Sunday, March 28, 2010

Valparaiso and more furniture adventures

So for this long weekend I went to Valparaiso.  I decided to leave around 5 on Friday, as that would give me time to clean around the apartment a bit and also meet up with Ro for coffee after school.  Besides, Karen told me she was only getting in around 7:30 or so anyway, and we were going to hang out.

Once I got into Valpo, I decided I wasn't going to take a taxi and that I was going to take the bus and walk to save some money.  A guy around my age saw me asking for directions in the pharmacy, so he directed me to the hostel.  The only problem is that he directed me to the wrong street, and so I climbed for about 10 minutes in the wrong direction.  It ended up being some good exercise though.

I got in earlier than I thought I would, so I dropped my things at the hostel (Hostal Casa Verde Limon) and decided to go out and explore.  I can now understand why Valparaiso is considered the San Francisco of South America.  There are huge hills everywhere, and it is very artsy.  Here are some pictures from exploring:

The ascensores (or elevator trolley car type things) are really awesome.  They only cost a few hundred pesos and take you up and down from one hill to another.  They are only about 4 feet by 4 feet wide, and the hills are incredibly steep:

I found an artist shop that was selling postcards that were original paintings about Valpo, so I bought some and then got a quesadilla at a coffee shop next door:

This was the first quesadilla I´ve ever eaten that was more like a sandwich with the 2 tortillas not covering everything up.

It was starting to get dark, so I headed back to the hostel.  I hung out with some Swedish people and we talked about our travels for a while until Karen showed up.  Her boyfriend, she, and I then decided to go out for some chorillana at J Cruz, the birthplace of the chorillana.  It is pretty cool, as you can write on the walls or tables, and they are all covered in writing from people that have visited:

This is what chorillana looks like:

It varies a bit from restaurant to restaurant, but the main ingredients are french fries, steak, fried eggs, and onion.  This plate was made to serve 3, but you can get it in portions for any number of people.  After that we walked around a bit but decided ulitmately to just head back to the hostel and turn in early. 

It was a good thing that I got a good night's sleep, as Saturday was an action packed day.  It all started with waking up at 8 and finding out that my hostel doesn´t include breakfast, and if you want it you have to pay for it and order it the night before.  So I decided to go out for breakfast and to an ATM since I was out of cash.  There were 2 problems with this:

1. Nothing is open at 8 AM on a Saturday in Valpo.  No matter where I went everything was closed.  So I went back to the hostel and showered and  read in my travel book a bit and then headed out again at 9.
2. Getting money from an ATM was a success, but breakfast is not a very easy thing to find in Valpo.  I walked into a restaurant which had a menu of lunch and dinner food, and a guy was eating a completo (hot dog topped with ketchup, cheese, mustard, and avocado) at 9:15.

I was getting frustrated, as I had my heart set on scrambled eggs and home fries with some ham and orange juice for breakfast.  Then I reminded myself that I was in another country and that breakfast could be an adventure.  I survived having chocolate milk with sweet bread or cookies for breakfast in Spain, so I could certainly find something comparable to that here. So I went to a panaderia (bakery) and found some cake type things with dulce de leche in the middle, so I bought two of them.  Then I went to a small corner store and got some juice and noticed some ham, so I got some of that.  Then I went back to the panaderia and got some break to have a ham sandwich for breakfast.  So having spent about $4, here was my breakfast:

I even had enough of it left over to bring with me and snack on.

The first thing on my agenda here was to see La Sebastiana, which was one of Pablo Neruda´s houses.  It was a very interesting place to visit, as he has a very eclectic mix of things in the house: maps of the world, a horse from a Parisian carousel, and a bird preserved inside a plastic globe among other things.
Here are some pictures from the outside:

 I couldn´t take pictures inside, but here is some information if you want to read more:

After finishing there I gave Donny (another gringo) a call to see about meeting up.  After getting lost on the way there, he came out to the main street of Templeman (which is where they had to paint houses on The Amazing Race) and showed me back to his house.  He is living with Allison and a Chilean girl our age, and it is a pretty nice place.  The best part of it is their deck, from which they have an amazing view of the harbor and most of Valpo.

