Nichol and Matt go to Chile!

One Desk to Rule Them All

Hola, como estan este noche?

There hasn’t been an earthquake in, oh, about 24 hours now…there was a barely perceptible one at about this time last night, but it’s not really worth mentioning seeing as we had to check the USGS website just to see if it actually was an earthquake. Nonetheless, we thought we’d give a brief, non Earth-moving update.

Other than the tremors, the most mentionable experience we’ve had recently was going to get a power adapter for our Windows/Linux laptop from ‘PC Factory’, a Chilean computer store chain. We thought that, based on the name, perhaps communicating in our somewhat improving Spanglish would be less of an issue; we never learn do we? Likewise, since we had figured out exactly which adapter we wanted to buy, that it would be an easy in-and-out job; seriously, we never learn. The store was massive, easily matching the square footage of the familiar big-box stores back home, split into two floors and more departments than we care to mention. All the products were locked up, either behind glass display cases, or the countless counters that pervaded both levels of the store. The upper level seemed to consist of the consumer products (what we later realized was the ‘display room’), while the lower level seemed to be the repair desk, the distribution centre, and two other desks: purposes unknown.

Figuring that the upper level was the place to be, we wandered around, seeing at least seven distinct counters, each below different signs proclaiming one- or two-word descriptions of their purposes, and all with different categories of products safely hanging up on the walls, out of reach, behind the disinterested employees. After a few laps, we spotted what looked like the desired adapter behind one of the desks. So, after taking a deep breath, we made contact (after the nice young employee was done playing with her phone of course). We tried pointing at the adapter, but quickly thought to just show her the product on the iPod. She told us to go visit the other desk, underneath the ‘Caja Venta’ sign. So off we went to show another nice young woman what we were after. Success! She put Matt’s name into the system, and she kindly told us something along the lines of ‘go over there’ and something to do with ‘primero piso’. Unfortunately, Matt understood the ‘go over there’ part, and didn’t hear the ‘primero piso’, while Nichol heard something about ‘primero piso’ and didn’t hear anything about ‘go over there’. So we ‘discussed’ the situation, and opted to try the ‘primero piso’ first, only to ‘discuss’ the situation more before heading back ‘over there’, which was the first desk that we had tried.

Upon our return, we tried to explain that we’d been to the other desk, (even showing Matt’s Chilean ID to confirm that we’d been entered into ‘the system’), but she just asked for our ‘boleta’ (which we had not been given, because we hadn’t paid yet) and told us to go to the *other* ‘Caja Venta’. Again, we tried to explain that we’d already been, which prompted her to lead us over to a third desk, and left us with another employee, who could blessedly speak enough English for us to explain that we’d just wanted to buy the adapter. So, he took us back to where we’d already been twice and put us in front of the girl who had just led us to him. This time, she asked for Matt’s ID, which, magically showed that we were in ‘the system’, and we were finally able to pay for the adapter. Success! She promptly printed out our receipt and told us something about ‘primero piso’. Sigh, at least we were making progress.

Back downstairs we went, and tried what turned out to be the repair centre, before promptly being told to go down the hall to another desk. Thus, our quest continued down the hallway, where we were met with three more counters. Quickly realizing that behind the largest counter were rows of computer products on racks going back into the bowels of the store, we decided upon the correct ‘distribution desk’, and patiently waited to be served…only to have another customer go ahead of us. There was no budging going on, he had simply taken a number; we *never* learn! With the end of the adventure in sight, we gave each other a look, took a number and were soon walking back out of the store with our shiny new power adapter in tow (not before handing the receipt over, getting a new receipt and signing a slip that confirmed that yes, we indeed got our adapter).

We are happy to report that, so far, the adapter works perfectly. Good thing too, since there still remains at least five (if not more) other unvisited desks, eagerly awaiting any unfortunate soul trying to return something…



Buenos Dias!

Nichol here, Matt is slaving away on his seminar talk that he’ll present this afternoon (something about Universal Stellar IMFs…).

