So I’m on the other end of the world in a beautiful country.  It sounds like a dream come true.  I’ve been here for two weeks now in a number of different cities and can honestly say that Chile is full of surprises.  I’ve got plenty to write about but for now I’m going to put up a couple of entries that I wrote earlier in my trip.  Also, I have a copious amount of photos that I’ve taken thus far and I’m not in the mood to pick and choose between them, so I’m just going to put them all up on Picasa Web Albums and you can feel free to peruse them.  I’ll just go ahead and admit that I’m a pretty weird photographer and I’m doing my best with a camera that’s the size of a deck of cards, but it’s a trusty little Canon that can go everywhere I go.  I like taking macro pictures as well as pictures of every beer that I drink here.  There are videos and some stitched panoramic photos mixed in as well.  I’ll try to put captions where they’re needed, although are about 1000 items already and it would take a while to caption every single pic.  Since this is my first time doing this, any feedback about what’s working and not working would be great.  Either way, here’s the first entry, albeit a couple weeks late.  It’s my arrival. 

Photos are here at Picasa Web Albums

 

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Sunday, January 25th, 2009

 

We arrived here in one piece this morning into Aeropuerto Comodoro Arturo Merino Benitez at around 9 AM Santiago time, or 6 AM Minnesotan time. Our flight was a 10 hour event once we left Atlanta from our connecting flight -most of the people on the plane were Chileans that had either come up for business or pleasure. However, we only had the confidence to speak with a few of our fellow passengers: two of these were fairly attractive college age students who were returning back to Santiago. Customs and immigration went by without a hitch as each member of my family ponied up the $131 reciprocity fee necessary to enter the country. We had a nice air conditioned ride from the airport to our small and cozy abode, the aptly named Chilhotel. It is a chill place indeed that consists of two desk workers and two maids. By now we know the desk workers quite well (Jose and Marcel) and they have been courteous and patient with us thus far.

Oddly enough, the small hotel has bought up one “departament ejecutivo” or executive apartment, across the street in a newly built high rise and this is where we are staying. Currently I am on the balcony of the 17th floor of our building enjoying the afternoon shade. The shade is, by the way, much appreciated because afternoons here in their summer are a bit steamy, although not overwhelming by any means. One does work up a sweat just walking throughout the avenues, but this was easily cured by a nice cold pint of Escudo beer, whose tag line is “Es Mas Cerveza.” We sat down and had lunch at a place called the Cabana which served up cheap and large portions. Ordering proved to be a bit interesting because I was the only one who could really understand the quick dialogue that the restaurant’s sole waitress engaged us in. Luckily, some of the reading that my brother and I had been doing on the plane about the cuisine of Chile came in handy. We were able to eat two of the dishes that we had read about: the first one is called Chorillana (cho-ree-a-na) and the second is Lomo a lo Pobre (Poor man’s steak). Each dish is about the same in terms of ingredients: grilled steak, two fried eggs, a heap of fried onions, and fries, but each was prepared a little differently with the Lomo a lo Pobre looking like it was really put together quite hastily. Both proved to be quite delicious and we all ended up having leftovers.

A couple of things about the city that I have noticed and been intrigued by: firstly is the mountains that surround the city. They are quite large and magnificent and always give the city a very natural and cozy feel. However, when I first looked out at them from my 170 foot high vantage point I could barely even tell they were there! You could not see the actual face of the mountain at all, but rather only the crest of the mountain and its contrast with the blue sky. This is because of the pollution smog / haze that is present in the city. Even more bizarre though is that in the same day by the afternoon time the smog has all but cleared out and the mountains are clearly visible in great detail. Besides the mountains there are also a large number of hills that protrude up both within the city limits and rigt around the edges. It really is reminiscent of the beautiful northern Californian hills that I am so fond of.