Donny and Allison told me about an empanada place that has about 50 different types of empanadas, each costing about 2 bucks.  So we got a bite to eat there, and the woman working there seemed happy to see them again.  I got an empanada with chicken, cheese, tomato, and bacon:

It was so good that I told her that I would be back to visit another time.  We then walked up to the open air museum, which is supposed to have a lot of murals concentrated in one area.  We wandered around a saw a few, but they didn´t seem much different than the others we saw around the other areas of Valpo.  We were also just talking and having a good conversation, so we decided to head back and get changed to go to the beach.  As we were walking back, we got an invitation to go to an asado (Chilean barbeque) a bit later that evening, and we said we would go after we were done at the beach.

As I went into my room at the hostel, some people decided to use the cloth rope and trapeze swing that were hanging from the ceiling:  I told my roommate Mario about it, as I thought he would be interested in staying there sometime. 

The three of us then headed out to the beach, but Donny got a call and it turns out we had to head out to the asado right away.  Riding the smaller busses always seems like an adventure, as they don´t slow down for turns.  They remind me of the Tilt a Whirl where one person always gets squashed becuase of the speed and force of everyone else against them.

So we went with Katie (another person from the program) and her host sister to the botanical gardens in Viña.  I was wondering if it would be worth it since it was 5:30 and they were saying that the park was going to close at 6, but I figured to just go with it.  There was a group of Chileans that had been friends since elementary school when they got there.  It was cool talking with them and having some grilled meat, and after a while we took a hike through the woods. 

I glanced at my watch, and it was almost 7:30.  It looks like the closing time was running on Chilean time too  Before we left, they asked us if we wanted to meet up later on to go out that night, and we agreed.

So we made our way back to Valpo, and I got ready at the hostel.  We then went back to their place, and while Donny and Allison got ready I made some pasta for dinner.  It turned out pretty good despite the lack of ingredients.  We hung out for a while until everyone else was ready, but around 11:30 we headed out.

By the time we got to the Chilean´s house I was so exhausted that I was dozing off when I sat down.  I felt badly, but when everyone finally got ready to head out around 1 or so, I decided to head back to the hostel. 

I had already booked my bus to go back at 8:30 Sunday morning, as I needed to be back to do furniture shopping with my landlord at 12.  I got back safe and sound, but my landlord never showed up or answered my calls to see about the shopping.

I decided to brave the Bio Bio market on my own, as I know enough Spanish and negotiating skills to manage.  I was on a quest to get a dresser and a bookshelf, but the salespeople foiled my plans.  My roommates got a really nice dresser for 18,000 pesos (about 36 bucks), so I figured I would be able to get one for around the same price or a bit more.  Well, the salespeople thought I was an idiot gringo and the lowest price I was able to get was 36,000.  I told them that they were taking advantage of me and that I knew the actual prices, but they wouldn´t budge.

So I decided to give Fabiola a call and ask for her advice, and she told me that she would be there soon.  After waiting for a bit she showed up, and we found a nice dresser and bookshelf for 45,000 including the transportation back.  She is so amazing and helpful that I don´t know what I would do without her.  I offered to buy her a bottle of wine, but she said it would be better to buy her some fruit juice instead.  So I did that.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

I'm on a roll, so why stop?

I am sitting with my roommate Mario (his brother Luigi is back in Mexico), and we are watching a TV show called Circo.  Picture Dancing with the Stars, but instead the celebrities are doing circus type acts instead of dancing.

So I have talked about my roommates in passing, but as I am watching this with Mario I am realizing how I am meeting people from all different walks of life.  I will post pictures of them on here when I get a chance.

First, there's Fabiola.  She has 3 kids and is a writer and also something like a dermatologist.  She's also a great cook and is always there to help in any way that she can.  She was home with her boyfriend when the earthquake happened, and she helped take care of me during it.  She also took me furniture shopping in Bio Bio.

Her son Fabian is 21 and sometimes spends the night here.  He is really nice and also very funny.  He works with repairing computers and recently got a new job working with some type of tech support company.  We take a lot of jabs at each other insulting each other, but it is all in good fun.

Then there is Claudia.  She works in the hospital  as a nurse down the block and is about 30 or so.  She is also really nice, but I don't see her as much with her work schedule.

