Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas in Another Country

Happy holidays to everybody! I was going to go make some surprise phone calls, but of course I then realized everything is closed on Christmas day. I also should probably have at least mailed some postcards, but didn't think of that either. Fail.

It is a rainy Christmas morning on Chiloe. So rainy, in fact, that I am doing nothing but lurking in the hostel and lurking my way around the internet. Here is a picture of the hostel. Surprisingly enough, it's the building that says "Hostel" on the side. (You might have to click on it to link out and see the whole picture).

And here is a picture from this morning of a view from the hostel patio. I am at this very moment just inside off of the patio. Very wet and rainy out.

Last night I went to part of a midnight mass at the largest of the several Unesco World Heritage Site wooden churches on Chiloe. It was a big dose of culture, and was very cool. The service was much more modernized than I expected, from a children's choir (which might be normal, I don't know), to people wearing soccer jerseys, to strings of blinking lights behind the altar.

While doing my internet lurking this morning, I also finally uploaded some pictures. They include Santiago, Valparaiso, Isla Negra, Pucon, Valdivia, Ancud, Castro, a lot of things I should have been uploading before. Here is a link. Yet again I can't get google's blasted automatic link embedder thing to work, so it will have to be a copy/paste affair.

Last night (Christmas Eve), the owner of the hostel had a very nice semi-catered dinner for those of us staying in the hostel. He was trucking around in the kitchen in a Santa hat, pouring us Carmenere. Peter came up with a pretty funny thing. "Britney, Paris, Madonna." When asked for clarification: "ho ho ho."

Esoteric family details ahead: There have been a lot of pictures coming my way of holiday festivities both in Longview and in Walla Walla, which has been very fun to see. I can imagine all the pampering Ethan must be receiving for his first Christmas. Also lots of pounce, mahjong, and playboy cocktails.

I hope everyone is having fun and indulging in a little guilt-free materialism. Happy Solstice, Merry Christmas, and Happy Holidays!

Monday, December 21, 2009


Been quite a while since the last post, my apologies. I'm still alive, and things are going well. This is going to be a short post, because I'm a little short on time.

When I was sill in Santiago the Australian couple put me in contact with an author they had met at one of their fancy parties. He was in Santiago but was going to be leaving for southern Chile to return a rental car, and, never having met me, offered me a spot so I could tag along. He was leaving on the 19th, which meant I would be spending more time in Santiago than I'd planned to. This was too good an opportunity to pass up, so I spent even more time in Santiago. I saw some more museums, went on a trip to Valparaiso and Isla Negra to see Pablo Neruda's other two houses, swam in the pool, and drank coctkails with the Australians.

Neruda's Isla Negra house was full of figureheads he collected off of ships which he had installed around the living room, and which looked very cool. There was one that had inlaid porcelain eyes, and, supposedly, when he lit a fire in the room, moisture collected behind the eyes and it would appear to cry.

I also needed to mail back some souvenir stuff I had bought, so I went to the post office on Monday. It turned out I needed a customs form to mail some of the craft stuff back, and I had to get the form at the museum. The museum was a 15 minute walk away, and was closed on Monday. I had to come back between 10 and 1 on the next day. So I went back on Tuesday at 12:15. Eventually I found the woman I needed. She was in the basement, behind a desk, looking like a stereotypically cranky medieval librarian. I tried to explain that I was trying to mail some things, and she said to come back the next day between 10 and 1. My Spanish isn't great, but I pointed out that it was between 10 and 1 now, it being NOON, and that I wanted to mail the stuff. She said she just couldn't do it, she was too busy; come back tomorrow in the morning. Getting pretty damn pissed off, but knowing I might be misunderstanding her, I asked if she said she was too busy today. She said yes. I said "so I have to come back tomorrow?" She said yes. Barely containing my disgust, I turned to leave, lingered wondering if you could bribe librarians, and sulked off.

My bag of goodies was getting pretty beaten up from getting lugged back and forth on buses and trains. The hostel I had been staying at the week before was nearby, so I bought the guy at the desk a pack of cigarettes so I could leave it there. The next day I came back as close to 10 as I could manage, picked up the stuff, went back to the museum, and made my way down to the basement lair of the vile woman. She saw me, told me to wait. Eventually I sat down. She had me fill out the necessary form, and told me that I could submit the form today, but that the director of the museum would have to sign it that night and I would need to pick it up the next morning. She said that was what she told me the day before, and when I left she assumed it wouldn't work for me. Non. Sense. Now she was having a good old laugh, wasn't it funny that we hadn't understood each other. She was officially my least favorite person in South America. It's entirely likely that she DID tell that to me, and that I misunderstood. But she answered my questions that yes she was too busy, that I had to come back tomorrow (apparently to get the form), but what the hell. At the least, you'd think that when I left without filling out the form and said "see you tomorrow," she'd know something didn't make sense. Ugh. The next day I came back, got the signed completed customs form, and got it mailed. That was on Thursday, and I'd started the process on Monday. Ridiculous.

On Friday I took a taxi to another affluent district of Santiago and met the writer, who was staying with a lawyer friend. His name is Peter Allison, and he's written two books on the outdoors and Africa, where he was a safari guide. Before Jane Goodall's new book came out, he had the top wildlife book on Amazon. He is a great guy, and you should all buy his book to put Jane back in her place. (Joking). Before coming to Santiago he was working at a wildlife rehab center in Bolivia running through the jungle tied to a cougar, where he actually met Jane Goodall.

