That first full day with Stevie Churchill, Sean Burns, Alex Kennedy and Bruno Hoffmann in Santiago, Chile was anything but routine. Shortly after regaining my vision, I learned that Stevie wouldn’t be able to ride after nearly breaking his thumb on the very first clip he tried to film outside of our hotel door. I expected him to be bitter about the situation, but Stevie clearly has been in similar predicaments before and he took it in stride. We decided to shake ourselves off from the rough morning of pepper spray and injuries so we packed up and headed outside of Santiago for the day with the good folks from iBikes!, the distributor for Éclat in Chile. As the sun faded at the end of the session the locals warned us to get back to our hotel before the protests in Santiago became dangerous. We took our time, thinking they were exaggerating.
Later that night, as I watched the furniture from our hotel lobby burning in the street after rioters smashed the doors down to our hotel I realized what they’d meant. Thousands of people had flooded the streets shattering doors and windows, burning cars, looting and destroying dozens of businesses. What started as a peaceful protest over education costs that morning gave some an open door to express their anger over separate issues and others a green light to wreak havoc as they pleased. Police were lit on fire on their motorcycles. Acid was thrown onto people that burned huge, gouging holes through their flesh. Rich Forne and I tried to shoot through the doors of our hotel but were chased back inside by brick wielding members of the angry mob outside and I’m now thankful that we were.
Once the crowds were cleared by police, we walked up and down the street out front of our hotel stepping over piles of ash, glass and street signs as we went. Everyone with us seemed to be in disbelief over what we had all just experienced, yet the locals explained to us that it wasn’t uncommon in Santiago. Before all of the fires had even been put out, the business owners and people of the community started cleaning and putting things back together. It seemed so routine for them that it felt like watching a colony of ants immediately begin to rebuild a nest after a rainstorm washed away their home. In that moment, I felt embarrassed when I remembered that having to pay a baggage fee at the airport the day before seemed like a legitimate concern to me. Experiences like these are those that put things back into perspective.
As far as BMX trips go, nothing seemed to come easy but the team is too good not to make it work. Rich got jumped and sucker punched one night out, leaving him to document things through two black eyes for the rest of the trip. AK somehow manages to maintain a zen-like calm after trying a line for hours because he just seems to know that it’ll work out. Sean wrecked his wrist jumping one of those insane “Sean Burns gaps” and didn't get to give it another go, but not before successfully sending himself off some setups that only he would think to try.
If you’ve ridden BMX for any significant amount of time then you understand how you see things through a different set of eyes than the average person. Eventually handrails, stair sets and transitions become a means of exploring the world and connecting with people. It’s not the initial intention, but BMX comes to offer a lot of peripheral experiences aside from riding a bicycle.
Throughout the rough times there always still seemed to be a sentiment of thankfulness on the trip. The local BMX scene is thriving and enthusiastic. Kids waited outside for hours to see their favorite riders, and each time we passed the boarded up front door to our hotel it was a reminder of how much worse things could be. We took trips out to the beautiful coastal towns of Valparaiso and Vina del Mar that served as a welcome contrast to the grittier setting that Santiago provided.
At times there seemed to be a black cloud following above the Éclat team through Chile, but in retrospect I don’t think anyone on the trip would undo it. The hard times craft a fine appreciation for the little luxuries of home. Ultimately, the Éclat team destroyed some amazing spots in a beautiful country and had some good times and a few dozen empanadas while they were at it.