Sunday, January 17, 2010

In South America....

1. Broken bottles cemented atop a wall is your security system.
2. All men sleep on buses no matter how poor the roads.
3. People have great hair.
4. Virgins are cool.
5. Women miraculously walk in stiletto heels on cobble stone streets.
6. Purchasing a bus ticket does not always entitle you to a place to sit.
7. Inkacola tastes like bubble gum.
8. Track suits are school uniforms.
9. Overnight buses show horror movies right before you are supposed to go to sleep.
10. Dirty or scratched coins are not accepted
11. Llamas wear sunglasses and pose for photos.
12. You have to decide when is the right time to kick a dog.
13. Every window on the bus is a trash can.
14. Stupid tourists buy digoridoos at indiginous Andean markets.
15. Cultural differences in sidewalk etiquette make crowded city navigation difficult.
16. A 9 seat van holds 21.
17. Every item gets its own plastic bag.
18. The claws of chicken feet break the surface as the level of your soup drops.
19. Distance is measured in time instead of kilometers.
20. Except at banks lines are unacknowledged.
21. Machu Picchu has the only soda fountain in the Andes.
22. There is only one type of cheese.
23. Prices are not fixed and never indicated (except in Chile).
24. It is cheaper to eat at a resturant then to cook for yourself (except Chile).
25. Water is electrically heated in the shower head; which is shocking when not installed correctly.
26. No one has change.
27. Directions are given with a series of hand gestures and repeated ¨por alla¨.
28. At each hostel you must register your passport number and list your occupation, but no one seems to notice if you are a ´rock star´or ´sex machine´.
29. No meal is complete without at least one liter of soda.
30. All grass areas in parks are fenced off and strictly not for walking on.
31. In Bolivia the fuel we use for our stove in also the poor man´s drink of choice, (192 proof ethenol).
32. In Colombia, a leading coffee producer, everyone drinks instant coffee. In Ecuador, a leading cocao producer, the chocolate is terrible; all the good stuff is exported to Switzerland.
33. Look with extreme skeptisism upon the phrase, ¨We have hot water 24 hour a day¨.
34. On Sundays, nothing but God´s store is open.
35. Boxed wine and bottled wine are the same quality and cost.
36. Always, at minimum, double the recomended amount of water for powdered drink mixes.

Typical Local/Tourist exchange:
Brad: (in Spanish) What flavors of soft serve icecream do you have?
Icecream Lady: Chocolate and peach.
Brad: Can I have a cone of just chocolate?
Icecream Lady: Chocolate?
Brad: Yes, chocolate.
Icecream Lady: Here you are. (handing Brad the cone)
Brad: (After paying and taking his first bite) This is peach.
Icecream Lady: Yes, I ran out of chocolate.
Brad: So you only have peach?
Icecream Lady: Yes, only peach.
Brad and Anika walk away laughing.

Most common exchange in South America:
Local: What is your name?
Brad: Brad.
Local: Bratt.
Brad: No, Brad.
Local: Brett.
Brad: Brad.
Local: Like Brad Pitt?
Brad: Yes, like Brad Pitt.
Local: (very excitedly) Ohhh! Yes Brad Pitt.

-Brad and Anika
Today is election day in Chile. I have fond memories of watching the US presidential primary election in a movie theater full cheering people in Portland. I hope we can find some place to watch the results, but I am doubtful as much of the town in closed down today. Anika and I are still enjoying each others´ company and we are both exited to be heading to Patagonia. On the way down I am hoping to stay on an oganic farm and work for a few weeks in exchange for our room and board. I have been feeling a little restless with my lack of physical productivity and it would be good to expel some energy in this way.

Traveling in Chile has been very relaxing as the transportation infrastructure is excellent and we can relax our guard somewhat against theft and scams. Chile is South America´s richest country and therefore the wealth disparity between the locals and us is much less. This has served to ease some of the strain on my conscience, which was heavy at times, especially walking the streets of Bolivia. The inequality in the world is not just, and everyone knows this, but it is easier to ignore when not looking it directly in the eyes.

We spent a few nice days in Santiago, Chile´s capital. The days were warm and sunny and our hostel had a swiming pool. We reunited with two friends, Morgan and Daniel, from our tour of the Bolivian salt flats. Morgan was about to return to the US and we were able to attend her going away party/BBQ.

The wine here is good, Anika is getting better at cards(cribbage), and the days are getting longer with every mile we make southward. I hope all is well in the north half of the world.


