Thursday, July 31, 2014

South America 1989: Gormless tourist on the moon

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I have just added StreetView to my iPad, because I love cruising the mean streets of Mexico, Brazil and Rumania. I was bumbling about in Paraguay when I accidentally dropped the little guide man on the Pan American Highway on the Chilean coast. Then suddenly; I realised I was looking at a place I had actually been.  The most moon-scapey place I have ever been, and yes I have spent time in Queenstown. The Atacama Desert of coastal Chile and Peru is something else. Note; the top scene here is Chile (white lines), the lower one Peru (yellow lines). These spots are something like 700km apart. And in between is… pretty much the same.

This was my first trip overseas. Manuel and I flew from Sydney to Santiago on our way to Lima, Peru. He had more money to throw around than I, so he flew up the coast to LIma while I went all the way by bus, changing buses at the border. I was 21 years old, had a smattering of night school Spanish, and I was extremely gormless. I have just realised that next month is the 25th anniversary of our trip.

The two bus rides together took 40 hours. A large stretch of it went through the desert. You hear a lot these days about how deserts are actually full of LIFE and VARIETY and so on. This one is just your classic empty sandblasted sandsville. Silver grey sand stretches from the ocean as far as you can see inland, usually to the line of sandhills not far from the road. Now and then you see small groups of tiny huts. The only colour is Chilean flags flying from almost every possible spot.

Streetview screen grab. More pics here or just go to Google Street view itself obviously!
Here is my diary and a couple of drawings from the bus ride.

This story starts in Santiago. When planning, we had decided that we would split up there, and meet up again three days later in Lima. I was on a tighter budget than Manuel, and I couldn’t justify flying when the bus was one fifth the price.

The bus left Santiago at about six in the evening, and headed north on the Pan American Highway. The Pan American stretches from Tierra del Fuego to Alaska, with the only break in Panama due to the impassable Darien Gap.

I was sitting next to a serious young man named Bernardo. We kept to ourselves until, when we were well out in the desert, I asked him if he would mind me taking a photo (he had the window seat). We started talking then, I told him where I was from and where I was going. He was the first South American I spoke to at any length. He was a student in Santiago, travelling to Calama I think.

I was headed for Arica, on the Chile/Peru border. This was supposed to take 28 hours (followed by 22 hours the next day from the border to Lima).

I was captivated by the desert, as I had never seen one before. There are areas in the Atacama desert that have never in recorded history had rain. I have always been fascinated by the idea of such massive empty spaces, and had often painted such scenes at art school. There wasn’t the dead flat horizon of my paintings, but the emptiness was mind-boggling. I spent hour after hour just staring out the window at the panorama.
In places images have been formed by arranging dark stones on the lighter sand. Some massive examples date back to extinct pre-conquest tribes, but there are many smaller religious words and images and people’s names.

Much of the time we were travelling along the Pacific coast. One place sticks in my memory, called Gran Playa. It was a flyblown truck stop. There was all kinds of rubbish sticking out of the sand, half buried. Across the road from the grubby restaurant was about 400 meters of “beach”. It was just the same as the ground on the inland side of the road, but it had waves crashing on it. If the bus had waited, I’d have liked to walk down to the water and look back at Gran Playa and the vastness that surrounded it.

The drawing [above] was done two months later, passing through the same area in the other direction. Santiago is at the same latitude as Sydney, Arica about the same as Rockhampton. I’d never been further north in my life than Gosford, so the intensity of the sun was not something I was used to. It glinted fiercely off passing cars, and even the grey-yellow sand and rocks seemed to reflect back pure white.

The desert is chock-full of valuable minerals. It was formerly Peruvian and Bolivian territory, which the Chileans captured in the War of the Pacific in 1883.
Calama has the largest copper mine in the world, and mining is all that really goes on in northern Chile. Originally they mined nitrates, but when synthetic nitrates were invented in WW2, they came to rely on copper.

The Chilean bus was quite comfortable. It cost around US$30 for the trip. The trip was overnight, and a steward went down the aisle putting everyone’s seats back at about 9 o’clock. The same steward went down the aisle waking evryone and giving them a cup of wierd tea and a roll at about 7 o’clock the next morning. That afternoon they showed a video - a black and white bedroom farce apparently made in Argentina.

