Bus Rides, The World Cup, and other South American Musings

                                                                                                                         June 25th, 2006: Montanita,
    Ecuador


      There are two ways to get from Santiago, Chile, to Guayaquil, Ecuador. The first is to fly direct from Santiago to
    Guayaquil, logging the close to 4,000 kms in about 5 hours, at a cost of somewhere in the neighbourhood of $880
    USD. Seeing as we don´t exactly have close to a grand each to throw around at this juncture in the trip, we chose to
    get from the capital of Chile to the largest city in Ecuador; a distance equal to that which divides Toronto and L.A.; by
    land.

      What exactly does traversing such a distance in South America entail? Only sitting on a bus for 71 hours and
    missing, on the first night, the Whalers winning their first cup in franchise history and bringing to an end a lifetime´s
    worth of suffering for the Hartford faithful, followed by Alonzo Mourning finally getting his well-deserving-ten-million-
    in-Raptors-money-stained fingers all over the Larry O´Brien trophy (I just puked all over myself) the next night, and
    then a night in Lima, and then another night on a bus where they finally show a movie that manages to keep my
    attention for more than 15 minutes, but then just as Coach Carter is leading his underdog Richmond Oilers into the
    fourth quarter of an improbable upset over Ty Crane and St. Francis in the California State Tournament, someone on
    the bus decides to turn the movie off so people can sleep, prompting me to briefly consider overdosing on the pills in
    my bag before realizing that taking 70 Malaria meds might not be the most glorious way to go.

      After that third night sleeping (and I use term loosely) on a bus, we were dropped off in Tumbes, Peru, where we
    walked with our gear to another bus company´s office, only to learn that their buses weren´t running because of
    ¨manifestations¨ at the Ecuadorian border (I had no idea what manifestations at the border was supposed to mean, but
    this was the same border crossing where we got ripped off with counterfeit money earlier in the trip, so really,
    anything was possible). With no buses running, we hopped in a collectivo (a minivan with a broken windshield rammed
    full of people trying to get to the border, Tijuana style) and took that to the immigration office which is conveniently
    located nowhere near the border, got our passports stamped by a border official who was also doubling as the duty
    free cashier (the only logical explanation for his giant box full of pirated DVD´s for sale), before hopping in a motorized
    rickshaw so it could take us to the disgusting trickle of sludge that passes for a river and thereby constitutes the border
    betwixt these two fine nations. We walked to the next bus office, this one in Ecuador, only to learn that their buses
    weren´t running either, prompting us to hop in a cab which took us to the reason that none of the buses were running:
    a giant blockade in the middle of the only road out of town made up of trucks, piles of dirt, burning shit, and a bunch
    of cops standing around watching it all go down. I had no idea what the hell they were protesting, but it sure as fuck
    made my life more difficult  - would that be considered a success? (It turns out they were protesting the price of
    bananas - couldn't make it up if I tried). After walking through the protest, we boarded another bus and rode it for half
    an hour before arriving at the next blockade. Same idea, but with more of a party atmosphere, including beer and
    various other sundries for sale. We passed through that blockade, again on foot, and got on yet another bus, which
    mercifully brought us to Guayaquil.  The entire journey took more than five days... Probably should have splurged for
    the flight.  

      Anyway, prior to this whirlwind tour of most of South America´s Pacific coast, we finished up our time on the
    Island of Chiloe where I officially became the Lebron James of travelling, choosing to suck it up and finally accept
    Sandra´s offer of a black pair of tights... Yeah, that´s right. It was so bloody cold and wet on this friggin´ island (none
    of the rooms had insulation, let alone heat, and you could see your breath at all hours of the day) that I resorted to
    wearing women´s undergarments for a period of no less than four days. And even though I was referring to them as
    Long Johns the entire time, there´s no disputing the fact that they were tights, and that they felt damn nice on my icy
    cold thighs. There. I admitted it. I feel a whole lot better about myself. Anyway, to help keep us warm on that beautiful
    island was a fantastic beer called Kunstmann (of which I tried desperately to get a T-shirt to shock dyslexics with) and
    this ridiculous traditional stew of Clams, Mussels, Pork, sausage, and potatoes (called Curanto) that tasted pretty good
    at the time, but the all-seafood diet that we´d been living off on the island must have given Sandra a case of suspected
    food poisoning, which meant that it was time for us to make it to the mainland.

