We are heading to the airport, with our 26 hours of travel ahead, Chile 2014 has come to a close. This will be the longest post of this blog, as I try to sum up the entire adventure. Once home, I will also go back over all the blog postings and add more details, taking advantage of the real keyboard and no longer typing with 2 fingers.
First, let me say, Chile is not a destination for everyone. For those of you that are impatient, or want to be served at every moment of your vacation, an all inclusive in a Mexican resort probably is more suited. Things take longer in Chile, from ordering food to shopping in a store. However, if your idea of a great vacation includes immersing yourself in another culture, meeting locals and seeing the hustle and bustle of everyday life in a perspective different than your accustomed too, then Chile is it.
Our trip was a motorcycle adventure, and with 5000 kilometers driven, it certainly was. We saw the diversity of the people and the landscape (and we didn't even touch the northern half of the country). In the central region of Santiago and Valparaiso, The culture is Latin American, metropolitan, and with a distinct European influence. In the south, still influenced by Europeans (Dutch, German, Etc), it has a very rural feel, even within the cities. We could have gone further South than we even did if time had permitted, and unfortunately missed out on the huge glaciers and Torres De Paine in the extreme south of Chile. Apparently one needs a week or more for this alone.
If one was to visit Chile and not have the convenience of a motorcycle, I think my young German friend has figured it out. Chile has an amazing bus system, often with double decker tour buses with fold flat, bed type seating upstairs. Julius often plans his bus rides to be at night, saving on a hotel and taking advantage of the beds on board. He then awakens to a new town and new sights to see. I would think that for the more typical vacationer a 14 day trip with perhaps 3 days in Santiago, another 1 or 2 in Valparaiso, 2 in Pucon, and a couple more across the border in San Carlos De Bariloche. With travel days in between, this would be a fantastic start. I would also recommend planning on Valparaiso for a Sunday, as most places still close on a Sunday in Chile, but ValPo can be fun to walk around a photograph the old architecture in its various conditions of repair or decay. The Chilean summer is opposite to ours, so January or February would be the nicest. I also feel that Chile is very family friendly, so if you have kids, it would be a great way to let them experience all the beauty the differences of our world provides.
As far as safety goes, at no time did I ever feel threatened or in any type of danger (although cab rides are similar to amusement park thrill rides). When it comes to safety, Chileans tend to be their own worst enemy, as multiple times they would try to protect us and warn us of pick pockets or other petty criminal threats. I think they are so worried of the impression it may leave on visitors that they exaggerate the dangers. A little Spanish would also help, as English is not prevalent, and it seems the Chileans appreciate an attempt at their language.
Although it wont break the bank, Chile isn't cheap. Most things are on par with north America, with the exception of transit being cheaper, and accommodation being a little pricey. (Although hostels are quite affordable). Oh, and if your moody without a good cup of coffee in the morning, bring a coffee press or something. Outside of Santiago, a good coffee is impossible to find.
in the areas of Chile we visited, it was very clean. Although there are much poorer areas, and driving by you can see garbage for those barrios, unlike Mexico, overall it is cleaner than many areas in North America. In Mexico, I often remember the smell of garbage. in Santiago, only once did i experience this, and when i finished walking around the corner i saw a garbage truck doing it's pickups.
We met many new friends along the way. 9 Chileans, 2 Brazilians, 2 Argentinians, 7 Brits, a Frenchman, German, Colombian and a Russian. Each one of them contributed to making this a fantastic ride. Xavier, our french friend, whose sense of humour had us laughing for hours. His story of all of his money blowing away in the wind as he crossed the border, or wedging his bike between 2 cars lane splitting. Xavier was fun, and someone I would love to see again. Although he is quite accident prone it seems, and discovering he works in airline maintenance is a little disconcerting. Julius, at 19 years old, backpacking alone in South America. Thank you for starting that conversation in the coffee shop, and not only becoming our friend, but also something of an inspiration. Paulo from the Chillan motorcycle shop, thank you for the gift of the wine and your company for the evening. Unfortunately we didn't see you on our way back through and never did pickup the wine, but we will visit again one day. My Colombian friend Mauricio, with his beautiful Russian girlfriend, it wasn't just because Kristina has the most beautiful eyes in the Southern Hemisphere that got us talking to you (although it did help). Thank you for translating on the boat to the caves, and with all your proud talk of Colombia, hopefully soon we will visit. My English friends, it was a blast having drinks with you. I wish our route and yours would have crossed once more, but Isle of Man for the race sounds like a future plan. I hope the rest of your adventure went well and without further incident. To all the others who showed us kindness and welcomed us as visitors in their country, Gracias y incantado. To all of my new friends, if you are ever in western Canada I would be honoured to show you the same hospitality.
The street dogs always seemed to be entertaining but I am a little torn when it comes to them. Although at one point they must have been abandoned, they are still accepted and treated as a part of the overall community. The dogs wander around, minding their own business, and usually look quite happy doing it. Nobody ever yells at them to get out of the way, and when eating in outdoor restaurant, often a dog will be laying down in there, waiting to clean the floor once you leave. In bad weather, they pick doorways to lay in and you just step around them, you don't force them to leave. All perfectly acceptable here.
in many ways, although considered third world, Chile is more advanced than us. In a few hotels, the door would open to your floor and all you would see is darkness. As you move to exit the elevator the motion sensor would see you and the lights would go on. once in your room, the room key slides into a slot near the door, and only after this will the lights in the room turn on. When exiting the room, you take your key with you, and all the lights go out. We ordered food once and received a little plastic box to bring to our table. once the food was ready, the box lit up and beeped. we then proceeded to the counter to pickup our order.
Not everything is advanced however. When in Puerto Rio Tranquillo, we found ourselves without hot water for our morning shower. Once they stoked the fire and got it going better, the hot water came back quickly. The paperwork for the motorcycles was also a little much. My guess is that some of this process is only recently being computerized, and in a few years the process will improve. Wireless internet also leaves a lot to be desired, but one cool thing is that many of the towns have free WiFi in their centre squares (Plaza De Armes) and other public parks. Even the smallest of towns always seems to have a beautiful Plaza de Armes and in Santiago, there is plentiful green space throughout the city.
I am leaving South America with an even more enhanced view of how I've been seeing life lately. In the typical North American way of life, we are a consumerist rat race. We go to work and we earn, then spend on things we don't really need. We buy houses too big for our needs, then fill the rooms with more stuff we don't require. When those rooms are full, we either renovate with an addition, or we get a mini storage locker. Julius, Mauricio and others we met along our way have what they need in a bag, their house is a tent or hostel. They go to work only to save the money to once again hit the road. They spend what they make on "life experiences", not more made in China disposable junk. Mauricio searched Tranquillo so he could save $5 more on his accommodation, and by doing so probably added an extra day to his voyage. It is my belief that we need to see more and do more, not own more.
Thanks to Chris and Al for joining me on this adventure. We certainly do have an abundance of memories, big and small. To many that we met, we will always be those crazy Canadians who rode Chile on a 150 cc motorcycle.
I hope my children read this and decide to spend at least a part of their younger years on the road. Seeing how others live and with the discovery of available WiFi being the biggest electronic treat one finds.
To all you you who have followed along, thank you. I hope you have enjoyed our little insight into Chile and decide to visit yourselves one day.