Sunday, January 28, 2007

Ice Cave Picture

Click to see -

Manifest - 1/28/07

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Back In the High Life Again

Los Angeles, Chile
Praise be to Samsonite! The bike was still where I left it, though - as expected - my sandals were moved to a new location. While on the topic of stink, I´m going to go ahead and reset the stench meter to low, as I got a new pair of boots while back in the US.

Sweet, succulent, Santiago. I ended up staying longer than I planned, as The Bear allowed me to sleep at his apartment and I met a bunch of his friends. A few days after I got there, a teacher from the US bound for some whale research project in southern Chile arrived from Chicago and joined the crew. In general, it was a lot of exploring the town, dancing, frisbee, and tipping it back. That´s not to say it wasn´t pricey. In addition to being the most Americanized and modern city I have seen on the trip, it was also the most expensive, with prices on par with - if not higher than - the US.

I finally wrested myself from the web of good times in Santiago and started to make my way south. That day I spent my first night sleeping in South America in a tent. It was only $2 for the site, but then again I would say that I got approximately $2 worth of sleep. It was a Saturday night, I got there late, and seemingly everyone at the campground was drunk. The security guard reeked of booze, and he did laps around me in the sand on his bicycle while I set up my tent (thank you, Neubz) in the dark while talking gibberish about a motorcycle he used to have. Somehow he never went down, but I´d be lying if I said I wasn´t hoping for it. But other people did. There was a large group of lively high schoolers about 150 feet away, and I unknowingly set up camp directly in the route between their camp and the water supply and bathrooms. A number of them tripped over the tarp cords as they stumbled towards the john using their cell phones as flashlights, even in spite of the heavy logs and a picnic table that I nearly herniated myself moving into a perimeter around the tent to keep them away.

From there I continued to head south through beautiful rolling green hills punctuated by valleys overflowing with picturesque vineyards and fields of olive trees. I wanted to get to Concepcion, and about five hours out I was befriended by a motorcycle gang that called themselves ¨The Falcons¨. They were headed in the same direction, so I joined their posse, and we motored along at high speeds towards the Pacific coast. Good people. They even gave me one of their Falcons bandannas.

In Concepcion, I was finally was able to find a new helmet. Since the visor broke off of mine in the gust of wind (taking the complicated plastic mounting hardware with it), I was unable to find a reasonable helmet in Argentina, and my Ebay efforts in the US came up short. While the Chinese helmets I found in recent days were by all means high on style and rich in interesting attempts at English in their accompanying literature, I had doubts as to their capability to protect my melon. But I struck gold in Concepcion. I like the helmet, though it would look more at home in the XGames or some extreme motocross competition. Oh, well. I´ve got no one to impress.

In all of Latin America, it is common knowledge to travellers like myself that you do not stay in motels. Hotels are fine, as are hostels, residenciales, pensiones, and the like. But motels, no. Motels are not so much places to sleep as they are places rented by the hour for young, unmarried couples that want old Westerns and eat sourdough bread...and do so discreetly. Never in our trip south did Neubz and I want so badly for cheap accomodation to stoop to such degenerate standards, and I think I can say that we prided ourselves on that.

Times change.

Over the past week, I have stayed at two such shady establishments - the Hotel Victoria and the Hotel Fish. ¨Wait a minute¨, you´re saying, ¨didn´t you just say that hotels were okay?¨ Yes, I did. Which was why I was more than confused by the menu posted on the wall at the Hotel Victoria that listed prophyactics for room delivery - right after the $1.50 cheese sandwich. And then there was the collage of penciled hearts with names in them all over the walls of my room at The Hotel Fish (Chico and Chica Crespa had marked their names three times). And the six foot by eight foot mirror next to the bed. That creeped me out pretty bad, so much so that I unfurled my sleeping pad and bag and slept on the floor.

I tried to protest to the management.
Me: ¨In my experience in South America, hotels are usually a place to sleep, whereas motels are a place where people go other things.¨
Chain-smoking lady with leathery skin: (smiling) ¨That´s right¨.
Me: ¨Well, I think this is more of a motel.¨
Chain-smoking lady with leathery skin: ¨It is.¨
Me: ¨But the sign out front says it´s a hotel¨.
Chain-smoking lady with leathery skin: (her eyes strangely closing half-way) ¨That´s right.¨
Me: ¨So in Chile you just don´t know.¨
(Phone rings. She answers. Nods head. ¨OK. So two cheese sandwiches and a Coke to room seven.¨)
Me: (In English) ¨Sweet.¨

At the second place (where I left from early this morning when my 12 hours were up), I was accosted in the parking structure by a maid whose teeth were on average each composed at least partly of gold.
Theresa: ¨You know, the Señora is very interested in your story.¨ (I had spent about two hours the night before talking to all the maids so as to minimize the amount of time spent in my room and all of them knew the motorcycle story. And they were constantly asking if someone was meeting me, offering me a second towel on several occasions ¨just in case¨.)
Me: ¨Oh?¨
Theresa: ¨Follow me. You need to see the Señora.¨

I followed, feeling as if I was to be introduced to a Head of State or a religious leader. The experience, as it were, wasn´t far off from the latter. We wound through a kitchen, a few dark halls, and finally emerged through a curtain into a sort of living room. There, seated in front of me, was the Señora - looking more like some sort of oracle than a human. She was seated in a medical device chair, the feet on her propped up, edemic, sausage-like legs adorned in bright yellow socks that splayed out in front of me. Her fingers were heavy with gawdy jewelry, her hair was done up high, and the room was flush with incense and very large photographs of her and her husband posing in front of famous buildings throughout South America.

We talked for a half-hour. She was one of the kindest people that I have ever met. Never in my wildest dreams would I have suspected this 82 year-old woman to be the proprietor of a place like that, but it just goes to show that you never know.

Today I stopped in the coastal town of Lota to go on a tour of a carbon mine, though the experience was sadly far less authentic than our adventure in Bolivia. I´m confident that the highlight for the Chileans in my group was watching the tall gringo bash his head on big, wooden beams throughout the dimly lit descent into the mine and hearing him curse in a language they didn´t understand.

From here I will be heading briefly east for a hike into the Parque Nacional de las Lajas before heading south for some longer treks into the parks in the south near Pucón with my newly acquired camping gear. All the pictures I have ever seen are unbelievable, and I am very excited. And rumor has it that legitimate hotels are no longer $60 and up like they were in Concepcion the further you head south, so hopefully my experience with Shady Alley is past me.
Stay classy,

- Tom

Quote: ¨I was born to love you. I was born to lick your face.¨

Manifest - 1/23/07