Tales From The South: Just Another Boring Sunday

On a Sunday not too long ago, my boyfriend and I decided to take a day trip out of Valparaiso. There are plenty of towns around here that we haven’t visited yet, despite having lived here since March, so we  figured, HEY. COME ON. SERIOUSLY. Let’s go do some sightseeing.

I made coffee, as I normally do. (Editor’s note: while I have assumed some Argentinian customs such as mate, Jorge too has been adopting some North American customs, such as consumption of Mr. Smith’s Hazelnut Coffee.)

I went to the sink to wash out the french press, as I normally do.

I reached for Jorge’s typical red mug, as I normally do.

But inside of Jorge’s typical red mug was something that is normally never there.

I don’t know how this little guy got inside Jorge’s typical red mug, but he was trapped. I screamed. I called for Jorge. Reptile doesn’t make an appetizing creamer, I assumed, so Jorge helped transfer the new friend into a jar, where we spent the next 15 minutes looking at his awesome shiny colors and tiny feet.

Jorge eventually released him back into the wild (re: the stairway outside our front door) and then we continued with our day.

We ended up going to Olmue, which we accessed by taking the metro until the very last stop, transferring to a bus and riding for an additional 10 minutes. The metro was a lovely part of the trip because, contrary to most of Valparaiso, is it clean and orderly. There was a range of quality entertainment provided for us as well in the form of street musicians (or in this case, metro musicians), singers, theater, and snacks. The artists and purveyors roamed from car to car, and the entertainment respectfully limited the performances to one per car as we traveled. There was masked dramas a la Greek Tragedies, an up and coming 15 year old pop singer, a flute-and-percussion ensemble, and plenty of guitarists. Jorge and I tipped the crap out of these people. At one point, one of our seat mates was a man with a startling amount of body hair. If you’ve ever seen somebody with a startling amount of body hair (carpeted legs, I’m talking), you’ll know that it feels simultaneously unsettling and fascinating.

In Valpo, waiting for the metro to go to the end of the line

Olmue is more in the interior, toward the mountain range, so it doesn’t experience the heightened cooling effects of the sea like Valpo does. As soon as we got off the metro we almost melted. Valpo seems to sit at a perpetual 68 degrees, whereas Olmue was a sweltering 90. Once there, we didn’t do much. No really, we did startlingly little. We perused outdoor markets, bought mate, ate a delightful lunchdinner that included ceviche and some sort of wine spritzer, and then bought pants and dresses. 
And then we freaking went back to Valpo.

I like my sightseeing to be pleasurable, lazy, and mostly unproductive

And there’s your standard boring Sunday in South America. And by boring I mean not boring at all, because life is fascinating always, no matter where your Sunday is happening!


Reports From the New Window (and Unexpected Cultural Commentary)

My bedroom window faces a house situated “across the street” (these phrases mean nothing in Valpo..it’s pure alleyways, terrifying staircases and precipitous streets) but up the hill a little further. I’ve spent the majority of my first week in the new house settling in, working, and gazing lovingly at the seafoam green walls and the plants in my windowsill. During my frequent PonderGazeFests, I noticed a couple boys hanging out on the balcony of this house, stringing what looked like wire from their balcony to some unknown location in the distance. 

The next day, the boys were back at it. Except this time, I noticed that the wire was in fact a string, which was attached to a kite. Which they were flying.

And then an hour late, still flying a kite.

And then for the next seven hours…still flying a kite.

Sheesh, I thought. Flying a kite is fun but not THAT fun.

Or is it? I must make mention of the last time I flew a kite. It was this summer in Tennessee. My mother suggested we take the kite with us on the boat, so we could fly it as we cruised the lake. Cool, I said, more in an effort to please her. Who flies kites, anyway? I’m not against activities that are deemed “childish” by any means — I spend a large part of my life trying to consciously incorporate play and childlike wonder into my days — but a kite? Pssh.

Once we got going on the boat, out came the kite — a bizarre purple octopus with plenty of tentacles to put on display in the airborne mating ritual. I stood toward the back, tasked with  getting it waytheheckupthere. The wispy, purple octopus that had lain quiet and neatly folded in its packaging only moments before was now a wild animal, tormented and struggling and whipping against the gusts and curls and updrafts as it fought its way higher.

I let out more string. I watched it fly higher. I let out more string. Higher still. And then came the point when I realized…holy crap, this is THRILLING.

I never wanted to stop flying that kite. I don’t know WHY flying a kite is so fun. But there is something entrancing, mesmerizing and otherwise holy about the endeavor.

