The longest journey of my life so far has been from Melbourne to Santiago. Now, if you looked at a map you’d be questioning why so long, considering it was just across the water. That’s because I went the opposite direction, aka around the entire planet. If you were in Australia, Asia, The Middle East, Europe or South America last year, at one point I was most likely flying above your head. Eskimos being one of only a few exceptions. Why would I put myself through such an ordeal? One reason, I can never resist booking the cheapest flight I find, hence the ‘Tramp’ aspect of my oh-so fitting title.
However, after three days of flying, inhaling more sleeping pills than medically-sound, and digesting enough bloating plane food to make me the human equivalent of a hot air balloon – I was in Chile! (My luggage was in Saudi Arabia, but that’s another story.)
I moved to Santiago with the intention to teach, save some money and travel. My friend and I were lining up job interviews and booking apartment viewings – basically nailing life. We even had a functioning SIM card for our phones. What a success story we were. Our university’s alumni brochure would be offering us a double page spread in next years issue at this rate.
We found ourselves a really cool, artsy house share in the ‘hipster’ part of town. We shared with some chain-smoking French students and a British guy who was lovely but, worryingly, even more clueless than us. The place had a great atmosphere and we felt like we had landed on our feet, minus the temperamental shower.
It was day two in the apartment and our beaming, sunny positivity started to turn cloudy, nothing to do with the literal clouds than hovered in the hallways thanks to the French. We had both been sent through school contracts to sign and frankly the wages weren’t quite adding up for us. We calculated we’d have to teach a solid 40-hour week just to cover rent. Visions of sipping Chilean wine in sun drenched vineyards were fast slipping away.
Earlier that morning we had paid our German landlord the deposit, the first months rent he was expecting the following day. Then we’d be locked in and committed – a backpackers worst nightmare! This called for an emergency meeting, so we headed straight to our nearest bar.
The numbers didn’t look good, in fact, they looked near impossible. No matter how many times we tried working it out it was pretty grim.
Low salary + high expenses = zero travel.
I may have needed a maths tutor as a kid, but even I could work out we were screwed.
“But we’re in South America”, we said to each other.
This had been a dream of ours since we had started travelling together back in University. We were so close to too many incredible places.
“We have to pay our landlord another chunk of cash tomorrow morning”
I would like to start by saying on record, I know our moral slate isn’t completely clean on this occasion – but hear me out and judge me later. Sipping on a tequila beer, (a round of slammers was definitely more appropriate) we constructed a plan that Bond himself would be proud of. Actually, he’d probably cringe at our cowardly behaviour, but it’s the nearest we were ever getting to a 007-status. We returned to the apartment, riddled with our guilty, tequila-soaked mission.
4:30am and our alarm clocks rang.
I crept out of bed, standing on every creaky floorboard in my room, cracked open the door and saw my friend doing the same opposite. Thumbs up, mission away. I packed my remaining belongings into my bag and heaved the heavy-load onto my back. I waited in the living room anxiously for my friend to finish packing, paranoid one of the housemates would wake and discover their runaway roomies. My friend was ready and we made the descent down the painfully creaky staircase. Every ‘crack’, from every step sounded like a snapped branch from an old tree.
“Please don’t be heard”
The rickety front door in need of a healthy nudge was the final obstacle we overcame. We were out! Ten steps later and we lost all our 007-coolness. We were so paranoid our landlord was going to leap around the street corner, that we jumped in the first taxi we saw and sped off for Santiago Bus Station. Two fugitives on the run. Bonnie and Clyde meets nervous backpackers. We bought two one-way bus tickets to Puerto Montt, 8 hours south of Santiago. Sitting on the bus we sent some very grovely messages to our ex-housemates and Landlord before cutting our SIM cards in half. We’d both seen enough Prison Break to know that’s how the FBI catch all the criminals.
And just like that our teaching plan turned into 6 incredible weeks travelling Chile and Peru. Am I condoning running away from our Landlord and housing contract? Absolutely not. Are there mugshots of myself plastered over Chile’s Most Wanted list? Part of me secretly hopes so.