Daytripping in Valparaíso

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Daytripping in Valparaíso

We wanted to get out of the city and smell some ocean air, so we figured the nearby town of Valparaíso was as good a destination as any.  It’s a really colorful city built into the hillside about an hour and a half bus ride outside of Santiago.  We pretty much arrived, had a drink and a bite to eat, took a walking tour, and left.  I wish we had more time to spend there and meant to go back, but our half-day will have to suffice for now.

The city was a maze, so the walking tour with Tours 4 Tips was a life saver.  They did an amazing job of showing you beautiful spots that you would have been hard pressed to find on your own and also filling you in on the history of the city along the way.  Highly recommended.  They give two tours a day, 7 days a week, and the tour guy dresses as Waldo.  So, you literally play a real world game of Where’s Waldo? to begin your day.

Valparaiso was once Chile’s richest city because it held a vital port for the country.  Everyone traveling between the Atlantic and the Pacific used Valparaiso as their stop over point.  Although Santiago is the capital of Chile, Valparaiso is where the National Congress resides.  Other claims to fame:  Latin America’s oldest stock exchange, South America’s first volunteer fire department (all of Chile’s fire departments are volunteer now which is quite impressive), Chile’s first public library, and it is also the home to the oldest Spanish language newspaper still in publication.  Once the Panama Canal opened, the city lost a lot of its glory, but is still a top destination is Chile.

Plaza Sotomayor

I’m gonna’ tell General Sotomayor’s story by memory, so take this as hearsay.  The General’s Chilean ships were up against Peruvian ships in a battle fought for what is now Northern Chile.  The Chilean ships were wooden, weak, and out numbered, but Sotomayor came up with the great idea to get his ship as close as possible to the Peruvian ship containing their General…or Captain…who whatever his title was.  Then he jumped onto the ship to kill the Peruvian General himself.  He failed and the Chilean ship went down along with everyone on board.   Sotomayor became a martyr and this sparked the War of the Pacific.  Chile won in the end!

This is a perfect example of how graffiti works in Valparaiso.  If someone knocks on your door and asks if they can paint your house then you say “YES” because then you get beautiful artwork (like this yellow building), if you say “No” then your building ends up looking like the blue one.

This lower path in the middle is the mule trail.  Mule’s were used to carry things up the hills, so they built heightened sidewalks so that ladies walking wouldn’t step in waste along the path.

Hiking San Cristóbal

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Cerro San Cristóbal is the second highest point in Santiago, towering 300 meters (~984 feet) over the city.  The foothills of the mountain are home to a Japanese Garden, the Metropolitan Zoo, and two large public pools.  At the peak, you’ll find a church with an amphitheater, and a 22 meter (~72 feet) statue of the Virgin Mary which was cast in 1908.  Pope John Paul II gave mass there in 1987.

There are numerous hiking trails of varying distances and difficulties to get you to the top.  Or you can take the easy way, the Funicular.  We chose the hike.

Now, I don’t claim to be in the best shape of my life by any means, but this hike on this particular day killed me.  Sure there are plenty of circumstances on which to lay blame…  maybe it was too many Piscolas the night before, maybe it was my almost non-existent breakfast, it could have been due to the fact that I hadn’t had much water that day.  Nay!  I blame the SMOG!

The only downside we have found to Santiago so far is the smog level.  It’s out of control.  For the first two weeks neither of us felt completely 100%.  I’m not really accustomed to high smog levels, so I’m sure some adjustment period is necessary.  Factories, cars, wood burning stoves, etc. are very loosely regulated, if at all.  All of this pollution gets trapped in the valley’s limited airspace and just sits like a blanket over the city.  It is especially bad in the winter when the cold air keeps this blanket from escaping.  The only real solution is wind or rain, and it really is amazing what type of difference an afternoon shower can make.  Mountains begin to appear in the skyline that you didn’t even know existed.

