Dec 092015
 
 Posted by on December 9, 2015 travel, travelogue Tagged with: , , ,  2 Responses »

Chile has a magnificent four thousand kilometers long coastline (and is less than two hundred kilometers wide in places), but similar to the other uber-urbanised countries of Canada and Australia, most of the population is crammed into either one or two vacuum-cleaned dormitory cities with itsy-bitsy people trying to stuff the whole world (and all their hard earnings) into their itsy-bitsy houses. The big, bad and colourful world just won’t fit so perhaps Chileans should relinquish part of their enormous coast back to Bolivia if they lack the political courage to put it to creative use. This is one of the world’s most geographically unique countries but just like the geography of Chile, us Moderns are so very, very narrow.

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Torres del Paine, Chile, Patagonia

The metropolis of Santiago is only half way along the Chilean coastline, so I folded up my flaneurial legs and flew Economy on a one-trick pony the remaining two thousand kilometers to Punta Arenas, a town almost at the very bottom of South America (I have now traveled sixteen thousand kilometers from the Caribbean Coast at the very top of the continent). From Punta Arenas, I bused it to the barren, wind-swept town of Puerto Natales where I rented some zip-challenged camping gear, packed some yucky Modernist food, and set off on a four-day trek in nearby Torres del Paine, one of the great jaw-dropping National Parks of this forever-giving continent.

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Torres del Paine, Chile, Patagonia

I did the famous “W” Trek in four days. It is called the W Trek simply because the route is in the shape of a W. It is about eighty kilometers long, is an easy to medium physical challenge and is well serviced by hostels and hotels, food facilities and hot showers. I did the route from West to East walking to Torres del Paine on the first day and Grey Glacier on the last day. It is possible to leave your heavy bags at the campsite during the morning of each day and walk to the three highlights of the trek, Torres del Paine, Frances Valley, and Grey Glacier and then return to your camp in the evening. On the last day at the end of the trek, there is an (expensive) one-hour ferry ride across a choppy fjord to connect to a ratty old bus that takes another two dusty hours to get back to Puerto Natales. The trek takes three to five days, and there is also a longer circuit trek that takes about nine days.

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Frances Valley, Torres del Paine, Chile, Patagonia


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Grey Glacier, Torres del Paine, Chile, Patagonia

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Grey Glacier, Torres del Paine, Chile, Patagonia

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Walking trail, Frances Velley, Chile, Patagonia

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Camping last day, Paine Grande, Torres del Paine, Chile, Patagonia


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The W Trek, Torres del Paine, Chile, Patagonia (not my image)

Dec 032015
 
 Posted by on December 3, 2015 travel, travelogue Tagged with: , , ,  No Responses »

After many months in the Andes exploring Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Colombia, Santiago seemed a bit too much like home. A beautiful place to live but you wouldn’t want to travel there! It is a combination of American and socialist utilitarian modernism (same-same) that is almost impossible to distinguish from any other prosperous new-world city (at least on the meta, built-environment scale). Progress came at a great cultural cost to Santiago and its biggest crime against humanity is that it lacks imagination (although a night out on Pio Nono in Barrio Bella Vista lubricates the imagination).

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Santiago; view from Santuario Inmaculada Concepcion

But dig deep within the shopping malls, concrete and glass, the perfectly manicured parks full of consumers taking a five minute break between purchases, one might find a lonely Llama standing in line at Starbucks or riding the escalator to the menswear section, or searching for a parking spot for his Korean SUV, or drinking an iridescent energy drink. The Llama dreams of the mountains and valleys of Chile, of the ridiculously long coast, the hidden beaches and the fjords, of the time she danced in the Plaza del Ames and climbed the mighty valleys of the Andes.

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Gran Torre Santiago, one more story closer to civilisation..

The Llama, a flaneur, relentlessly walks the barren streets of Santiago, looking for a South America buried beneath the Guns, Germs, and Steel of progress, beneath the piles and piles of rubble the Llama searches for the remnants of a Chile long discarded.

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Chile has come a long way in a short amount of time

The crowd is his element, as the air is that of birds and water of fishes. His passion and his profession are to become one flesh with the crowd. For the perfect flaneur, for the passionate spectator, it is an immense joy to set up a house in The Heart of the multitude, amid the ebb and flow of movement, in the midst of the fugitive and the infinite. To be away from home and yet to feel oneself everywhere at home; to see the world, to be at the centre of the world, and get to remain hidden from the world, impartial natures which the tongue can but clumsily define. The spectator is the prince who everywhere rejoices in his incognito. The lover of life makes the whole world his family.

From a Llama in Santiago
(or from C Baudelaire, “The Painter of Modern Life”, 1863)

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The Museum of Memory and Human Rights

Nov 282015
 
 Posted by on November 28, 2015 travel, travelogue Tagged with: , , ,  2 Responses »

I recall an interview a few years ago with a well-known architect from the suburb of Fitzroy in Melbourne, Australia on a radio station in Venice, Italy from the Australian pavilion at the Venice Biennale (Fitzroy is where I started this journey, and soon it will end at Fitz Roy Mountain in Argentina). In certain circles, this particular architect isn’t held in high esteem and is often referred to as the ‘Butcher of Fitzroy’ because of his ugly, incongruous, modern apartment buildings (perhaps Melbourne should slap World Heritage status on its inner-city as many forward-thinking Bolivian, Peruvian, Chilean and Ecuadorian cities have done).