We stopped in Valparaiso, Copiapo, Antofagasta and Iquique on the way. I can only remember the stop at Antofagasta. We drove through the suburbs to the bus company’s terminal. It was hot and dusty, and the whole town smelled of fish. I sat with Bernardo and ate, probably chicken I think. I ate a lot of chicken on the trip, because it was plentiful everywhere and likely to be fresh. It was usually quite tasty too.

The company's bus station was up here in the hills above the port of Antofagasta.
I said goodbye to Bernardo and continued with the bus to Arica. It was around nine pm when we arrived. The desert sunset had been spellbinding, but the darkness fell quickly. I remember seeing the lights of Arica, and travelling along a modern expressway into the city. The bus terminal was over the river from the area where I wanted to stay. I felt a little scared, but I decided to walk and see a bit of the town. It was Saturday night. Several streets were blocked off, and there were many young people wandering around. Music floated through the warm air from many different dance halls and clubs.

I found the Residencial Nuñez in Calle Maípu. They had no free rooms, but they had one that was occupied by a shift worker. They rented it out to someone else at night at a cheaper rate. The SA on a Shoestring describes the Nuñez as “dreary”. It was very basic, but it had hot water - it cost around one dollar per night.

I wanted to take a photograph of Señora Nuñez with the Jesus and Mary teatowel hanging over the reception desk. My accent was and is terrible, and something I said made her look worried and annoyed. I think I said “camera”, because it sounds like one of those words that is basically the same in both languages. She may have thought I said “camela” which means “flirt”. I should have said “maquina fotographia” or just “foto”. When she cottoned on to my meaning, she sat at her desk and gave me a huge smile. I don’t have the photo - the film was in my pack when it was stolen 2 months later.

Calle Maípu in Arica - the Residencial Nuñez ius no longer listed.
The next day I shouldered my pack and headed downtown to find the train station. There is a short railway from Arica to Tacna, the first town on the Peruvian side. It is generally better to cross a border on a bus or train than on foot, or in a private car or taxi. Your driver and fare collector do the same trip every day, and know the border guards and the procedure. If there are any bribes to be paid, the company usually does it and factors it into the ticket price. It is a much neater may of ensuring you get over OK than giving the sergeant a few bills on the spot to give you an entry stamp.

Because it was Sunday the train wasn’t running - that left me the choices of a walk back to the bus terminal for an international bus, taking a colectivo (an irregular minibus/taxi) or waiting another day. Because I was in a hurry to rejoin Manuel, I decided to get a colectivo to Tacna.

First I did a bit of sightseeing. Arica is dominated by the Morro de Arica, a big headland (notable because it doesn’t have a giant cement Jesus erected on it.) I walked around the shore below the Morro, and sat under an equestrian statue to watch big pelicans diving for fish in the water. I’m not sure who the statue was - it could have been San Martin, Bolivar, Grau, Pierola, O’Higgins or Salaverry, but probably Grau. Everything in South America is named after one of these people, from countries to soccer teams to hamburgers. 

The plaza by the Morro de Arica
While I was staring out to sea a young man approached and asked me for a cigarette. He assumed I was an American, and wanted to practise his English on me. His name was Alejandro, and he told me he was an orphan. His parents had died in an air crash, and he cried as he told me about it. Then he told me he hadn’t eaten for three days. I doubted a lot of his story, but when I bought him some empanadas, he gobbled them so fast he was choking. Empanadas are like a meat pie that is all pastry and salt, with a bit of meat accidentally left in.

We sat outside a cafe for a while, and he told me about what had happened in Chile in the last ten years. He said a lot of people were prepared to forget about the disappearances and other human rights abuses because the Pinochet regime had turned the Chilean economy around, and had inflation under control. (I later heard Peruvians say that they needed someone like Pinochet to fix their economy and crush the Shining Path. Alejandro volunteered the information that he hated Pinochet - I never heard anyone else voice an opinion.

I got up to find a moneychanger, as I had run out of pesos. Alejandro insisted I follow him to where I would get a better exchange rate, I think he wanted me to tip him. I decided to get rid of him, and said “This is not a very good rate at all - you’ve taken me out of my way for nothing”. He skulked away, and I took my pesos to where the colectivos gather. There were three ladies and a man looking for one more person to share their colectivo across the border, so I joined them.