      On our way out of Chiloe, from my seat on the bus, I saw a kid shooting hoops all by his lonesome. This is
    significant only in the fact that, for this entire trip, I have been looking desperately for any sign of even a single person
    playing basketball (as far as I can tell, there are as many basketball courts as there are soccer fields here), and this little
    kid working on his jump shot in the freezing cold of this soggy island was the first. What made this more remarkable
    was the fact that the World Cup was in progress at that very moment. This kid was clearly an anomaly because, as is
    the case in most of the world (North America appears to be mercifully out of the loop on this one), all of South
    America seems to stop when there is a World Cup game on TV. Which I guess is cool, being on a continent that cares
    about soccer while the biggest tourney of them all is going down, but I just don´t get the obsession. I´ve tried my best
    to like soccer. It´s a grand game to play, and when it´s played properly and at the highest level, it can be beautiful to
    watch (as it´s devotees will lead you to believe). But the truth is, I can only get mildly interested once every four years,
    and only when it´s on a world scale. It´s a lot like Bobsledding that way. I don´t give a shit about Bobsledding, except
    when it´s the best in the world competing against one another, and they are representing their countries of origin, and
    it´s happening once every four years on the biggest scale of them all. But the other 1459 days in the interim? Please
    keep it off my TV.

      Same thing for soccer. And the reason I just can´t seem to get into this game, no matter how world renowned it is or
    how hard I try, is because of the diving. Maybe it´s because I come from a country where people play hockey and
    football, and our population seems to pride itself on sucking it up and playing through the pain, finding a kind of honour
    in persevering through hardship and adversity; but writhing around on the ground like you´ve just been shot because
    your shin pad accidentally bumped into somebody else´s foot is simply not right. I can´t even tell you how many times
    I´ve been watching soccer with a crowd of people down here and taken my life into my hands by yelling ¨GET OFF
    THE GROUND YOU FUCKING PUSSY!!!¨ It´s the most frustrating thing in the world to watch, and a guy from
    Minnesota put it best when he said: ¨I can´t believe that the Americans are the honourable ones in this sport¨. That
    pretty much sums it up. Another good summary of soccer was put forth by Rosco when he said: ¨If the highlight of
    the game is a player missing the net, the game needs work. I can miss the net with a soccer ball¨. Well put my friend.

      But that being said, Ecuador is playing England tomorrow, and if the Altitude Kids can somehow pull off the upset,
    this place will be absolutely bonkers (I can´t wait to begin pounding Pilseners with the locals at 9 o´clock tomorrow
    morning). Also, the news down here is much more interesting during the World Cup. For instance, in Santiago, the
    guy who owned the hostel forced us to watch the Chilean news before we could settle into a night of Special Agent
    Johnny Utah battling demons in Constantine, and the news broadcast pretty much went like this (except in Spanish):
    ¨In town today, there was a building on fire for awhile and then the people were rescued. And now, here are 25
    minutes of hot Brazilian chicks dancing, with as many close ups of breasts and jiggling asses as possible, as these
    scantily-clad supporters take to the streets in celebration of yet another triumph for
    BRAAAAAAASIIILLLIIIIAAAAAA!!!!¨ Apparently Chile has adopted Brazil as their hometown favourite, because that
    was all anyone could talk about. By the way, when they finally cut back to the guy at the newsdesk, he was visibly...
    how do you say? Delighted?... by the coverage? It was like something out of Ron Burgundy, this guy staring down at
    the monitor for about three seconds too long before realizing he was on, clearing his throat and adjusting his tie in an
    attempt to regain his composure. Totally classic.

