Sunday, February 26, 2017

Running: A Universal Language

We tried to book a tour for today, but the English tour was full. As a result, we had an unscheduled day to explore Santiago. What better way than to run?

Though Santiago is a large and sprawling metropolis, it has an impressive parks system with paved and crushed cinder paths for running. As we made our way through Parque Forestal - the park system that runs parallel to the river through the city in the posh Providencia neighbourhood - we spotted a pack of runners up ahead. Mindy chased them for social's possible I had a competitive urge to catch them as well! We followed them to the base of San Cristobal Hill, an 830 metre climb in the middle of Santiago. Immediately, they welcomed us to join them (and a few random stray dogs) on their run.

The paved route passed a zoo, and then we followed our new Team Mora friends onto the dirt trails. (Past a sign that read "Do Not Enter - Danger".

The views of the city, with the Andes in the background, were spectacular! (And afforded us ample opportunity to catch our collective breath from the steep trails.)

The peak of San Cristobal Hill is a massive outdoor church, with a church in homage to the Virgin Mary at the top.

A more traditional church also sits near the top.

The running crew gathered for a photo near the peak, unusually quiet at this early hour (as we later learned).

I had little difficulty keeping up with the group as we climbed, so I was not worried when a Belgian couple asked if I could show them a trail route down the hill. They were slower than Team Mora's runners, but I can catch up, and I remember the route...except I almost didn't. I nearly took this Belgian couple down the road route, turning back a few steps past the hidden trail entrance. Phew! 

Having set the Belgians on the right track, I started racing down the switchbacks to catch up to my crew (including Mindy). A few turns later....I still didn't see anyone. I should have found someone by now...? I asked someone if he spoke English; when he said he spoke a little, I asked whether he had seen runners come down the hill ahead of me. His face lighted up as he said "Yes, this way to run down the hill". I felt relief for a moment, until I thought about what he had said. Maybe he thought I was asking whether this route was good for running down the hill? I stopped the next group of people and asked whether any of them spoke English. One of them confidently (and fluently) replied that she did.  "Did you see a group of runners come down this way a few moments ago?" I asked. "How big a group?" she probed. When I explained it was at least 8-10 people, she assured me that she hadn't seen any.



I had a cell phone with a map, my wallet, and a good idea how to get back to the hotel. While I was confident Mindy would find her way, she had made it clear that she was relying on me for directions as we headed out. I pulled out my phone in case one of the other runners with Mindy tried calling, then turned around and raced back up the (steep) hill. How many routes down San Cristobal are there? I wondered....

Quickly enough, I saw Mindy running down the hill toward me, accompanied by Raul, the head coach of Team Mora, (I later learned that Mindy said she would find me herself, but Raul had none of that and generously insisted he would help.) Grateful and relieved to have been found, Raul led us on a shortcut to catch back up with his group. It was only then that we learned from Raul that the loop for today was 20+ km, including several more climbs and trails. Wow. I didn't expect that when we headed out from the hotel this morning!

Sure enough, we found Team Mora and rejoined the group as Raul led us into more dirt trails along the steep edges of San Cristobal Hill. To avoid any risk of getting lost again, I split my time between two of the stronger (and English-speaking) runners in the group - Gustavo and Anders. Gustavo, an engineer, talked about wanting to come work in Canada, but he has to work on his English first. While his English is very good, I can see that technical jargon may prove a new challenge. Through Gustavo I also learned about the impressive resume of Raul, our fearless leader: 28:50 for 10k, and 2:20 for the marathon. Damn! That is seriously good!

At the bottom of the hill with Anders, Gustavo, Carolina, and Mindy again!

We ran Team Mora back to the park where they start their runs, and gave a round of high-fives as each runner finished (in classic Chilean fashion, lots of air kisses were shared to say good-bye, but I was spared those sweaty kisses). Then Mindy and I slowly jogged back to Quiral Hotel Boutique, from where we had set out three hours earlier. Though breakfast had ended long before, we found one table set for us and breakfast set aside, as they hadn't seen us eat. So thoughtful!

We spent our afternoon lazing around in the beautiful hotel garden and wandering the streets of Santiago, checking out various markets and vendors. 

At a Canadian dinner time, we lined up at Galindo restaurant - the highly recommended spot for traditional Chilean food - for dinner. Sizing up the line, Mindy asked the gentleman in front of us whether there was anywhere else nearby that could offer similar fare. Though we were in one of the restaurant districts in Santiago, he said "No, not this good."

Looking for the vegetarian options in a restaurant that specializes in the traditional food of a meat-centered cuisine is limiting. We found the two options and ordered one of each: a humitas dish, similar to what we had yesterday with Gabriela, and a bean stew. 

I was tempted by the traditional Chilean desserts, but having had ice cream on the walk to the restaurant, I passed on more sugar. As it is, ice cream is practically a Chilean specialty now, with the way they love it!

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