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Cuando se siente el fervor de cientos de miles y miles de hombres y mujeres, apretándose en las calles y plazas para decir con decisión y esperanza: Estamos con ustedes, no cejen, ¡vencerán!, toda duda se disipa, toda angustia se desvanece. Son los pueblos, todos los pueblos al sur del río Bravo, que se yerguen para decir ¡basta!, ¡basta! a la dependencia, ¡basta! a las presiones, ¡basta! a las intervenciones; para afirmar el derecho soberano de todos los países en desarrollo a disponer libremente de sus recursos naturales.

Cientos de miles y miles de chilenos me despidieron con fervor al salir de mi Patria y me entregaron el mensaje que he traído a esta Asamblea mundial. Estoy seguro que ustedes, representantes de las naciones de la tierra, sabrán comprender mis palabras. Es nuestra confianza en nosotros lo que incrementa nuestra fe en los grandes valores de la Humanidad, en la certeza de que esos valores tendrán que prevalecer, no podrán ser destruidos.

When you feel the fervour of hundreds of thousands and thousands of men and women, pressed together in the streets and public squares to say, resolutely and full of hope: We are with you, don’t back down, you will win! All doubt dissipates, all angst vanishes. It is the peoples, all of the peoples to the south of theRío Grande, who are standing up to say: Enough! Enough dependency, enough pressure, enough intervention! To affirm the sovereign right of all developing countries to determine freely how to use their natural resources.

Hundreds of thousands and thousands bade me farewell when I left my country and gave me the message that I have brought to this assembly of the world. I am sure that you, representatives of the nations of the world, will understand my words. It is our confidence in ourselves that increases our faith in the great values of humanity, in the certainty that those values must prevail, that they cannot be destroyed.

SalvadorAllende at the UN General Assembly, 1972

          

Atacama

The Atacama Desert
(C) Élise R. Hendrick, 2012

  “Vengo de Chile, un país pequeño” — with these words, Chilean president Salvador Allende began his famous speech to the United Nations: I come from Chile, a small country. From these words alone, I can tell you with absolute certainty that Allende did not take the land route north.

No matter what the map might tell you – more on this later – and no matter what impression one might get from the surface area of Chile as compared to other countries, “small” is not the first descriptor that would occur to someone who has just travelled even half of the country by land. Having just recently done so twice – once to get to Santiago and once in order to return to Lima- I can tell you that the first descriptor that comes to my mind is: long. Interminably long. Painfully long. Assuming favourable conditions, Chile is so long that a trip from Santiago, in the central area of the country, to the northern border city of Arica, takes well over one full day. That kind of drive will take you roughly from New York City to Chicago, or by train from Barcelona to Berlin.

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NYC Skyline

Arriving in New York

The Empire State Building by Night

 

Lima

Lima

 

Panamericana

Sunset on the Panamerican Highway

 

Those of you who have been following Reunion – a Travelogue may have noticed that not much – OK, bugger all – has been written in recent months. A combination of writer’s block and various personal disasters, one of which involves a strong candidate for Worst Dentist in Southern Ohio, have conspired to delay my progress in finding an amusing and informative way to chronicle my travels through Europe in Fall 2010, culminating in my reunion with Berlin after 10 years of absence.

However, thanks in part to the Worst Dentist in Southern Ohio (more on that later), I have begun working on what I intend to use as a second part to Reunion, narrating a month and a half spent travelling through Chile and Perú, a preview of which you can find below…

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Spain at Last

Amazingly, it seemed I was going to arrive in Barcelona more or less when I had told Hortensia, the mother of a good friend of mine and my hostess during my stay in the city, that I would arrive.

As I pondered this with no small satisfaction, I noticed that the bus had slowed down, and that we were in what appeared to be a small city. This, I thought, must be Figueres. The bus circled about through the extremely narrow streets for around twenty minutes, giving me an opportunity to gain a first impression of this new environment. Figueres appeared to be a medium-sized city, with a centre full of shops, restaurants, and hotels, all of which (except for the hotels) were closed for the night. The signs were virtually all in Catalan, rather than Spanish, as is often the case in Catalonia. Fortunately, I had at least a decent reading knowledge of Catalan.

