A Travellerspoint blog

Santa Susana

Compañeros,
My schooling for the year is no más and I shall now pass the next couple of months roaming across the Latin American terrain like a lone Puma traversing the mighty Andes in search of bountiful water holes, a dry cave, and plump rabbits. The travels kicked off with style due to the mid-December arrival of Mother Susan and her tender heart.
We commenced the two-week trip by allowing her the full Austin Cloyed experience in staying with my host family for a couple of days in their Viña del Mar abode. During this time, I accompanied the lady in an exploration of the Valparaiso city where we strolled about the cerros and port in a way as to absorb the Valparaisiano essence. The next day, we attempted some ocean kayaking in nearby Con Con but a mighty wind there was and the kayak man allowed us only like a couple acres of water to explore; we paddled to a lighthouse and then let the wind blow us back to shore. On the mainland I proceeded to escort the Susan to the finest empanaderias that the Region has to offer...the day vanished in a cloud of empanada mastication. When the night time came we bestowed upon my host family this game, Spot It!, that Sister Cassidy sent down for them. It was near embarrassing the intensity that ensued; we got real into it, I had never seen the host family so excitable, they went loco for the "Spot It!". The next day, Susan and I took out the bicycles and cruised around the city to the markets and a lil cafe and what not. In the evening, the host family had a friend drive his truck to drop us at the bus station and the whole family piled in, putting us a few people over capacity. We arrived about 10 minutes late to the bus station, but fortunately the Chileans disregard for promptness is on the same level as our own and the bus still remained in the terminal. We hopped in, found our way to the luxurious chairs awaiting us in the sleeper section on the lower level and got situated in our chair-home for the next 15 hours. My family vigorously waved us farewell as the bus pulled out.DSC_0331.jpg
The first stop was Puerto Varas, this super tranquilo, well manicured Germanish town resting opposite of Volcano Osorno on the cusp of a lake. It was real nice, we ate some crazy German sandwiches in town and then took a bus to Lago de Todos los Santos, a glorious lake squeezed between Argentina, chile, and a few volcanoes.
The next day, six hours in bus and ferry awaited us in arriving to our next destination of Castro, Chiloe. Chiloe has this reputation of being really distinct from the rest of Chile because it is a mammouth, self-sufficient network of islands...One girl from my university kept raving about how mystical it was and talking about the witchcraft, but we never were lucky enough to meet some witches, unless they were cladenstine. It´s also one of the rainiest places in Chile, to the extent that its extreme precipitation is linked to the fact that the island has the highest suicide rates in Chile. We lucked out in our timing and had nothing but sunshine and views of lush, green countryside. There´s a national park and some touristy islands to visit, but the mother and I were fairly burnt out of being in buses and opted to just stay in Castro for the couple days. My main objective was to feast on the curanto , a native meal of the region, consisting of shellfish, sausage, steak, chicken, vegetables, and fish that is buried in the ground in between gigantic leaves with hot rocks and slow cooked to perfection. Unfortunately, it´s more of a festive dish, and they don´t really bother doing it for less than ten people; I came close to convincing this German group at the hostel to join forces to form a Curanto fiesta....but they just didn´t understand. We had to settle for imitation curanto cooked in pots. Imagen_015.jpgImagen_014.jpg
After a few more bus/boat/airplane rides we arrived in the final destination, the legendary Patagonia. We passed one night in the capital city of Punta Arenas and the next day took a 3 hour bus ride through sheep country (I think the majority of Patagonia is sheep farms) to Puerto Natales, gateway to Torres del Paine. I had the notion of us doing this 4 or 5 day camping trip through Torres del Paine in the form of the "W" route, but never really did any research on how to make such an undertaking. After finally shaking off our hostel manager and his attempts to convince us that it´s a terrible, impractical idea to do your own voyage into the park and that we needed one of his tours, we met some other trekkers who gave us the truth and logistics on getting to and from the trail heads. Imagen_016.jpg
The next morning we rose at the crack of 6:30 and embarked in yet another bus ride to reach the park; at the 10:00, we were greeted by epic Mountains of Torres del Paine. The day begin well, the ferry ride across one of the lakes to our trail head was thoroughly awesome and the Susan and I were stoked to conquer. We started the trekking with a little day trip to see the Gray Glacier, leaving the bags behind the ranger station since we needed to backtrack to make it to our first campsight.
The walk to the glacier went swimmingly; it was the second leg of the days trekking when Susan crumbled to the might of Patagonia. It was in this segment, lugging our massive backpacks when the wind picked up (about 50 mph) and the rain began to fall. Susan´s frail, decaying body was fairly unaccustomed to the hauling of giant backpacks and after the first hour had lost all hope and began cursing every step and passing trekker who teased that the campsite was near. My encouraging words were in vain, the woman was miserable and I felt fairly resposnible for dragging her through hell. The rain washed the tears from her cheeks and eventually we arrived at the campsite. In order to not completely destroy the woman, we decided to just remain in this campsite for the next night and do a day hike sans packs. God graced us with near perfect weather to rise our spirits from the depths in which they had fallen and we had a swell time traversing through the awe-inspiring Valle del Francis. It honestly was the most glorious valley in which I have had the pleasure of laying my feet and we was able to fully enjoy it, having had eliminated the need to stick to a schedule of completing the semi-circuit. We hiked out the next morning and hopped in a bus just as the clouds descended and the rain started back up. Imagen_020.jpg
Back in Puerto Natales for another day, the Susan treated us to some gourmet Patagonian dining in the shape of Salmon Ceviche, fat tender steaks, Kingcrab and lamb pizzas, the local microbrews, and of course some fine chilean vino.
Another flight and 20 hours of bus and we were back to Santiago where the trip had begun to fare fair Susan well.
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Posted by totidokevn 09:08 Archived in Chile Tagged del puerto castro patagonia chiloe valparaiso varas paine torres Comments (0)

