A Travellerspoint blog

Sueño Sureño : Capítulo Uno

Acercando al Fin del Mundo

rain

An update from Kam´s Southern adventures!

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I left my beloved Viña del Mar last Monday night on a "semi-cama" cush bus bound for the South. I somehow managed to pack 20 days of life into the backpacking backpack I got just for the occasion... and was pretty proud of myself. Cash, clothing, chocolate, conditioner... that pretty much defines the contents of the bag. Multiplied by like eight hundred thousand and you can imagine the weight I´ve been carrying around on my shoulders, all in the name of not having to repeat the same shirt too many times in my photos!

I arrived in Puerto Montt on the overnight bus about 12 hours later and took the first bus-ferry combo I could find to the Isla Grande de Chiloé and its entrance city of Ancud. This part of the country is known for its clouds and rain most of the year, but these upcoming months (summer...!!) are supposed to be a respite.

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Well, as the bus pulled into the station, the drizzle was starting to pound a little harder, and a few minutes later I decided to wait in the bus station myself for the pouring rain the let up a bit. Apparently I had to walk about 7 blocks to catch the bus that would take me to Chepu, a rural community where I would be living on a cheese farm (!!!) for a few days with a Chilean family.

So I waited in the station, waited waited waited. I´m not really in a hurry these days, so I didn´t mind. Then I see out of my peripheral vision 2 people that just HAD to be gringos... so I first don´t even pay them any attention, but upon closer inspection realize that they were Andrew R. and Rachel! So I jump over to them, and they were totally surprised to see me, just having returned north from Torres del Paine themselves. They were at the bus stop waiting for John and Semira.

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Long story short, I find out that the bus to Chepu only runs 4 times a week and not on Tuesdays, so it ended up being good fortune running into that bunch because I stayed with them in Ancud overnight. We went out for some excellent group meals, including for the famed curanto, a seafood, potato, bread, hot mess cooked in the ground (and tasty!). John and Andrew were so intrigued by the Agroturismo program in Chepu that they decided to ditch their travel buddies and come with me! So the next day we squeezed onto the heaviest seeming micro I´ve ever ridden on from Ancud to Chepu (which is actually a sector, not a pueblo). Passengers had stowed huge bags of flour and what not up on the roof, up with our huge travelling backpacks.

Everyone on the bus seemed to be looking at us... and one woman was nice enough to give up some space on a seat for me to sit down. I asked, "¿Todos ya se conocen aquí?" and she said yes, they all already know each other, and I said, "Ah, entonces nos destacamos muchísimo..." We end up making it to our stop, Cruce de las Huachas, where Armando Pérez, the owner of the farm, came to pick us up and taking us to the beautiful, huge farmhouse of him and his wife, Sonia.

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John and Andrew ended up staying just a few nights on the farm as they had to get back to Viña, but together we milked cows (and got splattered with green cow poop), made cheese, ate enough food so that even Andrew and John said they were full (!!!), learned how to play with a deck of 40 cards (a game called "Escoba" (Broom)), saw a play, and climbed up a jungle-ish nearly 80° (according to my estimates...) hill along an absolutely beautiful Pacific Ocean beach.

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Once they had left, I got to know the family even more, probably more so than I got to know my family in Viña (John concurred). I visited Sonia´s (the other owner) father´s grave in the countryside cemetery, played with the grandkids, walked to neighbors´houses, made bread and empanadas, and just generally had an excellent time next to the wood-burning stove.

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[ left, me trying my hand at milking . . . right, Javier the 11 year-old expert ]

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[ J-Bird . . . K-Bird . . . J-Bird ]

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I finally left Chepu this morning and made my way south on the island through Castro all the way to Chonchi, where I had been excited to stay in the hostel called Esmeralda by the Sea. When I arrived, it turned out there was plenty of space for me and, BONUS, SWEDISH PEOPLE TO TALK WITH ME ABOUT NORWAY!! We just took a daytrip to Isla Lemuy just off the coast here, and it was quite beautiful.

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SO... now the plan is forego the Chaiten/Parque Pumalín circuit and instead stay in Chonchi maybe 2 nights and head north again through Puerto Montt and stay near Frutillar/Puerto Octay and then near Valdivia and then near Pucón (though I´m generally anti- such touristy destinations...). And I´m looking to stay in more rural homestays. I barely practice any Español in these hostels what with all Europeans and Canadians and Aussies and what not...

Pésimo, Kam, pésimo...

