From atop San Christobal hill, an initial gaze out over the sprawling metropolis of Santiago, bordered firmly by the Andes to the east and ocean to the west, reveals a city not unlike many the world over. Walking the streets however, dodging ballistic traffic and employing the senses necessary to navigate any major city, Santiago reveals its charm and consolidation within Latin American culture, despite obvious Europeanisation. The most immediate noticeable attribute to the traveller, its economic strength and resulting ability to bring the meagre daily budget of the grass roots traveller trembling to its knees.
To my surprise, street dogs, in their standard Latin American abundance, are here the tigers of Egyptian temples; Gods within their own right. Clean, seemingly well fed and healthy, they doze by day, accepted and perhaps embraced by locals, before roaming the urban night, rulers of the pavement. Being caught on the outskirts of town by the closing of the Metro, a two hour walk back to our downtown apartment in the early hours of the morning provided a peaceful insight into the grandeur of Santiagos wide open streets, modern architecture and proud sense of efficiency. Tigers hot on our heels, our long walk home revealed soft streetscapes, tentatively tended by the cities many sweepers and upmarket prostitutes. Even in these small hours of a Wednesday morning, pockets of Santiagos vibrant youth inhabit the many restaurants flooding onto the streets. Dirt bikes lining the kerbs, laughter, relaxed conversation and the clinking of glasses portray the sophistication of a cultured youth.
Perhaps my most memorable experience in Santiago is the Sunday evening collaboration of the cities alternative in joint creative expression. Following the afternoon flea market, Parque Forestal, on the steps of the impressive Palacio de Bella Artes, transpires into a mini carnival. Jugglers, fire twirlers, drummers, dancers and spectators all swarm in by the hundreds to contribute to an expressionistic, inspiring atmosphere. Here lies a true insight into the warmth of Chilean youth and full flavoured passion Just be sure to arrive before the staunch Carribinerro role through to break things up.
Placed at number 37 in the world development ratings and set to climb further, Chiles economic ambition is noticeable amongst the buzz of its capital. However, despite the front of European cars and modern apartment buildings, tell-tail signs of a segregated class structure seep from the masonry. With no unemployment benefit and little support, opportunistic thieves are common and park benches are well occupied by night. Chiles economic solidarity may be attributed to Reformist President Eduardo Freis Chileanisation in the mid sixties, in which of over 50% of Chiles copper mines were reclaimed from US companies and nationalised. Despite its steady progression and low geared determination however, I cant help but think that significant social reform may be in order before Chile joins the ranks of the first world, as the first Latin American country to do so. Although perhaps these are the wonton dreams of a socialist at heart. After-all, class segregation is no unicorn in the realm of first world nations.
As my time in Santiago draws to an end, my heart strings stretch to Chiles rural beauties. Glimpses of the Andes through smog glazed keyholes in the city have beckoned me from arrival. Compelled by the surprising friendliness of this huge capitals population, Im sure that our adventure into the slower pace of rural Chile will provide a wealth of warm experiences.
A life in Santiago is enjoyable but there is certainly a shared feeling of anticipation towards hitting the road and rolling on with our intentions.
I have been at Spanish school daily which has allowed the others to get busy on other things. On Friday, Mike and Nick headed off on Mikes bike to a coastal town, Valparaiso, an hour away.
They appeared at my Spanish school in the morning, dressed in their riding gear, to give me the key to the flat. ‘Hasta luego,’ I said in jealousy as they headed out.
Many hours later I was horizontal in the apartment and the buzzer woke me.
‘Valparaiso is nice, isnt it?,’ Nick said. I agreed as I remembered the variety of different colored houses that lined the hills that rise up from the Pacific. I soon discovered that these two chumps had spent the hole time trying to get out of Santiago!!
FAIL!! Instead of a return trip to the coast, they had circumnavigated the city, who knows how many times….. “but we thought … and then it went” they said. “FAIL, FAIL, FAIL” is what it sounded like to me.
Not only that but the backpack they were carrying which contained their wallets, passports and all the cameras managed to fall off the bike….. Somehow, and it beats me how, a strap caught somewhere on the bike and after some hooting and honking from surrounding vehicles it was found dragging along the road.
Hmmmmm…. The two guys I will inevitably be dependent on, drove three hours on Santiago’s roads and couldn’t find a major highway out, what hope have we got!!
That night we decided to hit the town as the thought was that it would be our last weekend in Santiago.
I think it was the tequila shot in the early hours of the morning that made things a tad confusing… One block from the club and we were separated. I couldn’t find them anywhere!! The eventual conclusion was that they abandoned me and left me with my new found friends. What i didn’t think about was that the only key to our apartment was in my pocket.
Hours passed as I resolved the worlds problems on a park bench in delightful company. It wasn’t till nearly daylight when, after wondering home, i realized that i had the only key to a safe sleep.
The boys were no where to be seen, so i climbed upstairs and went to bed. Meanwhile, Mike and Nick were around the corner, spooning in a park for warmth. They had played “scissor, paper, rock” to decide on who was big or small spoon. Mike won and chose to be little spoon.
As the sun rose, the boys came back to recheck the apartment, as a failed attempt at stealing Nick’s wallet had woken him. It was no surprise that there was an element of hostility when we finally reunited.
I knew the step from a 250 sports bike to a 650 dual sport would be a big jump to make. What I forgot to include in my mental preparation was allowing for Santiago cities traffic. Following a local motorcyclist who had Nick as his pillion, I set off on my first motorbike ride in three months. Within two minutes we were peeling down the 4 lane highway at 65 MPH darting between lanes just like everyone else on the road. Indicators are very much optional and not to be trusted I quickly discovered. The nervousness disappeared and the appeal of flying down the road on a motorcycle came flooding back into me. It suddenly clicked, why we were here and the mission we are about to start.
We sit in our flat in Santiago de Chile, maps sprawled across the wall, guidebooks, novels and notepads are lumped on the queen size bed in the corner. We are here because the two bikes packaged in a crate from Australia have had their arrival in South America delayed until the 18th of March. This has forced us to spend an additional two weeks hanging out in Santiago. Mike’s bike has been secured for pickup tomorrow. We pray for peace from the diesel gurgling, sound bombarding, dirty monster buses that pull up all times of the night two meters beneath our wide open windows.
We have successfully rented a flat and have a home to store and prep the bikes when they arrive (thanks Tomas and Soledad). Much thanks must also be given to Meredith from Canada who has been far more than just our language translator through these processes. Adam is at Spanish school while information and maps are being compiled by Mike and Nick for the initial ride south from Santiago.
- I arrived two weeks early to learn Spanish and organize bikes.
- I was initially scared to leave the taxi at the hostel….. Why?..I thought people had guns.
- Began Spanish school and befriended a student named Meredith from Canada, helped her look for an apartment and found one for ourselves.
- Nick and Mike arrived and a rotation system of two nights on the double bed and one on the floor was established in the appartment.
- We bought Mikes KLR form a fellow adventurer named Bevan.
- Bikes arrived in Valparaiso.
- After an hour or so of assembling the bikes, mine wouldn’t start.
- After two hours of pushing, pulling and dismantling, Nick noticed that i wasn’t switched onto the reserve tank!! (This mistake was not forgotten quickly)