Today was my third day in Santiago. Sunday was spent visiting friends; Monday was very rainy and I spent it writing and taking care of other stuff on the computer; today I went into the city to get some basic errands done, including a trip to buy maps for the coming season.
Buying maps in Chile is not like the experience we are accustomed to in the States. It is a far cry from the quaint gear shop, which also serves coffee and would make you want to stay all day except for the privileged kid tending the counter and serving up attitude about someone with a different ethic. In Chile, the best source for real maps in the Instituto Geografico Militar. It requires a journey of taxis and the subway to the center of the Santiago. This is the part of Santiago where they can't polish the turd, they can't mask the grim in sheets of glass attached to high-rise buildings, the place where coups have taken place and demonstrations are held. It's definitely not a commercial for Starbucks.
I used to have a romantic vision of my time in busy, old cities of the developing world. I felt as if I was traveling to the "heart" of the city. Now I see the bowels as well as the heart. And much like my own bowels, it's not always fun to think about; but I do want them to be happy and healthy, even if it's tough at times. The dark places of our soul and cities aren't often photographed, but they are real, and shouldn't be ignored.
I don't necessarily enjoy my time in the city any longer. I can't wait to get into the mountains. Yet this challenge is an important part of why my time here feels right. It's not easy. And I go into the mountains a better person, because I am forced to be so - or be blind to reality.
Finding the maps I need among the old, huge, leather bound books is the easy part, and even if it is a military office, there's a little romance to it. I always take a little extra time to browse other parts of the country – places I only dream about so far. But eventually I leave, to pass through the city, eventually on my way to the mountains. It's been a good day. Not easy; but good.