PD No need to worry: I have taken many many photos but as I am using a hostel computer it may be awhile before they get up. Just close your eyes, squat down towards the ground, reach out and imagine grabbing some warm cow teats, and inhale that rich aroma of hay, milk vapor, and cow poop splattering in the background.

Posted by KKS 18:09 Archived in Chile Comments (4)

No Me Metas en Tu Saco

Ni en tu mochila ni en tu maleta

sunny 20 °C

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Ascensor Reina Victoria - 1950

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Iglesia La Matriz, Cerro Santo Domingo - 1920

This past Wednesday was my last day of class here in Chile. It has been a week of lots of strong emotions striking like lightning at different moments. On the one hand, I had lots of work looming over my head: a quiz for my literature class, a massive ecology project including PowerPoint and a paper in the style of a scientific journal, and then the “pesadilla” nightmare project for my Espacio Urbano class. On the other hand, nearly all my friends left at different moments, and while we are all staying in Chile for the next few weeks, we almost certainly won't run into each other, so these good-byes were for good.

Over the course of the semester, the Espacio Urbano students were supposed to come up with a project to explore the “patrimonio” of the city of Valparaíso. For the first 4 weeks of class, either I couldn’t come to the class because I was checking others at the same time, or the professor changed it at the last minute, or I was the only student who showed up. I came up with a project for comparing 3 “cerros” or hills of Valparaíso (the 40+ cerros define the urban landscape… I chose Cerros Barón, Santo Domingo, and Concepción/Alegre) and why some are more popular with tourists than others. I really had no idea what to make the project should be about, thinking that my ideas would become clearer through the semester.

Week after week, the other students didn’t show up too often (once there were 14 people there… so I can only assume 14 people were signed up for it, especially considering that it’s a required class for the art major!). Classes were usually a meeting between just me and the profe… that being on the days that he decided to show up.

The final and ONLY grade for the course is something that is turned in at the end. That “something” I really didn’t understand. On the rare occasions when other students showed up, I asked them if they knew anything about it or what they were going to turn in, and they said they had no idea either.

Fast forward to the night before the last class. I am still lost. What am I supposed to write about? Who am I to compare these cerros that I barely know? How much research am I supposed to do? Is this supposed to be based on respected theories about urban space?

Fast forward to 4am that night, long after the sleepiness set in and also after that adrenaline rush of staying awake too long sets in, so I was actually feeling pretty awake. I came up with a legitimate *sounding* idea not based on any theories, and didn’t even develop it that well in the 19 pages I somehow cranked out.

Cerro Santo Domingo is in the oldest “Puerto” part of the city, yet people were hesitant about accompanying me to the area. When I visited La Matriz, the most historic church in the city, there were high schoolers smoking near the front door, a gang of stray dogs around the front of it, and I was accosted by a “borracho” drunk asking for money as I was leaving (this is at about 9:30am). SO for the paper I said that the history of that area (namely La Matriz, Plaza Echaurren, Calle Serrano) from which it derives its “patrimonio,” is in conflict with the present. The problems of today impose themselves on the history of yesteryear.

Cerro Barón also has a famous church, Iglesia San Francisco, an ascensor, and other relics of the past, most of which have become seamlessly integrated into the community of today. The church is still in use (not particularly well kept), the ascensor is out of service indefinitely, and the Escalera Calaguara, which back in the day was apparently dangerous to walk on if not in the presence of a “godfather,” is today surrounded by apartments and walked upon by young kids and their parents with no fear. SO for that cerro I said that, while the history of this cerro may be cherished by its residents, it doesn’t blow its own horn. It is hard to find information about the history of the places (especially from a tourist’s point of view), and so “lo patrimonial” of the cerro has been totally integrated into the daily life of those in its small community.

Last but the opposite of least, Cerros Concepción and Alegre are tourist central of Valpo. They have their fair share of history: Palacio Baurizza, high concentration of ascensores, museums, etc. BUT more than that, is it very easy for a tourist to get around. First, there are plenty of signs written in English, including some that have prices in both Chilean pesos and USD! (Ridiculous!) Streets are lined with cafés, and it’s hard not to find yourself walking along a well-kept paseo or walkway with a beautiful vista of the bay. SO for this cerro I said that the tourist infrastructure grew in parallel with the appreciation of “lo patrimonial.”

In any case, at 4am I decided to throw in the white towel and hope that what I had written along with 30 photos taken in the places mentioned in the text would seal the deal and let me not “reprobar” or fail the course. Please?

