

You will need:

  1. Photocopies of your passport´s photo page, your student visa, your tarjeta tourista (the little paper you filled out in the airplane), and the certificate of visa registration
  2. All the original documents listed above
  3. 4050 pesos in cash
  4. Your fingers and face
  5. To get out of bed early!


  1. Check the website for the Servicio de Registro Civil e Identificación to find the office closest to you and its hours of operation.
  2. The night before, set your alarm so that you will arrive at least half an hour before the office opens, more if you can handle the agony of waking up so early.
  3. Wait outside of the office. When it opens, tell the official you are there to apply for your Cédula de Identidad and get a ticket with a number.
  4. Wait. And wait. And wait. And then… Pay attention to the numbers called so you don´t miss your turn!
  5. Yeay! It´s your turn! Sit down at the desk and present your materials to the official. She/He will ask you where you live, your phone number, and some other questions. He/She will take your picture and fingerprints and ask you for money. Pay and you will get a certificate with your RUN number and a date to return to pick up your card, about 2 weeks away.
  6. When you pick up the card, bring the certificate and just to be safe your passport. When I pick mine up I will update this post with what you actually need, but I figure its better to bring stuff then to have to come back another day.

Ta DA!!

The Leveling Out

Remember when I said culture shock is a roller coaster? The other day, when I posted all those pics of Stitch and pandas and toddlers having tantrums, was definitely one of those wicked  near-vertical drops. The kind of drop when you are screaming and you’re thinking “Oh, god, oh, god, I’m going to die on this roller coaster. I’m going to die of fear/spontaneous coronary combustion and they’re going to have to shut down the park so people in biohazard suits can pick my dismembered pieces off the track and future kids will dare each other to ride that roller coaster “the one that killed that kid, remember?”. It’s not a fun sensation, and during the experience you swear off roller coasters and carnival food forever. But then the track levels out, and you catch your breath and go through an awesome loop and roller coasters are your favorite thing again. Today still wasn’t a loop-d-loop day, but it was definitely a leveling off day.

Today I went to the first class of a course I’ve decided to take: Study of the Chilean Social Reality. The syllabus is  much like another course at the Universidad Catolica, except the Catolica class was full of foreign exchange students and this one only has me. I feel like I will get more value out of a class of actual Chileans as opposed to other Americans who speak English between classes.

After the class, I had an appointment to register for classes with the Secretary of Academics for the School of Literature and Communication, so I was able to register for both the culture class and a literature class I wanted to take. My literature class was scheduled during my appointment so I thought I missed the first day, but the Secretary told me the professor had called out sick so I didn’t actually miss it. Yeay!

Since I was done with class early, I wandered over to the art building so I could figure out where my classroom was for my Art, Museums, and Education class. I hopped on the Metro and went to the San Joaquin campus of the Universidad Catolica to drop the culture class there, but the Secretary was out so I have to go back another day.  I also wanted to register myself to get my Chilean identity card and number, which I need to formally register for my Science and Religion class, but it’s closed so I have to go in the am.

Incidentally, I think I’m really going to enjoy that class. The full title is really interesting in itself: Science and Religion, Thank God We’re Atheists. The professor is also very interesting and he speaks reasonably clearly so I think it’s going to be a very successful semester!

Meet my New Friend, Culture Shock

Oh boy oh boy was today a day that will live on in infamy. Today was a day of multitasking; I failed at all of my endeavors while simultaneously blaming Chile, Transantiago, several Chilean institutes of higher learning, pigeons, street dogs, my bed, the heat, and the Bank of Chile.

So my day started when I turned off my alarm  fell back asleep. Luckily I woke up just in time to throw some butter and jam on some bread, throw on some clothes, scrub my teeth, and catch the bus to the Metro Station.I dashed to the Metro station and just missed the train, so I had to wait a whopping 5 minutes but it felt more like an hour. I felt stressed and mildly irritated at the entire Metro system.

I hopped on, changed lines at Santa Ana, and rode the orange line to the Universidad Diego Portales. I had planned to go to the International Relations Office first to register for the class, but I didn’t have enough time. I got lost for a little bit inside the Communications and Literature building before I found the right classroom. The class before mine seemed to be wrapping up so I waited outside the classroom, but 15 minutes later people were still chatting and there was no sign of my professor coming to clear everyone out. When I finally asked, the professor told me that my class doesn’t start until Wednesday because Monday is the start date for first years only. Now I was feeling pretty annoyed, but trying to keep my cool.

I figured that since I was on campus I could at least register for the class, then my trip wouldn’t have been a waste of my Bip! card money. Except the nice lady told me she would be happy to make an appointment for me to speak with the secretary of the Communications and Literature department but she can’t actually help me. I left the building in a quiet, dignified temper.

I took the Metro back and noticed a bank next to the Micro stop where I catch my bus home. Perfect, I needed to change my last $50 USD bill to pesos. It was  busy, being 1 pm on a Monday, so I waited in line for almost 40 minutes. When it was finally my turn they informed me that only account holders can change money at this location, there was nothing they could do, so sorry, that’s policy, and no there isn’t a location nearby that could. In a calm and collected manner I took the next Micro home (which I felt was very behind schedule).

After I had some chocolate ice cream and a rest in my room I reflected on the day. Really, it had been a learning experience. Now I knew exactly where my class was and how long I need to get there, so on my actual first day I wouldn’t be so stressed. And I won’t ever waste my time at the Bank of Chile again.


What I think was really behind my anger and frustration was culture shock. The “honeymoon” period where everything is novel and awesome and cool is fading quickly, replaced with the distinct sensation that everything is backwards and wrong and inconvenient. I remember thinking things like “what a stupid system” “why would they do it like that?!” “why does everyone do everything so slowly!?” “would someone PLEASE speak some English?!”

I think I’m probably in for a bit of an emotional roller coaster. Maybe knowing that will help me cope, but I might just have to ride it out until I’m more adjusted. Wheeeeee!!!