Even more fortunately, virtually all Catalan speakers are bilingual in Spanish. While I had never before been to a country in which Spanish is officially spoken, it is essentially my second native language, one I often find easier to speak than English. My Spanish is decidedly Latin-American in flavour, an improbable mix of Venezuelan, Chilean, and Mexican. I was rather excited at the prospect of being in a place where everyone spoke it.

Meanwhile, the bus had at last come to a stop at what appeared to be the city’s bus station. It, too, was dark, with the exception of a kebap window in the back. My stomach, which had lapsed into lethargy out of sheer exhaustion and despair, began making demands on me with a newfound vitality. Alas, it was going to have to wait yet longer, as we only had a few minutes to get the Figueres railway station.

Everyone else seemed to know where they were going. I decided to take the optimistic view and assume that this was because they did in fact know where they were going, and that they were going to the same place I was.

On our way, which was fortunately quite short, we passed through the Plaça de l’Estació, which must look quite striking by daylight. On the end we first entered, there was a well-maintained playground, which was deserted, of course, at this hour. The centre of the square was occupied by a stately palm tree, with a trunk at least three feet thick. Were it not for the complete lack of light, I would very much have liked to photograph it. From here, the station was clearly visible and only about 100 feet away.

The Figueres station was a small, quite tidy affair, staffed at the moment by a single fiftyish man behind a Plexiglas window. After my experience in Perpignan, I was positively ecstatic that, when asked for a ticket to Barcelona, he actually gave me one (for only €10.00). not only that, but he actually knew what platform the train was leaving from, and was kind enough to let me know – in a rather friendly tone – that I would have to run to catch it, as it was leaving in less than five minutes.

I did not need to be told twice. I took my ticket and my luggage, which was getting heavier by the minute, and ran to the platform. Fortunately, this did not involve hidden doors, long flights of stairs, or any of the other dubious pleasures I had encountered during the last 24 hours.

The train to Barcelona was a sleek commuter model, only a few years old. Upon getting aboard, I was quite happy to see that it was equipped with vending machines for snacks and drinks. My stomach approved grudgingly, as if to say: Am I to understand that there will be no chicken kebap with hot sauce and chips on the side?

At least there was no trouble finding a seat. I stowed my things quickly, and eagerly returned to the vending machines. I selected whatever seemed the most substantial, though I no longer recall what it was.

This is because, whatever it might have been, I didn’t get it. Instead, the vending machine returned my coins, rather stroppily, it seemed to me.

Dejected, I returned to my seat. Evidently, there was to be no snack for me on this train. This news I took with a surprising degree of aplomb. If there’s one thing you learn from Perpignan, it’s resignation.

Upon our arrival, we discovered that there was no shortage of world at the super-secret, unmarked SNCF bus stop.

“There must be at least a hundred people here”, remarked one of my Aussie companions.

“I hope we’ll all fit”, nodded another.

I silently thanked her for putting that thought into my head. This had never once occurred to me as I sat across from the station, my hopes of getting to Spain seemingly evaporating with each Non. I had not allowed myself to think that, after spending almost 30 hours without real sleep or food to get here, almost breaking my neck to catch my connection out of Montpellier, nearly getting kicked off of that train for having an insufficiently French MasterCard, narrowly avoiding an aneurysm in the face of the incompetence of the “Information” staff, and just barely stopping myself from disemboweling Mr “No Change for You!” and selling his entrails to the nearest brasserie, that I could possibly have gone through all of this in order not to get a seat on the bus.

Which is to say that my gleefulness at my young Australian companion’s words was somewhat restrained.

“Wait a second”, interjected the guy who didn’t speak French, “How many seats in a bus?”

“Well, it’s four to a row”, I replied.

“Plus the extra two seats in the middle of the back row”, one of the Aussies chimed in.

“And it’s, what, 20 rows to a bus, right?” I added. “That would be room for 82 people.”

“So we might be all right.”

