5 Things I Didn’t Know About High-Altitude Living

A little over two months into Cusco, I can say with certainty that life at 11,200 feet comes with its own set of peculiarities. This isn’t the highest up we’ve ever been – Jorge and I had the pleasure of visiting Potosi, Bolivia once, the highest inhabited city in the world at 13,400 feet. But that was just for a couple days, and we were happy to get out of there and to lower climes. Here are some of the biggest lessons I’ve learned at 11,000 feet:

1.) Cooking is a different experience. Have you guys ever noticed the separate cooking instructions for high-altitude locations on every box of pasta in history? I used to, and never thought much of it. I remember inquiring about this – why would the instructions differ at a higher elevation? – and was provided with the accurate scientific response that I have long since forgotten. (Doesn’t it all just boil down to ATOMS?) I conveniently forgot about this as Jorge and I settled into Cusco. The first several occasions we cooked pasta or rice, we spent an inordinate amount of time checking and re-checking the food. Why was it still so HARD? Hasn’t it been 7-9 minutes? Really it’s been almost 15 minutes…How can it not be ready yet? Oh yeah. HIGH-ALTITUDE.

See that arrow? It means something. 

2.) Hangovers reach a new level of raunchy. There must be some scientific explanation for this – dehydration occurs faster where there’s less oxygen because red blood cells need 1.5% of something and up here there’s only 0.1% and then oh yeah, MAGIC. Whatever the reason, I’m ashamed to admit that I once had a hangover once until 4PM after 3 (THREE) glasses of wine throughout the course of a very laid back—and LENGTHY–evening with friends. And it’s not because I’m almost thirty (even if it was strictly due to my age, it would still be an EMBARASSMENT). Be careful folks. Alcohol up here takes a different toll on the body. And you know why? It’s because of HIGH ALTITUDE.

3.) Moving around is more difficult. If your body is one of those randomly selected organisms that will be sensitive to high-altitude issues, surprise! Most things will suck. Unfortunately this has nothing to do with physical fitness, it’s just pure luck (or unluckiness). Visiting Potosi was by far the WORST – I got out of breath just brushing my teeth. In Cusco it’s not nearly as bad, especially since we’ve had ample time to acclimate, but a few aspects still stick out. If you’ll all remember, I used to live in Valparaiso which had comically steep streets that seemed, oftentimes, like a joke. Who would actually build a city so vertical, a city where most neighborhoods relied on ascensores just to get their groceries home? Well, Cusco has its fair share of inclines and hills, but it’s got nothing on Valpo. Which makes me feel particularly bad when I find myself out of breath here in Cusco after traversing a very minimal incline. And yes, that incline would be the equivalent of walking downhill in Valpo, but here? Steals your breath a little. Makes you feel pretty ridiculous until you remember OH YEAH…HIGH ALTITUDE.

4.) Thunderstorms aren’t just thunderstorms anymore. They are a full-body experience that gets you right into the middle of the storm cell, WITH NO FORGIVENESS. Plus, being this high up, you get the added benefit of strange snow-hail storms. In the middle of summer. Because it’s HIGH ALTITUDE!

5.) It’s pretty much always cold. I’ll go more into my geographic/weather pattern duncery in another post, but this high up, the extremes are more extreme. If the sun does come out in the middle of the day (which doesn’t always happen, not even in ‘summer’), it will be very hot, and you WILL get burnt. But then at night, you will need five blankets and a pair of alpaca booties and MAYBE THEN the only frozen item on your body will be your nose. For god’s sake, the alpacas here wear goggles and sometimes actual CLOTHING. That’s gotta tell you something…something like HIGH ALTITUDE!

Hey, Mr. Alpaca…can we borrow some of that fluff? Maybe for some traditional hats and sweaters?

There have been some other strange things going on around here too, though I can’t be sure if they’re related to the elevation or not. Either way, it seems safe to blame it on the altitude.

Is your boyfriend shedding chest hair at an unprecedented rate? Probably the altitude.  Does your tap water come out feeling like the literal refuse of a glacier? Might be the high altitude. Are people eating oven-roasted hamsters as a delicacy? Could also be the altitude. Are you suffering from painfully glorious mountain views nearly every moment of the day? The altitude may very well be the culprit. Have you recently scaled a mountain to reach a city that ancient people thought was a great idea to stick all the way up there? Now that one is DEFINITELY the altitude!

(Editor’s Note: I began writing this post when the sun was out in full force and I thought I might be able to take a trip to the market in my tank top, to get a little tanning in. It is now snow-hailing, and some of it is coming through our skylights, where it sits melting on our floor. A little message from the gods. High Altitude!)