In other news, I got a perfect 7.0 in my cinematography class. I was the only gringa in the class, and one of 2 students of about 10 to get a 7.0… (polishes knuckles on shoulder)…

The teaching here is very different—according to my Spanish professor, it is more along the European line. Professors don’t really lecture and then expect creative output from students. It is either memorization or, in my classes, that professors introduce a general concept (i.e. “cinematography,” or “patrimonio” (I don’t even think that has an English translation), or “biodiversity”) and then the students are kind of on their own to find materials and teach themselves something. I guess it’s a valid system but just not what I’m used to, as I’m generally not to big on this whole “studying” thing.

Okay, this post is way too academic. I hope you’re not bored. Well, I guess if you’ve read this far you must have some super power to not be bored, so I won’t apologize to you.

On to other topics… sadness?

Oh right, I mentioned a mix of emotions. Well, along with this pile of work I had to do, almost all of my gringo friends have been leaving Valparaíso. They would one by one finish their work and arrange a goodbye that of course I would go to. So I ended up having about a half dozen sad sessions with peeps including Thanksgiving minus the family.

This semester was really a friendship pressure cooker, I think. We were just a bunch of gringos thrown into a new environment, all with an adventurous spirit, no idea where we were, and some plata to blow. I think this program in particular attracted a really great group of people… very “buena onda.” I have made friendships here that will really last, and I am genuinely interested to know where these people end up a few years down the line.

So for the next few days I am maximizing not having any fixed plans but “ganas” to do a lot here in Valparaíso, a city that is so interesting but I still haven’t thoroughly gotten to know.

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Yesterday, after teaching my last English class to high schoolers at Instituto Comercial, I decided to cross a few things off my list. I took a trolley-bus (CHECK!) along Avenida Colon for the first time. I walked over to Plaza Victoria to Vitamin, a café with the best mil hojas ice cream in Valpo, according to Caitlin… and I’d have to agree (CHECK!). I then found my way over to Ascensor Espiritu Santo (CHECK!) (which BTW definitely earns points for best ascensor name in Valpo) and headed up to the Museo a Cielo Abierto (CHECK!) (“Open Sky Museum”). It was a lovely day and a lovely area of the city, Cerro Bellavista (I suppose the name says it all).

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I found a lovely warm stone staircase which I sat upon for awhile. And I took out my camera and took a picture of some graffiti and then started putting my camera away. A young Chilean boy was scampering nearby at that same moment, and I said, “Hola,” and he saw me putting the camera away and said in his Chilean English, “Don’t worry.” And I was so astounded that (1) he had spoken English to me (after I said “Hola”… I mean, is my pronunciation so horrendous that he could tell I didn’t speak Spanish?) and (2) that he thought I was protecting my camera from him and (3) How was I supposed to respond?

So I just kind of smiled as he ran by. And a little later on, same bench, same camera, a Chilean woman came by and told me to be careful with my camera, and we ended up talking for about 40 minutes as she held onto her sack of “pan” she was bringing home for “once.”

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Later that night I went to the club Huevo for the VERY FIRST time all semester! I know, it’s hard to believe. Props to Tracy, Nicole, and Faye for making my dreams come true. It was a lot of fun and a night of discovery. For example, after waiting about forty minutes outside with Graciela, we discovered that 5 Oriente micros DO pass on Errazuriz at 4:30am!

Today I checked even more things off the list when I had lunch at my Chilean friend’s house in Cerro San Juan de Dios. He and his girlfriend have an adorable apartment which reminded me a lot of Eva and Jon’s place in Milwaukee, with the tidiness mixed with a cosy lived-in feeling, tastefully colorful decorations, etc. And we ate “zapallo italiano” which was RICO… baked gourd filled with rice, cheese, and meat (which was in this case vegetarian meat. Did I mention that I met this friend because he sells vegetarian hamburgers outside the literature building?).

We later headed over to La Quinta Vergara (CHECK!), a beautiful outdoor venue that plays host to the annual Festival Internacional de la Canción de Viña del Mar every spring. I stayed for about 15 minutes of Swan Lake (“El lago de los cisnes”) before I decided to come home.

It’s amazing how much can fit into one day.

