The Chilean capital of Santiago has been my home base for the scouting mission. It is pretty much the halfway point of the Vuelta Sudamericana. The purpose of my reconnaissance is to finalize the route, determine accommodations, develop a network of local connections and to learn Spanish. Each of these presents their own challenges.
Santiago is city with a unique mix of old and new. The city has a plethora of architecture dating back from development of the early conquistadors. Although it has suffered through war and natural disasters, its cathedrals, museums, theatres and political buildings have been amazingly restored and maintained. The history of this city is old but in the last 150 years it has seen rapid development and population increase accredited mostly to the booming international trade of mining exports and strategic shipping ports. Modern structures have been superimposed literally right on top of the historic monuments telling the story of this town. The recent history of this town is equally intriguing as that of the Spanish conquest. La Moneda which is still the city’s administrative center, was the site where the president was overthrown by a military dictatorship 40 years ago.
The plentiful green space separates the urban surrounds. You don’t have to walk far to find a beautiful plaza complete with fountains and mature trees. The Rio Maphocho divides the city and is lined with parks throughout. But the surrounding rising topography acts as a natural trap fro urban smog. From the summit of Cerro Christobal the backdrop of the snowcapped Andes is clouded by a brown fog.
One of my first tasks was to acquire a vehicle to scout the route. As a foreigner this is not easy. After finding the appropriate truck, a Nissan D21, I managed to swindle my way through the bureaucratic red tape only to hit a completely unforeseen roadblock. The Registro Civil, the government ministry that deals with vehicle registrations and issues license plates has gone on strike. The dispute is over wage disputes with the government and has been ongoing for nearly two weeks now. Needless to say my truck is still not on the road. The strike became violent last week when a group of rogue employees illegally occupied the main office in Santiago. But this ministry deals with more than vehicle inscription; they handle birth certificates, death certificates, marriage certificates and passports. The strike is nationwide and there are others who are suffering much more than I am. To offer some relief and respect their duty to the people the government has opened and emergency office and it is trying to deal with all urgent matters. Unfortunately vehicle issues lack priority and each day I wait for resolution.