Advertisements

Ex-Pat Re-Cap

Happy Thanksgiving, America! In preparation for my own ex-pat Thanksgiving here in Cusco, I began thinking about holidays spent on the road, and then I began to think about all the different quirky lessons I’ve learned along the way too. Here’s a rundown of some lessons I’ve learned throughout the years abroad.
Your Neighbors Will Always Be There. ‘Getting to know the neighbors’ – whether by name or simply by listening to their habits through your walls – is always part and parcel of living in a new place. And in my travels, I’ve experienced a lot of neighbors: docile, grandmother Luz in Puerto Varas, whose days were a well-oiled machine (and don’t you dare try to sit in her spot at lunch); fun ex-pat Paul in Valparaiso who lived above our house and never complained about the heinous amounts of noise we made during asados, wine clubs, parties and more; the innocuous roommates in Lima who I almost never saw but could always hear them urinating; the boy who lives somewhere in the downstairs vicinity of my current apartment complex and shouts, constantly and repetitiously; and our landlord who lives next to us, and every time she comes home and opens her door, it sounds like she’s breaking into our apartment, because the sound buffer is thatnon-existent. Daily, chest-tightening panic for a second until we realize Oh, it’s just Ada coming home, not a strange person trying to insert a key into our front door.
 
Looking down the line at the various apartments in our complex. 
Classic American recipes, especially around Thanksgiving and Christmas times, can mostly be reproduced abroad. Sometimes tweaks are needed, other times not. And sometimes you just have to be hyper-vigilant around an oven with no indicator of whether it’s scorching or lightly caressing your baked good. But it always comes out delicious. And the journey to attempting to recreate it is an adventure all its own, from hunting down specific ingredients that might not necessarily be local, to acquiring the proper cookware, to obtaining a stove if you don’t currently have one (cough cough, CUSCO). There’s pretty much always a way, if one is determined enough and uses enough holiday whiles.
Holidays without family aren’t bad, just different. Prior to moving abroad, one of the aspects that made me recoil was the idea of missing holidays — and potentially a lot of them. I’ll admit, the first Christmas away from home was very strange and a little sad, though tempered by the fact that I had Leslie and Amanda with me, and we spent it in an American-style guest house. My second Christmas abroad was totally unique to the first one abroad, and to every Christmas spent prior. What I’ve realized is that it’s about creating that energy of the holiday, no matter where you are. And it CAN be done, and usually very successfully. Especially if you involve Christmas cut-out cookies with various incarnations of inappropriate shapes. Though, as I’m nearing my third year without family on all major holidays except for July 4th, I’m VERY ready to get home next year and spend some holiday time with my BLOOD. There’s something inexplicably fulfilling about spending Thanksgiving in the crisp November fall time, and the Christmas bustle amidst the snow-covered Ohio backdrop.
Peru wins in the Pisco battle. Sorry, Chile.
Though I am living in tourist destinations, I cannot be like the tourists. Even though I desperately want to schedule all manner of buses and flights to surrounding environs to hit the spots along the tourist trail, I cannot. I am a slow traveler, and this means that I must squelch the urges to dine out frequently, visit tons of bars with the gringo gang, or hit up that last-minute tour to wherever. My budget is not a backpacking one, or rather, one who has saved for a long time to be able to splurge for a short time. I have a regular person’s budget, as I am a regular person who just happens to live abroad. And other people I meet on the road sometimes forget this. Simply being in the same country as tourism seems to imply to some that I am living an action-packed, dollar-fueled adventure. I am not. In fact, I have several jobs and am working most of the time. Most of my friends and family couldn’t just up and take a trip across the USA tomorrow, and neither could I. I have to plan my trips and movement just like everybody else.
Living in a colonial city is really inspiring, pretty much all the time. Sometimes to where I can’t stand it.
San Blas neighborhood (Cusco) at night.
Technology makes the distance WAY more bearable. As in, I sometimes don’t even notice the sheer thousands of miles between me and my loved ones, because we manage to stay in such frequent contact. It’s similar to living in a different city in the same state. Minus the random Sunday meet-ups (because THAT would still involve a day’s worth of travel across hemispheres and international frontiers).
Creative workarounds make the difference. It helps that my boyfriend is a master of coaxing use out of random, disparate household objects. It means we don’t have to fret if we don’t have something, and has allowed me to expand my problem-solving skills in general. Notable examples: constructing a dustpan out of a wine bottle and cardboard. Figuring out how to re-heat food without a microwave, or warm tortillas without…whatever you might normally use to warm tortillas. Unplugging a hopelessly stopped sink with an incense stick (didn’t have to call the plumber on that one!). Using a sewing needle to make a hook to attach to thread to rescue a pair of boxers that had fallen to the patio a story below our window. In lieu of a potato masher, using the rough bottom of a drinking glass. And the more recent controversial coffee-making method utilizing leggings. And on, and on.
I speak like an Argentinian now. During my most recent visit to the USA (September-October), I remember recording a message to send to Jorge via Whatsapp. For some reason, I listened to it after I had sent it, something I don’t normally do, and was horrified by the blatant and excessive Argentinian accent. Yet, when I had recorded the message, I certainly hadn’t remembered talking like that. Could it be that almost two years with an Argentinian has finally, and irreversibly, tainted my Spanish? It must be — because the other day, I used the word vos with Jorge, something I swore to never do. OOPS!

