Sunday, October 16, 2011

Adventures in Frugality

I decided that this month was going to be a new adventure for me: saving money.

Those of you that know me already know that I'm pretty good at this, but I had a few reasons to persue this adventure:

1. I have students that are on vacation, meaning 6 hours less of classes per week for a month.
2. I want to meet my savings goals in order to be able to buy a new laptop, prescription sunglasses, travel to Colombia, and pay back college loans and the very generous bank of Dad.
3. San Pedro was a great trip, but now it's time to be frugal again for a month or two.

Add to this that my gym membership has expired and I don't want to spend money on a new one, and you have a perfect recipe for finding ways to save money.

For the past few weekends I've gone to the La Vega market.  For those of you that don't remember, it's a huge market that sells fruits, veggies, meat, fish, and even housewares at prices cheaper than what you'd pay in a supermarket.  I remember learning that back when I first moved here, but since moving to ñuñoa it has seemed too far away to make the trip worth it.  I´m really glad I started going again.  Here are some prices I pay for things there:

a kilo of bananas 450 pesos
a kilo of tomatoes 800 pesos
a kilo of strawberries 700 pesos
4 porkchops 1350 pesos
a half kilo of whole grain cereal 1200 pesos
a quarter kilo of ham lunchmeat 550 pesos
a kilo of frozen veggies for 990 pesos

For those of you who aren't familiar with kilos and pesos, a kilo is about 2.2 pounds, and about 500 pesos is a dollar.  Your money really goes far at La Vega, and now it makes sense to me.  At a market like that, they don't have to pay for packaging, maintainance costs, cleaning, or any of the other costs that supermarkets have to cover.

Here are some pictures of my latest trip there:

In addition to the savings, there's an element of adventure there.  It's fun going around from one stand to another comparing prices and the quality of the foods.  Before finding the starwberry stand for 700 pesos I was contemplating buying them for 1000 pesos at another stand until I saw the guy handling the produce while smoking at the same time.  You also get to experience the vendors calling out advertising their produce or making fun of one another.

As one of my coworkers put it, a trip to La Vega makes you feel like you're in South America.  Downtown Santiago and Ñuñoa are pretty modern and clean by South American standards, and so going to a busy market is a compeltely different experience.  There's the hustle and bustle of people going by, a variety of enticing aromas of exotic food cooking, empty paper boxes and random debris on the ground, people brushing past you in a way that invades your personal space bubble a bit too close to comfort, stray dogs wandering around looking for scraps of food or just some affection, and a general sense of disorder that one typically associates with South America.  It's a reminder of the adventure of venturing outside of my comfort zone and experiencing something new and different.

Moving on to the next part of my adventures in frugality, we visit Transantiago.  Santiago's public transportation system is pretty modern and pretty efficient, but it comes at a price.  Prices have increased multiple times since I've arrived, and now it costs 550 pesos at the off peak travel time.  The saving grace is that you can use a combination of up to 3 buses/metro rides within a 2 hour period for the same fare, as long as you're not getting on the metro twice or riding the same number bus twice.

As you can imagine, I use this fully to my advantage.  After a few unsuccesful attempts the past few weeks during my trip to La Vega, today I managed to make it there and back on one fare.  Prior to this I had already mastered miking this for all its worth.  Consider my Tuesday/Thursday afternoon schedule:

I leave a class in downtown Santiago at 3:30 and am on a bus to Providencia by 3:40.  I get off the bus at 4 or so and then teach a class from 4:10 to 5:10.  I am then back at that same bus stop and catch a different numbered bus that takes me to the metro station of Bilbao.  By this time it is usually about 5:25, and I then change to another bus that takes me to Las Condes in about 7 or 8 minutes.  Normally I can do this all on one metro fare, but in a rare case I miss the two hour window and end up paying again.

When sitting down and analyzing my finances, I thought to myself "Why am I paying all this money to Transantiago?"  A coworker of mine walks home from her evening classes and gets really good exercise that way, and so I decided to start doing the same.

