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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Who is San Martin?

Christmas morning had Devlin up and searching the room for evidence of Santa’s arrival. Luckily Santa left a card by the door with some Argentine Pesos, and a note that there is something back home for him. Ah to be 10 and still believing!

Who is San Martin? He was a very important man in Argentine and Chilean history. Born in Argentina, his father was a general in the Spanish army. San Martin was educated in Spain and after taking part in the Peninsular War against France he offered his services to lead battles in southern South America’s (now Argentina, Chile, and Peru) fight for independence. He was instrumental in key battles for securing independence for these three countries. As explained by our driver, he is like our George Washington.

Subsequently, there are schools, parks, and streets named after General San Martin everywhere you look.

Parque San Martin (San Martin Park) is on the west side of Mendoza, and expanses 971 acres. The park has been planted with more than 50,000 trees of hundreds of varieties. This helps not only improve air quality but also helps reduce flooding. It is one of the most important urban greenspaces in Argentina for it’s proximity to the city and size. It is also public (free). This park is a popular gathering place for the locals, as proven today. Thousands convened in the park to play soccer, eat, and nap under the large trees. One tree in particular caught our eye because of it’s beautiful bark (see below). Mendoza really is desert, but the abundance of water makes things so green and shaded, an afternoon outside is not uncomfortable at all.

We walked throughout maybe a third of this park today before running out of steam and needing food. Someone turned up the thermostat here too, and it was 93 by mid-afternoon. We probably walked 8 miles, and my brain was craving something cold and sweet. So the local gelato shop was the perfect end to our walk before a siesta in our room.

We were a little concerned about availability of dinner given the holiday, but there were a lot of people out and a few places open, so we dined at an Italian restaurant – Devlin had pizza and David and I had steak. Our waiter was probably in his late 60’s and he and Devlin had a great conversation about the local mountains, where the tourists come from, and that an American boy at age of nine climbed Aconcauga, the highest mountain outside of Asia. Devlin is on a 4-day streak of locals complimenting his Spanish and more questions of where he is learning it. I don’t think I will get tired of hearing this. The people here have been very friendly, especially to young boys speaking Spanish, and it has been very much enjoyable.

The people here really do eat late compared to the USA. Tonight we arrived for dinner closer to 9:pm and when we left the restaurant and sidewalk tables were packed, with long lines waiting for tables. Last night we had 8:00 Christmas Eve dinner reservations and we got seated closer to 8:30 and were the first people to arrive. When we finished at closer to 11:pm is when things really started to pick up. Two nights ago when we went out for empanadas, the sign said the restaurant opened at 7, so we figured 8:30 was safe, and we were the first to arrive for dinner and the only people there for at least 30 minutes. The guy standing outside actually had to unlock the door for us! It is an odd feeling, but the later dinners are something we are getting used to.

Tomorrow eve we are off to Buenos Aires. The humidity will be a change from the hot and dry here. We’ll be ready for the last leg of our trip.

Not many photos today:

Bife de Chorizo = steak for David

Bife de Chorizo = steak for David. Yes that is Argentine Gatorade in the background.

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This is tree bark! Beautiful! The tree has leaves like a maple and gives much appreciated shade.

 

Fountain at Parque San Martin

Fountain at Parque San Martin

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Another trail. Each seems to lined with different tree species.

 

One of the many trails we walked today. This one lined with palm trees.

One of the many trails we walked today. This one lined with palm trees.

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