Lima Living and Lima Leaving

Jorge and I arrived in Lima on July 15th, 2014. The idea was to ‘give it a whirl’ — find a trendy neighborhood (Barranco), establish ourselves in a new home (the Temporary Shoebox), Jorge finds a job at a salon (or five), and Shannon finishes a novel (done).

Four months later, we’re still in Lima. We’ve given it the general consensus whirl (which, in backpacker world, is roughly 3 months of living in a place) and the verdict is in: TIME TO MOVE ON.

Don’t get me wrong: Lima is a really cool city. Barranco is one of my favorite big city neighborhoods in perhaps all of Latin America. There are trendy boutiques, there are jaw-droppingly gorgeous gardens, there is NATURE, there is a sparkling coastline, there are varied and exciting restaurant options. Who wouldn’t want to live here??

View from walking around Barranco.

A sunset we caught on Sunday. Spring means less cloudy days,
which means we can finally see actual sunsets!


Well, we don’t. Lima is just too damn big. Jorge has it worse than I do — he has to commute almost two hours each day to reach his job that is just in the next neighborhood over (Miraflores). Let me repeat that — almost two hours each day to reach a “really close job”. Jorge has some particular horror stories of having to go to any other part of Lima for work courses or other tasks, and it taking up to two hours one way sometimes to get to a place.

Forget about getting anywhere quickly. Forget ‘just wandering over to a friend’s house’ in Lima — if they live anywhere other than your same neighborhood, you’re looking at a minimum 45 minute taxi ride.

Rush Hour traffic in Lima. 

Maybe for some people this is normal, or just an expected part of the landscape. But for us, it’s taxing. It’s time-consuming. It’s draining.

Lima, we’ve had some good times here, and we’ve enjoyed our time in the tiny shoebox. But overall, Jorge and I are very ready to move on. We’re ready for more community-based living, like we had in Valparaiso. We’re ready for a house that isn’t pure white walls, cement floors and sputtering hose sinks; I’m particularly ready for an oven again. There are a number of CASSEROLES I’d like to make. I’m ready for some soil, a view, less traffic-clogged and chaotic street experiences.

The perfect city is more than just having access to things you like. I thought Barranco would be perfect because it seemed the ideal blend of big city and unique neighborhood. But just as important for me, I’ve learned, is the ease of moving about, accessibility of community, and whether or not it takes a Bachelor’s degree to understand the goddamn bus system.

So here’s the news: We’re moving to Cuzco in a week!! I’m very excited for this next chapter of Life in Peru, and I think the Sacred Valley will have plenty of surprises and experiences for us when we arrive in November.

Chau, Lima, and thanks for all the ceviche! Onward to Cuzco!

A Treatise on Temporary Spaces

My partner and I have a pretty non-traditional lifestyle at the moment, as most of you are aware. In our passive vagabonding, the plan is to be transients in each new locale. Conceptually speaking, we aren’t planting roots anywhere.

What this literally means is I can’t plant flowers, or vegetables, or buy appliances, or get a rug for this hideous floor.

And this adaptation to the actual temporary nature of each place is a bit hard.

Jorge and me, we’re nesters. Maybe me more than him. Though we’re travelers, we like to make each little space our own. And we like to be comfortable.

Most Latin American countries are really well-equipped for people like us. There has always been a very large population of travelers, long stay-ers, students, and visiting artists. So there is no shortage of completely outfitted apartments for rent on a short-term basis, or even just bedrooms available in a shared house.

We saw many of these in Lima, prior to selecting our shoe box. In Valparaiso and even Puerto Varas, it was the same. A wide variety of furnished and unfurnished complete apartments and single rooms. Some owners are lenient about who they let live there. Others demand proper visas and a long-term commitment. But there’s always someone out there who will work with you, depending on what you’re doing.

This is how it normally goes…signs posted informally in the street.
“I rent rooms.” This was taken in Valpo during my first apartment hunt.

Jorge and I lucked out here in Lima. Our apartment is sort of like, the after-thought attic of this family’s apartment. They have a sprawling place, really — as big as a regular one-story house — with an upstairs patio and bathroom. They added on to this with three individual mini-apartments I.E. shoe boxes.

Ours is one of these. On a quiet night, you can hear the neighbor peeing.

But the owners are awesome — they agreed to a 3-month lease, no problem, can extend for longer if we want, moderate price, super safe neighborhood, and two blocks from the ocean. Fine.

