12 February, 2007

Illapel all alone. 14,779miles

We didn’t get the bus to the Atacama, it was too far, and we didn’t know exactly when the part might arrive. Instead we took a bus to La Serena for the weekend. The bus was extremely comfortable and very well organised. Just the one guy standing felt it was fine to stand with his bottom on my shoulder. He was only there for an hour or so though. The bus seems to be the preferred method of travel here. It was packed, the seats reclined and calf supports emerged for your legs to lie on. A man brought biscuits, and tea! A video was played, and the Andes rolled by on one side, with the Pacific on the other (after the man and his bottom got off!).

At La Serena we took a boat trip around some islands. We were privileged on the way to the island to be accompanied by some very playful dolphins. These bounced around and wrestled with each other. Naturally, the batteries on my camera decided that this was the perfect time to run out, and Lizzie had left hers in the hostel! Here's one of some alpaca or llamas just before the camera gave up. Sometimes it’s better to see than to be looking down a lens waiting for the illusive perfect shot. The islands were home to some northerly Humboldt penguins, sea lions and even a huge elephant seal. The elephant seal woke up, at the calling of the informative guide, roared back and even gave an encouraging wave of his giant flipper. Well, it looked encouraging to us - it could have meant something quite different to another elephant seal! It was a great day.

Later that day we went on an evening trip into the mountains to a space observatory, outside Vicuña. I had a top education here, from an excellent and very funny astronomer, about the Southern Cross, the southern constellations, and those which are visible from both hemispheres. One slightly worrying fact he gave us was that the moon would be 15 times farther away from us in only 1000 years! This will make a mess of the seasons, Earth’s axis, tides and everything! So if we don’t manage to break the planet ourselves before then . . . we’ll need some serious triple glazing to keep the centuries–long winters at bay!

It seems that Chilé is the very place to put up your telescope, if you have one. Special laws are being introduced to reduce light pollution and in the near future people will be fined or taxed heavily if their white lights point upwards at night. Light pollution has become so strong all over the northern hemisphere that most astronomy is now done using the Hubble Space Telescope, but here in the southern, Chilé competes with South Africa and Australia as the place to build the next generation of huge telescopes.

Between the two trips we made, the lady organising it for us took the time to phone us at the hostel to make sure we were having a good day! This, even though it was Sunday.

The bus trip back to Illapel went through some fantastic scenery which we'd come through on the bike before.There were no parts on our return to Illapel, but a warm welcome from the ladies at the hotel. When I phoned to check, the man I spoke to in the US told me the parts had been sent, but they’d no idea where they were since they went by Priority US Mail. “It’s only if you'd sent them by FedEx, that we’d have a number, and they’d probably have arrived the next day, but that’s far too expensive.”
“How much more expensive is it?” I asked, on a gentle simmer.
“Oh, for a box your size? I guess it’d be around 250bucks.”
I boiled over. Lizzie and I had just spent around 500 “bucks” hanging around Illapel, a lovely wee town - don’t get me wrong - but we’d far rather have spent our money doing what we wanted to do - getting to the Atacama!! It now looked very much as if we might spend another $500 waiting here, and then it would be too late to ride back to Buenos Aires, and Lizzie would need to buy a $200 flight back there from Santiago. No explanation could be given for why I had not been offered this FedEx option. I had used these very words during the original call; “is that the fastest way? I don’t live in Chilé, but am travelling.” The man I had spoken to responded in English. "Two nations divided by a common language", Churchill said.

I slowly took some time to get over the infuriating frustration of this and we re-organised, leaving the bike again after a couple more days of relaxation (watching films on the Cable telly!), and going down to Santiago to get Lizzie on a flight. More buses, but Santiago was quiet, peaceful and pretty for a city. We stayed at a purpose built hostel, clean and cheap, but not overly friendly, near the bus station. We walked to the park and had a look around the steam engine museum, outdoors and baking hot, no cameras!

In the evening we got talking to Vanessa, an effervescent Brazilian on her way home for Carnaval after studying in Australia. We agreed on much of what was wrong with the planet, laughed about Portuguese, English and accents, and exchanged e-mail addresses. I was tempted not to miss the “party of a lifetime”, especially as Vanessa was going to Salvador. This is where my pal from school lives. Vanessa, from Sao Paulo, and Susie my pal, agree that Salvador has the best Carnaval.