In the States, emergency protocols go into effect when smog levels reach 50 particles per cubic meter.  That means cars are taken off the streets, people are told to stay indoors, etc.  Here no action is taken until the air reaches 300 particles per cubic meter.  By the States’ standards we have been in emergency mode since we arrived.  In short….  Smog Sucks and it makes me feel like this:

Finally getting close to that sweet 100% uncut O2… The good stuff.

Along the way while stopping for a breather and taking in the majestic view we hear “¡Ayúdeme! ¡Ayúdeme!”  (Help Me!).  This teenager was barreling down the trail in a one legged hop screaming for help.  As we go to his aid we see that he has fallen and gotten a pretty deep cut on his leg.  We felt so hopeless because there wasn’t much we could do for him.  We had no cell phone, no first aid kit.  Luckily there was a group further down on the trail that was able to help him out, but we just had to send him hopping on his way.  I’m glad it wasn’t anything super serious though…or maybe he’s dead, who knows.

Once you reach the summit, you find Peace, Empanadas, Water, and of course Mote Con Huesillo.

The below picture shows the Virgin Mary. Like Christ the Redeemer in Rio, she sits atop the mountain, watching over her city. She can be seen all throughout the city as it wraps around her. We welcome her every morning from our balcony. The sun rises over her mountain and it’s a wonderful view to greet you at the start of your day.

I will place this sculptured head….ummm….here’s good.

There is a city under that blanket of smog that we inhale once back in the fold.

It’s kind of strange to see the city on a smoggy day through this vantage point. It almost looks like a city under water. But strangely, it’s really beautiful as well. I must say that the city doesn’t always look this way. We just happened to hike up on a kind of bad day. We’ve seen worse and we’ve seen a lot better, but we were interested to see such a collision of nature and industry on that mountain. It’s a theme represented time and again in this really fantastic city.

 

First Impressions and Explorations of Santiago

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So, we’ve had our first week or so here and can share some of our first impressions of the city, especially in comparison to Bs. As.

1.  The money situation is weird man.  Ashley has begun to think more in Argentine pesos than I have.  I still, for the most part, convert to U$D in my head when making purchases.  Argentina is roughly 1 U.S. dollar to 4 pesos.  Here the conversion is 1 U.S. dollar to 500 Chilean pesos (I know it’s not that tough of a conversion, but don’t judge me).  That means I’m walking around with $20,000 bills and $500 coins in my pocket.  The first day, after the long bus ride, when we went grocery shopping the math was really starting to hurt my head.  Not to mention the concentration it takes to listen to a cashier rapid fire long streams of numbers to you in Chilean Castillano when announcing your total.  The economy here is very strong at the moment though (I think maybe even stronger than the U.S. dollar), so that’s good if you plan on staying long term.  Also, from what I have seen, the price of goods are comparable or in a lot of instances cheaper than Buenos Aires.

2.  There are a lot of stray dogs.  Bs. As. has stray dogs everywhere, but Santiago has probably 4 times the population of strays.  Surprisingly though, the streets are spotlessly clean, where as in Buenos Aires you have to watch your every step in order to navigate the maze of dog mess.

Here are some just hanging out at the entrance to Cerro Santa Lucia

3.  Speaking of clean streets, they are pretty immaculate.  No broken and uneven stones on the sidewalk, no trash littered alley ways, no huge sink hole sized pot holes.  Even the cobble stone streets we have encountered are fairly even and well maintained. The subway is also the cleanest and nicest we’ve ever seen. You’ll even find artwork hanging on the walls in some.

4.  There’s not really a fernet culture here, bummer.  I’ve really become accustomed to that tasty bitter treat of a drink in Argentina, but it didn’t take me long to find Chile’s national drink:  Pisco.  It is a grape brandy used in numerous cocktails here from the Pisco Sour (pisco, lemon juice, sugar, and egg white served in a champagne flute) to the simple Piscola (Pisco and Coke).  It’s an interesting liquor because it smells and tastes like whiskey when served straight up, but once mixed it takes on a much sweeter flavor.

