Home Sweet Home

It is hard to wrap our arms around this giant trip. It already seems like we were in Santiago months ago. So much has happened in just 2 weeks, perhaps our brains just have a hard time processing so much information. We are glad to be home. I’m looking forward to planning our next trip south, there is so much more I want to see. I’m glad we stuck to the cities this time for the history lessons and architecture. Next trip, I want to escape the city life and see more of the country.

Highlights:

  • The Metro in Santiago. Travel within this city was easy, fast, and very affordable. Get a BIP! card at a machine or kiosk, and ride away. The train stations are underground, clean, and full of art. Trains come about every 2 minutes. Efficient, clean, beautiful, and affordable public transit? Why yes! Never once did we feel unsafe, intimidated, or uncomfortable.
  • The people in Santiago give up their Metro seat to the elderly, particularly older women. It was very heartwarming to witness, day in and day out, people offering their seats to others, even on a crowded train.
  • The Green Bicycle Tour of Santiago was worth it. It was called Parks and Politics – we visited parks and learned some political history of Chile. We were joined by two men from Brazil (one a huge NFL fan), our tour was in English, and we learned so much. The conclusion of our trip was riding through Santiago rush hour traffic – pedestrian and automobile. Because we survived, I can say I’m glad we did it. Next time, we pick an earlier tour time.
  • The GAM in Santiago, was Devlin’s favorite place of our entire trip. The Centro Cultural Gabriela Mistral (aka GAM) has significant historical and cultural play in this city. It was built by the people of the city by significant volunteer labor for a United Nations Conference on Trade and Development in 1972, was overtaken by Pinochet during his brutal ruling and used as an “interrogation” center, and is now a community cultural center that is frequented day and night by local people, young and old.
  • Spanish varies, depending on where you are. There is no right or wrong dialect. Some areas are easy to get along with knowing the basics and others are not. And the next time someone tells me that Spanish from Madrid is the “correct” Spanish, I will ask them to go to Santiago, take a bus out of town, and see how far their “correct” Spanish gets them!
  • Food. The food everywhere was amazing. Empanadas! Steak (Bife de chroizo, bife de lomo)! Pastel de Choclo! Helado! Parrillada! We were adventurous (blood sausage anyone?) and open minded. We strictly ordered off the Spanish menu, except in one restaurant where they gave us an English one, and we were entirely confused because nothing translated to what we were used to seeing.
  • Pastel de Choclo is something I need to learn how to make. Oh my! Creamy corn atop of a mixture of ground beef, chicken pieces, olives, raisins, hard boiled eggs, onions.
  • Pedestrians in Santiago expect the right of way ALWAYS – to cars, bicycles, and other pedestrians. No one yields. You must be bold.
  • Watching NFL games in Spanish is more fun than you think! Watching Marshawn Lynch score a touchdown and hearing the Spanish commentary was a highlight of the game for us.
  • Bus travel in Chile is cheap and very nice. Think Greyhound, but better.
  • Taxis were cheap in Buenos Aires, provided they were ordered through “secure” channels. It is not recommended for a tourist to hail them off the street.
  • The city of Buenos Aires could save millions of pesos a year by not painting lane lines on the roads. No one uses them. A single left turn lane will be 3 cars wide.
  • Mr Hugo Bikes in Maipu, outside of Mendoza, is all that plus more. If you want a family friendly, family run business to support, rent your bike here and enjoy the wine country. He and his family will entertain you with wine after your ride while you wait for the bus or taxi back to your lodging.
  • Buenos Aires is beautiful. The Feria de San Telmo (San Telmo market) on Sunday is a must. Buy or not, it’s worth the walk through the entire thing. And do it twice, just in case you missed something on the way down. You might want to pack an empty bag just for this experience. Buy some fresh pressed orange juice and some churros while you browse the tens of thousands of vendors.
  • LAN Airlines knows how to efficiently move passengers via air. The US-based airlines need to re-look at their boarding procedures. LAN gets it done faster and with less chaos and stress. Oh, and they still give free snack boxes!
  • Non-native children who speak Spanish (or try) are much appreciated and respected. They bring extra patience, smiles, and many compliments from the locals.

And for some media entertainment – Live music at a Metro station in Santiago:

Electric guitar in Buenos Aires:

Street music at the San Telmo Sunday market:

And a final slideshow with some favorite memories!

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Funicular – it’s not just fun to say

Be prepared for photo overload, and despite my phone and portable keyboard, I can’t seem to change their order. Enjoy despite their lack of chronological significance.

