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Ranting About the Infamous Transantiago

CHILE | Friday, 25 May 2007 | Views [1269]

Maybe you've heard of Transantiago. It's a new citywide bus/metro system that has recently been put into place. It has had so many flukes that supposedly it even made the national news in the US of A! I won't bore you with the details, but here is a firsthand account from yours truly to give you an idea what it's like.

I have Quechua class at 8:30 am two days a week, which means that I communte to my university during hora punta (rush hour). I naively signed up for such an early class back when I had no idea what Transantiago meant. I am not (emphasis on "not") a morning person, so after reading this you'll be able to imagine what my mood is like when I finally arrive to school after a delightful morning misadventure on the metro.

I enter the Tobalaba metro stop at approximately 8:00 am. It is very rare and close to never that I drag myself out of bed early enough to make my own breakfast, so I pick up a bite to eat at Castaño. Muffins con chips de chocolate, berlines, and other pastries from Castaño are the equivalent to Egg-McMuffins and McHashbrowns in the US. Everyone stops at Castaño on their way to school, work, or for the young and rambunctious, on the way home from a long night at the disco. As a creature of habit, I order my usual: a muffin con chips de chocolate and apple juice.

Finally I make it down to the platform, which is starting to crowd up as Santiaguinos chose their places and prepare for a vicious competition of who will make it into the next train and who will be left behind. Survival of the fittest. Elevator music plays softly in the background while Jorge Conejo, metro safety inspector, sternly glares down at us from every angle. Don Conejo's safety billboards grace us with important reminders, such as "do not jump into the path of a moving train". Obvio (duh).

The train arrives and we push our way on. A tall businessman in a grey suit discovers that his briefcase has become entangled in the straps of a young mother's diaper bag. He begins to thrash around, almost knocking several people to the ground, including myself, the young mother, her two children, an elderly couple, and a midget. I glare at this cuico (snob) until we arrive at my transfer: Baquedano.

Baquedano during rush hour might possibly be the most chaotic place on the South American continent. People charge in every direction with a sense of urgency and without a sense of organization. On a good day I make it all the way to my platform without being pummeled too severely. However, this feeling of accomplishment quickly crashes and burns once a third train passes and I am still waiting on the platform. At least I am at the front of the crowd when the next train arrives. The way that the passengers exiting the train push their way through the mass of people on the platform can only be compared to one thing: a baby pushing its way through the birth canal. Or at least that's how I imagine it as the passengers struggle through the shifting crowd until they are finally free.

I board the car and end up next to a young couple who decides to publically display their affection for one another. Just my luck. Metro P.D.A. is big in Chile. I avert my eyes and the train comes up from under the ground. Great, now I have something else to look at, I think to myself. I gasp as the Andes come into view. The smog has not set in yet and I can see the snowcaps on the mountains. It is the clearest morning I have experienced since I came to Santiago. The disarray and annoyance of the last twentyfive minutes escape me completely as I take in this rare instance of beauty in a city whose eyesores of contamination mar its potential.

I snap out of it when we reach my final destination. I move toward the doors but something is holding me back. The boyfriend of the P.D.A. couple is standing on bottom on my pantleg. Hmm, what to do? He is big and intimidating, plus I don't want to interrupt his makeout session with his girlfriend, so I yank my pantleg away, ripping off a half inch of my jeans. Oh well, they were old jeans anyway. I leap through the door just as it is about to close.

I congratulate myself on surviving the zoo of hora punta once again as I hurry to Quechua class. Gracias a Dios that I don't have to do that every day...

Tags: chile, planes trains & automobiles, trains & automobiles

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