La Serena Driving: Notes from Chile

Between the high-revving manual transmission, the shave-the-door lanes, and the staccato "Turn left" instructions issuing from my iPhone GPS, driving here has a very XBox-ian feel to it. If you pretend the randomly located speed bumps are power-ups, the illusion is nearly perfect.

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There are an astonishing number of taxis, small black Chevies. To leave my hotel, I have to take a right and cross a lane; I am just downhill of a crest and the taxis pronk into view, not airborne but visibly lifting over their suspensions. Since I have to wait for a gap, I dart out in front of a rain of taxi drivers racing for a lead. It's like running onto the course behind a steeple-chase gate.

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Road racing is big here (apparently) and people have taken to wearing stilts to see over the crowd. But stilts are kind of boring, so they wear costumes. And on TV, you see the cars coming through the corners and a swath of tightly packed onlookers and, behind them, all these long-legged butterflies and jesters.

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Jugglers busk at the intersection. A juggler works his pins a good 15' in the air, another rolls his pins over his head backwards and then blindly kicks them back over his head forward with his feet. I wish I had coins to give them.

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A cab token costs only a few thousand pesos, so the city is overrun and cab driving is a hard living. I told my dinner companion about New York, where a taxi medallion is worth tens of thousands of dollars, so they are owned by the rich and being a share-cropping cab driver is a hard life.