Getting there - In search of penguins. - CycleBlaze

January 14, 2020

Getting there

The rest of the trip has to be easier, right?

Before we start, please note there is a prominent "Donation" button. Dont press it. We dont need or want your money. (The button is included with the web page template we are using and I cant get rid of it.)

Our unbroken string of bad luck continues, even to this moment. An announcement has just stated the plane has unspecified mechanical problems so boarding is delayed. But before I get ahead of myself, here is a brief recap.

Jan 11 - the night before we were supposed to fly out, AC decided to cancel the flight. They rebooked us to today Jan 14. That doesn't seem like a big problem, unless you are couch surfing - which we were. Thanks Chris and Corrine.

Jan 14 - we arrived early at the airport and were promptly told our tickets were invalid due to a missing Visa. That took about an hour to fix. Then we tried to check-in our bikes. That took 2 ticket agents and 2 supervisors another hour. Finally we reached the gate a few minutes ago, only to be greeted with the broken airplane message.

But, the bikes are finally checked in, and if they get the plane working again, we can set off for Toronto.

One bike box dispatched to Hades.
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Several days of notes have disappeared into the electronic bowels of CycleBlaze, but I will try to recreate them here. Apologies for the typos, I am typing everything into my phone with one finger because we lost our Bluetooth keyboard.

(From memory) we boarded the 777 to Santiago and spent the next 10.5 hours, crammed in like battery hens. But at least there were lots of movies to watch. Our flying cage disgorged us at about noon into the stifiling desert heat of our new home for the next few days. It was comical watching our fellow Canuks in their snow boots and down parkas trying to cope with 35 degree heat and zero humity. A shuttle from the hotel brought us into town.

We were exhausted and jet lagged from the 15 hour flight, but we gamely staggered about the downtown core pretending to see the sights. By 7:00 pm we were in bed and asleep, where we spent the next 14 hours. In hindsight, our original plan of stepping off the plane, assembling the bikes, and cycling to a campground was insanely optimistic.

Jan 16. Refreshed and recharged with coffee, we hit the town with a long list of things to buy and do. Of course we achieved none of them, apart from drinking a few beers. It is easy to forget how easy our lives are in Vancouver, and how damn hard everything is in developing countries.

One notable sight was a bank of Nova Scotia. I doubt that anyone in there spoke English; only about 3% of the population does. By the way, that makes Chile an ideal place to learn Spanish. There are no English signs or menus, and none of the store clerks or waiters know any English at all. You WILL speak Spanish here.

LW:   We did get sim cards for Chile and have data and local calls but no texting. Mike is freaked about this. Out of country calls will be few unless we  skype.

We got to go to Chile's Museum of Precolumbian Art which was pretty amazing.   It's very hot here and neither of us are used to the heat. So it was a short night out with a picnic dinner back at the hotel with cheap Chilean wine from the grocery store.

Jan 16. With increasing desperation, we tackled the same list. We scored a couple of early victories - new sim cards for phones for example. And we found an enormous museum near our hotel that had somehow eluded us the day before. Sadly by noon, our progress returned to the usual frustration and despair.

I don't think we are in Kansas anymore Toto.
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A notable sight: traffic cop being pelted by eggs from an apartment balcony. other than a noticible police presence and graffetti nd a few signs, no issues with the protesting.

Jan 17.  The top priority item on our list is still finding a way to transport ourselves and our bikes about 1000 km South to begin the biking part of the journey. (Recall, that was the whole point). We have made zero progress so far. Our latest plan is to pack up then cycle to a bus station and hope for the best.

Jan 18
Sucess is within sight. We finally have bus tickets out of here. We may get on our bikes soon.

Cycling in Chile - finally.
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Yesterday (Saturday) we located a bus terminal in Santiago and google mapped a 38 minute walk to it. (actual time 3+ hours)  Of course no one knew anything about bikes and shuffled us back and forth to get rid of us. Finally we cornered an actual bus driver, from the correct route, and got the info we needed. We leave at 11:00 tonight, arriving Tecumo at 6:30 am Monday.

Another ineresting life lesson occurred in the bus terminal. I had zippered my wallet into  side pocket of my pants to protect against pickpockets. I felt the pocket move so I checked, and sure enough the zipper was now open. I closed it and a few steps later it was again open. At that point I held onto my wallet. I never did see the pickpocket, but he was 1-2 seconds away from making my life a lot more complicated.

Lesson: zippers do not deter pickpockets.

Jan 19:  Today we finally got to ride our bikes around Saniago while we wait for our bus tonight. I had my first bike crash today, caused by a large aggressive dog.

Life on the road can be weird at times. We cycled past many recent apocalyptic scenes today, such as burned rubbish piles in the middle of the road. So we were understandably apprehensive when we were suddenly surrounded by at least 100 adults all running at top speed out of a park. We chose to cycle with them,   assuming they were all running from something ex. riots, berserk cops, etc.  Our initial assumption proved faulty. Apparently a "Pokemon Go" character had been spotted.

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Update:  midnight, Jan 19. Hotel Mery (again). Our bikes were much too heavy. We had five Ortlieb saddle bags each, and they were all full. Note the careful use of tenses above.  

The overweight probem has been solved quite spectacularly at the bus station, when I foolishly took my eyes off a large bag that contained six of our ten bike bags. The good news (apart from our much lighter bikes now) is that we still have underwear and socks. And passports and money. And bikes. The bad news is we need new camping gear, bike spares and tools and repair kit. The search for penguins will be delayed by a few days while we go on a high speed shopping spree. More details tomorrow...

