Welcome to South America: Santiago and Valaparsio, Chile

Part 1 of 7

29th September 2000 : The Journey Begins

Departure ~ Airport Drama

On arrival at the airport checking in I had a pretty major shock, which could have meant me being at home and not here ! This trip is to South America, not America as we all well know. But on checking in I had the customary bag questions then whilst looking at my passport, out of the blue came "Where is your USA visa?".

Naturally, I didn't have one, 'cos I was only going to be in the airport for 4 hours ! But no, because my trip is for 120 days I needed a visa, if it was for 90 days or less I'd be okay with a visa waiver. I was told that on arrival in Dallas I'd be put on the next flight to the UK ie deported !!!

Anyway 15-20 mins later and several supervisors being called I was told that I could go, but I could not go into the departure lounge, I had to stay in the transit lounge in Dallas ... phew !! There was something about an agreement with Chile that got me off. Thanks go out to Steve Mills for the suggestion of going to Chile on a rain affect days cricket in Ilkeston !!

A quick word about Dallas transit lounge : worse then Medan (a back water airport in Indonesia); worse then any werderber (WDB - Banks' ) pub; even Mulberry Street, Hudds Poly student accommodation (post party) was nicer!

I wasn't totally convinced that all would be okay until I got out of the States ......

Anyway after D-Day in Dallas I then had one of the most amazing flights ever. Mr Pilot couldn't praise Santiago more if he tried over the tannoy during the take off. We even had a celebrity on board .... a former Bond stunt man ..... one of the Stewards !!!

Santiago, Chile.

Even after a 30 hours travelling time and very little sleep I couldn't resist a wander. So a quick shower and a flask of coffee later I hit the streets .... and found a ....

Drug pushing French bloke !

Luckily I met this drug pushing French bloke (Jerome) as I stepped out of the hotel .... he worked for a French drugs manufacturing company equivalent to Glaxo.

He spoke Spanish .... a bit of a result really, 'cos it meant that I could get food 'n' drink ! Pointing at what you want doesn't work at all, you just get a load of "qu jgfjgfirmw" - well that's what it sounded like !!

During our day of ambling we saw loads and loads of FBI looking agents ..... seriously every street corner was littered with 5 or 6 blokes in black suits with earpieces ... it was The "Military Day" Parade and there was to be a procession of the Military in front of the President.

All I could think of was "Day of the Jacqual" especially when we walked passed an old, limping bloke medalled up to the eyeballs !!

We got bored quite quickly waiting for El President so we got an ice cream and buggered off (wearing the orange shades .... cheers Gary) .... lots of suspicious looks from the FBI agents !!

Sleep sleep and then hunger.

Self explanatory really, apart from the quality of the scoff. Jerome took control ..... picture the scene : French bloke, originally from Provence, now living in a luxury apartment in Kuala Lumpa, maids to cook, clean etc for him, on holiday with 'oodles' of cash :

We ate Argie beef in a top restaurant (Chilean cabaret and band), a 5 course fish lunch, and a full on slap up Mexican feast. All with the obligatory bottles of Chilean Chardonnays & Merlots !!!

Between meals we took in a winery tour to a place called Pirque ..... I was well hammered.

The winery is apparently quite famous "Viña Concha y Toro" www.conchaytoro.com if you're interested.

Bus Breakdowns

I encountered my first bus breakdown on my first bus journey .. on the way back from the port town of Valparaiso.

The bus driver was actually taking his driving test ... he had the instructor sat next to him telling him when to indicate, pull in / out etc.

Within 10 mins of the breakdown we had a Chilean 'AA' man on the scene shacking his head; then a copper who waved down 3 other buses for us to pile into - leaving the driver to re-take his test !!

Temperature - Chilly in Chile !

Whilst in Valparaiso I sussed out why it was chilly in Chile. Santiago is 540m above sea level and is surrounded by snow-covered mountains ..... in the port it was well hot.

Tot front

First impressions of the women here was stunning faces.. Jerome & me did spend plentiful hours watching stunner after stunner walk towards us.. naturally we'd turn round to perv !!

It's getting better by the day .... Thursday 21st was the first day of spring / last day of winter and and the skimpy summer clothes are coming out !!

Cultural Festival of Santiago 2000

On Sunday there was a massive festival in one of the parks. Thousands of people ambling around the streets. There was loads going on, it was a celebration of Santiago / Chile what it's achieved, aiming to do etc .... sort of like the Millennium Dome but good !

There were bands (apparently top Chilean one .... bear in mind that Hit's of the 80's is number 2 in the charts !!), comedy acts (well the locals were all laughing), juggling performances, and chalk paintings on the roads etc.

Singing Monks

Yes there were singing monks and vicars marching the streets, followed by loads of hankie waving bods. They made their way to a massive church (Cathedral I suppose) in the city square, where there was a queue of people waiting to go to confession in the bandstand !

About 15 priests each in a little makeshift confession box and a chair for the confessioner. I nearly pissed myself laughing - apologies for any religious upset I may have caused.

Trying to Get Myself Arrested.

At the festival a mounted copper came up to me, gave me some verbal, grabbed my beer out of my hand and poured it away and trotted off !!

Everyone else was drinking in the streets and they were high on dope and pisco (local brandy), so why pick on me .... maybe it was the orange shades !!!

The festival was supposed to finish at 6pm, but everyone carried on partying ..... drums, bell-things, salsa/samba dancing and singing .... sounded a bit like "Pinochet must die"

Anyway this went on for 3 hours or so. I was getting well into it .... watching not singing !

But then .....

Walkers Crisps 'n' Forest Field Scuffle vs Mankie Sandwich 'n' Santiago Riots

Tim, I afraid the little scuffle you witness in FF pales into insignificance compared to this.

I'd just got myself a sandwich and was about to bit into it when I heard "blur de blur de blur por favor". Then there was about a 20 strong line up of mounted coppers, the singing and drumming got loader, then about 50-60 coppers on motor bike (scrambler type things) moved up along side the horses; then loads of revving before ..... charge .... they charged into the crowds.

I just stood there in shear amazement. This went on for about 15 mins, whilst I finished my sandwich, at which point I thought "best go now" !!

I walked back to the main square where the singing monks were happy as Larry .... what a contrast !!

All that said and done, Santiago is a fantastic City, wondering around the wide streets - singer/dancers etc parks everywhere. The place has got a really great atmosphere ... very Barcelonaésque. And today I saw some telescopes in the main square pointed at the sky - at Jupiter apparently.

Travel Plans

I met this Israel lad who has just had 4 months travelling in Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Chile. He had loads of impressive stories thousands of photos with him (30+ rolls - all developed must - must weigh a ton). He's given me loads of advice so I'm well sorted.

Spanish lingo learning

But before I do any travelling I'm spending another week in Santiago doing an intensive language course ... major headaches trying to suss it, but it's got to be done.