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Valparaiso street art

I was curious to hear what someone with the esteemious title of the Butcher of Fitzroy would have to say about Melbourne and Australia from Venice in Italy, one of the birthplaces of Modern Western civilisation. The Butcher was struggling with the questions from the interviewer and didn’t seem to understand the geographical context of the interview, namely Venice, a city perhaps a little too remote and strange to him to be worthy of referencing (and in need of a good renovation!). The Butcher somehow came to the subject of graffiti as Melbourne had an active graffiti scene about a decade ago which got hijacked by the City’s promoters and thus became part of narrow global-trash-narratives. Thus, the Butcher repeated the hackneyed statement that “Melbourne is the graffiti capital of the world!”.

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Valparaíso, Chile

This cringe-worthy statement grated out of my little radio in my room in Melbourne from Venice, perhaps the most elegant city in Europe (and ‘graffiti’ is an Italian word describing a practice invented in Italy, or, at least, ancient Rome). And graffiti isn’t a State so how can it have a capital? And it seems incongruous for graffiti, an autonomous and rebellious art form usually in opposition to the State to be conflated with political cities that are central to its institutional control. What a Bogan I thought to myself (a Bogan is an unsophisticated Australian prevent in all classes of society, not unique to Australia but common in many countries where economic development and cultural development are often at odds with one another such as Qatar, the Bogan capital of the world). Even if graffiti had a capital, how could it possibly be Melbourne, a comfortable and complacent city; a capital of Banality perhaps but certainly not graffiti.

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Valparaiso, Chile

In Valparaíso I reflected upon the Butcher of Fitzroy whilst wandering the steep streets with walls and houses covered with spectacular, confronting and uplifting street-art. The Butcher had obviously never been here and even if he had, he possibly wouldn’t have noticed it (and Valparaíso is protected by a UNESCO World Heritage overlay, so what some call progress isn’t so destructive).

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Valparaiso, Chile

I stayed in Valparaíso for two weeks, walking, eating, drinking, reading and thinking. As a port city, it reminded me of Fassbinder’s Querelle, a noir vibe with dodgy bars with lonely seamen. It is surrounded by forty-two hills, each hill forming a neighbourhood with dozens of funiculars carting women with their shopping and backpackers with their peculiar perspectives to the top. The funiculars are old and rickety and each quite different to one another, with at least one going under the ground.

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Valparaiso, Chile

I am now in Santiago, a large, modern developed city that looks like any other large, modern developed city. In fact half the Chilean population lives here, but more on that next…

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Funicular, Valparaíso

Nov 152015
 
 Posted by on November 15, 2015 travel, travelogue Tagged with: , , ,  1 Response »

The trip from Uyuni in Bolivia to San Pedro de Atacama in Chile was one of the more adventurous segments of the whole journey as the road was rough and unpaved, through remote Andean towns, past smoking volcanoes and over desolate, barren and lonely landscapes.

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Volcano!

This would be the last ride on the moto as after five months, five countries and twelve thousand grueling Andean kilometers, riding over, around, and through one of the world’s great mountain ranges, it was time to move on to something different. Every day on a moto is a very special day; it is the love of life, not the love of fear.

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The road from Uyuni, Bolivia to Avaroa on the border. After 12000 Kms this was the last ride in the moto!

San Pedro de Atacama was dull compared to Bolivia, modern, packaged, and processed full of sartorially challenged hedonists on vacation from some backwater of Modernity rather than dignified Andean ladies with short, waddling legs and in cool, timeless hats. The Bolivian desert is far more beautiful than the Chilean Atacama and Antofagasta regions, but if you haven’t been to Bolivia, you will never know the difference (and the desert doesn’t care).

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Luna Valley, San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

From San Pedro de Atacama I went to Antofagasta, Caldera, and La Serena. Antofagasta is a down-beat mining town on the coast, Caldera is a dystopian-vacation-fantasy of shack-ridden emptiness. La Serena is somewhere in between, lubricated by Pisco Sour, a nice beach and vibrant public spaces (it is actually a large, sophisticated city).

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Bottles of Pisco Sour, La Serena (Valle del Elqui)

And when it rains in the Atacama desert, “a hundred flowers blossom” bringing Maoists from all over the world to see the phenomenon. A good spot to see them is around La Serena, Caldera, Copiapo, or Vallenar in the southern Atacama.

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Flowers in the Atacama Desert, Chile

I am now in Valparaíso, a very special coastal city in the middle of Chile and quite close to Santiago (I will blog about Valparaíso next). Mount Fitz Roy in Argentina, my final destination, is now only two thousand Andean kilometers away!

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Mano del Desierto, 75 kms south of Antofagasta represents loneliness, vulnerability and helplessness