Thursday, January 17, 2013

Time to check in 

After a week and a half of classes, I finally have the mental power to actually do something other than sit drooling while palabras en espanol (words in spanish) circle my head like those cute little bluebirds in cartoons.

I take my hat off to anyone else who's done this immersion learning, it remains incredibly grueling and often frustrating, but fascinating at the same time.  I can say it proudly after getting a 90% on my first quiz (that's queeez, en espanol), so some of it's sticking.  The verbs in the present tense are beginning to be recognizable, so now they're adding past tense.  

The escuela is in a small semi-detached house painted a cheerful orange and periwinkle blue. (I'll get a picture for you)  There are 4 classrooms, a common room an office and a small kitchen, plus 2 banos.  Last week it was not particularly crowded, but we got a whole new crop of slightly more mature students this week, and it's a very global crowd.  Three from Brazil, another from Germany, 3 from the US, one from France, one from Norway, one from Sweden and one from Finland. Most of them are in their late 20's and early 30's and are all employed vs. the others who were university students.  It makes for much more interesting conversations.  Did you know that while pisco is the national drink of Chile, pico refers to the male member?  Rory, the sole male, in our class apparently found out the hard way (excuse the pun) last night when trying to order a pisco sour at a bar.  

Enough about school, what about Chile, you ask?  I just read that it's the first country in S America to be added to the list of developed nations.  While this is great, it's a bit deceptive since a minority of the people hold most of the land and money.  (apparently the difference between haves and have nots is worse here than in most places in sub Saharan Africa).  There is a thriving middle class, meaning that they have a decent wage, housing, cars and mobile phones.  But it's not quite as luxurious as it might sound.  There's a good reason that the US uses as much electricity as most of the rest of the world combined, a bunch of things we kind of consider normal are exceptional and expensive in Chile.  In kitchens, for instance, it's unusual for Chileans to have dishwashers and garbage disposals, toasters aren't very popular either, with most toasting done on the stove.  Dryers are scarce as well.  And most adults are using last generation clamshell and  candy bar phones, although the kids are going for blackberries and smartphones.

When walking the streets it's obvious that this country is past third world status, but just barely.  Much of it is cracked (earthquakes), dilapidated, dirty and sometimes smelly.  EVERYTHING private is fenced off, and all the walls and fences are topped with lethal looking spikes or barbed wire.  My friends Brian and Lya accidentally left their gate open, and their fountain in the garden was gone within an hour.  Where there are so many poor people and not enough jobs, something's got to give and it's anything that's not locked up or nailed down.  If it is, it's probably graffitied, most of it tagging, although there's the occasional cool pic.  

One thing that's really strange is the presence of men and women who are unofficial parking monitors.  On the calles near anything important there's typically a man or woman who helps people park, washes parked cars and watches over them.  There's a gratuity of course, but I guess it's a small price to pay for having your car looked after.

But the people are the real attraction, as varied as a group could be.  The teenagers look exactly like the kids at home, with the exception of their new latest boy's haircut, which is a cross between a flat Mohawk and a mullet. (sides shaved)  Long hair for the girls is typical.  Adults are another story, there's a lot of "Sabado Gigante" kind of dressing going on for the women, a bit hoochie-mama, with lots of see through and colored bras, short skirts and leggings, short tops and leggings, and my personal favorite, Daisy dukes (short shorts) with black panty hose.  Score points if your shorts are shorter than the reinforced top of the hose.  Everyone seems to wear platform something, mostly booties or sandals that look like booties.  Given that the pavement is typically pretty uneven, I'm surprised I haven't seen anyone fall down.  

Remember I'm at a beach resort town, so I'm not seeing a completely typical picture of normal attire...  

By and large though the people are cordial and warm, and will listen patiently as their language is mangled, then help with the right words, and mime the action for me.  Speaking of which, on the major intersections at the signals there are lots of street artists (and some really popular ones that draw crowds).  My personal favorite so far is a mime in yellow and white who directs traffic and gives out imaginary tickets to the drivers in the stopped cars.  He's really very clever.