As for what I’m going to be fitting into the next several days… the next month and a half for your viewing pleasure…

3 December:
leave Valparaíso on a bus south, bound for Puerto Montt
4 December: Arrive in Puerto Montt, take ferry to Ancud, Chiloé, then a local bus to Chepu, where I’ll be staying for 3 nights on a CHEESE-MAKING FARM!!!
7 December: Head to Chonchi, on the eastern coast of Chiloé for another 3 days (I’m preparing to be enchanted)
10 December: Thinking about taking a ferry to Chaiten, in the northern part of the Carretera Austral and checking out Parque Pumalín (owned by the owner of North Face and Esprit)
10 – 22 December: I am relishing not having a schedule planned. I’m going to talk to people en route, hostel owners, etc, and get a sense of where local busses are going, since I’ll be depending on them. Figuring things out one step at a time, traveling without rushing.
22 December: Make my way north to Chillán and take a train (one of the few!) Chillán to Santiago, then grab my bags in Viña
23 December: my mama arrives! We leave “al tiro” right away for Punta Arenas, the southernmost large city in Chile
24 – 27 December: Parque Nacional Torres del Paine
28 – 1 January: Parque Nacional Los Glaciares near El Calafate, Argentina
2 January: head to Ushuaia, Argentina, to embark on Hurtigruten’s MS Fram bound for Antarctica (¡!¡!¡!¡!¡!)
2 – 12 January: Hang on the White Continent
12 – 13 January: Whirlwind tour of Valpo for my mom, including dinner and a night’s stay at Brighton in Cerro Concepción!! Courtesy of Valparaíso’s tourism department and that photo contest that I won!
13 January: … you know…
14 January: touch down at Chicago’s O’Hare airport…

Posted by KKS 23:29 Archived in Chile Comments (0)

$5000 Pesos Uruguashos

Nos giró demasiado!!

semi-overcast 23 °C

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On Saturday we decided to check out the other side of the wide and brown Río de la Plata by taking a Buquebus ferry to Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay. According to my guidebook, Colonia was founded by Portuguese settlers from Brazil in 1680 and was an important center for smuggling Britist goods across the Río into the Spanish colonies throughout the 17th century.

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How that history currently reflects itself on the surface of the town was harder for me to see, but maybe just because I was distracted by how amazingly beautiful and peaceful it was. The boat drops you off at the dock, and then after a 10 minute walk through the modern downtown, you hit the Barrio Histórico on the peninsula jutting into the river. (By the way, in the entrance of EVERY shop you pass will be an employee leaning against the doorframe drinking mate. Apparently mate is even bigger in Uruguay than in Argentina. They all have these hearty red-brown leather pouches to fit the thermos with hot water, the gourd, straw, and the herb mix.)

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The cobblestone streets are lined with trees, with small buildings housing either small shops (usually with a large array of mate paraphernalia) or cafés (like the really nice Parrilla del Barrio serving “chivito”… a sandwich with a slice of ham, lomo (beef), lettuce, and tomato.

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It is a good place for strolling, kind of conducive to that pace. The cobblestone streets, including one called Calle de los Suspiros (Street of Sighs) tend to be short and crooked or slanted. The sidewalk leads right to the riverside, where you can see many sailboats just off the shore. Definitely a wonderful way to spend a day.

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When we went to take money out of the Uruguyan ATM, there was a sign next to it with conversion factors. It said 1 USD = 2260 URU or something like that. So we were like hmmm… does it mean 2260, or 22.60? I looked on the floor and saw a few receipts from previous people’s transactions and saw amounts like 3,000 URU and 4,000 URU so we decided to take out 5,000 URU between the two of us.

Low and behold looking at the sign on the next bank we pass, it says 1 USD = 22.60 URU … and we were like WHAAA???

Long story short, there are still many hundreds of Uruguyan pesos in my safe box that need to be exchanged…

In terms of the Buquebus, there’s the fast 50-minute ride or the slow 3-hour ride. Show up early on the day of or the day before to buy tickets and be prepared for lines. Also, be prepared to run into more “tercer edad” gringos than you see on a normal basis even in the States (or maybe that was just my experience).

On our way there, I joked with one of the American retirees on the boat, “If you can’t understand our Spanish, it’s just because it’s SO Chilean… not because it’s bad or anything.” We also met a girl on the boat doing a 30 day recorrido of Argentina-Uruguay-Brazil. She had studied abroad twice before including for one year in Florence, during which she spent ONLY ONE WEEKEND in Florence! All the other weekends she was out and about Europe! Is that not insane? I think that’s unnecessarily ridiculous, in a slightly negative way (to put it as vaguely as possible).

UPDATE: Since coming back to Chile, Jeff and I have been looking for a place to exchange the plata. Unfortunately, the going rate here is 1 USD = 10 URU or 11 if we're lucky. Meaning... we have a wad of money worth $80 that they're only willing to give us $40 for. Jeff is waiting to exchange his money in the States.

