Many of my students have tried to follow the general advice given to those who go abroad, which is to “blend in”. They are usually successful.
I have not been.
I met a group of students on Sunday to hike in the mountains. I have written about this hike several times.. It is an out and back hike in Parque Nacional San Carlos de Apoquindo, east of Santiago, accessed from the U. Catolica stadium parking lot. It’s a beautiful hike and every time I think I’ve done it for the last time it makes me sad and I go back. I met the group at the Los Dominicos metro stop and we took the bus to the trailhead.
On the way to the metro stop, I passed a woman sweeping the sidewalk in front of her building. Normally in Santiago, or any other large, crowded urban area, folks don’t speak in such a situation. But it was early on Sunday and we were the only ones out and we made eye contact. I tipped my hat and said, “Buen dia.” She looked me up and down, smiled and said, “Good morning.”
About five minutes later I came upon an older gent likewise sweeping his sidewalk – it’s fall, after all. He didn’t give me the chance to speak. He just glanced at me and said, “Good morning.”
Clearly, I’m not blending in.
I told the first few students to show up at Los Dominicos this story and they unanimously agreed that I couldn’t look more like a tourist if I tried. I had my Tilley hat, backpack and was dressed in hiking clothes. Lots of pockets, light, loose material, standing a good bit taller and significantly wider than anyone else around. There was a hippyish guy standing around, big bushy beard, bandana, old knee brace, older rucksack, rail thin. One of my students told me I looked like him. I said I looked like a guy with a little money who was trying to look like him.
When I told Mary this story she said I always look like a tourist. She described my usual style as Tourist Sheik. Perhaps when I’m back in the States I can look like a foreigner and it will all even out.
It was an excellent hike. I managed to stay in the middle of the group. There was one student who could have flown by us and probably completed the trail. We reached the ridge where Mary got hung up two weeks ago due to old boots. The snow and ice had melted so the trail gave better footing despite the heavy mud. We stopped for lunch and then split up. Half the group headed back while the rest of us went on. Honestly, I felt like heading back myself but since I had claimed going on from this point was the reason I wanted to go on the hike again I felt obligated.
Generally, I find activities like hiking in the mountains make me feel young. It’s mostly younger folks out and we’re all working, etc. etc. Only then we posed for a group photo. Which was taken with a student’s Canon DSLR which was controlled with an iPhone (see if you can tell who pushed the button). I think I’m fairly saavy and even a bit good with technology. Clearly not. The students were shocked that I was shocked you could control a DSLR with a phone. So, I’m old.
From the gate at the ridge, the trail ascends steeply for about a quarter of a kilometer on slippery loose rocks. It then levels out for a bit before ascending again in a switchback with really loose rocks. Loose rocks was the theme. At this point we were within 500-750 meters of the junction with the Cerro Provinica trail. But I could see that the trail descended steeply for 100 meters before rising more sharply than any ascent we’d yet done for an indeterminate amount distance as it curled behind a ridge. It was 2pm and the park gate closed at 5pm so I decided that was my stopping point. Two of the faster students went on for a bit but didn’t make the junction. It was steep enough they were basically climbing, using their hands frequently.
Sadly, looking toward Santiago.
The picture you can take if you turn back first. The group descending a trail that is steeper than it looks.
As it happened we made it back to the park entrance a little before 4pm. We could have gone on a bit. But prudence and fatigue.
So now back to work.