Exactly a year ago, to the day, was my first day in Chile. My first time stepping out of India. I received an email from Prateek Dayal saying
The address of the place is
Apartment is 1311C
Well! What is more accurate than a Google Map link? Without much ado, I started my journey from New Delhi. The initial excitement of flying outside India turned to anxiousness when negotiating the never ending procedures of boarding an International flight. Finally, I was off the ground, marking the start of the first leg of my journey and the return of my excitement. After a stop over in Dubai for three hours, another in Sao Paulo for sixteen hours and 42 hours of grueling journey, it was relief when I landed in Santiago.
Outside the airport, I was greeted by a old taxi driver, who said
"Hola, ¿ ??? #### !!!!!! ?".
Assuming he was asking for the address, I showed him the print out of the email. Armed with my address and a bit of help from Google Maps, the taxi driver led me away from the airport towards the lofty Andes at the foot of which lay Santiago. Soon, we turned off the highway into the orderly streets of the city centre. All addresses in Chile contain a number and a street name. Thats it! Not even a pin code. After a few traffic signals, we were on Huérfanos, which translates to Orphans! The taxi driver dropped me off at an intersection leaving me to tend to myself.
I was standing in front of a office building with a huge brass sign saying "1440" on it. I started my search for the number 1311 around the block with my luggage rattling along behind me on the stone pavement. The numbers of the building decreased exponentially rather than in increments of one and soon was way bellow 1311! Confused, I doubled back to check if I had missed it. But 1311 remained illusive.
I approached a street vendor and asked,
"Hello, Where can I find this address?".
She looked at the printout and then at me and replied,
"???? ?? ????????? ?? ¿Espaniol?".
Oh! She doesn't know English! I smiled and moved on to the next vendor and repeated my query.
"No, Englees… Espaniol!", he replied
A few more enquires, it became pretty clear no one knew English! Soon, I was pointing to printout for asking directions. After being led around the block a few times, each time making me more anxious, I decided that, either the apartment 1311 does not exist or its like Grimund Place!
Fortunately, Prateek had given his cell number, in case of emergencies. Well, the situation I was in qualified to be one and I headed towards the nearest telephone booth. I had a few thousand Pesos left and I put in a 100 Peso into the telephone and started dialing. To my dismay, the telephone only accepted six digits, where as the cell number was 10. After a few desperate tries and losing nearly 1000 Pesos, I slammed the receiver back in frustration.
There I was standing alone with my luggage in a new city, my first time being outside India, where no one knew English, where the only guy I knew could not be reached because of 4 digits and I was running low on money.
All my options had run out and I was urging my blank brain to restart when my eyes caught something which put a smile on my face.
An Internet Cafe! I hurried towards it, sat in front of one of the computers and typed "gmail.com" in the browser's address bar. (By the way, the browser was IE! Can't whine or complain in desperate times) The login page came up on the screen and it was in...
Guess what? Espaniol!
Then I looked down on the keyboard and was shocked to realize it was a Spanish keyboard! The keys were out of place. Typing my email address was near impossible because <Shift + 2> was not the usual character "@", even though the key had an "@" on its face. I tried different combinations of keys, but to no avail. I never had so much trouble in typing one of the most basic character on the internet. I was saved by my skills as a geek as I typed "@" using the OnScreen Keyword!
Finally I was able to access my Gmail and sent an SOS to Prateek. After a few tense minutes, I received his reply asking me to stay where I was. Fifteen minutes later, I was in another cab with Prateek, heading towards my actual destination. It turns out, the "orphaned" road discontinues for 10 blocks, leaving a big gap along the length of the road, which confused Google Maps resulting in a erroneous location! One of the banes of relying on technology. But it was the very same technology which pulled me out of the woods. So, I guess, the boon and the bane cancel each other out.
So my first day in Chile was more eventful than I had bargained for. But that was just the beginning of six months of adventure!