From: Kirstie and Stuart
Subject: Changing Places, Changing Faces
Date: 7th November 1999
Place: Tome, Chile
Eight weeks in and we are fully adapting to our new nomadic lifestyle, as we forge a path South through Chile. We are now in Tome, 500km south west of Santiago, at the seaside. With this shift to an itinerant way of living, we have begun to notice some interesting shifts in our outlook and behaviour. In short, we seem to have swapped personalities.
Kirstie now leads from the front, obsessed by killing and counting the kilometres, spending endless hours poring over maps, plotting the route, savouring every contour, urging us onto ever higher daily totals. Meanwhile, Stuart tags along at the back, putting in the minimum of effort, preferring to spend his time socialising with the locals. He finds every excuse to stop for a cafe-con-leche, where he snatches the maps away from Kirstie to strike up a conversation with anyone in order to delay our departure as long as possible. At the end of a hard days cycle he takes to offering community services which include brewing up for homebound, hungry peasants, generously offering around our limited supplies (which Kirstie is desperately trying to conserve) and offering small groups fully guided tours of our tent and all its facilities. He has also taken to buying and drinking a litre of local Chilean wine a day, in the alleged interests of sampling local produce, while Kirstie looks on disapprovingly, quietly calculating the likely effect of this on team performance in the saddle the following day.
Our journey along the coast has been full of larger than life characters (or is it just the way WE see them?) It started before we even left Santiago, when the bellboy at our hotel took a shine to Stuart… as soon as he discovered they shared the same name in Spanish… “Eduardo”. Over attentive, over keen, and all over us, he took an unnecessary interest in all our activities, particularly our bicycles. He was consistently playing tricks on us by removing our bikes so we would think they were stolen. “Just a leetle jok” he would say in his best Chilean English. We got our revenge when we took them to the bike shop for overnight repairs without telling him, then asked him to produce them from the storeroom. After he had searched frantically for half an hour, we explained “It is just a leetle jok.” As we left he gave us an important piece of advice for the long journey ahead, “If you see a beautiful Chilean woman, always do this….” He then pinched his four stubby fingers against his thumb, placed them on this lips, smacked them with a slobbery kiss, held them high in the air pointing towards the offending (more probably offended) woman, then pressed them to his heart where he wiped them lightly on his jumper until dry. “Oh that”, said Stuart, “We do the same in England.” Eduardo was impressed.
Stuart encourages Kirstie to share a vino
A new biking friend
Camping wild on the coast
On leaving Santiago, we took a train out of the city to avoid a dangerous section of the Panamerican Highway from Hell. While Kirstie was buying the tickets, Stuart was making friends with the early evening commuters. A fresh faced Chilean youth was poring over the bicycles…”lovely angles on that frame, double butted tubes…aluminium alloy… and GT bottles… great… So, you are coming to my house in Linares… Yes, Yes we will all go together..” They shook hands as if to conclude a deal. “This is Victor”, Stuart said, “He´s mad on bikes and wants us to go cycling with him in Linares.” Stuart was then dispensed to a cashpoint while Kirstie held the fort with our new friend with obvious reluctance. “Do you work in Santiago?” she enquired to break an increasingly embarrassing silence. “No” he said, “I work for Jesus. Jesus is my friend. My BEST friend.” “Oh,” sighed Kirstie, and then after another embarrassingly long silence, “So, what make is YOUR bike then?”
“Let’s get the train together”, Victor enthused in perfect English. “Then we have good conversation all the way to Linares. Yes?” He sprinted off to get his luggage. “I´m not going to Linares with a biking Jesus anorak” said Kirstie firmly, “Let´s get on the train.” We hurried on to the platform where we were stopped by the uniformed ticket inspector. “Bicycles are bad”, he announced. “Why?” we asked. “You can´t take them on the train”, he replied. “Why?” we asked again. He thought for a while and couldn´t come up with an answer so he decided they were OK after all… “but you have to take the wheels off.” He returned five minutes later as we were neatly stacking the last of the four wheels in a pile. He looked at us pointedly, and announced as if it was obvious that “It is only necessary to remove one wheel from each bike.” So, we put back two of the wheels and then handed him our ticket. “Oh”, he said, “You are going to Rancagua. You will need both wheels on your bikes.” His tone implied we should have known this. The growing crowd tutted dissapprovingly in unison and the guard shook his head in despair and walked away while we danced the last verse of the bicycle “Hokey Cokey.”
