Posts Tagged ‘Santiago’

Back in Chile

Posted: March 17, 2015 in Life, Travel
Tags: , , ,

The BobMobile lives.

It sat for 6 months in the parking lot, with the battery disconnected, having collected a thick sludgy layer of condensed Santiago Air Slime, into which the local kids had carved finger graffiti with increasingly-desperate pleas of “Lavame” (Wash me!). I wondered if it would start, but BobMobile roared to life on the first crank.

I am getting BobMobile ready for another legendary BobQuest journey. This time I will hit the southern half of Chile in the hopes that I reach as far south as roads go, on the “Ruta Fin del Mundo.”

It really is the best little piece of shite car I have owned. I might just drive her up through the entire continent and bring her “home” to the US once my dealings in Chile wind to a close. If that becomes home again. You see, I can’t fucking make up my mind.

It’s weird being back here after a 6 month absence spent back in the old republic. As FrenchBob said to me a couple weeks ago, we expats are, “Avoir le cul entre deux chaises,” which means, “To see ones ass perched between two chairs.” It’s an excellent saying for folks who just can’t figure out where they belong anymore. I feel perfectly at home here in Chile, and I don’t miss the US. Yet.

I don’t know if it’s a “tolerance battery” that wears down, or if it’s just itchy feet. A few months in a place and then you can’t wait to get back to wherever you were before. All the same, I like to rearrange my furniture in an equal timeframe. Are we just wired for a necessary change of scenery within and without?

This morning around 6am, there was a small shake that lasted about 30 seconds. I tried to look up the seismic record for it but could not find anything. It was weak but it did wake me up with the sounds of things shaking around.

Then, just now, shortly before midnight, things shook quite a bit, apparently from a 5.4 magnitude quake that hit near Valparaiso. Still nothing fell off the shelves and it was a more vertical bouncing, but I could hear it coming which was kind of creepy. As I type this I am still feeling little “waterbed” movements as things settle down.

Earthquake season is open in Chile!

Day 9:

I left Punta Del Este with a carload of crap, which certainly slowed the BobMobile’s acceleration and handling but did not cause it any undue harm. Literally floor to ceiling in back, and taking up a lot of the passenger seat as well. 6 boxes of books and clothes, my old drafting desk (sans top, which had to stay behind; I could have tied it to the roof but didn’t want a wing there with all the wind), power tools, the infamous Expat Usufruct Chair (TM), my clothes, camping gear, a couple boxes of Uruguayan alfajores, 6 bottles of wine, and a few other odds and ends. Most of the wine is the last remaining supply of a 50-liter batch of mead I brewed back in 2008, and I must say after aging 5 years it is truly excellent.

I digress, again.

I headed to BeelzeBob’s for a barbecue and to crash, for an early start. The Usual Suspects were there, along with some new blood, and we had a great time.

Day 10:

In the morning, I packed VikingBob into the passenger seat and headed to Montevideo where we had lunch with SwingdanceBob, then I dropped off all my human cargo and headed out into the Great Beyond. I’d say I left Montevideo around 3pm, and made it to Fray Bentos around 8pm.

Fray Bentos is the site of the Botnia pulp mill, which has been a source of Gran Lucha between Argentina and Uruguay. Mainly because Botnia explored Argentina first and the Kirchnerites wanted too much money and would have raped them out of their business, so they went to Uruguay instead. Then the hippies, funded by the Argentine thug government, protested for years, blockaded the international bridge, and essentially starved many of their own businesses out from lack of transiting tourists (it is/was the main road route between Uruguay and Buenos Aires).

Now it’s open again, and so I went that way.

The young douchebag on the Argentine incoming side did not like me from the get-go, and insisted that the reciprocity-fee sticker in my old passport was expired. “This is valid only for the life of the passport,” he told me.

“No, it is not. Otherwise it would say so. Instead, as you see here, it is valid until 2022. I have had no problems with this so far, entering Argentina twice within the past week, at Paso de Jama and Jose Falcon.”

Seeing I would not budge after we argued back and forth for 15 minutes, he took it in the back office, was told by his superiors that yeah, he was wrong, and then wordlessly did all the stuff he was supposed to do in the first place, taking his dear sweet time, and then not saying a word nor looking me in the eye as he handed me both passports and waved me on. He did not win his Vivo today. The Argies hate to lose.

