Week ten: snap back to reality (of sorts)

Following our trip through the desert, we finally arrived in Chile… In the desert.
San Pedro de Atacama is a quaint border town, akin to travelling back in time to the Wild West. Sandy streets and not a single cloud in the sky.

Despite this somewhat backwards setting, Chile instantly marked itself out as much more westernised than the rest of South America so far. Set lunch menus came with an actually written menu, several choices and customer-pleasing service; a far cry from the ‘you’ll eat what you’re given, and it will be soup’ system in Bolivia. Our cravings for the fresh fruit juices we had become accustomed to were sadly not allayed with anything more than a strange iced tea, filled with floating wheat and an uninvited peach pip. And prices, whilst still obviously cheaper than life back in London, distinctly hiked skyward between Bolivianos and Chilean pesos.

Other than copious red wine drinking, the activities in San Pedro revolve around exploring the majestic surrounding landscape. Cleverly, we (myself and the French cohort) decided to rent bikes and run our own tour into the desert. The ‘Garganta del Diablo’- or Devil’s throat- is an impressive canyon to wind through and marvel at. Just a short ride from town, with no obstacles worse than a few river crossings, we were feeling invincible. Unfortunately, this led to our pursuit of a supposedly charming church ‘just twenty more minutes’ away. As the midday sun rose, the sand became increasingly too deep to plough through and my hangover really began to rear its ugly head, we inevitably got lost. Turns out, the desert is not as easy place to navigate; especially not when infinite hills block your view in every direction, even if that view is only of more sand.

We eventually found our way to the world’s most underwhelming church and back onto the road to civilisation. My cycling career is certainly on hold for the near future.

After just a short sojourn in San Pedro, I needed to get a wriggle on down to Santiago. Bizarrely however, buses were half the price if I went slightly later, so I was treated to a couple more hours in town, culminating in a DJ set in the main plaza, from the local fire brigade. Apparently they have nothing better to do than set up a full rig to play music, into a town where an old-fashioned law forbidding dancing still stands!

All pumped up from the surreal public party, I boarded my bus and, within a mere 24hours of vast, cactus-strewn wastelands from the window, I arrived in downtown, gridlocked Santiago.

Reunited with my best mate from home and a little slice of English life, it was time to do what we English do best: music festivals.

Lollapalooza presented several hurdles for us: 1) Tam had accidentally only purchased a one day ticket, so I was left to my own devices for the Saturday, 2) we were ferried around between different queues and vendors as we hadn’t printed our tickets, and 3) after fathoming out the ‘you can only pay with tokens, not real money’ system, I discovered there was nowhere to buy beer! A whole festival and no alcohol- rather alien to my Glastonbury-weathered soul.

Another slightly odd festival-planning decision came in the fact that, owing to the proximity of the two main stages (which faced each other), no two bands could play at the same time; thus there was a mass exodus at the end of each set, as the entire crowd fluctuated between the two sites.

Jungle played some upbeat fun; Of Monsters and Men could use cheering up at points, but were ultimately good; Tame Impala were a nice surprise, as I didn’t know I loved them; and I gave Jack Ü a necessary swerve, as his set was a hideous combination of Skrillex and Capital FM.

The main event of the day (in fact, of the weekend as a whole) was Eminem’s headline set. As most of the crowd mindlessly cheered in response to his repartee (in English, at a Spanish speaking crowd) I found myself a spot amongst some die hard fans who rapped, sung, or generally just sounded out almost every lyric- despite also not speaking English themselves! If you’ve ever thought that crowds back home were guilty of standing still, videoing and missing the moment itself, Chilean’s are substantially worse. Luckily for me however, most Latinos a quite small, so my vantage point was aimed directly over their heads and cameras alike.

Buzzing from the excitement and adrenaline of Eminem’s entire back catalogue, I managed to navigate my way back home and get some sleep for day two.

Sunday finally allowed Tam, Charlie and I to festival en mass. Having learnt from the day before, we came prepared with trendy Paisley attire, concealing lots of rum.

First band of the day: Bad Religion, who had a diehard fan base. Amusingly however, the hardcore mosh pit was very regimented, as everyone moved at the same speed in the same direction- I guess the Chilean dictatorship lives on in some aspects of their society!

Following this, the crowd jumped and screamed as Brandon Flowers played some of his unknown solo songs, that just sounded like obscure Killers’ album tracks. Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds were the set of the day for me, complete with an offbeat, edgy rendition of Wonderwall. Mumford and Sons are always a big crowd pleaser, followed by Florence and the Machine, who’s bemusing insanity got the crowd jumping.

All in all, a very unfamiliar festival experience, with no camping, no beers and no mud, but thoroughly enjoyable nonetheless!

Other than that, life in Santiago has been very subdued so far; I’ve been rather relishing the opportunity to live in reality, rather than the traveller hostel bubble.

A national strike provoked our involvement in a huge march against all the corruption and false promises that plague this country still; but swarms of army-grade police put a stop to any excitement pretty sharpish. Thus we headed instead to the trendy neighbourhood for burgers and street beers- like the cool kids do, because I’m a local (for now.)


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