I wish I had more to say, but I've been engrossed in studying and sleeping to build back up the brainpower.  I must have had a bunch of cobwebs in those unused corners, since getting rid of them has been tiring.  

Miss you all, come visit! 

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Dias 6.5, siete y ocho. 

It was a wrench to leave Hotel Genross, but as Brian reminded me "you can check out but you can't leave" como el hotel de California...

Not the best of check in experiences, the "departamento" (Chilean for apartment) was not partiularly clean.  Not messy, but dusty and neglected.  El papa was in the hospital and had been before Christmas, so his wife, Carmen was with him.  That left the 22 year old daughter and the slightly crippled and mostly deaf aunt in the apartment.  The bedroom was shabby, and would have been okay till I saw the bathroom, kitchen and fridge. Uhm, no way.

Mold, dirt, mildew, a nice, clean, but smelly (as in forgotten in the washer for awhile) towel.  Luckily, the school was upset about the condition and found me another place right away.  I'm convinced all of this was engineered by my personal trainer, however, since the new casa is a mile away, while the other was 4 blocks.  Thanks, Coach!

But me nueva familia is a mother (Juliana, who is a wonderful cook), Nancy (a civil servant by day, law student by night) and Judith (I just met her for a moment last night) is wonderful.  They laugh all the time, are constantly talking to me, and if they get the dazed and confused look, begin again and try other words. I finally figured out that part of what they were telling me is that there is another student, named Mary, from Germany, who lives here too.  She works in a day care for underprivileged kids, is here to learn Spanish the hard way, and never sleeps.  Easy to do when you're 19 or 20.

Besides that, Mama is  a clean freak, and she dusts and cleans every day mostly since Nancy has terrible allergies.

The neighborhood is okay, and really, the walk's not bad.  I've discovered a fresh fruit stand, a place to get empanadas for lunch, and a store that makes its own sweatshirts (it was cold this AM, and foggy).  You'll all be happy to know I'm sporting the embroidered logo of an exclusive Catholic girls school.  Found a chocolateria, a couple of bars, several expensive clothes stores, a shoe store with the highest heels I've ever seen, and a gazillion other things I don't recognize the names of yet.

To continue, dia siete (7) was moving.  Dia ocho, I had to go to the mall buy toallas (towels).  It's about 1.5 miles from the school and 1.5 miles from home.  It's crazy busy there, but there are lots of expensive name brands (Columbia, Puma, Tommy Hilfiger, North Face, Zara Adidas, Nike,), not to mention McDonalds, Burger King, Subway and another that I can't remember. McDonalds has 2 stores, one for ice cream and ice cream/coffee drinks, and the other for the usual fare.  I understand from talking to the Chileans, no one was particularly fond of their burgers till they added avocado.  Yup, the Chileans like it for breakfast instead of butter, for lunch in big portions in sandwiches, and for dinner in salads, and that's just fine with me.  

So there I was en el mall (el moll) and going down the escalator from Ripley's department store when the lights went out. (Believe it or not!)  Luckily, the ceiling is glass, so there was light, but it was a nightmare getting out with all the crowds leaving at en el mismo tiempo. That also meant no "collectivo" taxis so I had to hoof it home, and it was warm,  guessing low 80's.  Not to bad for most people, but the ozone layer above Chile is very thin and the sun is very hot, and it's possible to burn badly in a very short time, so being in the sun is a bit uncomfortable.  I'm wearing SPF 50 all the time.

As a reward, after slogging home, I got a wonderful meal, typical of Chile, from the south and the Mapuche Indians. 

In Chile there are two kinds of corn, one to grind and one to eat as a veggie.  This had the ground type in it, with a bit of meat, potatoes, green peppers, onions, spinach and I don't know what else.  It was really tasty.

I also had a pleasant surprise in school... We had homework (tarea) last night and were supposed to write about a famous person. We'd already done Hilary Clinton and the Green Bay quarterback and a rapper named CRO (from Germany), so I went hunting on the web.  Bingo! First website had the ubiquitous Kim Kardashian. But,  IT'S a MIRACLE!  No one in Chile knows who she is! I've reached the place of my dreams...  

