On the Road

Instead of turning left, we should have turned right. We were on an unfamiliar country road attempting to return to the main highway, Route 5. My son was driving, left hand on the steering wheel and right hand holding up his iPhone connected to Google Maps. My husband, from the back seat, gave directions based on his navigation app, Waze. They couldn’t decide: right or left. My Inner Compass App (ICA) whispered “right,” but I held my tongue, not wanting to contribute to the confusion.

Seconds later, they decided that to the right it was. I’d extracted from the car’s glove compartment a tattered roadmap of the entire 4300 kilometer length of Chile. The tiny scale was of no help in navigating small rural roads. Besides, the map was dated 1986. Does anyone use maps anymore?

I love maps. Each time we travel this highway to southern Chile and Patagonia (I’ve lost count how many), I refer to our well-handled Turistel guide. With its multiple maps dividing this long, sliver of a country into sections, I can see where I am and relate that location to the scenes out my window. Which volcano is that gleaming on our left? Which city are we nearing? And this river? If we take this turn-off, what might we discover?

I’m of the “in-between generation,” in-between cell phone apps and road maps. I know about navigational apps but it doesn’t immediately occur to me to use them. By habit, I reach for the map or watch for a road sign. I suggested earlier to the two male navigators that we read the road signs, but their eyes were fixed on their cell phones. At this particular junction, however, there was no sign.

I’m also willing to stop and ask, although often the local people haven’t any idea either. You can tell immediately from their hesitations and puzzled looks. Maybe they prefer back roads instead of the highway. Or they provide convoluted directions. “Go two blocks past the Montserrat market; turn right at the Shell station. Past the station, you’ll see a green fruit roadside stand at the curve in the road. Go up until you reach Caupolicán Street. Turn (gesturing left) and continue on ‘til you reach the overpass. Go under the overpass. There you’ll see the highway.”

“Geographical landmarks almost never fail,” I informed my two navigators, as we now headed east. “See,” I said. “There’s the cordillera that I pointed out earlier (barely holding back ‘I told you so’).”

We all know that the highway parallels the towering Andes. You can’t stay lost for long in Chile, unless it’s a cloudy day.

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