Some of the thoughts that crossed my mind as Octokite roamed free: Oh my god, look at how high it is! This is so cool! Wow, it’s beautiful. It’s a dancing octopus in the sky. LOOK, IT’S EVEN HIGHER NOW!! This string is really tight, I wonder how high I can get it. What if it goes into outer space? What is the Octokite seeing up there? When it comes down, will it have PTSD? Can you use a kite more than once? Why is this so goddamn fun? SERIOUSLY LOOK HOW HIGH UP THIS THING IS.

Look at that freakin’ kite!

We took turns holding Octokite as it struggled to free itself from our grip. We held fast. It continued following us as we zoomed across the lake. Finally, we reeled it in, and the unwavering black smile of the octopus was still there, a silent witness to the joys and secrets of the stratospheric experience, tentacles weathered but accounted for.

So, back to the boys across the street. They’ve been flying kites everyday, for hours each day, without fail. Even as I reflected upon my newfound-but-forgotten appreciation for kite-flying, I continue to ask myself — What the hell with so much kite flying?

I mentioned the borderline obsessive past time of the Chilean youth to my boyfriend the other day. He responded casually–as though it were common knowledge, come on, you gringa–that September is Kite Month in Chile. Everyone flies kites, or volantines, during September. It’s classically breezy in September! Come on. Go fly a kite. Or volantin in this case.

September also coincides with another important tradition in Chile — the fiestas patrias, or patriotic holidays. Two important events occurs during September, apart from the historically-perfect kite flying weather: the anniversary of the famous coup of September 11th, 1973, in which former socialist president Salvador Allende was overthrown (giving way to the Pinochet regime), and September 18th, Independence Day (Chile broke from Spain on this day in 1810).

Between the breezes, the political history and the patriotism, the month of September is burbling with activity. Most Americans are familiar with stores decorating well in advance for the 4th of July, or Christmas, or Fall In General or what have you, but our celebrations tend to be limited to observing the day itself, and then perhaps additional celebrations the following weekend once work has ended for the week.

Not here. Daily operations came to a grinding halt at 7pm on Tuesday, September 17th. The majority of the city has been closed since. It’s Saturday, September 21st, as a reminder — that’s four days of public quiet, shuttered storefronts and very minimal pedestrians on the streets of Valparaiso. That’s some serious reverence.

But that’s not all. The public rest might have started on Tuesday at 7pm, but the celebrating started at the beginning of the month. There has been an unusual (almost worrying, really) amount  of asado scents wafting in the breeze, frequent gatherings overheard from neighbors, more dissonance than usual in public spaces, a huge amount of patriotic decorations littering the steeets, and plenty of excuses to get really drunk and really full.

Wait — did you think that was all? Not only does September herald important political and patriotic observances, it also means SPRING IS COMING! It’s the societal thaw; September is here, winter is over, let’s get this crap started right by celebrating for a full month.

Jorge and I were wandering the streets on the 18th, discovering new areas and views near our new neighborhood, and we crossed an uncountable number of asados taking place on the sidewalks. It’s probably not a surprise to anyone that during our walk we decided to go home and have our own asado because, like, we totally can do that whenever we want now, and as we headed back to the Homestead, we crossed what appeared to be a very heated kite-flying competition. It made us stop in our tracks — the kites were so, so, so high, just tiny squares of Chilean-flag decorated paper. One climbed higher, the other dipped sharply, then the first one lost its lead while the second soared upward on a fierce gust. Grown men hooted and hollered in the streets — one grandpa exited his house, wearing white socks in the gritty Valpo streets, carrying a grandbaby in his arms as he cheered on the unseen kite-fliers.

A poor representation of the kite excitement. (Kitecitement) The dog watches the spectacle, unamused.

As a foreign observer/peripheral participant in these happenings, I must say that I admire the dedication to patriotic celebrations. It’s no secret here that the Pinochet dictatorship left an indelible mark on Chilean history and society. What the older generations lived through – and those that are still around to talk about it — betray the fact that the wound is still there, healing but still aching. 40 years have passed since the coup, but this is a tender scar on the surface of daily life.. Conversations about living through the dictatorship with those of my parent’s age is always fascinating, educational and extremely sad.

The volantines, at least to my wandering and dreamy eye, serve as a potent and visible reminder of the freedoms post-Pinochet. The citizens are able to soar free, at least compared to prior times, and there is now far more energy, far more breathless hopefulness, than in recent history. Just as children and grown men crowd around to see how high the kite might go, who might win, will the cord break, will it get caught in a tree, will the octopus suffer PTSD, I feel that Chileans are able to turn that breathless, hopeful eye toward the future when before that was only a wild, and potentially dangerous, fantasy. Armed with memory, respect and forward motion, Chile is a symbolic volantin that has the potential to soar high, higher than what was believed even 30 or 40 years ago.

