Sunday, February 27, 2011

No Earthquake for Dad's Birthday This Year

One year ago today, I was living in my first place in Santiago.  I was asleep and was woken up by the shaking around 3:35 in the morning.  After getting out of my room, I was huddled in the living room area with Fabiola and her boyfriend Gustavo. We had only met a few days before then, but we became companions.  Fabiola made us food while we listened to the radio, and I wandered out to get us food.  Gustavo seemed the most scared out of all of us, as he's from Colombia and had never experienced an earthquake before.  And in the midst of everything I know my family was home worried sick about me.  I remember the shaking, the darkness, and the uncertainty.

It's one thing to see about natural disasters on television, but to actually be witness to one leaves such a huge impression on you.  Even as I type this, I am left wondering if there will be another earthquake.  If so, where will the epicenter be?  How long will it last? And last but certainly not least, how strong will it be?

I think that they are all valid questions and that it is normal to have that fear.  But at the same time I'm realizing that I'm not going to let that fear take over my life.  Sure, I will take common precautions to prepare in case of an earthquake.  But since it is not anything I can control I think that worrying about it too much is a waste of energy.

As I type this, I am also happy to be moving into my own apartment.  It took some perseverence on my part, as the owners did not want to lease to a foreigner.  They were unable to do a credit check on me, and I was unable to provide a cosigner in Santiago for the lease.  But after showing paychecks and agreeing to pay 2 months of security deposit, I got an AMAZING apartment.  It is completely new, and the building has a pool, laundry room, grilling patio, movie room, and a mini gym.  It's only about 400 square feet, but it will be big enough.  Here are some pictures of it:

And oh yeah, as you can probably tell from that last picture, I will be living on the 20th floor.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

To Santiago..... and beyond!!!!

So after an 18 hour bus ride back to Buenos Aires, a few days there, and a 3 hour boat trip, I am back in Montevideo.  I leave for Santiago tomorrow morning.

It is overcast and cool, which is quite a contrast to what the weather was like when I was here last week.  It has left me with the perfect time to blog.

How have the last 3 days or so been?  To be honest, not as exciting as I would have hoped.  While in Buenos Aires I almost got robbed a few times near the Retiro bus station.  I found one of my bags at my side halfway open, but I had nothing of value in them.  Another time someone had spilled some type of white cream on my shoulder and bag and was trying to help me clean it up.  Yet another time someone kept calling for my attention incessantly in English, saying "Excuse me! Excuse me!"  From their voice they weren't a native speaker, so I just ignored them and kept on going.  This combined with previous stories of people telling me of getting robbed as well as to expect to get robbed there did not exactly give me the most favorable impression of the city.

I also learned an important lesson for my next trip there: don't expect places to accept credit cards.  None of the tour companies accept them, and I was hard pressed to find reasonably priced restaurants (besides McDonalds) that would accept them.  I also didn't bring my bank card with me, so my options for exploring were pretty limited.

I made the best of it and explored different areas of Buenos Aires during the day.  The parks in the Palermo area were beautiful, and there were some really nice cafes.  The downtown area was a pedestrian area, and there were plenty of shops and places to eat.  I wanted to catch a movie, but none of them interested me.  (I'm waiting for Gnomeo and Juliet to come out here)

Regardless of the country, American culture still permeates South America.  I can watch The Big Bang Theory dubbed on TV.  In stores you hear songs like "Summer Nights" by Grease and the Black Eyed Peas remake of "Time of My Life".  Nike and New Balance are popular clothing brands, and McDonalds and Burger King can be found in droves in any major city here.  There are even posters up in the metro advertising The Emmy Awards this weekend.  (I wouldn't have known otherwise.)

Despite the less than stellar time, am I glad I came to Buenos Aires?  Yes.  The impression from what I've seen of it is that it is less developed than Santiago and I also felt less safe.  I have a new found appreciation for how comfortable I feel in Chile.  Will I return to Buenos Aires?  Maybe, maybe not.

I'm looking forward to returning to Santiago, getting ready to return to work, and preparing to move into a new apartment.  Details on the new place will be up once everything is finalized on Friday.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

A more relaxed day at the Falls

Today I headed out early, and I´m glad I did.

With cooler weather and fewer tourists, I felt like I was able to slow down and enjoy the natural beauty that was surrounding me.  As I walked along the nature trails, I heard the chirping of insects.  Some lizards dashed across the way, and butterflies flew past me.  Most of the paths along the Circuito Inferrior and Circuito Superior (lower and upper routes) were covered with trees, so that also made today more comfortable than yesterday.

The view of each of the waterfalls along the way was breathtaking.  At one point I found myself in front of a large waterfall, and a rainbow was stretched from one end to the other.  There were a few other waterfalls, but the most amazing view was at the base of one of them.  I went all the way out to the edge of it and got soaked while another tourist took a picture for me.  I didn´t mind since it was warm climbing up and down all of the steps.