Today we journeyed up to the top of San Cristobal to visit the statue of the Virgin, erected there between 1904-1908. The weather started today ugly with drizzle, despite it being summer solstice, but by early afternoon it had cleared. By the time we were at the top, it was just lovely!

We rode the funicular to the top of San Cristobal. I left a love rock and snagged a photo. The views are spectacular from here, and with the rain, the smog had cleared.

We (I) decided we should walk down instead of ride, and all of us thought it would be paved, but alas we took a wrong turn and ended up on a dirt trail, and then another trail… not lost just taking the long scenic route. By the time we got to the bottom, well over an hour had passed and we were all starving.

The first place we tried was less than impressive and so after a drink we promptly left. And with some renewed pep in our step, we landed at a place that serves Parrillada. Not for vegetarians, it’s a platter of meats and potatoes on a sizzling hot platter that sits atop a mini charcoal grill. Photos below! It’s supposed to be great hangover food.

Our dish held two types of sausages, two steaks, two pork chops, two pieces of chicken, and a bunch of potatoes. Yes we managed to eat it all, with exception of the blood sausage – which we tried and did not care for. We were completely stuffed, but it really was our first meal of the day, and we’d been on our feet for hours. So of course we had room for some ice cream afterward. 🙂

We also walked through a street fair and Devlin saw a copper Aztec calendar he really liked. He fully negotiated its final price by himself. The man cut him a deal because he used his good Spanish manners! Devlin is proud of himself for this one and just loves his new artwork.

We did a little geocaching this morning too, as we needed to add another country to our log book. And I snapped a picture of some street art. There is some beautiful ‘graffiti’ here in the city.

Devlin continues to say that if we ever move from Portland, it must be to Santiago. Why he loves this city I am not sure, but he’s happy and content to be here despite the language challenges. He does get a lot of smiles for using his Spanish with the locals, and while we might not understand much of what they are saying, they do understand him.

Tomorrow we are off to Mendoza, Argentina. We have no idea security lines or other logistics in Santiago, so we will head out with plenty of time and hope for the best.

Tomorrow we’ll be on the other side of the Andes, hopefully with some warmer weather and great wine. Until then, happy Solstice!

Our first stop for refreshments before lunch at a different bar.

Our first stop for refreshments before lunch at a different bar. That beer was 1 liter!

Pre-lunch beverage at a street-side restaurant in Bellavista

Pre-lunch beverage at a street-side restaurant in Bellavista. it’s another liter of beer.

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Not for vegetarians, it is parrillada for lunch: 2 steaks, 2 pork chops, 2 pieces of chicken, 2 sausages, and 2 blood sausage, all on top of potatoes.

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Cold beer in the warm sun makes nice reflections – and adventurous eaters

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The advertisement for lunch. The conversion rate is just over $600 pesos to the dollar.

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A love rock at the top of San Cristobal.

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Great views of this gigantic city.

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There is always room for hilado!

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Street art.

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Our first geocache in Chile.

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Waiting for the funicular. It’s steeper than it looks.

 

The Virgin atop San Cristobal

The Virgin atop San Cristobal

Twelve Little Piggies

Our day today started just after 1:am when the disco music started. It was so loud we could feel it! We think it came from the bar in the basement of our hotel and we are on the 4th floor. FINALLY it ended at 3:40 am. After that unfortunate interruption, we slept until almost 11:30 am, and that shot our day.

We did however succeed in our planned excursion to Pomaire, just with little time to explore. It involved a Metro ride to Central Station in Santiago, then a big bus ride about an hour+ to Melipilla, which is the closest town to Pomaire. From there we realized that there is no bus service from the Melipilla bus station to Pomaire, and we took faith and walked two blocks away and waited at another local bus stop. We waited all of about 5 minutes and our bus arrived. The Spanish here is so very different, and understanding just about anyone is beyond most of us. But we made it!

A note about bus service: The bus transit from Santiago to just about anywhere is like Greyhound or nicer. Our round trip cost about $4.50 each. The local bus, well just use your imagination of small town transit outside the US. Cheap, but nothing close to nice. I can’t describe it really, as there are no equivalents in the US.

