Chile: Thumbs up for public transport

From Valparaiso back to Santiago where I went to the dentist to fix a filling I broke on some spectacularly crunchy muesli at the beginning of the trip. I’d been too scared to pop in to one of the “Dr. Smile” roadside clinics we’d seen in India and Nepal…with dirt-floor and a faded sign hanging at an angle outside…so had saved it for a more civilized country. From Santiago afterwards south to Curico, base for the Radal Siete Tazas national park and waterfalls.

Waterfall in the Radal Siete Tazas park.

Waterfall in the Radal Siete Tazas park.

In Curico we stayed in Hotel Prat – named after a local hero who during the war of the pacific bravely attacked a Peruvian ironclad gunship armed only with a sword, and got himself killed within seconds. Our logistics planning for getting to the national park proved nearly as effective actually… Information had been a bit sketchy – the guidebook saying there’s probably a bus a day this time of the year, and the hostel woman saying there should be one at 7am. Other people we asked in the morning helped point us to the right bus as well, first one to a village called Molina, then another one on from there. The driver said he was going to the park when we got on, but then an hour later he dropped us 30 kilometers away from it out by a field in the middle of nowhere. We had been the only people on the bus for quite a while at this stage and protested a bit when he explained he wasn’t going any further, but he pointed out that he’d said the bus was going “on the road to the park”, not “to the park”. We started walking. The driver also explained that while there is one bus a day that goes the whole way, it leaves at 5pm in the evening and returns at 7am – which is handy for people who want to look at waterfalls in the dark, or for people who want to spend three days visiting a two-hour sight. We tried our luck hitchhiking (Chile is very safe) and got a lift a couple kilometers with a road-worker, then walked for a long time, then got another lift with a nice old man with two dogs – Edel and Teresa in the car and me sitting on a big rock on the back of the pickup with the two dogs… Then more walking – the park seemed to get further away the more we walked. We had passed an 18km sign before the old man picked us up, now 12km later another sign said there was still 13km left! We eventually got a short lift with a bus full of Chilean tourists as far as the park entrance, but this bus wasn’t continuing on to the falls. At the park entrance we signed in with a ranger officer who when learning that Teresa didn’t have her passport with her gave us an incredibly long speech, which did involve Interpol, about park regulations and the importance of paperwork in general. It was probably the only thing he got to do all day, and he was nice in the end and did let us in.

The Radal Siete Tazas.

The Radal Siete Tazas.

One more hour of walking, then a fourth lift with two locals which did see us at the falls 5-6 hours after we had set off from Curico in the morning. The falls were indeed very nice – several bright-blue drops in a row into big round pools sculpted out of the rock by the turbulent water. We met one other pair of tourists at the falls – a Dutch couple who had arrived with a guide from the bigger town of Talca…not a bad option all things considered…

On the way back we got another lift with a pickup truck halfway to the park entrance, then walked for a couple hours again before getting a lift with a nice builder in a mini-van. We were nearly ecstatic when he told us he was going the whole way to Molina – there were no seats in the back but we sat fine on an old tyre among all the tools. We must have looked pretty knackered after our roughly 30km of walking throughout the day because he even stopped to buy us soft-drinks on the way! In Molina we thanked the man again for saving us from sleeping under the stars, then got a bus back to Curico – our 9th vehicle for the day (tired feet excluded).

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