Time. The time grows between our posts, it grows at our destinations. How much of it we have left to travel fades. Its curious to think that normally a two week period to travel is a great luxury; for me, suddenly, it looks like sand escaping the upper cup of the hourglass. Nevertheless, we are doing our best to use it well. We’ve decided to try to add Uruguay to our list and, if we can make it, up to see Iguazu Falls. We arrived in Mendoza, Argentina last night after staying in Santiago for five days. We hadn’t anticipated staying that long, but we had a really wonderful experience there that made it difficult to leave voluntarily.
The route to Santiago was three long days’ drive from San Pedro de Atacama. I should say before I move south, that San Pedro was an incredible experience. We took the bags off of our bikes for a day and rode around the amazing landscape and traveled through the Valle de la Luna where you could walk through walls mostly composed of salt crystals and hear them expanding in the heat. If you didn’t know what it was, you’d expect the walls to crash down around you; fortunately we’d been warned. The town itself was almost exclusively tourist driven, but the food was great and the night skies were gorgeous: we were truly in the middle of nowhere. Driving out through the desert, its hard to imagine how people survive that climate. Occasionally, we would pass by remnants of towns or work sites, its hard to say- everything dissolves back into earth in a way that its hard to know what is old and what is ancient. And then there might be a geoglyph or two, or a giant hand statue. Somehow, when there’s nothing around, anything is possible.
We arrived in Santiago and got lost as soon as we could. We had made a reservation and had an address but little sense of where we were. After a few detours we made our way to the Providencia neighborhood where we greeted and welcomed to the petit hotel L’Ambassade (www.ambassade.cl). This hotel would become our home while we stayed in the city, its proprietors our good friends. It’s owned and operated by three siblings: Maria Jose, Pia, and Adolphe Parolin. They took us in and adopted us and even spent their days off with us. I’ll admit that they helped me put Santiago high on the list of places I might like to live. The city itself reminded me a lot of Chicago, actually – lots of trees, broad streets, less high rises and more 3-4 flats. We took the bikes to the dealer and had them serviced – new front brakes for me and a decision not to change the tires (yay! tires would’ve been crazy expensive) and fresh oil all around. We had a few days to see a few things, but mostly we wandered. An old friend met up with us for dinner we talked more about the city and how its developing and the quality of life there. hmmm….
Some of the stories we’ve heard about the earthquake have been jarring. Most people, despite their material losses, overwhelmingly described their gratitude at having the health and safety of their friends and family. It is a thing I cannot imagine and am glad to not have experienced. There were signs here and there: downed pedestrian bridges, crumbled facades, twisted balconies. Everyone mentioned it in some way or another- it is a bruise on the consciousness of the city. Though my friend Nils expressed his feeling that it has brought a welcome sense of togetherness to the country.
So now we are in Mendoza. The ride here was beautiful and surprisingly, driving into Mendoza at night felt like we might’ve been somewhere in the US. Slowly, as we draw closer to our return, the end point looks more like the beginning. Time compresses. And tomorrow, we trade in our motorcycles for bicycles and head for the vineyards of Maipu. Not a bad way to spend a day.