Mathias is from Germany.  He is doing his Zivildienst (like compulsory social service) for a year by helping to build houses here in Santiago.  Last week he took a trip down to Concepcion and helped build some houses down there to help the victims of the earthquake.  We speak Spanish when others are around, but when it's just the two of us we enjoy speaking German.

Koke (a nickname for Jorge) is another one of the Chileans living here.  He works as a writer for a magazine that is located in the Bellas Artes area of Santiago.  He rides his bike almost everywhere, and when it gets stolen he just buys another one.  He helped me cut up the meat when I bought an entire chicken breast with the bones and all included.

Mario is from Mexico City, and he arrived a few weeks ago.  He is going to college here, and he is actually studying acrobatics.  I've never met anyone who is studying anything like that before, and a few weeks ago he was practicing juggling in the living room here.  It is so cool seeing someone doing something like he is.

Mario is sharing a room with Vididiana, who is also from Mexico City.  She is studying law here in Santiago.  She's also really nice, but I haven't gotten to know her too well yet.

It is amazing getting to meet such different people from different walks of life.  I was apprehensive about having roommates at first, as I had become comfortable living on my own for the past 7 years or so.  But I am really enjoying having the company and also having people to share meals with.  They have all been so helpful in small ways, and I don't feel like I would be having the same experience here if it weren't for them.

International Toilets (You may not want to read this while eating)

So this has been something that has been on my mind lately, but I haven't had the time to post about yet.  I have actually had this conversation with David, another teacher in the program, and he also noticed these things.  I will try to find pictures to illustrate my points, but that might take some time.

Have you ever noticed that toilets are different around different parts of the world?

First off, you have our good old American toilets.  Their major defining characteristic is the whirlpool flow of the water when you flush:

Then you have German toilets.  They are very interesting, as there is a large platform or shelf in which your poo lands.  Then it stares at you until you flush the toilet, and a flood of water passes over the platform and pushes it down into the pipes. 

I have also experienced some rather interesting toilets in Spain.  The most memorable was at a placed called Cafe Futbol in Granada.  They had a porcelain thing that looked like a urinal, but you also had to poo there.  I had the pleasure of having too poo there.  It turns out that there is no place to sit down, and so I had to stand up while I took care of business.  This was interesting enough, but to add to the excitement they have a time sensor for the lights.  And the light switch is outside of the bathroom.  Unfortunately I do not have a picture of this one.

Toilets in Mexico and Argentina apparently do not have good piping systems, and so any toilet paper that you use cannot go into the toilet.  There is a trashcan in every restroom, and you put your used toilet paper there.  Let's just say these are not my favorite types of toilets.

My latest international experience is with the Chilean waterfall toilets.  When you flush them, it is like a mini Niagra Falls coming to life.  There is a big rush of water that comes out of the top and shoots out to cover from one end of the rim to the other, and it will even splash out of the toilet a bit.  Oh yeah, and when you live with people in Chile you do not share toilet paper.  You keep it in your room and bring it with you each time you need to use it.

So that's all for my mindless rambling for now.

Almost the weekend!

So it is Thursday evening, and my landlord was supposed to come by around 7:30 or 8 so that I could pay my rent.  He is "running a bit late", and so now he will be stopping by at 10:30 or 11 instead.  Gotta love Chilean schedules and concepts of punctuality.

So when I got to school this week, the language lab was still not ready for the students.  This means that we were once again teaching the classes that we taught last week.  Erin and I had prepared for this, and so we played Jeopardy and Simon Says with the classes.  Luckily these two things filled each of the 2 hour classes.  There was still outrageous behavior (a student almost stabbing another student in the face with a pen and a fight almost breaking out since we weren't able to understand what the kids were saying to each other), and so I gave our program director a call.

Long story short, I talked with the people at school and asserted myself.  I told them that I couldn't teach these classes without a school official in the room since it was is not supposed to be done since I am not a credentialed teacher in Chile, and I also told them that it is a violation of my contract to be teaching classes as it is.  The program is intended for us to help the English teachers in their classroom and possibly teach a bit there, but not on our own.  After some resistance they got the classes taken care of so I wouldn't be stuck alone with the classes.