Saturday, January 16, 2010

Another Jump to the South

Today is Saturday, and I only know this because I happened to look at my watch this morning and notice the little S in the upper part of the screen. Sometimes I literally go for days without knowing what day of the week it is. And then one day I try to go explore a little town and everything is closed...and then I know it is Sunday. But today is actually a significant day because tomorrow, Sunday, January 17th, are the run-off presidential elections in Chile and they are hotly contested. The first elections happened in December and since there was no majority reached the top two candidates, Piñera and Frei, are facing off. Piñera is the more conservative candidate and he is said to have a slight lead since he won more of the vote in December but Frei, the more liberal candidate, may come through on top since the Independent candidate who is generally favored by liberal voters, is no longer in the race. There is such a split in the population that nobody really knows who will win and there is some anxiety since Chile has not had a conservative president in decades. I am pretty interested in the outcome and I am hoping to be able to get access to some election coverage tomorrow. This is somewhat improbable, however, because in Chile, as in Bolivia, election day is treated almost as a national holiday and businesses begin to close today in the afternoon and will remain closed through Sunday so that everybody can vote. Alcohol sales are also cut off tonight and will not resume until Monday. Another interesting election tidbit is that once you vote in Chile for the first time you must vote in every subsequent election or you will be either slapped a huge fine or worse unless you are physically a certain distance away from your voting district. Because of this, we heard that many residents of Santiago travel 6 hours north to La Serena to avoid their voting duties.

Whatever happens in the Sunday elections, Brad and I will be camped out in a little campsite near the lakeside town of Villarrica, in the Lakes District of Chile. We arrived yesterday after a ridiculous day of travelling that consisted of 5 different buses and as many different cities. For the last couple of days we have been in the Reserva Natural Radal Siete Tazas, a park just to the east of the Panamerican highway and south a few hours from Santiago. The park is famous for it´s sparkling clear river that snakes it´s way through an impressively deep but narrow canyon, dropping in a series of waterfalls into 7 pools known as the Siete Tazas (seven cups). There is a beautiful trail that runs alongside the waterfalls and we were lucky enough to observe 3 kayakers descending through each section of of the seven pools! The final sight on this small section of river is a waterfall known as Salta La Leona which plunges out of the steep sided gorge into a wide bowl and a nice pool that swimmers can enjoy (if they can endure the icy water which Brad compared to Crater Lake and I definitely didn´t get in far enough to say). It was really a relief to be out in nature for a couple of days after spending the last few weeks in Valparaíso and Santiago, which were great fun but intense places. We realized that in Chile we have camped almost every night except for when we stayed in hostels in the big cities, but even though we have been sleeping in a tent, we have not been in nature. However, we have reached the Lakes District, the gateway to Patagonia, and that means we will be embarking on some serious nature adventure very soon! On Monday we will begin a short backpacking trip to traverse the side of Volcán Villarrica, which I climbed back when I visited this area in 2005.

The Lakes District is obviously rich in lakes but it is also has plentiful volcanos, most of which are very classically cinder cone shaped and covered in a nice layer of snow. None of the volcanos here are over 4,000 meters so they are not tall compared to any of the Andes mountains in Peru or Ecuador. But they are quite scenic mixed with the landscape of lakes and pine forests which very much resemble areas of the Pacific NW. Last night we also had the first rain we have experienced since I can even remember...maybe it was La Paz...or perhaps there was a slight rainstorm in Tupiza in southern Bolivia that required the use of our raingear. But since then we have seen not a drop of rain so I certainly have no animosity toward a little sprinkling. Plus our tent could use a bath!

That´s pretty much the news for now. I do have one story to relate about Valparaíso. There´s a dance club I used to go to called El Huevo which was amazing because it consisted of 4 floors and at least as many rooms playing a variety of music. Well, of course I had to take Brad there and so we went on the Friday night before leaving Valpo. Besides a higher cover charge and a slightly remodeled space, it was the same place I remember from 5 years ago! Without realizing it, we danced, heard a couple of live cover bands play, and observed some amazing salsa dancers in the rooftop bar until the club kicked everyone out at closing time, 5am. By that time, I had gone back to the dark corner where I had stashed my white fleece sweatshirt earlier in the night and I found it missing along with another light cardigan sweater. I was pretty upset considering I have very few clothing items on this trip and the fleece was a key layer for warmth for me. But then I remembered that on one trip to Huevo back in 2005, I had inadvertantly walked away from the coatcheck with my own 2 jackets and many blocks later realized that I had also taken a light black jacket that certainly was not mine. I wore that jacket all over Chile and Connecticut and Boston and I continue to wear that jacket in Oregon these days. So I guess it was just club karma that took that white fleece from me! Besides, after leaving Huevo, who could be upset while observing the crowds of partiers in Valpo on a Friday night/morning all devouring the classic completo (hotdog with avocado, katchup, mustard, and mayonaise) before stumbling home to bed as the sun rises?

More later!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Revisiting Valpo

You know how people say that no news is good news. Well, considering it has been a couple of weeks since either Brad or I have updated the blog, I can assure you it is because things are proceeding excellently here in Chile!

I guess to start I should wish you all a Happy New Year! I hope you all had delightful celebrations. Brad and I were in the beach town of La Serena for the festivities, camping just a block away from the ocean among the highrise condominiums and apartment buildings that line the very posh seaside strip located about an hour walk from the colonial church filled city center of La Serena. The beach is a very popular New Years destination for Chileans and they come in droves from the inland cities to enjoy the wide, fine white sandy beaches and to soak up the plentiful summer sun. There were moments when you could hardly see the sand for all of the colorful umbrellas that were crammed between the boardwalk and the waves. It was very obvious that the majority of the Chilean tourists who were populating the lodgings near the beach were quite well off financially and many of the restaurants and invitation only New Years Eve parties were well beyond our budget. Luckily, the best parties were found directly on the beach where families set up card tables stocked with Pisco, wine, champagne and plenty of munchies to fortify their late night celebrations. At midnight there was a fireworks display (actually there were 4 of them up and down the beaches) that was not as impressive as some I´ve seen but still provided entertainment as they appeared to actually light the waves on fire (there were probably some pretty scared fish out there)! Brad and I were able to chill a bottle of champagne by placing it carefully between 2 bags of ice we found in the Hiper Lider (huge Costcolike supermarket). It was the first bagged ice we have seen during the entire trip!