5.  Smog!  Oh, the humanity!!!  Seriously humanity, stop killing me.  More on the smog in a later post.

For our first full day here, we did what we always do… wander aimlessly.  We came upon Cerro Santa Lucia, which is a high vantage point inside of Santiago.  It is the remnant of a 15 million year old volcano and has a labyrinth of paths, steps, and stairways leading to the lookout point at the top.  It was originally used in the late 1500s by the Conquistas as a watch tower.  It was later remodeled in the mid-1800s with a Victorian like facade and a chapel at the top.

Entrance to Cerro Santa Lucia

And up we go…

Once you reach the summit you can kick back and enjoy the refreshing Chilean concoction of “Mote con Huesillo”  It is available everywhere you turn during the summer months, but we’ve only seen it at high peaks during our excursions now that it is winter here.  The liquid is dark, but clear (think iced tea) made out of dried peaches cooked in sugar, water, and cinnamon, then chilled and served in a glass with cooked husked wheat.

Mote con Huesillo

And as you enjoy your Mote con Huesillo you look at mountains

And mini-castles

And still make it home in time to see the sunset (sorta…) through the smog.

 

 

Off To Santiago

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Wow, I can’t believe that our last post was in January.  Well, I guess I can because we get lazy.  For anyone who cares, we’re sorry and we promise to eventually catch up on our back log of experiences over the past four months or so.  But not today.  For now, we are jumping to the present and sharing our time in Santiago, Chile.

About a month or so ago we learned that there is a leak underneath the floor of our bathroom.  The resulting maintenance would leave us without a bathroom for at least 3 weeks.  Obviously that meant we had to leave our apartment for a while as repairs were under way.  At first it seemed like a huge pain in the ass, but then it dawned on us that we could spend that month anywhere we wanted.  So, Santiago it is!  Four of our great friends have recently visited Santiago and other parts of Chile, and their experiences really made us excited to see the city.

We left on Friday evening to take the 22 hour bus trip over.  Flights really aren’t too expensive, but as someone from the States we would have to pay a reciprocity fee of $140 at the airport which you don’t have to pay if you travel over land.  An extra $280 really puts a dent in cheap travel, so we opted for the bus.  It was actually a really comfortable ride.  There are two options of seating for international bus travel with the better of the two providing more space and comfort (at only a $12 difference), so we opted for first class.  Ashley and I sat next to each other in big, comfy Lay-Z-Boy-esque seats.

There is a fold out foot rest and the chair reclines about 150 degrees, so all in all it was a pretty comfortable way to travel.

We were provided with a hot dinner, breakfast, lunch, coffee, soda, and a little wine.  Also each seat had a television screen where movies were shown…movies we never would have watched otherwise (Knight and Day, The A-Team, and Twilight: Eclipse).  From Buenos Aires to Mendoza is pretty flat and boring, so luckily we were able to sleep through that.  When we awoke we were coming upon the foothills of the Andes.   WOW!!!

You travel up hill until you reach the Chilean border and have to go through customs, which was a time consuming but pretty painless and interesting experience.  From there to Santiago it is all downhill…steeply downhill.  You just have to put your faith in the driver of this muti-ton mammoth of a machine and pray you don’t go over the edge. The picture below shows only a small section of the huge road that crisscrosses all the way down the mountain, hovering over terrifying drops with sometimes absolutely no shoulder on the road.

It is fascinating to see the climate change on your descent.  We went through customs at our highest point where the weather was around 30 degrees and there was a nice thick blanket of snow on the ground.  Within about 1/2 an hour, as we approached the valley, the landscape had changed into more of a desert with short plants and cacti.  By the time we reached Santiago we were greeted by palm trees.

Railroad track… Donkey Kong Country style

I would say that the bus ride was about 2 or 3 hours too long.  By the end we were starting to get a little irritable, but otherwise it was a great trip.  One thing that we would never do in Buenos Aires is get off at the Retiro transit station or the airport and take all of our luggage onto public transit.  It’s just not a smart idea.  After reading about how safe, clean, and efficient the Metro is in Santiago though, we really didn’t think twice about it.  We felt perfectly fine navigating a new public trans system with all of our belongings and made it to our new apartment all in one piece.

