April 21, 2006 GMT
(6) Chile: El Norte Grande
We left Iquique and climbed up the ridge separating the town from the desert. The cool coastal air gave way to the dry desert heat. Soon we were basking in 25 C warmth; a far cry from the 12C on the coast.
Our first stop was Santa Lucia and Humberstone, the two famous or infamous ghost towns that were remnants and silent reminders of the nitrate era that reigned supreme at the turn of the century. The ghost towns were in exactly the correct state of preservation or decay, as the case may be, to make them interesting. Humberstone was an almost complete and intact town and nitrate refinery. Santa Lucia lacked the dwellings but had the industry intact. It was easy to consume two hours poking and prodding through the buildings wondering what was and may have been.
After leaving Santa Lucia we wandered aimlessly for most of the day. Most of the stuff we went to look at was only par or below. Finally we made one last stop at Cerro Unica, the largest geoglyph in the world. Surely we would not be disappointed.
We circled the hill looking for the artefact. The initial signs and scratchings we saw did not bode well. Then, suddenly there it was...all 86 meters of it, stretching from the middle of the hill to the crest...gratification at last.
Finally by mid afternoon it was time to make a plan. Where would we spend the night? More importantly, where would we get gas to get to the place to spend the night? The town I had planned to gas up in, Haura had no service station even though one was marked on the map. This was probably where Charles ran out of gas those many years ago, when he was travelling with a girl friend. Now, when you coast to the side of the road, in the middle of the Atacama, in the middle of nowhere, and you dismount and say to your partner "I ran out of gas", Just what do you think the first thing is that would cross her mind? "Sex in the Sand" or, "This could be serious". "If I have to make love because of this STUNT, we probably will not have enough energy to make it to the next town". Charles never did say what happened... come to think of it, I haven´t seen Charles since.
Back to reality. I had less than half a tank left and 250 km to go to the next real gas. It would not work. The desert warmed to 35 C. The head wind picked up. We could back-track and basically end up where we started, or...
I decided to ask around town for gas. This was too big a place to be without this precious commodity. "Try here, try there" came the answer. Their gesticulating hands marked all points of the compass and a few in between. So far all of the here´s and there´s were closed. Finally I had what looked like a solid lead. I banged on the door. The lady of the house came out and knew by my gringo looks (I never told her I was a Canadian) that I wanted gas. Surely she knew it wasn´t her I was after. Her old man would be back in ten minutes, she said. I waited in confidence.
Finally, he arrived. I am sure I could see a smile crease his sundried face. "Yes , I have gas," he said. "How much do you want?" "Ten liters," I said. I didn´t care about the price. I just knew I wasn´t going to be pushing this afternoon. 700 pesos per liter was the price. At 450 pesos per Canadian dollar, you do the math. Not a bad deal really as we had been paying about 610 pesos per liter at normal service stations.
Our coastal option for camping vaporized as it would have created another gas crisis. We headed north. As we headed north the earth opened into a gigantic gash, not unlike a massive fjord...except it was dry, with only the remnants of a river on its bottom. What a spectacular change in scenery from the dry, flat plain we had been riding.
Finally, near Cuyo we found a nice camp site with some real trees, and a restaurant only a mile away. Suddenly life was good. We set up camp and rode off to dine as the sun sank below the horizon. I dreamed of Charles and his feeble attempt to extract sexual favors from the age old "out of gas routine" and smiled with the knowledge that I did not know what the outcome was.
Arica held a few hidden gems from Europe. (Alexander) Gustave Effeil had been here...or at least he left his mark here and in several other places in South America, and as far north as Mexico. With a South American agent selling his masterpieces, he delivered two buildings to Arica...the Santa Clara cathedral and the Customs House.