La Escuela ECELA

The school is small, and located in a house near the ocean (and Starbucks!)  For the newbie, barely speakers of Spanish, we get 1 hr and 40 minutes of vocabulary lessons first thing.  There are only 2 of us in the class, the other being Larissa a smallish quiet, polite girl from Germany.

After a 20 minute break, we move on to Conversation, and add another girl from Los Estados Unidos, Trisha, who goes to Purdue and lives in Wisconsin.  I'm going to attempt to work on a description of her Spanish:   She's a week ahead of Larrisa and me and is learning the past tense now.  As with many 20 year olds these day, her favorite word is "like" and I think she's translated that into "pero" (but).  So what' we get is a random sampling of verbs in 2 tenses, peppered with "peros", and a few English words for good measure, all delivered with the nasal twang of Green Bay.  It's entertaining for la profesora y yo to listen.    

Conversation is fun, la profesora is probably 30 or 31, like most of the teachers, has been to the US and just lets the conversation wander.  We can go from el Papa de Kim, Bruce Jenner,  un jugador (sportsman), with a botoxed face, to los ojos de Antonio Banderas, and the difference between Naturalizer shoes here in Chile and those in the US.  (Cool and young vs. granny shoes).  Did you know that the name for those lovely trout lips sported by Melanie Griffith (wife of Antonio) is "labios rellenos"?  

We're lucky to get an hour and 20 minutes for lunch, and have been to several of the local "sandwish" places.  The other thing Chileans like is bread, and all the rolls for the sandwiches are enormous, the SMALL personal one is 4 inches across.  I'm a fan of the empanada, who doesn't like pie crust filled with cheese and or/meat?  

After almuerzo comes one on one tutoring for another hour and 40 minutes.  Suffice it to say that by the time I'm done, I'm wrung out.  Thank goodness the teacher is good and patient.  She asks me questions which I attempt to understand, then I mangle an answer, she corrects it, gives me the proper verb/noun/pronoun, and I try again.  Fun!

I know it's only been a couple of days, but my ear's starting to tune in to the words, and once in a while I can get the gist of things.

I'm off to study some more.  Hasta la vista!

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Dias tres, quatro, cinco y seis

So much to talk about!  Spent New Year's Day sleeping in, wandering around the 'hood (on this side of the river) and discovering a restaurant called "Wall Street" close to home. Wall St. on FB  

They make a mean pisco sour, and when I asked for the WiFi password the manager counted to 9 in English.  Score!  I'm trying to speak Castilliano as much as possible, but at my level, that's not much.  My cute waiter Antonio spoke a little, so we had a good time trading (simple) info about the totally unfamiliar food on the menu.  I can't remember the name of what I had, but it had a BIG bun, smushed avocado, steakums, cooked onions and tomatoes. And boy was it good.  Topped it off with a Pisco sour aperitif, just to see what they were like, and went back to the Hotel to take it easy, but Brian and Lya were pouring Sauvignon Blanc in the living room so we ended up spending the first of several late nights trading stories.

Hotel Genross, Brian and Luz Maria (Lya) Davis, their story

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This is a great love story, one that began in 1972 when Brian was a dashing young man of the world and Lya was in Chile praying for the right man to come around.  Somehow Brian decided to give up the idea of moving to Australia (from Canada) for a voyage on a freighter to South America. 

This was at the time of Allende when things were uncertain and could be dangerous in Chile.  The middle class was under siege, seen as the "haves" by the Communist/Socialists, therefore the enemy of the people. An older Chilean woman traveling on the same freighter was very concerned about Brian being on his own and possibly not as wise in the ways of the world as he pretended to be at the ripe old age of 27.  She told him she had a place that was safe for him to stay, and when Brian looked around a bit, he decided being with a family was much more desirable than the other options available.  

So he went to Lya's house and with almost no Spanish, was adopted by the family, particularly Lya who liked the looks of him.  Her mother, Lely, thought he was a sailor and a bum, since he arrived with holes in his sweater, looking not very reputable or dependable.  What kind of person would take a freighter to Chile?  Didn't he have a job? Sure he was nice, but come on...

