The 14 hour flight was as annoying as expected, but hey I’ve got nothing to moan about, I made it on time in more or less one piece. I was almost moved to (lack of sleep induced) tears when I stepped off the plane and clapped eyes on the Andes for the first time. I could’t actually take in the fact that I was 12,000 miles from home on a completely different continent with lots of possibility ahead.
Getting to my hotel in 30+ degree heat across town was an experience. The volume and intensity of the people on the streets was overwhelming, it reminded me of Bangkok in some ways… all kinds of crazy capers going on. A highlight being the incredible, and incredibly dangerous, grifts that the homeless get up to to scrape by. To most of us, a super busy crossroads with three lanes in each direction, lacking traffic lights cause they’ve been burned down looks like a disaster waiting to happen. Not to these guys, this apparently represents a money-making opportunity. I saw several donning grimy hi-viz vests and assuming the role of traffic conductor. Ducking in and out of lanes, halting 3 lanes to prioritise another direction, urging a lane behind them to take the left while there’s still time. With whistle in mouth, frantic hand gestures it was a real sight. Somehow amongst all that an empty coffee cup gets waved outside a car window and some oblige. Today I saw another variation, some bloke taking the opportunity of a queue of cars at a red light to leap in front of them and juggle (pretty well) three scrunched up balls of newspaper. Takings were less brisk, sadly.
There were times I felt completely out of place, a sunburnt faced (how did that happen so quickly!?) idiot abroad, the only gringo in a jammed metro carriage of Santiagans. Knowing full well that the amount of needless consumer crap I was carrying in my overfull bags was, appallingly, probably worth more than some of them earn in a year. Given all that, my self-inflicted gringo guilt and anxiety was needless. These people didn’t give a stuff about me they are just trying to go about their daily grind. They seemed less uppity and pissed off than your typical Jubilee line carriage to be honest.
Stepping out of my digs (lodge.combines.sprint) I managed to sink a few cold ones in the blazing heat. Chatting to a few locals and bar staff, I got the impression of a really friendly, accommodating bunch of people genuinely pleased to welcome people like me. As the night wore on and drinks went down they became even more so, they certainly know how to party too and without the beer monsters that we suffer from in the UK.
Most did however refer to the current political unrest. It’s hard to ignore. The city doesn’t look like it’s done a whole lot of cleaning up since the worst of the riots and there appears to be genuine anger across the board, not just from the balaclava’d yoots who take to the streets. It’s a familiar story – a ruling elite perceived to take all they can from their position, lining the pockets of the already-rich in the process, whilst the majority of the population get squeezed harder and harder. Those at the very bottom the most of course. Said yoots made an unexpected appearance once all the New Year frivolities had fizzled out, plastic hats and streamers making useful fuel for the burning rubbish barricades that sprung up and burned until morning.
Anyway, to end on a slightly lighter note, it’s a well established responsibility of every world traveler to find the most ridiculously named local supermarket foodstuffs for a laugh. My best effort to date is “Mono Balls” which reminded me of some great lines in the Royle Family (“Hitler was one wasn’t he..?”). And isn’t it a shame when great peoples names are taken in vain? Well, Bill Clinton I care less about, in fact I’m slightly curious what might go on in his “bar-restaurant-fuente de soda” (liquor in the front, poker in the rear?)…but Bob Marley should be left well alone, “stir it up”.. have some bloody respect!