We had two goals in Pomaire – eat Pastel de choclo and get a few little clay pigs, chonchitos, for gifts. We succeeded! But given the adventure just to even arrive in Pomaire, we were worried about even getting back. Door to door it was at least 2 hours, and we were not sure our return bus tickets to Santiago were going to work. So after lunch, we browsed some shops, got our piggies and a couple of bowls, and explored for the local bus to get back. We did not have to wait long, and we managed to hop on and even find a seat. Lucky us! Our return from Melipilla to Santiago Central Station was a breeze logistically and an experience in iteself. Back on the Metro we had a 20 minute ride before our stop by the hotel. We arrived at our hotel just after dark.

The weather today was 55 and rainy! Such a big change from the last two days, but we all brought rain coats and it didn’t bother us at all.

Dinner tonight was at the hotel, which I had steak, David had a salad, Devlin had a pasta. Our insane dessert is pictured below.

Tomorrow we stay in the city and explore a few local sights on foot. The Metro is so great and easy.

One more observation: Pedestrians here have the right of way everywhere – to cars, bicycles, and other pedestrians! There is no give in someone’s path when they are walking. They are not rude, just determined to get where they are headed. It’s taking a bit getting used to, but crossing a busy street sure is easier. Safety in numbers!

Monday we depart for Mendoza, so tomorrow is it for Chile!

Waiting on the bus in Santiago to Melipilla.

Waiting on the bus in Santiago to Melipilla.

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Pottery in Pomaire

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More pottery! We picked up a couple of bowls and 12 little piggies (chonchitos – not pictured).

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Pastel de choclo – think shepard’s pie but with creamy corn on top and no mashed potatoes. Filling was beef, onions, raisins, and a chicken leg.

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The return bus from Melipilla. Nice transport for less than $4.50 round trip per person.

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Bus station in Melipilla. We took a local bus not far from here to Pomaire.

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Central Station, Santiago. It is the main hub for bus, train, and metro traffic. On a Saturday before Christmas, you could imagine the insanity!

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Chef’s choice for dessert at the hotel.

 

The Green Bicycle

We started the day with a walk to the closest Metro station – perhaps 20 minutes from our hotel. It’s beautiful and the walk was nice after a great night’s sleep.

Devlin’s Spanish was great as he helped us buy Metro cards (Bip!) and the machines would only take small bills, and of course we needed more pesos on the cards than we had small bills. So off to the counter he went to chat with a human. A few minutes later and we had our cards and were on the train.

I will say that Metro here is amazing – clean and easy to follow. There seems to be a train every couple of minutes. This system makes the Metro in Washington DC look like a dump. It was busy even at 10:am, but nothing intimidating.

Off to lunch in the Barrio (neighborhood) Lastarria. I had crab empanadas. Devlin ordered himself a grilled roast beef and cheese sandwich. David enjoyed grilled ham and cheese. Devlin says the lemonade was fantastic.

The big adventure was our bicycle tour of the city – art and politics. We arrived at the Green Bicycle tours for a 2:30 tour and were joined by 2 men from Brazil. The tour was in English, but the pre-tour chatter was in Spanish with Devlin and another tour guide. And funny enough, one of the Brazilians had just been in Portland for the International Beer Festival!

The tour was great. The cultural and history lessons were beneficial to say the least. Democracy here is so fresh. And with many not having money to spend on political campaigns, here they express themselves in graffiti.

I will say this, a bike tour, or riding any bike for that matter, in Santiago during evening rush hour is not for the faint of heart. Let’s just say that I am not sure I can describe the absolute insanity, volume of people, and masses of cars as a pedestrian, and we were on bikes. It might take me a day to recover from repeatedly being near panic! Our tour guide was sure to point out to Devlin that he can go home and tell his friends how “badass” he was riding a bike here.

We celebrated our survival with a walk up Santa Lucia Hill and a visit to Castle Hidalgo. The views of this massive city were impressive. And afterward we were more than ready to sit and relax at dinner.

Ah dinner. Ceviche for me, pasta for the men. Post dinner meant ice cream at a local helado shop. We had to wait out the Metro crowds (think sardines in moving vehicles) anyway, and the area was fun to explore.

We are debating tomorrow and our next steps. I want something with less adrenaline.

It was explained to us today that Chileans don’t speak Spanish, they speak Chilean! And so things like strawberries are not fresas but rather fruitilla (likely spelled wrong). Crab is not cangrejo but something now I can’t even remember. But we are getting by thanks to our 10-year old translator. And yes, the kid translator gets many smiles and extra patience from the locals!

Until tomorrow, enjoy a few pictures from today.

