I promised that my blog posts would be few and far between, and since it’s been more than two weeks since I last posted, I suppose I’m keeping that promise pretty well. Now, I’m sure everyone’s on the edge of their seats wondering just exactly what I’m up to here in Santiago, and to fulfill your curiosity, here is a new blog post about my daily struggles with the Chilean micro system. (In case any of you are curious, I am in my gas station again, eating Chinese takeout from the restaurant across the street and munching on some Oreos. And yes, I am getting strange looks.)
Before coming to Chile, I’d never been on a bus—you know, other than the school bus (which I don’t think counts, mostly because I’ve tried to erase every bus-related recollection from my memory). I just wish someone had told me what the micro system would be like, to make the adjustment a bit easier. For my blog post, I am going to do what nobody was truly able to do—give an insider scoop on getting from Point A to Point B in Santiago, Chile!
In thinking of how to set this particular post up, I decided to compare the Chilean micro to something at home, to make my stories a little more relevant. I am lucky enough to be from the beautiful city of Charleston, South Carolina, a city right on the coast. I spend most of my summers out on the water, and I will never forget the summer I learned to water ski. It was probably the most frustrating summer of my life; I sat on the boat and watched as my brother and sister got up and skied with what seemed like no effort, and meanwhile I was falling over myself left and right (and backwards and forwards). The more I think about the micro system and all the difficulties I’ve been having, the more similarities I find between skiing and using the buses in Chile. So without further ado, here is my crash course (pun NOT intended, although completely appropriate) on the Chilean micro system.
1. Feet placement! When you ski, you have to keep your feet pointed so that the skis are always pointed up and out…otherwise, you end up with a face full of water. I’ve found that keeping your feet firmly planted is important on the micro as well—but in this case, it’s to avoid the dreaded face-full of dirty bus floor. I’ve had the most success standing sideways with one foot towards the front of the bus and one towards the back. That way, you can brace yourself against sharp braking with the front foot, and against quick accelerating with the back one. It’s very technical, just like skiing—and, just like skiing, it prevents wipeouts!
2. Bend those knees! My mom used to scream this at me from the boat when I was skiing. As she explained, your knees act as shock absorbers, allowing you to better handle the rough terrain (or something like that…this was usually getting shouted at me as I was trying to clear my head from the face full of water, mentioned in step 1). These natural shock absorbers come in VERY handy on the bus. You never know what the bus is going to run over—speed bumps, poorly paved roads, the occasional Chilean who didn’t get out of the road in time…you know. But keep your knees bent, and you’re ready for anything!
3. Note the mood of the driver. When I ski, it’s usually my dad driving the boat. Now, 95% of the time, there are no problems…he’ll avoid the rough water so I can stay up for as long as possible. It’s that 5% of the time that’s a little scary. I could swear I see this little smile on my dad’s face as he revs the engine and speeds off into what looks like the wake of an aircraft carrier, with me in tow, frantically holding on. (To be fair, I imagine that watching me wipe out is HILARIOUS…plus I’m usually the one egging him on when it’s my brother or sister in back.) As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to gauge his moods so that I know which rides are going to be troublesome. It’s like that on the micro. Sometimes the drivers are super nice; if you tell them your stop, they’ll let you know when to get off so you don’t get lost. There are drivers who will let you on at red lights, or stop at unsanctioned paraderos (stops) just to make sure you don’t miss the bus. Other times, they remind me that evil DOES exist in the world. I had a driver shut the door in my face and not let me get on the bus, even though I ran up ten feet behind the last person who got on the bus. Another driver drove straight by the stop, completely ignoring me AND the five other people flagging the bus down. I’ve had a driver reading the paper WHILE driving the route, another one stop for a smoke break in the middle of the route, and countless others cackle as they send me tumbling down the aisle. A crabby driver isn’t worth getting off the bus for, but it’s something to keep in mind…always know what the driver is doing and how that will affect your micro experience.
4. Make a plan. Yes, skiing isn’t that complicated. But before you get out on the water, there is some sort of preparation involved…bringing life jackets, checking weather conditions, and making sure the boat is turned the right way (nothing like trying to get up AND turn around at the same time). With the micros, it’s no different. Transantiago.cl is the website I use to plan my routes. I put in where I am and where I want to go, and it gives me which buses to take, where to get off, and which connections I’ll need. Also, I bring hand sanitizer to avoid the dreaded “micro hands.”
5. Watch out for other people. On skis, you mostly just need to make sure you’re clear of other boats. On the micro, it’s a little more complicated. My least favorite Chileans with whom to share public transportation are the little old ladies. They may look sweet and grandmotherly, but they’re RUDE. While I find it perfectly acceptable to nudge people when they won’t get out of the way of the door when you’re trying to get off the bus, I can’t count the number of times I’ve been shoved aside so an old lady could get off the bus before me at my same stop! Then again, I also can’t count the number of times I’ve accidentally fallen into other people (incidents such as these led to the development of rules 1, 2, and 3, as it were), so I suppose I’m just as much as fault. Basically, my rule on the bus is the same as my rule out on the water—give everyone else their space, and hope the rude people get eaten by sharks! (Seriously, just joking, I’m really not that terrible of a person.)
6. Sometimes bad things happen to good people. This is never more evident out on the water than when a huge boat comes by and ruins a perfect run with an enormous wake, and never more evident in Chile than when you watch three buses pass you by within five minutes. I made a new game up…counting the number of buses I miss every morning during the two minutes it takes me to walk from my apartment complex to my bus stop. For whatever reason, in Chile, three buses will pass within five minutes of each other, then none will pass for fifteen. It makes no sense, but, well…there’s not a lot you can do but show up early to the bus stop!
7. Know when to get off. This is the final piece of advice I have. Staying up on skis longer than you are able leads to some pretty awful wipeouts in some unexpected places. Missing your stop on the micro can be disastrous as well. Whether on skis or on the micro, make sure you don’t overstay your welcome—otherwise you end up bass-ackward in the middle of somewhere you probably don’t want to be.
And now that you are all micro-ready, I suppose it’s time to teach you all some new public transportation vocabulary!
Permiso – Literally, “permission.” However, here it’s used more like “excuse me.” There is a joke among Americans in my program that goes “Permiso PUSH!” It’s funny because it’s true. After you hear “permiso,” you have approximately 0.8 seconds to hop on out of the way, before you get SHOVED out of the way (more often than not by little old Chilean ladies, who are secretly ferocious).
taco – Traffic. If there is a lot of taco, the micros are ten times worse than usual! In trying to visit a friend (less than two and a half from my house) during rush hour, I spent an hour on the bus (with at least 60 other people, on a bus meant for 30 or 40, tops). The best thing to go is get where you need to go BEFORE traffic picks up, or walk if at all possible!