As you have probably heard, Santiago was struck by a 6.7 magnitude earthquake a little after midnight this morning. We were awake and watching TV in bed when the rumbling started. We immediately clued in that it was an earthquake this time (no debates regarding large trucks or how we don’t live next to train tracks) and we quickly made our way under the table next to our earthquake pack. The quake felt more intense than the last, likely due to its proximity to Santiago (115 km NW). You could actually feel the different seismic waves as they hit, which Matt was pretty excited about… I was a little more concerned with the wave of adrenaline that hit me as I watched our patio railing twist and buildings sway. Luckily for us, the quake was over in about 40 seconds and we could get back to watching Game of Thrones.

Since the Great Leader, Stevo-Gordito, is in the city, many Canadian news sources have reported on the hyperbolized “violent earthquake”. Don’t worry, he’s safe… Since I want to be let back in to Canada at some point, we’ll leave it at that. Thankfully, it sounds like everyone else is okay too with no reports of serious damage or injuries. We find it funny how the Chileans take seismic activity in stride. I guess when earthquakes happen so regularly there’s no reason to get all worked up about it. Even though the quake was sizable, it is being referred to as a “temblor” (tremor) and not a “terremoto” (earthquake) due to the lack of damage. No harm, no foul I guess.

Chau chau from Chile,

Nichol (&M)


Our apologies for not updating for the past week, we would give you a good excuse, but we don’t really have one. With Matt’s semester getting into full-swing and Nichol focusing on learning Spanish, it has become a little more difficult to engage in more travel-adventure related activities. Nonetheless, we did have a good time last weekend as we attended Lollapalooza Chile. The rock festival took place over Saturday and Sunday, headlined by (one of favourite bands) Foo Fighters and featured Foster the People, Band of Horses, MGMT, Bjork, Arctic Monkeys; even Joan Jett joined the fray along some pretty good Chilean groups!

Enter: Lollapalooza Chile 2012!

We opted to just venture out for Sunday, due to the heat, cost, crowds, and, of course, so that we could see the Foo. The temperature was a balmy 33 degrees or so, which meant constant hydration, 60 SPF, and shade-breaks were a must! Luckily the metro dropped us off mere minutes from the entrance, but we quickly realized that the line to enter stretched for almost half a km up the street. So with our water bottles in hand, we trudged to the end of the line and waited with excitement with the rest of the eager fans. Before too long, the line started moving and we slowly made our way towards the gate…only to find that the newly arrived festival goers had completely ignored the burgeoning line and simply pressed into a disorganized mass as they made their ways into the festival. Teaches us to queue like suckers.

Keep on rockin' in the wee world!

As we made our way from the gates towards the main stages, the crowds were still blessedly small. There were six stages in total: two main stages and a smaller stage outdoors, complemented by another main stage inside a giant dome, a smaller indoor stage and one outside at ‘Kidzapalooza’ (more on Kidzapalooza later). We got ourselves acquainted with the layout, briefly took in one of the local groups rockin’ out in Spanish. At this point, we couldn’t help but notice the number of kids. It appears that the Chilenos love to take their children everywhere, even all-day rock shows. We’re not entirely sure how we feel about the matter, but some of the mini-rockers were undeniably adorable.

Foster the People watching. Can you spot a dreaded rat-tail, a bad tattoo and a small boy in a Tilley hat? 10 bonus points if you can find the naked man!

After checking out the first group of the day we wanted to fill our bellies from one of the two comidas, which had a tasty selection ranging from the omnipresent empanadas to mini-donuts, bagelwiches, ice cream, pizza and ‘choripan’, which is basically a giant chorizo sausage stuck in a square bun. We opted for empanadas for lunch (bagelwiches and mini-donuts came later on in the day). Luckily, the festival provided many places where one could get distilled water from giant tanks; we couldn’t figure out if it was more popular to soak one’s head with it, or simply drink it. The lines around the water tanks never seemed to dissipate, but the they were constantly being attended to by tanker trucks. Freshly sated, we took in a show by one of the more popular groups of the day, Foster the People. They had tons of energy, and really got the crowd into it with a fun and spirited set.

For the young and young at heart.