“Isn’t it 24 rows?” asked I Don’t Speak French.

I agreed.

“So then there are 102 seats.”

“So we’re fine!” one of the Aussies summed it up.

At that point, another Aussie noticed that a second bus was pulling up. There would definitely be more than enough seats, I concluded, sighing with relief.

This was the best news all day. At that moment, I couldn’t think of any place I would rather leave than Perpignan.

I checked my pocket to make sure that the hard-won ticket was there and joined the queue in front of the baggage hatch to hand over my suitcase. That done, I joined my travelling companions at the back of the bus.

As it turned out, no one ever asked for my ticket, nor anyone else’s, come to that. In other words, I had gone through the orgy of frustration with the most unhelpful and incompetent railway employees in France just for the privilege of spending seven euros that I could have just as productively used as rolling papers.

The excitement in the bus was palpable. After all those hours of uncertainty, of wondering whether we were at the right bus stop, and, indeed, whether the bus we needed actually existed, we were finally on our way. Spain beckoned!

We occupied ourselves scanning the darkened landscape for signs that the border was near. Given that there are no border controls within the European Union, we had to rely on other things, in particular the language of the signs. Behind me, two of the Aussies were discussing the strike that had shut down the French economy, and the French railway system, more than once in recent weeks. One of them wondered what the whole thing was about.

“Sarkozy’s trying to gut their super”, I explained, having just spent a few hours on trains reading the latest on the strikes in Le Monde, Libération, and L’Humanité. “All along, the workers have been saying that all they want is to sit down and negotiate a fair arrangement, but Sarkozy won’t even answer their letters.”

The fact is that I was quite excited to be in this part of the world at this particular moment in history. All over the world, from Washington to London, from Paris to Berlin, from Madrid to Athens, governments were using the global financial crisis – for which the perpetrators, deregulated investment bankers gambling with the socioeconomic wellbeing of the world, were richly rewarded – as a pretext to impose harsh “austerity” measures, decimating hard-won wages and benefits, and destroying essential social welfare protections right at the moment they were most needed. In essence, the holes ripped in national budgets by the trillions of dollars in taxpayer spent to restore the profitability of the financial sector were to be paid for by shafting the rest of the population.

However, there was a difference between France and Spain and the US: In France and Spain, workers were doing something about it. Workers in the US have, by and large, forgotten how to go on strike. Unions are virtually nonexistent in the private sector, and the leadership of the unions that do exist are generally happy to rubber stamp ever greater concessions in wages and benefits. The union bureaucracy in the US are as afraid of strikes and other militant worker action as their supposed adversaries, the owners.

Not so in France. In France, when government and business get together to screw workers sideways, working people fight back, and shut down the economy. Whatever inconvenience I might encounter as a result of that, I was too impressed to feel put out.

As I pondered this, another of my companions spotted the first Spanish-language sign. A cheer went up in the bus: “We are in Spain!”

Getting to Barcelona

Perpignan is for fuckersThinking about it, “fuckedness“ is truly a matter of degree. In the two days between starting my trip from Erlangen to Barcelona and my first full day there, I had ample opportunity to experience various degrees.

I experienced the first degree of fuckedness – where you`re fucked, but don`t realise it, or things can still be fixed fairly easily – at about 9 AM at Gare de Lyon in Paris. After staring at the table with the listing of all of the departing trains and not finding mine for about 20 minutes, I went to the information desk, where I discovered that the train had been cancelled, and I would have to wait for another one at 10:20 AM. This did not seem so bad. I could relax a bit, check my e-mail, and experience the joys of sitting still for a bit. I didn`t have to be in Perpignan, by the border with Spain, until around 5 PM. This cancellation was a blessing in disguise!

Unfortunately, however, I ended up having to run after all, because my train to Montpellier was leaving from a track that was rather far away from the rest of the tracks, almost hidden, and it took about ten minutes to find it. Even so, I found my reserved first-class seat, which had a point for my computer, and a window clean enough to take pictures through. The trip was comfortable and blissfully uneventful.

