Subject: Changing Places, Changing Faces
7th November 1999
Place: Tome, Chile
Eight weeks in and we are fully adapting to our new nomadic
lifestyle, as we forge a path South through Chile. We are now in Tome, 500km south west of Santiago, at the seaside. With this shift to an itinerant way
of living, we have begun to notice some interesting shifts in
our outlook and behaviour. In short, we seem to have swapped personalities.
Kirstie now leads from the front,
obsessed by killing and counting the kilometres,
spending endless hours poring over maps, plotting the route,
savouring every contour, urging us
onto ever higher daily totals. Meanwhile, Stuart tags along
at the back, putting in the minimum of effort, preferring to
spend his time socialising with the locals. He finds every excuse to stop
for a cafe-con-leche, where he snatches
the maps away from Kirstie to strike
up a conversation with anyone in order to delay our departure
as long as possible. At the end of a hard days cycle he takes
to offering community services which include brewing up for
homebound, hungry peasants, generously offering around our limited
supplies (which Kirstie is desperately
trying to conserve) and offering small groups fully guided tours
of our tent and all its facilities. He has also taken to buying
and drinking a litre of local Chilean
wine a day, in the alleged interests of sampling local produce,
while Kirstie looks on disapprovingly,
quietly calculating the likely effect of this on team performance
in the saddle the following day.
Our journey along the coast has been full of larger than life
characters (or is it just the way WE see them?) It started before
we even left Santiago, when the bellboy at our hotel took a shine to Stuart...
as soon as he discovered they shared the same name in Spanish...
"Eduardo". Over attentive, over keen, and all over
us, he took an unnecessary interest in all our activities, particularly
our bicycles. He was consistently playing tricks on us by removing
our bikes so we would think they were stolen. "Just a leetle
jok" he would say in his best
Chilean English. We got our revenge when we took them to the
bike shop for overnight repairs without telling him, then asked
him to produce them from the storeroom. After he had searched
frantically for half an hour, we explained "It is just
a leetle jok." As we left he gave us an important piece of advice
for the long journey ahead, "If you see a beautiful Chilean
woman, always do this...." He then pinched
his four stubby fingers against his thumb, placed them on this
lips, smacked them with a slobbery kiss, held them high in the
air pointing towards the offending (more probably offended)
woman, then pressed them to his heart where he wiped them lightly
on his jumper until dry. "Oh that", said Stuart, "We
do the same in England." Eduardo was impressed.
On leaving Santiago, we took a train out of the city to avoid a dangerous
section of the Panamerican Highway from Hell. While Kirstie was buying the tickets,
Stuart was making friends with the early evening commuters.
A fresh faced Chilean youth was poring over the bicycles..."lovely
angles on that frame, double butted tubes...aluminium
alloy... and GT bottles... great... So, you are coming to my
house in Linares... Yes, Yes we will all go together.." They shook hands as if to conclude a deal. "This
is Victor", Stuart said, "He´s
mad on bikes and wants us to go cycling with him in Linares." Stuart was then dispensed to a cashpoint while Kirstie held the
fort with our new friend with obvious reluctance. "Do you
work in Santiago?" she enquired to break an increasingly embarrassing
silence. "No" he said, "I work for Jesus. Jesus
is my friend. My BEST friend."
"Oh," sighed Kirstie, and
then after another embarrassingly long silence, "So, what
make is YOUR bike then?"
"Let's get the train together", Victor enthused in
perfect English. "Then we have good conversation all the
way to Linares. Yes?" He sprinted off to get his luggage. "I´m
not going to Linares with a biking Jesus anorak" said Kirstie firmly, "Let´s get
on the train." We hurried on to the platform where we were
stopped by the uniformed ticket inspector. "Bicycles are
bad", he announced. "Why?" we asked. "You
can´t take them on the train",
he replied. "Why?" we asked again. He thought for
a while and couldn´t come up with
an answer so he decided they were OK after all... "but
you have to take the wheels off." He returned five minutes
later as we were neatly stacking the last of the four wheels
in a pile. He looked at us pointedly, and announced as if it
was obvious that "It is only necessary to remove one wheel
from each bike." So, we put back two of the wheels and
then handed him our ticket. "Oh", he said, "You
are going to Rancagua. You will need both wheels on your bikes." His
tone implied we should have known this. The growing crowd tutted
dissapprovingly in unison and the
guard shook his head in despair and walked away while we danced
the last verse of the bicycle "Hokey Cokey."
