I went to bed around 2:00 A.M. on Monday, a few hours after buying a bus ticket online for Valparaíso, Chile. Unfortunately, the bus left at 8:30 A.M. that morning, so I didn't get too much sleep. I woke up around 6:30, showered, had a taxi run me to an ATM—time was short—and then take me back to the hostel, where I paid for my five nights. I had packed most of my stuff the night before and so was pretty much ready to go. The taxi waited outside for me. Within five minutes, I was gone.
Upon arriving at the bus station, I went to the Locutorio—Internet café, basically—and printed out my bus ticket with only about 15 minutes to spare. Once on the bus, I fired up my laptop and responded to a couple e-mails from Nadia, then put on my headphones and my sleeping mask. A couple hours later, I woke up, not sure if it was nighttime. Then I took my mask off. Blinded by the sun, it was 10:30 A.M. as we headed into the Andes.
At first, there were just traces of snow on the hills above us, but as we neared the summit, the snow came down to the road and its depth consistently increased. Eventually, it intruded onto the surface of the road. The winds increased and the visibility decreased. I knew we'd be heading down precarious hairpin turns on the far side and was moderately concerned for my life.
At the summit, we arrived at customs. After probably an hour going through the Argentine line, the Chilean line, and having our bags scanned, we were off. The driver proceeded with care, for which I was grateful. I put the music and mask back on, and caught some more Z's. I had caught a cold back in Mendoza a few days earlier and so needed some rest.
About eight hours after setting out, we arrived at the Pacific Ocean and one of Chile's most important sea ports. I took a taxi to a little bed & breakfast called The Yellow House Bed & Breakfast, at which I had made a reservation back in Mendoza after buying my bus ticket the night before after midnight.
Martin, an Australian who came here as part of his job in the petroleum industry, met me at the door and showed me to my room. Martin ended up sticking around here in Chile after meeting his wife—Lissette—who is a Chilena. Upon my meeting her a few hours later, she and I chatted for probably 30 or 40 minutes about Spanish grammar. She's a teacher and we had quite a nice time. We both love grammar!
I slept really well, something that hadn't occurred for the past few nights. It was very quiet and when I finally decided to get up at about 8:30 (9:30 to my body), Martin had breakfast waiting for me. He and I ended up chatting for probably over an hour. We got into some politics and I learned some interesting things. I had made a comment about the 40% export tax imposed on farmers in Argentina and that got the ball rolling.
The basic idea is this. The Argentine government imposed price caps some time ago on the petroleum, farming, and cattle industries. Despite inflation, these industries cannot raise their prices. How does one stay in business under these circumstances? Well, these business people did what any business person would do. They looked for a way to grow their business—they decided to export. The government didn't like being circumvented apparently, so they imposed a 40% export tax. The comment that I had made was that I had seen their president on TV begging the farmers to go back to work—they've been striking. My question to her is, who in their right mind would want to work just to give their money to someone else? If you want them to go back to work, quit taking all their money!
Moreover, the Argentine government cut natural gas supplies to Chile, apparently as punishment to the petroleum companies who refuse to do research regarding potential sites for obtaining gas. These companies are already operating at a loss due to the government-imposed price caps. Why would they spend more of their own limited money for this purpose? Now, Chile is pursuing alternative sources of natural gas. They are currently constructing a deliquification plant, so they can purchase liquified natural gas from abroad.
It is not uncommon for folks down here to ask me what I think of George Bush. Most of them think he is stupid. I guess it depends with whom you compare him. Regardless, the government of one's country does not necessarily reflect the people of that country, and I love many of the people in Latin America.
The next subject that came up was General Augusto Pinochet. In decades past, Chile had had to contend with violent leftist terrorists and communist leader Salvador Allende. When General Pinochet took office, he made literally a thousand new laws concerning the keeping of the peace and the health and growth of the economy. He also killed a bunch of communist bastards. The state of the country improved drastically under his rule. When he was voted out more than a decade-and-a-half later, he left without fuss. The current government has abolished many of the laws put into place by Pinochet, but the country continues to thrive thanks to the foundation he laid. He ruled with an iron fist and he no doubt did bad things, but the improvements that came to this country under his rule cannot be debated.
Last night, I went to the bathroom before going to bed. There is approximately a 2-inch step into the bathroom. I didn't see it. I kicked it. I think I broke the big toe on my right foot. It hurt—a lot. Thankfully, it doesn't hurt if I don't move it. Unfortunately, it does hurt when I try to walk. Not sure if I'll be able to go dancing this week.
Today, after sleeping in and having a leisurely breakfast, I walked a couple hundred meters up the nearby hill to a lookout over the city. I found a nice spot in the sun and read for about two-and-a-half hours. I'm re-reading the book Sailing Alone Around the World by Joshua Slocum, a wonderful adventure written by the first man to sail solo around the world. It was an amazing trip of over three years. He was an incredible sailor and a great writer. I aim to finish it while here and leave it behind here at the B&B. Then I'll continue on with the rather large book I began in Buenos Aires, The Path Between the Seas, about the construction of the Panama Canal.
The weather today was rather perfect. I would describe it as being comparable to a perfect Spring day in the Pacific Northwest. As I read, there were many distractions. There were the beeping and clanging noises of a busy seaport, containers being moved about, loaded onto ships, and cranes swinging round. There were passing students, apparently on their lunch break—or maybe they just get out earlier here than we're accustomed to in the States.
There was one particular pair of student lovebirds about ten meters from me. At first, they were kissing and hugging. Then out came the apples. Yes, the apples. The male of the pair made particularly loud smacking sounds as he ate. I normally have trouble concentrating, even without mouth noises. One of the things I hate most in all of the world is mouth noises. Yes, mouth noises. These make concentrating even harder for me to grasp than usual. Unfortunately, eating is a particularly healthy breeding ground for mouth noises and they were emanating profusely from his mouth. I'm guessing apples are very rare and very expensive down here, because he proceed to eat every last conceivable speck of meat from this apple. Not even all of the core was remaining when he was done. It was the longest apple-eating session in history, I am quite certain. When he was finished, his girlfriend proceeded to pick bits of apple from his teeth, and he proceeded to pick his nose. Not long after, they left. I continued to read and enjoy this almost-perfect day. I do believe I got some color back in my skin this afternoon.
Also while reading, I made a new friend. There are a number of dogs running around the city, like in most places in Latin America. I petted one for a bit, and she liked it. She put her head up against my chest and wanted more. As I was seated on the ground, she reared up on my back at one point and was getting a bit playful. I chased her away, but she came back later. What can I say. I'm likeable. She ended up sleeping for a bit with a friend on the warm ground next to me for a while, as I continued to read.
When I got up to leave after having sat for a couple hours, I could barely walk, my toe hurt so bad. I hobbled homeward.
I stopped by a nice, but expensive, restaurant on the way back to the B&B. It had a great view overlooking the city. It was a nice way to end a relaxing afternoon.
Upon returning to the B&B, I found my bed remade and a fresh set of towels for me, along with a new bar of soap and a new packet of shampoo. This place is classy and Martin and Lissette really look after you. Unfortunately, they keep it pretty cold, at least in the winter. When I mentioned this to Martin, he immediately proceeded to provide me with a space heater for my room, the heat waves of which I am enjoying at this very moment. There are also multiple WiFi routers in the 4-story house, so connectivity is not an issue.
Well, that's the state of things now. Tomorrow, I'll be going on a guided walking tour of the city. I'll keep you posted on how that goes, and on the condition of my big toe.