Posted by KKS 20:09 Archived in Uruguay Comments (1)

Buenos Días, Buenos Aires

Don't Cry for Me!

semi-overcast 24 °C

Buenos Aires checklist:

● Mate with friends
● Trip to Puerto Madero
● Panicking about coins for a colectivo bus
● Eating bife de chorizo, milanesa, or other carne
● Seeing Evita's grave at el Cementerio de la Recoleta
● Seeing a tango show
● ---- CHECK !!

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[crossing the Andes]

Buenos Aires is sometimes called the Paris of South America, and many of its inhabitants (called porteños (just like residents of Valparaíso! I mean, of course… “porteño” just means “from the port”)) consider themselves more European than South American. On my 3 day trip there with my friend Jeff, I definitely felt that there is a big difference between BsAs and Valpo for one thing, and even between BsAs and everywhere else in Argentina.

We stayed at in San Telmo, where most of the youth hostels are, at Hostel Ostinatto, a refurbished old apart building that is now a minimalist-black-white-and-red color scheme, high walls, very international crowd sort of place. The high ceilings even in the dorm rooms give it a very high-class feel though do contribute to a tremendous echo if people are being raucous below. They laid out us a simple but comparatively hearty breakfast of bread rolls, tea with hot milk, tangerines, and lots of pastries. Dave said it once, and I’ll say it again: Argentines definitely top Chileans in the sweets department. Both in BsAs and Mendoza, you could follow your nose to the corner pastelería and take about 15 minutes to look at all the choices (drooling the whole time) before settling on what to get.

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Argentina is big on their medialunas (croissants) and I think have a much bigger thing for alfajores (delicious small cookie sandwiches with manjar (if in Chile) or dulce de leche (if in Argentina) and covered in chocolate or meringue or plain). There’s a huge difference between packaged, mass-produced alfajores and artesenal ones you can buy at a pastelería or vendor on the street. Te really sooped-up manurafctured alfajores with like 4 layers with mini chocolate chips taste like some kind of monster cookie you could buy in the States, but freshly made ones (see “La Ligua” entry… mmm…) are made with better manjar/dulce de leche and chocolate and are softer so you can really enjoy eating them. It’s like the difference between going on a roller coaster and spending an afternoon strolling in a park. Te parece?

Hopefully I don’t spend too much time in this post discussing food. Then again, I’m not apologizing if I do.

Getting back to the location, San Telmo is apparently one of the older sections in the city and one of the few places which still has late colonial and Rosista buildings. There are cafés everywhere you turn, with plazas sprinkled throughout, cultural sites, and a terrific San Telmo handicrafts fair on Sundays (I got a ring made out of a coffee spoon).

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After arriving late Thursday night, we went to find food in Plaza Dorrengo a few blocks away, and were interested to find the plaza quite full of people dining under a totally dark sky with a few streetlamps to light up the performers (including a one-man drum band… impressive) and children walking around asking for money. Actually, we were both surprised to see how many small children were out so late at night, usually asking for money or going through garbage.

The next morning we took the New York Times’s recommendation to go to Zanjón de Granados, currently a museum slash event center where you can get a guided tour through the history of Buenos Aires (or Buenos Ayres if you’re feeling French and old-fashioned (AL?)). A zanjón (irrigation ditch) ran through the neighborhood centuries ago, and underground tunnels were built around it. In this building in particular, ownership was passed between people who added and changed the tunnel system and left evidence of their life which was only recently discovered by urban archaeologists. The cool thing about the place, I think, is that instead of just being a museum where the objects aren’t to be touched and the building is removed from the neighborhood environment, this building was changed and refurbished and can still be really utilized and enjoyed by people. If I ever have like a bat mitzvah or something in Buenos Aires, it will definitely be there. And I’ll invite you, don’t worry.

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After walking past tons of antigüedades shops (I also think Argentina has a thing for antiques), we walked along the massive Avenida Paseo Colón and to the even massiver Avenida 9 de Julio (claiming to be the world’s widest boulevard) and over to the Plaza de Mayo (pronounced “Masho”…. haha, oh the Argentines!). I gripped my bulky camera bag close to me, as Argentina is known to be thick with thieves. In fact, several of my friends have had personal encounters being attacked, robbed, and held up at gun point (in any order of the 3).

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We then went down to the “Subte” subway to meet up with a friend of Jeff’s near Recoleta in the center of the city. There was a long line to buy tickets, and when we finally got up to the window to buy them, there were two young kids on either side of the window asking for your change once you made the transaction. It struck me as pretty brilliant strategic placement, though I didn’t actually see anyone giving them any money.

