A Travellerspoint blog

11 septiembre 1973

La Democracia Muere De Pie

-17 °C
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The 11 of September was also a turning point in Chilean history.

Here´s a brief summary of the happenings that day:


Posted by KKS 09:45 Archived in Chile Tagged events Comments (1)

Chocolate & Poesía

Degustando Chocolate, Disfrutando del País

semi-overcast 16 °C
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If you come to Chile, please make Curacaví a stop on your list. Well, only if you love chocolate, and I don’t know why you wouldn’t.

We went on our second COPA-organized excursion yesterday to three lovely locations in the Quinta Región (the state that Valparaíso is capital of): Curacaví, Pomaire, and Isla Negra. We left Viña del Mar at 9:30 am and headed toward the interior of the country, about halfway to Santiago.

In Curacaví (a great name, isn’t it?), we went to L’Atelier del Cioccolato di Félix Brunatto, one of the top 20 businesses in this region contained in an unassuming white house. I had been anticipating this stop at a “chocolatería” (chocolate shop) ever since I read the COPA email saying we would get to try “chocolate con queso” (chocolate with cheese!). If you know me, you know that this is like discovering the magical intersection of two parallel lines (an image AL once conjured in reference to looking up IMDB on Wikipedia).

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We first entered the smallish “sala de degustatión” (tasting room) which had display cases of the various elegantly decorated chocolate boxes that the shop produces. The founder and owner, Félix Brunatto, spoke to us through his Parkinson’s about the history of chocolate, the proper way to eat it (or should I say experience it), and the particular characteristics of the 8 or so pieces we sampled.

Flavors included the following:

● Basil (albahaca)
● Oregano (orégano)
● Nutmeg (nuez moscada)
● Lime
● Mascarpone cheese (queso)
● Cheese with nutmeg

I would have to say that the chocolate with cheese exceeded my expectations. If you’ve ever had a mallomar, you can understand the sensation of biting into a chocolate shell only to have your teeth sink through the soft marshmallow before biting through the thicker chocolate bottom. Well, it’s like that, except that it is a very delicate, smooth cheese. And then all the flavors start to mix in your mouth…

Big ups to cows. Thanks, guys.

With a longing glance cast back, we moved on to Pomaire, a small town known for its ceramics. So, as expected, we went past miles (“kilometers” just doesn’t sound right) of agriculture before pulling our massive bus into a small town with one main street packed with ceramics-and-miscellany shops. For some reason, there seemed to be an obsession with piggy banks. One gringo suggested they are a lucky charm; maybe they're just cute?


Since I wasn’t really in the market for any ceramics, I picked up some cheap jewelry and decided to sample a traditional Chilean treat called “mote con huesillo” (wheat and peach). Boiled wheat is scooped into a glass, and a dried peach which has been soaking in sweet juice is then ladled in. I had to say it was pretty tasty, and my Chilean madre says it will be ubiquitous on the streets for the Chilean independence holiday in two weeks.

An hour and a half of leisurely passing through the shops later, we headed back towards the coast to the town of Isla Negra where Neruda lived intermittently from 1939 until his death in 1973. In fact, he and his third wife Matilde were buried there:

Compañeros, enterradme en Isla Negra,
Frente al mar que conozco,
A cada arena rugosa de piedras
Y de olas que mis ojos perdidos
No volverán a ver...

Friends, bury me in Isla Negra,
In front of the sea I know,
Of every sand rugged with rocks,
And of waves my lost eyes
Will never return to see.

(from the poem “Disposiciones” from Canto General)


This is the second of Neruda’s three houses we have seen (we saw La Sebastiana in Valparaíso on our last trip; we’ll see La Chascona in Santiago later on). Neruda participated in the designing of all three, and this one in particular showed his passion for the sea. The house mimics a boat in many of its features: small doorways, arching ceilings, and nautical imagery in every room. One living room contained a troop of female figureheads taken from decommissioned ships hanging around the sitting area. Another area of the house was his personal museum, featuring musical instruments from around the world (none of which he played) and dozens of ships in bottles, nicely displayed on shelves in front of the windows.


