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. ūüôā

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.


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.


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


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


A love rock at the top of San Cristobal.


Great views of this gigantic city.


There is always room for hilado!


Street art.


Our first geocache in Chile.


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.


Pottery in Pomaire


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


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.


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


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


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


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


The Green Bicycle – La Bicicleta Verde – our tour company


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


Castle Hidalgo at Santa Lucia hill.


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


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


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 Рbut at the sacrifice of seeing Iguazu Falls Рfor 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!

What’s Your End Goal?

We left our Spanish immersion school last spring. And we soon entered a world of online school that we have since combined with homeschool group activities and Spanish tutoring. And while we love most of this new routine and what it has offered our family, there is no formal Spanish component.

Tutoring is expensive. But continuing this journey¬†of learning a second language (after four years!) is a must. And because our son is not¬†using his¬†second language on a daily basis (the absolute lack of any quality online instruction is a topic for another post!), I am watching his skills slip away. I am plagued¬†with feelings of desperation and helplessness with the absolute lack of options out there. And while¬†I can have our son read books and watch movies in Spanish, I can’t grade papers, help with grammar, or speak with him in Spanish. And at $45 per hour, the tutoring is limited to an hour a week. And we can’t do everything in an hour, so I was presented with two options when¬†asked recently by his tutor, “What’s your end goal?”:

  1. Focus on conversation, conversation, and more conversation, or
  2. Focus on grammar, reading, and writing (like a language arts course).

So РWhat is our end goal?

Do I want him to be a proficient conversationalist in Spanish? Yes! Do I want him to use correct grammar, write well, and be ready for a (someday) Spanish literature or AP Spanish class? Yes!

And this got me thinking about an even more important question: What is my end goal as a parent?

I think as parents we can fret over too many little details: What sports do we¬†let them play? Should we put limits on extracurriculars? Do we¬†let them try every activity they want to at the expense of family time, vacations, and household harmony? What about cub scouts, 4-H, swimming, chess club, football, track, cross country, martial arts, music lessons, band, or <gasp> free time… All these have amazing benefits for kids. And what about all those optional academic classes – Kumon, Saturday Academy.

As parents, what is our end goal?

With our changes in academic environment last spring came some serious soul searching. But what was important to our family was never more clear:

We want a happy, caring, responsible, hard working, empathetic young man with an eye and heart for others around the world.

And with all the stress and fretting we do over our kids and how they spend their time, I wonder how much of it really matters? In our collective goals of raising young men and women who are ready to tackle the world with their optimism, passion, and endless young energy, are we missing the beauty of their childhood (the forest) through our own internal struggles (the trees)?

Of course, as parents want¬†our children to be the best, the fastest, the smartest, the strongest, the most popular, ¬†but let’s also not lose sight of this: They are in the middle of the only childhood they will ever have. Let’s make sure they get to enjoy it.

And as for me, I am still figuring out what our second language goals are in the immediate term. But our long term goals have not changed. And as long as we don’t lose sight of those, I think we’ll be in¬†good shape.

The chatter about dialects!

I recently read this article from the Washington Post, and it got me thinking (again) about dialects. Over these past few years, I have been forced to engage is less than entertaining dialogue with other parents about the “right” Spanish. Or, more accurately, that some people speak it “wrong” or “lazy” because the only “real Spanish” is Castilian.

Let’s step back a bit and have a history and geography refresher¬†about the settlement of the Americas.

Christopher Columbus, an Italian but sailing under contract with the Spanish government, purportedly ‘discovered’ America with his ships loaded with Spaniards. Who were these Spaniards? Many if not all were from Andalusia (southern Spain). They worked the ports and were experienced seamen. Most had¬†nothing to lose and a lot of maravadis (their currency at the time) to gain, so they joined Columbus and his crew on their adventures to find a new route to the West Indies.

Why does this matter?

Because Andalusian Spanish is different than Castilian Spanish. Southern Spain pronunciation of words omits the ending “r,” “d,” and “s” sounds, and may even drop the final consonant altogether. Of course, this Spanish is most similar to Caribbean Spanish, because it reflects the language of the original explorers from Europe who elected not to return. Go figure! And let’s not even go into the social and class stereotypes¬†– port workers were lower class and generally less educated than those in Madrid with all the money making decisions. That’s another post entirely.

Are we to tell our fellow Americans in¬†Boston that they are lazy because they drop the “r” sound and pronounce “car” as “cah”? What about our friends¬†who drop “ing” (goin’ fishin’)? A¬†small flowing stream of water is a “creek” in some areas, and pronounced “crick” in others, depending on where you live. Is one more correct than the other?

Fact is, even with different pronunciations, our English variations¬†still have the same spelling and the same written language rules. So yes, dear friends, our Bostonian friends¬†still spell car as c-a-r, not c-a-h! In Montana, you pronounce creek as crick, but you spell it c-r-e-e-k. And yes, children learn that the “ee” is pronounced with a long e sound, not a short i sound. Yet, somehow they know that the stream from which their horses and cattle drink is pronounced “crick” and spelled c-r-e-e-k. Some of our Spanish speaking friends may drop the final “s” sound from “ingl√©s”¬†but it does not make them lazy. Children learn to spell it the same way.

