Santiago de Nueva Extremadura

Santiago, quiero verte enamorado                  Santiago, I want to see your love
Y a tu habitante mostrarte sin temor              And your residents show no fear
En tus calles sentiras mi paso firme              In your streets feel my firm steps
Y sabre de quien respira a mi lado.               And know who breaths with me

Santiago friday the 26th april 2013. Im standing on a balcony, the same I’ve stood on for the past three months and gaze out across the city. The setting sun gives way to a toxic brown soup which is the spectacle of dusk in Santiago de Nueva Extremadura and it is terrifyingly beautiful.  The air is thick with bewailing anticipation ignorant of those coveting a semblance of solitude. It oscillates, it heaves, salient with the very essence of expectation. It is both nauseating and thrilling.

We had made it a thousand kilometres from Puerto Montt to the Chilean capital in a single night, a single hitch with two eccentric roadworkers, for 15 hours in the driving rain. Leaving around 8pm, and entering the outskirts of the Chilean capital at eleven the following morning.
At times we had swerved out of our lane, almost coming to a premature end,  blinding headlights, horns honking, rain, so much rain. I decided to sleep through it as best I could. At times waking and starring down an oncoming truck within a hair or mortality. Another time I awoke to find everyone asleep and the traffic speeding by as we rested in a layby.
There was no point in worrying about it, or I was too tired to worry about it. Death is just another adventure I convinced myself in order to sleep.

We took the metro the final 8 kilometres to the city centre and found lodgings in the bario of Bella Vista on the right bank of the Mapocho river.
It took a few days to adjust to the metropolis after our months in the countryside. Ed busied himself in preparation to leave by motorcycle. While I tried to find some sort of internal rhythm to life in the city.  
It was clear that Ed and I would be going our separate ways.
Ed had a slender budget and limited time before he had to return to England. While I had no money whatsoever but infinite time to ponder on how to make the means to an end. Yes I would need some sort of gainful employment.
Ed would complete our collective dream, of traversing the continent just as Earnesto Guevara and Roberto Granado did, 60 years ago. But he would be doing it alone.
Sitting in a cafe on a sunny afternoon I read of a call for submissions in a local english language magazine called Revolver. I called the only Chilean I knew, folk musician Nano Stern, to see if he would grant me an interview. Writing an article on Nano would open some doors I thought.
We met Nano later in the afternoon, in a German eatery, sipped beers and chatted. He had just returned from a 10 day tour in southern Chile and was about to jet off to Canada the following day, one day later and he would have been gone. A serindipitous happenstance. Nano is one of those souls who I’m convinced has the ability to see the world in slow motion as it whirrs all around him. He see the beauty in everything. His words have a wisdom beyond his years. I hadn’t met him in over 2 years, but we spoke as old friends. He took us to the banks of the Mapocho and sang for us a lament of his city written over two hundred years ago, about this Santiago on the extremeties of the then Spanish empire.
He gave us over an hour of his time before leaving us to spend his final evening with the woman he loves. He wouldn’t see her until the end of his next tour. That afternoon, we went to meet O’Car our host for what was to be a few nights , but in my case turned out to be 10 weeks. O’Car in many ways is similar to Nano, I was beginning to get an understanding of the Chilean people, very laid back, easy going and superbly hospitable with their time and thoughts. O’Car’s housemate would be away until may, so he invited me to stay until then if I wanted. This opportunity allowed me to see Santiago through the eyes of one of it’s residents 
 The following day I met Nick, the editor for Revolver. The magazine didn’t pay, but there were other benefits in writing for a magazine or so I was soon to find out.
Ed had managed to procure himself a motorcycle, a 110cc japanese fourstroke city bike. His adventure really was just about to begin. We said our farewells and Ed rode off into demented Santiago traffic, heading for the coast. The pacific ocean and onwards, to Bolivia.
That night, I had a some casual work in a bar downtown. Which turned into 2 nights, but nothing more after that. my limited spanish inhibited my ability to take orders correctly and on more than one occasion cocktails were served in place of beers, and spirits in place of wines. 
By day I wrote or shot film or photographed or did interviews for Revolver. By night we partied or rode bycicles to the top of San Cristobal with its breathtaking vistas of the city and rode down as fast as we could in the pitch black, no streetlights or headlamps. It produced such an intoxicating high, added to this was the risk of being caught by the guard de parque, the top of the hill is a military training centre. The whole mountain is off limits after dark.
Thursday night was the weekly Revolver night. We gathered, usually at Nicks apartment discuss possible stories, each others progress, organise production teams for shoots. But ultimately it was a drinking frenzy. This is what being a journalist was really all  about, or at least in my mind. No writer worth his or her salt was ever a tea totaler. Hard drinking makes a good writer better.  But it will make a mediocre writer worse. When the alcohol ran out we would catch cabs to Recoletta or Bella Vista and hit the bars and clubs. Dance, drink, talk about life, projects we were working on. It was the ultimate creative workshop intensive which resulted in requiring the whole of friday in bed. 
This was life for three glorious months. Perfecting the art of home baked  bread, writing, discovering a new city a new culture a new language.
By the end of april I knew it was time to move on. My visa was expiring and I had also told Gustavo I would return to Lago Puelo for winter. With only four days left on the visa I bade farewell to O’car and told him I would return in a few months. The Argentinian countryside was calling me, with its wild horses and snowcapped peaks. I would take the Pasa de los Liberatores only 3 days walk from the town of Los Andes just north of Santiago and a stones throw from Aconcagua, the tallest peak in both the western and southern hemisphere.
I just hoped I would make it before the annual snowfall would close the boarder for winter.


No comments:

Post a Comment