southof30

Nichol and Matt go to Chile!

Archive for February, 2012

In search of bagels.

We ventured out to the edge of Providencia today, where it meets with the more residential Nunoa district. Unfortunately our trip up Cerro San Cristobal had to be postponed due to an unexpected stomach ailment that struck Nichol yesterday. Nothing serious, but it meant that we took yesterday pretty easy, with a stroll through a really lovely ‘sculpture park’ across the bridge a few blocks away replacing our planned hike up the hill.

The park, ‘Parque de Esculturas’, is beautiful. Heck, Providencia itself is beautiful! As much as we love BC, we can honestly say that Providencia’s wide sidewalks, lined with vibrant green trees, ever-present benches (perfect for people-watching) and sun-drenched plazas easily matches the nicest of BC’s neighbourhoods. Every corner turned brings into view at least one open greenspace dotted with happy (and remarkably affectionate) couples enjoying the incredible weather. One thing is for sure, Chilenos in love are not shy! The park itself runs between a major avenue and the disappointingly brown Rio Mapocho and contains about 30 abstract sculptures created by a number of different Chilean and European artists; some are a little too abstract (for Matt’s tastes anyway), and some quite striking. We’re sure that it won’t be our last stroll through the sculptures.

Our trip this afternoon was inspired by Nichol’s discovery of a business at the edge of Nunoa called, of all things, ‘Montreal Bagels’, apparently one of the only places in town where you can find bagels. So off we went down Ave. Pedro de Valdivia with the sun at our backs (as Nichol’s currently red shoulders can attest) in search of tasty bagels. We were stunned by how nice this street is, especially considering that it is a major artery between Nunoa and Providencia! We passed several schools (including at least one English speaking), local bistros and many Chilenos walking at their (sometimes frustrating!) ‘relaxed’ pace. After about 2 km we finally found ourselves at our target…only to find that it was closed. C’est la vie. They will tell you that they don’t take siesta; we’re beginning to wonder if this is really true. So back up Pedro de Valdivia we went with the sun at our fronts (as Matt’s red nose can attest).

Having been here for a week, we’ve observed some ‘different’ aspects of Chilean culture. For starters, the 80’s called and they want their mullets and fanny packs back. Not that we’re really the ones to be judging here, but some things are just not meant to be revived. They’re everywhere. On a slightly more disturbing note, the addiction to plastic bags and the unawareness of recycling here is downright depressing. We’ve already garnered more plastic bags in one week than we typically would in about about 3 months in Victoria! Bottles have ‘not returnable’ (in Spanish) written on the as often as not, and even then there seems to be very few options for returning them anyway. But it is what it is, and we’ll just have to do the best we can with what services there are. With all that said, their sidewalks are immaculately clean!

Tomorrow we’re going to go on a 4 hour walking tour of Santiago Central with a local troupe that operates based on tips. Online reviews of the tour are fantastic, and the trip conveniently goes up Cerro San Cristobal in addition to some of the more historic and culturally significant sights. We probably won’t lug our DSLR around the whole time, but we’ll try to snap a few photos with our iPods and return to some of the more photographic spots another time.

Next up: Chile’s urban mutts, including our block’s 3 perros whom we’ve dubbed ‘Blacky’, ‘Willie’ and ‘Chuck’. Until then!

-M&N

PS We found bacon. And it was good.

Despues dia seis.

Hola!

We find ourselves at the end of day 6 in Santiago. The past couple of days have been a continuation of our neighbourhood exploration (we’re  currently at a 10 block radius…we’re playing it safe thus far). Santiago (Providencia)  is an interesting place. It seems to be inundated with Americana. There are 2 Starbucks within 4 blocks of our apartment (shamefully, we have been to both… it takes the sting out of the toilet paper incident, “cafe latte” is universal…), KFC, Pizza Hut, multiple McDonalds, Burger King, and various posters for movies (El Kill Bill anyone?). Almost all of our TV channels are dubbed/subtitled American shows (we even get HBO) and it’s mostly American music playing on local speakers; strange since there doesn’t seem to be many Santaguinos that understand more than very basic English. We aren’t complaining about the lack of English, it just gives us more incentive to learn Spanish!

Chilean Walmart, or “Lider” (translates to Leader in English, which seems a little presumptuous) has been more successful than Ekono and we’ve been able to acquire most of our basics (i.e. $8 Coronas and $1.50/kg avocados).  An interesting thing we’ve found is that Lider doesn’t have much in the way of produce. There are a few hole-in-the-wall produce markets, but locating one-stop shopping has been difficult. Luckily we’ve stumbled upon a “Santa Isabel” which is akin to a North American style grocery store (i.e., it has produce, meat, groceries, bakery, etc.), which is conveniently even closer than Lider. Exploring the side-streets has been fun, you never know what you’ll come across and we’ve found that some of the nicest Chilenos are found in the smallest shops.