They have two youngish daughters, and the whole family is really laidback and approachable. Their 12 year old daughter is fascinated by me, and always volunteers to be the message bearer when the owners want to call our attention. All huge pluses for landlordship.

But our mini?

Our mini is a brand new venture on their part. And as more time wears on, it feels more and more like Tom Hanks in The Money Pit.

Though nobody has fallen through any holes in the floor, we find new and baffling issues on a regular basis. I think it started with the lack of a kitchen and just snowballed from there.

Since that time, we’ve found and dealt with a leaking sink, which in turn saturated 24 rolls of toilet paper that were in the cabinet beneath the sink. (“Dealing with it”, in this case, is no longer using the cabinet, which comprises like, 40% of the storage space in our kitchen.)

A nice view for the drying toilet paper…before it sees our butts, anyway.

Then we had the Great Shower Debacle, which was that every time you took a shower, the bathroom turned into a tiny pool, due to the location of the shower head. They fixed that after about 3 weeks. Thank god, because every shower required a 15-minute clean-up session immediately afterward.

The sink in the kitchen, for some reason, still refuses to function without splashing everything in a five foot vicinity, even though the landlord put on this sexy hose meant to curb exactly that.

It’s like an elephant snout that constantly sneezes.
Please note the perpetually moist wall beyond. 

My desk, which is a plank of wood somehow attached to the wall, is now falling out of the wall, which makes me afraid to leave my laptop on it or, you know, touch it.

The landlords, at the beginning of our stay, exchanged the double bed for a queen size bed, and in doing so provided us with a new bed frame. It was brand new, recently stained wood. We were really grateful, but it to this day still smells like a combination of farm and wet dog.

The water in Lima is…strange. We don’t drink it — there’s plenty of bottled water, so no worries about the intestinal infections, family — but it smells. Some days worse than others. I know on the grand scale it’s better than some areas, and I shouldn’t complain. But it was another blip on the radar as we adjusted to life in Lima.

And just a personal note: White tiled floors anywhere (be it bathroom, like here in Lima, or in my old kitchen in Valparaiso) is always a bad idea. Add a very hairy Argentinian partner to the mix and it’s just a never-ending sweeping struggle.

That said, we love our little shoebox, and love that we have a temporary home that is safe and serves all of our needs (those that don’t include baking, that is).

And it will do just fine until we hop to the next temporary space, which I’m sure will bring it’s own set of fascinating and baffling intricacies…which I will then immortalize forever in my blog.

The Greatest Tastes from the Smallest of Spaces

Jorge and I live in a mini-apartment.

We have a camping stove — two burners. Count ’em. Two. Plus a makeshift sink/counter area, a half-fridge (like the ones people keep in their kid’s room, or rec rooms? Yeah. That’s our tiny box of heaven), and a plank of wood they attached to the wall that can serve as a dining room table/plank, or be lowered for ‘more room’.

Proof of camper burners.

Because, you know, this is a really mini apartment.

I think that this chapter is yet another test of Jorge’s and my relationship. We went from Insta-Routine (living together two weeks into the relationship) to Long-Term Living in Valparaiso to Uprooting Everything to Backpacking Together (almost 2.5 months on the road) to Settling in a New City. All the most infamous stressors to a relationship (difficulties of routine; moving to a new city; traveling together; language barriers) we have faced.

Yet somehow, we seek more stressors. In the settling process, we have approximately 5 square feet to ourselves should we choose not to live inside the butt of the other.

God forbid we get into a fight, because the hanging crinkle door doesn’t slam well. Plus, our neighbors will hear everything and that’s embarrassing.

All that aside, we’ve been managing well. It makes me think of those Eco-Friendly Houses, where people essentially move into a shoebox to save energy and reduce the amount of crap they own. We’re just doing it in Lima. I mean, hey, there’s energy-saving lightbulbs here. Sorta counts.

Despite the lack of space and proper kitchen, Jorge and I have been conjuring some really freaking tasty meals. I’m talking, tastier than anything we’ve ever produced before.

Our stir-frys? Legendary. His torrejas de acelga (chard patties)? Insanely good, and vaguely gourmet. All the Argentinian soups, stews and more that we’ve thrown together on a budget and with, need I remind you, only two burners? FANTASTIC.

Jorge’s basil-chard patties–a gourmet touch that 
created a flavor I literally couldn’t stop eating.

I don’t know what it is — maybe the ingredients are tastier here. Or maybe our tight quarters are squeezing something new out of our concoctions. Maybe Jorge’s been unemployed for so long that he has turned to culinary innovation as a way to pass the time. Who knows.

Jorge’s chicken-beef-black bean taco mixture was a big hit for our Taco Night.
Please take note of the Plank O’Wood Dining Room Table/Countertop.


