Another Solitude, Chile
Thursday, 14 July 2011 21:50

DSC_0288It was an evening time as we came to Santiago. In order to get to our hostel we came to the metro line close to the bus station. Outside was cold and dark, inside the metro was that gloomy. It was rush hour in Santiago and people were trying to get to their homes. People around were glancing first to our backpacks and then to us. Beside looking so exhausted they all looked unhappy and desperate as well. Was that the human profile that I expected to see from South American people? What brought these people into this mood? This situation took me to one and half year ago. To the rainy and cold Ýstanbul mornings, to the moment that I used to wait for a white company shuttle bus in a narrow pavement. While waiting for my bus I used to observe inside of the other shuttle buses passing by respectively, with a pair of red eyes. Most people sitting in their uncomfortable seats, lean their head to the window just to sleep few more minutes. Those employed by more wealthy company have fancy shuttle buses but for some even they don't have a heating in their vehicle. On the other hand some try to get their work by a jammed public bus, more awful. Some drive fastly their private cars from the left side, those are managers. All these people's case is not different from Santiago residents. Tired bodies, pensive faces, disappointed and lonely people. In fact the situation was all same in other parts of the world that we have been. Anyway, I appreciate your permission, my shuttle bus has just arrived. "Damn, this guy who just started working had taken my seat that I am used to sit everyday! Where I can sit now? Hmmm... The back 4 seats looks empty. I had better take all and lie. I can sleep at least half an hour well."

 

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The hostel we stayed was an ancient and stylish one but it was chilly though. It is quite difficult to find heating in budget places particularly in South America, people mostly prefer to get warmed by drinking wine. During our conversation with the young guy who offered us wine in the kitchen, we figured out that he was also an electrical engineer and was the owner of the hostel at the same time. Thanks to him that we could eat a lot of Turkish dishes. No, he didn't take us to any Turkish restaurant. Since the hostel had a nice kitchen we cooked several food from Turkish cuisine that we miss. Cheap and tasty Chilean wines and Turkish art music singer Zeki Müren's voice companied us at the table. We spent a lot time at the hostel because we considered there is not much to see in this city or our expectations got greedy. My comment about this city would be "just a city". The hills of Metropolitan Park which has a whole city view and Plaza de Armas square was one of the few places we have been. We also had to wait for the Peruan visa. Peru is the only country in South America that require visa from Turks. We applied for this visa when we were in Argentina but our application was rejected. The reason was we were not Argentina residents. We got the same answer from the Peruan embassy in Santiago and we said "enough". We have been to Turkish embassy but this time not due to stolen passport issue. We asked for a help and the embassy prepared a letter for us addressing Peruan embassy. We delivered this letter by hand. It worked but was not enough. We had to convince some more officers and the next day our visa was ready. As soon as we got the visa we headed to Valparaiso by bus...

 

DSC_0431Valparaiso is an ancient art city with full of hills that founded by the Pacific Ocean. Streets, house walls, pavements even stairs are painted lovely, the city is so colourful. It had many artist residents including Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. It is also on the itinerary of Ernesto Che Guevara's trip which he started to discover South America. Since there is lots of hills many elevators were constructed in order to take people to the up. It is cheap and funny to use these elevators. In the movie "Motorcycle Diaries" Ernesto and his friend Alberto use one of these elevators. Valparaiso is a very old harbor but after opening of Panama Chanel, the port lost its popularity and the shipping traffic reduced. The sea lions living in the port among ships is a kind of evidence. After few days we followed Che's route and intended to go to Calama city. We decided to use hitchiking again. We came to the highway where the many vehicles and trucks pass. It seemed they couldn't stop because they were all so fast. We decided to move to a toll gate which would be easier to find a truck since they have to stop there. But it was not necessary anymore, a yellow truck had stopped quite far and signalled us to come. This was the biggest truck we have been. The driver Luis was heading to Iqueqe and he could drop us at the Calama junction. Normally the journey to Calama city takes around 20 hours and by truck it would take more apparently. Chile is geographically narrow country stretched from the north and the south thus there is only one national road in this direction. There are many trucks on the way and all these drivers don't prefer to travel alone and look for a company on the way since the distances are so big. That is why hitchiking is so common in Chile. Our driver had taken us for the same reason. Sometimes it was difficult to communicate but we had a nice conversation all the way. We stopped by the restaurants that mostly truck drivers come and we did the same as what a truck driver does. Even we became friends in facebook. After 7 hours we had to stop by a tyre repairer because one of the tyres needed to be changed. That moment Luis got a phone call. It was his boss calling him. One of his collegues saw us in the truck and complained to his boss. The company didn't let drivers to get any passengers to the truck. The situation was serious because he told us he could be fired. That was enough to make us disappointed and sad. We couldn't travel with him anymore but we wanted to something for him. He said there is nothing to do. He was such a good man he was also worrying about us because he had to drop us somewhere that we don't know at night time. We hugged and wished good luck to each other. We felt so sorry. We learnt that we were close to Serena city so we could stop a public bus on the road and got to the bus terminal. We headed to Calama by bus from here. This case made us stop hitchiking. The following day we heard from Luis and everything was all right which made us feel better.