Lya, who had been in a dead end relationship for a long time, was praying daily for someone to come and get her.  The result?  That "coup de foudre" (lightening strike as the French call it) that's love at first sight.  Three weeks later they were engaged, 5 weeks after that they were married and off to see the world.  And they are still like a newly married couple, starry-eyed and excited to have each other.

They've lived in Bermuda, and Calgary, which is Brian's home town, and Victoria, BC as well.  Twenty years ago they decided to come back to Vina/Valpo and see whether they could run their own B&B.  The rest is a successful history of a beautiful house lovingly restored, a nice garden for sitting, cheerful rooms and great breakfasts watched over by caring and amiable hosts.

Seeing Vina with the locals

We spent so many hours over days three to six talking about our lives, how to survive in Chile happily, wine,now and then attempting to help me converse in Castilliano, and laughing, laughing, laughing. They decided it was time for me to get out and see their favorite spot.

The ocean and have happy hour cocktails (two-fers) at the Sheraton called us so we sat out on the deck and enjoyed the sunset and the saw the stars coming out.  We all used the Android App "Marine Traffic" that identified the ships in the harbor. (One was a large container ship taking on agricultural produce for N. America!)  These are the views.

It's an easy walk from Hotel Genross to the coast, and Brian and Lya are favorites of the staff, greeted as old friends and valued guests.

Another fascinating jaunt took us downtown to go shopping for groceries, with a stop for a reward along the way:

Yes, we are in the civilized Starbucks world.  We're also in the world of another global giant that came from America.

This is the Hiper Lider.  My friends from Texas might recognize "hiper" as the same as Hyper, and the rest of you might find the yellow sunburst familiar.  Yup, it's the Chilean version of Walmart, a joint venture with a Chilean chain.  And it's every bit as big as the old HyperMart on Cooper in Arlington, TX or a Walmart Super Center is now.  

Brian and Lya shop selectively.  We stopped at a fruit and vegetable stand on a corner on the way to the store, where they picked up fresh fruit (blueberries!) and veggies (asparagus!).  Walmart supplied fresh baked bread, meat from a butcher case, and unbelievable deals on wine.  Three bottles of red/white (Cabernet/Chardonnay/Sauvignon Blanc) for $7.999 (under $15.00) And let me tell you, this isn't vintage last week $2 Chuck.  It's the good stuff. 

That left us loaded down with groceries, about 2 miles from home and me about to experience the next big Chilean innovation, the "collectivo", a small black vehicle (Toyota, Honda, Hyundai, Chevy) with a yellow sign on the top that identifies its route.  They drive the same circular route all day long picking up passengers on the way.  It cost us about US$1.20 to get back to Agua Santos, clutching our groceries as we zoomed past everything. 

It was worth risking life and limb to bring home the goodies that later went on the BBQ and onto our plate.  It's a gift to have summer produce and fruit twice in 6 months.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Dia Dos y Tres (La fiesta del Ano Nuevo)

Who knew that one of the biggest (possibly THE biggest, since the cities were trying for a Guiness Book record last night) fireworks celebration was here?

Valpo, Vina and Reconada, all along the bay, do a synchronized fireworks display every New Year’s Eve and upwards of 2 million people travel to see it.  All I have to say is BEST.NEW.YEAR’S.EVER.  

Fireworks (fuegos artificiales) start at midnight and go for nearly ½ hour.  I walked down into the flats in Vina with the other 1 million de mis nuevo mejor amigos, and went to the promenade by the Casino and the ocean.

It was pretty late for a prime spot on the rocks on the seafront, or even a standing spot on the sea wall, but there was a tiny bit of space next to an older woman in a walker. 

Most serendipitous meeting of the day!  Although Rosa, age 70, spoke very little English, she was determined to help me out with my Castellano, and miracle of miracles when her son, daughter-in- law and granddaughters arrived, they all spoke English, so we were able to get all the confusing bits sorted out.  Ivan, the son, currently works for Hitachi Data Systems in Santa Clara, worked for HP previously.  Go figure! 

