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I’m counting on today to retrieve the car and get it documented, but I haven’t heard from Álvaro, on whose property it’s stored, for over two weeks. It’s been parked for 8 months at his weekend home in Curacaví, about an hour’s drive from Santiago. The property is high up on a mountain, fenced and locked, so there’s no way for me to get to the car unaided. He usually responds quickly to my messages, but now he’s gone dark and I’m helpless to proceed. There’s nothing to do but wait, so I sally forth from the apartment on a successful search for pastries and milk. We then hear from our friends Brian and Pablo, who are nearby servicing one of their fleet of Airbnb rental apartments. Pablo is a field archaeologist and Brian, the ex-pat son of one of my long time clients, makes a good living via Airbnb rentals. Administering what is, essentially, a distributed hotel keeps them very busy.
While Susan is taking a bath, I walk several blocks to where they’re setting up a new location for the coming tourist season. Once they finish up, the three of us drive to our building, pick up Susan, and head to the Plaza de Armas for drinks at a sidewalk cafe. Susan wants a Pisco Sour. When the waiter explains there are two sizes, in keeping with my universal rule – buy the product with the lowest unit price – I urge her to order the big one, the Catedral. The name turns out to mean a drink of enormous size, loaded with alcohol. Susan enjoys it and dutifully nurses it to its conclusion, which leads to unwanted consequences during the subsequent night. In the course of our conversation, Pablo and Brian invite us to dinner tomorrow at their elegant high rise apartment. I finally hear from Álvaro who tells me I can ride to the Subaru with his cousin at 6 PM. Relieved, I leave the others and head for Álvaro’s auto accessory store on the other side of Santiago via Metro to meet up with him and his cousin, Fernando.
At the store, Álvaro explains that he had to relocate the car on his property and discovered that the battery had died during the winter. Since he sells them. he sends a new one along with us in case a jump isn’t adequate to revive mine. I’ve brought along a new taillight assembly from the U.S. to replace the one I damaged during the last trip. It still functions fine, but definitely won’t pass inspection. About 6:30 PM, Fernando and I head slowly out of Santiago in rush hour traffic and eventually arrive at Álvaro’s property. His mother is already there, along with Gerhard, a German friend of the family who, by coincidence, is also picking up his stored car after just arriving back in Chile.
The car is parked facing up a steep grade and I see that all the tires are very low on air, but not quite flat. Although I brought my portable tire inflater from the U.S., I didn’t think to bring it with me tonight, so I’m going to be risking tire damage for a while. The battery is, indeed, dead, so Fernando drops the new one in and the car starts right up. Margarita, the mother agrees to lead me to a gas station with air, so she convoys us out of the high subdivision in the darkness toward the center of Curacaví. I’m driving very slowly, of course, to reduce the chance of ruining my almost flat tires. The first 2 stations do not have a working compressor but on the far side of town, we find the one that does.
I’m now faced with a number of bad options. The car is completely illegal at the moment: unregistered, uninsured, uninspected and I have only tomorrow and Saturday morning to get everything done before everything shuts down until Monday. I’m in a Catch 22. I can’t drive without registration, I can’t register without an inspection, and the nearest inspection station is back in Santiago. Margarita tells me I can get a one day registration to get me to the inspection station, but that would mean waiting until morning and shortening the available time to complete everything. I decide, instead to drive illegally back to Santiago during the wee hours, so I can be at the inspection station first thing in the morning, presuming I’m not stopped by the police for any reason. This plan is derailed when I realize I also have one non-functioning headlight, which would greatly increase the chance of a police encounter during a night drive.
In view of this, I make a quick modification. I’ll sleep in the car on some quiet street and head for Santiago at sunup, when headlights can be left off. On hearing of my plan, Margarita says “absolutely not” — I will sleep in one of her guest rooms until I’m ready to leave. Remember, this is someone who just met me an hour earlier. Gerhard, who is Margarita’s occasional travel buddy, is also staying there and the 3 of us talk for a while before heading for bed. I’m able to save Gerhard a lot of trouble by telling him what we found out from bitter experience last November, that in the north of the country, Chilean Aduana (Customs) will absolutely not permit a Chilean car owned by a non-resident to leave the country. It makes no sense, since in the central and southern areas, the same customs agency doesn’t care about that at all. Having saved Gerhard a likely 1500 mile dead end, he decides to reverse his planned route, entering Argentina first where it’s safe, and re-entering Chile in the north, which is also no problem.
Midnight is approaching, Gerhard is suffering from jet lag, and I’ve had a long unsettled day of problem solving, so all of us gratefully hit the sack.