New Year's eve was spent watching festivities from a distance. The city of Antofagasta was was in full celebration mode as I crept north through town. The streets were flooded with happy Chileans, clad in their decorative apparel, toting obligatory Champagne bottles. This was going to be quite a party, but one which my laden motorcycle forbade that I attend. I made my way to the abandoned cliffs overlooking the Pacific as well as a bright and bubbling city. In solitude, I enjoyed a Chilean Merlot whilst watching fireworks light the sky as one hundred feet below sounds of crashing waves accompanied distant explosions.
I awoke on the first day of 2012 to find my campsite under the watchful eye of a vile vulture. Though not the superstitious sort, I must admit that I found this to be a blight on an otherwise fabulous New Years morning scene.
The uninhibited glare of desert sunlight quickly overpowered the cool Pacific breeze and I rushed to pack up camp and take to the road.
My New Years day trip north along the coast between Antofagasta and Iquique was a bittersweet affair. The fabulous scenery witnessed here will be the last seen aboard my trusty BMW. The free trade zone of Iquique was to be where my transformation from, cycle equipped, nation hopping, Superman, to mere tourist, will occur, and the prospect of life without wheels left me a bit depressed.
(can you see what doesn't belong?)^
Restaurante La Cerreta was a rather nice place, the beach was within view and the clientele, friendly. A sidewalk split the outdoor patio from the restaurant and a steady stream of pedestrians passed as I juggled chatting with my friends and family online with frequent engagements by curious onlookers unconcerned with my lack of skill in the Spanish language. While attempting to extract useful information (of a place to sell my bike) from a difficult conversation, of which there was no avoiding, there was a smashing of glass followed by harsh screams. I looked towards the restaurant to see patrons quickly retreating from the sidewalk into its dark belly. A group of five twentyish year old knot-heads strolled into sight, continuing in their bottle smashing and ramblings. They were being led by a guy wielding two 3 foot long pipes. These were, thank God, of the stamped steel, and not lead, variety, however, their snarled ends were sharp and rusty. The ring leader swung his pipes somewhat indiscriminately while spewing senseless jabber. He turned his gaze to the poor fellow I was having such difficulty conversing with, and approached the very limp, and non-confrontational man. He began smacking my companion in the head while his sidekicks covered the front of the restaurant, tossing bottles into glass windows. I stood from my seat, throwing my arms out, I shouted "what the fuck are you doing?," while stepping toward the diminutive jackass who quickly raised his pipes. Deductive reasoning was clearly not this dipstick's forte. It would stand to reason that once a grisly 6'2" 210 pound (and potentially very dangerous) lone motorcyclists from parts unknown, stood in defense of the man you are so casually assaulting, it would be time to move on. This was not the case, however. He briefly jolted for me with pipes flailing as his troops tossed bottles. I backed quickly from my table in search of uncluttered ground. The Chilean ninja kept his distance while one of his pathetic friends stopped hurling debris long enough to snatch my laptop from the table. Shit!, you asshole, I thought, as the bandit made for the corner and a poorly lit road alongside the restaurant. The pictures and video on the laptop were of the irreplaceable variety and my contemplation of what to do spanned only a split second. I was taking back what was mine. Sticky fingers ran into the distance, his delinquent buddies moving into the street acting as a blockade. My mind raced and my rage built, I was bigger, stronger, and, likely, faster than a one of these pricks. Running at full bore I bounced off the edge of the barrier of punks, bypassing all four in doing so. Unfortunately, I lost sight of my prey and charged into a park. Scouring the scenery I saw my laptop being toted off into the distance. The entire group of weaklings were once more united. The thief ran ahead, but this time I was closer, and I smelled blood. The other four rapscallions again attempted to stop me as I tried to replicate my previous success in outrunning them. Bolting towards my adversaries, I kept an eye on my property and entered the sea of riffraff. The numbskulls were working in more unison this time and three of them had their hands on me at once, the thick steer hide of my vintage jacket made an excellent tether and I was very nearly slowed to a halt. My attire was well suited for motorcycling (and looking cool) but hardly ideal for chasing banditos. The unzipped jacket nearly proved to be my undoing. It was difficult to break free from the gang of bozos. Luckily, rather than piling on with his buddies the pipe wielding rouge took the opportunity to smack me with one of his flimsy broom handles. The minimal inertia generated through the cheap Chinese steel was little match for my thick American skull and his assault did little more than increase my drive to break free. Though never the gymnast, my balance and strong legs are my greatest physical attributes. I have used them to great effect throughout my days kicking balls and crossing mountains, never though have they better served me than here. Thrashing, I shed the stowaways, the last of which found his way to ground, hard. The three "Free Riders" had seen enough, and as I continued after my computer they disappeared leaving only the thief and the ninja.
