So this is the end of my trip to Chile. I am at the airport in Santiago, waiting for the next episode which should lead me to Japan, through Los Angeles and Hong Kong.
Did I mention the whole purpose of this trip to Chile? When you study Geography at the Humboldt-Universität in Berlin, you are required to take a field trip. This one was organized by one of my university teacher – and was supposed to give an overview about Chile from a geographical point of view, covering both the physical and human geography. Since our teacher likes to climb mountains, there was some mountain climbing involved, associated with camping in high altitudes, where the highest sleeping point would reach 4200 m. Which means: serious equipment required (tent, sleeping mat, sleeping bag, petrol stove, crampons, wind-proof jacket...). You can just show up wearing flip flops.
Being the cheapo that I am, I didn't agree with those terms. Yes, I am cheap and didn't feel like investing that much money (around 200-300€) in equipment 1/ that I wasn't sure of using again, 2/ that I would have to carry around in Argentina, 3/ that perhaps I couldn't sell after use, before flying to Japan. Lesson n°1 when you pack your bag for a world trip: keep it light.
So I did what I always do when I am out of options: I logged in to Couchsurfing.
Do you know it? It's basically a site where you can meet local people, hang out with them, stay at their place, host them in your house, or, like I did, beg for help.
There is a group in Chile for ski and climbing freaks. So I spammed every single member of this group to ask if by chance, they were crazy enough to lend me their gear. And guess what? Out of about 15 contacted people, some never answered, but 8 offered to help, among which 2 told me they had everything, one even was sponsored by a big company so there would be no problem with the gear. Yeepeee, I thought. So I sent the sponsored one many thanks and a precise list of the stuff I would be needing, saying from when till when I would be needing the gear, and repeated that if there was any problem, I would understand, but that he should tell me early enough. He said that there was no problem and that I could get everything; this was in November from last year. See, I'm a bit organized! But this perfect picture was painted with horse dung and I was far to imagine that I was about to experience the most stressful 48 hours of my life.
So I arrived in Santiago on a Thursday evening, after a boring bus ride from Mendoza, Argentina, and headed up to the Couchsurfer, who had offered to host me before the excursion would start on Saturday. I had planned it like this, so I could have time for myself to visit Santiago and get rid of facial and leg hairs, for instance. My Couchsurfer showed me part of the gear he had for me, but not everything, as we went out for diner and party. Why didn't I ask for the rest of the stuff right away? Maybe I'm too polite, after all. Or too stupid. He had to leave early on the following day, but told me before he left that everything was there, and that I just had to look for the stuff missing. This is the moment where you can start shaking and wet your pants, as I did – not everything was there. Looked everywhere. No sign of the sleeping mat nor of the cooking stove. On the day before the trip was to begin.
By the time it got clear to me that something was wrong, the Couchsurfer was out of reach – no answer on his cell phone. Again, I did what I always do when I'm in trouble: I logged in to Couchsurfing. This time in the hopes of contacting the other Couchsurfer who said he had everything I needed.
Do you know Murphy's law? This smartass created a whole theory about the concept of disaster. At the moment where you think you can't fall any lower, Murphy's making sure there is a bird flying over your head to splash you with its faeces. Back to Couchsurfing. At that point, I could barely talk, use my legs or coordinate my thoughts due to a close to lethal rate of adrenaline in my veins – and this is the moment where the couchsurfing site crashed. 'Ooops! Everybody's trying to surf at the same time. Please try again in a few moments'. I honestly don't know how my heart survived the following 60 minutes. My brain got stuck in the survival mode: breathe in, breathe out: I could not think of anything. My whole energy was concentrated on my right finger clicking on F5, and on making sure my pulse was below 200 beats per minute.
At some point the San Francisco geniuses fixed the problem and I could write an emergency message to the other CS, which, THANK YOU MOTHER EARTH, happened to be online at the same moment. He said that he could help me with the missing items, and that I just had to call him to meet in the evening, after work.
You think this is the end of the story? How little do you know me! It's just starting. So this is Friday around noon – I decide to work a bit on the presentation I have to prepare for the university trip (yep – it's not just climbing up and down mountains), then take a break from all the stress and walk a bit around. Went to Cerro de San Cristobal, which is a cute park on a hill in Santiago. Around 6 or 7 pm I decided it's time to call the other CS ; and then I realised that I actually don't have a Chilean SIM card. No problem, I think, SIM cards you can get everywhere! Well, apparently there is a huge difference between what you think and what real life is. In order to get a damn SIM card you are supposed to go to the official store of the cell phone company – and then again, not all of the official stores deliver a prepaid card. This is Friday around 7pm, remember? After asking random people in the streets and running everywhere, I manage to find a store still open, where I buy this damn chip.
I called the other Couchsurfer, and we met at his place, where he saved me from the huge cowpat I had landed in; he showed me his gear: tent, cooking stove, even a 2nd layer jacket. He even helped me with my crampons and showed me how to fix them to the shoe. Unfortunately he didn't have a sleeping mat, so we went to a hypermarket where I could buy one. The teacher recommended a self-inflatable sleeping mat costing around 20€, and I ended up buying this 4€ 5mm thick piece of crap. But hey, how cares? I have everything I need, I can sleep peacefully before meeting the group on Saturday. Wait... everything? Damn, where are those sunglasses I needed?