Sunday, August 10, 2008

They're Under Starters Orders...

Wow. Culture shock and awe going on here. It's day 4 right now and my head is spinning with the sights, sounds, smells, language, beer, you name it, its probably making my head spin right now. I've had it pretty easy so far, it has to be said. I was met at the airport by a friend of a friend who, after having to wait 1 1/2 hours for my late arrival then offered to drive me the 120km to Valparaiso, thus saving me the trials of finding bus stops and buying tickets. Result, and thank you, Anamaría! My initial attempts at carefully rehearsed phrases I thought I would need when I met Anamaría dissolved into a confused mix of Frenish (or maybe Spench?) as nerves took over. Fortunately, Anamaría spoke pretty good English, so I had an impromptu Spanish lesson as we drove to Valparaiso.
She dropped me off at the bus station in Valpo, where I met Rich, and we headed to his base, in the house of a Chilean guy called Daniel who he met one day when Daniel was checking out Rich's bike (still with me?). Daniel has almost no English and Rich had almost no Spanish, but with a mutual love of bikes, within a very short time they were best mates, and Daniel was offering his house and lock-up for sleeping and bike storage respectively, and the invitation included me.
We have developed a fairly symbiotic relationship as far as language goes, with us teaching Daniel and him teaching us, and it works well, if you abandon inhibitions, roll up your sleeves and just get miming. It is amazing what you can communicate with sound effects, extravagant gesticulations and big smiles! Add into the mix Daniel's large social network and you find yourself holding long and complicated conversations in a mixture of English, Spanish, French, German, Italian....and mime. Once initial shyness over trying to speak foreign went, I've found I'm really enjoying the challenge of it all.
Anyhow, the rest of Wednesday included beer, a walk round town, an attempted mugging (we were the victims, not the attackers) by a couple of school kids having a crack at the newly arrived gringo (maybe talking loudly in English in small alleys is not a good idea - I think it draws attention), and an impromptu knees up at home with some of Daniel's mates, lasting til the wee small hours and involving my introduction to Pisco, a local liquor made from grapes and possibly used for stripping paint.
Thursday introduced us to the joys of "Coffee with legs" and took us to the Port and my bike, and Daniel proved his worth once again by going above and beyond the call of duty by spending the whole day standing around with me waiting while people passed bits of paper around and around and around. Its a crazy system for sure, but I freed my bike in record time (only 7 hours - it took Rich 3 days). We celebrated by going to a seafood restaurant that Daniel knew (we are so far off the tourist trail, its great!) and I enjoyed (its all relative - up to this day, I've generally avoided shellfish) a bowl of shellfish soup, containing not just the shell fish, but also their shells, tubey bits and most of the sea bed, judging from the high sand content! I have quickly realised that I'll have to eat anything put in front of me, at least until I can understand the menus well enough to know what it is I've ordered! Big smiles and bellies full (of bread mostly), we popped home then out again to a local bar full of local people - like I said, Daniel is taking us to the heart of Valpo and we laugh at the silly tourists - with loads of people, a live band playing their own music and vodka and cokes served in such a way that there is almost no room for the coke. The people are so friendly and welcoming and before long (well, 2.30am) we were off for more beer at someone's house, before finally passing out on various sofas in the even wee-er small hours.
Yesterday was bike fiddling stuff and, for dinner, more peculiar local fare courtesy of Daniel's favourite cafe - some kind of cold jellied pork (or some other meat-like product) served in a bowl with raw, sliced onion and white kidney beans. Mmmm. Luckily there was bread and beer to wash it down so we put in a good showing and made like it was the best thing ever - which in a way it was, I suppose. We followed this up with a return to the local bar, which tonight had a DJ playing twin turntables with classic 80's vinyl with some Beatles thrown in for good measure. Duran Duran,Tears for Fears and Spandau Ballet never got such an enthusiastic reception! Its a crazy atmosphere with people sat at tables jumping up to dance when the mood took them, loads of booze and heaps of fun. We have coined a phrase, Richard and I:"Everything's normal in Chile". Seems to cover all eventualities...
So, that's what we've been up to, but what of Valparaiso itself? Well, for those of you familiar with Wellington in NZ, its the same kind of layout, i.e. a flat level strip round the seafront with massively steep hills covered in houses that seem to defy the laws of gravity and built of mostly corrugated tin and crossed fingers. The roads are tarmac in the town centre but crumbly concrete slabs and cobbles on the unfeasible steep hills (I have never driven up steeper) and crazy dogs leaping out of every corner. The sunsets are amazing and I can't wait to get out on the open road and see more of it.
Have to go now though, so just remember: Esta es un robo!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

YEEEHAAA!!! Steady on there Butch, you'll probably need your liver later on!

Glad to hear you've landed safely and are set fot the open road, let me know where you want the emergency supplies of peanut butter and red jam sent to!

Looking forward to the next installment J&D xxx