Posted by Robert Bielesch at 12:16 AM
April 18, 2006 GMT
(5) El Norte Grande
We left San Pedro and made a beeline for the coast. It was only 2-1/2 hours away but it seemed to take forever in the straight line, monotone drone of the Atacama. At Tocopilla we lunched on fresh Soupa de Mariscos, dredging up oysters, clams and a few unidentifiable bits and pieces below the murky surface of the broth. As advertised by the patrons it was "muis rico."
Further up the coast we pulled off the road and found our home for the night. Camping is adding a dimension to this trip that would not otherwise have been attainable. We overdosed on surf, sand and sun and let the incoming tide lull us to sleep, into a deep and satisfying slumber not achievable in any hotel.
Early the next morning we found we had camped a few short kilometers from Huanillos, a very complete ghost town. We could have dined on ghost vapor and fought off long lost spirits of the dead. This appeared to be an abandoned salt mine from perhaps the early 1900's harboring over a hundred workers. The boss's mansion sat perched on an overlook commanding both a view of the sea and the mining operation he controlled. He suffered little discomfort I am sure.
I have always said that if you combine motorcycles with mountains, volcanoes and scantily clad women you have reached nirvana...that elusive 'G' spot that most couples strive to experience at least once in their lives. If you combine motorcycles with at least one of the above than you approach nirvana. That is what we did today.
Beside the coast was a mountain. On the mountain was a road...or at least a facimile thereof. I passed it by, but the draw was strong. I tried to resist but I couldn't. I returned to the junction and surveyed the ascending scar along the face of the mountain. With saliva beginning to flow I raced through the gears in a mad quest to chase the road up the mountain and over it onto the altiplano.
The situation was not unlike a similar event Peter and I endured while crossing the Salar de Uyuni a few years ago. The altitude was not as extreme but the conditions were similar. A slash barely ten feet wide marked the road. The inside track was soft and partially drifted. The outside track a mere two feet from a sheer drop-off to the coastal plain below. We ground our way upwards fighting switchbacks that were too tight to negotiate in a single pass. Finally perched at an obscene angle we stopped to evaluate the sanity of the situation. Was it the wisdom of our years that caused us to return to the pavement? Or, was it simply a lack of courage? I know my wife would have questioned my sanity. Peter would have questioned my courage. I simply called it a wise decision.
A few kilometers down the coast I found a lovely restaurant and dined with the knowledge I had made the right decision.
The Road from Hell intersected the highway again not far from the restaurant. This segment was paved as it afforded access to the salt mine "Mina Chica" some twenty kilometers inland. We chased the easy track to the mine winding our way up to the altiplano through a deep canyon with only enough room for us and the road...and a few trucks.
At the mine we talked our way through "security" and proceeded to ride around the works. However when we stopped to take some photographs we were descended upon by security forces. From all directions little red pickup trucks zoomed towards us with beacons flashing. The windows lowered effortlessly and we were unceremoniously told to vacate the premises. OK! No problem. We had seen what we wanted. We left in peace.
Back on Routa 1 we moved north to Iquique. We were unprepared for the progressive, westerness of the town. Behind the new, upscale facade of the southern extension of the city lurked the Victorian gingerbread town of the Nitrate years. Nitrate had built this town and its wonderful architecture. Fish meal sustained it as well as the largest Duty Free Port in Chile. A lot of the town is in decay but a large section is undergoing regeneration and preservation. It will take time but will truly be a Victorian gem when it is finished.
Posted by Robert Bielesch at 08:08 PM
April 16, 2006 GMT
(4) Chile: El Norte Grande
Baquedano! What a romantic name for a town that time forgot. Perched in the middle of the Atacama Desert only a short distance from Antofagasta it exists in a peaceful slumber; the desert winds whistling among its ancient buildings. A few hardy folk continue to eke out a living in this godforsaken place.
Most people would pass through this almost inconspicuous town and hardly give it a second thought or bother to lift their foot off of the accelerator if it were not for the carabineros. However, we had a different mission. We knew there was hidden treasure lurking behind the aging facade of the well weathered buildings. We knew this town held possibly the largest, if not the oldest Round House in all of South America. All we had to do was find it.
