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Post 4: Transportation, or the adventure that is riding a Micro

Viña del Mar and Valparaíso are both very convenient cities offering a multitude of options for citizens and tourists. I see all kinds of transportation, including

Cars:

interestingly, the largest parking lot in Viña can be found in its (almost always) dried out riverbed. This is also the home of a large vegetable market on the weekends and currently, the circus.

“Colectivos”:

A colectivo or “collective taxi” has a sign with its set route. The price falls somewhere in between a bus and a taxi.

Boats:

picture of boats, taken from a boat. how about that?!

And even horses:

Viña del Mar, according to my host parents, is famous for offering old fashioned horse and carriage rides for tourists. I wonder if they know that you can do that in almost any city in the U.S.?

But the vehicles that I use most, on average twice a day, are the Micros, or Buses.

These may seem like ordinary buses that you could find anywhere. Maybe they look a little smaller, maybe a little more brightly colored. Perhaps you notice that there are as many buses on these streets as there are cabs in NYC. That is all true.

But Micro rides are unique from any other public (or otherwise) transportation I have ever taken for a few reasons:

–       Bumpy rides: cars in chile are mostly stick shift, and the road between Viña and Valpo is very curvy. Even when sitting down, holding on is still necessary!

–       Chilean Driving: this is not just the Micro drivers, but more of a Chile-in-general comment. They drive like bandits! Speeding, weaving, tailgating, and honking are much more the rule than the exception. It makes my 15 minute commute feel like I’m living on the edge.

–       Drivers make change: very convenient, and I’ve never seen that before. But be warned, many start to drive away as soon as you start to pay, and count the change while going full speed.

the driver’s area. i had to be pretty creepy to get this shot. the spools of paper are tickets, and there are coins to make change for the passengers. Most Micro rides cost around 430 pesos (86 cents), but it depends on where you are going and when.

–       Unlabled stops: you have to know where you’re going, because although many appear are similar, there are are 50-100 different routes, and stops have no name. I am at the stage where I can confidently hop on a Micro, zone out completely and jump up just as we near my classes or my house. This took weeks, so don’t mock my progress!

– Possibly because of the confusion above, there seem to be people whose job is advertise the route and inform drivers and riders. Some hang out of the bus and yell at passersby, attempting to convince them that they should get on. Others stay at the stops and alert drivers to trafic patterns and other mysterious notes that they take in their notebooks. Their endgame is a small tip from the driver.

As I get on a micro, this guy directs other people onto it as well. The sign shows an outline of the route, but no specific stops.

–       Onboard entertainment: singers, venders, and clowns, and storytellers all hop on the Micro at certain stops. I’m always surprised with what works for passengers. I once saw three women buy needles and thread from a vendor onboard. One man also told us about his intestinal problems in more detail than I thought was necessary, but it moved a couple of passengers into parting with some change.

–        Decor and graffiti: All micros are personalized, with the drivers having some leeway in regards to posters, seat colors, air fresheners, stickers, etc. Elvis and Jesus are popular options, and the Chilean flag is ubiquitous especially now as we get close to Sept 18, Chile’s independence day.  The other day, I even realized that I had been in that exact Micro vehicle once already. The key: Graffiti saying “TE AMO JUAN” or “I LOVE YOU JUAN” across many of the seats looked familiar.

The inside of a Micro. unfortunately i could not capture any entertainment or grafiti in this photo. I was trying to be smooth and not get my camera robbed. 

So that’s it! Not super exciting, but Micros are a part of my daily life and I’ve come to love the shouting drivers and honking swerves that make up my commute to class and journeys around the city.

 

*Note: I didn’t manage to get a picture of the Metro, the subway system. I hardly ever use it, but people who live near it use it every day and report that it is clean, smooth, and avoids the traffic jams or “tacos” that Micros always seem to find.*

 

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