Friday, July 28, 2006

Las Trancas 05

Originally posted to El Cantar de la Lluvia on Friday, December 02, 2005

The idea had been going around in my head for quite a while. Certainly the length of the trip made one stop and think; it was the first time that I'd be trying a trip like this, of almost 500 km.

It's just a question of packing the bike and setting off. The trip to Las Trancas took me about 8 hours and a half, something like that. I rode at between 85 and 95 km/h, what's the point of going faster. I didn't want to stress the engine, or tire myself. The result was a relaxed journey, no rush, seeing the sights, how beautiful scene after scene rolled past, being a part of the picture (as has been famously said before), feeling the wind and sun on my body. A trip really acquires an extra dimension when you take it like that. In a car, everything is flat, framed; the sky is not over your head, instead, there's a piece of sheet metal. You've got your cubicle, the toll booth receipts, the radio, your luggage, a can of soft drink, and the horrendous monotony of the windows, the steering wheel, the dashboard. On a motorbike, all that disappears,

...and there is nothing above you. As the narrator of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance said, on a motorbike you are part of the scenery.

I crossed rivers and bridges, one after the other. On one hand it's nice to recognize the name of a river from your school geography lessons, but on the other it's also nice to forget the name, to stop and feel how the bridge bounces violently with the passing trucks.

And sometimes, inexplicable things; artificial forests in the middle of nowhere, with a regularity and perfection that were extremely calming.

Having turned now to face the Andes, I noticed the clouds hanging over the valley I was headed towards.

Once I was in the valley, the real mountains came into view, those that surround the Termas de Chillán.

And above the cabins, the waterfall. During the days of rain and wind (of which there were three), the waterfall fell diagonally, its white vertical thread unravelling like a battered feather.

We were near a volcano, and where there are volcanoes, there are lava flows, escoriales. I took the road to Shangri-La, a lost valley just like all the other Shangri-Las in this world. To get there, I rode through a forest, following a stony track, which then took me to the escorial.

At the end of the track, a large house, clearly abandoned. Its windows were black gaping holes. The track to the house was cut off by a stream and a large slope of volcanic sand, which I was able to scale with difficulty, the rear wheel spinning as if it were some crazy steamboat on the Mississippi.

And it turned out not to be a house, but a mountain lodge, owned by the University of Concepción's Mountaineering group, according to a hiker that was taking a break in the shade after walking down from the Cordillera.

The next day, I decided to go back to the waterfall, like I did last year, but this time on the bike. I left the bike as close as possible to the base, in the middle of the forest, and I set off.

The climb is an easy one, if taken carefully.

And I'm there! Rainbow and all.

The view from up top was amazing.

The valley's drinking water is taken from the waterfall, either from its base or from the top, and is sent via these black tubes to its destination.

The return to Santiago was quicker than the outward leg of the journey, and on the way I saw several interesting things.

In the distance, you can just make out two walking figures.

Finally, after 7 hours, I was back home again. An unforgettable journey, no?

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Head and Feet

Originally publised to El Cantar de la Lluvia on Thursday, November 17, 2005

Him: I love walking barefoot, to feel the ground's roughness, the warmth of stones that have been in the sun all day, fresh and even damp grass between my toes, the rythmic beating of my heels against the ground, pebbles and their cathartic jabbing, the smoothness of tiles...

Her: Oh no! How ghastly, I hate it, it damages and dries my skin, besides, it hurts!

Him: I love feeling the wind against my cheeks, whistling in my ears, a warm breeze that carries smells and experiences of grass, trees, flowers, sun; to feel how everything changes when the wind blows in sunshine, how everything is livelier and happier...

Her: The wind pushes my skirt up!


Wednesday, July 12, 2006

María Pinto, Melipilla, Aculeo

Originally posted to El Cantar de la Lluvia on Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Fellow riders, gather round, here's the story:

On Saturday Ben Kenobi and I decided to bugger off to god knows where for a ride. We took the Ruta 68 to the turnoff to María Pinto, and after riding around here and there, we got there.

Later, we set off for Melipilla, land of witches, I visited my own personal square metre (which is mine on account of the fact that I locked the front wheel on gravel while fooling around on the last ride), we eluded an old hag's most expensive sandwiches in Chile, and flirted with two girls behind the counter at a Punto Copec gas station store. Actually, all I did was look out the window while Ben did all the dirty work, asking how to get to where we were going, etc.

The map showed a dirt road passing near Aculeo, and then going on to connect with the Ruta 5, Chile's section of the Pan-American Highway.

The sun set. We decided to push on and see what came of it.

The first stretch of dirt road was ok, there were no large stones or potholes or anything exceedingly punishing. I even had a go riding on Ben's NC30 (Honda VFR 400; Chile, like the UK, also has a legacy of Japanese 400cc "grey bikes"), and that, though bumpy, was fine. The worst bit was still to come... the two-lane dirt road became narrow. And narrower, and dusty. Very dusty.