Moments later, our omnipresent friend of Jesus returned, "Here
I am. Time for good conversation." "He´s
quicker on his feet than Gary Lineker"
Kirstie said. "I think you mean Gary Linares" said Stuart. We began to realise
we HAD to get rid of him as he installed himself and his luggage
opposite us and began a demonstration of his strap-on, backpack,
sports water bottle... with two hoses..."one for me and
one for my friend" "Not your BEST friend obviously",
Kirstie muttered under her breath
as he sucked on the primary hose.
We handed back the secondary hose which had been thrust upon
us, politely declining his offer of a drink and found that pretending
not to understand his perfectly clear English soon led to a
dramatic reduction in his language skills and confidence. "I
will wait for you in Linares", he said. "Wait? What is ´wait´?" we
asked him pretending to be puzzled. To confuse the situation
further we began to address him as Gary. "What is Gary?", he asked us. "An
English footballer", we replied. "Ahh. English soccer.. I understand"
he nodded, happy once more he was back on track. "What
is ´soccer´?" we asked, finally pushing him and his language
skills over the edge. "I think I need to go and see my
friend now" he said as he finally wandered off down the
train leaving us alone at last.
Back on the bikes, we have meandered down the amazing deserted,
rural Chilean coast, camping whereever
we can. This last week has been like being trapped in a scene
from Carry on up the Costa. At one campsite Kirstie
was caught snatching a burning log off a family barbecue in
order to get ours going. As the family drove away, the kids
watched in amazement out of the back window, awed by her foraging
skills and sleight of hand as their barbecue moved stealthily
in front of their eyes from pitch 7 to pitch 13 before they
had reached the warden's hut.
Having been evicted from that campsite for pilfering, we set
up a roadside camp outside a restaurant on the Panamerican Highway, where coachloads of people stopped throughout
the night to relieve themselves and their bladders within the
vicinity of our tent. "No, that´s
not rain. It´s the 11.30 to Concepcion"
Then, taking sanctuary in a wild camp on a deserted sandy beach,
Kirstie spoke so long to an oxen handler that Stuart thought
he was English. "What were you talking about for all that
time?", asked Stuart as they sat in the tent cooking supper.
"Haven´t a clue" said Kirstie,
"Didn´t understand a word...
so I just nodded and said ´Si, Si´
and told him it was all very pretty here." Stuart opened
the door of the tent to find a cordon of six oxen grazing around
the tent and another four coming down the path, "Perhaps
he was trying to tell you this is a wild oxen migration path"
he said. The trustry dog dazers seemed to help disperse the crowd while the oxen herder
smiled and looked out of his window with amusement from his
cottage high on the hill.
As you might imagine, Kirstie has
already plotted out the route, mileage, and anticipated daily
climb for the next three months and is currently working out
the required calorific intake needed to sustain us through Christmas
and New Year. Meanwhile Stuart is planning the Christmas menu and continues to sample a wide range of wines
to find that perfect tipple with which to toast the New Year.
Kirstie has worked out our likely coordinates for the festive
season...."Christmas - in Coihaique"
"Where the hell is that?" "New Year - in the
windswept wilds of the Patagonian desert" "Well we´ll
have to carry 10 days supplies of wine from the nearest shop"
Meanwhile, armed with this information, Stuart invites everyone
he meets to join us in our Patagonian Millenium
Dome Tent. "There will be a big party in a tent, wine and
everything. Do come.... if you´re
in the area." They look at us as if we are completely barmy.
Well, they might have got that bit right.
So, we´re off again.
To the Lake District next, where we hope to be skiing on an active
volcano for Kirstie´s birthday. Now there´s an unusual birthday
"How about another coffee then Kirstie?"
"No, we´ve got 50km and
500 metres of climb to do to meet our schedule.. so drink up NOW"
"Ok but can we stop off at the wine shop before we leave?"
Love to you all
Kirstie and Stuart