The famous bridge at Fray Bentos. Sans hippies.

The famous bridge at Fray Bentos. Sans hippies.

Once I was driving through Entre Rios, the bugs were so thick and heavy that I had to stop every couple of hours to clean the windshield because I could not see anything. I managed to get through all the way to Rosario around midnight with no problems, and then came the toll bridge. I had been dreading this moment because during my routine bug-guts-scrapings, I had also been on the lookout for an ATM, which so far, to this point, I had not been able to find. And so I had no Argentine Pesos.

I told the bridge-tender as much, and offered any mix of Uruguayan, Chilean, Paraguayan, US, Canadian, Brazilian, whatever would work. She kept saying no. No credit/debit cards either. She would not accept my offer to wash dishes, either. Eventually she called her boss, and he told her to just wave me through. Much to the thanks of the honking line of drivers behind me.

Finally, AFTER the bridge, in the town of Funes, a suburb of Rosario, I found an ATM and made good use of it. Filling up fuel, I the girl at the station asked me if I speak English. I must still set off GringoDar with my cargo shorts and hiking boots with black socks. And t-shirts with English stuff on them. “Yeah, I speak English.”

She chatted me up for a while as she filled the tank, explaining that she had lived in the ‘States for a few years, and then come back to Argentina. “It’s getting tough for us here. We make the same, but everything else keeps going up. Clothes, food, even shoes are getting hard to afford.” We went back and forth about the Argentine industries, since a lot of that stuff is still made in Argentina, or at least was, and she explained that production from all those Argentine businesses is rolling down and even those local goods are getting expensive. The people still want stuff made in the USA but they can no longer afford it and lots of it has been banned from import. Sad.

I wished her suerte and moved on, determined to close the distance to Santiago to under 1000km. I finally got to about 945 and ran out of steam somewhere a couple hundred km from Cordoba. Slept at an YPF station, uncomfortably, since the seats no longer recline with all the crap in the car. So I did a sort of yoga over the dashboard to stretch my legs out. I had looked for camping spots but found none on the GPS, and neither my Uruguayan nor Chilean sim card would work with the internet here.

Day 11:

That lasted for maybe 4 hours until my body couldn’t take it anymore, and I got headed out again around 8. I tried to fuel up at the same station but they had no gas. From here on in, it seemed that all the stations were out of 1 or more varieties of fuel. Usually it was the cheapest form of gasoline; not sure if that is because they want the markup on the premium gas, or everyone just flies through the cheap gas because that’s all they can afford. Diesel was always in stock. And, interestingly, there were GNC (natural gas) filling stations everywhere for cars that had been converted to run on it.

There was a campground/rest area maybe 30 minutes up the road from where I slept in the damned parking lot. BobLuck again.

Around lunchtime, late lunch perhaps, I decided to pull into the little town of LaPaz to refuel the car and my belly. Next to the gas station is the bus station, in which is a little comedor which advertised empanadas. So, I went in. They sold them by the dozen, but they were only AR$35 (about US$5, or US$3 on the black market) so I told them to give me a dozen, half ham-and-cheese, and half carne.

So I waited around for 15 minutes, which was fine because it allowed the blood to flow back into my ass, which is, interestingly, the same amount of time it takes to fill a short order in a roadside Argentine comedor, handed them my order ticket, took the bag, thanked them, and left. The bag was heavy, and I wondered if I would be able to eat a dozen empanadas before I got to the border crossing, but eh, whatever, they were cheap…

So about 30 minutes down the road I decide to open the bag and eat, and inside I find no empanadas; in their place are 5 enormous lomito sandwiches. WTF? Well, I am not going to turn around and go back for $3 worth of incorrect order in my favor, so I ate one and kept on trucking. In my mind, though, is “How do you botch an order like that when I am the only guy in there?” It’s not like there is some guy in LaPaz wondering why he has a bag of a dozen empanadas. Bienvenido a SudAmerica.

So at every place I stopped for gas, I tried to unload the sandwich surplus, and had no takers.

I got to Mendoza in the late afternoon. It had been quite a few years since I was here last, and I had forgotten how beautiful the whole area is. Seemingly endless high plains stretching out to the horizon, where they meet mountain ridges and then the snow-capped Andes beyond. Everything green and sunny and thriving. Life. Industry. Wal-mart. Ahhhh, civilization!

