Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Just hanging out in the big city...

Hanging out in the city today, trying to learn a few things. Like how to get local money and how to feed myself.

Here's something I should have probably thought about sooner. Seems like ATMs are the best way to get cash while traveling. I don't use mine for that at home. So when I went to put my card into the machine today, I realized that I had no idea what the PIN number was. Crap. I used to have it written in secret code somewhere in my wallet or... Heck. I dug through a few scaps I carry, hoping I hadn't left whatever it was at home when I trying to pack light. Three tries at the machine, trying to match something to the code, then finally hit it.

Bang! I was a thousandaire! Yes, for just $150, I was the proud owner of something like 80,000 Chilean Pesos. Worth about $150.

My next trick was to buy food. Juggling numbers, stange bills, and leaden Spanish, I managed to get some food, too. Cool. Maybe I can survive in this country.

I also put my bike together. All is good. Took a ride around town this evening and up the steep Cerro San Cristobal, which is one of several huge hills rising from the otherwise flat plain stretching between the Andes and the costal range. San Cristobal's slopes are a wooded park with a winding road going up it. Lots of overlooks and picnic areas. Some food stalls at the top at the base of a giant statue of a saint. I got to the top after watching the sun set on the way up. Lights of the huge city starting to glow below. Lots of other riders up there. Seems like the place to go on a bike at the end of the day.

I got in a pack of other riders heading down into the darkening city and onto the busy city streets. Apparently you keep to the left side of the one-way streets here. Makes sense, in that the right side is always thick with buses, and drivers can see you better when you're out the driver's side window. In any case, it felt weird, but worked. Though I will balk when I have to do it without my outriders.

Earlier in the day I had fun walking around town looking at everything and at people. While most folks have dark hair, there's lots of variety. Lots of couples sitting on the plentiful benches in the parks and kissing passionately. Cool. Busy and bustling, and drivers watch for people. Crosswalks have lights, though the locals jaywalk. I use a technique I've used elsewhere: I stand by an old woman or feeble man, and only go if they go.

Local crafts booths feature everything from lapis lazuli jewelry, alpaca wool hats, copper plates, and lots of leather, from native-style tooled wrist bands to totally punk rock boots. (Is that odd, or is it just me?)

Weather is warm enough for shorts, though most people are city-dressed in long pants. Men wear dress pants and shirts with ties for business, and jeans and t-shirts or soccer shirts for casual. Women specialize in wearing clothes that are tight, and most of them look good in clothes that are tight. Don't think I haven't noticed, and they don't seem to mind.

I had a slow start today per travel recovery. Didn't get very far through my list. Tomorrow I hope to get finished up and get a ticket south for the next day. I also have to figure out how to get a few pics in here if it's possible.


Monday, February 2, 2009

On the ground in Chile


Thanks for checking up on my trip! I had a couple days of travel and a bit of frustration getting here, but here I am, snug in a nice hostel in Santiago.

The challenging part of the trip was last night. Denver to Houston. Then into Panama City, Panama and ran into a couple hassles. My luggage wasn't checked through to Santiago, since my layover was too long, at 16+ hours. So I had to get it, which meant that I had to go through immigration and customs, which I had not prepared for, since I didn't think I had to. Some paperwork backtracking and much waiting in lines, and I was on the curb with more luggage than I could carry, at night, in a new city.

Luckily, they had luggage storage, so I dumped the burden of bicycle box and big gear bag. The unsecure airport area was nearly uninhabitable, so sleeping there was undesirable. Close hotels were very expensive. Cheap hotels seemed to cost two $28 taxi trips, which made them fairly expensive, too. Managed to hook up with a cheapish hotel that was running a shuttle service. Only required waiting in the airport for a couple hours while the other guests arrived. Made it to bed about 6 hours after landing.

Getting back to the airport in the morning only cost 50 cents, since I took the colorful local bus, crammed shoulder to shoulder with the locals, watching the street scene out the windows. Now that's traveling! But... I went by my stop, belatedly realized it and got dumped out on the road not too much further.

I was at the airport slightly in advance of the (conservatively) recommended 2 hours. Then played an interesting game of Oops! Wrong Line! Different carrier than my ticket said. Different line for big baggage, but first pay $19 to shrink wrap your box. With the time I spent in each line before finding out, time almost ran out. Made it at the Final Call, and apparently, the luggage made it, too.

The bike box wouldn't fit in the taxi in Santiago. The drivers called another car which had a luggage bars on top. Driver drove slow on the tollway and it made it.

Checked into the nice Hostal Forestal. Single room for a couple nights while I rest and figure out the next step. Which, I hope, is to take a bus about 1000 km south to Puerto Montt, where I expect to begin to ride.

Santiago: The sun was just setting as we landed. Lovely golden glow of haze sillouetting the costal range, lighting the tidy irregular patchwork of fields and hedgerows. Hawks were hunting on the edges of the taxiway. From the airport windows I could see the mighty Andes. Very huge and impressive looking, with snow patches on top. Was getting dark as we entered the city center. Some well-lit parks. Colonial architecure. I'll know more tomorrow.

My Spanish is already about twice as good as it was before I left. Those high school classes are finally paying off. Um, and my daring pantomime skills.

Check back soon!