March 14, 2005 GMT
Bernardo O´Higgins

Chile is an RC country, and there is no divorce law.

So on the immigration card the options under Marital Status were limited to Single/Married/Widowed. I ticked Widowed on the grounds that a) technically it's true, and b) I might have an easier time of immigration than when I entered Oz. And so it was - sailed through in a third of the time of anyone else with no nonsense about return tickets or anything. I´ll have to try that one again.

My driver is an elderly Croat called Mario who speaks a very little English and about the same amount of Italian and German as I do, so we get on like a house on fire, and he´s helping me with my extremely meagre Spanish (which will no doubt improve on this continent until I get confused by Portuguese in Brazil). I´m having to use a driver as although the Metro (in common with most other capital cities) is clean, efficient, cheap etc. it doesn´t go as far as the airport in the west or the BMW dealer in the east, and the buses are completely impenetrable. A very fetching young man called Alejandro at the dealer has sorted me a battery, which I collected this afternoon fully charged. Mark Christmas, the nice young man at the shipping agent in Sydney, very kindly texted me to confirm that the bike has indeed arrived, and a helpful lady called Ninoschka rang me from LAN Chile cargo to explain the procedure I´ll have to go through tomorrow when I go to get the bike. Mario is going to lend me a jerrycan for the petrol and is all primed to sort me with that and the engine oil on the way to the airport tomorrow.

Before having my well-earned pint of Greene King IPA yesterday I was very virtuous. I took the Metro into the city centre at Plaza de Armas and did museums and things. I got a double whammy with the museums. As is the case in most places (as I´ve explained in previous epistles) they´re closed on Mondays (so I couldn´t have done them today anyway), and not only that but they´re free on Sundays. I sat outside a pavement cafe on the square for lunch, just like Quadri´s on the Piazza San Marco but without the sneering waiters, and watched the fat and very well-behaved pigeons politely taking turns with the olives. And then an Italian-registered camper turned up and parked illegally (naturally), its sides inviting written messages; and a special place was reserved for comments about Fabrizio Meoni. Turns out the guy is an enduro nut. He and his wife came here via the Middle East and for some obscure reason doubled back and shipped the van from Istanbul.

So, tomorrow is a busy day doing paperwork, paying out more money, and reassembling the bike, preferably in the reverse order of disassembly. Alejandro offered to have the bike picked up and reassembled in the workshop for $220, and I accepted with alacrity but then had to decline as they can´t even collect it until Friday and I probably wouldn´t get it back in one piece until next Monday. Never mind, I´ve nothing much better to do. At least I´ll have somewhere to do the clutch splines.

Names here are rather bizarre - mostly along the lines of the above-mentioned and ubiquitous gentleman. Banco Edwards (part of the Chile national bank), Gladys the receptionist (and I´m not even in Patagonia yet), Browne´s Pharmacy down the road. Apparently it gets quite unreal once one´s in the depths of Patagonia with the inhabitants of some small towns (like Trelew and Donafon) speaking Welsh almost to the exclusion of Spanish. At least I know what Araf means and what an Ysgol is.

Posted by Cynthia Milton at March 14, 2005 09:17 PM GMT

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