Wednesday, 11 March 2015

C'mon Concepcion

The view from Cerro San Sebastian.
Pucon and that volcano.
So it's been 4 weeks in Chile, and so far so good. My first stop was the capital of Santiago, with it's museums, busy streets and air pollution. As far as cities go, it's pretty cool - but unfortunately I only had time to do the touristy things - most things were actually covered on a free walking tour run by the town hall. I enjoyed it, and could live there - although the metro is absolutely packed during peak hour - you miss trains all the time due to lack of space! I next moved on to Valparaiso, or "Valpo" as the locals call it, a big port town which is listed as a UNESCO world heritage site. With it's Trolley Bus, coloured houses and graffiti everywhere, the town was one of the most important ports in the South Pacific for ships going between the Atlantic and Pacific before the Panama Canal, had some of the first banks in Chile, and had it's Golden Age in the 19th Century (and I don't think anything has had any repair work since!), and it also has 1 of 3 of Pablo Neruda's houses. Up for a bit of the open air and Chile's natural beauty, I packed up and jumped on a bus to Pucón. Volcanoes, national parks and volcanic-sand lake beaches, this little adventure town is beautiful, although it looked just like any other ski/adventure town (hello Queenstown!). I could have stayed longer to be honest, done a bit more hiking, lazed on the lakeside, but I am not here for just backpacking, I did come here for work. And that has taken me to Concepción!

Los Ojos del Carbrgua near Pucon.
Amen Pucon!
So it's back to work, and back to reality. But this is what I came here for really! The last 3 weeks have been exciting, but I just missed a few big events. I did feel an earthquake in Valpo, but missed the Red Bull Downhill in the city, where crazy people cycle down its huge hills from top to bottom in around 3mins - jumps and stunts (and occasionally  stray dogs too) included. Youtube it - that's what a GoPro was made for! I also missed, but probably for the best, the eruption of Mt Villacara. It had been puffing a bit of smoke since early Feb, and when I saw it, I knew it was only a matter of time. 3 days after I had left, it blew it's top - ah, the pictures I could have got! So, will my new city, Conce, be as exciting as these two places? Tsunami maybe?

Street Art in Valpo.
After a 6 hour bus journey (not a good one really either, but then again, are they ever?), I arrived at the busy and chaotic bus terminal, and quickly realised that I may have made a mistake. Not to be deterred just yet, I jumped on a local bus and headed for the centre in true local bus fashion - the driver careening down the road with one hand on the wheel, the other either checking his mobile or taking money and getting change for new passengers. My hostel was also in the rough part of town - markets on the street, beeping cars, and just generally noisy and dirty. A local told me later that it's where the 'putas' are, and it's dangerous at night. Things keep keeping better! I had to go for some grub, and there seemed to be a lot of places open, but not much choice - fast food in Chile is basically hotdogs or burgers. I decided to try something from a place called "Doggis," which as the name clearly suggests, it has a load of hotdogs. Never eating here again. Terrible service - 1 teller, line out the door, and 4 teenagers hanging around to pass a tiny cup of chips around. Dirty floors, tables and uniforms, and the food was tiny and very unsatisfying. I went back to my hostel, hoping to sleep before my sorry excuse for a meal was digested and I was hungry again. It was a tiny little room, which is fine, but there were no cooking facilities, no window but a skylight instead (which the seagulls used as a landing strip all night), but probably the best thing about my room was the Spiderman bed sheets!

The cetnre of Concepcion - the Justice Tribunal building.
Concepcion's main shopping district.
Every childcare centre has one!
By this stage, I had a job, and was on the hunt for a real room. 3 weeks of living in hostels really start to get to you - full of noisy/boring/weird backpackers, bunk beds, snoring (always!!) and dirty and packed kitchens with no room for cooking or fridge space. My host at the hostel was lovely, and helped me with hot water and a fork for my pot noodles, while juggling a baby in the other arm, but it was time to get out. I managed to find a place close to the city centre, but far enough away from the hustle and bustle and smelliness of where the hostel was situated. You can't imagine how excited I was to go shopping and cook, do a load of washing and hang and fold my clothes - pure heaven! To top this off, the same day I went to a free concert in the city - Rock en Conce! Full of local acts, alcohol and uni students, it was a great night, and I staggered back to my new room full of booze and contentment.

You'll never get run over in Chile - even the horse and carts stop at lights!
The "micro" buses that move the people.
People still use these!
There a few things you have to get used to when you come to Chile. I have mentioned the bus drivers, who are all qualifying for the one-handed Grand Prix, but there are many other things too. The Carabineros (the Chilean police) have riot everything - cars, vans and gear - grills on the cars and armour on the vans, and I have seen them walking around in what looks like futuristic battle armour... but no one else battered an eye! There are also 2 kinds of taxis in this country - metered and "colectivo." The metered taxis are quite expensive, but the collective taxis run a certain route, just like a bus, but they are shared - you stop one, squeeze in (the front is the best), and off you go. You give the guy 500 pesos ($1), and he lets you out anywhere on his route - I shared my first one of these with a very large woman, a guy with a desktop PC, and a woman who was constantly saying "can you hear me now?" into her iPhone - and of course talk back radio was playing. The car alarms are something that I will probably never get used to. Do you remember that 'How I Met Your Mother' episode where Robyn and Ted mimic the alarm, and Lilly uses it in her classroom to shut the kids up? Well, every single goddam car in this country has the same one - and they are extremely sensitive... a bus or a car with a loud exhaust will set it off, and then sometimes the alarm of one car will set off another, just like dogs in backyards with a siren. For those of you who can't remember, see how many times you can watch it and not do the sounds... and for the record, I have done this in class, noises and flashing lights (just like Lilly), and it does really shut kids up!

Conce is a great place to live!
The University of Concepcion.
So, Concepcion is my new city for a while, and it's a busy one at that - people never stop here! It was founded in 1550 by the same Spaniard who founded Santiago a few years earlier - Pedro de Valdivia. Originally is was on the coast, and served as a stop gap between the Spanish and the Mapuche tribed. It was a considerable military town, but that didn't stop the Mapuche sacking it in 1555 and again in 1558 and also laying siege in 1564. If that wasn't enough, it was destroyed by earthquakes and tsunamis 5 times in just over 200 years until it was moved in 1751 to it's current location, just off the coast and onto the mouth of the Bio Bio river. Talk about a rough time for the city - reminds me of Monty Python's castle sinking into the swamp. It is now Chile's 2nd largest city with a population of 300,000 and is now famous for it's half dozen universities - there are students everywhere! In 2010 there was an earthquake that registered 8.8 and killed more than 500 people, and also set off a prison riot. Sounds like a great place to live - nothing gets this place down! C'mon Concepcion! 

It's not just Valparaiso that has art!

Birthday Weekend

The always impressive Pedraforca. Just beautiful! Hiking with a touch of snow. Winter was setting in by November, and although ...