Day 108 -113: 15.4. - 20.4.2009
Santiago de Chile

Building a bike box…

I still do not fully understand how the local bike shop gets the bikes delivered but the man was unmistakable in his statement. I wouldn’t get an empty bike carton from him. Maybe he just doesn’t sell any bikes at all and hence has never turned over his stock in the shop? Or maybe he is just fed up with touring cyclist coming to him and asking for empty bike boxes before their flights back home. What ever. He was unfriendly and I doo not expect him to be of any help. So, what do I do? Where do they sell big stuff? Maybe furniture or so. I walk into a furniture and electrical appliances shop. The lady I talk to is confused: “What do you need? An empty carton? No, we don’t have that.” Sure they have but this seems to be the classical first reaction to a question that is new to somebody. No, we don’t have that. I keep insisting and explain my situation to her and that I would even help them get rid of their rubbish. She listens, thinks about it and says she would have a look if they have something. Good. At least she tries. And she succeeds, well, kind of. What she brings back are two empty cartons of TV sets. Not small, not big enough for a bike but at least a lot of carton that I can use. That will have to do for now. I take the two cartons, buy one 100 meter roll of duck tape and go back to the hostel to start the job of building a bike carton. Said and done. Two hours later the bike is dissembled and packed into a self made carton with a few of the other things I need to get back home with me. I even used the time to change my brake pads, which broke just yesterday at the end of my National Park Mountain Bike ride (really a perfect timing, couldn’t have been better, I used exactly one set for the whole trip). OK, I needed to go back to the supermarket to buy a second roll of the duck tape which means that I have used exactly 200 meters of tape on my self-made bike box now but that is an acceptable one off consumption that I feel is acceptable. A special situation demands special measures. Everything is ready to go. Later at the airport it turns out that my baggage weight is 25 kg for the bike box and 14 kg for my other bags (my backpack as carry-on baggage not included). Which is exactly 16 kg over the limit of 23 kg and costs me 50 Euro extra to transport to Santiago. I wonder how much it will be from Santiago to Frankfurt (I paid 90 Euro extra when I came here), seems to be some kind of lottery, they apply different rules all the time although it is all one company (LAN Chile). I will find out soon.

Welcome to Santiago – in the dark

The street is pitch dark. The hostel is pitch dark. The taxi dropped me here at the entrance gate to the hostel and disappeared into the night (literally). There I am, with bike box, bags and backpack. And it takes a while until somebody in the hostel responds to my calls although I have a reservation and informed that I will be arriving late. The explanation is simple though. There is a planned power cut from midnight to 6 am in that part of Santiago where I am now. The hostel person greets me with a candle in her hand and leads me in the dim candle light all the way through the hostel to my room. There she leaves me with the candle, says she would pick it up again in fifteen minutes (in other words: get ready for bed now!) and disappears into the hostel darkness, using her mobile phone light to guide her way. Nice. People here seem to be used to such kind of things. Always expect the unexpected. Ok. As an obedient hostel guest I am ready for bed and hand the candle back to her 2 minutes before my 15 minutes turn is up. I wish good night and look forward to seeing her and the hostel in daylight the coming morning.

Morning exercise

I am not sure if this was one of my best ideas. After an hour of jogging in the early morning hours between 7 and 8 am I feel the smog has impacted on my lung quite a bit. Nothing serious, I wasn’t going fast anyway, just an easy morning run, but still I feel it. And I can see why from the rooftop terrace of the hostel. There is simply a thick layer of pollution that covers the city like a carpet. It is miles away from my worst experiences in Beijing but still it is not comforting while running. The hills that are spread across the city centre are hard to be seen from my observation point although they are only one or two kilometers away. What a pity. Otherwise the surroundings of Santiago make for a stunning view. The Andes are so high here (up to five thousand meters in the immediate surroundings of the city) that they rise out of the smog layer and can be seen like a soft, high rising silhouette on the horizon. Will go and explore these mountains for a day or so.

Vina del Mar and Valparaiso

Public transportation in Chile – as far as inter-city-travel is concerned – is all done by bus. There is no train system. I have travelled two times on such a bus now and I have to admit that it is quite convenient and well developed. The buses atre modern, prices are low, schedules are frequent and connections good. Today I am visiting Vina del Mar and Valparaiso, both located directly next to each other at the pacific coast and about 1,5 hours away from Santiago. The return ticket costs me eight Euro. Cheap I find. On the bus I enjoy the window view, read my book, listen to music and realize that the driver does really drive carefully and slowly, far from what I kind of expected (don’t know why). Soon I find the reason for this: There is an information screen in the bus that constantly shows the speed, the time and the name of the driver. This information screen does also officially motivate the travelers on the bus to notify to the bus operator if the driver exceeds the speed limit or does anything else that might have upset you. Now that is cool. I like that. Not that I would complain but I like their open commitment to doing their job well. Then there is always one person on the bus who is there to just check the tickets and see if things are all right. This guy actually does a “control-walk” through the bus every 3o minutes. Not offending people, just walking back and forth once to see if things are ok. I liked that bus experience.
Of the cities of Vina del Mar and Valparaiso I cannot tell much really other than that they have plastered a coastline that I am sure was once really beautiful with cement, high rise buildings, raods etc. This was worse than any coastal town in Southern Spain. Really bad. Not recommended. The few nice old houses on the hillside which provide a nice sea-view (you actually see big tankers more than anything else) and can be reached by using those old elevators that climb their way up the hillside cannot make up for that “demolition” that happened there. Pity.