And his bed, like at La Sebastiana, looks out through ample windows onto the water. His writing desk too is pushed right up against the window and has a clear view, beautiful enough to inspire poetry of Neruda caliber. Actually, from the perspective of his desk, it looks right out onto his grave, which is built into the hill just outside, and then the ocean beyond. So I guess he wanted to make sure he had the best view even in death.

I’m hoping/planning to read more of Neruda during my semester here, since it seems he really is the patron poet/author/saint/luminary of Valparaíso and even Chile as a whole. For the past few weeks we’ve been reading Horacio Quiroga and Jorge Luis Borges in my Hispanoamerican Short Stories class. Reading a page of Spanish text is still daunting, but I manage to finish the task much more quickly than I used to. So I guess that’s good.

Also, I’m suuuuuper emocionada about the long trip I am taking with two friends starting on Thursday, September the 13th, to the Atacama Desert. We’ve been making lots of plans to see the altiplano near Arica and a day trip to Peru, then on to San Pedro de Atacama. Some Chileans say it is their favorite part of the country, and in any case, it should be amazing.

Posted by KKS 14:50 Archived in Chile Comments (3)

Misión: Integración

Se hace corto el semestre

sunny 20 °C
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With each passing week, the newness of being in Chile has diminished, and the places once so foreign have slowly become my everyday life. This is not a bad thing: I think it means that I am actually living here in Chile, not just visiting. I have finished almost one month of class (!) even though I don’t feel like I’ve done too much.

My final class schedule:

Spanish (3:40-5:10)

Ecology Field Work (10:05-11:35)

Cinematography (9-11:35)
Urban Space 2 (11:45-1:15)
Spanish (3:40-5:10)

Chilean & Hispanic Short Stories (10:05-11:35)

Friday: Libre…

On one hand, I don’t have very many hours in class, which I would automatically say is a good thing. On the other hand, it means that I don’t see my Chilean counterparts all that often (4 times in a month). I’m trying to ramp up my extroverted factor and actually forge some friendships, so we’ll see how that goes. (Except I think I say that every semester even in the states. Maybe this time I mean it? Or… will actually do something about it?)

My Spanish class, required for the IFSA-Butler/COPA study abroad group, is a general language class in which the professor also clarifies all our questions about Chilean culture and the strange expressions we hear all around. It’s the class I have the most homework in, but I guess it’s a good thing that the program is trying to ensure that we actually improve our language skills.

The ecology class is about half gringos, half Chileans, and requires groups of 2-3 students to come up with an ecology-related project to execute in Laguna Verde, a nature preserve nearby Valparaíso. It’s a little strange because none of the gringos have any ecology experience and the “profe” is constantly paranoid that we can’t understand what he’s saying (which is true part of the time, but we get the gist). I somehow am the only gringa in a group with 2 Chileans, and we somehow ended up deciding to do our project on moss. It was really great when we showed up to class last Tuesday to find out that we were supposed to have prepared a PowerPoint with our project… and the profe hadn’t told us about this homework! Apparently he had put it online to a website I told him gringos don’t have access to at home. Anyway, luckily ours wasn’t the only group to have missed the assignment, so everyone has to do another PowerPoint next week. Good thing I like PowerPoints…

Cine: a very accommodating young Chilean profe and about 7 people total in the class (I’m the only gringa). So far we’ve watched The Good German (with Spanish subtitles) and Padre Nuestro (Chilean, with English subtitles). We’re going to watch at least one more movie in class before the class turns into a writing workshop for a 5,000 word essay on cinematography. Should be a learning experience… luckily the profe has assigned some readings in English to give us an idea what we might be writing about.