In the end, the story of how words are pronounced across the globe has¬†a full and complicated tale. Our ears can tell us a lot about other people and where they are from. Our spoken language is a tribute to our own personal history. It’s a wonderful blend of culture,¬†geography, and history. Embrace it, dear friends, don’t judge it.

What this mama is learning

I’m having loads of fun watching this second language develop with our son. And I’ll admit, I’m having just as much fun watching his friends and classmates do their thing too. Things are different this year – homework has been met without argument but other things have become more of a chore. Lessons for mom, I guess. These kids keep us on our toes. Here are random thoughts from me, in no particular order:

  • Listening to my son and his friends sing songs in Spanish brings me to tears. Feliz Navidad is a guarantee. I’m a little surprised at myself over this.
  • Listening to my son and his friends speak Spanish to their teacher makes me smile big. Think Cheshire Cat smiles here, folks.
  • Reading in Spanish at home is met with resistance.
  • Watching ANYTHING on TV in Spanish is met with even more resistance.
  • Listening to Spanish music is always met with a smile. I’ll take it.
  • I figure, reading Spanish at home will come with time. Maybe it’s like eating vegetables, one of these days he’s going to love it.
  • I need to find Spanish poetry books for kids.
  • If I ask him about a book he just read in Spanish, the answer is often, “I don’t know” if I ask, “what was this page about?” If I ask him to give me a summary of the entire story, he will happily oblige. He starts off in English but oddly enough, he switches to Spanish after a sentence or two. Maybe this isn’t odd. I smile and nod, because I would never let on that I don’t really know what he just said. If I give him a list of questions in Spanish about his Spanish story, he’ll answer them. If I give him a list of questions in English about his Spanish story, he gets frustrated. Why would I do this? I’m not trying to be mean, but I am intrigued. ūüėČ
  • Immediately after school, I’m greeted by “hola” and all kinds of Spanish goodness. Of course, it ends when I speak to him, because I’m asking him something in English. It’s like there is a Spanish/English switch. Now I’m willing to bet that if I actually spoke Spanish, he’d keep with his Spanish conversation.
  • Someone asked him the other day, “Tell me something in Spanish!” ¬†I thought to myself, there is no way he will be up for this sort of party trick. But, sure enough, he rattled off a few sentences about going to a different classroom for math, but learning Spanish, science, and social studies with his Maestra Rosa.
  • Small praises and acknowledgements of his efforts in trying to speak more Spanish in the classroom go a long way.
  • Oral presentations in elementary school? Yes. Oral presentations in Spanish? Yes. I wish I started doing public speaking at the age of 7!

Frankly, I’m a happy camper. It is so rewarding to witness his growth and budding confidence. The appreciation I have for those who teach him every day is grand. He loves them too. What a gift. Blessed we are.

Merry Christmas!

Interview with Multilingual Mania

Part of the reason I started this blog is because I really couldn’t find much information online for parents doing what we are doing – monolingual parents looking to raise a bilingual child. I searched high and low for blogs, websites, support groups, etc. and just didn’t find much out there with the details I wanted. So I started this blog to document our highs and lows so others could read and learn from our experiences. I think in the end I learned that it’s way more stressful on the parents than it is on our kids!

One site that I found that was so helpful was Multilingual Mania. What a wealth of information! I browsed the old articles on successful dual immersion programs, looked at pictures of classrooms, and I even got brave enough to ask some questions. And yet again the online community did not disappoint! From the time I discovered it, I have been a loyal reader of this blog and am so thankful for all that I have learned.

So a year+ into my blogging and I’ve been given the opportunity to contribute to Multilingual Mania – this time in an interview as a parent. The series is called Parent-to-Parent – a weekly interview series of parents who are raising bilingual children. Every Monday, the¬†Parent to Parent¬†interview series will feature one parent each week who will share their personal experiences, tips, and resources for raising bilingual children.

So here it is, my interview on Multilingual Mania! Got more questions? Ask me!

Back in the swing of things

Our first week of second grade went by in a flash. We have the same issues as last year (after school hunger, some whining, and today even on the edge of tears), but I think I’m heading off the mid-morning crash by shoveling lots of food at him for breakfast. And for snack, he’s had something he calls ‘nut squares’ thanks to his Papa. He thinks it’s a crunchy, sweet snack. I know it is mid-morning protein. We all win.

Thursday he came home with his entire lunch – except for the milk and cookies – uneaten. So today, no dessert, and lunch was eaten in entirety. I agreed we could try for dessert again on Monday.

As for the second language, he’s already singing new songs, along with a familiar one from last year. He says he doesn’t understand everything that is being said, but knows that it’s OK, and he’s not bothered. Also he claims that he’s answering his maestra in Spanish more and more. These things happen with time. I am patient. And he does like her (a lot), and I know that alone will grow his confidence.

Again, we are thrilled to be here, walking down this road of unknown (to us). There are many families with us though, and we’re holding hands as we travel together. The kids will have some amazing things to share along the way. And I know I’m making some amazing friends too.