Carreteras de Santiago

by Andrew Stein

To facilitate getting around town and traveling between cities, we rent a Hyundai SUV.  However, we do not correctly predict the difficulty of driving within Santiago.  The aggressiveness of the other drivers isn’t the problem, the fact that we have to drive on the right side of the road only affects one of us, and streets are generally well lit.  The problem is Santiago’s lack of road signs.  We know that we are close because we were tracking our small blue dot using GPS, but turning on the right street becomes the challenge.  There are two moments in particular that we will probably not be soon to forget.

On one occasion, we are very close to our destination and know that we have to exit the freeway soon.  I am driving and am instructed to take the next exit on the right.  Following instructions, I take the exit and we quickly realize that this probably isn’t correct.  We have our Google Maps recalculate the directions, and the new estimated time to our destination is around one hour.  Somehow, we manage to find an exitless and endless road.  We enjoy the fact that we are climbing into the mountains and get a wonderful view of Santiago’s city lights below, but we soon realize that we do not want to continue on this winding, dark, never-ending road all the way to the top before having a chance to turn around.  Although this is technically a highway, the speed limit is only 60 km/hr and I sense an opportunity to turn around.  I can see decently ahead on the opposite side of the road and far behind on my side of the road.  I also spot a turnout on the opposite side of the road, all of which is guarded from a steep cliff.  I slow down and make a U-turn into this turnout.  I stop, wait for a car to pass me, and then merge back onto the highway now headed back towards Santiago and our destination.  First disaster averted, and I hope future never-ending roads are better signed.

The second exciting moment happens when we are driving through the city, and I am making a left turn as I am initially instructed, but then I am confidently asked to make a softer left onto a different road.  I react in time, and we start heading down this street when we soon realize that all three or four lanes of the road have headlights in them and are approaching us with seemingly decent velocity.  Many of these headlights feel the need to let us know of our error and blink their high-beams a couple of times.  We, meanwhile, stay uncomfortably stopped in the right most lane with our flashers on.  We wait for this anxious moment to subside, make a three-point turn on this semi-highway, and again continue on our way.  Second disaster averted, and I hope that future one-way streets are better labeled.

I am not completely blaming Santiago’s poor signage, the navigators within my car, or myself for these errors, but I am grateful that each error ended with no lasting consequences.