He got a contract to write a book about South America, and is traveling around to see the continent. After leaving from Santiago, we drove to Pucon. The next day to Valdivia, where we walked three kilometers to a brewery, then three kilometers back to town in the dark. I could finally see the southern hemisphere stars. Orion was upside down, but I did see the southern cross, which was very cool. Yesterday we returned the rental car in Puerto Montt, and took a bus and ferry to the island of Chiloe, where we are staying in Ancud.

It is a very pretty island. There are a lot of wooden churches that somehow collectively make up part of a World Heritage Site. I'll probably end up staying somewhere on the island for Christmas, partly because the weather can be both chilly and hot, so I can get the best of both worlds. I don't know how far south I'm going to go, but this might be a good opportunity to see Torres del Paine. I've resigned myself to the fact that I'm probably not going to be able to see Ecuador and Colombia on this trip. From the south I'm going to either fly or bus to northern Chile, where I think I'll cross into Bolivia like I had been planning to last week.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Diplomatic Life

I got into Santiago some days ago. The bus ride across the Andes was incredible, and often found us freakily close to the edge of sharp drops over cliffs. I think I posted at least one picture, but it's hard to convey the "oh my god he's not going to turn in time and they don't have guardrails why don't they have guardrails oh my god we're all going to die" panic of it with a picture.

The first few nights I stayed in the city center in a hostel. I was coming back one night late for a free hostel dinner and the metro was on rush hour schedule, which meant that it skipped my stop. I got off at the next stop, ran up the stairs and found myself in a little piece of heaven. It was a humongous plaza, which was exciting enough, but all around me were people playing chess. I couldn't believe my luck, and I ended up watching them for an hour and going back each day that I was in the city. It would have been fun to play, but they were way above my level, not to mention that they would often grab the clock and scream at each other in Spanish while the other person would snatch the clock back and they would struggle over it, cursing (I think) at each other.

I also went to see Pablo Neruda's Santiago house with two girls I met on the bus that are studying abroad from Pennsylvania. It was a very pretty house with lots of neat things. His salt and pepper shakers said "Morphine" and "Marijuana." The girls were staying with a friend's Chilean grandmother. The grandmother loves a Chilean reality TV show that sounds kind of like Survivor. In the subway station we saw the guy that had been voted off the night before. He was supposedly a warrior from Easter Island. One of the girls couldn't contain herself and started kind of stuttering, chasing after him, thinking better of it, coming back, starting to talk then tearing off again. She finally came back and said to no one in particular: "What's the matter with me. I'm not myself." Pretty funny.

I've now moved out of the hostel and am staying in a house. It is the house of the parents of one of Kate's students. Lots of thanks to Kate for orchestrating it for me, and lots of thanks to Fernando Zegers and Sharon Matthews, whose house it is.

The first night it was just me in the house, so I did some reading and tried a beer I got at the supermarket. The bottle was pretty big, and the trashcan was already pretty full, and I didn't want to cram it in. So the next morning when I went to look for a place with coffee and wifi I took the bottle with me to throw away. The only place I could find was a McCafe, which is in a McDonald's and has coffee. I sat on the patio and stashed the bottle under my chair to throw away later. As I was reading, a McDonald's staffer came by, took the bottle, and asked if it was mine, if I was done with it so she could throw it away. It was about 10:30 in the morning and I had an empty liter of beer under my chair on a porch at a McDonald's. I considered trying to explain that it was indeed mine, but it was from last night, and I took it with me because I didn't want to use the trashcan at the house where I was staying. This would be a difficult situation to explain even in English, so I just told her yes, it was mine, I was done with it, gracias.

There is an incredibly nice Australian couple staying in the house as well. The man is the former commissioner of Victoria (a state in Australia) to North and South America. Over the weekend they went to stay with the former Chilean Consulate General, and next week are having the current Consulate General over for dinner. He is also responsible for bringing Victoria Bitter beer to San Francisco and bringing Costco to Australia. I mentioned that I had met the Costco CEO when I was speaking at a regents meeting, and he said "oh! Jim. No, Jeff. What is his last name..." and pulled out his blackberry to look it up. Whoah.

Sharing the house with them means that my schedule is amazing. I wake up, get coffee, read a book, read some Neruda, walk around a little in the city, eat lunch, lie in the sun with a book until I get too hot, then go for a swim. Then a little more reading, and then I join the Australians for cocktails and appetizers, then we eat dinner and have two bottles of red wine. Then he goes into his room and works on Australia's alternative energy policy, which the government apparently asked him to write a draft of.

They have also told me what they say are three important tips to being successful: 1) Be gutsy, walk into places other people don't, and once you're there don't take no for an answer. 2) Charm the secretaries. 3) Once you get the CEO secretary's number, call before business hours, because the CEO will usually be there and answer his own line.

They were ALSO kind enough to offer me a place to stay when I am in Australia, and have offered to show me the University of Melbourne. She also mentioned that one of their Australian friends, the governor of Victoria, has a throne room in his house, since they are part of the commonwealth of the queen. A THRONE room. He doesn't let anyone sit in it, although he does permit pictures to be taken of you next to it.

I'm in Santiago until the 10th, because my passport is with the Brazilian embassy getting a visa. It is going to hurt to leave, however, because the Australian couple is so amazing and because of the generosity of the family letting me stay in their house. Lots of thanks again to the Zegers, and to Kate for setting it up!