It was so well camaflouged amongst the ruins that we poked and prodded even though we stood right on top of it. And then there it was. A graveyard of ancient steam locomotives and a Round House that could service upwards of two dozen locomotives, simultaneously. I had never beheld such a wonder anywhere and least expected to find this treasure in this place of all places. Urgently in need of funding and restoration it still provided a visual impact of what once must have been. I fear it will crumble before it is resurrected, on this the day before Good Friday, where death, destruction and resurrection are very much on everyone´s mind.
This town and this facility were built by Bolivia at a time when this part of Chile belonged to Bolivia. Bolivia lost this area to Chile in the War of the Pacific in 1873 and thus lost their Pacific coast access in one single move. Chile possessed all mineral rites, mines, cities, towns, people and ports as a result of this conquest. Further north, in Arica, Chile won this area from Peru in the same war.
Onward to San Pedro de Atacama, the tourist capital of this Norte Grande region. Prices were slightly higher here in reflection of its sole means of survival...the tourist dollar. The place abounded in local, gringo and European travellers on this long weekend.
At Laguna Chaxa we observed an Andean phenomena...that of feeding flamingoes in this intermediate altiplano region that resides at 8,000 feet. Contentedly going about the daily routine, we approached these brightly colored, giant birds and observed them in their environment. Feeding on the over abundant protoazoa and tiny fish that inhabit the saline lakes, their life seemed like an easy one although one can only imagine how they choose to inhabit this forlorn and desolate region over the more tropical climes where they are most often found. The Parina Grande was one of two such birds that inhabit this region.
Valle de Luna was another adjacent area in this region of salars and salt mines. The late afternoon sun played with the shadows making it a photographers delight. Every turn held a new and wonderous image in this 'other worldly' place. Tour buses and tourists abounded in the late afternoon, whereas during the middle day the place was almost deserted.
Back in town, San Pedro de Atamaca has been preserved rather than improved. Rough dirt streets butt into adobe, single story structures that belie the human comforts lurking within. Vehicular traffic is minimal; foot traffic being the accepted norm.
We spent three nights enjoying the company of many motorcycle travellers who happened to be here this long Easter weekend. Visitors from England shared our campsite. They were more or less travelling around the world or at least a part of it. Argentinian and Brazilian bikers roared through town seemingly competing in an Iron Butt Rally this long weekend. The Paso de Jama connecting San Pedro de Atacama with Jujuy and Salta Argentina is now paved reducing this once treacherous, day long journey to a few, high speed hours. When Peter and I passed this way in 1999 we fought high altiplano dirt roads fraught with sand traps and other hidden hazards. We arrived at dark at Jujuy. Salta was unattainable in a day.
The small but well stocked museum in San Pedro holds many pleasant surprises. Choice pottery pieces and an abundance of Atacama preserved mummies will please even the most discerning tourist and archaeologist alike.
It was in San Pedro de Atacama that we met the French family who were staying at the same hostel as us. They were a family of five (5), mama, papa, Anna, Lucie and Peter aged thirteen, eleven and nine. They were travelling the Americas for a year, from north to south. Home schooling their children they travelled with a truck load of baggage, books, corrrespondence lessons and clothing.
Eleven year old Lucie was the most outgoing of the trio. She sauntered into our camp and entertained us with her wisdom beyond her years. She rattled off countries, places and events with the precision of Brittanica. She dazzled us with her calculations of costs and prices in the various countries. I asked her how many suitcases she had. Two she replied without hesitation...one for my clothes and one for my toys. I was staggered. Wise beyond her years she was not too proud to state the importance of toys in her daily life, lest she grow up too soon. Thank you Lucie for adding a new dimension to my day. I added a CANADA pin to her treasures. Hopefully, she will cherish it and perhaps even the memory of me and the few hours we spent together in San Pedro de Atacama.