Breakfast is minimal here. Our next mission is to find bacon (Por favor!). There is a good looking butcher down the street; however, we’re currently a little intimated with our basic Spanish. We’ve read of a place called Cafe Melba, a place that serves “gringo breakfast”. As bacon/brunch deprived Victorians we might check it out in the next few days (no Benny and no hashbrowns make Nichol and Matt go something something…). Speaking of Victoria, we tweeted Victoria’s local modern rock station “The Zone” and got a shout-out on the air (we’ve been streaming it online in the evenings to ease the transition). They even played some Foo Fighters for us! It turns out that the Foo will be headlining Lollapalooza Chile in a month and when our RUTs are secured wethinks we’ll be getting tickets. 🙂

Tomorrow we plan on climbing Cerro san Cristobal, where a gleaming “white chick” (as per Matt’s supervisor, Thomas; actually a statue of the Virgin Mary) overlooks the city amongst what we’ve been told are stunning views of the city. We’ll be sure to bring our camera and will post photos in the next few days!

Cheers!

-N&M

We’ve Arrived!

Well, here we find ourselves on our fourth night in Santiago. The sun dropped below Cerro San Christobal a few hours ago, and we find ourselves watching “Wheel of Fortune” en espanol, enjoying our segundo botella de vino blanco de Chile. Suffice it to say, the show proves slightly more difficult than the version de Nor Americano. Es bueno.

Last night we came to learn that the well-documented partying ways of los Santiaguinos is very much accurate! The music above us started up “early”, or about 10:00pm, with dancing and a “tribute” to Whitney Houston. Around 1:00 the music started dieing down, only to be picked up by the bar around the corner, which continued the dance beats until some unmentionable time in the morning. Welcome to the Party in Providencia!

Now, of course we can’t just update on our fourth night without mentioning at least a few highlight of the journey here.

For the most part, our journey (at least after the luggage fiasco at YVR…but we don’t need to start on such a negative note) was smooth. Our flights all left reasonably on time, and landed in similar fashion. Our luggage all arrived safely and securely with no issues, although we were starting to get worried after waiting about 15 minutes at Santiago’s SCL airport for our last piece to show up. But show up it did, and we were on our way to customs! This experience was quite painless; we got in line, had our bags pass through the x-ray machines and were only asked to open up one bag which contained a kilo of Saltspring Island coffee (which, incidentally we finally got to enjoy today after finding a ‘cafe presse’ and the proper electric converter for our coffee grinder). After they were satisfied that it was not, in fact, a kilo of cocaine, off we were to our shared van to take us to our new apartment! Or not.

Our ride didn’t show. Damn.

Luckily, maybe, a suspiciously friendly fellow quickly recognized us for what we were (i.e. two deer-in-headlight gringos with bags under their eyes) and asked us if we needed a taxi. We politely told him we have a ride arranged, and were slowly lead through the large cheek-by-jowl throng of humanity to wait in a relatively clear exit area of the airport. There Nichol guarded the luggage while I went back with the man (who in fact, turned out to be quite friendly and legit) and followed him, looking for a sign that said “Matt Taylor” while he yelled “Tai-lor!? Tai-lor?!” for 20 minutes until I was satisfied that our ride was indeed not there. We negotiated a price and even brought it down from 20.000 CLP to 15.000 CLP (go me!) and were whisked away with a 20-something Chilean couple who had just gotten back from their vacation in Spain.

After a brief ride at 120 km/h (without seatbelts) into Santiago we finally found ourselves across the street from our new abode. There we unloaded our 9 pieces of luggage (and Nichol) onto a nearby lawn (so as to avoid the passing traffic and local driveway) and once again Nichol stood guard whilst I popped inside the building to see if our landlady was there. By gesturing like an idiot and saying things like “rent apartmento” and “Contact Chile!”, los chicas at the front desk eventually got my drift and invited me to sit in the waiting area. “Muchos gracias” escaped my relieved lips as I ventured back outside to collect Nichol and the luggage, which were currently being soaked by the sprinklers that the local business who owned the lawn turned on as an oh so subtle way of saying “Get off our lawn.”. Maybe they were trying to cool us off in the 33 degree weather?