Once again, I must remind you readers that I am by no means a political expert, nor an apt judge of economic/governmental/cultural conditions. I’m just a writer living in Valpo, inhaling culture and sights and experiences and exhaling personal perspective.

And beyond that, I’m sincerely curious to know how long it will be before these boys get sick of flying these kites everyday for multiple hours (seriously, don’t they go to school or something?!).

My beloved Valpo! You’re so picturesque n’ stuff. 

Read more about the Chilean 9/11 Anniversary here: Chile’s 9/11: Survivors recall horrors of Pinochet coup, 40 years on

An article highlighting the various current-day opinions on Pinochet’s reign: Chile still split over Gen Augusto Pinochet legacy

Keep hands and arms inside the vehicle until the tour has come to a complete stop…

Well, folks, my first private tour gig has officially concluded!

After our lovely and visually impressive jaunt to the waterfalls and Osorno Volcano on Saturday, on Sunday we (re: they, the paying tourists) opted for a trip to Chiloe.

In doing so, we left the South American Continent. 

Let me explain. The island of Chiloe is just that, an island, part of Patagonia (technically), but not connected to South America. People that live in Chiloe say “Let’s go to the continent” when they travel north. We drove from Puerto Varas about an hour south, parked the car on a huge boat that looked similar to the one that takes you to Put-In-Bay, and after thirty minutes we were at Chacao (not Put-In-Bay).

Took this looking out of the bathroom.
Good thing I was there, because I almost
made peepee in my pantalones again when I
spotted the sea lions sunning on some buoys nearby.

Chiloe is about 200km long and full of interesting villages and cities and opportunities for nature appreciation. Contrary to the area around Lake Llanquihue, it was founded by the Spaniards, but you couldn’t tell from what we saw; all of the buildings looked basically the same as the German colonial buildings. We started by ambling through the village of Chacao, full of colorful houses and pretty gardens, and I translated a lot of information about the use of the native tree, Alerce.

Cuteness times three.
I like the middle house because it is oddly shaped. 
A lot of houses were made using Alerce wood.
The tree grows at a rate of 1cm per year, and it can
take hundreds of years for them to reach maturity.
Historical areas like Chacao ask that the shop owners
don’t paint their buildings to preserve the look and feel of the buildings.

After Chacao, we went to one of the three major cities on the island of Chiloe: Ancud. There wasn’t much to see but we wandered around the city, checked out a cute museum about the history of the area, and then visited a Spanish Fort.
This tower represents something about history…
I took this picture more for the clouds. 
(Tour Guide Fail.)

Today’s adventures included the delightful German village of Frutillar. We stopped first at a corporate seed company, to search for some white potato seeds. The couple I interpreted for is involved in big farm business and are avid growers/appreciators of vegetables and flowers, so the guys chatted seed business talk (in English) while I educated myself on the astounding variety of potato that exists in the world (via entertaining posters featuring the same model in various stages of consuming the different types of potato – Crisps, Traditional, French Fries, and Salad). It was interesting to learn about, but I felt distantly uneasy… I wondered if these companies are involved in GMO shenanigans, and they deal with the potato business on an international scale. The seed company we visited today sold directly to Frito-Lay. 
After that we drove around Frutillar Bajo, the lower part of the city that sits directly on the lake and caters more to tourism. The view of the volanoes was astounding, and actually you could see more than just Osorno and Kalbuco. 
The iPhone doesn’t do it justice.
The  view from Frutillar was one of the best I’ve seen so far
(not counting the views I had from being on the actual volcano).

We had lunch; I tried something totally typical called Longaniza a lo pobre, which is essentially enormous sausage links served with carmelized onions and 2 eggs over-easy on top, with a side of french fries. I only ate one of the enormous links; I left the other one for an overzealous server or kitchen staff member to hopefully consume. I consider myself a Real Food Girl – I prefer to eat things that come from the earth; unprocessed, or minimally processed at best. This is why I cook the majority of my meals. My meals tend to consist of vegetables, rice, quinoa, beans, etc. 
But, this also means that I don’t eat a lot of meat. I have not purchased meat to cook or prepare for perhaps five years, at least. When I do consume the flesh of animals in a public arena, it’s usually fish, or chicken. But meat? Oh god. I looked at that sausage with dismay and disdain (not to mention a little curiosity). The last time I had something similar was in Glasgow, Scotland (or somewhere thereabouts) in 2009, when I ate that typical heinous meat-link dish that I can’t remember the name of. I felt i should at least do Chile’s typical dish a little justice since I disparage the cuisine so frequently, so I ordered it, and I ate half, goddamnit. I ate half. 
After the heinous meat excursion, my fellow Americans and the illustrious Marcelo ventured back onto the town (a whole two streets wide), and wandered to the German Colonial Museum, where we learned about watermills and archaic tools and what it was like to be a settler in the New Germany (i.e. Chile) and have amazing views of volcanoes from your back porch.
The watermill was amazing. Not because it was shocking,
or aesthetically surprising, or any of that. Just because 
the design was so simple and effective.
I guess I never thought about it before, but…
Seriously, colonial people – genius. 