We met up with Blair and Lauren, who are studying for the semester in Buenos Aires, and they took us to the immense Jardín Botánico (Botanical Garden) and talked a lot about how our experiences have differed. Let’s just use, hmm… FOOD… as a point of analogy. While in Chile, almuerzo (lunch) is the big meal of the day, where the whole family tries to be home, for Argentines it’s the big dinner. They have dinner at around 8 or 9, whereas my family has “once” (ohn-say) around 7. For us, breakfast and once are always the same thing: tons of bread and tons of palta (avocado). First of all, Argentines don’t call palta palta. They call it “aguacate,” just like the rest of Latin America (BO-ring). Second of all, they never eat it.

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When I tell Chileans that I really don’t eat that much palta in the States, they’re totally surprised. And when I tell them that I just don’t really eat that much bread either, they stop talking, look at me confused, and ask quizzically, “Well, then… what exactly do you eat??”

We later went to what our porteña friends described as a café for “Argentinean soul food” with a young atmosphere popular with exchange students that Jeff and I likened to Café Journal (shout out Viña del Mar!). Either way, they have amazing cazuela stews (calabaza + lomo + queso mmmmm) and empanadas totally distinct from Chile’s. Argentina’s are smaller and come in many sweeter varieties, whereas most Chilean ones are meat or vegetable focused.

And MATE of course! (That’s “mah-tay” for all of you unfamiliar with this strange herbal tea drunk from a hollowed out gourd through a burning hot metal strainer straw.) It was served with a lovely basket of small biscuits. We were such gringos and had to add sugar to the mix (which is a NO-NO) and also had big problems inserting the straw properly and had to move it around after we’d poured the water in (another NO-NO). Not to mention that all the herb leaves were floating around (NO!), meaning we’d done several other things wrong along the way. Well… you MATE some, you MATAR some… if you know what I mean.

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We then hit up MALBA, the Museo de Arte Latinoamericano, where it was really cool to see all of the artists we learned about in AP Spanish inside a single exhibition room: Xul Solar, Wilfredo Lam, Fernando Botero, and of course Frida & Diego. Now, I don’t really know that much about art, but I had the perception that the collection was much more colorful than similar exhibitions I’ve seen. Even the section on modern Latinoamericano art was not the squares of white canvas with a stripe of black or other extremely minimalist works that I, for one, have seen (not that I don’t like them). In any case, it was definitely worth checking out. They also seem to have some sort of cinema, but we didn’t look into it.

Later that night, instead of going to a jazz show that turned out to be like 1.5 hours away, we walked back to Plaza Dorrengo to a café with live music (easy to find, especially with waiters out on the street trying to hustle you inside). We then went for the first time to the ice cream parlor Nonna Bianca… and let me tell you, if you’re in BsAs, you HAVE to go! They have about 40 flavors, many of which you’ve never seen before (cerveza ice cream? Anyone?). Unfortunately, they have a one sample rule, which meant I stood at the counter for like 10 minutes figuring what to get a sample of, then another 10 figuring out what to actually buy. Jeff was definitely already finished with his cone by that time.

The next day, we took Buquebus to Colonia, Uruguay. Check out my other post for that. (It makes me uneasy to mix too many countries in one post, you know?)

After coming back around 5pm, we made reservations and headed over to Café Tortoni, apparently the first café of Buenos Aires and home of a famous tango show. The audience was almost entirely non-Argentines (in fact, entirely non-Argentines except one pretty drunk and unnecessarily flamboyant lady). The dancing was impressive and acted out in the form of a drama with one man singing the narration. And just as an FYI, food is not included in the price, and Sergio will bring you the bill for the drinks as soon as the show is over. So afterwards we headed to the closest and most Argentine (aka cheapest) eatery we could find and ate---guess what!?---BEEF!

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Sunday, our last day on the Atlantic seaboard of this massive continent, we started off by heading to the San Telmo street fair and picked up some medialunas on the way there. We then rode the bus to the incredible Recoleta cemetery (Cementerio de la Recoleta) which has, among many others, the famous grave of Evita (which always has a crowd of people around it). The aesthetic of the cemetery is amazing: mausoleums shoulder to shoulder like a marble village. You can find one from centuries ago and nearby a minimalist one with tinted black glass from 1996.

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We walked through the extremely long crafts fair near the cemetery and had lunch on Calle Ortiz and picked up some Havanna alfajores nearby (dang good). Nearby, two men in costumes were running down the street, ran up to me, hugged me, and yelled at Jeff to take a photo. I was so startled, and the only thing I could say was “POR FAVOR, NO ME ROBEN!!” (“Please don’t rob me!”) They laughed, Jeff clicked the photo, they ran away, and all my money was still in my wallet. Confusing? Yes. Good photo? Also yes.