Another interesting site that I have seen so far is the building that is directly neighboring our Chilhotel: it was recently the site of what must have been a fairly large fire because its roof is entirely caved in and the top floor is clearly visible from above. One can see dozens of 10 foot long charred ceiling beams and hundreds of pounds of broken, blackened shingles. It really is magnificent and mystifying to look at. I’ll snap a couple of photographs so you all can see what it looks like.

Speaking of buildings and architecture, there is an obvious divide between the tourist accommodations and the houses of the locals, although there are not that many people that hold permanent residence in the directly downtown areas. On the same block I can see houses with flimsy and inadequate looking tin roofs contrasted with an 18 story apartment building with all of the modern fixings and comforts. This divide is most certainly a result of the recent and ongoing construction within the city; currently about 40% of the jobs to be found in Santiago are construction jobs (another bit of knowledge I took in from our friends at the hotel.)

The cityscape can easily be viewed from my vantage point because I am at the east end of the metropolis in an area called Providencia and facing west. This metro area seems to be never-ending, especially so during the night time from our apartment. It is a long strip of humanity that is lively yet seemingly under control. The residents can often be seen in smart clothes walking down the avenues on their way to trendy restaurants, of which there are many in our area. These restaurants range from Italian to Chinese to traditional Chilean food and back again. The European influence in Santiago is unmistakable and quite unique – there are German pastry shops and buildings that look like they’re straight from London. Random tongue twister: rubber baby buggy bumpers. Try that one five times.

Surprisingly there are not as many English speaking tourists as I would have expected. We only saw about 1 or 2 couples throughout the entire day of wandering about the city. In fact there are many more stray dogs than there are English speaking tourists; maybe that says something about a hierarchy that remains unspoken here in Santiago.

Even though I have only been here for but a day and have been surrounded by gringos I can feel that my Spanish skills are improving. The most difficult part of the whole language barrier is being able to understand the quick speech flow of native Chileans, especially those that are not in the business of customer service. The average Santiaguino eats consonants as if they were multivitamins. This leads to a dialect that is not only quickly spoken, but also incomplete sounding. I am quite confident, however, that I will become comfortable and fond of the language.

 

 

On the second day, a Monday, the city came alive and the streets were transformed from calm parkways into bustling avenues as the dozens and dozens small shops lining the streets lifted their metal clad gates and assured all that they were “open for business.” As you stroll down the sidewalk, along with the seemingly endless stream of humanity, you see store owners waiting in front of their shops swaying back on forth, heel – toe, heel – toe as customers either walk in, or do not.

We made it down into the center of the city to the administrative building of my college called Casa Central which is a European styled building with open air terraces, stone columns, bronze statues, and sun filled open squares. Surrounding the Casa Central are the biomedical, communications, and law libraries; some of the libraries are located directly underground and have massive skylights that are right at your feet as a passerby. Additionally, medical centers of all sorts encircle the area including multiple cancer research centers and hospitals staffed by attractive women in short doctor’s coats. Because we are here during the summer vacations there were not many students and imagining the squares filled with students all bustling and rustling to register for classes seemed more like a fantasy than a not-so-far-off reality.

Next, we had lunch on the cheap at a nearby restaurant that, like many of the establishments here, had merely 3 employees: one person greeting the customers, taking orders, and attracting business, another that manages all the money and drinks, and the final one which seems to cook all of the food using miracles as his main tool rather than traditional cooking utensils. While we ate, a stray dog took a snooze next to us and appeared corpse-like. My brother was disconcerted by this so my Dad decided that he would bravely eat his meal next to the slumbering German Shepard.

Now we were off to get a preview of my new abode – a 10 bedroom house that was purchased and fixed up by a student from New York and his Chilean wife. The house is part of a European style block long house and is on the corner of two small streets. There are mostly students living here during the school year from all different universities and colleges; however, in the summer time there are mostly working professionals that fill the rooms. As of now there are two Chileans and an American staying at the house and they work during the daytime. One of them is an industrial engineer that works in consulting down here. He told my mom that he would be willing to talk to me about engineering and maybe I will be able to see his office while I’ve got some free time.

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