Throughout Blocks 7 and 8 last semester, I woke up every day to a sweeping view of the neighborhood of Ñuñoa, located in Santiago, Chile, and a giant peak rising right out of the center of the city.
I could barely make out the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary reaching her hand out at the top of the hill, beckoning to the crowded city and the surrounding mountains. Easily the most touristic attraction in Santiago, I spent nearly every day with the Cerro San Cristóbal in my sight, yet never got around to making my way up over the course of the two Blocks.
Coming from a small town nestled in the mountains of Colorado, the city itself terrified me. The most comforting things I could find were the mountains that rose up around Santiago and the hills that just seemed to pop up out of nowhere.
As I wandered around, overwhelmed by the amount of people, cars, taxis, and busses making their way through the bustling streets, I was still able to find a bit of peace in the hill that stood in the center of it all.
After two months of gazing at the Cerro, aware that as a tourist I must summit it at some point, a friend and I finally made our way towards the base, right out of Barrio Bella Vista. A road wound up the side of the hill, along with a funicular that carried passengers up to the top in a leisurely ride.
Of course, my Colorado mindset led me to insist we hike up to the top, and though it was nothing in comparison to one of our 14ers, it still felt like a bit of a trek (all of 45 minutes) after all of my time out of the mountains.
As we made our way up, the sounds of the city slowly fell away and I was struck by the moments in which I completely forgot I was in the heart of the most populated area I had ever been in. A well-worn dirt path led us up the side of the hill, while trees and vegetation bordered the trail, giving us occasional glimpses of Santiago.
At the summit, we were met with what would have been an absolutely spectacular view of the city and the Andes, if not for the haze of smog and ash created by the volcano that had erupted earlier during our stay. Nonetheless, the view was still impressive as we stood underneath the statue of the Virgin Mary with the entire city spread out around us.
On the trek down, in true tourist fashion, we managed to make a wrong turn and ended up traversing almost the entire side of the hill. Out of curiosity, we continued to make our way along the trail, coming across signs of bike usage and more views of the city.
In the gaps between trees I caught glimpses of parts of Santiago I had yet to explore, and others that I knew well, all the while surrounded by the comfort of the vegetated hillside that brought me back to the mountains of Colorado.
After a while, we figured that there was no way our trail would loop its way back to our starting point. We doubled back along the path and made our way down into the city, returning to the crowded streets that still gave me anxiety even after two months.
In a drastic change from the hike up the hill, I further descended to the metro where I wove my way through hoards of people to catch my train. However, later that night, I was able to look from my bedroom window across the streets of Santiago to see the lights underneath the Virgin Mary, along with a little piece of my Colorado mountains.