Santiago – one of the world’s blockbuster cities?

“Bombay, Hongkong, Shanghai, Sydney, das waren alles Weltstädte. Aber Santiago ist einfach nur eine grosse Stadt.“ The Austrian guy I meet in the hostel is on a round the world ticket, 3 days in one city, then off to the next. He is absolutely right with his observation. Santiago is just not one of those blockbuster cities. It lacks way behind my most personal and most immediate comparison , Buenos Aires. The city here is just big, relatively dirty, doesn’t offer a lot of culture nor does it offer the flair of vastness and size that impresses so much in Buenos Aires. There is just not much to see here, to be very honest. Doesn’t matter though. I will take it easy. Meet the people from my journey (already did so last night for a nice dinner) and get out into the mountains for a day. And then it is already time to move on to Easter Island, where I am sure I will have more cultural impact on me.,

The cinema language test

I did this shortly before the end of my Spanish-learning-stay in Spain back then in 1997 to see how far I progressed with my Spanish understanding. I went to see a movie and checked how much I would understand. I did well back then. I did the same here two nights ago. Checked the movies that were on. Saw that one was marked with subtitles so chose the other one: “Forbidden games” with Justin Timberlake, Bruce Willis and Sharon Stone and after a true story. I understood it all, completely. Super. Unfortunately this was not because my Spanish is so good though but because this one was in English and with Spanish subtitles as well. They just didn’t announce it outside. What a pity. Well, I might try again before I leave.

Amateur philosophy on the topic of “relaxation”

I might state the obvious here but I go for it anyway. There are (at least) two natural enemies to being able to relax properly. The first one is not to have anything to relax from. A while ago a very good friend of mine shared this with me when we were in one of our philosophical hours over a couple of drinks. He has not been working for a while back then and I was telling him about a golfing day that I had recently and how relaxing I found it. Simply being out there in nature, in the sun, walking around, hitting a few golf balls now and then and enjoying a cold beer afterwards. I found that a really relaxing experience. His answer was simple: “I wouldn’t be able to enjoy that as much as you do because I have not much to relax from.” I think he was 100% right there. The appreciation of relaxation time comes with the size of the contrast it delivers to a stressful everyday life. The same probably applies to a good holiday or weekend retreat. Today I have experienced this by myself. I was trying to relax in a park in Vina del Mar and found that after a week or two of mainly doing nothing (with the biking being finished since a while now) I didn’t really have a need to relax because I wasn’t really stressed nor were my batteries empty anymore. The second natural enemy of relaxation is to have too much on your brain and front of mind without being able to let it rest for a while. You need to have your mind free to relax properly. That wasn’t the case for me either. With my trip here soon coming to an end and my thoughts currently being centered much around the first few weeks after my coming back home (the list of dates and to-dos is actually getting longer daily now, all nice stuff but needs to be organized as well) my mind wasn’t free at all. Then there were some other things that kept my mind busy and didn’t help with the “mind-free” state either. Bottom line, I simply couldn’t relax properly (due to the second natural enemy) and fortunately didn’t have a real need to do so either (due to the first natural enemy). I am not yet 100% sure what to conclude from this but I guess it is about time for me to get something done again. And I will take care of that.

My opinion of Santiago – revised

Well, to be fair, I have to revise my opinion of Santiago a little now. It is not a 180 degree turnaround but today I have seen things that made me appreciate the city much more than before. It seems I have been in the wrong corners of town so far. And I am sure I haven’t had the right entertaining company with me on my last city visit either. Actually, to be precise, on my first city tour the day before yesterday I had no company with me at all. Today Helen volunteered to help out to fill this gap. Helen is an artist-sign language interpreter-YMCA associate-interior designer-classic car freak-energy bundle from Melbourne and indeed very entertaining. I guess without a certain amount of energy she wouldn’t be able to do these five hundred thousand things all at the same time anyway. Our day looks like this: Metro to San Cristobal Mountain. Up to the Mountain top (OK, we took the cable car, just for touristic reasons of course) and see the virgin statue. It reminds people of the Christ statue in Rio, this one here was first though (1923 vs 1931). Scenic ride in the “teleferic” to the other end of the mountain. Walk around in Providencia, one of the better neighborhoods in town. Late lunch. Sculpture garden visit. Observation of an artist group (something like building people pyramids) in a public park. Visit to Plaza de Armas and the Cathedral. Part-time participation in mass (happened to be just that time). Purchase of a high quality movie (the lecturer). Movie night in hostel. I am sure the list I made is not 100%% complete because the day way so packed that I might have forgotten half of it again already. Anyway, what the day certainly did is that it left me with a different impression of the city. It is not such a bad city after all. There are much nicer areas than I expected. Santiago will not make it into my personal top five hit list of cities now but at least it left the bottom ranks. Feels like a fair judgment. The next and last experience to come on my trip will be Easter Island. My flight is tomorrow morning at eight.