The crowds at the fireworks were loud and happy, with lots of beer and wine in the mix, but no one seemed to be out of control.  I was cautioned to make sure I didn’t take anything I didn’t want to lose, hold on to it tightly and use a money belt.  In a sad commentary on our modern global situation, Chile has a drug problem, much of it in the middle class so non-violent thievery is rampant, particularly in crowds like last night’s. 

Thanks to fellow tour participant Jess’s questions of our guide Michael, I did find out that guns are illegal in Chile, and she was not going to be robbed at gunpoint. Most personal robberies are of the snatch or grab types, but there are also apparently quite a few residential and business burglaries, so most of the houses are gated and walled.

So two thing to know about my experiences so far: Given the California drivers,  I was in more danger on 101 on the way to work than I am here,  the Chileans are vigilant and will not hesitate to tap you on a shoulder and point when you let your guard down.  I was gently scolded by a twenty-something yesterday for setting my camera down when buying some earrings from a street vendor.  

But on to los fuegas artificiales. 

Nothing really does these justice, it was truly awe inspiring.  And to all my family, the usual "OOOooh, Aaaaahhhh" was just too understated.  It was a WOW and Whoa!! kind of display.

Rosa's son gave me a glass of Chilean champagne to toast in the New Year, the crowd was giving out air kisses and hugs, everyone was laughing smiling and sending out good wishes. I walked with Rosa back to her hotel surrounded by lots of celebrating, and no really obnoxious drunks.  Unlike many Americans, who might go home after the ball drops, this is the signal for Chileans to start the party.  The bars are open till they close, and at 1:30, the liquor stores were still doing a booming business, albeit through a small opening in the locked iron gate at the storefront.

Brian, Lya (my hosts) and I were moderate in our post-fireworks celebration.  A small glass of bubbly and off to bed.  

I hope that all of you are equally as excited as I am about 2013.  For many of us there were some big transitions.  I especially hope my Asian friends, particularly Tony Wui, and my friends from Germany (Ralf, Peter, Cecile, Barbara, Eva-Lena, Elisabeth, Nadia, John, et al) find happiness in a post-National Semi world.  Same goes for all the American co-workers.

And for my extended family and friends, particularly the 73 others in the Mackin-O'Rourkes, my favorite ee cummings poem says it all.

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
                                                      i fear
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

This is why solo travel isn't lonely. 

(Well, that and the internet, and the cell phone, and Facebook...)

May everything good come to all of us in the new year!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

From Bill Bryson, one of my all time favorite travel writers:

“But that's the glory of foreign travel, as far as I am concerned. I don't want to know what people are talking about. I can't think of anything that excites a greater sense of childlike wonder than to be in a country where you are ignorant of almost everything. Suddenly you are five years old again. You can't read anything, you have only the most rudimentary sense of how things work, you can't even reliably cross a street without endangering your life. Your whole existence becomes a series of interesting guesses.” 
―  Neither Here Nor There: Travels in Europe

I thought that I would completely agree with him, but I have to say, after 3 1/2 days, the excitement is wearing thin and a bit of frustration is setting in.  Can't wait to go off to see where the school is located and what the apartment I'll be staying in looks like. I really want to get started...

 More later on New Years celebrations, plus pictures!

Nuevos Amigos 

First of all, I have to tell you worriers out there that this is urban living, so we’re not talking visiting the remote groups of primitive people in the sticks.  Everyone has TV, nearly everyone has a cellphone, although interestingly, not everyone has a smartphone, and people actually walk and look around at the same time. My hostal host’s internet has been in the process of being upgraded for higher speeds and more bandwidth, which is why all of the posts have been delayed.

Being the Nuevo Ano holiday time, there are tons of tourist families here for the celebrations.  Generally everyone hangs out in a big family group from the Grandparents to the smallest children.  It’s heartening to see the public displays of family affection, especially toward the old and the young. And everyone's smiling, even the teens.  (grin)

My Nook e-reader (the small b/w one) has been the catalyst to several conversations.  Once the person I’m talking to finds out that I am una tourista Americana de CALIFORNIA, the fun really starts. 