Posted by Robert Bielesch at 10:30 PM
April 11, 2006 GMT
(3) Chile: El Norte Chico
We were late in getting the bikes out of customs. It was almost 11PM before we were back at the hotel. We still had to pack and organize our luggage for a departure tomorrow morning.
We followed the coast north from Vina. Then the road veered inland and I searched for a mountain backroad I had had my eyes on during the planning stages. I missed it by a mile, literally. However the road I was on had all of the correct characteristics so I meandered on. It changed from pavement to gravel and eventually, as it wended its way into the foothills of the Andes it became a mere track. I didn't expect that. Switchbacks folded back upon themselves as we climbed higher and higher. As we moved away from the coast the temperature climbed also, into the low 30s C. Finally the road dead-ended at the base of a mountain. We had to retreat. Now I could see the road I wanted. It was just across the dry river bed.
As we unwound our way down the mountain I stopped at a one-room country school house I had passed on the way in. I wanted to see if there was a connector road that would save me back-tracking all of the way to the start. "Yes, about half a kilometer down that way" the male teacher said. I had seen the road on the way in and just wanted to verify that it would work. We exchanged pleasantries and I walked back to the bike. Then I thought, why not give him a CANADA pin. I returned to the class, which consisted of 15 primary school students.
Everyone was at work when I entered and they raised a clamour as I strode to the front of the class. The teacher looked up from his work. I offered him the pin as a token of my appreciation. He stared silently at it, for a few long seconds and then it set in. I was offering him a pin from my country. He did not know I was from Canada until now! He was overwhelmed with emotion. He pumped my hand in gratification. He announced to the class that I was from Canada. Suddenly the whole class realized I was special. They circled round to touch the "man from Canada". Never in their wildest dreams would they have imagined someone from Canada would walk into their classroom and their lives. In that instant I became more than just a traveller. I had entered their lives.
Back on the correct road finally, we moved north at a better pace than the 1st gear we had been using on the last road. The primary reason for selecting this road was the several long tunnels we would encounter. As I approached the first tunnel the two cars, lined up for entry, in front of me, started to proceed. I didn't have time to remove my sunglasses so I just geared down and proceeded. I was not expecting the total and absolute darkness which surrounded me, compounded by my sunglasses. These tunnels are very narrow, barely wide enough for a single vehicle and several kilometers long. The road surface is littered with fallen rock and covered with pot holes. There was no artificial lighting.
When I lost my vision I lost my equilibrium. The bike meandered dangerously between the walls as I struggled to overcome my blindness and recover my balance, correcting my wandering movement by instinct more than anything else. A few, long seconds later my vision started to return and I was able to correct the out-of-balance forward movement and contain the wandering to about a 3 foot spread. Popping out into the daylight on the other end I was blinded again by the brightness of the austere surroundings. I headed for the next tunnel, but this time I would be better prepared...
We headed for the coast to find a place to camp. The next day we would return to the foothills to chase another valley. The desert is almost totally devoid of vegetation and an overall browness permeates everything. But these valleys, oh these valleys. They simply abound in life. Usually there is a river or stream present, and if this is not so, then sub-surface water is usually easily found. Just add water and the desert is bountiful beyond belief. This valley was cultivated in vegetables and grapes. Semi-trailer loads of grapes were being weighed-in at the Pisco sour plant; vegetables were being harvested. Life was good around Ovalle. The temperature hovered in the upper 20s.
This valley also harboured Diagata Petroglyphs from the period 200-700 AD. It was little wonder they had inhabited this valley with all of its bounty.
We had a mid-afternoon dinner and then headed for the coast on a dirt road. Our destination was PN Fray Jorge. We arrived at the park gates at sunset only to find them padlocked shut. We had known this would be a possibilty. We had gambled and lost. We camped outside the gates to wait for the scheduled opening at 9AM. At 5 AM a busload of high school seniors (all girls) arrived to park beside us. The silence competed with the idling bus and the chatter of 30 excited and tired girls. They had travelled all night to be here.