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By the way, Calle Florida is a pedestrian zone that lasts like 10 blocks, but it’s always packed, and you can find the same street vendors selling elsewhere (i.e. San Telmo market) in a less crowded environment.

Oh, and since our Chilean cell phones don’t work in Argentina (or at least not if you don’t have roaming activated), I got my first chance at using a “locutorio” (if in Argentina) or “centro de llamadas” (if in Chile). Apparently there is an underproduction of coins in Buenos Aires, so shops will put out signs saying “NO HAY MONEDAS” and won’t give you coin change, instead giving you small candies to make up for the difference. Anyway, the locutorio owner told us we had to spend a minimum of 2 pesos (about 60 cents), and our Argentinian calls only amounted to like 1 peso, so we calculated that we could call the USA for exactly one minute. So I did, and oh boy was it a productive minute (te juro).

We then walked back across the center of town and back to the Hostel. And to the airport. And trying to exchange $4000 Uruguayan pesos (check other entry). And back to Chile.

Posted by KKS 17:39 Archived in Argentina Comments (1)

Quien a Buen Árbol se Arrima, Buena Sombra lo Cobija

Palmeras, Probablemente

sunny 26 °C

We took our last and longest COPA-IFSA-Butler-sponsored trip this weekend to La Serena, the largest city in the Cuarta Región, which lies just to the north of ours. It took about 6 hours in bus from Viña to La Serena (including a not-so-pronto stop at a fast-food place called Pronto) before we arrived at the lovely Gran Pacífico “Apart-Hotel,” just a block from the beach.

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Eliza had the great idea to have a potluck style dinner that first night, and I was very impressed with what we all managed to whip up. The gentlemen took care of making dozens of anticuchos (kabobs), we had a curry rice, fruit salad, Monty’s famous salsa, and our group decided to make mashed potatoes just to lower the excitement quotient a bit (we didn’t want people getting TOO excited).

It was a lot of fun to have a big group of young people all together cooking, since we’re now all so accustomed to having our Chilean moms cook meals for us at least twice a day. Not to mention that the food was RICA.

Our first full day in La Serena, Friday the 2nd, we had a free day to wander around, so a group of us decided to take the free bikes from the hostel to ride into town. We were all surprised that the hotel would lend out bikes free, not give us any locks, and not even make us sign any forms. Well, we soon realized why: all the bikes were extremely old and beat up, too small, possibly with bad seats, and probably with a flat tire.

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NO OBSTANTE (nevertheless), we rode those suckers along the beach and over to the lighthouse before making our way to the tranquil Japanese Gardens (yes, we were surprised too). I think my knees were kept in an acute angle the entire trip there (Heather was sweet enough to trade bikes with me on the way back).

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After strolling around in the park a bit (and coaxing Andrew to come down from the trees he climbed every few seconds), we made our way further into the downtown. La Serena is known to have a more colonial layout, with older style buildings facing onto plazas, narrow streets mixed with boulevards, and very old churches. The weather was beautiful on Friday, so the streets were crowded with tourists and other folks, and vendors had set up their tents along all the major streets.

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We headed for La Recova, one of the larger clusters of vendors selling jewelry, pastries, sweaters, handicrafts (including some from other countries, such as India), and a few selling brain teasers (I hadn’t seen anywhere else… you know, those “impossibly” assembled wooden blocks or bent wires… I managed to solve one (that I’d seen years ago!)).

We then wove through traffic to the Museo Archaeológico a few blocks away to see the “cabezas chiquititas” (eensie weensie heads) that Dave’s family had mentioned to him. The museum had a small but diverse collection of artifacts from different Chilean cultures, including a moai from Rapa Nui / Easter Island / Isla de Pascua (depending on your language). We spent a long time looking at a drawing or some old fashioned people (not cavemen, but almost) in loin-cloths out on rafts riding furious waves while trying to spear an enormous whale whose was so large it could not be seen in its entirety. An artist’s rendition, no doubt, but we spent awhile looking at it and thinking how plausible a situation might be and how, if killed, the whale might ever make it to shore. Would they have to tow it? Would it wash up? Perhaps these are questions with no answers.

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Moving on… later that day Dave, Elsie, and I decided to ride the MICRO (we dropped the bikes back off) to go into Coquimbo, which had been recommended to us a few months back by Manuel at the Cajón del Maipo hostel. [By the way, the MICRO bus was really more of a MACRO… why is it that the busses are larger in the smaller cities?]

