I’m here to get my passport renewed so I’ve been here a couple of times.
Around 6.3M people live in this valley at the foot of the Andes. You hear over and over again about how European Santiago is. But at first blush it’s Latin. You don’t see European-looking people walking around more than, say, in Lima.
What it is though is crazy rich. The last capital I was in was La Paz and it’s hard to believe that the two cities are on the same continent. La Paz is broke, wild and dangerous, Santiago is rich, civilized and safe(ish). Every other Latin city falls somewhere in between these two. The biggest difference isn’t any of these things though: La Paz is almost entirely indigenous and after a couple of weeks I have yet to see a purely indigenous Chilean in this town.
And whereas other giants like Lima or (in particular) Panama City are constructed to some extent from dirty money, Santiago is legitimate. So after walking through the streets where everyone’s shoes are polished and a couple of hours in the Canadian Embassy where they have a giant screen in the waiting room showing some Canadian astronaut singing a Bowie song in an endless loop, you want to go out and mug somebody. Arrggh.
That river is probably reasonably clean. This is the only latin city that treats 100% of the sewage.
They have tons of walking-around-money and love to buy cars and bikes. The BMW dealer is the 2nd biggest in the world. The MV dealership is the biggest. The car of choice is Aston Martin and the bike of choice the MV Agusta, and they’re everywhere.
Chatted to this guy with his MV F3. He was taking his bike to a private track the next day. What a beautiful bike. I love where the exhaust exits, neither under-seat or new school under-bike. Big silver sides, just the right % balance with the red and almost clean of logos, confident in its exoticness. The kid knew it, he was very proud.
You get the idea. It was the same at the Ducati dealership where it seems they only stocked Penigales.
Lucinda is leaking from her left front fork, so we headed off to the BMW service shop, which was a mistake because they said they wouldn’t work on a WP fork from a KTM. The service manager said I had a problem for sure because apparently the KTM guys won’t work on a WP fork attached to a BMW. I told him this was insane and he disappeared into an office and got on the phone to the KTM guys. Things can go very slow in Latin America when rules are involved because, and this isn’t at all intuitive, they sometimes take them too seriously when they aren’t ignoring them. He comes out of the office and tells me they have sorted it out, hooray. Off I go to the KTM dealer to buy the parts. As usual KTM are the kings of cool and have a great shop. But for some reason I neglected to get a good shot, but took a pic of the new 1190. Old news I’m sure to North Americans but I’ve been in the sticks for over a year, although I did see one in Medellin
But enough of this town. I really wasn’t interested in it and was forced to spend way too long there. Since Christmas 2012 Lucinda and I have travelled through 14 countries, nearly all of them lawless by comparison to Chile so it’s been a culture shock, and not a welcome one. But interestingly, although it’s much safer, it’s no friendlier. The Chileans so far are unwelcoming, quite like Panamanians in a way. A strange aloofness – they don’t want to know you. Throughout Latin America for the past year it’s been a wonderful blend of people wanting to love you or kill you. But never ignore you.
The telling thing is (and I can say this after a few weeks) is that this is the first place in my travels that there’s been no moto brotherhood to fall back on. You park at a bike dealership or beside other motos on a street and they studiously pretend you’re not there. I rode with a Aussie a month ago who told me this would be the way and I didn’t believe him. This is very strange – I thought the bond was universal. Maybe it’ll be better further south.
More on this another time or when I figure it out.