Merry Christmas! Feliz Navidad!

We are less than an hour from midnight, our bellies are beyond full, and I suspect we will turn in shortly. It has been another good day, and time for a quick update:

Due to the holiday and lack of busses, we took a taxi to Maipú to Mr Hugo bicycles. This family-run business hooks you up with a bike and a map and then turn you loose to ride the wine country. Almost everything was closed but we did see some nice countryside, taste a little wine, and visit the most interesting ‘brewery’ we have been to.

Perfect weather made for great riding, despite the heavy auto traffic in some places. Our stop at Mevi winery was well timed as we discovered Devlin also had a flat tire! Mr Hugo quickly delivered another bike and we were on our way. While we waited, we made friends (not) with an owl family. Photo included!

On the way back, we detoured to a ‘brewery’ that was open, but all their taps were closed. So we had a bottle of Stella, which David now refers to as “Argentine Gatorade” and a Coke for Devlin. The 975 ml bottles of Stella are about $5, a bargain! Devlin took care of us again with all the ordering and payment. We had the place to ourselves! The gal running the place again complimented Devlin on his great Spanish. This is becoming a trend, which has been great to witness.

The taxi picked us up when we were finished at Mr Hugo’s, where we departed after some juice and hugs/kisses. Back at the hotel, we had naps, except Devlin, who is getting his fill of cartoons in Spanish. I managed to beat him in cribbage finally, but I suspect he will want a rematch tomorrow.

Dinner tonight was at the hotel grill. David may have eaten his weight in beef. The food was all great and in addition to the late hour we are suffering from food coma!

Tomorrow we assume most everything will be closed, so we will explore on foot. We leave Friday for Buenos Aires and are starting to make plans for our time there. We need more cash, so hopefully banks are open on Friday. Our flight is early evening, so Mendoza will see us a bit longer.

Merry Christmas!

Vino at Mevi winery

Vino at Mevi winery

This fall's vino ingredients

This fall’s vino ingredients

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Grapes and olives with Andes mountains in the background

 

Vino at Mevi

Vino at Mevi

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At a side road ‘brewery’ where all they had were large bottles of Stella, which David has lovingly re-named “Argentine Gatorade”

 

Mr Hugo bicycles. A legend in Maipú. Family run and a joy to be with.

Mr Hugo bicycles. A legend in Maipú. Family run and a joy to be with.

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My cribbage partner

 

One of many owls out in the daytime. These were nesting in the hollows at the base of olive trees

One of many owls out in the daytime. These were nesting in the hollows at the base of olive trees

 

 

Ciao?

We skipped our bike tour plans for today and rescheduled for tomorrow. Our immediate challenge today = cash

As I mentioned yesterday, use your credit card here and get a terrible exchange rate. Find a place to buy pesos with $USD and you get a huge difference in rate.

So after a long night (wine induced insomnia) we were off to find a cambio. We took a shot at an official bank. The line was long with locals and the posted exchange rate was 8.5 pesos per $USD. But what happened next was most intriguing.

David and Devlin went to the teller and said they wanted to buy some pesos with US Dollars. And they unofficially gave us 12.5 pesos per $USD. We traded crisp $100s and the machine at the teller station spit out wads of Argentine cash. It all seemed very legit, except our receipt was from a calculator machine. Again, win-win. And that was easier than expected.

We really did relax today, walked a lot, and ate our share of empanadas. Photos below. Temps were perfect, mid-80’s and very dry.

We are all in agreement that Mendoza is by far dirtier than Santiago. There is trash everywhere despite the presence of bins. The sidewalks are dirty and littered. The graffiti is destructive and not artfully expressive as we saw west of the mountains.

And it’s not that we are not enjoying the city, it’s just different. English I suspect is widely spoken, but if you try in Spanish they will continue without hesitation. It has been great for Devlin and he has used it proficiently throughout.

I have included a photo of an irrigation ditch as an example of what lines both sides of the streets here. The city is irrigated from Andes mountain runoff, and the trees are full and green, and provide much needed shade from the heat. Unfortunately I haven’t seen one yet that doesn’t have its share of litter. Too bad. The trees must not mind.

Another item to note is the population of Argentina in general. Of the approximately 40 million people here, there is a population of more than 26 million with Italian roots. This explains why folks here say “Ciao!” when you leave and not “Adios!”  The Italian population in Argentina is the second highest in the world outside of Italy. Only Brazil has more (by numbers but not percentage).

Tomorrow the busses run infrequently so we booked a taxi to take us to Maipú for a bike ride through some wine and olive countryside. We may tour a brewery and chocolate shop as well. I just want an escape from city environment, and we need more views of the area and amazing mountains.

Because everything is closed for the holiday tomorrow, and likely Thursday, we have dinner reservations for Christmas Eve here at the hotel. We are not sure what we will do on Christmas Day other than explore some great parks here on foot. San Martin Park is our must-do list for Thursday.

Happy Christmas Eve Eve!