After I had properly reveled in the genius of the watermill,
I lounged about some gardens and wore flowers in my hair.

Here I am on the grounds of the colonial museum,
sporting a flower on top of my head. 
It was interesting visiting the colonial museum because
it was in a Chilean context. I always thought of 
colonial things as distinctly American. Not true. 
This experience was wonderful. I’m not sure when Marcelo will call again, or if he will at all, but I am at least extremely satisfied (both personally and financially) with this opportunity. I got to travel to a variety of must-see sights for free, with good people, learning things the entire way. I couldn’t ask for more. Thank you, Marcelo, thank you Chile, and thank you Osorno. You all are wonderful. 

My Life as a Tour Guide (aka Interpreter Tag-Along)

“Today we’ll go to the waterfalls then Osorno,” said Marcelo, my temporary boss and the owner of the private tour company. “We leave at 11am, return in the evening.”

Those words didn’t really prepare me for what I saw today. I’ll tell the story in pictures.

We started at Petrohue, some (small) waterfalls that connect to Todos Los Santos Lake here in southern Chile (part of the lake system in the area…not the lake I live on).

There were all sorts of people like this,
snapping pictures of the incredible Osorno Volcano.

The couple I was interpreting for opted for the “Jet Boat Tour”. 
We took a few high-speed turns through the water,
catching the view of Osorno from below the falls.
Then we ate some blond fudge afterward that I’m positive
was made from pure cow’s milk and sugar. Only.
It was so tasty, and completely unwrapped and sitting in the open air.
Also I was recognized by the boat company operator, who also lives in Puerto Varas.
Damn these dreads. 

Here is Osorno with an artistic branch in front of it.

Looking back over the falls.
That body of water is where we took the Jet Boat Tour.
The water was insanely crystal clear,
you could see all the way to the bottom.
The water is so clear because of all the 
minerals from the volcanic sediment….or something.

We lunched at a small restaurant after the falls.
I ate salmon, tried Kuchen (local german dessert)
and then took patriotic photos of Chile, as seen above. 

Then we headed to Osorno, twisting and turning through
roads that were far more stable and paved than any other
Latin American country I’ve visited. Ears popping the whole way. 
A lack of burning brakes and heart-in-your-throat-type fear
was evident. 

Once we drove as far up as we could,
we boarded the chair lift system. As “The Guide”, 
I got to ride free. I held on for dear life (not pictured above). 

Here we see the top of Osorno looming in the distance.
I asked Marcelo if we were to fly over in a helicopter 
and look down at the top of the volcano, what would we see?
For some reason, I thought the hot and roiling innards of the volcano
would keep the eruption hole clear.
But…it’s dormant. No roiling innards. 
I’m also not sure what the right term is for eruption hole.
….It can’t be eruption hole.

The ride up was breathtaking. And also increasingly colder,
as evidenced by the abundance of snow.
I made the mistake of being sad yesterday about missing
snowfall in Ohio. Well, I experienced the frigidity of snow-air today.
Homesickness: gone. 

After two chair lift rides toward the summit, we disembarcated 
(Jill Smith) near the top but not quite all the way there.
As trekkers were toiling their way up through the snow nearby,
laden with backpacks and hiking poles,
I was dusting the snow off my butt from my leisurely chairlift ascent. 

Volcanic rock. Super light, and looks like soil.

Snow farm. 

Checking out the mountain ranges on the ride back down.
It was much easier to comprehend my surroundings on the way back,
since I wasn’t being blinded by the pure-white snow all around.
(I think I have sensitive eyes; I meant to ask my optician this before I fled the US.)
But I was much more terrified – I didn’t notice how steep the
chairlift was on the way up. On the way back, well….
let’s just say I made a little peepee in my pantalones.

After all the breathtaking scenery of the day
(not to mention the physically exhausting chairlift ride…phew),
we stopped by a nursery and I found these lily pads.
Hey…not bad, Mother Nature. Not bad. 

A successful day in Chile for Project-Based Bradford,
part-time non-profit worker, part-time travel writer,
more-than-part-time fiction author,
part-time interpreter, part-time tour guide impersonator,
full-time vagabond.
(My resume is getting hard to condense.)

Tomorrow’s agenda: the island of Chiloe! Expect another picture-heavy post soon!