Beautiful Mendoza

Beautiful Mendoza

Past Mendoza and up into the mountains, past beautiful lakes and epic rocky peaks. The road was a pleasure to drive, despite its uphill grind at slower speeds. There wasn’t much traffic to pass, which was nice, and for the most part I had the whole road to myself. I like driving through tunnels. It must be a man thing. There were lots of tunnels, and it was cool. I reached the Chilean border checkpoint shortly before sunset. Sum total I was stopped twice at Argentine police checkpoints, but all they did was look at my drivers license and wave me on.

_DSCN0143

Up around 3500 meters, near the border, I started to feel the altitude headache creeping in, but I knew it wouldn’t last. However, at that altitude, you get loopy while waiting around at the bureaucrat lines in the border station. I suppose being sort of high on lack of oxygen makes it more tolerable.

_DSCN0146

The Argentine aduanas were boggled because the doofus at Fray Bentos failed to give me a piece of paper with a stamp in it, and that took them like an hour to muddle through. Also the Chilean folks were baffled by why I would have so many entries and exits in just 2 weeks. Seriously, the pile of stamped papers was ridiculous at this point, the Argentine temporary car import paper literally had no more room for stamps on it. They thought something was up, and my car got extra examination by the dog team. They didn’t open anything but my toolbox, though, which I had bought just last week, to hold all the Free-Floating Trunk Crap (TM), which the dog was fascinated by for some reason. I would have thought it would be obsessed by the alfajores or the 50 metric tons of lomito sandwiches in the front seat, but no. It was well-trained.

The time was made more pleasant, however, by the customs girl who kept asking me absurd humorous questions like, “Are you sure you don’t have a turtle in there?”

I’ve got a turtle in my pocket, baby…

And so the check was completed, I put all my shite back together, organized my mountain of papers, which will just go to the compost heap anyways, and rolled out. They didn’t make me get rid of the fucking lomito sandwiches and wouldn’t take them when I offered.

Bienvenidos a Chile!

Bienvenido a Chile!

Rolling down the pass into Chile, the crew is still working on fixing the road, and it is still closed down to one lane in places. Crazy switchbacks and no guard rails. Nice shiny new concrete, which has got to be a bitch to drive on when it’s wet. Good thing it is dry.

Between here and Santiago is only 100km or so, amazingly close.

I got home around 9:30pm, unpacked the BobMobile in its entirety, and took it back to its parking spot for a nice long rest. I cannot tolerate loose ends and so despite being at the point of complete physical and mental exhaustion, I had to finish unpacking or I could not live with myself. Capitalism!!!

Walking home, it felt nice to move my legs again. All done by 10pm. Climbed in the tub to pressure-wash the patina of road scum off of myself and then hit the sack.

I’ll have the totals up in my next post hopefully, after I go back to the car and gather all the receipts from this run.

My fridge is full of goddamn lomito sandwiches.

I left Santiago this morning, getting on the road around 8am. Hopped up on Modafinil, I drove for 12 hours until I couldn’t take it anymore. I hadn’t eaten anything except for a couple of empanadas I bought just outside Santiago.

I forgot to bring my fleece sweater and my thermal underwear, but it seems I will not need them as I sit here at night in San Pedro de Atacama writing this, in shorts and a t-shirt. I also forgot to get cash for the tolls along the way. Lots of cash. You’ll see the total for tolls to the Atacama coming in the next post.

I ran out of Chilean pesos just a few booths into my trip, and I searched in vain for a cash machine at any and all of the roadside gas stations. It seems there are no ATM machines anywhere north of Santiago, at least when you are scraping for toll money. Having no pesos, I had to pay the booth guy in US dollars, at a usurious rate of 420:1 (official is 550:1) but what can you do when you are out of money and they don’t take credit cards? Thieves.

And right after that, guess, what? I found my ATM. Fuckers.

I had planned to stop in La Serena and get myself a good hearty lunch, but I got there in 5 hours and was making good time, so I figured what the heck, keep driving. Something will turn up, right?

Wrong.

The road between La Serena and Copiapo was like a race to see how fast you can get stuck behind the next slow, lumbering truck grinding up the mountain at 40kph. Hours and hours of this. It started to take patience I did not think I had, but I made it through. The landscape past La Serena becomes alien. Seriously, you are running through rocky wasteland that looks like where they filmed Alien and Prometheus.