Looking back at Chile at the Chile-Peru border.
So far, 2069km by bus and 22km by colectivo. Still nearly 1000km to Lima.
My first border crossing went well, except: when we were in no man’s land, I suddenly said “I think I left a plastic bag on the ground at the last checkpoint”. The driver briefly panicked, until he realised where we were. It is illegal to stop or turn around between a border marker and a checkpoint. We were between the Chilean marker and the Peruvian marker, and out of sight of either checkpoint, so he stopped and unlocked the boot - my bag was right there.

We drove into Tacna, Peru, and I changed my pesos and some dollars into intis. The rate was then 3300 intis to the dollar. The peso rate in Tacna was very poor; the pesos I had paid a dollar for over the border were now worth about 2600 intis. Travelling towards a border, you always have to tread a fine line between ensuring sufficient funds and getting stuck with nearly worthless currency. I changed my watch as well as my money - Peru is one hour behind Chile.

I didn’t feel very comfortable in Tacna, and I decided to just sit on my pack for the two hours before the next bus to Lima. I tried talking to a man who was also waiting, but he spoke too rapidly.

One of the older parts of Tacna ...
.. and one of the up-and-coming newer parts of Tacna.
The Peruvian bus was a rattletrap compared with the Chilean version. The passengers seemed to mostly be smuggling Chilean goods into Peru. Tacna seemed to be some sort of free trade zone, possible because it was Chilean territory from the War of the Pacific until 1929 (as a legacy it still has the highest education standard in Peru). The bus was stopped and searched twice by the customs police (who looked like the army - maybe they were the customs army). I was sitting next to a woman who had lots of silver jewellry sewn into the hem of her skirt - she showed me. Another man had a radio, which he hid in a crate of bananas when we were searched, but played at top volume and sang along to the rest of the time.

The bus to Lima went via Arequipa, Nazca, Ica and Pisco, but I can’t remember any of my impressions then - I saw them all again later. It was probably dark. I  remember dreaming that I was sitting next to Pippa, our labrador who had died a year earlier, and feeling very content just to sit next to her. I woke up and realised it was the woman with the jewellery leaning against me.

We arrived in Lima at 8.30 am. Ten minutes later I was lost. (To be continued)

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Antisocial August

I have been drawn ever deeper into Twitter over the last year (and to a lesser extent Facebook). This social media engagement has ramped up since I bought an iPad, as a tool to work on a mobile-platform project that has since stalled. I did not buy it to sit on all evening exchanging smirky views with football fans and comedians that I have never met. And yet that is how I spend my time, increasingly.

I have sent nearly 8000 tweets since I joined in 2008 - some of them have been a quick response, but for some of them I have actually done research. Many's the time I have been about to fire off a statement or reply, and then thought "I'll just check that on Wikipedia", or even "I have the exactly right pic to illustrate that, I just need to find it".

And then there is the time you spend taking your 165 character tweet and whittling it down to fit the 140 character limit.

So influenced by my social media circle (namely @pmattessi and @jmac) I am giving it all up for August. I am not donating money to anything or expecting to be made a better person. I do not feel that my addiction is harming my loved ones. I just want to see how I go.

If you are on Twitter I am @4boat  and I promise I will be back in September so feel free to follow me.

I will continue blogging here and also at TTBB, where I try to direct all my footy-related thoughts nowadays. 

And just to blow that particular trumpet, here's a sample of the terrific supportive community I will be missing over the next month.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Thursday in Tomahawk

Having taken the wave ski on the roof all the way up there, Thursday was our last roll of the dice to get some use out of it. I thought we should try Tomahawk, about 30km east of Bridport. I remembered it being a very flat beach from when I was there with Dad about 30 years previously.

Fortunately it was a superb day, just perfect. Sunny and no wind, although it can be a very windy spot. The coast goes NE in a great sweeping curve, and out in front of us on Cape Portland we could actually see the wind farm. At first I counted 13 turbines but later in the day when the sun was behind us, I saw more like 30 or 40.