Yes, that's me out there with my arms stretched out.  I was soaked.

I took my time enjoying the views and the animals I came across.  Even though the information desk told me to allow for 3 hours for the 2 paths I took, I was done in a little over 2 hours.  I got a few souviners and then took the bus back to Puerto Iguazu.

I tried to get an earlier bus to Buenos Aires, but it would have only been an hour earlier and I would have had to pay a ticket change fee.  So I have about 2 more hours to kill before I make my way back to Buenos Aires on the 18 hour trip.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Buquebusing to Buenos Aires, Almost stranded, and Iguazua Falls Day 1

So now I find myself in the hostel, at the northeastern border of Argentina in a town called Puerto Iguazu.

How did I get here?  Let me retrace my travels from the past 36 hours or so.

From Montevideo I got a bus to the 3 Cruces bus terminal, and then from there I got a bus to a Uruguayan town called Colonia.  It seemed very nice and clean and with lots of sights to see and shopping, but unfortunately I had a direct connection with a company called Buquebus.  They run ferries back and forth between Buenos Aires and different cities in Uruguay.  I ended up with a first class ticket, and it was a really interesting ride.

1st class was on the 2nd floor of the ship, and it was like a hybrid cruise/flight.  Our seats were all facing forward and looked exactly like airline seats.  1st class passengers got a free glass of champagne and some garlic bread to snack on, so that was a nice perk.  The trip across only lasted an hour.

Once I arrived in Buenos Aires, I just had to figure out how to get to the bus station and then to my hostel from there.  I reconfirmed my bus ticket for the next day and am glad I did, as they had me departing from another city (not Buenos Aires) 2 hours earlier than what I booked.

I was actually a bit disappointed with my first impression of Buenos Aires.  The metro was really run down and dirty, and the streets all seemed the same way.  I was a bit nervous for my safety but my it to the hostel without a problem.

Since it was already dark I didn't want to risk going to an ATM, so I just got a shower and turned in early.  The following day (Thursday) I walked around the San Telmo area for a few hours.  I was actually feeling pretty tired and thought I was starting to get sick, so I hung out at the hostel until I had to go to the bus station for my bus to Iguazu Falls.

So the bus ride was 18 hours.  I am glad to say I survived.  They actually fed us pretty well, and at a stop I managed to get a burger.  The driver never told us how much time we had, and he actually started to take off before I was on board again.  Luckily I knocked on the glass and explained my burger would take a few more minutes, and he was willing to wait.  I sat next to a woman from Buenos Aires, and we chatted from time to time.  They put on a few movies, and I also had a puzzle book and my Ipod to pass the time.
The burger that almost got me stranded in a random town in Argentina

The view along the way from a front seat on the 2nd floor

At 9:30 Friday morning we arrived in Puerto Iguazu, and I dropped my bags at the hostel and got some breakfast.  Around 11 I headed out the see the falls.

It is a huge park, and it is absolutely beautiful.  They put a lot of work into keeping it clean and well-maintained.  It must have been 90 or so plus humidity, but luckily I brought water, sunblock, and insect repellant with me.  I took my time and walked along a nature path that had animals scurrying their way along the path, and I think they were racoons.  Then I took a train that went to the Garganta del Diablo (Devil's Throat), and the size and beauty of it was undescribable. 
Near the entrance of the park

Entering the sendero verde, or green path

Lots of these were crossing the path along the way.

Entering the Throat of the Devil

Due to the strong heat I decided to call it an early day and then get there around 8 tomorrow morning to avoid the crowds and the sun.

Tomorrow afternoon I have the 18 hour return bus ride to Buenos Aires, and then 3 days there before I cross to Montevideo to catch my flight back to Santiago.  It's a lot of traveling and I'm enjoying it, but at the same time I will be looking forward to retuning home to Santiago.

And it´s crazy to think that one year ago today I arrived in Chile.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Arrival in Montevideo

I arrived in Montevideo, Uruguay this morning.  My flight was at 7:35, and leaving the house at 5:15 I arrived at the airport by 6:30.  The lines for security were a bit long, but luckily everything moved quickly.  I'm not used to seeing a lot of the people at the airport, as before this I've almost always traveled at off-peak times.

It turns out that Montevideo is an hour ahead of Santiago, making it 3 hours ahead of the East Coast in the States.  Upon arriving I consulted the directions I got from the hostel from the airport, and I went to the COT office (a bus line) and requested the ticket I needed.  The woman told me that she didn't know how much it would cost or if the buses would arrive within 3 minutes or 3 hours.  I asked her what she would suggest I do, and she pointed out to the airport parking lot saying with a thick Argentinean accent "Camina allà y gira a la izquierda."  (Walk that way then turn left.)  When I asked her about how long of a walk it would be, she told me about half an hour.

I left the office a bit puzzled and noticed buses with another company going by, and I asked one of the drivers if he went to where I needed to go.  It turns out he did, and it was a 45 minute ride by bus.  I'm really glad I didn't take the woman's advice trying to walk it.