On a 90 degree turn in the road we saw a fire on a hill, with enormous flames illuminating the night sky. Or was it witches burning at the stake? Who knows.

Just as the road started to wind into a narrow valley, with high, dark mountains over which the moon could barely peek over, we spotted a guy standing at a bus stop (yes, in the middle of nowhere). It was late, about 21:30, and the road that we were on split in three: towards the mine, towards a small chicken farm, and towards Aculeo. Who knows what bus he was waiting for.

He pointed towards the right road, and we set off down it. The road got worse and worse, barely a stony track where a car might barely fit through, and did I mention the large, irregular rocks jutting out of the ground? If you're an A/T rider, you'll be thinking "cool". Now imagine you're on a VFR400. Yeah, that's what Ben was feeling like. To his credit, he handled everything wonderfully. It's amazing what a speedbike can do.

We got to a barrier across the road, painted with black and white stripes. This did not look at all like a public road to Aculeo, as the shadowy figure had told us. It looked like the end of the road: a cavern of dark trees into which the path disappeared, and beside it, what looked like the grounds of an old country casona. "Do not enter, Fundo NN" said a sign. We turned around, cursing the guy for giving us misleading directions, almost certain that he wouldn't be there. But he was. The ghost bus was late, perhaps,

He said that one had to follow that road despite the barrier, that it was a public road, and that people always went that way.

Another half turn and off we go to the barrier, and we passed it.

An hour earlier, for some reason the filament for the high beam went out (it didn't burn out, because it came back later), and I only had the low beam, which went from bright light to pitch dark 4 or 5 metres ahead of the bike. Ben had his lights, but when he fell behind, it was like riding towards a black curtain.

As we moved forward, we were often startled by birds apparently sleeping in the middle of the road, winged shadows that passed just outside our headlight's beams, branches that looked like lurching hands, and above it all, a full moon behind a veil of high cloud...

The road got steadily worse, narrower, more windy, rocks the size of a cat strewn everywhere, and we even had to cross a few streams. Ben managed very well with his bike, the guy is a maestro.

After the last stream we stopped to let his bike cool and to take some pics. Total darkness, silence. If the Blair Witch had wanted two nice motorbikes for her colletion, they were there for the taking...

Further ahead we came across a fork in the road, and luckily I always carry a compass somewhere in my pack. We then descended down a switchback mountain road, and we were finally out on flat ground again.

After leaving that spooky black hole, flanked by tall black hills and under black trees that blocked out the weak moon, reaching a paved road gave the trip a sense of reality that so far had been missing.

And out of nowhere there were people walking on the street, not ragged and scary apparitions, but brightly coloured and made-up teenage girls, chatting and joking... of course! it was Saturday, they were on their way to a party!

After a few kilometres we finally reached the Ruta 5, and then set off for Santiago.

Dusty, tired (one of us with a very sore back), we finally arrived back home.


A 100 pesos los alfajores!

Originally posted to El Cantar de la Lluvia on Saturday, November 12, 2005.

What the cute girl selling alfajores at the Metro station's exit doesn't know is that the boy who passes by every day and says "No, thanks" with a smile will never be able to buy an alfajor from her because since he was a kid chocolate gave him migraines and it's been more than ten years since he's eaten chocolate and he'd rather sacrifice chocolate and all that chocolate could bring in exchange for the quasi-certainty that he will never again have a horrible migraine.

Sunday, July 09, 2006


Originally posted to El Cantar de la Lluvia on Friday, November 04, 2005.

The first carriage of Santiago's Metro can be separated into two sections. These are: front and rear. The front section corresponds to the first quarter of the carriage and the rear, the remaining three quarters. The rest of the carriages are not at all interesting, and their properties are analogous to the rear section of the first carriage.

The criteria by which these sections are defined is merely one of function: to the untrained eye, both are part of the same carriage, with no demarcations or distinguishing geometrical features to tell them apart. Their differences are to be found in their qualities, since both have positive and negative characteristics.

The front section benefits the passenger during rush hour with a lower overall density of bodies. The astute passenger will choose to position himself at the particular point on the platform where the first door will be when the train arrives. He will this enjoy a lower probability of travelling in a very uncomfortable (one could almost say intimate) way, or perhaps even of being left standing on the platform, watching those luckier than he disappear into the tunnel's black maw.

On the other hand, though one may travel slightly more comfortable in the first section, the ventilation here is notoriously inadequate. The carriage's windows admit a moderate flow of air, but it flows towards the rear section, leaving the front of the carriage to stew in its own stagnant air.

It is within this stale air that we find fourteen passengers, eleven quiet two engaged in conversation. To the right of the door, under the emergency brake handle, we find Enrique G. Enrique is short, in his thrties. His face is slightly angular, yet friendly; as a matter of fact, it would not have been much of a surprise to find him gleefully participating in the Nueva Ola 60s music all those years ago. At least some part of this alternate and hypothetically previous life must have seeped into his conciousness, since he is wearing a wide-sleeved brown shirt and his sideburns travel way beyond what one could honestly call a casual length.