Skipping ahead 20 minutes, we were introduced to our new home by our very lovely landlady, Sonia. Combining our Espanol basico with her basic English we went through the apartment together, signed the necessary documents and got a tour of the building. There is a wonderful pool on the roof with stunning views of the surrounding mountains and city (pics to follow when we figure out how…), a large laundry room, gym and rather sad multipurpose room (card table and four folding chairs anyone?). All in all, the apartment is very pleasant, albeit small, and will suffice very well for the first three months…as soon as the toilet works properly that is (the mechanics are currently being held together with scotch tape, carefully arranged by the previous tenant).

After parting ways with Sonia, we were quite hungry, and unfortunately the expired cumin left in the cupboard by the aforementioned tenant just wasn’t going to suffice. As a result we Googled the nearest grocery stores and were delighted to find that “Ekono” was not even a block from us! Off we went, nervously into the (gorgeous) Providencia streets to seek out our first groceries at Ekono…the ‘k’ says it all. Having rung most of our purchases through the till, the cashier picked up our pack of toilet paper, looked us in the eye and said “laskdjflaskdjfalskdfj ?”. I wish we had a picture of our faces. Nervously, and apprehensively I tried “quiero comprar…” but alas she challenged our choice again and opted to set the toilet paper aside. Meanwhile, sensing a commotion, the Ekono security chap decided to saunter over to see what was going on. “laskjdfalskdjfaslfj” she said to him….”ffasdlfkjasdlfhweoigh” he said to us. “Quiero comprar!” I tried again. Blessedly, he handed the toilet paper back to the cashier, she rang it through, we paid and went back to the apartment. The realization struck us shortly after we returned that this particular toilet paper is meant for children, perhaps that’s what she was trying to say? Oh well, the baby powder scent is nice, and maybe we can even graduate to adult toilet paper next time. After making a brief snack, we went to bed and so ended our first day in Santiago.

Since our arrival, we’ve mostly been exploring the neighbourhood and tracking down various essentials. To say the least, it has been a very interesting experience thus far, and we nervously anticipate the next week as we attempt to register ourselves with the Chilean police, obtain our Chilean “RUT” number, navigate the metro and find Matt’s campus. Much has happened since arriving, but this will have to wait until another post.

Buenos noches!

-M&N

Getting Underway

Now that a lengthy-delay-between-posts precedent has been set, it’s about time for some sort of update.

With 6 sleeps left before wheels-up, Nichol and I are getting pretty close to being ready. Strangely, no panic has ensued yet, but as I just mentioned, there are still 6 more sleeps.

Our visas have both been approved, albeit not without at least a little drama. Avoiding a long and mostly boring story, Nichol’s visa is still physically in Vancouver so it looks like one more trip over there is in order. Oh well, we should probably expect a few more wrinkles like that.

Our airline tickets are booked. Conveniently, Air Canada has a daily flight between Toronto and Santiago, so getting a flight with few layovers and no touching down in the States was no problem at all. Victoria to Vancouver, Vancouver to Toronto and then adios Canada! I have to admit, it was a little strange to book a one-way ticket. Something tells me that booking the final one-way ticket home in 4 years will feel just as strange. The longest leg, clocking in at a little over 10 hours, isn’t quite as bad as I expected and the total flight time weighs in at around 19. Still, it’s a far longer journey than Nichol or I have ever undertaken!

We found an apartment through an agency called “Contact Chile!”. One of a few, it is a German company that specializes in helping people make the transition to Chile. For a not-insignificant commission, they book an apartment and offer to help with paperwork if the language barrier presents an issue. We booked a nice looking furnished apartment in the Providencia region of Santiago, a neighbourhood that is allegedly popular with ex-pats and which is suitable for those who are still, let’s say, ‘new’ to the Spanish language. Unfortunately we will need to pay the commission fee again if we want to rent past our original 3-month reservation, but we feel that it’s a small price to pay for the option to leave after 3 months if the apartment is not what we would like. If we like what we see, we can always re-book for much longer at a smaller commission.

Anyway, one of us will update the blog after we get settled, as we have a number of goals to achieve when we get there. Briefly these would be:

  1. Find a food/grocery/supply source in the neighbourhood.
  2. Find a local watering hole. In particular the one nearby that caters to foreign sports fans, leading to…
  3. Figure out a method of watching our Vancouver Canucks. Missing some of the regular season is tolerable, the playoffs are not.
  4. Obtain a Chilean ID card and bank account.
  5. Oh yeah, maybe I should figure out where the school is too…

Watch for further updates after we get settled in, for now it’s back to gutting the apartment…

 

Matt