Gimme The Loot

sunny

My people, I make my comeback to the blogosphere on an unpleasant note. My blind confidence has been crushed, my carefree approach to the travel has been compromised, and I now walk the streets in a state of paranoia, wearing an untrusting eye for my Chilean brethren.

'Twas a typical Valparaiso Wednesday, commencing with the weekly volunteer job on Cerro Cordillera that I have long trusted to provide me with an impenetrable fortress of good karma so that I needn't concern myself with the notion of misfortune. It was noon-time when there was no more work to be done and I bid my farewell to the fellow volunteer folk to begin my descent from hill to city center. A hot day and the sun beat down upon me while I lazily strolled down the sidewalks in a haze, pondering my plans for the rest of the day. On the final stretch of road before the stairs to freedom, a high school kid leaning on the wall a couple meters ahead stepped in my path with a finger to his lips and started vigorously "shhh"ing me. It brought me back to earth but I was still a little dumbfounded and just thought he was just kind of odd and wanted me to help surprise somebody or something. He started pushing on my chest with his other hand and I turned my head to see a gent of about 18 approaching me, the new guy lifted his sweater above the hip-line to expose a pistol tucked in the crotch of his jeans which pretty much cleared up the ambiguity of the situation.

Needless to say, they were interested in my loot, and it shames me to think of it but with their slight threat I was completely docile. The silencing man grabbed the strap of my backpack and I submissively shrugged it off into his control, he then tossed it up to his compañero who casually slipped it onto his own back and began walking the other direction. The greedy shhher then proceeded to stick his hand into my pocket and grab my cellphone which I instinctively clutched onto, negotiating on behalf of losing my Chilean connects; also in the struggle I felt that the strength was on my side and for a second considered releasing the fury....His associate turned around and caught my eye with a dumb head gesture and a lunge of his hand to the crotch-gun. Again I crumbled at the will of these flaite fools, released my grip, and watched as they made their jolt up the hill with the loot.

When they were in transit I realized that there had been cars passing by and jumped into the road thinking that one of the drivers would act fast to help a fellow civilian in need, but they kind just brushed me off; one driver pointed me towards a convenient store with a phone. The guy behind the counter took his time flipping through an old rolladex, apparently lacking a quick 911 reflex, lecturing me on the dangers of walking alone in the neighborhood. About 20 minutes after the fact, an armored pickup truck carrying three Carabineros arrived and I gave them my report while the locals of the block stepped to the curb to watch. I suggested we ask the surveying neighbors for some leads but they didn't even consider it and said that the locals never say anything; that hood respect. We drove around the hills aimlessly for about ten minutes, looking for the culprits, but it was without doubt hopeless.

My pride still aches whenever I ruminate on my performance under pressure; and the wound deepens with every object I remember being in the bag that the assailants now enjoy at my expense. I picture them now wearing my sweatshirt and sunglasses, nodding their heads to my ill tunes on the ipod, and taking large ungrateful bites from my custom designed lunch sandwich. Even more embarrassing than the way I put my tail between my legs in the face of danger was the realization that, due to plans of making my Chilean ID that day, I had been breaking the golden rule of travel: my passport, travel documents, and all other forms of identification had all been on my person. The problem is that I've always just mistaken my supreme luck as a kind of traveling invincibility and never botherer with any precautions of minding what I carry on me or training in the kung-fu.

Anyways, I'm pretty much past kicking myself over the losses and having to reestablish myself as a citizen of the world; it was really just an expensive way to meet some badass Chileans muggers and take a VIP tour of the hood in an armored car with Valparaiso's finest. I now understand that a number of the cerros, which to a tourist’s eyes are quite intriguing, are basically the Chilean version of the projects in the US. Schools are terrible, income is super low, jobs are hard to find, and drug addiction is rampant (in particular Pasta Base, a really cheap, much more addictive variation on cocaine...like crack but different). It's a popular choice among the youth to resort to muggings; they apparently have systems, work in teams, and will spend a "day at work" scoping out targets and marking them for their associates to seal the deal...I'm not too clear on the details but they've got their ways.