The sun was getting low in the sky, and I decided to pull in to the beach just north of Caldera. I saw a camping sign and it was time. In Chile, you can camp on the beach and nobody bothers you. What a concept! I set up my tent and slept like a log. All I had to eat all day were those empanadas.

DCIM102GOPRO

 

I just finished my Atheist Xmas shopping, as far as I am willing to let it go, buying Chilean Huaso hats for my nephews. Crazy Uncle ExpatBob has to start the bribes when they are young. As the renovations on the Secret Chilean Volcano Lair are finally complete, and since there is no longer a 15mm daily accumulation of dust (due to the complete and unexplainable absence of wet-saws for tile in the Southern Hemisphere), I can deliver said nice things to the lair for storage until they need to be deployed.

On the way back to the BobMobile’s parking space, I came to an intersection where I must make a left turn. A taxi was coming from the right, and he had the right of way, so I let him through and pulled up to the intersection. Then, someone’s stray dog, dragging its leash on the ground, ran straight into the intersection and dawdled around like a complete idiot. Both myself and the taxi driver started honking to try and scare it out of the road.

Then, this lady comes into the crosswalk from my left side. “Can you pull forward so I can pass?” she asks me.

Now there is no reason why this lady could not have simply walked around my car. It’s a shitty little Suzuki, which is probably shorter front to back than I am tall. So maximum course deviation for this pedestrian is perhaps a single meter. I can’t pull forward. I can’t back up. I can’t remember how to ask, “Are you fucking kidding me?” in Spanish, so instead I point at the retarded dog doing donuts in the intersection, towards which both myself and the taxi driver are directing a considerable racket.

“Seriously? Are you not seeing this?” I ask her.

RetardLady then starts in on me why I should “Respetar los peatones,” and other such nonsense, while she stands IN THE ROAD, BLOCKING TRAFFIC, next to my car. She herself could have been run over. The time she spent, flapping her gums, could have had her across the street and well on her way, but instead she just stood there waiting for me to cross. Instead of paying attention to what she was saying, I fantasized about running over the dog, and then backing over RetardLady. Repeatedly. Spin the tires for good measure, and peel out in a steaming trail of her guts. Feel that wet thud through the chassis as the tires fling RetardDog into the wheel well and whip his flailing corpse into the air, like a pitching machine. Ohhh, yes…

Finally the dog decided to exit the Darwin zone, the taxi passed, and I had the space to turn left. So I did, abandoning RetardLady mid-sentence.

In my rearview, I saw the dog following her down the sidewalk, sticking to her heels as if it was hers.

AAAAAARGH!

 

 

And not just the election rhetoric!

Trash collectors in Chile have been on strike. It started in Valparaiso and spread to Santiago. Over the past week the trash has been piling up and getting out of hand. Ever street corner has a mini mountain like this one.

Smells just as bad as it looks.

Smells just as bad as it looks.

The same crap happens in Uruguay every year around Christmastime and the opening of high season, as the trash men there try to make it as inconvenient as they possibly can in the hopes they get a pay raise. Here, the strike comes right before the presidential elections, either in the hope that the current president gives them a generous parting gift of higher wages (not likely) or, more likely, it is all an orchestrated event banking that Michelle Bachelet, the new more left-leaning president they hope to elect, uses it as an opportunity to give lip service not only to the socialist cause but also uses it to look magnanimous and problem-solver-esque. Because she dropped the ball on all the other initiatives she did in her last term, like FUBAR’ing public transportation and FUBAR’ing the post-quake reconstruction.

ExpatBob’s infinite wisdom is as follows (and this worked in Curitiba, Brazil, by the way): Fire all the garbage collectors and post a reward per bag of trash brought to the dump. Every square inch of Santiago will be spotless within a few days, will remain so for the forseeable future, and there will never be garbage strikes ever again.

 

The other night was a late one and I was craving some greasy spoon. As I had not yet experienced the new Denny’s in Santiago, I drove by around 2am to get my Lumberjack Slam. Closed. On a Saturday night. With ads all over the place about it being open 24 hours. Open 24 hours, except when it makes the most sense.

No bacon for you!

Fuck you, Denny’s.