When we were sufficiently finished with our explorations of La Serena we moved 2 hours inland to the Valle de Elqui to the little tiny town of Pisco Elqui. This valley is a series of stark deserty mountains cut down the middle with a vein of leafy vineyards where grapes especially suited for making Pisco are grown almost exclusively in this one location in Chile. The dry heat was perfectly balanced with a blustery wind to create a lazy climate. If I lived in Pisco Elqui I would never get anything done due to the irresistable urge to relax with an ice cream cone in the shady plaza. Luckily I was there to do just that as well as to take a walk down the road to the nearest artisan Pisco distillary, Los Nichos, where I got to check out the bodegas where barrels of the grape brandy were slowly aging. Samples were also provided and Brad and I ended up buying a nice bottle of Pisco to mix with cocacola (for a Piscola) or sprite (for a Pisco blanco). In Pisco Elqui we camped in a rowdy campsite where hoards of Chilean revelers often stayed up until sunrise singing and playing bongo drums but it was amusing enough to keep me from feeling annoyed.

After 2 nights in Pisco Elqui the day finally came for me to return to Valparaíso, the port city where I spent all of my 5 months abroad almost 5 years ago. I have been biding my time for a chance to return and I was pretty much beside myself with anticipation through the whole 7.5 hour bus journey (that should have been just 6 but there were "muchos tacos," or traffic jams, according to the bus driver). In Valpo, Brad and I have been staying at a beautiful hostel that is artistically decorated with colorful walls and little art installations in every corner. It has been a perfect base for exploring the city since it is centrally located just partway up Cerro Carcel, one of the many hills that surround the bay of Valparaíso. The hills that depart from the slight 3 block wide downtown sector of the city help to create the haphazard image of Valpo that is conjured when travellers remember the colorful houses hanging on the sides of rocky outcroppings and the curvy, meandering streets broken up by endless staircases and secret passageways that give the city so much character. Exploring the city this time around has been exciting because we have had 4 days of blue sky and sunlight that sparkles off of the bay and the activities of cargo boats and cruise ships that come and go. Everything is extremely familiar to me and it is a comfort knowing where I can find hardware stores, the cheapest groceries, and the best places for getting beer or pastries. Also Brad and I sat in the general admission galeria of a very important, first of the season, soccer game featuring the cherished Valparaíso team oddly called the Santiago Wanderers. The game took place in the stadium on Cerro Playa Ancha, right next door to the Universidad de Playa Ancha, where I attended classes when I studied in Valpo. It was definitely a trip to revisit that spot. When the Wanderers won there were many celebrations and repetitions of the quick s-s-s-santiagowanderersvalparaíso! The game was monitored by the intimidating Carabineros (riot police) who were patting everyone down in a pretty invasive search and were not allowing any plastic bottles into the stadium. Somehow Brad managed to charm one of them into letting him keep a ratty ductape wrapped bottle that we have been drinking from throughout this entire trip! On a side note, purchasing and throwing away plastic has been one of the most mentally disturbing aspects of this trip for me. I can´t stand throwing away plastic and that includes plastic bottles, plastic bags, the thick plastic jugs that drinkable yogurt comes in and all of the plastic packaging that comes standard on most items. It´s tough to contribute to the trash heaps especially when so much of it can be seen in roadside ditches and washing up onto beaches. I try to reuse the plastic bags that the produce sections of the grocery stores insist you use even when purchasing a single tomato but I do endure some funny looks from people!

So, Valpo has been amazing and we still have at least one more day here, just until I feel like I have seen everything that needs to be seen. Brad and I went to the top of a tall hill yesterday to see La Sebastiana, one of three houses owned by Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. He was an amazingly clever decorator and everything in his quirky houses served a purpose, had a back story or related some joke or poem to the visitor. It is an inspiring place with a stunning panoramic view of the whole city of Valparaíso. Today, Brad and I took a micro (little public bus) over to the adjacent resort town of Viña del Mar where the beaches are suitable for swimming and sun bathing and there are tree-lined, shop-filled streets. It is a less gritty version of Valpo but has none of the artistic touches or funky student presence that I appreciate so much in Valpo. Still it was nice to wander there for a day and to have lunch at Cafe Journal, a spot I used to frequent when I lived here.

Santiago is the next stop on the list but we probably will stay just long enough to see a few sights and to try to get our ipod fixed at an Apple store since I know there is at least one in the capital. We have been without music for a couple of months now and I´m getting a bit desperate! Check out the picture page...we´ve added some photos and we´re slowly working on captioning the rest.
Best wishes and besitos from Chile!