We have a wide panoramic view from our apartment and this is part of it.

More to come on our first impressions of Santiago and of course a lot more pictures!

The Blues Are Alive and Well in BsAs

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For Stephen’s birthday we went to a club/restaurant in Recoleta called Notorious for a Blues night.  Now, spending time in Chicago will make you weary of Blues from any other city, especially international cities, but I have to admit that these folks were pretty damn good.  Although, Ciro Fogliatta y Las Blusettes were kind of a strange pairing.  I would say that Senor Fogliatta is around 60 years old.  His band and entourage were sitting at the table next to us.  He took to the stage first and played a couple of solo tunes on the piano.  Several of the songs were American blues standards sung in English.  Although he is Argentine, I have to admit that his English blues voice was pretty spot on.  Then he brought his “blusettes” on the stage.  I don’t think that any of these girls were over the age of, say, 25.  So, how does a 60 year old guy (although, pretty established in the industry) go about getting together a band of attractive young girls to front?  I can see the Craigslist ad now:  “Blues artist seeking other like minded musicians to perform locally.  Must be female, young and attractive. Please don’t mind being trapped in the 80s with me. It is a plus if you don’t mind sitting on my lap and calling me “Uncle Ciro”.

On the plus side though, the band was pretty fantastic.  They all knew their blues from the chick on guitar to the girl playing harmonica.  It’s really cool to see young people in general embracing blues, especially in such a foreign culture.

The night was a lot of fun.  We had a good group of 8 people out, shared a couple of bottles of wine, enjoyed some fantastic birthday desserts, and after the blues band a jazz group took to the stage.  There was a really nice outside space where Ashley and I did a little dancing and the group eventually made it outside to sit and talk under umbrellas during a light rain storm.  I wish that we had known about this place when we lived only a couple of blocks away.  It would definitely have become a regular hang out spot.

Kayaking with Melissa and Gonzo

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So we have this friend Melissa.  Once upon a time I trained her as a server at P.J. Clarke’s in Chicago.  A couple of months after a meeting/wine tasting we sat down together with Adam over a bottle of malbec, the wine of Argentina.  Low and behold she wanted to move to Buenos Aires as much as we did.  Small world, but she got here first.  She lived here for about a year and a half, fell in love with the city (and a local guy) and raved about it.  One night (there might have been a few cocktails involved) we decided to finally buy our one way tickets to Buenos Aires.  Not too long after Melissa came back to visit the states and brought along her awesome boyfriend Gonzalo.  We got together one night, talked about BsAs a lot, had a dance party at a friend’s house (who was out of town mind you), and planned to meet up soon on the other side of the world.  Then Melissa got a job…in Chicago.  It’s kind of funny, but she arrived back in Chicago not too long before we left for Buenos Aires.  It was a little trade off, I guess.

Right after Christmas she came down to visit though and we were able to get together a couple of times.  One of those is when we went about half an hours drive north to San Isidro for a little kayaking.  We really haven’t been outside of the city too much, but I can’t tell you how needed it was to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city.  Buenos Aires is huge and with 13 million people it gets pretty crowded, especially on the main streets and in the parks.