Has anyone else noticed the common thread here? It’s mostly Jorge’s culinary prowess that’s taken a flying leap. Let’s be real, he’s been doing all the cooking! Seriously, what a great stay-at-home Dad he’d be. *strokes chin* Hmmm…

Aside from the tasty adventures we’ve had in our Two Cubic Feet of Kitchen, Jorge has spent some time innovating household items from trash. We’re big up-cyclers (well, okay, JORGE is, I lack the creativity to do this), and he’s come up with some ingenious solutions to the lack of certain items in the shoebox…I mean…mini.

This old water bottle serves as a silverware storage space after washing.

This is a dustpan made from a wine bottle and cardboard.
It works like a charm!

Sometimes, temporary living situations can bring out the best — and most creative — in a person. 
Not all people, though, because let’s be real, I’ve been mostly reveling in his great ideas, eating his awesome food, and catching up on all the work I missed from almost 3 months on the road!
Bottom line is, folks: you don’t need a lot of space to have a home. We miss our place in Valpo, deeply and severely — but we’ve settled in just fine to our new 2 Cubic Feet of Kitchen, and it’ll do until we hit the next mark on the map.

Just Call Me Resourceful Rhonda

For those of you that know me, you’ll know that I frequently talk about how when the apocalypse comes, I’ll be the first to die.

Despite a couple years of being in Brownies, I just don’t have a terribly impressive amount of survival skills (though I CAN sew a mean sit-upon). This isn’t something I necessarily am looking to change — I’m just aware of it.
And for those of you that also know about Jorge, you’ll remember that I frequently tout him as my key to survival for when the apocalypse comes. The guy grew up in rural farmland, knows how to light fires, spent most of his childhood barefoot and pooping in the wild, and can ride a horse bareback. Furthermore, he has uncanny and ingenious solutions to common household problems. Whenever I need to fix something, I hand it to him — work your crazy magic, I tell him. And he does. 
Well, it appears Jorge’s resourcefulness has rubbed off in our 1.5 years together. Let me explain.
We recently moved into a new (mini)apartment in Lima. Though our landlord provided some basics, like a bed, and plates, and a toilet, there weren’t important things like knives or French Press coffee makers. 
Being that I am an American Coffee Drinker with a pound of hazelnut coffee burning a hole in my backpack, I had to remedy this situation quickly. However, the nearest supermarket only sells food — no household products, no sprawling aisles of coffee makers, not even cheese cloth, for god’s sake.
So, one our first morning in the new place arrived, I had a brilliant idea. 
I wear a lot of leggings (ahem, actually maybe only leggings), and some of my current pairs in rotation are about to die. On our way back to Lima, Jorge pointed out in the middle of the Miami airport that I was essentially walking around naked since my leggings had grown so threadbare. Oops. 
Time to throw them out — or is it? I decided to use these very same leggings for a couple different purposes. 
Purpose #1: CHEESECLOTH FOR COFFEE.
Purpose #2: Cloths for the sink area/cleaning the bathroom.
Okay, okay, hold your horses, you might be thinking. How can a self-respecting human being use leggings to make coffee? I’ll explain.
Step One: Snip off the bottom fourth of one of the legs.
Step Two: Sew the bottom of the snipped-leg-portion shut. 
Step Three: USE THIS AS A COLANDER FOR SEPARATING COFFEE GROUNDS FROM COFFEE.
Freaking. Genius.
However, our (mini) apartment, as I explained, came equipped with only the bare minimum of kitchen necessities. So on our first morning, this is what happened.
I sprinkled an appropriate amount of coffee grounds into a bowl (re: one of two bowls available in the house). Once my water was boiling, I poured this into the bowl. I let it sit for about five minutes. Then, having fastened my legging-colander to a mason jar ring using a hairband, we poured the coffee out of the bowl into the coffee cup via homemade colander.
Jorge pours bowlofcoffee into cup.

Coffee grounds remain securely in the homemade colander.

Final product: cup of coffee.

Over time, my coffee-making methods have varied. I went from strictly French Press/Keurig/locally bought to drip filter, to colander method…and now, to bowls. Some people might find this method unseemly or gross; I, however, pride myself on my big city survival skills. 
Let’s be honest, I might not be able to live very long once the apocalypse hits…but dangit, I know I’ll be able to fashion myself a good cup’a’joe when the time comes! Provided I can figure out how to boil some water, that is. 

A New Chapter Begins: Lima, Peru

We haven’t been here long, but man, have we gotten the ball rolling fast!