Otherwise, it's all good in the Chile.

Posted by totidokevn 13:14 Archived in Chile Tagged cerro passport valparaiso cordillera mugging flaite Comments (1)

Tren Mas Lento del Mundo

With a Ceviche Beginning

sunny 71 °F

An unpromising Sunday morning, devoid of plans and starting off with a crucial headache, wound up being one of my most riveting days in Chile to date. After my now routine yoghurt & fruit breakfast and a brief chat with my host madre, I just left the house with my camera on the premise of getting some shots of the Carabineros (Chilean policia) for my class in the morning. My plan was to just walk the 5 mile stretch along the shore between Viña and Valpo and hope for to run into some patrolling Carabineros.
I spotted a pair pacing vigilantly in the parking lot of this seafood market and commenced my stalking. After a few decent pictures, I meandered into the market where local fisherman displayed their fine fresh catches. One of the dudes was pretty affable and started showing off one of his squids and giving a quick anatomy lesson; I dare say it was the best looking squid I have ever laid my eyes upon in a fish market. I was real keen to partake in the purchasing of some quality sea meat and came across a stand selling these cups brimming with oysters, clams, and some other mysterious sea creatures; complete with an oyster shell spoon. It was drenched in lemon juice and given a sweet little crunch by diced onion and fresh herbs (I now know it to be the legendary ceviche). A little much taste of the sea by the bottom of the cup and some wild textures but overall quite delectable indeed, the Chilean food continues to grow on me.
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A couple more kilometers walking brought me to an area of graffiti-ridden abandoned buildings and a rusty old train I had always assumed to be abandoned as well. I sort of slowed down the pace walking by the train because I was considering giving myself a little tour....but then I saw some movement through one of the windows and realized it was probably a homeless dwelling and best not to disturb. While I was walking away, somebody called out to me and I turned back to see a girl hanging out of the train door motioning for me to come aboard. I was definitely real skeptical that a gang of hobos was going to pounce on me inside the train and steal my camera and ducketts; but I chose to disregard the worries and board the train.
The interior was not at all as expected, or as indicated by the outside appearance. The front car was really clean and organized with red curtains, a few tables, chairs, and a piano. The middle car was host to a narrow hallway and a little kitchen where a few men were sitting around drinking. The back car was the real prize, it was like an artistically arranged flea market; the walls were covered with faded photographs, paintings, and loads of other memorabilia. The girl who had originally summoned me explained that she was from Buenos Aires and had met the owners of the train at an old theatre that they're remodeling on Cerro Concepcion. She introduced me to the owners of the venture, a man of about 60 wearing army fatigues and a necklace with a selection of keys worthy of a janitor, to his side was an even older woman with grey hair and a friendly face. The man didn't seem too interested in meeting more strangers but the lady was real cordial and prepared some glasses of heated wine with a squeeze of fresh orange, which was tasted awesome.
We sat at one of the tables in the front car drinking the hot wine while one of the other men sat down at the piano and started playing one of those real famous American tunes that he said was from a Robert Redford film (The Entertainter I think). Then he really went all out for their gringo guest and belted out Billy Joel's "Piano Man," lyrics varying between English and Spanish with the verse.
Apparently the plans for the train, which they claim to be the slowest in the world, are to transform it into a sort of café/tourist attraction. Originally I had thought the whole "más lento tren del mundo" thing was a joke about how the train was forever stationary, but in actuality the train is (illegally) capable of moving back and forth across the small section of track on which it lies. Anyways, by the time I left the train, I had promised to spearhead the re-painting of the exterior and also help in getting the train bonafide as the slowest train in the world by being the middle man with Guiness World Records.
I escorted the Argentinian to the bus terminal so she could make her bus to Santiago and fly back to the motherland tonight. On the walk she started raving about the brilliance of the old lady who I had met, saying something to the extent that she used to be a doctor and was the first woman in South America to preform a heart transplant. With these large claims, I became skeptical of the group all over again. Either way, I'm well intrigued and shall certainly make good on my vows to paint and talk to the Guiness folk.

El capitán del tren gave me his card and it had a link to this video of it in action, so you all can witness a train moving very slowly...

Posted by totidokevn 20:50 Archived in Chile Tagged art market the in train interesting world seafood valparaiso ceviche slowest Comments (0)

He Llegado

The Valparaiso Evaluation

sunny 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.

LOCATION
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.

AILMENTS
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.

FOLK
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.

MUSIC
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.

MISCELLANEOUS
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. Leonardo Farkas

Leonardo Farkas

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.

Posted by totidokevn 16:25 Archived in Chile Comments (0)

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