Cape Portland (not the view from the beach)
This IS a view from Tomahawk beach but not my photo (thanks
Packing for the day I forgot that the iPad was my camera on this trip, and just thought "beach, iPad, nope".
So I have no photos of each of us taking a turn in the wave ski, or of Winston rushing out bravely to “save’ us then remembering that waves are scary and turning tail for the sand.

Michael is not a strong swimmer and has been a less than enthusiastic paddler in the past, but he had a good go and even got straight back in when dumped. Marcus is actually more proficient than me now in the surf - I was dumped time after time as I just couldn’t think straight in the moment. Kept putting the wrong blade of the paddle in as I was slewing sideways, making it worse instead of righting the ship.

Elf had a good long go took we all enjoyed it enormously. One reason I think Michael doesn’t paddle much is that unlike us, he doesn’t get bored when it’s not his turn. He is extremely happy just poking at the sand making little dams and dykes.

I bought us lunch at the caravan park shop. I ordered six spring rolls, thinking they would be like the Vietnamese ones, about finger size. Of course they were Marathon Spring Rolls which are essentially off-brand Chikos, the same size. I had to eat four of them.

So the perfect end to the day was a very long walk.  We walked along to the river and back. Black cockatoos were nesting near where we parked the car. I was very tired on the drive home and actually thought I was sunburnt, but didn’t seem so the next day.

Lavender with everything

Note to self - learn to take photos with the iPad without fogging half the lens.
On Wednesday we made a beeline for Bridestowe Lavender Farm. As you can see it’s not the most impressive time of year to visit - that would be in January when it looks like this;

This pic is one of several beauties on Ross Tours website.
Even in July the place is beautiful; the contoured rows are very handsome. They don’t need to irrigate at all - the site was carefully chosen for its soil type and rainfall. Having learned this, it was a real shock to see that the original bush surrounded the farm is scraggiest you'll see, and the soil looks spectacularly unpromising.

85% of their lavender oil is exported. Their boom product in recent years has been plush bears full of lavender-infused wheat, to use as heat packs. They have a limit of one per person, and elaborate anti-piracy measures so you can register your bear and confirm it is genuine.

I think they are running into the problem of how to be a viable commercial supplier of lavender oil while meeting demand for these bears, and how to be an efficient working farm when they are swamped with visitors at most crucial time of year. I see on their site that they charge $7.50 per head to visit in December and January.

I think most of the visitors are Asian tourists, and there was some forceful home-made signage around to the effect that NO YOU CANNOT TAKE PHOTOS HERE, and a few oblique comments. Cultural diversity is a wonderful thing, but I felt that in this case WE were providing the diversity.

They sell lavender-infused everything. Foods, napery, bath oils and lotions etc. We bought lavender furniture polish, lavender and apple jelly, and a pair of lavender oven mitts. Then we had pancakes with lavender ice cream, and lavender scones.

The large pup was in the car during our visit, so we kept it short; but in truth there was not that much to do and few other visitors clogging up the scone production line. 

The day was turning rainy so when we got back to the shack, we went to the local library in two shifts, and loaded up on books. The rest of the day was spent working our way through them and spinning LPs.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Shacked up in Bridport

Today we loaded up kids, dog, wave ski and a few clothes, and hit the road. I am writing this on Monday night in a borrowed shack in Bridport. It's feels weird to be on the coast, but not the East Coast or Northwest Coast or even West Coast. We are on the Northeast coast, and it was a torturous drive. We didn't bring a map, and I decided to just drive in to Launceston and follow road signs to get here from Scottsdale, which turns out to be a very rally-driving way to go. Twists and turns. Even just getting through the centre of Launceston and onto the road to Scottsdale is an adventure in randomness. Quite a beautiful drive though. The view from Sideling Lookout over the valley is amazing.

 This is my friend Andrea's family shack. She lives in Perth now so doesn't get here often; her siblings and their friends use it but we managed to get a free timeslot in the school holidays. We are just going to dag around, reading and walking on the beach and maybe having a paddle if we feel brave. Poor Winston is ready to go home. We left him inside here while we went down to the pub for dinner and he practically turned inside out with his leapings when we returned. We have explained that we are here for 4 days and he will hopefully get used to it.

