Burwood Station and mission accomplished. (Photo: CitySider/Flickr)

“Doors closing. Please stand clear,” said the recorded message.

And just like that, the doors rolled shut. With a creak and a couple of muffled clunks, the city bound train began edging forward as it pulled out of Strathfield Station, past the old Whelan’s Hotel and the relatively new TAFE college, which, as always, was advertising new enrolments. Some things don’t change. Like the whistling noise the train made as it started to pick up speed.

It was late on a Sunday afternoon – almost late enough to be considered evening – and the sky was heavy with dark grey clouds that looked ready to burst any minute. Even though there was still a week of summer left, a cool breeze fluttered through the window beneath the sunless sky. It was almost jumper weather. Almost but not quite.

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Harbour Bridge.

Nice view: one of the advantages of being back in Sydney.

“It’s good to have you back.”

They’re nice words and I’ve been blessed to hear them a lot lately, as I’ve caught up with friends and family members at all sorts of social gatherings, parties and catch-ups.

“Yeah, it’s great to be back,” I always respond.

And I mean it. Every time. After a 12-month absence, there are few things better than seeing friendly smiles on familiar faces and hearing equally friendly and familiar voices, without the distortion of Skype or the delay of an international call. It’s also nice to see leafy neighbourhoods, filled with grassy parks and tall gum trees, and to hear cockatoos screeching and kookaburras cackling. And jogging along the Parramatta River is great way to end the dat. Yes, it’s great to be back.

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Cerro Renca: a high point of Santiago.

During my 12 months in Chile, I came to see Cerro Renca, or Renca Hill, as more than just a prominent landmark. Located on the northern side of Santiago, the pointy peak rises sharply out of the ground, separating the municipality of Quilicura, where I lived, from the rest of the city, which lies sprawled out to the south and the east. From the start, the hill dominated my views and my imagination and very quickly, I learned to use it as a reference point. Whenever I saw it, I knew I wasn’t far from home. A few months into my stay, I had already decided that I wanted to climb it.

Cerro Renca stood out for three reasons. The first one was its size. According to Wikipedia, its summit sits at 905 metres above sea level and a good 300 metres above the rest of Santiago, making it the highest point within the city’s limits. It’s big. The kind of big that makes you want to stop what you’re doing and climb to the top.

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The backpack in happier times.

The taxi driver popped the boot open without moving from his seat and Leo and I shoved our backpacks in. After a 26-hour bus trip, we were finally back in Santiago. We had been on the road for almost three weeks and it was nice to be back among the city’s familiar landmarks. The statue of the Virgin Mary perched above the San Cristobal Hill glowed spotlight white against the dark outline of the Andes while the Mapocho River trickled a silent welcome.

But as well as being excited, we were also weary. It was approaching 1am and most of the city had already fallen asleep. We wanted to join them as soon as possible.

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Santiago by night.

On Friday night I received a text message: “The council’s put on a Christmas party down near the rodeo ring. Come on down”. Within 10 minutes, I was powering through the streets of Quilicura, my feet clip-clopping in time like a well drilled percussion band.  Read the rest of this entry »

La U: the cause of my craziness.

Walking across the bridge, I pulled the slip of paper out of my pocket. There was an address scrawled across the crumpled piece of paper: Diagonal Cervantes 688. I was on a mission. My destination: the Feria Ticket office, just across the other side of the brown trickle of water, known as the Mapocho River. My objective: to purchase two tickets to the second leg of the Copa Sudamericana final due to take place the following week at the Estadio Nacional.

Following a remarkable run of good form and even better fortune, my Chilean team, La Universidad de Chile, had qualified for the decider of the South American club championship. And after witnessing them firsthand earlier in the year, I was keen to be there again when they battled it out against Ecuadorian champions, Liga de Quito. The only problem was, I wasn’t the only one. La U is a popular team and this was shaping up to be one of its biggest games in years.

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Santiago's international airport. (Photo: IMAGEN09/Flickr)

 A car horn tooted in the street outside and I leapt up from the couch.

“That’s us,” I called out to no-one in particular.

It was 9pm on a cool, spring evening and we had a tight schedule to follow. At 9:15, Aerolineas Argentinas flight AR1288 was due to touch down at Comódoro Arturo Merino Benitez International Airport with Matt and Kelly from Sydney. It had been close to nine months since I had seen them and almost two years since they had farewelled Leo from Australia. We were both excited.

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