 

DSC_0782Calama is not a sightseeing city. What makes here interesting is the existence of world's biggest open pit mine, Chuquicamata. A huge pit having 1 km of depth, 3 km of width and 4,7 km of long. In order to obtain 1 kg of copper from 100 kg of rock, thousands of men and 120 giant trucks work everyday. Each truck costs around 5 million dollars and they consume 3 litres of fuel per minute. Chuquicamata which has a history of nearly 90 years was founded by Americans first and run by American company "Anaconda" for long years. In late 1960's the mine was bought by Chile and nationalized. The mine is administrated by a Chilean company Codelco at the moment. Again in the movie there are scenes from the mine. Ernesto was worried about the people who came to this mine to hope a job and who were misbehaved by the company owners, and he showed his reaction to the bosses. A city was build for the mine workers which close to the mine but it was not expected that the mine would grow that much. So the mine got so close to the city and became dangerous, some international organizations didn't allow people to live here anymore and all residents had been moved to Calama city. Now the town totally looks like a ghost town. We attended to the excursion of the mine company which was free of charge. During this tour it was funny for us to wear orange helmets and vests. I had seen a documentary about this mine on NG channel before which was telling how the humankind may change the nature. It seems these change will keep on going since there is still 50 years of reserve. Well after we picked some rocks from the mine the number may decreased to 49. We finished the trip in the mine and the same day we left from the city towards San Pedro de Atacama.

 

DSC_0970The dusty streets of San Pedro de Atacama were totally empty the night we arrived. The main reason was apparently cold weather and the match between Chile and Mexico in Copa America. The "goal" sounds coming from bars and the result of match made us experience a familiar scene. People were in the street and celebrated this win with car horns. The desert just next to us and celebratings made me feel weird. This town looks quite artificial and commercial with its adobe houses. The reason is beauty of Atacama desert for sure. Atacama desert is the least rain receiving place on the planet and some places on the desert didn't receive any rain drop last 50 years. However the second day we arrived it rained in the town! For me deserts are one of the biggest nature wonders of the world. And desserts are one of the biggest wonders of Turkish cuisine, shouldn't be confused. I experience the real desolation and solitude only in deserts. There are much places to see in Atacama but it is necessary to attend a tour mostly which we don't prefer. That's why we only have been to Valle de la Luna, in other words moon valley. However it was not as satisfactory as Gobi. I think at least we had to spend a night at the desert to feel it better. We spend the other day cycling around the desert. Our goal was to get to Bolivia and travel there from here by 4 wheel drive. But the borders were closed due to snow and the tour operators postponed the trip so we decided to leave from Atacama and reach to Bolivia by ourselves. First we have been to Calama by bus and then got another bus to Iqueqe. Since the northern borders are open the bus from here will take us to Oruro city of Bolivia and we will have the chance to travel there.

 

For those who read the first paragraph of the article and say "Ýsmail it is easy to write these, I wonder what you will do when you come back" my answer; I have no idea, the only thing I know I don't care this, that is why I could start this trip. Who knows, may be I will get used to close my eyes...

 

Note: Few days ago I got a message from my dear Bosnian friend Kemal about the Srebrenica genocide. This year the genocide is condemned in Turkey. In order to do that 8372 people took off their shoes and these shoes are exhibited in Taksim Square in Istanbul. I am late to make this announcement I feel sorry that I couldn't have the chance to post it before. Here is the web site for details. www.8372.org

ismail