This past weekend a friend and I took advantage of the final long weekend of 2016 to take a trip north to La Serena, a beach town that is roughly a 7-hour bus ride north from Santiago. Since everyone else in Santiago had the same desire to get out of town it took close to two hours just to make it out of the city, but the bus ride was otherwise uneventful. Bus travel in Chile is truly amazing; the buses (not the micros, which travel within Santiago) are one of the few things that seem to run mostly on time and travel all over the country and even into Argentina. If you really wanted to, you could take a bus all the way to Arica, a town in the northern-most part of Chile. The seats are spacious and comfy, movies are shown, and there are even vendors who hop onto the bus to sell newspapers, snacks, beverages, and sandwiches.
We arrived in La Serena late Friday night and settled into our hostel. The first night was a bit rough, as we were tired after a busy week and eight hours of traveling and were in a room with someone who snored very loudly for the entire night. Other than this minor annoyance our hostel was fantastic, and we were able to meet and get to know people from England, France, Colombia, Brazil, and the US during our time there. Our days were fairly busy as we spent time exploring La Serena, biking to the neighboring town of Coquimbo, hiking in Valle del Elqui, and doing homework on the rooftop of our hostel. We had a few frustrating moments as well; after talking with other people in our hostel we decided to make a pit stop in Vicuña, a small town about an hour from La Serena, to see the Gabriela Mistral museum. However, the museum workers were on strike and the museum was closed, so we ended up spending less than an hour in Vicuña before hopping on the next bus to Pisco Elqui, a small town in Valle del Elqui about 2.5 hours east from La Serena where we went hiking.
Our trip to La Serena also marked the first trip I’d embarked on without the IFSA program planning out every detail. It was definitely more stressful to have to keep track of bus tickets, hostel reservations, and to plan everything, but did make the experience that much more rewarding. We managed to keep costs pretty low by cooking dinner for ourselves every night and by packing sandwiches to take with us during the days, so our largest expenses were bus tickets and the hostel. As someone who truly hates spending money, I was grateful to have taken the plunge and traveled to another part of Chile.
The trip also helped me to realize how at home I feel in Santiago. By Tuesday morning I was truly looking forward to heading home and seeing my host family again, to being able to unpack my bag and decompress before classes picked up the next day. With a little over a month left here in Chile it’s mildly frustrating to be feeling so comfortable knowing that before I know it I’ll have to leave. I recently signed up for winter term classes back at Carleton and got my housing assignment, and while it’s comforting to see things coming together back in the US it’s also a sign that things here will be wrapping up soon.
Fortunately, there is still a good chunk of time left in Santiago, so it’s definitely too soon to become misty-eyed over my departure. Right now I’m focused on taking advantage of the days I have left, hence the weekend trip which, despite being planned at the last minute, was an incredible experience. Being able to see yet another slice of Chile was amazing, and I hope I can do even more traveling, especially to the south, before I have to head back to the US. One of the reasons I decided to study here was the array of travel destinations within the country, and thus far Pomaire, Valparaíso, Viña del Mar, San Pedro de Atacama, and La Serena have not disappointed.