The woman on a first floor balcony is doing the universal index finger along the throat gesture for danger and likely death.

At us.

She’s also pointing down the quaintly coloured and alluring suburban street we were headed towards.

We nod and look that way. A middle-aged man is 20 metres away shaking his head and waving us off.

He has a child with him so perhaps it can’t be that bad, but the woman overhead is insistent. It is path towards some unknown sort of crime.

It’s time to bug out of this alcove on a beautiful, but alien hillside of Valparaiso. We backtrack and trudge further up the incline to soak up the imminent Saturday night sunset over the port city.

After a few steps, a non-descript car with two men pulls up beside us. We are attracting a lot of male attention and I think these guys should be best ignored.

One flashes a bronze badge and ID card I am immediately suspicious of. The laughing man in the passenger seat does not add to my confidence in this scene.

It turns out they are plain-clothes cops who are both concerned and amused by our stupidity.

One Valparaiso hill may be ok for non-locals wandering aimlessly eyeballing graffiti; the next rise is apparently where you can say goodbye to all your goods and chattels. They don’t put that in guidebooks.

Still, we could have been left to a sad and possibly painful fate. Chilean people have proved themselves the most friendly, willing to go out of the way, super kind people I have ever met.

Numerous requests for directions have been met with long distance escorts, even if our new acquaintances don’t really know the way.

Women have stood next to Sharon and I while we have used cheap petrol station coffee dispensers and given repeated, and excited, verbal encouragement.

.. and hiring a car for a long distance, one way car excursion may prove to be three of the most bizarre three hours spent on this trip.

Apparently renting a car, driving in one direction, looking at stuff and dropping off said vehicle at another outlet of the hiring company is not the done thing in Chile.

We were not to know that and driving from Santiago to Puerto Montt more than a thousand kilometres away over four days had firmly become part of our ill-researched plans.

We got it in our heads that cabbing it to the airport where car hire companies are sequestered was the best thing to do. All the rental places would be in one spot to fight over us and driving south from the airport would allow us to avoid Santiago’s mad traffic.

However, hearing our plans unveiled the nurturing side of our cab driver.

Julio, as we came to know him, knew a better ways go, while we insisted on going through with our great idea.

We were taken to a nearby Avis that was closed for untimely renovations.

Julio said “there was a place very close by” and quicker than you can say, “Are we getting taken for a ride? Where the hell are we?” we were back in Santiago about 100 metres from where we began the morning’s journey to the airport.

Various “looks” were being exchanged in the cabs backseat.

Sharon’s Spanish was being tested as Julio instructed her to chill out. The first place we were taken to explained how the rare request to drop off a hire car somewhere else would involved the paying for the car to be returned to the point of origin.

Our plans were sinking like the pisco sours and wine we drank the previous night. We only had a few days, a few off road locations to travel to and half a case of wine to carry.

We were driven to one of the biggest, most expensive car yards in the capital where he proudly introduced us to the English-speaking owner. Julio’s friend knew someone else who could help us and he was on his way. Meantime, Julio expressed his admiration for us, in particular me.

The car arrived with accompanying scratches and without its logo, but this red beast would do the trick. We had to leave a place of residence on the form and Julio said we could use his place. He joked he only had one spare room.

We were soon back on the road with Julio driving just ahead of us. He even got out of his car at an intersection to make sure we new to the way.

We did and we were soon on the great Panamerican Ruta 5 heading south.

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  1. March 13, 2012

    What an adventure…fascinating.

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