My Cycling Tour in Chile, Day 0

Overlooking the city of Concepcion

March 6-7 Monday-Tuesday, Concepción

Santiago airport scene

The flights from San Francisco - Dallas - Santiago - Concepción were uneventful. I flew American Airlines to Santiago and LAN Chile to Concepción. On the Dallas-Santiago leg I sat next to a Brazilian couple who had been on an overbooked flight back home from a ski trip to Colorado. They opted to take the $600 compensation from the airline and fly back via Chile.

There's an interesting sculpture in an atrium in the Santiago airport. It's good they were able to find a use for all that lost luggage.

Hotel Maquehue entrance The Hotel Maquehue is on the seventh floor - all the room numbers begin with a 7. You enter a walkway off the street into a shopping mall and the elevator is on the left. My room, just off the lobby, is a bit funky by Holiday Inn standards, but clean and comfortable. Cost is 18,000 pesos (about $35) which is a little expensive for Chile, but cheap compared to the US. The hotel is located on Barros Arana Street, the center of shopping and restaurants in the city. The street in front of the hotel is pedestrian only, so the taxi had to drop me at the corner a short distance away. My beginning Spanish was good enough to learn from the driver that, yes, the traffic is always this heavy and, no, it probably won't rain all day long.

Street scene The streets and the Plaza de Independencia down at the other end of the block were crowded, even at 3:00 on a Monday afternoon. I tried several times to call my friend Sue back home from various phone booths, but although the instructions seemed clear I was not successful. I tried many times over the next several days but was never able to make an international phone call from a phone booth in Chile. Fortunately you can find Internet cafes in all but the smallest towns so I was able to communicate by email during the trip.

I had dinner at "Chela's" an inexpensive restaurant down the street. For less than $2 I had a kind of very thick lentil soup with a hot dog swimming in it plus a roll and a salad of heavily-salted sliced tomatoes.

My bike is a Rivendell Atlantis road-type touring bike, fitted with "S&S couplers" which allow the bike to be broken in two so that it fits into a 26 x 26 x 10-inch carrying case. That is within airline regulations for non-oversized items so it just counts as one of your two pieces of checked luggage. However my bike is extremely large (68 cm) so I have to completely disassemble it (including removing the fork) to get it to fit. My task for the first evening in Concepción was to unpack and assemble my bike.

Student diving into mud puddle The next day I spent seeing the city. In the morning I walked over to the campus of the Universidad del Bio Bio. They were having some kind of event that seemed to consist of students lining up and, one by one, throwing themselves head first into a mud puddle as a big crowd of students cheered them on.

On the way back I checked out the Museum of Natural history. It's small but interesting, with information about natural resources, economics and anthropology of the region.

Mechones - freshman hazing ritual After lunch I went to the campus of the U. de Concepción. They were also having an event which consisted of students sitting in a circle with slimy gunk being poured on their heads by other students. Later they were tied together by the belt loops with a rope and paraded around campus. There were tables set up with signs advertising "Mechones". My dictionary says that "mechón" means "lock of hair". I asked one of the students manning the tables what was going on. I didn't understand most of the answer except that it involved new students. (This is early autumn here, the beginning of the school year.) Apparently it is some kind of freshman hazing ritual.

Later as I was walking around town I was approached several times by young people dressed funny (e.g. no shirts, painted bodies) begging for "monedas" (loose change). I figured out this must be part of the hazing ritual as well. I had left all my change at the restaurant at lunch for a tip so I wasn't able to accommodate them.

Otherwise you don't see too many beggars on the streets here. One exception was some guy with no legs lying face-down on the street out in front of my hotel with a donation box by his head. Obviously he didn't walk here so somebody must have brought him. It makes me angry and disgusted that someone would take advantage of a disabled person that way.

I checked out the Mercado (market) a few blocks away. You can buy meat, produce, and other staples here as well as handicrafts. I bought some supplies for the ride tomorrow.

Collage of university photos

As I was walking around town I saw lots of universities, "pre-universities" (like prep schools I suppose), and secondary-level "colegios" in Concepción (and in other towns and cities as I later observed). You see them advertised on signs and billboards. I noticed a poster at a Cruz Verde drug store promoting a contest for purchasers of their products with one-year scholarships for prizes. Education seems to be very big here.

Horse and cart Concepción is a modern cosmopolitan city, but incongruously you see a fair number of horse-drawn carts, even in the downtown area. I later noticed them in other cities as well as in small towns. Apparently a horse is cheaper to maintain here than a small pickup truck, unlike in the US.

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