Monday, April 28, 2008

Thoughts about Santiago...

So what do I think about Santiago so far? One of the dominant thoughts on my mind coming en route was that it was a big smoggy city – this is something that I read a few weeks back. We I’ve spent lots of time just chilling in the apartment, but I’ve also managed to get out and walk around. Unfortunately, I have to say that my “pre” impression has held up so far (there’s lots of smog here in Santiago), but it has also lived up to another description I heard was that it’s a city with aspirations of being more – and I think this city definitely has lots going for it.

Something that really caught me by surprise is the “metro” underground train network here in Santiago. It has quite a few different lines covering different parts of town and it’s really clean, not to mention that it’s easy to use. So far I have not used the buses yet, but that’s mostly because I don’t know the routes whereas there’s no doubt about the route of the trains. It’s also been strange being in a real city again. What I mean is that although I was in La Paz, Bolivia and Lima, Peru last year I spent most of my time since August in Cusco, which is a town of around a half million people (although that figure is disputed by some). So things that I was previously used to – like big supermarkets, shopping malls and McDonalds – now feel like a bit of a novelty.

A few days ago (I think it was Tuesday) I went into “downtown” Santiago and just walked around for a while in order to get acquainted with at least one part of town. I spent some time sitting on the Plaza de Armas (the main square) watching people getting on with their day. Some people were sitting there having some lunch, a few people were playing lunch at a informal chess club set up there, other were just passing through en route to some other place and there were a number of artists plying their trade (some great work on show there). There is also a book-fair on at the moment on one side of the plaza with all kinds of book on sale – they have computer magazines, comic books, bibles, encyclopaedias and a bunch of other things on show. Something else I noticed that day is that the residents of Santiago love to shop – I came across quite a few shopping malls and factory outlets on that first day of walking around.

Anyway, so that’s my first-ish (I know that’s not really a word) of Santiago. Stephen (the friend whose family I’m staying with) seems to think I may be here for a while and both he and his wife have told me to make myself at home with them. So who know where I’m going to be in a few weeks time – watch this space for more!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Road to Santiago... (part 2)

After a good night’s sleep and a decent breakfast at the hostel I left Arica with TurBus at about 09:31 on Saturday morning. On the one hand I wasn’t looking forward to the prospect of 28 hours on a bus, yet at the same time I was also looking forward to it as some kind of endurance challenge. There were a number of stops along the way where some people got on and others got off. We stopped in Iquique and Antofagasta among other places, with most of the journey taking place on roads with the ocean in sight on the one side and rolling sand-dunes and/or bare hills on the other side. One of the great things about this bus was that if you didn’t want to watch the film (or whatever else was being shown) you didn’t have to listen because there were earphones provided – this is not the norm on buses I had travelled on in Peru and Bolivia prior to this. Also the seats were quite comfortable and the food/snacks weren’t bad.

Once again I was grateful that I managed to get some sleep, although it usually happened in short shifts during the night and early on Sunday morning. After about 28 hours Santiago came into view and we pulled into the Alameda bus terminal around 45 minutes later at 14:15. The weather was hot – real hot, not just the temporary hot that would show up for a short spell n Cusco – and Paola arrived with her eldest daughter and her mom to fetch me at the terminal. So I survived this mammoth trip in one piece and although I wouldn’t necessarily want to do it again it was definitely a memorable experience that has left me dozing off at odd times during my first few days in Santiago. I’m sure there will be some more to be said on Santiago and other things I see and do, but I’ll leave that for another time…

The Road to Santiago... (part 1)

So how exactly did I get from Cusco in Peru to Santiago, Chile? I hopped on a bus on Thursday night in Cusco after saying goodbye to everyone that day and the night before. I knew that this was going to be the longest bus journey I’d ever bee on, but in a strange way I was looking forward to the adventure of it. So, as I was saying, I got on the bus on Thursday night and ended up in Arequipa early Friday morning. The journey was mostly uneventful; although I was pleasantly surprised that I was able to fall asleep for a few hours (I usually don’t sleep on buses and planes etc). There was a 90 minute stopover in Arequipa where I needed to change buses and then it was time to head for Tacna. This next part of the journey I saw the most desolate landscape I had ever seen firsthand in my life; as far as I could see there were only rocky hills, lots of sand and barely a shrub or bush. This soon was demoted to the second most desolate place I had ever seen because what I saw after I got into Chile made it feel as though I was on another lifeless planet.

I think I spent about 5 minutes in Tacna before hopping in a taxi with an irish couple I met as I got off the bus. From there it was a not-so-short ride to the border with Chile which took longer than expected to cross. I wasn’t looking forward to this part of the journey after having a not-so-great time at the Peru-Bolivia border back in November. Not too long after crossing the border I found myself in Arica where I was going to spend the night at a hostel suggested by a friend. My time in Arica was sort of uneventful – I met some interesting travellers (including someone I had met in Cusco a few months ago), went to the supermarket, bought my bus ticket to Santiago and relaxed for most of the evening.

Leaving Cusco...

So I’ve now left Cusco and but the days leading up to my departure didn’t go quite as expected. In my last few days there I came to realise how much I as actually going to miss the place that had been “home” for nearly 8 months as well as the people I got to know while I was there. Then there was also the 47 hours of buses, transfers and a border crossing (over 3 days in total) I was thinking about and was not looking forward to. All this combined with my thoughts on where I’ll be going from Chile left me feeling like I was having a bit of an out-of-body experience – my body was in Cusco but my mind was in about 4 other places at once.

I guess at some point there could be some more reflection on my time in Cusco, but for now I just know that the time I right to move on. I don’t have any regrets about staying in Peru as long as I did and in fact I’ll always have good memories of the place, the people, its history and everything else that goes on there. One other thing I can say is that I’ve come to realise that Cusco is a place where what is usually abnormal can be regarded as normal. For one thing most people do not fly half way around the world and decide to stay in a place where they don’t speak the language. Yet in Cusco, it’s not unusual at all to find numerous people from different parts of the world making Cusco home at least for a while.

That same factor can have its downsides though, because combined with the booming tourism industry the local culture can get somewhat lost in the mix of people coming to Cusco. That said though, I still think it’s a great place to visit and not a bad place to take time out for a while.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

New Chapters Ahead...

So the space I've been in a bit of a contemplative space lately and I think it has quite a bit to do with the fact that I’m moving on from Cusco this coming week. It’s been an interesting and challenging aspect of my life over the past two years has been starting over – whether in a new job or in a completely new environment. This is something I am going to face once again this coming week and if things work out as I hope they will (more news on that in a future blog entry) I will be doing it once again in the not too distant future.

For one thing I know that although some see my life over the past 2 years as possibly unstable and not going anywhere I’ve learnt quite a bit about myself on a number of levels. It’s challenging my faith and what I think I’m capable of by living this way, but the more I think about it the more I realise that this is one adventure I would not want to miss…

Although I'm definitely ready to leave Peru and specifically Cusco I don't regret spending the time that I've spent here. I've learnt quite a bit at work, not to mention picking up another language. Also, Cusco definitely corrected or at least expanded my perception of South America. While I always knew that this was a diverse continent I mostly thought of the jungle and the coastal areas. Living here in the Andes has given me more of an appreciation for South America's cultural diversity and it's challenging history. Anyway, that's all from my side for now...

¡Hasta luego!