The contrast between my life as a motoquero on the open road and my life as an urbanista here in Santiago has become even more pronounced. I am now without my bike, and thus find myself travelling to and from my Spanish school in the city centre every day by bus and metro. Catching the bus at 7.45am and returning late in the afternoon, the bus is without exception jam-packed. There are clearly no health and safety regulations here regarding the capacity of buses, as there are back in UK. The legal capacity is simply the maximum capacity – and the folk here aren’t shy at trying to squeeze in two or three more once that capacity has been reached. Despite my ardent attempts at self-denial, I have had to accept that I am now a commuter. Living the dream? Not exactly.
I’m without my bike because it is time for another service. Strictly speaking, I could ride for another 3000km or so before the service is due, but I would be a fool not to get the work done here in Santiago. Good garages and dealerships abound. The road along which I travel every day – Avenida Las Condes – is ‘the motorcycle road’ of Santiago. Every major brand is represented, including the great British icon, Triumph. One of these days I’m going to call in and ask if I can take a Street Triple out for a ride, hoping that my credentials as a former British Army officer might pin them into a moral corner and make feel obliged to give me carte blanche on any of their beautiful machines. And conveniently for me, the largest dealership of all on Las Condes is Yamaha. In fact, the Yamaha garage is as big as any I’ve seen back at home – in stark contrast to those I have come across in other cities during my travels here. But for the first time, I’ve opted not to pay the premium that comes with a service from a Yamaha dealer. My new, Yorkshire tea drinking chum has introduced me to a mechanic who builds bike for the Dakar Rally. If he can’t sort out the knocks I’ve sustained and prepare the moto for the next round of punishment, then no one can.
But whilst motorcycle garages in Santiago can claim pole position in both the ‘size’ and ‘abundance’ categories, they are comfortably amongst the pack when it comes to punctuality. In fact, in this category there is no pole position, peleton or relegation zone – South American time is universal in this regard and seems to apply equally to all. Having got used to the affluence, organisation and distinctly North American orientation of Santiago, I was naively optimistic when I dropped my bike off on Tuesday: I should have known better. In Coyhaique down in Patagonia, I was told a minor bit of welding – a couple of hours’ work – would be done by 1pm; I picked my bike up at 6pm after virtually blocking the mechanic’s exit to prevent him from going home. In Osorno, where the moto required new parts for the transmission, five days became seven weeks. A repair job on my exhaust in Calama in the Atacama Desert – an afternoon’s work – turned into four days. And when I returned after a month in the UK to Arequipa, where I had left my bike with the local Yamaha dealer for a service, I found it covered in dust at the exact spot I had left it. Mind you, as one wily traveller pointed out, at least it was still there when I came back.
Having reflected on all of this, I have re-calibrated my expectations and bought myself a bus and metro pass. This week there is a three day holiday to celebrate Chile’s National day, so nothing will get done then – the whole of Chile stops work and parties. So I hope to be back on two wheels the week after. But then again, there are a few advantages of being bikeless here. Another characteristic that Chile’s capital shares with the rest of South America is the distinctly moto-unfriendly style of driving that its residents adopt. (Only last week I passed a BMW rider making friends with the local paramedics in the middle of a three-line boulevard.). But the big difference here is, rather that being side-swiped by an antique Peruvian VW Beetle in Cusco doing thirty at best, you’re more likely to be nailed by a 4×4 SUV doing sixty on the way to pick up the kids from school. Ask the BMW rider – that’s gonna hurt.