On further reflection and research however, I found that if I rode like the wind for eleven days and nothing happened either to me or the bike, I could maybe get to Salvador the day after Carnaval ended. Sadly, my days of wind riding are well in the past and are now restricted to dinghy sailing!

The bus home was interesting since of course, being alone on public transport, I had to sit next to the teenager with ADHD, big elbows and two cellphones. I am coming to accept that this will always happen to me and so then I find myself almost looking forward to seeing which minor torture will accompany me on the next bus trip! One has simply to laugh!

When I got back to Illapel, the part arrived alright, all the parts. Then I had to begin negotiations with the Post office. The taxes I owed couldn't be paid to them but only to the bank along the road that had closed for Friday half day and wouldn't be open again until Monday. Sometimes it gets like a really poor 'comedy' film, the faces I feel myself making! Eventually I managed to pay the PO 5000pesos extra (about 5GBP) so's they'd go to the bank for me on Monday. They gave me the parts. Then I had to go and find Willie. He did all he could before discovering it wasn't the regulator at all (oops - silly him!) it was the rotor which he could mend maybe the next day, because the place that mends them in only one hour is in Santiago and is closed on Saturdays anyway. Sometimes, for adults, a little red wine is the only medicine that prevents insanity. All these negotiations, in what was becoming my 'Spanuguese', made my head spin. Luckily the Chiléans have their own particular grape, Carmenére, which is extinct elsewhere in the world, for just the purpose of preserving adult sanity. It works well!

It was also lucky that I brought the special tool with me, for removing BMW rotors. Riding the bike back to the hotel from Willie's, I found that although the bike would run fine without the rotor or even the alternator, the lack of a rotor sealing against the front mainseal sent oil flying everywhere, but more particularly all over the front wheel, break, mudguard, tyre and road to be picked up on the back tyre. Luckily, it was dark so I'd no idea of any of this until I reached the lights of the hotel in a smoke screen of oil which was happily burning itself off onto the exhaust pipes. Nice puddle too!

Without Lizzie kindly insisting that it was her holiday and she'd be paying for any 'luxuries' (who was I to argue?), it was tempting to move to a cheaper place. But then that would have meant packing up all the stuff and pushing the bike, fully-laden to the cheaper hotel. I'd miss the cable and the breakfasts were so lovely and always on time. Birds, bushes and hands having that special relationship, I stayed put. Do almost anything to justify a bit more luxury time!

I walked round to Willie's in the morning. He couldn’t mend the rotor. I'd just have to take it to Santiago myself on the bus, (oh joy!) only all those buses for the next day were full so I´d have to wait until Monday. Illapel was completely closed on the Sunday and I had a real job of it finding anything to eat that day. Plenty of subQ would keep me going.

I am fine being on my own, really. I get to think more clearly for myself, whenever there isn't anyone else to suggest things I might quickly and erroneously agree with instead of taking the time to think them through properly. I get by pretty well in the main and I even think I manage fairly well to entertain others along the way sometimes. The worst bit for me now is just not being able to move. It's frustrating to have to stay in a hotel room, but not nearly as bad as being stuck in a tent.

I have to say, I'm not getting quite as good a feel for SA as I very quickly got for Africa. South America is more organised, more like Europe - dare I say more "sanitised"? Everything works here, all is to hand, or at least, it can be found and done. Less challenging? I am reliably informed that things will become much more 'interesting' when I eventually leave Chilé and head north.

This breakdown itself is just a minor blip, an occupational hazard when riding a bike as old and 'characterful' as mine. I do suffer from some superstitions, but they are normally of the positive or occasionally Murphy's kind. I wouldn't have this any other way. Nobody else from Europe was riding a road bike through Africa, and no-one had anything anywhere near as old. I suppose maybe I'm trying to see if it can do it. What a daftie - I'm not at all sure that it can!!


At 18/02/2007, 02:00, Blogger alf said...

TEST COMMENT: Lynne stays up late to read your blog y'know. She misses it when there's a gap.

At 18/02/2007, 02:02, Anonymous Anonymous said...

TEST COMMENT: Anonymous version... Other pals enjoy reading this too - as I have previously let you know.


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