Crab empanadas for lunch

Crab empanadas for lunch

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The Green Bicycle – La Bicicleta Verde – our tour company

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Art from the roof of the GAM – Centro Cultural Gabriela Mistral

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Castle Hidalgo at Santa Lucia hill.

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View from the top of Santa Lucia. Santiago is a huge city.

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My ceviche dinner – Ceviche del norte – fish, shrimp, scallops

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Helado = ice cream

Two Birds

We have arrived safe and sound in Santiago, Chile after two uneventful airplane rides (the two birds). None of us managed to get much sleep, but we made it through today without any issues. But we are ready for bed!

Temps are in the low 80s and we spent much of the day outside trying to avoid sleeping the day away. We walked around Parque Arauco, a giant and beautiful park not far from our hotel. After a lunch (pizza, sorry!), we hit the pool deck to get re-acquainted with our books, and some of us may have had a quick nap in the shade.

As expected, we have run into no-one outside the hotel that speaks English, so Devlin is helping with some of the basics. We have a few things to figure out ASAP: 1) We have not found a functional ATM and 2) Buying produce is more complicated than bringing it to the checkout counter. And because we won’t be spending $30 USD each for breakfast at the hotel, we need to get some basics like bananas in the room so we are not starving in the morning.

We are still forming plans for tomorrow. I suspect we will tackle Metro and see some of the city on bicycle, hunt down some empanadas, and eat some helado (ice cream). We will try to get out of town on Saturday, and explore more parks and areas in town Sunday and Monday.

We didn’t take many photos today, but here are a few:

Check those ingredients - azucar!

Coca Cola de Chile – Check those ingredients – azucar!

At Parque Arauco

At Parque Arauco

Yes, the Chileans and Argentinians call their cuts of beef differently. See the cart and animal diagram for explanations.

Yes, the Chileans and Argentinians use different names for their cuts of beef . See the cart and animal diagram for explanations at the grocery store.

Unique and beautiful.

At Parque de Arauco – Unique and beautiful sculpture.

Globe Trekking

I have wanted for us to go beyond our borders, farther than our regular vacation spot in Mexico, and head to Europe (Spain), Central America, or South America, so we could explore the areas, experience different cultures (and food), and also have opportunities to practice Spanish.

After much discussion and debate, we decided that South America is next. At first, we settled on only visiting Argentina. But soon realized we could add in Santiago, Chile – but at the sacrifice of seeing Iguazu Falls – for a simpler first trip to the southern hemisphere. So our itinerary looks like this:

  • Santiago, Chile. We have 5 days here, including the day we arrive and the day we leave. My bullet list of things to see and do is long, and I’m sure we won’t pack it all in. But I have a strong desire to visit Pomaire for the pottery and empanadas. Friends have given us a few must see and must eats, and to me this is the most exciting part!
  • Mendoza, Argentina. There was much debate about how to get to Mendoza from Santiago. Mendoza is just over the Andes mountains from Santiago, there are frequent busses that are very reasonable in price, and the drive is beautiful. Check out the photos HERE. I can’t believe I passed this up. But it’s also 7-9 hours, depending on the lines at immigration. And with my motion sickness, I would have had to sleep through it all or be miserable. We decided to fly, which in essence gave us an extra day in Santiago to explore instead of riding on a bus. Mendoza is wine country, but also boasts olives and chocolate. We plan to relax in the many plazas and bike the countryside. If the stars align, we’ll do a gaucho tour (horseback ride) with asado (Argentine barbecue). We also spend Christmas in Mendoza.
  • Buenos Aires, Argentina. We get a full week here, including New Years Eve. The city of full of architectural domes, numerous parks and plazas, plus the Ricoleta Cemetery, the botanical gardens, and too many restaurants and ice cream shops to mention. I want to take a trip to Uruguay to escape the city craziness for a day as well as head up the Tigre River delta. And while we have never done a crazy New Year’s Eve celebration, I doubt that can be avoided in Buenos Aires.

What else do we do every time we travel? Geocache! It takes us to places we would never have visited otherwise. We have some light-weight goodies to share from the US and a few Love Rocks to leave in caches as well as at favorite parks or other places we want to share a smile.

Between work, school, and trip preparations, none of us lack of things to do. Nonetheless, we are getting excited and a bit nervous about this adventure. My mind is racing with questions like: What is Christmas like in the southern hemisphere where it’s summer for the holidays? Do I have enough books on my Kindle? Will we get fed on the airplane? What can we do our first day in Santiago when we are all sure to be exhausted from an overnight flight?

Next post – Santiago!