We briefly wandered through Kidzapalooza, which was suitably more child-friendly and featured various children’s groups leading sing-alongs and Lego sculptures depicting wildlife and Toy-Story characters.

We couldn't help but play with the sculptures at least a little! It was a tight fit. 🙂

There were tents with tables full of Lego for the kids to play with and of course, at any time they could drag their parents over to get an ice cream cone or pop. Frankly, we were a little jealous of the Lego tables…and we were far from the only ones!

Drinking from a cup, even the stray dogs had a strong showing at the festival!

After our stroll through Kidzapalooza and having a much-needed break in the shade, we checked out some of the other side-shows at the festival, of which there were too many to go into completely. Briefly though, there was an ‘alter’ set up where couples could get “married” by a truly awful Latino Elvis (sin sideburns…c’mon!), a robotic ‘snowboard’ simulator (stay on for 10 seconds and get a t-shirt…snowboarding is not a strength of Chilenos), ‘scream for a Snickers bar’ (self-explanatory), and various hippy acts that seem to have come straight from the West Coast (drum circle anyone?). We took in the sights, and enjoyed some more shows by Band of Horses, TV on the Radio, and Joan Jett before claiming our spot on the grass and patiently waiting for the Foo to arrive.

It should be noted that this was the first ever show in Chile by Foo Fighters; over the next hour and a half the crowd gathered, with anticipation growing exponentially. As expected, shortly before the Foo hit the stage, the 60,000+ fans crowded the area such that we had no choice but to stand up for the rest of the night. We tried to take some pictures of the scene, but the sun had gone down and our iPod camera simply wasn’t up to the task. Suffice it to say that it was bedlam. No matter how cheek-by-jowl (literally) the situation got, people still kept pushing back and forth, vying for a better vantage point. Disappointingly, the sound system was terrible, and, combined with the very uncomfortable mass of people pushing and shoving around us, we opted to squeeze our way out to the less crowded concourse towards the exits. It was there that we enjoyed the majority of the concert before heading back home on the metro before it shut down for the night (not before being accosted by street vendors selling counterfeit souvenirs and jamon y queso sandwiches).

We’ll leave you with a pleasant picture from earlier in the day. Apart from the stressful return to the apartment, it was a fun afternoon in the sun (no sunburns!) with good food, good music, and good company!

-M & N

Musings from the Supermercado

It’s been two days since the earthquake, and things are feeling a little more stable. Stable enough in fact, that we thought we’d write a little something about groceries. Specifically, some of the more…different…aspects of grocery shopping here, compared to back home.

First off, in such a beautiful, farm-rich country, it seems odd that the ‘supermercados’ seem to have very little selection (and spotty availability) when it comes to produce. The best selection that we’ve come across has been at the Lider about a 5 minute walk away (or 10, if the Chilenos are out, they only seem to be in a hurry if there’s a train to catch, and then they’re ruthless…but that will be for another time). In the produce department, we’ve learned that just because we see something one day, there are no guarantees that it will be there 24 hours later. This rule even seems to apply to the most ‘basic’ of ingredients like tomatoes, lemons, apples, even broccoli and bananas! The only produce that they never seem to run out of (lucky for Nichol) is avocados, and (lucky for nobody) bagged lettuce (which proceeds to go bad overnight in our fridge).

When we are lucky enough to find what we’re looking for, the process of buying said ingredients is slightly different than what we’re used to. It seems as though Chilenos love to make everything into a process, even when not dealing with bureaucracy. Case in point, one does not simply put their produce into a bag and bring it to the till to be weighed upon check-out. No, you place the produce (and baked goods, if you’re in the bakery) into the appropriate plastic bag (making sure to triple knot it…or else they’ll glare whilst doing it for you) and proceed to take it to the nearest available scale, where, eventually a disgruntled employee will weigh each bag, print out a bar-coded tag and stick it to the sack. Oh, and don’t even think about not bagging something (even a single piece of fruit), that will only earn you sincere exasperation as they proceed to do it for you.

