In 2015, Steve Hely took a trip from his home in southern California to the southern tip of the Western Hemisphere. The trip brought him across the border through Mexico, Central America, and South America to Chile, the last country on his journey. Here’s Steve Hely’s list of the nine essential things to bring to Chile.
Shoes that are good for walking uphill and downhill
Chile is very narrow and has a mountain range, the Andes, spiked through the middle of it like a spine. Odds are you will have to walk either up or down a hill or at the very least a steep street. Bring comfortable shoes!
Shoes That you don’t mind getting sprayed with permanent red chalk dust
If you’re going to the Atacama Desert, the red sand will stick to your shoes forever. It’s worth it, though—the stars are unbelievable, which is why they put the ALMA, one of the world’s top astronomical interferometers* out there. Between the colors, the lakes, the flamingos, and the desert craters, the Atacama might be as close as you can get to visiting a bizarre new planet. Although, when we’re able to travel to new planets in the future, the Atacama will still compete as a destination for strange and amazing sights.
*Note: I am not qualified to judge interferometers
Wi-Fi works in some places but not everywhere, so it’s best to bring a map. This will help when you’re trying to figure out why the bus ride takes seven hours. It will also help you find new places to explore, like beautiful peninsulas jutting into the ocean in a national park. With a map you’ll be way less likely to end up in Chiloe when you meant to go to Puerto Natales. The National Geographic Adventure map of Chile is a great one.
A Good Attitude
Why not? You are a guest here, and you may as well enjoy yourself. It won’t be hard! Chile is a world leader in, among other things, delicious sandwiches, majestic nature, interesting neighborhoods, and cool-looking lakes.
You don’t need to be an expert (unless “Chilean history expert” is your next job.) But knowing who Simón Bolívar was will let you recognize the statues; knowing who Gabriela Mistral was will help you understand why so many streets are named after her; knowing who Pablo Neruda was will explain why his houses are all museums; and knowing who Salvador Allende and Augusto Pinochet were will help you understand everything. Well worth two hours on Wikipedia.
A Few Spanish Phrases
Some people say to bring a Spanish dictionary, but I say that is hopeless. Chilean Spanish is a rapid-fire, slang-filled mystery, even if you speak pretty good classroom Spanish. Or so I’m told—I don’t even speak below-average classroom Spanish. Still, knowing even a few phrases like please and thank you are a significant leap forward.
A Good Book
By Night In Chile, by Roberto Bolaño, is short, mysterious, compelling, and an engaging way to introduce yourself to Chile’s recent dramatic history.
Some Simple Medicine
For emergencies. Like, for example, diarrhea. There’s some of the freshest, healthiest food in the world in Chile and amazing places to eat from high-end restaurants to street stands, but it’s easy to get sick while traveling. It never hurts to have some trusty and beloved medicines in your backpack.
If packing was all that was stopping you, you’re almost done! Just remember, also: socks, a swimsuit, a nice warm jacket (even in the desert the nights get cold). Oh, and your passport. Have fun!
Steve Hely’s new book The Wonder Trail: True Stories from Los Angeles to the End of the World is available now.