Here’s how our time in Lima has been spent so far:
Day One: Arrive to Lima at 5:30am after multiple delays stateside; notice that luggage doesn’t arrive; begin house hunting project; visit 5 possible rentals.
Day Two: Drink ample Starbucks; get one of two missing backpacks; confirm tiny apartment rental with landlords; visit their house and review terms and conditions; drink a juice made of purple corn; like it.
Day Three: Receive last piece of lost luggage; move into tiny apartment; sign contract; pay rent; begin arranging things on shelves and figuring out how to cover up the obscene white of the walls.
From Day Four and onward, it’s been a pretty rhythmic domestic process: figuring out how to make coffee without a coffee maker (more on this later), filling drawers, buying necessities (like the broom we bought and then promptly left at the store), etc. Jorge has set up appointments with several top salons to prove his prowess, I.E. get hired, and we’ve also papered the neighborhood with announcements about his services. 
I MADE THIS!
One of the notable thing about Lima so far is that, while in full winter, the temperature rarely drops below 66 F. Their winter is very gray, however — but for an average temperature of 70 degrees and never having to wear four layers, I’ll TAKE IT.
Lima at night — the lefthand side of this picture is OCEAN. 

Our apartment is actually a mini-apartment, which means that’s its smaller than a studio apartment in NYC and there’s no oven. We’re paying roughly 30% more than we did in Valparaiso, for about one-fifth of the space. *sigh* Big city living.
However, we’re in the coolest neighborhood (Barranco), in an extremely safe zone, one block from the ocean, and there is a Starbucks nearby and all sorts of trendy boutiques and gorgeous houses so like, I guess I’ll live.
Barranco…our neighborhood in Lima! I.E. could be a 
stand-alone city on its own. 
Here’s to a new, fun, and totally different chapter in Lima, Peru! 

A Month In America

Readers, Followers, Lovers and Others,

I apologize for the lengthy delay. I’m not usually SO bad about updating!

But, it must be known, that Jorge and I had one freaking jam-packed month in America!

I’m not just talking busy, I’m talking, DOING ALL THE THINGS.

We went to a 4-day festival in Michigan, he met almost all of the family, we explored Sandusky and northern Ohio, we flew to Nashville and spent a weekend there, we visited parks, we walked dogs, we watched (almost) every match of the World Cup, he met and spent time with 95% of my best friends, we held multiple cookouts for both friends and family, we went to Cedar Point, we had 4th of July celebrations, we went to the beach, we got in the lake, we went to Kelley’s Island, we went to Put in Bay, we had dinner at friends’ houses, we went to a local music festival, we saw a lighthouse, we parasailed, we ate so much food I don’t wanna talk about it, and, most of all…we enjoyed a freaking awesome summer in northern Ohio!

On top of all of this, I was still working (though reduced hours). The only thing I had to put on hold was WRITING. Sigh.

Here’s some photographic proof of stuff!

Lovers on the 4th of July

Jorge checks out Lake Erie and Cedar Point Beach

On a little walk with Storm, my dad’s new pup, through Osborne Park

Jorge showing his prowess in asados

After a great visit in Nashville with my mom and stepdad!

On a daytrip to Put-in-Bay with friends!
Helping good friends install laminate flooring for their dance studio!
A self-portrait of the occasional cameraman

Stop One in Mendoza…and Chilean Cuisine Comments

This is my third visit to Mendoza and the third time I haven’t gone to a bodega.

This is unacceptable for a variety of reasons. First of all, Mendoza isn’t just wine country, it’s MALBEC WINE COUNTRY. For anyone with a set of tastebuds and eyeballs, you’ll know that Malbec is lovely and that I prefer drinking this over almost anything else in the world. Furthermore, I’ve had three chances to get my ass to a vineyard and spend my day lazily tasting wines and gazing out over the grapes. Have I done this? No. Why not? I have no idea. Maybe next time.

This visit to Mendoza has been very pleasing and lovely for other reasons. We’re going to be here about a week in total and in this week I have tried more typical Argentine dishes than Chilean dishes in my whole year and a half in Chile.

Seriously.

Some of you may already know my thoughts on Chilean cuisine (see tag: Hey Chile, you could use a little more salt), but this isn’t just a personal palatte issue, or even a personal vendetta. It’s a fact: Chilean Cuisine is notably sparse.

Typical Chilean dishes are as follows: Completos (Hot dogs piled with avocado, mayonnaise, and tomato in what resembles a veritable condiment boat), Curanto (a big stew of meat, chicken, and seafood), Chorillana (French Fries, fried egg, hot dog, and caramelized onions, all mixed together. Great hangover food. Also great heart attack food), Empanadas (think of an overgrown hot pocket from scratch, with a variety of vegetable/meat/seafood and cheese fillings).

This is Chorillana. No joke, it’s the bomb.

Also: seafood in general, because of the access to the sea.

That constitutes la cocina chilena.  And it took me the full year and a half and plenty of interrogation to get the real scoop on Chilean cuisine. It’s just…not their strong suit.

But here in Argentina?

I get to Argentina and take a bite of bread and there is a shuddering wave of contentment.  I think to myself, “Yes. This is what BREAD tastes like!” And the butter is tastier. And the asados….don’t get me started.

In this one week in Mendoza I’ve had two traditionally Argentinian homemade dishes.

