It has been an amazing first week in Latin America, I have: drunk pisco sour in bars, eaten empanadas (chilean pasties) in many street cafes, danced the salsa in a socialist nightclub, taken part in a biodanza , visited an urban food garden, got the lowdown on organic food in Chile, visited some markets, witnessed protests, and laughed at the Santiago dogs waist coats!
I ve managed to clock up quite a few K´s getting around the City on my bike, which I like to think of as an extreme sport, espacially when the late braking buses are close. There are the occasional stretches of cycle lane but the majority of the time it´s either jostling with the high speed traffic, or dodging pedestrians and dogmanure on the pavements. Overall though it is better than I expected and not to far-removed from cycling in London. There are a reasonable number of fello cyclists. Very few wear helmets and I´m the only "stylist" with a high-vis ("Protect the Human" Amnesty) vest - I decided whilst cycle-touring in England that preventing getting knocked off and therefore the need for a helmet, is more important than the helmet.
The street dogs are quite a novelty, normally sleeping on street corners or strolling amungst pedestrians. They aren´t the aggressive, dirty beasts that I would have imagined. Instead they are full of god character, seem in good health, certainly well fed (by what or who I don´t know), and some even have trendy waist coats ( although this fashion statement is normally resereved for dogs with owners - will add some photos soon). Considering the number of them, a couple on most streets or intersections, it is supprising how little dogmanure is about, and I am amazed my tyres and soles have stayed dog-do free. However I did finally get chased by one a few nights ago on my bike, a little hound as usual.
A 48 hour national strike took place on Wednesday and Thursday, with national unions and student groups joining forces to show discontent with the situation and increasing fees. From media reports the numbers involved varies quite dramaticly, but it is interesting to hear that it took place right across the country.
The first signs for me were the smoldering remains of rubbish and tyres on the streets near where I´m staying. I then pretty much rode straight into a stone-throwing riot - a quick about turn out of that one. I cycled past a few marches, and street "sit-downs". But for me the city certainly didn´t grind to a halt, although it was interesting to see different stages taking place in many parts of city, with the pots and pan banging "Cacerolazo" been a facinating method of demonstrating (check out this link for an explanation) . Apparently things really hotted up during the nights, and I got my first taste of tear gas from a distance on one of the evenings, not pleasent experience.
It was great to see people standing up for their rights, and unlike the recent English riots, these do have real organisation and definded reasons. They show no signs of backing down, and from the people I have spoken to they are supported by the general public. By all accounts the govt has no clue how to handle the sitiuation.
I plan to spend another week in and around Santiago, trying to improve my very poor Spanish, hooking up with contacts, getting a few last bits of equipment sorted, and waiting for my friend from Switzerland to arrive. Dani will join me for 2 months riding around Chile. We will then head north to La Serena along the coast.
Breaking Chains and Not Burning Rubber
BREAKING CHAINS - Freedom: Cycle touring is the greatest way I have found to experience freedom. Whilst I celebrate mine I hope to help others gain and realise theirs, and protect ours, by fundraising for Amnesty International
NOT BURNING RUBBER - Environmental Awareness: Cycling is one of the most efficient and sustainable modes of transport. It's slow speed allows you to become more aware and connected with our surroundings, and therefore the pressures that they may be under. I intent to have a minimal negative impact on the environment whilst I travel, and will share my observations and experiences about my journey, environmental issues, and sustainable living here: