I passed the Chilean border easily. The customs officer neither put my panniers in to X-ray nor opened them to take look. They only let the dog sniff my bicycle. Nobody was curious about what I was carrying in my bags. I knew that normally it wasn’t so easy, especially if you carry food products on your bicycle they are confiscated. And I had some, but they didn’t ask anything. So I made my first border cross between Chile and Argentine. While heading down to south I’m going to cross a couple of borders between Chile and Argentine.
After I crossed the border gate, first a stone pit caught my attention. Everywhere was full of construction machines. Then, after about one km I saw a ski center. I looked over the ski run of the ski center: “Dude, where does it start, where does it go to?”. While heading down I try to understand from where the run goes. While trying to understand, I started to descend the famous pass “Los Libertadores” which is counted among the top 10 in the world. While descending I counted exactly 21 S curves with gentle slope and you can ride without pedaling for 38 km till the town Los Andes. If I would have come from Chilean side, I wouldn’t have such a nice view. I had just arrived at the end of the S curves, when I stopped swearing.
Since the road was descending in many S curves it was partly supported by concrete blocks to prevent landslide. These blocks were covered and the vehicles were comfortably passing underneath. And above those tunnels the ski run of Centro de Esqui Portillo was passing. That is, when people are skiing in winter, they’ll ski over the busiest road pass between Argentine and Chile. I’m sure if you are at the beginning of the S curves you can see a skier or snowboarder jumping in the air on this area. If an athlete misses the tunnel gap or falls on the road, he/she might get badly injured. I asked whether this pass was open in the winter. Yes, it was open. Pure adrenaline. I used to look at the photos of snowboarders jumping over busy roads. This here was probably one of these locations.
To my knowledge, Brazilians were the ones keeping the ski tourism in this region alive. There were people coming from Brazil just to see the snow. Daily skiing tours from Santiago to this spot changes from 150 to 200 USD, transportation and skis inclusive. It is or was cheaper than the price of Kartalkaya Ski Resort in Ankara but I don’t know the present prices.
While riding down I met a cyclist from Iceland climbing up the pass. He had started to travel with his friends but then they returned home, and he continued solo. After a small talk he looked at my bicycle and said: “For someone traveling around the world you really don’t carry much”. This has changed three times in 7 years: Between 2010 and 2011, then between 2012 and 2015 and lastly as it is in April 2016. I reduced my storage capacity from 116 L to 70 L. I carry everything what I need from winter and summer wear to camping and kitchen equipment, electronic devices, a drone. All the gear I need for riding at every weather condition from -60 °C to +60 °C no matter snowy, rainy or windy. Everything has become handier. I think made a good layout, maybe do it better in the future. By the way, I advised him to take the dirt road which I showed him on the GPS, the road just before the tunnel entrance at the right.
There is a sweet gentle slope down to Los Andes for 36 km with only a short climb. In Los Andes I had found three Warmshowers hosts. Two of them replied to my message but unfortunately, they were out of town. When I arrived in the town it got almost dark. No need to bother, I’ll just stay at a hotel. The next day I’ll arrive in Santiago anyway. I looked around. There was only one hotel around me as I had already checked on my smart phone. When I entered the hotel I said: “This will be pricy, it looks elegant” and it happened so. While I was normally paying 10-30 USD, I paid 38 USD here. Today I climbed too much and was sleeping in tent for days. Sometimes there are such moments when I don’t want to ride further and just want to rest. Well, this was one of those moments.
The first thing entering the hotel room was to take a shower. I started to think about the pass I climbed. The Jesus sculpture I saw today at 3832 m was the biggest in the Andes. It was the symbol of peace between Chile and Argentine. The pass was called as Iglesia on Chilean side and as Bermejo on Argentinean side. This pass was explored by a missioner and years after was crossed by the Andean army under the command of San Martin a rather difficult summit for the time of Spanish war.
The next day I didn’t hurry up to set off. I was close to Santiago. There was only one road to follow, the main road. The side roads wouldn’t take me to Santiago. Different than that in Argentine, there are shoulders on the main roads. There weren’t almost any shoulders on the roads which were packed with heavy truck traffic in Argentine. I rode about 20 km towards south from Los Andes when I saw a tunnel and a control post in front of it. The officer stopped me:
- You cannot go through the tunnel after this point.
- How long is this tunnel?
- 8 km, but it is forbidden to enter the tunnel on bike.
