19 Mar – Valparaiso, Chile
Well we are not going to see the bikes into the container, that we will have to rely on the Chileans to do themselves. For the next few weeks they will sit in a warehouse gathering dust.
Our group here in the hostel is quickly diminishing in number as various ones leave to catch flights back to NZ. Today four more trudged off down the road with their bags over their shoulders to the bus station and transport to Santiago. We had a farewell lunch together at a delightful little eatery just down the road after which there was much hand shaking and back slapping as we bad farewell to what now seemed like old friends. We had come together six weeks ago, a disparate bunch not knowing each other and together ridden 10,000 kilometres, endured the roads, food, cramped accommodation and bad showers not to mention the odd case of food poisoning, enjoyed the beer and wine and spun tall tales and now it was time to go our separate ways again.
Down the road from our hostel is an area bustling with street commerce. Peddlers lay out their produce in the street, those with status on tables and those lower down the pecking order on a mat laid directly on the pavement. The vendors sit glum faced on wooden boxes hoping passers-by will spot something of value. Passers-by shuffle equally stern-faced past the goods occasionally stopping to inspect but rarely buying. All the while the motley stray dogs, ever on the lookout for a morsel of food, sniff at everything and pee on anything vertical. Since it is mostly lunch time the food sellers are busy frying local treats that resemble burger patties made of a yellow substance and eaten with aji pobre, a chilly and coriander sauce. Next door the vendor heats up empanadas, small pasties, and offers them to you in carne (meat) or queso (cheese). Meanwhile over by the park Sebastian Vila belts out songs to a beat box, collects what he can from tips and tries to sell his CD's. Actually he is not half bad so Pete and I sit there on the broken park bench listening to him. The poor fellow has his work cut out trying to compete with the tooting of impatient drivers, the roaring engines of trucks delivering beer, countless buses and the shrill sound of the policeman's whistle as he tries to wrestle order from chaos. Even the policeman retreats to the sidewalk occasionally seemingly temporally defeated. Sitting on our bench we watch the teeming humanity pass by, the vendors, old men and derelicts, mothers with kids, kids in school uniform and university students on some sort of orientation week prank. As relieved as we might be to see the back of this country, high street NZ is going to seem awfully dull.