The Urban Space 2 class in the art department has definitely been the weirdest experience so far. First, since it’s a Wednesday class, it was canceled for 2 weeks due to events at the school. However, one week the profe called a special session, but apparently I was the only student who got wind of it, so it was me and the profe chatting for about 20 minutes. The next week, the profe does not show up at school, so I left my cell phone number with the secretary. She called me at 11:30 the next day to say a special session had been called for 12 noon. I hustled over to the department, only to have the semi-elderly profe doddle on his computer until 12:20 (30 minutes after I mentioned to him I was there for the class). Again, I was the only student who had gotten news of this late-minute reunion, so again we talked about expectations for the class and that I should bring in a proposed investigation for the next class session. The next Wednesday, skeptical that there existed other students in the class, I was very happy to find about 11 that showed up (me being the only gringa again… a good thing?). Unfortunately, I was the only one who had brought in a proposed project (seeing as no one had been to class in the preceding 2 weeks), so the profe kept calling on me to read out loud what I had written. So, in true exchange student fashion, I swallowed my dignity and read out loud what I can only image was terrible, ugly-sounding Spanish and terribly formulated ideas to boot (considering that I have no idea what “Urban Space” is… do you?). After class, the profe mentioned a few cognates that I had used that had better equivalents (specifically, “rasgo” for style instead of “estilo”). Then he told me to email him my proposal to get feedback. So, despite his pick-on-foreign-students tactics, he seems like he could be an ally. Now as for all those Chilean artsy students, with their baggy sweaters, ripped pants, colorful Converse shoes, greasy hair, small notebooks with doodles in the margins… they may be harder shells to crack.

Finally, my Chilean short stories class seems pretty interesting but also intensive. We read short stories (not too much reading, thankfully) and talk about the history of South America as well as narrative theory. 3 quizzes and a final essay… I mean, I do really like short stories, and it could be interesting to talk narrative theory, except I’m so paranoid that I misread the stories, mistranslated a verb, missed some important meaning (of, worse, DOUBLE meaning)… all of which contribute to a significantly less sophisticated reading of the works. Oh well.

On my very first night here, my Chilean madre told me that all I had to do was imitate the people around me. At first, I nodded to her but thought to myself that I would never imitate people, and somehow the way I would learn Spanish would be more like learning facts, that I could observe a behavior or hear an expression, and it would magically integrate itself into my social vocabulary. However, I have realized that that’s really not the case. If I want to use crazy Chilean slang like “¿Cachai?” and “Sí, po” and all the Spanish expressions that make no sense when translated into English, it does NOT come naturally. I have to actively TRY to sound Chilean. And it’s a paradox because the harder I TRY (meaning pretend), the less my Chilean listener has to try. So when someone asks me “¿Qué hora es?” (what time is it?) I SHOULD say “sei’ y media”… not “seiS y media” (for 6:30). This dropping the “s” sound takes getting used to. It makes me a little sad to realize that, even after an entire semester here, there will still be so many things I don’t understand, and Chilean speak that whizzes by me. I guess the most I can do is to try to speak; I’ve told myself that if someone says something to me, I have to SAY something back, I can’t just nod. So far I’ve been following that game plan well, and I think seeing some dividends.

FYI: A group of friends are planning for our vacation time around September 18th for “Fiestas Patrias,” Chilean independence. We’re going up to the Atacama Desert in the northern part of the country to see the striking landscapes. First we’re flying to Arica (suuuuper (as the Chileans say) far north, almost to the border with Peru) and then taking an 11.5 hour bus to San Pedro de Atacama, the small town that serves as headquarters to see the most famous sites in the region. We’ll be gone from September 13 to the 23, maximizing the Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday that school gives us off, since this is the only vacation time we get during the semester (and I’ll miss only one class on the intermediate Thursday). I’m suuuuper excited… po.

A few shots of the apartment complex I'm living in in Viña del Mar:
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my_room.jpg laundry_room.jpg

A typical lunch of beans (porotos) in a stew, with an "ensalada" of veggies on the side:

Posted by KKS 16:53 Archived in Chile Comments (3)

El Cajón del Maipo

El Primer Viaje

sunny 12 °C
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This weekend I went in a group of 8 friends to El Cajón del Maipo, a lovely river valley south east of Santiago. The landscapes were very different from those here on the coast in Viña del Mar and Valparaíso, as we moved much further into the Andes and away from bustling city life.

