For the most part, going into Chile from anywhere in South America, save Brazil perhaps, is a bit of culture shock. It’s more modern, clean and expensive – comparatively. Drivers actually stop for pedestrians at cross walks. Traffic lights are well placed. And in Santiago a modern transportation system includes new gas-powered busses and a small yet impressive Metro subway system.
There are shopping malls. And you can buy peanut butter — something that has eluded Jeremiah for months on the road. Sure, you can find peanuts. But no peanut butter. Cristian tells me that South Americans – or Latinos — simply don’t like it. Same thing goes for pretzels. Boring, he says. Yet for our first meal together in Santiago we ate pizza. Go figure.
But with all these touches of modern society, the hospitality and friendliness of the Chilean people is no different than the rest of Latin America. Weaving my way through rush hour traffic to find Cristian’s place when I first arrived here, a guy on a scooter bent on conversing with me as we negotiated the stop and go traffic of Santiago, offered to lead me through the maze so I could find my way. On departing he said, “Good luck my new gringo friend!”
Then there’s Cristian, who’s manical motorcycle trip on a BMW GS1150 Adventure from Santiago to New York – through the Amazon – is one for the record books. Leaving Santiago on July 4, 2005 I was amazed to discover he and I had the same departure dates. His goal? To arrive in New York City on Chile’s dia de la independencia on September 18, 2005. That’s just two and one-half months. By the time he was in New York I hadn’t even crossed the Mexican border. His mission? To raise awareness and draw attention to Chile’s burgeoning wine business and specifically to the Carmenère grape – considered to be the lost 6th Bordeaux varietal. In an upcoming PodCast we’ll here Cristian talk about how for years Chilean wineries were selling what they thought was Merlot until a french oenologist tested and corrected them. No it was Carmenère — and this wine is to Chile what Malbec is to Argentina. Perhaps most impressive about Cristian’s race to New York on a motorcycle was the fact he carried a special 3-liter bottle of Carmenère. So much for packing light!
But more important is Cristian generosity and trust. Arriving before Cristain could be home from a late dinner meeting, I found the keys to his apartment, fresh towels and the home to myself. He never met me before. Throughout my time in Santiago I came and went as if this were my own place. We’d spend nights telling tales, sharing photos, cooking meals and drinking wine. He arranged a BBQ with other local Chilean riders – some who are planning an around the world tour, too.
It’s nice to feel grounded – rooted – even if just temporarily. Instead of some dive hotel, dusty, dirty campground or cramped hostal I actually feel settled. And after many months on the road, it’s a good feeling.