The Long Hard Way to Marquito
Naturally, troubles are to be expected when travelling. ‘Take the road less travelled’ and you are sure to encounter hardship along the way, and that’s what makes you grow. Indeed, the best travel stories to relay back to those at home are not soliloquies to hours spent on the beach, sipping out of coconuts and melting into a blissful puddle of relaxation, rum and sun kissed skin. No – the stories that are remembered the best are the ones that take a tidal wave to the beach dream and smash it into a million pieces and drown it out with broken down busses, stuck for hours in a vehicle reeking of piss with a mass of cranky travelers all swearing in their mother tongues. The best stories are the ones that flirt with disaster: almost getting arrested on a false charge in Laos, taking a midnight boat in the middle of a storm while battling a vicious stomach bug, or the consequences of two people drinking a mushroom tea meant for four. There is something deeply satisfying about hearing a friend’s trouble abroad, as they stand before you recounting with dramatic flair, and a sense that they are all the richer for it. It would appear that our first “good” bad story came a little earlier than expected. It has been an exciting trip so far, but it has also been an incredibly frustrating, at times disheartening experience. In retrospect, it is easy to see that we were naive, that we rushed certain choices that could have used more time and that we had made a grave error in not learning more Spanish beforehand. Most definitely this has been a lesson in learning to synch our clocks with the more laid-back process of Chilean time, and that expecting things to work like they do back home is only cause for frustration. That being said, our misadventures thus far make for one hell of a story.
So without further ado, we present to you:
The Process of Buying a Car in Chile
Step One – Obtain a RUT
The always-reliable Internet painted the process as a quick and painless procedure: go to the SII office, hand over your passport and request a RUT (essentially a Chilean tax identification number). Fill out some forms, give your address and boom, now you have a RUT and you are all set to buy a car, or make any sort of large purchase in Chile for that matter.
Contrary to the quick and easy guide on the Internet, obtaining a RUT is not a one-stop shop but rather a giant reminder that not learning Spanish before arriving was a really dumb mistake, and one we continue to regret. Reality found us waiting in multitude of long lines, engaging in plenty of difficult conversations filled with broken Spanglish and exaggerated gesticulation, while attempting to follow the instructions being fed to us in Spanish at a mile a minute. Finally, we are given a form to fill out. We spend an hour in a Starbucks thieving their wifi to painstakingly translate each word. Form filled out to the best of our abilities, we proudly return to the SII office and resume the business of waiting in long lines. Unfortunately, we reach the front of the line only to discover that we need to take this paper to another office, and not only that but we will need to go with a Chilean and have them vouch for us. Day two of our quest for a RUT left us cursing the inaccuracy of the internet, while thanking our lucky stars that we had a Chilean friend available and up to the task of vouching for us. Day two meant taking a number and waiting in line at the Notary, a chaotic business and one that we will continually find ourselves needing to return to. Finally, once forms have been stamped and copies made official, we were ready to return to the SII office. Naturally, more lines were waiting for us to stand in and we discovered that even with a Chilean escort things move slowly. However, after all that we received our RUT, and with the rose coloured glasses of success clouding our vision, the process seemed almost as easy at the internet had proclaimed…Sort of.
Step Two –Find a Car
Similar to the process of getting a RUT, the Internet informed us that purchasing a car should be fast and simple. We had an idea of what we wanted when we arrived and naively assumed that we would be able to buy a vehicle within a few days.