In Athens, GA we used to go kayaking on the Broad River several times each summer.  You would rent a kayak, grab a cooler of booze, launch into the water and spend all day.  When you reached the pick-up point there would be a bus waiting to take you back to your car.  The rapids were small, but by the time you hit them you had a decent buzz going on and they became much more treacherous.  That is pretty much my only experience with kayaking.  I’ve been white water rafting in North Carolina, and inner tubing in Helen, but that’s about it.  Ashley once went kayaking down the Chicago River at night…that sounds nice. (Ashley here… just wanted to clear up that I have extensive boating experience white water rafting, canoeing, boating and, yes, the Chicago Kayaking experience. But, I guess, come to think of it, I wasn’t that much of a help there either. I was the youngest in the white water groups, mainly enjoyed cocktails on boats with friends, and acted as photographer on the Chicago River while Betsy did most of the hard work– sorry about that Betsy, thanks for being a good sport and not minding that the pictures were awful. Also, my canoeing experience consisted of my partner in crime Gillian and me purposefully lagging behind the group pretending to row for our amusement. It seemed to be more fun that way than keeping up with the experienced older group. OK, I admit, I’m a bad boat partner. More in it for the fun than for making time. Continue, Scott…)

Anyway, we went to the Rio De La Plata for a little kayaking adventure and it’s completely different.  The river is so wide that you can’t see the other side and there is no discernible flow.  So it’s more so like a lake and when you rent your kayak you then just row out, relax, and come back.  Both couples had a two person kayak and I learned something that day.  Ashley has the soul of an old sea captain.  What I mean by this is that she would much prefer to sit in the front and sing old sea faring songs (or “row row your boat”) than actually paddle.  I tell you my friends, I gained bicep mass that day.  The view of the city sky line was fantastic though.

After our little adventure, we had some lunch on the river.  The kayak rental spot neighbored a restaurant with outdoor dining.  It was not only a place to eat and drink, but had a lawn near the water where people just hung out and sun bathed, probably without ever purchasing anything.

We can’t tell you how nice it was to see a friend from home on our side of the world. We also always enjoy our time with Melissa and now Gonzo, so it was, of course, a very fun day. We hate that Melissa doesn’t live here anymore, but thanks to Gonzo, we’ll be happy in knowing that another visit shouldn’t be too far away.

New Year’s Eve

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Fireworks twice in one week, how lucky are we? They were bigger, better, closer, and in much greater numbers this time around. We had the usual gang over, our B.A. besties (sans Laura because apparently her parents love her too much).  The usual for New Years Day, at least in the Southeast, is to stuff yourself with collard greens and black eyed peas.  The peas symbolize luck for the new year, and the greens of course represent money.  We couldn’t find any collard greens here, but we did find some peas that sort of resembled black eyed peas.  We put a little twist on it and fried the peas until they were crisp and salty.  They were actually pretty good, kind of reminded me of that half popped kernel at the bottom of a popcorn bowl.

Anyway, nice snacks, nice company.  The night went down kind of like Christmas Eve (only with more company), in which we hung out on the terrace, had some laughs and cocktails, then made our way up to the rooftop for a spectacular fireworks show.   On this night though, there was word of a block party not too far away in Palermo Hollywood.  Around 1 a.m. or so when the fireworks were dying down and we were assured that Stephen wouldn’t die (not right away anyhow, let’s all give him a hand), we grabbed a couple of bottles of wine, some plastic cups and made our way to the block party.

The Argentines like to party, and they like to party late into the night.  So, around 2 a.m. the party was just getting started and needless to say, we saw the sun come up that day.  The street was blocked off, there were D.J.s set up outside of the bars to entertain the crowd, and fireworks were aplenty well into the wee hours of morning.  I would guess there were roughly 1,000 people in the streets from all over the Continent and the world.  It cannot be stressed enough how nice and merry everyone was.  Everyone was sharing drinks with one another and happy to strike up conversation.  We made friends that night with locals, a Brazilian, Englishmen, and I’m pretty sure there was someone from Thailand mixed in there as well.  It is joyous occasions like this that bring back a little more faith in humanity.

Before we knew it, it was 7 a.m. and the streets were well lit by the encroaching sun.  Some of us were tired, some of us were hungry, some of us wanted to keep partying, but slowly we parted ways and made our way back to our comfortable beds, and didn’t wake up for a long, long time.

THE END

Block Party

New friends and old friends

Up high, in the sky, is it a bird? A plane? Superman? Nope, just more fireworks

FIREWORKS!!!!!!