At 10AM the park attendant arrived. I rushed forward to pay the park fee and finally be on our way. He didn't have the key. He would have to go back and get it. REALLY! By 11 AM we were in. We rode the 15 kms to the ancient 8 million year old forest, kicked a few tree trunks and left. Much ado about nothing.
We crossed the Atacama again in quest of food and dined in the same restaurant we had the day before. We were becoming well known around town.
Onward we pushed, north and then back across the Atacama to the coast at Huasco and then north again to PN Llanos. This was not to our liking so we crossed the Atacama again heading for an abandoned silver mine, Chanarcillo, in the foothills and pitched our tents in the company of ghosts past. What a wonderful setting with a near full moon keeping the spirits at bay.
The morning found us prodding amongst the foundations of those who had come before us. Having sated our appetites here we headed up the valley to try to cross the mountains into the adjacent valley. The road, or track as it would be more appropriately called, followed a dry river bed. The loose, unconsolidated material and large rocks made 1st gear travel very difficult. After a few kilometers we stopped to assess the situation. As far as we could see, ahead of us, the track followed the river. Our road condition would not improve until it started to climb out of the valley. But what if that didn't occur for 30 kilometers or more? We checked our fuel...less than a gallon remained. The temperature climbed into the upper 20s. We turned our bikes around and retreated back to the Pan American highway some 20 kilometers away. As I hit the pavement my reverve light came on. I had about 60 kilometers of reserve capacity and it was 65 kilometers to Copiapo. That was cutting it too fine. Gas would have been an issue on that mountain track. We had made the right decision in more ways than one.
In the Copiapo valley we chased some Inca-Diagata smelting ovens. Over thirty ovens were built to render the raw ore into copper ingots for transport back to the Inca Empire where they would be transformed into jewellery and other finery for the Kingdom. This was an amazing valley...totally filled with grape vines. The vines spread across the valley floor until they bumped into the barren walls of the mountains, forming the perimeter boundaries. What a stark contrast!
We headed back for the coast to check out PN Pan Azucar. It was not to our liking. As pretty as it was, 12,000 pesos ($25) per person to camp was poor value. We were confident we could find better for less or nothing. Back out into the Atacama we headed before turning to the coastal town of Taltal. Just north of Taltal we found our home, next to the sea and sheltered from the wind. The cost was free. It is hard to argue with that.
The Atacama is a desert like any other and yet like no other. It is almost devoid of vegetation and yet a few hardy plants eke out an existence by absorbing moisture from the frequent fogs that cover the land. It is not just a planar desert. It consists of dunes, mountains, hills, rocks, mounds, deep valleys and any other conceivable combination...but generally moisture is absent.
Diege de Almagro crossed this inhospitable land in 1535 and discovered first hand how unforgiving it can be. Suffering deprivation heretofore unimagined his troops literally froze to death in their saddles; died in their tracks, alongside their much abused beasts. The Carnage of Conquest. The desert desiccated their remains before they could putrify. Subsequent expeditions suffering from similar want and deprivation encountered the bodies and were able to gain sustenance from the remains and thereby avoid a similar fate.
Posted by Robert Bielesch at 10:31 PM
March 31, 2006 GMT
(2) Chile the Middle
The Santiago Metro is one of the most efficient ways to move around Santiago proper.
For a mere 75 cents you can travel to your heart´s content. The trains run at about the same frequency that a traffic light switches at. If your train leaves as you approach the platform, never fear for another one will be there before you descend the stairs and reach the queue.
Each train contains about fifteen cars, more or less. There are no bulkheads betwen the cars. Once inside you can look down the entire length of the train and see a ´mass of humanity´extending into infinity, as the train snakes into oblivion around a curve. It is a veritable "human sausage"...a "Soilent Green" contemprano...a spermazoa of life swimming into the dark abyss, striving to metamorphize, through the journey, into a higher life form.
