Santiago, Chile - part one of two, wherein...

Trip Start Jan 26, 2007
Trip End Feb 06, 2008

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Monday, February 26, 2007

Part one of two, wherein Eric stays with family friends in the city and sees old friends from school.

I have to reach back over a week from the last entry. My last night in BsAs included sneaking into a club by pretending to be in Felix's language class (Felix is a friend of Rob from Southampton). There was a Mr. T. look-a-like and a male stripper and a fashion show with awkwardly confident looking late teenagers. The next day I headed off to Retiro station to catch a bus to Santiago. I successfully bartered a 20% discount and saved myself almost $10US. AWESOME, PARTY AT McDONALD's! just kidding, I bought some chocolate and a soda. I had a wonderful time in BsAs, and Carlos, Rob, and I have been keeping in touch with each other. I couldn't have asked for better travel companions at that time.

The 20hr bus trip to Santiago was mostly sleeping and watching The Last Samurai with no sound. The bus attendant also gives you a plastic cup of CRUSH orange soda every 2 hours or so, which is a huge bonus. Although the bus advertised dinner, breakfast, and lunch, we were served airplane food dinner and a cookie for breakfast. that was it. I bought some smarties-style candies in the bus station in Mendoza during our stopover.

Santiago - I arrived and checked into a beautiful hostel, a converted Spanish-style mansion with wide hallways and 15ft high cielings. It is called Casa Roja because everything is a shade of Red. Massive rooms house 4 bunk beds, unlike most hostels where tiny rooms sardine in 5 bunk beds. Stayed here for a night, to the west of the city center. Walked the city the next day and got in contact with Fernando Zegers, a colleague of my father's. Fernando, who is a Chilean Fertility specialist, and his wife Sharon, who is an American ex-banker and current full-time mother of 2yr old twins and a 6yr old daughter, live in an idyllic home to the northeast of Centro, in the Palo Alto-like town of Las Condes.

A quick description of Santiago - a sprawling city nestled in big mountains which can be seen, as if ghosts, through a thick smog which often blankets the valley. The public transportation system is great. The metro is world class. The buses are completely new, as they instituted a system about a week ago which is totally electronic (you must have a Tarjeta Bip to take a bus, no cash or coins accepted). The system is running into capacity problems as students and professionals return to work from their late-summer vacations, but other than that, it seems to work great. Time will tell.

I have been pampered for the last week. Fernando and Sharon have treated me extremely well, and their live-in staff are extremely kind, amazing chefs, and excellent nannies for the two twins (Tomas and Olivia) and their older sister (Emilia). The children are learning both English and Spanish, so I get to help them speak English and practice Spanish. Emilia speaks great English, is enrolling in an English-run school this year. She plays the violin. She is sick right now, but she is a bubbly little 6 year old when healthy.

Between peaceful stints of reading in the garden or relaxing in the house, I take the 406 bus into the city center for various things, such as visiting my residents who are at Stanford in Santiago about 30min away, or meeting up with my four friends who are cycling the length of South America. This paragraph has served as a precis for the remainder of this post.

I met up with Evan on Tuesday near a metro station which neighbors the Stanford in Santiago center. We ate bland sandwiches outside a German cafe and caught up. Evan was a resident of mine in Junipero Dorm back in 2004-05. Four other residents of mine are studying at Stanford in Santiago - Micah, Dominique, Hannah, and Chantel. I ran into all but Chantel during my quick visit, in which I was accosted by the receptionist, the program director, and a few other students. Apparently strangers aren't allowed in the sterile 2nd floor office-space, so I had to explain the situation using my most convincing Stanford-jargon.

After their classes ended, Micah and Evan and I ambled to an empanada cafe and drank some beerskies. It was delicious. They are traveling to a surf neighborhood this weekend, and there is a chance they will be in Pucon next weekend when I may also be there.

I returned to the Zegers household for more R&R. A day passed. I finally met up with the crazy bicyclists!!! Bull, Thea, and Ben met me at Manuel Montt Metro Station at 8:15pm. Ben has a scraggly beard and a wry smile, Bull has a nicely shaped Goatee and happy eyes, and Thea looks bright and smily. All in all, not much is different, except the three (plus Harris, who was playing some pickup ultimate frisbee) have traveled nearly 3000km by bicycle. Wow. In the "out of the ordinary" files, Ben also had a nasty viral or bacterial illness, Bull had a passionate hatred for pasta and bread, and Thea had some new bike accessories which didn't sit all that well with Bull and Harris. Her front bag carriage thing isn't parallel to the ground, which really pisses Bull off, and she has new green tape on her handlebars, which are already a bit unorthodox. As you might be able to tell, these folks know each other's bikes extremely well. To me, the bikes looked like, well, four gray bikes with some stuff on them. But, to a person who has become intimately familiar with the mechanical and aesthetic workings of the main method of transportation for yourself and three companions, these subtle differences can mean a whole lot of irritation or elation.

Anyway, team Crushing Power is in Santiago for some tuning of bikes and some planning for the next leg. We went to Mexican food on Thursday night, and then Bull and Thea and I drank some large-sized beers. We felt pretty awesome, which contrasted starkly with how Ben felt - like he had a gremlin in his stomach or worse. Harris came back with Julia (another Stanford-in-Santiago student friend of ours), and we apparently decided to make the 15min walk to some clubs where other students were partying. I unsuccessfully tried to haggle the doorman down for our cover charge but they took the last 100 pesos I had with me anyway. Inside was the standard club scene. Some loud music, some dancing, some Chileans. Bull and I decided to leave, and later returned to pick up Thea for the walk home.

I snagged my 406 bus to return to Cantagallo station up in Las Condes. Unfortunately, the 330am buses are apparently not the good ones, and the bus broke down about 30min from the station. I had to tough it out and walk the remaining distance, along with a drunk Chilean guy who had previously been passed out on the bus. We chatted (he talked in thickly accented Spanish, and I nodded and said yes a lot) about all sorts of things. From what I could discern, he was educating me in the intricacies of the drug trafficking trade in Chile. Something about how the marijuana and cocaine are extremely substandard because of something or other. That is about all I could pick up. Maybe it was because most of the good drugs pass through Chile, and the dregs that make it down to the Chileans are heavily diluted or something. Anyway, we also chatted about how I was a Gringo, and about how the world is so complicated, and about some other things. We arrived at the station, hugged, and went our separate ways. Nice to meet you, um, guy whose name I forgot.

On Friday, I returned to the bikers' hostel to hang out with them once more. Thea, Harris and I went to a Chinese restaurant nearby after hanging out and discussing epoxy and Bolivian bike routes and the paucity of English books in South America. Bull had walked at least 15 miles that day trying to find a Lonely Planet Bolivia guide. He also went to the Bolivian consulate, who was extremely excited about their trip and gave bull a poorly photocopied map of the entirety of bolivia as help. Great job, consulate. Bull also purchased an English nonfiction travel book about Chile. The two books cost him $100US. It was the supply and not the demand, I think.

After this came the weekend, which I will describe in part two of two, wherein Eric travels to the rich, California-like winemaking valley of Casablanca for two heavenly days.
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