Now for the deli. Remember in 1989 when you took a number to get your sliced ham? Well those days are back! Except this time, there are six employees having a good ‘ol time chit-chatting behind the counter, and don’t even think about approaching until you’ve taken a number (even if there’s no line; see previous post). Thus far the process seems to be worth it if we’re looking for pork products (top-notch) or chicken, but the beef here leaves something to be desired. Enjoy your Alberta beef folks, it’s a treat!

Most of the other aspects of the stores are pretty Westernized, albeit it with understandably far fewer choices for any given product, and the complete lack of fresh milk and quality cheese. Here, milk comes in tetrapacks that take years to expire (and is a pale shade of grey), but oddly there seems to be an entire aisle dedicated to yoghurt (you can even buy it in a 1kg sack!). After the yoghurt, perhaps the best stocked aisle pertains to booze, especially wine and pisco derivatives. We know it’s common outside of Canada, but we still find it strange to have a liquor department in the grocery store (or convenience store for that matter). Oh well, at least we don’t have to make an extra stop. 🙂

With all of the necessities in hand, it’s time to head to the till. Here the process is quick and efficient. Ha, we just got you didn’t we? No, in a similar vein, the cashiers run the items through without too much urgency and usually ask if you want to pay in ‘cuotas’ (installments) if you’re using a credit card. Luckily, a bag-person is present at every till; however, as we recently found out, they are not paid an hourly wage. Instead, they pay the grocery store ~500 CLP a shift (about $1 CAD), and work for tips. We’re not sure what the going rate typically is, but based on what we’ve observed we generally tip about 300 CLP. Unfortunately, even here the addiction to plastic bags is evident (e.g., a double-bagged mango, itself in the produce bag) and the tips do not guarantee effective bagging (evidenced by the bottle of rum on the carton of eggs…double-bagged). Seriously, we’ve gone through more plastic bags since being here than we would have in a year back home!

With authentic tomato sauce!

On a lighter note, there’s all sorts of fun products that we’ve come across. One example is the par-baked pizza crusts, complete with ‘tomato sauce’ (denoted by the still dry, red-tinged area…they’re not big on pizza sauce here…), but it works well enough as a base. Canned fruit in cream is another interesting one…our favourite is “Svelty” (no one is getting svelty with 25% MF cream…). A final example that we came across today is the package of par-cooked chow mein noodles, which were actually quite good for tonight’s stir-fry. The Asian noodles, made in Peru, serve as a great example of cross-cultural confusion as evidenced by the cooking instructions on the back, which we’ll sign off by directly quoting (we’re not making this up):

  1. To place to the fire containing a litre of water, to the boiling of this, to introduce vermicelli in her.
  2. To boil during 5 minutes, to retire of the fire.
  3. To Slip them a atrainer with cold water, being ready so that you prepare it to your pleasure.

Chow mein noodles, producto Peruviano.

Kind of poetic isn’t it? Good night everybody 🙂


Terremoto Redux

So much for ‘fun, exciting’ stage; tonight plate tectonics definitely took a spin into ‘this isn’t fun anymore’ territory.

At about 18:30 local time, we experienced the dregs of a pretty significant earthquake (7.2 magnitude) that struck near the coast a little more than 200km from Santiago. Nichol was quietly reading in the bedroom when things started going sideways. Matt, visiting the loo, was in a slightly more precarious position. Anyway, it didn’t take long before we realized that this was indeed another earthquake, although with a much different feel than yesterday morning’s.

This time the movement was completely side-to-side, which made for a nerve-wracking experience as our bodies were telling us that we were the ones moving, yet clearly it was everything else (i.e., the hanging lamp in the kitchen, the floor, the pictures, etc.) that swayed to some rhythm that was only unbeknownst to us. The effect was not violent, but we felt it was significant enough to warrant taking shelter beneath our table. So there we waited it out for the 60 or so seconds before things settled down. Since then there seems to be a steady occurrence of sirens around the city, but there are no signs of significant damage. Let’s hope that the communities closer to the epicentre are similarly unscathed.

Tomorrow’s task: an earthquake kit.

Hasta (hopefully) luego!