The man beside me timed the "stops"...30 seconds from the time the train stopped moving until the open doors closed again and it started to accelerate. I would have guessed it would be longer.
When your feet hurt, your legs are tired and your mind is numb, I have found the ideal place to rest my bum. I retire to the House of God to spend time in quiet reflection surrounded by some of the best period art and architecture and commune with the Highest Order available to man.
Why does all of Chile use tiny 3 inch square napkins with a waxy texture, as a serviette? They are the most useless component to be found on the table. Their ability to absorb food related items is zero or less. At best, all they do is spread it around.
We spent the last night in Santiago having dinner at another homestay, where Camilla was staying. Our hostess was Carmen, a seventy year old lady who kept the Pisco Sours flowing all night long. Maybe that´s why my head hurts. Steak, pork, chicken, champignones, salsa picante, vegetables, wine, desert etc. etc. It was more than the stomach could swallow. Our little party split up at midnight.
During the evening as we discussed everything from families, to war, to politics, to cars, to travel, to whatever, one thing that Carmen said stood out in my mind. "The Americans," she said, "suffer from the Cancer de Moneda (money)." What a profound statement! She folded her arms, pressed back in her chair and took a long, hard drag on her cigarette after dropping that bombshell. Her eyes flicked around the table checking for reaction...then she moved on. She was the quintessential grandmother...a dying breed in this changing world.
We left Santiago in a haze...probably the same haze that was there when we arrived. The smog was so thick you could beat it with a whisk. It would be nice to get to the coast and breath some fresh ocean air. We rode the bus. It cost more to take a taxi to the bus stop...a fifteen minute ride...than to ride the bus 90 minutes to Vina del Mar. When we got to the coast the heavy, smoky air filled the area. We had not escaped it.
My Spanish skills returned slowly, hampered by eighteen months of storage and compounded by the fact that the Chilean people speak a different dialect than their Mexican and Central American neighbours to the north. I pulled a few words out of Cold Storage and then a few more. After a few days I was able to navigate fairly well, relatively speaking. I worked at it daily, dredging up words and checking my dictionary, adding to my base. I would make it work.
Chilean pasta is incredible. There is simply no other way to describe it. The texture is a delicate fineness that is certainly lacking in the coarse, chewy product that passes for pasta in North America.
I met my girlfriend today. She was sitting at the dock of the bay, wearing nothing but the skimpiest of coverings. She beckoned to me to come over. I hesitated as I was a married man. I made love to her with my eyes as I slowly traced her graceful curves, arresting my gaze only when I encountered her scanty attire. She responded in turn with a statuesque pose, further kindling my desire. I unleased her from her bonds and together we moved away from the waterfront, together at last.
At the hotel I loaded my gear to see how it all fit. Fully loaded for the first time, the bike felt heavy. I would grow into it. My ninety some pounds of camping gear, books, clothing, spare parts and tools had been sorted several times to keep the content to a minimum. There was no obvious item to discard. If I could eliminate all of the tools and spare parts I would be down to only thirty pounds, but that was not possible. As I travelled I would be adding to the pile, not losing through attrition...only time would tell.
We were almost ready to ride north. Tomorrow we would.
....The RANA RIDES...
Posted by Robert Bielesch at 07:14 PM
March 27, 2006 GMT
(1) Chile: The Middle
We came in fast...288 kmph. We roared down the runway, the pilot pressing hard on the brakes; the reverse thrusters rattling behind us.
Still the decrease in speed seemed hardly perceptible. The Arrival Lounge loomed directly ahead of us. We could see people with their faces pressed against the glass, moving back. In a last ditch effort to save the craft and the cargo the pilot stood on the brakes. With the tires moaning we entered Gate 13. With a lurch the craft settled to a rest. In an instant the jetway was attached and we were preparing for arrival.