Do you speak Castellano? 
Uhm, no, not really. Un pequeno...
But your accent is wonderful!

Apparently the two intelligible words I've managed to get out are right. 

Did I mention that the words "jet lag" translate into "hetlaag" (phonetically), and it's gotten me out of several confusing situations.

My mother has taught me that there really are no strangers in this world, and that if you approach people with happy abandon, they’ll generally respond in kind and kindness.  Of course you need to be a tad selective in this, but not hugely (at least so far). 

So thanks to the taxi driver, the woman at la panaderia who sold me my empanadas for dinner the first evening, the checkout clerk at the grocery store who took my $20.000 pesos ($40.00) and honestly returned the correct change. Then there is Mina and Miguel at the liquoreria (vino y champagne para nuevos anos, y aguas minerals para hoy). 

Sra. Elizabetha Schreiber, the woman who now lives in the house of the famous architect who designed many of the public buildings in Valpo, spontaneously invited our little tour group in see her house which was famous back in the day for its plaster work ceilings.  We found out that she was a widow with 3 daughters, 1 son and 14 grandchildren. 

And lastly, the other Americans, two other tourists - from NY - with me on Michael’s tour.  One was a medical resident in urology at Bellevue, his new wife a law student at Brandeis. Elon, the doctor, had just gotten his brand new gigantic digital SLR (24 megapixels?) and a lens that cost about as much as the camera body.  They were just back from a 2 day Easter Island jaunt where he took nearly 2,000 pictures.  Apparently the Russian tourists in their group were not thrilled by the fact that he was always lagging far behind the group called him “paparazzi boy”.  We did get to see LOTS of details we might have missed had we been moving more quickly and not waiting for him to catch up.  Bonus:  He’s got my email address and will give me the web address of his albums!  

One more thing: I have been informed that a light hug and an air kiss to the cheek is a very desirable thing in Chile, and that I'll break a lot of ice if I greet people that way the second time I meet them.  I'll keep you posted on that one.  

En Vina y Valpo – Dia Dos

I did some research on Vina del Mar and Valparaiso on Trip Advisor and found rave reviews for “the German Pirate”, a guide named Michael, so set up a tour of Valparaiso with him for day two.  It was a great decision and a good get acquainted strategy.


I first learned from him how to determine which busses go where and how much they cost. (more about CLP/Chilean pesos, later)  Vina and Valpo are physically next to each other and polar opposites in almost every other way.

From the time the Spanish got to South America, Valparaiso was one of the major Pacific ports.  The Conquistadores came overland into Chile, found no great quantities of gold or silver, and promptly went back north without developing much infrastructure in this country.  However, for those sailing around Cape Horn, Valparaiso was the first port (or last) in a temperate climate that offered well protected anchorages.  It became one of the premier ports on the Pacific coast and as such was truly an international community.  The British, Americans and Germans were prime investors and developers around the port and their names and influence are everywhere. The customs house was designed and built by an American, the fire department is still divided into the English and German stations! 

Things thrived in Valpo till the opening of the Panama Canal.  Suddenly, there was not much reason to go there.  The first big mineral boom for Chile was in nitrates used to make fertilizer and explosives and sadly, nearly at the same time, artificial nitrates were invented and that trade collapsed.  Valpo became a ghost town as it was abandoned by a huge segment of the population. 

Much of the architecture of Valparaiso is late 19th century and there are flashes of Victorian gingerbread trim, and an air of San Francisco in many places.  There are still the grand mansions of the rich in the hills above,  many being rehabbed by people from Santiago and from Europe into boutique hotels and hostals. 

One of the most unique things about the architecture is that the outsides of the buildings are covered with painted tin, which protects the original wood frames and the adobe bricks that were used in many houses. Even better, they are painted in bright Caribbean colors


The most fun was riding the funiculars!  We went up and down several times.  For New Year’s the prices were raised to about $1, normally they are $0.25.  It was still a deal, kind of like a mini Disney ride.