PS. I saw two penguins already (if you count nuns).

Jan 20   We spent the day wandering through dozens of small bike shops, several km from our hotel. It is quite enjoyable if you don't think too much about the cost. The quality of goods is lower than in Canada, but it is better aligned with the average Chilean wage (500 USD/month). 

A typical bike shop. They seem to all sell the same stuff, so if you cant find what you are looking for in one, you probably wont find it in the others either.
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Tomorrow we will search for camping gear. Unfortunately, the hiking stores are on the far side of town (Santiago is huge - pop 5 million). Doubtless further adventures await.

Several people were extremely kind and generous during this difficult time. In particular we ant to thank Carmen and Arianne for spending hours wih us and for their invaluable translation service while we  filed our police report. Arriane &/or Carmen -  If you are ever in Canada, please look us up.

On the other hand, I had an interesting sms exchange with one of the bus station security guards who took an early and enthusiastic role in our tragedy. I am not positive what he wanted, but I think it may have involved walking alone into a dark alley, with a lot of cash, in the hopes of ransoming our stuff. I declined.

Some readers of this journal may be wondering how on Earth could anyone live so long and be so stupid. Sorry, can't help. I can suggest though, 

  1. Don't assume you are safe just because you reached your bus without being mugged.
  2. Always assume that you were spotted by a group of professional thieves, before you entered the station, and who are following you at all times. 
  3. Sit on your luggage  like a chicken incubating eggs whenever travelling though sketchy bus stations - . 

In our case the bag full of bike panniers was never more than one meter from us. Each time I spoke to Louise, I checked the bag. Still they managed to grab it between sentences. That is impressive, considering it was huge (1 m x 1 m x 0.3 m) and weighed about 25 kg. My guess is there was a group of theives who passed it between each other.  Likely they had it on a subway train and out of the station in minutes.

Jan 21.  It is hard to believe but we have only been here one week. It seems like a lifetime.

Today one of our hotel owners (thanks Juan Carlos) drove us across town to a very expensive sports shopping mall in the wealthy part of town. It looked just like a mall in Vancouver, with a Patagonia store (ironically), as well as North Face, Arcterix, Columbia, and many other recognizable brands.  Sadly the prices were also familiar. I doubt that very many Chileans could afford to shop there. With Juan Carlos translation services, we were able to replace most of our personal and camping gear. BTW, I highly recommend Guest House Mery if you are ever in Santiago. 

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We re-outfitted ourselves with camping gear, cooking gear, clothes, and even some bike parts. It cost a few thousand CAD in a couple of hours, but we are ready to go. Most of our equipment isnt as good as what we started with. But we are counting on necessity being the mother of invention.  

This is some of the gear we bought today.
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We now plan to use a butane stove for all our cooking. That will be a challenge. Also we didnt find a water purifier in time so we will test the water quality in-vivo. And we only bought one sleeping bag that we plan to share. I mean, what could possibly go wrong?

Jan 22. Break day. Things were getting too crazy. We spent the day working on insurance details and buying a few supplies.

Tip: if travelling DON'T use a MasterCard. Visa seems more reasonable so far. And World Nomads is even better.

Jan 23 8:30 pm.   We test our luck again. Earlier today we confirmed our bus ticket to Temuco. Carmen & Arianne had persuaded the ticket agents to hold our previous ticket open - a linguistic challenge many light years beyond Louise and my humble skills. Anyway, we cycled across town to the bus station - in rush hour. And now, here we sit - hyper-vigilent, paranoid, and growling at anyone who approaches us. The bus leaves in two hours. Hopefully we will be on it, along with our very much reduced luggage.

Waiting for the bus in zombie-land. Note the security camera, upper right. We are taking a lot few chances this time.
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We finally got away, but it was right down to the wire. Our bus was scheduled to leave at 10:50  pm, but hadn't showed up yet. Louise was getting a bit tense. Finally it did show, but the driver refused to take  our bikes because the luggage room was full. Finally after a lot of sweating and silent swearing, he relented. We pulled our front wheels of and  and he mashed them into the last bit of empty space. I hope they still work when we pull into Temuco tomorrow.

Bye bye Santiago!

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Ring StonechildOk.. I hope your luck starts changing..safe journey.
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2 months ago
Walter McLellanThanks for setting this up - I'll be following your adventures
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2 months ago
Kathryn HamiltonNice to know somethings don’t change. 😂Sounds like an adventure to us. Good luck getting to the beginning of the route😊
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2 months ago
Ring StonechildTo Ring StonechildO dear..dont take your eyes off your bikes. Bummer you lost your duplex?!
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2 months ago
Kathryn HamiltonHanging on the edge of our seats. Waiting for the next update!!
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2 months ago
Kathleen ClassenOh my goodness, what a start! How we hope things start going a little (a lot) more smoothly for you. We are going to very much enjoy following along.
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2 months ago
Kathryn HamiltonMaybe there is a shop where you could buy your own bike bags back at a reduced rate!!!
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2 months ago
Ring StonechildEnjoy !!..but stay vigilant. I imagine your shiny gear and new bikes don't blend into the countryside as much as they will in a few weeks.
Keep staying safe : )
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2 months ago
Jan Salmon ArmType your comment here
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2 months ago
Jan Salmon ArmTo Jan Salmon ArmOhhh man. Karma will get the thieves. And you are getting to bicycle in a foreign land WITH intensive language and cultural training ;-) May that be the worst of it, my friends
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2 months ago