Monday, January 16, 2006

Some Wrong Days in Chile

Across the border (where the horrible people took my beloved Peruvian stick) we entered SAN PEDRO DE ATACAMA. This oasis desert town I am told reminds others of Mexico and if so I have to take a trip there. Exceedingly laid back in the heat of the day with its mud-brick streets cafe's and picturesque square. At night nuts.

Coming across the border is a real shock. The people are outgoing and beautiful, service is at western standards and prices likewise. This little town in the middle of nowhere is frequented at this time of year by university students in vacation alongside the many backpackers who use it as a base point in northern Chile, so desert nights are wild.

As was befitting we spent the days lounging around avoiding the blistering heat. There is serious reason for a siesta here. In fact, except for one venture out of town to Death Valley and the Valley of the Moon, we did not leave the town during day light hours (the latter only an attempted visit as we had big issues with a tour operator – when we returned he was heavily herbally enhanced, so getting a large chunk of money back was not that difficult).

The nights were a different story all together. I am not going to go into any detail but let us just say on one night between the four of us and many Chileans we had interesting incidents involving pizco, naked parties round fires, random wandering into the Atacama (also lacking ropas), policia, running out of non-remembered houses lacking more ropas (no names are here mentioned), more policia and random awakenings with severe memory loss. For me amongst the most random moments was losing the others and knocking on a gate of a private house until they let Vroni and I in and encouraged us to shake the maracas as they played local music into the wee hours. A very strange night indeed.

All in all despite some dodgy looks and paranoid friends we had a great time in San Pedro. An enforced diversion from our original route due to a lack of buses to Argentina meant another lazy long day in the desert with lovely food and fun people - just what I needed.

As is Arnie´s way, he took a flight to Santiago whereas us mortals took a 22 hour semi-cama bus to Santiago. A very pleasant experience it has to be said. A couple of bottles of Vino Tinto, stunning arid scenery and some very pleasant company took us to the capital without a sweat. (one of the pictures above shows the coolest little girl in the world who kept us occupied for hours - damn cute).

While travelling around a continent or a country you hear so many positive/negative things about a place that you can easily rock into town significantly pre-biased . Santiago is not one of those big cities you here great things about. Seeing as fate took us there for a single night we decided to make the most of it. Hence the culmination of a very silly bet, moustaches to die for, tequila, university parties and getting rather lost. Incriminating pictures of the one and only tache I think any of us will wear are on Dave´s last comedy corner - be afraid, be very afraid. The image of Mik and Dave totally lost at 7am in the morning with no idea even of the hostel name and sporting facial hair that could get you beaten up in Blighty makes me chuckle somewhat more.

We set off for Mendoza, Argentina, the very next day. In a short space of time I gathered a generally positive impression of Santiago. Yes it is expensive, and perhaps the people are not quite as friendly as say in Colombia or Argentina, but it is refreshing to see people living in relative comfort in this continent after a month and a half hanging around the Altiplano. The climate is lovely, streets wide and generally attractive and the people outside the bus station friendly.

After a little panic of bus times and a big argument with a pedantic bus official over immigration papers (do not take no for an answer), we were off on an 8 hour or so bus journey up and over the mighty Andes to my final destination of this forage to South America. I have heard so many great things about Argentina on this trip and I fear 3 weeks is rather short-changing it, but I think a lot of people might hit me if I complain.

This short 8 hour journey I would recommend to anyone. Sweeping out of the big city, then slowly but surely winding up and up to a high Andean pass. The mountains and engineering are spectacular. Over the pass you follow a winding river and disused railway (a wonderful piece of English engineering I believe) with mulit-coloured hills and rock-faces, snow-capped mountains as a backdrop and increasingly open-plains as a foreground. Eventually you are greeted by an oasis in the arid high ground that reminded my greatly of Felix, Becky, Rob, Thilo and my Taklamakan adventure - never a comparison I thought likely entering Argentina. Then the plains get larger, the land more verdant and suddenly you break into wine country and Mendoza.

In the last couple of weeks we have bombed it a good couple of thousand kms and I have loved it. Not only have we seen wonderful sights and had a few interesting times (I do not know who is the bad influence), but what puts it right up there for me has been spending day after day on buses staring out at the world and letting my mind breath. Yes there has been some good conversation, reasonable chess and a couple of movies, but most of the time I have just been thinking. That is one luxury people can all to easily not find time to do at home but, for me at least, it is essential for leading the live I want to lead. Queue days spent on the golf-course or fishing, or maybe just maybe a bit more travelling in my life.... who knows. I increasingly conclude that yes it is important to make some plans in your life in order to make the most of the precious hours we have, but also not too take life too seriously. You never know where the next corner is going to take you and generally it is best not to fret about it too much.

On a rather superficial level look at us right now. Here I have a few stories to tell and even more memories to keep of Chile. At no point did I plan to travel half the length of this absurdly long country but on the whim of a bus company life pushed us in this direction and it has been great. Similarly, as those who know me well will understand, my current direction in life has been directed more by random circumstance then any plan.

I will stop rabbiting on now but just advise to any that have interest to read Stella Gibbons ´Cold Comfort Farm´- an absolute delight of a book that has been more than formative to the vague meandering direction of my thinking at present....
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