The first one was pastel de papa (potato pie). Our friends Sergio and Sandra made this dish with Sandra’s 1st-generation Italian immigrant grandmother, and watching the process alone convinced me that this was already my favorite dish without even having tried it.

Pastel de papa…POTATO PIE. This is my personal portion, right?!

Thin layer of flimsy dough. Slather on a nice layer of mashed potatoes, add a layer of “picadillo”, which is essentially ground beef and onions and picante and tomato mixed together. Then a layer of cheese; another layer of mashed potatoes; and then final layer of thin flimsy dough. The dough is pinched shut at the perimeter, coated with a whisked egg glaze, and then it bakes for 30 minutes.

And then you put it in your mouth and the heavens open and angels shriek and things rain from the sky.

The next dish I had the extreme pleasure of trying for the first time this visit was locro de choclo. Hell if I know what this means in English, except that choclo means corn, and this was certainly a corn-based dish.

I was able to witness some of the cooking process and it seemed that corn boiled for three hours and then suddenly onions were cooking and it was ready. I think I missed part of this process.

Whatever you are, I want more of you.

At any rate, what ends up in front of your face at the lunch table is a steaming bowl of (let’s say) corn soup, with a nice variety of condiments, a dollop of homemade tomato sauce with caramelized onions, and a couple variety of squash or potatoes mixed in. Two or three cubes of a creamy cheese are added, you wait until it no longer scorches the top layer of skin from inside your mouth, and then you shovel that down your throat.

Sopped up at the end, of course, with homemade Argentinian bread.

*kicks leg in the air* YES!

The first time I came to Argentina, I was able to have a few first-timers then: if we’ll recall Jorge’s family greeting us with lamb, and then the crowd favorite milanesa, breaded meat fried to perfection. To be fair, milanesa exists in all countries to some degree (except in Chile). In Mexico, my mama used to make this for me almost on the daily, with a nice side of mashed potatoes. In the USA, it’s consumed under the name country fried steak, also with mashed potatoes.

I don’t know what it is about Chilean food. There are, of course, extremely tasty options available, but mostly in fine ass restaurants with a strong outside influence (as in, the owner studied cooking in France). Desserts in Chile were always pretty disappointing, as well. I don’t know what the problem is. Lack of sweet? Lack of salt? Or lack of full-bodied flavor in general in the ingredients?

We can probably boil the debate down to this: when I first got to Chile, it took me approximately one year to come to terms with the fact that the butter sucked.

I’m talking like, the regular supermarket nice brand. Not the cheap crappy supermarket brand.

After a year there, I found the artesenal butter, made in the countryside of Patagonia, and yeah, that butter was great, and distinct.

But there is something lacking in the majority of Chilean food. It has to go back to what the animals are eating, and any Argentinian will regale you for hours about the superior feeding process of their cows and pigs that allow that award-winning reputation to flourish. Chile doesn’t have bad meat by any means, but there is something under the surface that is missing, and I can’t put my finger on it.

Here is an Argentinian carrying a pile of Argentinian meat. The debate rages over which country does it better.

If it doesn’t come from Patagonia/the general south, if it hasn’t had exposure to outside influences, or if you don’t make it yourself…it’s probably going to be bland.

I’m sorry, Chile. I love you, we’ve had great times.

But you could use a little more damn salt.

Weather Whining and Other Truffles, Part One: EARTHQUAKES

Every place in the world has its own special terrifying natural event that will completely uproot the fabric of existence every once in awhile.

In Ohio, it’s tornadoes. In southeastern USA, it’s hurricanes. In Alaska, it’s snow and ice for 8 months and grizzly bears.

Haaay, Ohio funnel cloud!  Time to go collectively shit our pants.

But down here? In Chile, the natural disaster of choice is earthquakes.

When I first moved to Chile, I didn’t really know a lot of earthquakes happened down here. That was mostly due to my own ignorance. But then as time wore on, especially once I moved to Valparaiso, I would hear comments like, “Did you feel that tremor last night?”. And I’d be confused. Because I never felt any tremors.

They usually occurred at night. Strong enough to feel and comment on — for most people at least. But I slept through them.

In retrospect, this doesn’t surprise me. I hit Snooze roughly 8 times every morning without knowing it, and I sleep so deeply I always had a sneaking suspicion I could sleep through the ground moving.

But I felt gypped. If I live in earthquake land, I want to at least recognize that something is happening with the ground and seismic and tectonic and stuff.

You know what they say…Ask and you shall receive.

Approximately three months ago, I started to feel tremors. And it is not as fun and thrilling as I thought it might be.

It is terrifying. It is counter-intuitive. It is completely jarring. It is a cold fear that creeps across your entire body, starting in the pit of your stomach and going in all directions at once. It is a horrifying realization of ‘Where…the hell…do I go?”.