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Coquimbo : La Serena : : Valparaíso : Viña del Mar

… that is, the first one is the port city while the second is the upscale counterpart. So we headed straight for the port of Coquimbo, where we were sure to find fresh-off-the-boat seafood. I am fond of approaching random Chileans to get directions to get places (I mean… they know the city; why not ask them?), so I asked a parking attendant to recommend a place to eat and out of nowhere a kid walks up and says, “I’ll accompany you.” Stunned and slightly chuckling, we followed the kid, who was about 4 feet tall and just finishing a cigarette. He told us his name was Francisco and that he was 14 (MENTIRA!).

In any case, he led us through the pungent fish market to the end where there were 4 almost identical restaurant areas shoulder to shoulder, and within about 8 seconds, each one had sent a waiter representative to try to woo us. “Delicious seafood!” they said. “Table by the window!” I think the 3 of us just started laughing because we had no idea what their menus were, and they all looked so similar! How were we supposed to choose?

Finally, we just asked Francisco to tell us where to go. The fat waiter kind of grabbed his shoulder and said, “Do you see how big my stomach is? It’s because the food at my restaurant is the best,” so Francisco told us to go there. But for some reason Elsie wanted to go to a different one, so we went to the one next to it.

It’s funny how often about half the items on a menu are unavailable. It’s happened to me where there are two sections with sandwiches: a section of white bread sandwiches with palta (avocado), chicken, or turkey; or baguette sandwiches with shrimp or cheese. And the waiter will say they’re out of baguette bread, so I’ll ask for shrimp on the white bread and the waiter says I can’t have that either. I find that funny.

After our fresh seafood lunch (we were the only people in the restaurant who didn’t get fried fish), we strolled around Coquimbo, including near some derelict sites and along the port where various ships were docked and kids swam nearby.

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That night we headed to the Cerro Mamalluca astronomical observatory. Once again, my travel buddy Tracy was in heaven (or… in the heavens?). I remembered quite a few things I’d learned on our astronomical tour in San Pedro, but I always enjoy listening to the stories about the stars and how the differ from those visible in the northern hemisphere. The evening concluded with a folklore/jazz concert put on by the people who minutes before we explaining the telescopes to us… and finished at about 2 am. I think all of us went right to sleep on the 2 hour bus ride back into La Serena!

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The next day COPA took us to a neat restaurant to the east of La Serena in the Valle de Elqui, where all the food is cooked in sun-heated ovens. The food is cooked between 9am – 4pm, the hottest parts of the day, and it’s run by a collective of 26 women who have now made solar cooking a viable means of income for the people in the pueblo.

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Later we headed towards Vicuña, the main town of the valley, first to the pisqueria Capel (pisco being the national drink of Chile) which included a degustación (tasting) of various types. We then stopped at the museum of Gabriela Mistral, one of two Nobel winners from Chile (the other being our good friend Pablo Neruda). Unfortunately, I don’t think I’ve read anything of hers, so I wasn’t able to glean as much as I might have been able to from visiting the museum. After a bit we decided to stroll through Vicuña, and Caitlin and I ran into a TVN network television crew, who asked to interview us about our perceptions of Valle de Elqui for a segment that was to air earlier this week.

When I got on camera (this was my 4th interview here, by the way… 2nd on television), he asked me some expected questions, like how long I’ve been in Chile, what I liked most about Valle de Elqui, etc. But then he popped the question, “What is the biggest difference between Valle de Elqui and the United States, and which do you prefer?” I nearly burst into laughter on camera. All I could think to say was, “How can I even compare the two?” Not that one is better, but it’s like comparing… well, a mystical rural valley in Chile to a massive country composed of thousands of towns and millions of people. I added vaguely, “I would like to spend more time here,” which was true.

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[the above photo reminds me of a certain Scandinavian country...]

On our last day in the Cuarta Región, on the way back to Viña del Mar, we stopped at Parque Nacional Bosque Fray Jorge, which is famous for its camanchaca, a natural phenomenon owing to the condensation of coastal clouds along the mountains, resulting in a hanging cloud all through the day surrounded by desert. It was a very unique landscape, and we managed to see an owl (lechuza) and several foxes (zorro chilla) eagerly sniffing near us while we ate lunch.

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It was a really great trip, though I am definitely feeling somewhat down about the semester drawing to a close. Today my Espacio Urbano art teacher told me that the Spanish and Portuguese perceptions of nostalgia are distinct, and that for the Spanish it is related to sadness, while for the Portuguese it is looked upon with happiness. I told him that I think I have both.

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Posted by KKS 12:01 Archived in Chile Comments (0)

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