Getting to our hostel proved to be an educational adventure in itself. I left with 4 others on Thursday early evening to go 1.5 hours east to Santiago by comfortable TurBus coach ($4). Just as the sun was throwing pink light onto the hills outside, and I would just start to close my eyes, a loud BEEP and red light would flash at the front of the bus, indicating that the driver had exceeded the 100 km/hr speed limit. The Chileans on the bus barely seemed to notice, but it was hard for me to forget that I might be jolted again at any time.

Once we arrived at the Pajaritos station, we bought a metro ticket for less than $1 in the very modern station. I had heard that though the Santiago metro system used to be one of the best in the world, it had recently become overcrowded and unpleasant for many people due to changes in Santiago’s bus network earlier in 2007. So as we headed downstairs to catch the train, I wasn’t surprised to see dozens of people already crowding along the platform. The 5 of us were barely able to squeeze onto the next metro that passed, but as we unloaded and hustled to make connections two times, I realized that I would have been very frustrated with the system had I chosen to study in Santiago for the semester.

After about an hour of shoving our way through the metro, we finally got off at Las Mercedes, one of the most peripheral stations. I couldn’t believe that we had traveled for so long and there were STILL supermarkets, KFC, a Blockbuster, crowds, and traffic right outside the station. But even more unbelievable was that the 5 of us piled into a tiny “colectivo” (group taxi that follows a fixed route) and just 25 minutes later were dropped off in the middle of the countryside. The colectivo driver told us he was a "carabinero" (police officer) who did this in his, how do you say, *free time*? I'm not sure how believable that is, but he seemed nice enough and didn't rip us off despite having two blondes in our group. After an extra 10 minutes of trying to find the hostel’s street sign, we ascended a hill and, with an excited sigh of relief, walked into the hostel house saying, “¿Hola? ¿Hola?” until we found the owner Verónica in the back room.

It turned out that we had the entire cabin of Hostal Palestras to ourselves that weekend (capacity 11, our group 8), with the exception of 3 cats, a dog named Linda (meaning cute!), and Manuel, the resident jewelry-maker who gave us much useful advice and accompanied us on several walks. Famished, we went to one of the only restaurants open that late at night, Le Petite France, a charming hotel and restaurant owned by Chileans who spent several years in France. The next morning we woke up to an absolutely stunning view from the hostel’s terrace of snow-capped Andes (!!!) and the valley below.


We used the day to take a hike up to the Palestras, a rock formation up on the mountain after which Hostal Palestras is named. The hike lacked any horizontal passes, just climbing up rocky paths and repeatedly thinking you had “made it to the top” only to realize that more vertical trail lay in front. As we climbed closer to the top, we even found patches of snow — remnants of the snowfall from earlier in the week we had just barely missed. On the way down, we basically grabbed onto thin trees and swung Tarzan-like to descend.


The group of 3 more friends joined us late on Friday night after a similar adventure in the Santiago metro. We decided the next day to take a “cabalgata” (horseback riding) with some local horsemen, and little did we realize that the horses would be ascending a similarly rocky, steep passage even higher where the rocks were still covered with ice and snow and then have to descend down the same slippery path. I think everyone in our group gained a new appreciation for mountain ponies over the course of that trek.


At one point near our summit, my friend Caitlin mentioned that she had a “burro” (donkey) at her house back in Texas. One of the guides asked if she could ride it, and she said no, it was a rather small donkey. I instantly wanted to add the “–ito” ending to a word to make the noun smaller which EVERYONE does constantly in Chile (and Latin America in general), so I said, “It’s a BURRITO.” The guides started laughing, but I didn’t really understand what was so funny… until I remembered about 5 seconds later what a burrito is.