Unfortunately, the van we envisioned ourselves whipping across the country in clashed hard with the limits of our budget, what was available on the market and unfortunately, went against the advice of everyone we showed our prospects to in Chile. With a tight budget, most road worthy vans were out of the question and we ended up settling for a model that most people thought wouldn’t make it and hoping for the best. Once again our quest took many days longer than the timeline the Internet provided. Many days were spent in limbo, waiting on our mechanic and our wonderful hosts to call sellers for us, because as it turns out, trying to broker a deal over the phone when you don’t speak the mother tongue is, is in fact, difficult. Who would have thought? What follows the waiting is more waiting. Days of getting our hopes up only to discover the car not is not available, that the owner not available or that the necessary paperwork is not available. After becoming professional at the act of waiting, the perfect van was found. A little white 2000 Suzuki Carry, soon to be reborn as Marquito. Faced with the task of inspecting the vehicle ourselves, we were once again reminded that everything is not as straightforward as it seems online, take note kiddies who could’ve imagined :P. Being the super mechanically inclined people that we are, the cab ride over to inspect the van was spent frantically youtubing “how to assess a used car” videos, because this is not home and you don’t get to take it to a mechanic first. Upon seeing the van it hits home that no amount of youtube videos will amount to instantaneous knowledge. Hello there gut instinct, can you please prove reliable here? The following scene is amusing in retrospect: We inspect the car with an iPhone flashlight, attempt another broken conversation with the owner and embark on a test drive in an old standard van in the dark through winding roads in a neighborhood a little to far from the centre to be entirely comfortable. Happy with the car, or rather unwilling to repeat the process again we considered ourselves done with step two and turned towards making the purchase official.
Step 3 – Buy the Car
You are probably savvy to this by now, but the Internet promised that this process would be relatively simple. Go with the owner to a Notary to sign a contract that transfers ownership, receive a temporary ownership paper and then in two weeks go to a civil registry and pick up the official paper.
Having made a date with the seller Marco for the following morning, it dawned on us that we did not have nearly enough cash on hand to purchase the vehicle. ATM’s only let you withdraw 200,000 Chilean Peso’s (400$ Canadian) at a time and they spit it out in large fistfuls of small notes attached to a hefty withdrawal fee. Faced with the prospect of withdrawing 2.2 million pesos, we spent the morning of the sale racing from ATM to ATM withdrawing as much as we could. As our wallets bulged uncomfortably, we began to feel vaguely like characters in a cheesy Hollywood movie – shady figures running around with too much money about to make a big drop. In any case, walking around with impossibly large wads of cash on hand really ups the intensity for any situation- you should try it. Money accounted for, we took a long cab ride to meet Marco and close the deal. He worked far away and we had agreed to go to a Notary in his neighborhood. Once again, fuelled potent combination of bad luck, naivety and most definitely our inability to speak Spanish, we managed to complicate the steps outlined online. After partaking in our favorite activity of waiting in long lines, we engaged in another conversation of very broken Spanish and English to discover two wrenches in our plans: 1) Marco’s van was owned by himself, his two brothers and his mom and in order to complete the sale his entire family needed to be present. 2) According to woman at the Notary, buying a car as a foreigner in Chile is not possible, even with a RUT. Unable to find the words in Spanish to argue that it is possible, we retreated from the Notary defeated and empty handed.
Step 4 – Reattempt Step 3
With no guides on the Internet for a mishap such as this, we stuck to our guns and decided try the whole process again at a different Notary. We assumed it would be easy to find a notary with knowledge of the procedure and with Marco’s whole family present the sale should go off without a hitch.