The second degree announced itself in Montpellier. There was one train leaving for Perpignan, the French town on the border with Spain from which I intended to take a train to Barcelona, but it was one of France`s high-speed TGV trains, and required reservations. The queue at the ticket counter was at least a hundred people long, and my only way to get to Perpignan in time was leaving in ten minutes. Despite there being six windows open, the queue didn`t seem to be moving at all. I looked at the people in front of me, and briefly, but seriously, considered knocking them out of the way one by one. Of course, they had no way of knowing that they were standing between me and my last hope of getting to Perpignan today, but fuck ’em. I did, wisely, reject this option upon realising that several of them could easily kick the shit out of me, and that an arrest would likely further delay my progress towards Perpignan, and ultimately Barcelona. Continue Reading »

One of my favourite things about Berlin is the presence of beautiful forests and lakes within a short S-Bahn (light rail) trip of the city, and the Großes Fenster (Great Window) is possibly the most striking example. Getting there from the east or centre of the city is a 30-min-to-one hour journey to the Nikolassee station (line S7), followed by an approximately 2 km (1 mile) hike. From Alexanderplatz, you can take the S7 (going to Potsdam Hbf) directly, and will be there in about half an hour.

Google maps will give you directions from the station to the Großes Fenster, but these directions need to be taken with a grain of salt. In the directions, Google describes footpaths as if they were streets, and, by naming them (Wannseebadeweg, Am Großen Fenster). However, they are not marked in any way, so the names are meaningless. For another thing, if you list the destination as “Am Großen Fenster” (the path that the Großes Fenster is on, surprisingly enough), it stops short of where you actually need to go. Indeed, the only way to get accurate directions is to list the destination as Schwanenwerder, an island a short walk away from the actual destination.

Once you arrive at Nikolassee, just follow the signs to the exit. You will almost immediately see a pedestrian bridge (Rosemeyerweg). If you look for Rosemeyerweg, you will miss it, as the street sign is parallel to your line of sight coming out, and you will add an extra 15-20 minute bonus walk to your hike as you walk back and realise that all you actually had to do was keep going straight.

Eventually, you will come to Kronprinzessinnenweg (Crown Princess Way). Turn right, and walk about half a block until you see Spanische Allee. Turn left there. The Google directions describe the street you are turning into as “Wannseebadeweg”; however, there was no sign (that I saw, anyway) indicating that that was indeed the name of the street. You will cross the street and come to a warning sign indicating that no motor vehicles are permitted and that pedestrians enter at their own risk. Walk past this, and keep going for about half an hour.

At this point, it is important to get gradually more apprehensive that you are going the wrong way. At least, that is what the people who did the signposting in the forest (Grunewald) seem to think. You will see various turnoffs. Keep going straight. After about half an hour, you will see a white painted stone listing various destinations and distances. One of them will be “Großes Fenster”. Follow the arrow. You will be staying on the same path, but it will veer off to the right. You will see one more of these stones about another half an hour later.

Eventually, you will start to see water through the trees, and the path will start going down hill. You will go down some stairs that have been built discreetly into the path and arrive at a T-intersection. On the left, you’ll see a small marina. Go to the right, and walk another fifteen odd minutes, and you’ll be at the Großes Fenster.

On your left, you will notice that there is a fence and a sign. In case you do not understand German, the sign states that it is prohibited (subject to prosecution) to go beyond the fence, as the area is used to obtain drinking water, and any disturbance of the ground and the plants on it could adversely affect the quality of the groundwater.

When you reach a small clearing on your left, bordered by two large trees, you’re there. Off to your right, you will see Spandau in the distance, and somewhat farther to your right, you will see a tower jutting out of the trees. This is the Grunewaldturm, an observatory tower providing a panoramic view of the forest and a restaurant at the base, approximately 4 km (2 miles) away. The same stones that you followed to get to the Großes Fenster will direct you there.

The Autobahn to Magdeburg, as seen from the Rosenmeyerweg pedestrian bridgeSpanische Allee ("Wannseebadeweg")

The sign at the entrance to the Grunewald

The first of the very sparsely distributed signs

Das Große Fenster