The Valparaiso Evaluation
08/01/2010 - 09/01/2010 68 °F
Bonjour my faithful followers. My travels have commenced and I have settled into my new home for the next five months, a city by the name of Viña del Mar nestled on the Pacific coast of Chile. I´m residing with a wholesome Chilean family of five and going to school at Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaíso. I´m finalizing my class schedule this week; I think I should have a pretty sweet setup. Apart from my language classes, prospective areas of study include: Mountain Sports, Poetry, Modern History, Sports Massage, Classic English Literature, Traditional Dance, and Black & White photography. The first couple of weeks in the city were fairly exciting, but since then my joys and activities have been oppressed by a mild sickness that I´m just now able to kick. Anyways, I´m well behind in beginning this blog so I´ll just set the scene rather than trying to relay all my doings for the past month.
Viña del Mar (Vine of the Sea), is a twin city to Valparaiso (Paradise Valley); they're on the coast about midway down Chile's lanky frontier. Inland from the shoreline the landscape transforms into steep hills jam packed with abodes of varying colors, shapes, sizes, and states of disrepair. Some stand with a sway or cracked siding due to the city's long history of earthquakes. As is the case with most of the exchange students, I live in Viña and go to class in Valpo; a ten minute trip via the metro or bus. Viña del Mar is a little more upscale with an emphasis on the shopping and vacation scene; there's some nice little parks & beaches, and posh shopping and dining areas; there's even a casino and horse track--which I'm fairly stoked about for when I need to revive the cash flow. Valparaíso is definitely a little dirtier, in a good way, and is steeped in history and culture, whereas its cohort is not. Back in its glory days, prior to construction of the Panama Canal which allowed ships to bypass the stop, Valpo was the most frequented port by seamen in all of South America, so you know it's good. It has been home to many distinguished individuals, including the Chilean god of poetry Pablo Neruda and the singer from Slayer. There's a night life that doesn't stop until five in the morning and a selection of clubs and cafés to suit people of all flavors. UNESCO has declared it a world heritage site due to its unique architecture, history, murals, ascensores, and other peculiarities. The city is also host to more graffiti than any other place I've ever visited; it's encouraged by the city in some ways and the result is stupendous pieces of work giving zest and color to otherwise bland or depressing parts of town. Especially in the cerros, where life is of a lower quality, and on buildings that have been plagued by earthquakes, the street art has a rejuvenating effect.
I must stress my disappointment in the Chilean cuisine. I had chosen to study in Chile based on an understanding that everywhere south of Texas cooked with a spicy Mexican-style flair but have despairingly encountered predominantly bland foods using ketchup or grease as a crutch for any flavor. The only Chilean food that really twangs my buds at this point are the empanadas; they've got a mad range of fillings, from the classic cheese to oysters and onions. Also good, is the mercados near my school where you can score pounds of mandarins or kiwis for a single Jorge (about the only aspect of Chilean life where the US dollar goes further). As one might expect from a port city, there is also some mighty fresh seafood available at the markets, but I'm pretty niggardly with my pesos and mostly eat the free food at the house.
My host family is of the vegetarian variety so my daily eats usually consist of fruit, yoghurt, soy burgers, rice, or noodles. There is a nana (super maid) that comes by the house a few times a week to clean and cook some dishes that remain in the fridge the rest of the week, ready to be heated whenever hunger strikes. She usually makes the same recipes weekly but sometimes she'll surprise with some lemon cream pie or artichokes or something. She's pretty cool though. The most popular delicacies among those nonvegetairans are completos (foot long hot dogs adorned with guacamole, mayonaise, and tomatoes) and Chorrillana (a large platter of french fries topped with beef, eggs, and onions), which the city proudly claims to have invented. They apparently thrive in creating hangover foods. Another major issue with the Chilean diet I nearly failed to mention is the lack of Peanut Butter; which few locals consume and is near impossible to procure outside of large cities. But as the Europeans have their Nutella and the Aussies their Vegemite; Chile, too, has it's spread of choice. It is called Manjar and it is made of only sugar and milk, lacking the depth of flavor and versatility Peanut Butter brings to the table.
In the way of beverages, Chile is pretty standard in its love for soda. The coffee is typically instant and the water is generally bubbly unless one requests otherwise. As for the alcoholic beverages, Chile is known for its quality wine (the world's fifth largest exporter); and also for its pisco, which is a cheap & popular source of spirit also distilled from grapes....common combinations are pisco sours and pisco & coke (pretty basic). There's beer too, but nothing special like the cashville brews, although they do make this drink called a FANSCHOP, which is half fanta, half beer.The smoking of cigarettes is also quite popular.
The Chilean man cannot be generalized; personalities and lifestyles vary as much as in any country. But some small differences... Families are a little closer from my experience and kids typically don't move out of the house until their mid 20s; I've even met one girl who wanted to go to school in a different city and her parents moved with her. Also, a very affectionate people. Chilean lovers can be found displaying their affection to one another through kisses and sweet whispers on every bench, beach, pier, and metro in the city. Theories for the influx of PDA in Chile is generally accredited to the more Catholic home atmosphere and also the fact that children generally don't leave the nest and acquire a place of their own until out of college and financially secure. As far as style goes, the Chileans of both sexes are real keen on their scarves and fanny packs...also the mullets and rat tails are still in.
The musical taste of course varies and I have yet to explore the more alternative scenes; but within the pop scene, Reggaeton reigns supreme among the youth. Reggaeton is basically just poppy spanish rap juiced up with some electronica, big names of the genre include Daddy Yankee; it's the typical dance music for clubs and I am not a big supporter. There's also of course the classic latino jams associated with Salsa and Tango; I've made a go for the salsa a couple times but my moves fail to keep up with the latina hips. Buskers sometimes play more traditional tunes in the metros or plazas and that's probably my Chilean music of choice up to this point. And of course, there is a copious amount of second-hand music from the USofA.
The city is inundated with perros callejeros (street dogs), it's awesome. The dogs just lounge around the city doing their own thing in a mostly harmonic relationship with the manfolk. When not lying around, they can be found wrassling with one another, barking at crashing waves on the beach, chasing cars, or just roaming the streets with their crews. I was chased by a gang of three on my way to a class on the outskirts of town one day and got a little bite on my leg but I ran across the street and they didn't risk the cars for my pursuit...this isn't common, as a rule the dogs are quite amiable.
Another peculiarity of the Chilean cities is the stop light performers. They post up at a busy intersection and when the lights turn red and the cars halt, the performers run from the sidewalk to display their talent (whether it be juggling flaming knives, gymnastics, dancing, or magic tricks) and then walk by the car windows to collect their pesos. Some of the people are really talented, and either way it takes skill to master the timing of the lights.
As far as current events go; the main topic of the news for these past few weeks has been that a mine in the North collapsed and trapped 33 miners. They just the other day succeeded in reaching a tube to the miners, who surprisingly had all made it to the safe zone and were still alive after three weeks. The tube can be used for communication and delivery of food and water but it will be another three months until they are actually rescued. It's cool to see how the country has reacted and supported the miners, the president has made some speeches. Best of all, it introduced to me a businessman, Leonardo Farkas, who is making a large cash donation to the families of said miners. He's one of the most famous people in Chile for his being filthy rich, great acts of philanthropy, and a habit of handing out bills to strangers on the street. He also plays the piano, sings, and just looks awesome.
In my personal current events, I have procured a killer little bicycle to cruise around town and started a couple volunteer jobs working with chitlins of the city.