“Tengo sed,” it said on the Cross.
“I’m thirsty too, Jesus. I’ve just hiked to the top of Cerro San Cristóbal—and by the way, I have no idea how to go down. What’s your story, already?”
I’m wearing the wrong t-shirt for a holy place again—the “Ni Dio, Ni Amo” one. My fault. But hey, it’s laundry day and I wasn’t planning to end up at the feet of the Virgin Mary.
I’m never inspired on Sundays. In most cities around the world, including Santiago, it’s suspiciously quiet—streets are empty, stores are closed, even stray dogs are sleeping. I mean, it’s relaxing in a way… but it also feels lonely, especially when you’re alone.
Where did Santiago’s 7-million population go? It was here just yesterday, I remember it, I had to fight my way through La Alameda!
Quick, Juliette, think…
Oh, right. The park.
Not just any park—although the K-Pop fans do practise dance moves in just about any park—, the Parque Metropolitano de Santiago, one of the largest in the world.
In doubt, go with the flow.
There are two main entrances to the park, Pío Nono, in Barrio Bellavista, and Pedro de Valdivia, in Providencia. I knew better than to try the first one—this is where you take the funicular straight to the Statue of the Virgin Mary on San Cristóbal Hill and the queue is long on Sundays.
I walked directly to Pedro de Valdivia, the far entrance popular with bikers and anyone interested in a fun cable-car ride to the top of the hill. Usually, we board the teleférico to the last station and walk down. We did it twice pushing Mark’s stroller, or rather, holding it back on the steep road! But could I hike all the way to the 14m-high statue of the Virgen de la Inmaculada Concepción?
I shared my crazy idea with one of the park rangers, who didn’t seem to find it that crazy. “There are plenty of hiking trails, here is a map.”
Oh, okay, then.
The first trail was a steep dirt path to Avenida Gabriela Mistral, then it turned into a paved road leading to Estación Tupahue, a popular stop in the park with a public swimming pool and playgrounds.
And now what? I looked for the other trail, “number 7,” but I couldn’t find it. Rangers directed me to the Avenida Pedro Bannen, one of the main paved roads. I wasn’t sure I was going the right way—the park is huge and my map didn’t help much, it just showed a hairpin bend with a palm tree right at the… oh, never mind. I had just reached a hairpin corner and I was right in front of a palm tree, 10/10 for accuracy.
I passed the Mirador Hundimiento, then I kept on going until I reached Plaza Mexico and Estación Cumbre San Cristobal, the last stop of the cable car. Phew.
I took a break before the last climb, to the Santuario del Cerro San Cristóbal.
Santiago looks impressive from the top. It’s like São Paulo, it seems to sprawls for kilometres, all the way to the Andes to the east.
Okay, time to find a way to get to the Pío Nono entrance (and pick up my laundry, the Venezuelan guy works 14 hours a day but on Sundays, he does close at 8 p.m.!). The funicular wasn’t an option, the queue was long and I didn’t feel like paying for a ride anyway.
I asked a ranger to show me the nearest trail. I knew there was one, it was on the map.
“It’s dangerous! You can’t hike all the way down. You have to take the funicular.”
“Dangerous… how? Like, the trail itself is dangerous?”
“If something happens, it’s your problem.”
“I’ve just hiked to the top. Is the trail to go down any different?”
It was a genuine question because it’s always hard to read into warnings. I means, if you take American or European news seriously, you shouldn’t even be travelling to South America. Sometimes, locals tell you to avoid X or Z place because it’s crowded but it’s not actually dangerous if you’re not carrying million of dollars with you. And once in a while, someone tells you not to go to a specific spot and you should listen.
The guy shook his head, clearly frustrated with me. “Fine, go then. Your problem!”
I was kind of confused. I mean, it was daytime and there were plenty of people around, what could be so dangerous?
I walked away and a few metres further, I saw a female ranger. I asked the same question and she showed me where the trail was.
“Is it dangerous?”
“Maybe at night, but we’re patrolling during the day and a lot of people are taking it. It’s just fine!”
As I suspected, the first ranger was the “unaccompanied women, especially foreign ones, are stupid” kind.
I made it to the Pío Nono entrance just fine, by the way.
And just like that, Sunday was over.