- What do you suggest?
- I’ll call a car from the highways department for you. They are waiting at the other end of the tunnel. They’ll come in shortest time.
Well, how did I make this conversation in a country where nobody was speaking English? Since my Spanish was bad I used the Google translation program surely. It was pretty easy, from English to Spanish with voice commands. While waiting there he also offered me tea and I had some almonds which I shared with him. While watching the news on TV the vehicle arrived.
We loaded my bike on the vehicle. While loading I stopped shortly and the man looked at me
- What happened?
- Nothing let’s continue. Please drop me at the exit of the tunnel.
Memories took me back to April 4th 2015. One day, I’ll write them.
The cyclists on world tour had tried to cross the Bosphorus Bridge in Istanbul. Our police or officials hadn’t allowed them. Then our newspapers had written “They traveled around the world on bike but weren’t allowed to cross the bridge” You are not allowed in Europe, not allowed in South America. Why in Turkey? Well, just because I travel around the world would I be allowed to cross the bridge? Why to put myself and others into danger?
At the tunnel exit I thanked him. Heading towards the city, I passed near an area which was affected from a forest fire, one of many outbreaks in February 2017 in Chile. I had watched on the TV while I was riding in Argentine how the Chilean fire services fought with fire for days in all four sides of the country. The firefighters work voluntarily in Chile as in Argentine. The government doesn’t pay them for their work. Only the budget for fire brigade trucks and their dresses are covered by the government. But still there were fire stations which were not supported. When I came to Santiago I learned that there was a fire station called as Turco. Our General Directorate of Forestry had been trying to donate a fire brigade truck with collaboration of TIKA (Turkish cooperation and coordination agency) for a long time.
Before that, TIKA had granted 100,000 USD and they had spent the money for the best heat resistant and fire proof clothing. I went to their headquarters and met them. They had only 2 fire brigade trucks one of which was out of order. The ages of the crew changed from 20 to 50. I shared on my webpage that their wish was to go to Turkey for training. General Directorate of Forestry, Turkish Firefighters Union, Union of Municipalities of Turkey all were mobilized but encountered bureaucratic obstacle. At the end Union of Municipalities set hands to this issue and 4 of Chilean firefighters went to Turkey for training. Also, the truck was sent in a short time.
One message I shared on social media had such an influence. I don’t how much the firefighters thanked to our embassy but the ones who went to Turkey and the ones driving the truck keep sending me messages and are waiting for me to come back to Santiago. Sometimes we chat. My friend Basak one of our embassy diplomats standing in front of the truck had sent me message “your truck has arrived” together with this photo (the photos of those firefighters and many other photos are gone with my stolen smartphone). By the way this 4×4 truck has the highest water carrying capacity among the trucks of the other Chilean fire stations. If I return to Santiago, I’ll stay with them for a while and receive training. We made an appointment. If you make a gesture via google what you get in return is something like this. In my opinion it was nice.
Our Chile ambassador Naciye Gökçen Kaya hosted me in Santiago. During this period, I gave presentations in schools and interviews for local newspapers and TV channels about my world tour. I had also the opportunity to meet both the natives and Turks working at different branches in this city.
I had to stop by the Meze Restaurant. Hale Sargin while traveling as backpacker had decided all of a sudden to continue to travel on bike and Meze Restaurant was her bicycle sponsor.
(Nowadays a bicycle company which I contacted for sponsorship in 2011 for my world tour but was rejected is sponsoring her! I congratulate them, though a bit late they have started to support Turkish long distance touring cyclists).
First I visited Meze Restaurant and when I met its owner:
- Hi, I’m Gurkan Genc traveling around the world on bike. I was generally going to Turkish restaurants missing Turkish cuisine but this time I came for another reason. I came to thank you. Your sponsorship to Hale is very important leading people to change their lives.
- Hi Gurkan, I’m very pleased to meet you. I have heard about you before. I also would like to thank you.
After this talk we ate their delicious meals. The mezes (Turkish appetizers) were delicious, they had also raki. It was a quite popular place. Turkish TV Series had contributed a lot to its popularity. Within a couple of years, it became one of the well-known restaurants in Santiago. During the period I stayed in Santiago, the Meze Restaurant and its meals were promoted on a TV channel. Well, the name of the owner is advantageous in this because the name of one of the characters portrayed by Halit Ergenc was Onur. Afterwards, the restaurant became very popular. Anyone in Argentine and Chile after introducing yourself keeps calling Onur, Onur.