And to be perfectly honest, I still haven’t even felt a big earthquake. All those feelings right there? That’s just from tremors.

Tremors make me think this is happening below me.

The first tremor I ever consciously acknowledged was during the day — about 5-7 seconds in length, enough for me and all my roommates to run into the common area and scream “OKAY, NOW WHAT?!”. That was about 3 months ago. But about three weeks ago, they started increasing in frequency, and all at night, around midnight or 1am. There were a couple small ones. At this point, nothing to get ruffled about.

But then about a week ago, there was a big tremor. And when I say big I mean the thought crossed my mind that this would probably be the time I had to go crouch in the doorway and crap my pants like all my Chilean friends had instructed me (well, they instructed me on the doorway part, at least). I was prepared for more, like let’s get ready to hear glass crashing and steel warping because the earth isn’t just clearing its throat, it’s vomiting.

That little tremor on March 6th, 2014 turned out to register 5.3 on the Richter scale. Nowhere near the earthquake that hit Chile in 2010 (8.8) or in 1960 in Valdivia (9.5, also the number one earthquake since like, the earth was born).

This happened in Concepcion in 2010. This was at the epicenter.

Let’s just restate the obvious: I cannot imagine what either of those feel like.

The tremor on March 6th inspired me to write a goodbye email to my family, just in case something happened and they never heard from me again. I mean, hey, if enormous seismic activity were to strike three days after that and they never heard from me again, I’d be happy I had the foresight to send them a little bit of love before I was gulped into the earth.

But, that hasn’t happened. And though it could, I’m not sure it will. Valparaiso is pretty dang prepared for this sort of stuff.

Every place is prepared for their own natural disasters, after all. While tornadoes would have a field day with everyone here, in Ohio we got that covered — BASEMENTS. But no basements in Valparaiso! Yet if you turn the tables — earthquakes in Ohio? — you’re screwed. Buildings aren’t prepared for that sort of movement the way they are here in Chile. These buildings are BUILT to sway, rock, tremble, move and otherwise resist up to something pretty high on the Richter Scale.

After all, my house is still here, and it’s way older than 2010. It survived the effects of that 8.8 earthquake, and the cracks in my kitchen prove it. There was a battle — but the building won.

CHILEAN STORY TIME: A good friend of mine, a porteno (i.e. from Valparaiso) named Bernardo, has lived here his whole life — and lived through the 2010 earthquake personally. I pestered him with questions recently, fascinated to know what an 8.8 earthquake might feel like compared to the measly 5.3 sneeze from the other night.

Bernardo told me that he remembers being woken up in the night, and his first thought was that it was just a tremor — like they usually are. But it didn’t stop after the normal amount of time. And it kept getting stronger. And stronger. And then he got out of bed, and noticing the floor was undulating. Like the waves in the sea. His ears were filled with the sound of creaking, grinding, crunching. Light bulbs started to explode.

I.E. TIME TO GET OUT.

My thought in response to an earthquake used to be get the hell out of the house, go outside and plead helplessly into the sky, but according to Bernardo this is not the recommended course of action. He says it’s best to go for doorways, but if on a higher floor of the building, GO DOWN — and then to a doorway. That way, if roofs cave in and things otherwise collapse on top of you, the doorway protects you.

That night, he was on a higher floor of a multi-level building. So he bolted for the stairs. And on his way downstairs, he saw the staircase moving back and forth in the air, which he says looked like the stairs were dancing. Bold and fearless (I’m imagining him like a superhero in his pajamas at this point), he careened (or perhaps hopped like a character in a video game, because this is what it’s sounding like by now) down the staircase, crouched in the doorway at ground level, and waited.

It finally calmed down. And once it did, the next phase of events began: the streetlights flickered out, water lines began to explode. And what remained for him was the moon, which seemed to hang low and huge, enough to illuminate the night even without electricity.

But the earthquake protocol doesn’t end there. That night, Bernardo stayed at his house (with no light, and no water). But people in other areas of the city — specifically, closer to the sea — were abandoning their houses and fleeing upward into the hills.

Because, you know, that’s just one of those things you have to think about after an earthquake on the ocean coast.

Tsunamis.

These Chileans are seasoned veterans when it comes to earthquakes. The tremors that make me write goodbye emails to my family are they same ones they laugh at and roll over to go back to sleep.

Though it’s just part of really living in a region.

I think back to plenty of severe thunderstorms in Ohio, evenings that went from sunny to pitch black in ten minutes, the heavy weight of humidity and pending doom in the air, something close to funnel clouds in the distance, and me, sitting on the front porch watching it all with a glass of wine and enjoying the cool breeze of the rainfall while the tornado siren wails tirelessly in the background.

Maybe Chileans there would be wondering about basement protocol.

But we Ohioans know what’s scary and what’s not. We know to wait for that unnerving stillness in the air.

It’s all about where you grow up.