Moments later, our omnipresent friend of Jesus returned, “Here I am. Time for good conversation.” “He´s quicker on his feet than Gary Lineker” Kirstie said. “I think you mean Gary Linares” said Stuart. We began to realise we HAD to get rid of him as he installed himself and his luggage opposite us and began a demonstration of his strap-on, backpack, sports water bottle… with two hoses…”one for me and one for my friend” “Not your BEST friend obviously”, Kirstie muttered under her breath as he sucked on the primary hose.
We handed back the secondary hose which had been thrust upon us, politely declining his offer of a drink and found that pretending not to understand his perfectly clear English soon led to a dramatic reduction in his language skills and confidence. “I will wait for you in Linares”, he said. “Wait? What is ´wait´?” we asked him pretending to be puzzled. To confuse the situation further we began to address him as Gary. “What is Gary?”, he asked us. “An English footballer”, we replied. “Ahh. English soccer.. I understand” he nodded, happy once more he was back on track. “What is ´soccer´?” we asked, finally pushing him and his language skills over the edge. “I think I need to go and see my friend now” he said as he finally wandered off down the train leaving us alone at last.
Back on the bikes, we have meandered down the amazing deserted, rural Chilean coast, camping whereever we can. This last week has been like being trapped in a scene from Carry on up the Costa. At one campsite Kirstie was caught snatching a burning log off a family barbecue in order to get ours going. As the family drove away, the kids watched in amazement out of the back window, awed by her foraging skills and sleight of hand as their barbecue moved stealthily in front of their eyes from pitch 7 to pitch 13 before they had reached the warden’s hut.
Having been evicted from that campsite for pilfering, we set up a roadside camp outside a restaurant on the Panamerican Highway, where coachloads of people stopped throughout the night to relieve themselves and their bladders within the vicinity of our tent. “No, that´s not rain. It´s the 11.30 to Concepcion”
Then, taking sanctuary in a wild camp on a deserted sandy beach, Kirstie spoke so long to an oxen handler that Stuart thought he was English. “What were you talking about for all that time?”, asked Stuart as they sat in the tent cooking supper. “Haven´t a clue” said Kirstie, “Didn´t understand a word… so I just nodded and said ´Si, Si´ and told him it was all very pretty here.” Stuart opened the door of the tent to find a cordon of six oxen grazing around the tent and another four coming down the path, “Perhaps he was trying to tell you this is a wild oxen migration path” he said. The trustry dog dazers seemed to help disperse the crowd while the oxen herder smiled and looked out of his window with amusement from his cottage high on the hill.
As you might imagine, Kirstie has already plotted out the route, mileage, and anticipated daily climb for the next three months and is currently working out the required calorific intake needed to sustain us through Christmas and New Year. Meanwhile Stuart is planning the Christmas menu and continues to sample a wide range of wines to find that perfect tipple with which to toast the New Year. Kirstie has worked out our likely coordinates for the festive season….”Christmas – in Coihaique” “Where the hell is that?” “New Year – in the windswept wilds of the Patagonian desert” “Well we´ll have to carry 10 days supplies of wine from the nearest shop” Meanwhile, armed with this information, Stuart invites everyone he meets to join us in our Patagonian Millenium Dome Tent. “There will be a big party in a tent, wine and everything. Do come…. if you´re in the area.” They look at us as if we are completely barmy. Well, they might have got that bit right.
So, we´re off again. To the Lake District next, where we hope to be skiing on an active volcano for Kirstie´s birthday. Now there´s an unusual birthday treat.
“How about another coffee then Kirstie?”
“No, we´ve got 50km and 500 metres of climb to do to meet our schedule.. so drink up NOW”
“Ok but can we stop off at the wine shop before we leave?”
Love to you all
Kirstie and Stuart