The couple Basak and Yigit working at our embassy invited me for dinner. They had been following me since a long time and if the ambassador wasn’t hosting me they would. They had a backyard where I would put up my tent. I stayed in Santiago for a long period. Some of my friends even thought that I had settled down. There was more than one reason for staying so long.
Kron Biycle company sent me a shock absorber hard to find a good one when replacing disc brake with V brake. Eduardo in Santiago helped me a lot. Together we went to bicycle dealers the whole day. Then, Kron had let it send from Germany. Gungorler Bicycle Company sent the helmet and V brakes. Bisiklet Gezgini renewed one of the rear panniers which was torn. They also had sent hydraulic V brakes, but they didn’t fit due to the rear rack. My friend Oguz in Germany sent the snow tires. Damla Patisserie sent a box of cookies. My friend Irem sent me energy cakes via Pasta Fabrikası. My family sent me a huge box of nuts and dried fruits. Bulent and his team took care of my web page. We are working on an interesting project with my team mate Mine Poge, I hope we’ll share it with you in this year. Preparations for Young Explorers 2017 project were finished, 16 students will participate this year.
In short, it is hard to solve everything while on road. Sometimes things come one after one. Therefore, I stopped in Santiago for a while and this was good so.
For example, I was wondering why and how the Turkish TV series were so popular in this country. I got informed by our Chile Ambassador Naciye Goksen Kaya. One of the famous TV channels Mega TV was about to go bankrupt and as last hope they bought the rights to broadcast one of the Turkish TV series, if I’m not wrong “Fatma Gulun Sucu Ne? (What is Fatma Gul’s fault?)”. They asked for promoting in our embassy and accompanied by Turkish cuisine, the promotion was a success. Afterwards, the channel bought the copyright for broadcasting in some other South American countries. This was a huge success. Then other channels made contracts for other Turkish TV series. Only in Chile there are more than 10 Turkish TV series playing. On top of it, they had bought the copyrights for broadcasting all the Turkish TV series playing in Turkey in 2017. During my travel in Chile and Argentine I asked to the Chileans with whom I could communicate in English why they liked to watch those TV series. Moreover, one night we went out with girls somewhere in the south and they said: “It is time for the series to start on TV, let’s go back to the hostel”. We went back to the hostel. The girls were watching “Magnificent Century”.
- Hey! This series was very famous years ago in my country, but it has finished long ago
- Do you know what will happen in the next part?
- I don’t know what will happen in the series but know the historical event
- You look like the sultan in the series (Halit Ergenc). Are all the Turkish men so handsome?
- Well, we are all handsome. In every region the style of the men changes. Depending on the region the color of skin, hair and eyes change. They are all tall and well built. Which type of Turkish man do you like? Sent me an e-mail and I’ll arrange a touristic tour for you in that region.
Hahahaha. You should have seen their faces. They were listening their jaws dropped. I have no idea, if anyone ever marketed a country like this for touristic purpose.
When in Santiago, it is a must to visit the Ataturk sculpture. I didn’t go there during my first stay in Santiago but will definitely go during my second visit. Instead I went to Mustafa Kemal Ataturk primary school for a presentation.
This school was built in 1965 supported by the state of Turkish Republic. When the TIKA officials came I was also there by chance.
I met there Zehra Ezgi Hossoz working as a teacher. My eyes were filled with tears! For the first time, we as a state of Turkish Republic had sent a teacher speaking both English and Spanish. The shock was too big. You know I had mentioned in my Morocco article: “Our government had sent 10 teachers neither speaking French nor Arabic to a country where people both fluently speak French and Arabic. But I liked this here very much. Zehra teacher made nice trips and learned about the culture while she was there. Well done! But these tears of happiness didn’t last long.
At a lunch I was invited by our embassy, during the talks with TIKA officials the subject came to Israel. A TIKA employee working as civil engineer said some like: “We made the renovation works of Dome of the Rock built by Suleiman the Magnificent”. I thought I heard wrong and asked:
- Was Dome of the Rock built by Suleiman the Magnificent?
He said “Yes”! And when I asked him “I you sure?” he answered me quite confidently that he wasn’t wrong. I really got surprised. As I always say, there are people working in our institutions unaware of the work he/she is doing, being so called expert and not having smallest knowledge or a vision about many subjects. He might be successful in his work but after this speech I thought how come?… Formerly I used to get angry, but I remain calm since a long time. Nevertheless, I can’t help of thinking why we are so. I don’t care, he can say “my father has built it”, with this educational system you reap what you sow.