Happy that it's New Years and that they aren't climbing the hills (inside the funicular)

Valpo is still very much a city in transition.  According to Michael, as late as 10 years ago,  a fixer-upper on the hills could be bought for as little as $5,000.  Fixer upper being a relative term (see the fixer upper picture for a REAL rescue project).

Valparaiso is a UNESCO world heritage center, and much is being done to rebuild it around the tourist trade. El Armada de Chile (the Navy) still has its headquarters here in some beautiful buildings.  It’s also the graffiti capital of Chile, and a good deal of it is just downright beautiful.  I'll post my favorites so far.

Same artist, famous for his birds

un gato

My favorite

All in all, it was an amazing tour.  Michael had friends everywhere in the city so we met quite a few of the locals, who were quite kind about my fractured “Castellano”, which is what the locals proudly call their version of Spanish, since it is said to be quite close in accent to real Castilian Spanish.

Going home, we rode the subway back from Valpo to Vina, a fun experience that took about 10 minutes, in a clean and quiet environment. Next stop:  Nuevo Ano!

En Chile – Dia Uno

Long distance flying outside of first or business class is like paying a penance for your sins, you know it’s going to end, but it’s sure not fun while it’s happening.  “Seat Guru” recommended my seat in the small section right behind business class as being better than most of coach, but American Airlines enhanced the experience by not having much padding on the seat cushion.  I’m sure none of you will be surprised that the domestic airline food lived up to its reputation of meager and mostly tasteless.  But with an e-reader, an iPod and some good headphones it was more bearable especially when you add the excitement about the journey into the mix.

My first glimpse of South America was the northern desert of Chile.  It’s one of the driest spots on the earth, home to the nitrate and copper mines that started the mining rush in Chile.  Off in the eastern distance all the way down to Santiago were the Andes, a sharper, spikier version of the Rockies, with lots of snow on the high peaks, and the occasional glimpse of an alpine lake.  Further down were drier valleys with terraced fields on the hillsides, then the gradual signs of civilization (agriculture, vineyards and small towns) which gave way to the suburbs and urban landscape of Santiago de Chile.

Customs and immigration were mostly painless, the biggest event being the payment that the government demands from the citizens of the US, Mexico, Australia and Canada.  It’s a sliding scale based on how much each country charges Chilean nationals for applying for a visa, with no guarantee that they’ll get one.  Americans now pay $160.00, and they finally take credit cards. It used to be a circus, apparently, when you had to come up with cash and many travelers were caught by surprise.

Picked the laziest option for travel to Vina, a taxi ride, it just made it easier for my jet lagged brain to cope.  The entire 72 mile ride was an adventure in trying to communicate in a language neither the driver nor I was too fluent in.  It was fun and we laughed – a lot.

The area around Santiago, on the way northwest, started out looking the hills around Phoenix, quite dry and brown, progressed to the scrub of the mountains around LA, then progressively like the ones further up the California coast until finally we hit the “pinos” (pines) of the Santa Cruz mountains.  Right before the last turn down to the ocean is the Casablanca Valley, a terroir (wine growing region) famous for it’s white wines.  There are several large wineries here, close to Viña , and lots of Sauvignon Blanc, which just happens to be my favorite white wine.

The “hostal” where I am staying, Casa Genross, is owned by a  wonderful Canadian and his equally wonderful and beautiful Chilean wife, who have been here running a B&B for the last 20 years or so.  It is comfortable, clean and most of all hospitable. It’s just up a hill from the flats of Viña central in an area called Agua Santos (holy water). 

I spent most of the rest of the day wandering around the immediate area of Viña, south of the once tidal, but now mostly stagnant estuary that divides the city.  Lots of people out on the streets shopping, walking, eating, and just enjoying the sunshine.  There’s a “marine layer” that has burned off during the afternoon, and generally the weather’s kind of like Santa Cruz in June.
Went to the supermercado - grocery store - to pick up some snacks and agua mineral gasificada and schlepped them back uphill to the hostal.  I managed to stay awake until 8PM.  It’s daylight savings time here and doesn’t get dark until after 9.  Summer!  Yippee!