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All the streets are lined with these irrigation ditches. The trees are big and very green.

 

Statue of San Martin

Statue of San Martin. He is like our George Washington.

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A plaque on another monument in one of the Plazas. We liked the shiny butt!

Empanadas from Ceibo. Each one was about $1.75 USD.

Empanadas from Ceibo. Each one was about $1.75 USD.

Because you can't have too many food pictures!

Because you can’t have too many food pictures!

 

In front of one of two fountains at Plaza Indepencia

In front of one of two fountains at Plaza Indepencia. Yes the water is pink!

Watch Your Step

With little drama, we have arrived in Argentina. LAN Airlines was organized and efficient, and for air travelers, a prize to be discovered. The boarding process was zero drama, very organized, and fast. Gone are the 5 different preferred ‘classes’ of passenger boarding. They had preferred status, people with disabilities and young children, and the rest of us. Stress free and simple. What a treat!

The flight was bumpy and made me wish I had taken a Dramamine. Devlin too felt ill. But you can see from the views why the air might be a bit bumpy. The flight was a short 45 minutes.

Argentina immigration was NOT prepared for an incoming flight. There was one single person to check in the entire flight of non-resident passengers. So, an hour+ later, we met our driver once our thumbprints and photos were taken.

Our hotel is right at Plaza Indepencia, and with some research you’ll find it’s the center of town. We have been here only long enough to unpack and find dinner. It’s a very large square, and daily they have a craft market.

As many of you may know, the Argentine Peso is in flux. The official exchange rate is ~$8,5 pesos per dollar. The “blue dollar” exchange rate is closer to $12.5 pesos per dollar. Use your credit card, you get $8 pesos per dollar. Pay in dollars and you can negotiate the rate. Go to a money exchange and inquire creatively, and get something closer to $13. Not exacly legal, but very much accepted practice. Exchange on the street, take a risk of counterfeit money. There is a happy medium here, and finding it may take some creativity.

City of Mendoza

City of Mendoza

So dinner – yes we had steak. Devlin had filet empanadas. David and I also had salad and a bottle of wine. Had we charged our credit card, dinner would have been close to $90. We paid in $USD and got dinner for $65 with tip ($12 pesos/USD). Wine was great. Steak was great. We left happy all the way around, We paid less, and the restaurant gets a good exchange rate tomorrow. Win-win.

Our first of what is sure to be many Malbec wines

Our first of what is sure to be many Malbec wines

Mendoza is a city just on the east side of the Andes mountains from Santiago. It is a beautiful city, irrigated by a system designed by the natives in the 1500s. The streets are lined with giant trees, and there are stone ditches that carry running water throughout. Our driver warned us that too much wine and we should watch our step, else we fall in the ditches. The water flows year-round from the mountains and is used for drinking and irrigation. As you could imagine in a city, the ditches do not have pristine water, but nothing is smelly. Oh and the city gets about 10 inches of rain per year. We are in the desert here, warm temps and low humidity.

I will say that the Spanish we hear here sounds very familiar and  is more of what we are used to. Devlin only spoke Spanish to our waitress tonight and she was most impressed. She asked him where he learned his Spanish and made a point to tell us how good his Spanish and his accent was. I was not prepared for such a difference, but this almost feels comfortable.

Not many photos today as we spend much of the day in airports, despite the very short flight. Immigration and international travel makes for longer trips. Next time we may take the bus (7-9 hrs).

Tomorrow we hope to bike through some wine country with the famous Mr. Hugo bike company. I have this urge to escape the city and see some countryside. The Andes are right here – think Denver – Mountains on one side, and plains on the other. Mendoza is tucked into the base of the impressive mountains. The snowmelt irrigates the vineyards and olives during the summer.

We have Christmas Eve dinner reserved at the hotel. And I figure we will explore the city while everyone is on holiday on Christmas Eve and Christmas day. There must be geocaches to find!

A few last thoughts:

Our bellman in Santiago was fantastic, and knew that Portland was all about keeping “things weird” which was just fun and impressive. His explanations of Spanish in Chile was spot on and also said that as a translator, he speaks English to his children at home. His appreciation for languages was impressive, and we enjoyed our chats with him very much. He very much wanted feedback on his country from our perspective. Chile was great.

Chile, and Santiago in general, was great with their fantastic transit system and no-BS pedestrians. It was easy to explore, and never once did we feel unsafe or insecure. The Portland MAX is scary by comparison. The Metro in Santiago is top notch, fast, clean, and inexpensive. A gem for those of us wanting to explore and avoid taxi scams.

Our current hotel room has a toilet and a bidet. Devlin has already managed to spray the ceiling with the bidet stream. And, as you could imagine, the YouTube videos of how to use a bidet have commenced! Bottoms Up!

Until tomorrow…

 

Christmas tree at our hotel

Christmas tree at our hotel

View from our airplane seats - Andes Mountains

View from our airplane seats – Andes Mountains

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.