By the way, it came in my mind. Is there any Chilean who has a photo with the sculpture Bernardo O’Higgens Chilean independency leader at the Chile square in Ankara, Turkey? They even have a town named after their leader. I searched on Google and didn’t find a post of a Chilean having a photo in front this sculpture.
I like Santiago more on Sundays. They close the busiest roads of the city to cars on Sundays. People stroll around happily on their skateboards, bicycles, roller skates. Chile is the best country after Europe in terms of bicycle lanes. In every small town, village and cities there are well constructed bicycle lanes. They aren’t so called short showy lanes. Especially, in touristic areas the quality of those lanes increases. In one of those Sundays I went out with my drone to record videos and take photos of the people on the streets. My drone was broken in South Africa and for its repair I was asked to pay 500 USD. Therefore, I thought to send it to Turkey for repair. I had sent it to a person the drone users in Turkey directed me. He repaired the drone for 850 TL (about 230 USD).
- Thank you very much. I’ll appreciate if you can send the drone to this address. My family is going to send a cargo to Chile this week, so they can put the drone in the package also. I’ll transfer the payment next week.
- Oooo there isn’t a world like this, you pay first.
Well, it was my fault. He was not my friend. Well, when my followers say “Abi, everyone in Turkey knows you and what you are doing”, I always reply as “This is the story part I’m only known to some people in Turkey”. Dou you think that I tell to every Turk I meet during my travel what I’m doing? Many of my friends had witnessed that I don’t do that. By this way, I know that I’m not famous in Turkey. Even the travelers don’t know me (and they don’t have to know me). I dared to say that I’ll pay the next week to the guy I didn’t even ask for a discount. He didn’t accept. I called my family and talked about the situation. They immediately sent the money. After a few days they sent the drone to my brother. My brother called me:
- Abi the drone has arrived, but the cargo was sent reverse charge. I’m sorry.
- Don’t be upset Gurhan, never mind. Thank you.
- Abi why did they send it reverse charge? Well, you are doing …..
- FUCK IT Gurhan. Don’t be upset. Just drop the subject!
- Alright abi.
- How are you?
- As usual, fine
During the period I stayed in Santiago I had the opportunity to meet Hale Sargin. She had left her bicycle in Peru to visit her friend living in the south of Chile and stopped enroute in Santiago. We met at Meze Restaurant. Hale was not a traveler I was following before I bought a bicycle. Readers following both of us were sending messages from time to time saying: “you’ll meet there”. Replying as “there is still some time to go there” I had skipped to read her memories. When I came to South America, I started to read all her road memories she shared on her page (işim gücüm gezmek/my job is travelling), not only hers but also Mehmet Genc’s and Elif Uzer’s memories. As I had mentioned previously different views are richness. It is possible to read the details in those memories which I didn’t or won’t pay attention. Moreover, I learn about the experiences and impressions of others.
I also met the couple Hidayet and Ozlem travelling as backpackers, they also have a blog “uzaklar yakın/far away is close”. They are a very nice and funny couple traveling South America from one end to the other end. Hidayet writes about every single touristic attraction he visits in the country he travels and tries interesting recipes. Although it looks easy to travel as couple, it seems it is not always so.
During the period I stayed in Santiago I was together with Mehmet our security attaché. We even barbecued sucuk (a kind of spicy sausage) with bread. When we were out at night, Burhan made me laugh: “Abi, do we stay after somewhere”. Thanks you Burhan. At those nights I mostly used UBER taxi though not legal in Chile there are many. You pay half the price compared to that of normal taxi fees. Also, I heard that if they get caught by the police the fine is very high. I came several times upon female UBER drivers who were the owner of the car they were driving. Moreover, there are Turkish citizens living in Turkey but owing and running UBER taxi in Santiago. This has spread throughout the world. I can say this was the same as in Madrid. Well, talking about Spain, from construction sector to mining the Spanish companies dominate throughout the country. The people living in this country feel that Spain still has the word. I’ll return to Santiago again then I’ll continue from where I had stopped. The time to set off has come but this time I have a companion, Engin Kaban. He’ll travel with me for a couple of days. I’ll introduce him in my next article.