Our dream of road tripping across South America dissolving before our eyes, we urged Marco try and reattempt the sale again with his whole family present and at a Notary willing to officiate the transaction. Naturally, finding a Notary aware of the procedure was not as easy as we hoped. Our inability to speak Spanish happily kicked us in the butt as phone call after phone call was made. First we asked if anyone at the office spoke English and then, having received a negative answer to the primary question, rattled off a script we had written on Google translate inquiring whether or not they knew how to sell a car to a foreigner. We imagine that it sounded something along the lines of “you possibly speak English? No? Oh…We need …Possible sell car to us. Canadian?” One can imagine the amount of rejections we received over the phone. However, minutes before the Notary closed, we managed to reach one who said yes to both and a date was made with Marco and his family to complete the sale the next morning. Wary from our previous experiences, we decided to scope out the Notary before the family arrived just to make sure it was all going to go smoothly. Unfortunately, the moment we stepped out of the cab, we discovered the Notary was in a very unpleasant neighborhood. It was the kind of neighborhood they tell you to avoid when you’re travelling through Santiago, and most definitely not the kind of neighborhood you should be walking around in with 2.2 million pesos on hand. Nervously scuttling off the street and into the Notary, we stood in line with sweaty palms, feeling more like those stupid white tourists you hear about and roll your eyes at, than we had ever before. We stuck around long enough to confirm with the clerk that the transaction was possible before dashing out and hopping a cab as quickly as possible. Perhaps we were being overly cautious and needed to relax, but neither of us felt comfortable waiting there with so much money in our pockets. Moreover, the prospect of Marco’s whole family coming out to this area made us uneasy, so we made the decision to find another Notary willing to complete the sale in another neighborhood, hopefully one that wouldn’t worry our mothers back home. Although rooted in good intentions, the choice switch Notaries last minute ended up backfiring on us. By the time we found one willing to officiate the sale, Marco and his family were unable to make it as they had especially booked off time to make it to the first Notary and wouldn’t be able to meet us without getting into trouble at work. Furthermore, this ordeal took place on a Friday and Notaries are a Monday to Friday kind of deal. Once again our quest for the van seemed to hit another roadblock, and this time we felt like jerks for throwing Marco’s entire family through a loop.
Step 5- Repeat Steps 3&4
Find which Notaries are open on Saturday. Find one that knows how to close the deal. Go with Marco’s family to a Notary to sign a contract that transfers ownership, receive a temporary ownership paper and then in two weeks go to a civil registry and pick up the official paper.
On the verge of giving up, we turned to our trusty friend the Internet, and our always-reliable translation skills in hopes of finding a Notary open on Saturday. Naturally, this proved more complicated and less efficient then a good old-fashioned Google query. What could have been a couple clicks turned into a couple hundred, made more complicated no doubt by having to translate into Spanish before we hit search. Finally, a list of Notaries and numbers was procured. We will spare you the details of the predictably painful broken Spanish conversations that ensued, but after many, many phone calls, we found one that was open on Saturday and aware of the sale procedure. With a little convincing and many apologies we were able to persuade Marco to once again coordinate with his whole family and meet us early Saturday morning. Armed with the knowledge of our past failures, we arrived at the Notary early with a second weapon the form of our wonderful friend and translator Conti. Shortly after, Marco and his family piled out of the elevator and we waited together in nervous silence. Third time’s a charm, right? The reality of a central Notary on a Saturday morning is hot and sweaty. A Notary on a Saturday means everyone there cannot wait until Monday, it turns an already chaotic place to something bordering unbearable. Coupled with the fact that several of the staff had not shown up, the wait slowed to a snails pace. Having become experts at waiting, we tried to stay calm throughout the process. Finally, we were a helped by perhaps one of the world’s oldest men still in the work force. A bespeckled man complete with a sweater vest, who worked at a speed that made snails seem like Ferrari race cars. Naturally, the incredibly reliable Internet was down, so the man had to retype the contract on a typewriter. Watching him squint at the documents and punch in the typewriter keys one finger at a time was about as enjoyable was watching grass grow. However, after an hour of biting our fingernails and fanning our hot faces the contract was written. Soon, in a flurry of fingerprints, signatures and shaken hands, the process of transferring ownership was complete. Next was the transfer of commodities: Marco counted the piles of cash in a back room of the Notary, while his mother and brothers stood guard at the door, once again making us feel as if we were part of a cheesy Hollywood film. Finally, the keys were in our hands, and the open road at our feet. Marquito was ours.
After some questionable DIY build-a-bed attempts, we pimped out our ride with some very necessary prayer flags, a custom made mattress (i.e. lots of pillows) and some sweet scarves to look up at before we fall asleep.
Up next to Moments of Wander: The Road South