I also wrote an email to the English director of the network of schools in the program, and I told her how I felt like I was being treated unfairly and being taken advantage of.  In essence I have been doing the job of a full time Chilean teacher without getting any of the compensation that they would get if they had covered the classes.  I got a call from her a few hours later, and she was very apoligetic and told me that she agreed with 100 percent of what I wrote about.  She is contacting the school to be sure that it doesn't happen again and making sure that things are sorted out from this point forward.

I was really upset about this situation, but I am so glad that it is working itself out.  This weekend I am off to Valparaiso (Valpo for short) to get away from Santiago for a bit and enjoy a relaxing weekend.  Valpo is called the San Francisco of South America and is supposed to be very colorful and artsy, so that will be fun to see.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Mendoza Day 2

So yesterday was an awesome day.

It started out with rock climbing.  I was so glad to see that it was warm and the sun was shining, and it made up for the cloudy and cool day during ziplining yesterday.  After making the trip there, I was glad to see that there was someone else doing the rock climbing with me.  Victoria was a woman from New Zealand but living in the UK, and our guide was Fernando.  Before we even got to the rocks to climb, Fernando noticed a 2 peso bill in the grass.  As he picked it up, I noticed another 2 peso bill and then a 5 peso bill. This sent us all in a flurry to try and look around further to see if we could find any 100 peso bills, but to no avail.  He told us to hang onto the money so we could buy fruit later.  I thought he was joking since where we were was so desolate, so I didn´t think much of it.

We got to the rocky area, and Fernando pulled out a bunch of shoes from his backpack for us to try on.  He was like the Mad Shooer or something.  Fernando got us secured and sent us up for our first climb.  I went first, and it was really challenging.  Being able to keep both of your feet and both of your hands secure was rougher than I thought it would be.  After stopping and slipping several times, I finally made it to the top.  Then Fernando helped me repel back down.  I told him how hard it was for me and asked if there were any easier ones to try out.  He then told me that in Argentina they rate climbs between grade 4 and grade 9, and that the one I did was a grade 4.

Victoria then took her turn, and she struggled too.  After she came back down, Fernando gave us some tips.  I learned that clinging to the rock for dear life does not help you, as you need to keep your body away from the rock in order to be able to move around and get from one place to another.

Our next few climbs went better though.  We were getting the hang of it with more practice, and it was easier.  I actually didn´t complete the second climb the first time around, as I stopped a few meters short of the end becuase I couldn´t find a way up and was too tired.  Victoria and Fernando encouraged me to give it another try after Victoria finished it, and that time I was able to do it.  It was such an awesome feeling to have completed it.

The sun started shining more brightly, and it was getting hard to see when looking to climb up.  Add this to the fact that my glasses were getting looser and looser and were almost slipping off, and it made it that much challenging.  Victoria was experiencing the same thing with her sunglasses.  I also realized that I had a tissue pack in my pocket to wipe away my sweat between climbs, but apparently I lost it on one of the climbs.

After a while, we decided to take our lunch break.  We sat in the grass and ate, and it was so peaceful to only be able to hear the water going by and no noise of the city.  We also heard the occasional rooster that apparently slept in.   Before I forgot I told Fernando about my glasses.  He then disappeared for a few seconds, and he came back with a kit to tighten glasses.  He tightened both of our glasses, and it seemed totally random that he had the tools with him to do that. 

We went back to the climbing area, and now Fernando was setting up some grade 5 climbs for us.  I thought grade 4 was challenging enough, but these were much steeper and had you climbing over rocks and having to reach up and around a bit. 

While Fernando was up at the top, we heard him whistle loudly and then call to us "¿Quieren fruta?"  We then told him that we wanted apples and bananas, and he came down a minute later.  It turns out that a fruit truck was driving by, and he whistled to him to get his attention.  I gave him the money we found in the grass, and he came back with a large bagful of fruit.

We enjoyed the fresh fruit and then did a few more climbs.  I was getting the hang of it and enjoying it, but it was wearing me out.  I hadn´t done something very active like that in a while, but I was enjoying it despite that. 

Then as Fernando set up the last climb, he came down with my pack of tissues.  I guess they got stuck to part of the rock and he found them.  The last climb was the most challenging, but the view at the top was amazing and it felt so awesome to see what I accomplished.