Last Wednesday the weather was sunny and warm (but not too warm), and so I walked home from downtown to Ñuñoa after my 4:00 class.  It was nice walking down sidestreets I hadn't seen before, and I listened to my Ipod along the way.  I made it home in a little over an hour.

Since I don't always finish so early I decided that I'm going to walk to my morning classes.  So Thursday morning was a walk to metro Tobalaba in Las Condes.  I allowed myself an hour and a half to be on the safe side, and I'm glad I did.  It took me about an hour and 20 minutes, but when I arrived I was wide awake and felt good after the exercise.

On Friday morning it was rainy so I cheated and took the bus, but on Monday I'll be back to my walking routine.  I figure this way I'll save about 10.000 pesos (or about 20 bucks) a month, and I'll also be getting my exercise in without paying for a gym membership.

I've also been watching how I spend my money eating out, and so I decided to try and create a cheesesteak at home.  The churrasco steak that they have here is the same way steak sandwiches are made at home, but the cheese and rolls aren't the same.  Here's what my first effort looked like:

Despite that, it was still delicous.

Well, that's all for now.  Thanks to everyone for reading and for your motivation to keep this blog going and updated.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Student Protests and a Day Trip to Pomaire

So the student protests are continuing here in Chile, and Thursday's protest was the worst one yet.

When I got off of the metro around 10:30 to go to the office I saw police with shields walking out of the metro, which helped me remember what day of the week it was.  I didn't have class until 2:00, so I just stayed in the office to plan.  A few coworkers came in around 1:00 and went immediately to the bathroom, and after they came out we found out that they were caught in the teargas. 

Most people have classes in the northern part of downtown and therefore have to cross the main street (where all of the protesting usually happens), and so a coworker and I decided to leave around 1:20.  That way we could get through and then hang out inside the bank until our classes start. 

We weren't able to smell the teargas at first, but I had a tissue covering my mouth and nose and my coworker had a paper towel covering his.  After walking up the block, however, I began to sneeze and my throat began to burn.  We purposely walked a few blocks east in hopes of avoiding water cannons, teargas, and fighting between protesters and police, and we lucked out.  We were able to cross Alameda (the main steet) without a problem, but a few blocks away we saw conflict and more teargas. 

We walked up the sidestreet and made our way to Agustinas, which is the street where we enter the bank.  I suggested grabbing a soda or juice since he had about half an hour to kill, but as we walked towards the pedestrian area with all the shops the teargas got worse and worse.  We decided to make our way into the bank, and we noticed people walking into the bank for safety in droves too.  We settled on just staying there until it our classes started.

I didn't get to take pictures of this protest, but if you're interested in reading more here's a link:

On a more relaxing note, I took a day trip on Saturday to Pomaire.  Pomaire is a small town about an hour from Santiago, and it's well known for its pottery, arts and crafts, and typical Chilean food.  I went with Katie, one of my coworkers.

There wasn't much to do there except browse and buy things and eat, so that's exactly what we did.  There were so many different things there that it was a bit overwhelming, and prices varied greatly.

After browsing we decided on a plain-looking place for lunch. Katie said that the pastel de choclo is supposed to be really good, so we each ordered that. I also got an empanada.  It also came with ensalada chilena, which is tomatoes.

After lunch we decided on some gifts to bring home and decided to catch a bus home.  It turns out the next bus was only going to leave at 5:30, and it was only 3:15 at that time.  We then got a bus to Melipilla, (about 20 minutes away), and then got a bus from there to Santiago.  In the end we only got in to Santiago at about 5:20, but it was good to get in a nap after such a filling lunch.

I just stayed in and relaxed the rest of the day while my stomach digested lunch.  It's a long weekend, so I'm catching up on laundry and might get my bike out to go for a ride.  Oddly the weather has cooled down to highs of only about 65 or 70, but hopefully it will warm up again soon.