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!