Renato M. (two bodies distant, approximately on the carriage's center line and in front of the door) spotted him a few minutes ago. His appearance caught Renato's attention. And thus began one of those dreaded moments during which Renato descends into a whirlpool of doubts about his sexuality. It doesn't happen often, and he tries to sleep with a different woman at least twice a month so as to calm these existential doubts. Nonetheless, every now and then, during idle moments, he will notice another man, someone who looks interesting, and then he will begin questioning himself as to whether he has been staring at him for too long (which drives him to mental self-flagellation, and thus it becomes irresistible to look at the man again, one last time, a short little peek, please). His heart thumps in his chest and he starts to sweat. In earnest.

José M. is also sweating, just like every other passenger, but due to those incomprehensible misteries of chance and genetics, he announces his secretions with a chemical fanfare that has more than a few people alsmot dizzy (Renato wonders if perhaps his confusion is due to the smelly guy's pheromones). José is one of those chatting, and before he got to the station, as he walked from the university, he smoked a few cigs. The acrid and bitter stench of sweaty ashtray is his personal mark.

Regarding his conversation partner we will say nothing; he will pass away tomorrow morning in a crash and it wouldn't be prudent to immortalize him in such a trivial story as this.

Evelyn H. is in the corner which is diagonally opposite to Renato. She is dressed semi-formally. She looks out the window, and seems sad, pensive. Another passenger standing nearby, whom is also thinking about his fellow travellers, tells himself that the girl is quite certainly sad because she has recently broken free from a bitter relationship.

He then adds the mental note that it was probably ended by her, due to the horrible treatment she got from her boyfriend. And that's not all: friends and family had insisted that he wasn't good enough for her. Breaking up with him must have surely required all the energy that her small body and soul could muster. Satisfied with his analysis, his attention turned to the possible ways in which one could begin a conversation with her. Now that was certainly a complex task! He pondered how to communicate to this girl, by means of a casual conversation (almost tacitly forbidden on the Metro, due to its scarcity among strangers), that he was a nice, reasonable guy, that he enjoyed going to the cinema and that he had a lot of love to give, if only she would give him the slightest chance to prove himself to her! He would certainly treat her better than her ex. He had no idea if the girl was of a liberal inclination or if he would have to wait before getting into bed with her, but he was certainly willing to wait, and that patience would show her the purity of his intent.

Evelyn is actually thinking about her shower's drain. This morning the water had taken an exceedingly long time to go down. As soon as she got home she'd have to pour some caustic soda granules down it, to see if that did the trick. That train of thought reminded her (as it happened every time that she mentioned or thought of caustic soda) of that experiment that she did with her classmates in science class in school, with a poplar leaf. They left it soaking in a caustic soda solution during a whole week, and in the end all that was left was the leaf's ghost, translucent and delicate like a jellyfish. She thinks to herself that she'd like to do it again, perhaps with a larger leaf, though she probably won't. These ideas always disappear upon arriving home, almost as if it were another Evelyn that existed at work and at home. During her idle moments, such as when she travelled on the Metro, she would always get these ideas.

She looks up briefly and wonders if others are having free thoughts, dreaming, like her. No, she said. I'm sure everyone is thinking normal things.

The doors open and new people start shuffling in.


Sunday, July 02, 2006

Things you notice on your way home from university after a long unproductive day

Originally posted to El Cantar de la Lluvia on Saturday, October 29, 2005.

A human-powered cart seen from behind, from the first row of vehicles at the red light, so large that you can't tell if the man pulling it is old or young. Its swaying is just as pityful. No reflectors, not even old CDs stuck to the wooden frame. The wheels are just irregular strips of curved and dented metal. It's late. He probably lives far away. I wonder where he's headed? Apart from the broken basket, the dirty plastic jug and other things hanging from the cart, what else is in there?

The pedestrian light starts flashing. I increase my engine's RPMs slightly. On my left, a taxi. Taxis generally start off much slower when the light changes to green, they don't waste fuel unnecesarily. On my right, a new pick-up truck, large. The driver is wearing a shirt and tie. He is returning home from a long day's work. He'll probably start off in a hurry. That's the great irony: those that buy the biggest vehicles usually use them in the most inefficient way. I'll just use the left lane after I start.

The orange light for the perpendicular road lights. I increase my RPMs a tad, I use the tip of my boot to move the gear pedal down again, checking that I'm in first gear. With my thumb I check to see if the turn indicators are off and if my headlight is on high beam. It's a tic.

The cart has advanced a few metres during the duration of the red light. I wonder if the asshole in the pick-up has seen him yet. I suppose so.

We get our green light, and off I go. My small 125 cc engine gives me the small head start I need, and I get in front of the taxi. The pick-up sets off calmly, and I stay ahead of the group.

All clear.