      Anyway, we didn´t get to see as much of Valparaiso as we would have liked because we were both pretty sick for
    most of the time, but I was totally digging the bohemian vibe of that port town nonetheless. If Chile as a whole weren´t
    so disgustingly expensive (by South American standards, of course), it would be a place I´d probably like to go back
    to. From Valpo it was on to Santiago, where we had a date with the two American dudes I had previously had the
    pleasure of stripping down to my skivvies with while in Mendoza (both on exchange in Santiago). Our first night was
    spent in Santiago´s version of Sneaky Dees, complete with cheap draft beverages, beer-graffiti-walls, and video juke
    box (that´s right - not only could you pay a quarter and hear Toto´s Africa, but you could also see their classic 80´s
    video up on the big screen as well - a totally buzz-intensifying experience). For the record, the mullet is alive and well
    in the city of Santiago, along with Iron Maiden T-shirts and self-mutilating facial perforations. We came back to the
    hostel and Sandra hit the hay (still feeling the effects of the food poisoning), and I was treated to one of the most
    amazing Blues experiences I´ve ever had. I guess the guy who owned the hostel was a bit of a musician himself, so he
    had a pretty decent band into the building´s courtyard (most of the large houses have those Spanish style openings in
    the middle) for the night, which was pretty decent in itself. But somewhere around 2:30 am, what can only be
    described as Santiago´s Blues elite began showing up, having finished all of their paying gigs, to jam for the night. It
    was absolutely ridiculous. First some guy brings in a keyboard and sets it down. Then this 18 year old harp player
    shows up with his parents, and he starts wailing away. Then the French reincarnation of Vini ¨Mad Dog¨ Lopez
    wearing a beret gets a hold of the drums and goes absolutely nuts, followed by a saxophonist strolling in. At one point
    there were 5 guitarists up on the improvised stage, and the whole living breathing organism sounded like a pipe organ
    swept up in a subterranean hurricane. Totally unreal. But the highlight was when Bad Bernie, a Cajun Hamish Guthrie
    lookalike missing four teeth and wearing a 70´s naval officer´s suit, complete with white hello thailer cap, got up there
    and began playing slide guitar while howling the Louisiana blues. And I just sat back with my liter of Escudo beer, and
    took it all in with about 15 other people. It was one of those things that could never be duplicated, no matter how far
    you went looking.

      Anyway, the next day, with Sandra still feeling under the weather, I ventured off into the soft Santiago night with
    nothing but a 12 pack of Cristal and the hopes of finding myself a game of Beirut (beer pong), which I eventually
    managed to stumble upon somewhere out in the Santiago suburbs. It turns out it was the 21st birthday´s of both of my
    fellow stripteasers, which meant that there was a monster party going down at the house of one of their billets. After
    dominating the Beirut table for awhile (if dominating means bowing out in the first round to a pair of girls from
    Austin), the mother of the billet family returned home early from her night, only to find a backyard full of drunken
    Americans, and needless to say, she was not impressed. I felt like I was in highschool all over again, firstly because
    some drunk guy was telling me about the 26 year old cougar he picked up the previous weekend (26 eh? A cougar?
    Just kill me now), and secondly because this lady who was only about 6 years older than me was screaming at us for
    getting her 15 year old son hammered and for allowing the family dog to escape. Good times all around. We somehow
    ended up at a bar with a Brazilian band playing and more Brazilian dancing women, where I hung out for the better part
    of the night with a guy who was identical to the older sister from the Wonder Year´s boyfriend - yeah, I´m talking
    about David Schwimmer with a moustache. This guy didn´t speak a lick of English, but I just had to buy him a beer
    for that ´stache and ugly-assed mop. Amazing. After stumbling back to the hostel at an hour when even the gas station
    shot me down when I tried to buy one of their hot dogs, we knew it was time to get the F out of Dodge. Five days
    later, we were in Ecuador.

      Which is where we are now, in a crazy little surfing town called Montanita. There is pretty much nothing to do here
    but party and surf (and watch soccer), and I plan to at least attempt to do much of both. Thanks to everyone who
    went to the McCallum Street Bender (including a highlight-reel Tommy Richards), and particularly the All-Star squad
    that helped with the move: Ronnie, Blake, Petee, Foley, Skeeter, Flats, Sully, B$Rad, Johnny Edelman, John
    McCulloch, and Auntie One Shot. I don´t know how they would have done it without you. You guys rule.

    Talk to you all soon,
seanmccallum.com
Travelling Man