There were a couple of guys watching my near falter and escape from the safety of their van. I implored them for assistance but they just looked at me, one shrugging his shoulders, and drove into the night. Strangely enough, the fool with the laptop came back to assist his cylinder twirling friend. Perhaps there is honor amongst thieves.
I was liking these odds, and there were people exiting their houses to watch the New Year's festivities. The thief precariously hurled whatever was close at hand and inevitably dropped my laptop, much to my dismay. In a quick, fruitless, approach to snatch up my pilfered goods I left myself open to a jabbing strike from a pipe to the cheek. It was the best, and last blow I would absorb in this conflict. Then, as I stood looking at the two, I was joined by Chilean reinforcements. A Tennessee Volunteer at heart, Elvis, yes, that is his real name, was a formidable sized fellow dressed in professional garb. His arrival prompted a new plan from the hooligans, flee. Elvis trailed Mr. Pipes and I pursued my equipment.
The foot chase was a brief one. My laptop, now broken, but with info intact, was once again in my possession. Plenty of helpers came out to restrain the bandit and they whisked me away, worried that I might do something retaliatory. A gentleman named Pierre told me that he would go to the restaurant to watch my things while I awaited the police. The attention generated from the event created quite a buzz. A local construction company owner, Carlos, asked about my accommodations for the night. I had none, the bandits had struck before I could find a cheap place to stay. He told me that he had a safe place for me to set camp, a fenced construction site a few blocks south. This was as good as a Hilton. Between the long day of riding and the intense moments following my property's abduction, I was exhausted. When I finally got back to my motorcycle Pierre was still watching my things after more than an hour. He asked me to survey my belongings to ensure they were all there, which they were, and then inquired as to where I would go and what I would do. I said, "I don't know, camping tonight, I'll figure it out tomorrow". He handed me 70,000 pesos (about $140) and told me to be careful. I replied that it was too much and I could get by without it, however, he was insistent that I take it. In hindsight it would have been almost impossible to have gotten though the next few days without it. It's strange the way things work at times. I knew upon arriving in town that, finding a buyer for the bike, buying a plane ticket, seeing the Dakar Rally, and registering for class this semester was going to be a tall order, especially with only $40 in my pocket. I never could have predicted that the key to my success would be carried to me by a gang of thieves. As of tonight I have done everything I set out to do in Iquique, with exception of seeing the Dakar Rally, which comes through town tomorrow. I have been helped throughout my stay here by complete strangers, from those on sight for the aftermath of the mugging, to the members of the Pasten/Carrasco family. They have sheltered, fed, and assisted me more than I could have ever hoped for. I will leave Chile on Friday the 13th with the beginnings of a scar on my cheek and a story in my mind. The driest desert in the world provided challenges but The Hand of the Atacama has proven to be a helping one.
P.S. New Year's Eve 2014,
The microcosm of my time in Chile offers a rather concise illustration of my broader existence, from the entirety of my Latin American motorcycle trip to the trip of life. Adversity exists whether or not you play by the rules. Perhaps in my obstinacy I find larger scale opposition than the average Joe, but even so, I have always found my way. Often the help I've needed comes from friends, family, or complete strangers. I rarely have to ask. It happens so frequently that I have come to accept it as a probability. There must be something to it, somewhat incomprehensible. With this being said, the biggest component of my success is a strong belief in myself. The cops, teachers, probation officers, DAs, and judges in my home town that spared no condemnation in their dealings with me have done little to shake my resolve. In fact, they only strengthened it. When I came to the realization that I didn't fit into Jonesborough, Tennessee, and never would, I decided it was time to ride South. I didn't spend too much time planning, and some people laughed at what they perceived as folly. I didn't care. It seemed to me that the most important thing was simply to leave. I followed my nose and had the greatest adventure of my life. It was the best decision I have ever made. When I look back Stateside, I see lots of people struggling to be happy, living in desperation. This arouses in me feeling of both anger and thankfulness. Do you fit in? I'll conclude my little New Year's post-scrip with a quote from America's greatest hero. "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it." -FB