 We have a singing neighbour. He seemed to be practising a song called Thinkin' Bout The Way Things Used To Be, yodelling it across the hillside with a lyric sheet in his hand. When he's happy with his work he finishes with a bit of a "Yoooow!!"

 Good night's sleep generally, Winston had a bit of a prowl around inside but went back to his designated 'bed' (old sheet on the floor) when asked to. Our beds are soft and warm and after a busy day that's all I need.

 On the way here yesterday we drove through Scottsdale, and I told the family the story of the 1967 Scottsdale Magpies who won the NTFA premiership, and then the state final. That year there was a Championship of Australia held at Adelaide Oval. Scottsdale were competitive but were outplayed by Subiaco, then met Glenelg in the 3rd place playoff the next day and were belted mercilessly Glenelg 29.27 (201) d Scottsdale 10.8 (68)

After breakfast we went for a long walk with Winston through town along the sandy river flats at low tide. When the Visitors Centre was open we got some maps and had a chat about places to take the dog and the wave ski. The lady in there was on the phone when we arrived, taking advice on whether to fly the flag or not - apparently Governor Peter Underwood passed away overnight. This is sad news, he was a brave supporter of human rights and peace movements. He invited all Amnesty members to a reception at Govt House once, and shook every single hand.

 We came home to the shack for lunch and for me to spin a few more LPs from the collection; I'm really enjoying being reunited with Mad Not Mad by Madness (1985). Then we went off to try to find Adams Beach - we just missed it yesterday. Now fully enmapped, we were able to track it down. A magnificent deserted expanse of sand, with no rocks. Most of the beaches here are hemmed in with huge granite boulders. Marcus and I swam but it was beastly cold. Michael paddled bravely. We walked a pretty long way then turned back and were nearly back to our shoe-pile before we saw anyone else. The surf was too wild for us to put the wave ski in, so hopefully that might happen tomorrow.

Thursday, July 03, 2014

The great outdoors

On Sunday I filled in for a friend's proper outdoor soccer team, and played a full 90 minutes out there on real grass. It was fantastic.

 I am currently playing indoor soccer twice a week; competitive league 4-a-side at the cricket centre on Fridays, and casual kickabout no-ref soccer in a school gym on Tuesdays.

Josh, a Balinese guy in our Friday night team, also plays in the Over 35 outdoor league I played in a couple of years back, but he runs around for Beachside. I played then for University, and Marcus now plays for Olympia, so I felt briefly conflicted when I was asked to don the lurid green of Beachside, but I got over it quickly.

Their home ground is Sandown Park, by the beach in Sandy Bay. Marcus played there the other day, and it was horribly waterlogged. Josh and I arrived and saw that it was much worse, covered in standing water. There is another ground which is on a slightly higher level, and looked fine to play on. I asked the other Beachside guys if we might play on that instead; even though this is their home, they seemed to think that was a novel idea.

The referee arrived and inspected the first pitch. It was hilarious. There were, let's say, 25 large puddles. he asked for a ball, and went up and down the ground and attempted to roll a ball through every one. I don't know if there is something in his manual about this. he was so thorough. And every time the ball stopped rolling and started floating, he looked grim and disappointed. he came back and said "Sorry, game's off." He too seemed to think the idea of playing on the other pitch was beyond the pale. Eventually someone bashfully suggested he have a look at it. "Ohhhhh sure, move the nets onto the goals up there and let's do it".

I played left back and had a hoot. There was lots to do; Beachside aren't much good at keeping the ball so there was plenty of defending required. I did my best and made a few nice tackles and passes. Due to a technicality I had best not go into, I was going by the name of 'Brian' for the day. (Weirdly I was telling someone about this today and he said, oh I know Brian, he's married to my wife's cousin.) There was a smattering of "well done Brian" from on and off the field.

I even got on the scoresheet. At the wrong end. There are two kinds of acceptable own goals; the lunge and the deflection. I lunged and got to the ball before my man who was coming in at the far post; but I needed to get some scoop into my lunge -- all I did was foot-punch the ball into my own net.

Apart from that I felt like I did OK and my team-mates were very keen for me to Brian it up again this weekend. The player shortage that led to me being drafted is now worse after a couple of injuries on Sunday, so I think I have a game there any time I want one.

Final score was Hobart Utd 5 d Beachside 0.