As I deplaned the Captain appeared from the flight deck. He wore a sheepish grin. His shirt was soaked from his neck to his navel. I had visions of Steve Martin in "Airplane" and half expected a rubber blow-up doll to come floating out of the cabin. "Welcome to Santiago" he beemed. "Bienvenidos a Chile". "Have a nice day." I nodded silently in agreement and trundled off to meet the 'Aduanas'.
They had their hands out when they saw me coming. They waved me to the side, to Check Point #1. These Latin border crossings are all the same; it doesn't seem to matter if you fly in or drive. Money, money, money is the name of the game. For $132.00 US you too can enter Chile. Murray got in a few weeks earlier for only $55. Now it was $132. I couldn´t believe it. I knew the bike would cost more. I silently wondered how much it would cost me to leave. I moved on down the line...
Murray had made arrangements for me to stay at the same homestay as him. I would stay in Maria´s room and she would move a few apartments down. Murray had inadvertinately mentioned this plan at the Spanish School where he was taking lessons. Wrong! Juan, the school operator wanted half of the money I would be paying Maria. What for? I wasn´t a student. These living arrangements were between Maria and I. They involved no one else. Juan threatened Maria. Maria would not do it if she had to pay Juan. Suddenly my room was in jeopardy.
I looked for a loophole and quickly found one. I would move in with Pablo; Maria could have her room back and Juan would be none the wiser. I would pay Maria the full amount and Juan could screw off with his commission. As far as everyone knew, especially Juan, I had left. All that remained was to cool the hot tempers from the afternoon´s events.
I retreated to my apartment. I was ready for some peace and quiet. It was 4:00 PM and I had been up for 33 hours. I had the place to myself for a few hours since Pablo would not be home until 7:00 PM or so. I went to my room, stripped naked and headed for the shower. I could only get cold water, and I did not need a cold shower. Then I remembered that in Chile they use direct fired gas heaters where a burner heats a copper water tube, providing hot water on demand.
The heater was located in the kitchen, only six inches away the way the crow flies, but down the hallway, up to the front door and into the kitchen via the layout. As luck wold have it, being fully prepared for a shower, I was still wearing my best birthday suit. In front of the heater was a clothes drying rack. I spread my feet for balance, pivoted forward over the rack and reached for the heater. With a lighted match in my right hand and my left hand poised over the gas valve, I peered up into the unit looking for the pilot valve.
In a single fluid motion, six feet behind me, a key was slipped into the front door lock, the strike withdrawn and the door thrust open. Thus, I met Angelica Donoso Mondujano.
The next day I visited downtown Santiago. At about 1PM I stopped for a light lunch. The place was nearly empty so I entered cautiously. I settled on a bowl of soupa de pollo (chicken soup). This immediately evoked memories when, in the Central mountains of Peru in 1999, I ordered a similar titled selection. However, unknown to me at the time, nestled in the bottom of the bowl there lurked a pair of the largest, bright orange, chicken feet I had ever seen. They must have been off of a `mega pollo´, some pre-Columbian Chickasaurasrex.
However, when this dish arrived it looked somewhat different. What appeared to be a full chicken was jammed within the rim of a large ceramic bowl, not unlike a wok. It rose above the rim like the Andes above the Deserto Atacama. That space which wasn´t occupied by chicken was filled with broth and a small vegetable garden. I had silently wondered why they charged $3.00 for a bowl of soup...now I knew.
Back at street level, a haunting image was re-kindled as I walked around... obvious the first time I visited Chile, but evermore troublesome this time around. In evidence were people still struggling with the debilitating effects of polio. Not so much the current generation but the previous one and the one before that. That disease has all but been eradicated in North America and certainly was not present in my generation. Sadly, here it still rears its ugly head.
For those who are not on the distribution list, a photo gallery is posted at the following URL. This is not an active link so you will have to 'cut and paste' it into your browser.
Posted by Robert Bielesch at 05:47 AM