After getting to the main bus station, I switched to another bus which brought me to the Ciudad Vieja or Old City.  The hostel I'm staying at is in the heart of the Old City, right in a pedestrian area.

I dropped my bags and went out to explore.  The weather is perfect today: about 80 and sunny.  I walked out to the coast and asked a local sitting along the pier to take my picture, and then we talked for about 15 minutes.  Then as I walked out towards the pier further I met a fellow traveler from Germany.

The new slim version of Diet Coke.  Notice how thin it is.

The pedestrian area of Boulevard Sarandi

On my way to the coast

Fisherman hard at work

I loved this view and sitting and talking with a local.

Looks like all my time at the gym has paid off.

I rented a bike with brakes that didn't really work for $1.50 for the afternoon.


The view was amazing, and after admiring the coast we went to the central market.  There they have lots of restaurants, with most of them specializing in meat.  They also have a drink called medio y medio (half and half) which is half wine and half champagne.  They offered free samples of it in front of many of the restaurants, hoping to lure in some customers.  After walking around I decided to splurge and get a steak since its their specialty.  It was interesting to see that they individually wrapped each piece of bread in plastic, and it actually makes sense to keep the bread fresh and to reuse any bread that customers don't eat without any fear of contamination or germs from it being handled by multiple people.

medio y medio, chilled and ready to be served

meat being grilled for everyone to drool over

They had this covered over and would show it to people to entice them.

Wrapped up bread and rolls.  A good idea in my book.

A picture of inside the market

Tomorrow I take the bus and ferry to Buenos Aires.  We'll see how it all plays out.

Monday, February 14, 2011

A Family Visit, Switching Over My Visa, and Reuniting with Friends

My dad arrived for a visit last Monday, and he stayed until Saturday night.  It was really good to have him here so that he could see what life is like here, and I think it put him at ease seeing that I am well established.

We took things at a relaxed pace but got to see a good amount during his visit: Cerro San Cristobal, the downtown area, meeting my bosses/coworkers/one of my students, La Vega and the fish market, Valpo and Viña, a walking tour of Santiago, and a tour of the Andes mountains.

During his visit I almost lost my cell phone.  It had fallen out of my pocket while we were on the TransVIP shuttle service to his hotel, and I only realized it about 45 minutes after we arrived.  The hotel staff helped me to call my number, and not only did the TransVIP driver pick up, but he promised to deliver it to the hotel within an hour.  Sure enough when we came back from going out for the afternoon my cell phone was waiting for me in the reception.  I don´t think that getting your cell phone back in a situation like that is the norm at all, and I was really lucky and grateful for the honest people that got me my phone back.

When we went to Valpo, we were offered a full day tour in English for a decent price so we went for it.  I was telling our guide Mario about The Amazing Race and how much my dad and I like it, and it turns out he was on it!  He drives a van around to give tours usually, but people on the race came up to him telling him they needed someone that speaks English and that drives a taxi.  He offered his van to take multiple teams, but they said they could only take a taxi.  One of the teams (from what he described it was a father/daughter team so I think it was Gary and Mallory) offered him money for him to get them a taxi and drive, and so he gave the money to one of his taxi driver friends to lend it to him.  And so he was a taxi driver on the show.

His English was perfect (as he had lived in Australia for 12 years), and he gave us a lot of interesting details about Valpo and Viña that I didn´t know before.  Valparaiso is actually short for va al paradiso (or go to the paradise in English), and it was the location of the first newspaper El Mercurio in South America.  We went on one of the elevators that goes straight up and down, and to get to it you go through a cave that has water running through it.  There was a lot more interesting information, but due to the perils of putting off blogging for so long I forget the details.

While my dad was on a tour of the Andes, I took care of my visa.  I didn´t allow enough time on my first attempt as I had to get my dad on a walking tour and my number wasn´t called in time (I arrived at 8:15 to 70 people in front of me with the office opening officially at 8:30).  So the following day I decided to get there at 7:45 that way I´d be right near the front of the line.  Well, this time there were about 100 people in front of me despite getting there half an hour earlier.  Luckily one of my friends from work came in a few minutes later, and we spent our entire wait catching up since we hadn´t seen each other since December.  I got my temporary residency visa stamped into my passport, and then I made my way to the International Police to get an updated card on file there, and then they took another horrible picture of me to put on my updated ID card that I can pick up after my trip.

One of my friends Chris also had a birthday last week, and so we got together to celebrate.  There were a few of us from the program, a few friends we had made along the way, and a few boyfriends/girlfriends, and it was a great time.  Since not everyone spoke English we spoke in Spanish most of the time, and it was cool that we were all able to converse in Spanish and understand each other.  It's also hard to believe that an entire year has gone by since we met each other and arrived in Chile.

And any post of mine would not be complete without some pictures of the food I´ve eaten lately, so enjoy!