“Hey, mister, how do we get to Route 5?!”
By Gretchen Richter de Medeiros
Leaving Santiago was a challenge in several ways. First, we had to pick up the rental car. Luckily, Rodrigo, Heather and the kids had already scouted out the route to walk from our apartment to the rental car place and had driving directions back (lots of one-way streets and detours around parks and hills made this a not-as-simple-as-you’d-think task). As we were walking to pick it up, however, we realized that we didn’t have driving directions from Santiago to our B&B in the Colchagua Valley. So back to the apartment we went, digging Rodrigo’s Mac out of his backpack to access the internet and hand-write the instructions. (Foreshadowing note: we do not have a data plan for our cell phones, way too expensive for a one-year trip. No roaming access to the web means no map apps.)
When we finally got back to the apartment with the car we had to leap the next hurdle – getting all of our luggage in to the trunk. Over the years I have learned to trust Rodrigo’s eye for capacity. Seriously, this man always chooses exactly the right-sized Tupperware for the leftovers and can pack more camera gear in to a bag than I ever think is possible. So when I peered in to the trunk of our mid-sized sedan and thought “holy crap, there’s no way it’s all gonna fit” and Rodrigo says “it’ll fit, I promise”, I took a deep breath and tried to suppress my luggage-anxiety.
For the record, we’re traveling pretty light: one big backpack and one small day pack per person. Plus there’s two extra camera bags (Rodrigo’s is big, Heather’s is mid-sized). But when you multiply that times 5 people, it’s 12 bags. And that’s a lot of bags sitting on the sidewalk next to a mid-sized sedan parked outside our apartment in Santiago. Like a Tetris-master, Rodrigo confidently throws the two biggest bags in the base of the trunk, he shuffles them around, pushes them just a little deeper, and then asks for the next bag, and the next. After a few more moves, some bags coming out, some moving to a new spot, voila, it’s packed. Amazing!
In slightly giddy moods, we piled in to the car and started our journey out of the city. Our directions were pretty simple, and the first three steps went without a flaw. “Move in to the left lane,” I told Rodrigo, “and then we should be able to just merge left on to Route 5 south”. We drove. And drove. And drove. The city wasn’t ending. Route 5 was nowhere to be seen. I looked at the directions again and noticed that I’d missed a crucial step, we should have made one more turn, THEN merged left to get on the highway. Rodrigo promptly rolls down his window and hollers in Spanish to a taxi driver beside us “Hey, mister, how do we get to Route 5?!” “Oh man, you’re lost,” the driver shouts back, “you need to go that way, and find the big circle”. He waves his hand in the opposite direction. Rodrigo makes an illegal U-turn at the next intersection, and we miraculously find an entrance to the highway.
Once on it, we’re not sure if we’re headed north or south. We notice a few signs that seem to indicate that we’re going the right direction, but it just isn’t clear. So out come the cell phones – a compass app should do the trick. “UGH! Compass says we’re going north,” I tell Rodrigo, just as we see a sign to Rancagua, the city we’re supposed to be headed towards. “No we’re not,” he replies, “we’re going south, look at that signpost… SUR = SOUTH”. Heather pulls out her cell phone, and opens up the compass app. “Mine says we’re going north, too”, she reports. We decide to trust the signs and keep on driving.
Gradually the buildings around us begin to get sparse, and soon we’re on the open highway. The Andes Mountains rise up to our left and behind us. Fields of green dotted with wildflowers surround us. We begin to see orchards – we guess that they’re apricots and apples. Signs of wine-country start to appear – vineyards, fancy-pants restaurants, and barrels used as pots in roadside gardens. I’m finally able to release that deep breath I took back at the rental car place and get excited about Casa Silva, the first winery in our Colchagua Valley tour. I hear their Sauvignon Blanc is delicious and can’t wait for our tasting.