Later, en route to the Viña Los Nietos, we stopped for probably the best empanadas I’ve had yet on the trip. For some reason, many of the shops in the Cajón only sell empanadas on the weekends; I think it’s because the region is a weekend getaway for residents of Santiago, many of whom have luxurious second homes with pools that stick out when one looks down from above at the rural valley. Stores usually sell two kinds of empanadas: queso (cheese) and pino (beef, onions, and olive), and they are either “al horno” (oven baked) or “frito” (fried). I got one of each flavor al horno, and they were actually fully stuffed (sometimes there’s barely a thin layer of filling on the bottom) with a soft baked outer bread shell. They are kind of like calzones, but here in Chile, “calzones” means ladies’ underpants….


During “el anochecer” (sunset), we saw the sun ignite a fiery display behind the mountains. Unfortunately, we all knew it was due to the extreme “contaminación” (pollution) in Santiago trapped by the Andes. During the day, we could see a thick gray-purple layer hovering over the city, which lay just beyond the mountains and out of our sight. It is a sad thought to think of so much smog hanging over a city year round (worst now during the winter).

That night after dinner of stir-fried veggies and pasta, we pulled out some scout skills (thanks in part to Jeff’s Eagle Scout prowess and Elsie’s knack for finding kindling) and built a campfire under a clear and starry sky. Tracy, our resident astrophysics student, explained why we can see the Milky Way, Manuel helped us locate the Southern Cross constellation, and we watched the crescent moon crest over the mountains.


I had brought 3 different kinds of marshmallows because I was so intrigued at the supermarket. One was the run-of-the-mill white cylinders, and another kind was called “trenzas” (braids) and looked like yellow-orange-pink puffy twists. We also had “tuber” (tube shaped) “frutilla” flavored (strawberry… not “fresa”), which were my personal favorite.


In general, it was a wonderful experience to see more of the country, especially since it was comparatively close. Though all of us are hoping to explore the country far and wide this semester, I am discovering first hand that every region in Chile is incredibly beautiful and merits a visit.

Posted by KKS 20:39 Archived in Chile Comments (3)


Gritas Dentro de la Tierra

storm 6 °C
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We experienced a "temblor" yesterday morning around 10:15am during a rain storm. As I was standing in my room, the house started to shake.

Is this a temblor? Maybe it's just wind? Why would the wind suddenly start like that? It's not the wind if it gets much stronger. Will it get much stronger? I'm sure someone would have told me so. Did they not want to wake me up? I'm sure it would have been on the news. Wait, do they know about earthquakes ahead of time? I'm sure they do. Wait, maybe they don't.

And then the moving stopped after 30 seconds without ever having accelerated past a gentle shimmy... an unnerving shimmy. But I had secretly wanted to experience a temblor while in Chile, so I view this as very positive.

For those of you who speak Spanish...

El evento sísmico se sintió a las 04:59 horas (08:59 GMT) y se prolongó por cerca de 30 segundos, acompañado por ruidos subterráneos.

Un movimiento telúrico de entre dos y tres grados en la escala de Mercalli sacudió la regiones Quinta y Metropolitana a las 04:59 horas (08:59 GMT ) de este viernes. El evento se extendió por alrededor de 30 segundos y estuvo acompañado por ruidos subterráneos.

Según informó la Oficina Nacional de Emergencia (Onemi), el sismo registró las siguientes intensidades:

Santiago: tres grado.
San Antonio, Viña del Mar y Valparaíso: dos a tres.
San Felipe: dos grados.

For those of you who don't speak Spanish, it says there was a 'quake of intensity 2-3 on the Mercalli Scale, which I believe is about a magnitude 4 on the Richter scale.

The largest earthquake ever is known as "The Great Chilean Earthquake" or "Valdivian Earthquake" (Terremoto de Valdivia in Spanish). It was rated a 9.5 in the early afternoon of May 22, 1960 and affected southern Chile, Argentina, Hawaii, Japan, the Philippines, and the Aleutian Islands in Alaska.


Posted by KKS 13:43 Archived in Chile Comments (2)

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