Here is me with Fernando:

This was such an awesome experience.  When I was in high school we actually took a field trip to an indoor rock climbing place, and I remember loving it and going back once.  Even though it is about 15 years later, it is so fulfilling to have done the actual thing.  Sure, I was scared and slipped a few times.  I got scraped up.  But I will never forget sharing the experience with Victoria and Fernando and them calling up to me to encourage me and help me up each of the climbs.

Once I got back to the hostel, I decided to hang around for a bit.  I talked with some people and got some tips on good wines to buy, and then I headed out with Peter (from Switzerland) and Nika (from Holland) to get some dinner.  Peter really wanted to go to 1884, but after wandering around for about 45 minutes we decided to go to Facundo instead.  We got a nice steak dinner with wine and sat outside.  I rarely have wine at dinner and even more rarely eat outside, so it was a refreshing experience.  Afterwards we went out for drinks and just talked about our travels, and it was a really relaxing night.

I made it back to Santiago in about 6 and a half hour.  I am going to miss it in Mendoza and am hoping to return for the weekend of Semana Santa.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Ziplining, Exploring, Shopping, and a Free Fork

So I promise that there will be pictures to go along with this once I am back in Santiago and can upload them onto my laptop.  Today was just too awesome to not blog about it before I forget it all.

At breakfast I met a nice woman named Charlotte that is from New York.  She was doing a tour, and since I didn´t hear back from the tour company I contacted the day before I decided to hang around until her tour guide came.  It turns out that she was doing a tour with the same company I was planning on doing one with, so I quickly grabbed my things and went along. 

It was a pretty long ride picking people up and then driving out to the camp in Portilleros, but it was worth it. There was a German couple on the bus, so we had a good time talking. The camp was in a really nice area, right next to a lake and surrounded by mountains.  We had some time to kill, so I got some hot chocolate while we were waiting.

I did ziplining with 2 girls from Buenos Aires and 2 older women from Holland, and the guides were really funny and awesome about encouraging us and giving us good travel advice.  Some of the ziplines were so fast and long that the wind rushed past your face, making you start to tear.  The feeling of flying through the air and seeing the mountains all around you and the water below you is indescribable.  I got a CD with pictures from the whole tour as well as a slideshow set to music.

After the tour was over, we grabbed some lunch and hung out until the bus was ready to take us back.  Since I had such an awesome time I booked a full day tour with them tomorrow to do rock climbing.  I got to do indoor rock climbing when I was in high school as part of a field trip for gym, but this will be my first time doing it outside.  I´m really excited about it.

After I got back, I explored some of the main plazas.  Plaza Independencia is the main one, with 4 other plazas surrounding it.  I didn't make it to all of them this time, but here are a few shots:

Along the way I noticed a few interesting things about the traffic here:
1. Some streets do not have markers dividing the middle of the street.
2. These same streets do not indicate if they are one way or two way streets.
3. If there is not a traffic light, there is not a stop sign at 4 way intersections here.  Everyone just goes when they think it is safe.  Notice the words ¨when they think¨.
4. Pedestrians are not given the right of way.  So you really have to watch out and be careful.

After that, it was off to the mall to scope out some deals for clothing and books.  I found a store called Falabella, which seems like a pretty popular department store here.  I got 2 nice dress shirts, 2 short sleeved shirts, and a nice new tie for 40 bucks.  I also found a book of fables in Spanish and a Spanish English dictionary for 15 bucks altogether, so I was pretty happy about that.

To top off the day, I went to Las Tinajas, which is a Tenedor Libre restaurant (free fork, or buffet).  Yeah, I know what you are all thinking.  But this is NOT your typical buffet.  Here is a list of the areas I remember seeing: pasta bar, salad bar, sushi bar, custom made crepes, typical Argentinian dishes, bar full of Argentian wines, dessert bar, and a huge grill of about 12 different types of meats that they will carve to your liking.  I took pictures of each of my plates and will put them on here once I am back in Santiago.

Tomorrow I have a full day of rock climbing followed by some more sightseeing, so I am going to get ready to turn in.  Good night everyone!