Nichol and Matt go to Chile!

Archive for chile

Batman, Son of God

Buenos noches, it’s Matt here.

Well it’s been quite the week in Santiago. My courses started on Monday, so it’s nice to finally be getting into something resembling a schedule. This semester I’ll be taking three courses and unfortunately, my nightmare became reality as my first class started on Monday morning when, due to being in the minority (i.e. I’m the only native English speaker in my class(es)), the lecture was given in Spanish. Sigh, it’s not really what I signed up for, but nothing worth doing is ever easy is it? Truth be told, I may actually have a distinct advantage since all the papers and presentations that we need to write/give are required to be in English. I’m also trying to look at the Spanish lectures as a positive in the sense that each 1h20m lecture provides a very immersive listening experience, so hopefully that will help my Spanish skills come along a little more quickly.

After emerging wide-eyed (and shaking a little…) from that first class, I had to go sign my ‘beca’ (scholarship) at the university’s headquarters, ‘Casa Central’, in the central area of the city. Late last week we’d been to the massive, castle-like building to find the office where I needed to enroll, so I thought I was in decent shape. For the beca, I simply needed to go to the fourth floor, sign the papers and I’d be on my way! Easy-peasy…or not. I entered the building, walked over the polished, marble-tiled floors and under the massive stone archways to ascend the white marble staircase that dominated my view. As soon as I attained the second level, the stairs ran out, giving way to another wide corridor adorned with very Pope-y looking statues every 5 metres or so. Glancing out over a railing that overlooked one of the many courtyards in the building I noticed that there was a problem. There are only two stories.

Rather than randomly searching the building, getting lost and probably ending up somewhere that I shouldn’t have been, I decided to backtrack and go down to the information desk where Nichol and I were helped by a wonderful Chilena (from her kindness and caring air, she must be a mother…and a really good one at that!) to see if I could get some help. I found the office, and just like that, there she was, smiling and waving me over for her to help me! I swear I saw a halo flash over her head at times. She thought that I was there to enroll, but eventually I was able to explain that I needed to find the fourth floor to sign my beca. So off we went, passing through the labyrinth of hallways in search of the fourth floor which even she wasn’t sure the location of! Regardless, we eventually made it, and after asking at three different offices for where to go we eventually arrived at a tiny desk at the very end of a long, narrow hallway where I quickly jotted my signature down where told to. Phew. At least that was done. When we got back downstairs, my caretaker looking sympathetically at me and just kept repeating ‘tranquilo, tranquilo’; I must have looked pretty frazzled. I definitely felt it.

On Tuesday I had to go back to Casa Central, but this time it was to enroll. In this case at least I knew where to go, and it started off well enough before deteriorating into a frustrating experience of getting into all sorts of lines. The overall process only involves 3 ‘pasos’, or steps. Step 1 was to sign an agreement, typical code-of conduct sorts of stuff, basically signing my soul to the Pope. The guy helping me directed me to a cashier line to pay a registration fee, which was easily paid with my credit card, before I signed the papers, was given a new set of papers and sent off to Step 2. Step 2 involved checking that all my contact information was correct, but it turned out that another fee had to be paid for my student card. So off I went back to the cashier to pay it.

Up until this point, all the lines had been small enough to not warrant mentioning, but as time went on, they became longer and longer. This visit to the cashier took about 10 minutes before getting to the front, where I was told pointedly that it’s cash or cheque only.

‘No visa?’ I asked.


I’m not really sure what changed in 15 minutes, but she explained that there was a cash machine around the corner, so off I went to go try my Canadian bank card for the first time. Here I found another line, but at least my bank card worked with only a small fee. Back to the cashier I went, where the line had at least doubled. At least 20 minutes later I’d finally gotten back to the front, paid the fee and made my way back to Step 2 where, you guessed it, a line had magically appeared where there was no line before. Sigh, another half hour or so before getting to the table, correcting my information and heading off to step 3. At least that was easy as it only involved getting my picture taken for my UC ID card. How/when I get the card is still unknown, but at this point I was exhausted and still had to get back to campus to attend class.

Since then, I’ve just been attending my classes and have been introduced to many of the astronomers that I will be working and collaborating with over the next several years. To this point, I can still say that I have not met an unfriendly astronomer (some are a little odd, but aren’t we all?). Every person in the department, as well as those from other universities all seem like great people and it’s pretty cool to be part of such an international atmosphere. As my courses and various projects progress, I’ll be sure to update my Astronomy Debris section with anything note-worthy that I’m working on, so stay tuned if you are interested! For now, enjoy this picture of ‘Bat-Cristo’, which greets everyone as they come to campus. Is it Christ, or is it Batman? You be the judge.


Bat-Cristo. First he catches the criminals, then he anoints them.

Lazy Sunday

Hi All,

We thought we’d do a small update to post a few pictures that we took on our afternoon stroll around the neighbourhood. We found a small ‘Emporio la Rosa’ outlet in a little mall just a few blocks from our apartment; this could prove dangerous… Apart from the ice-cream counter, the mall  has a few bistro-like establishments which were closed today, but looked quite promising. We’re coming to learn that the term ‘lazy Sunday’ truly applies to Chilenos, as Sunday afternoons are almost the only time that we can walk unimpeded down the sidewalks. We’re not sure exactly where they retreat to, but it proved to be an good time for us to grab an  ice cream before enjoying the ever-present sunshine during our second visit to the sculpture park. The ice cream, as expected, was delicious. A cone will challenge even the fastest of ice cream eaters in this heat, so we wisely went cone-less and opted for cups.

Speaking of the heat, apparently this has been the hottest 1st week of March in 10 years! Since arriving, the temperature has never failed to reach a daily high below 30C, with many days reaching the mid-30s. The heat is only expected to continue for at least the next week, but hopefully the recent humidity will go away as the smog has been quite bad in the last two days. Oh well, we’re sure that we won’t get much sympathy from those back home. 😉

Anyway, take a gander at the Pictures pages, freshly updated with a few of the shots that we took earlier.



Please take a number.

It is with great sadness that we report the passing of a trusty friend: our coffee grinder. The grindy old fella was good to us, but we probably should have seen it coming. Indeed, the sounds it made every time we hooked up our device meant for a 120V outlet, to Chile’s 250V outlet, indicated that it would soon take flight. Take care old friend, the wine-bottle/zip-lock bag combination just isn’t the same. A moment of silence, please.

Our recent experience moving through the Chilean immigration system was frustrating, hot and altogether uncomfortable. Working through the actual paperwork itself took only about 30-45 minutes, but the lines one must wait through in each of their archaic departments proves to be the true test of one’s mettle. As mentioned in a previous post, our first task was to register our visas with Chile’s international police. We arrived at the building mid-morning, to find all of the 80-100 seats inside taken, with many people sitting on the curbs outside on both sides of the street. The 10 minutes spent in our first line of the day wasn’t so bad, but this line was only for us to pay the fees and get a number. It seems that you take a number for almost anything here, from ordering ice cream to getting documents. Our number was 364…currently serving 205. So off we went to grab a coffee and a snack rather than waiting in the sweltering police station. We returned roughly half an hour later to find that numbers had increased in three ways. First, there were even more people crowding the curbs, a longer line snaking out the door to pay fees/get a number, and finally, the number currently being served had jumped to somewhere in the 260s. Off we went again, this time to explore some of the shopping areas downtown to see about getting cell phones. We didn’t end up getting phones that day, but we did get more of an exposure to Santiago Central’s myriad offerings before returning to the station again, and being greeted by the glowing red number: 308. Finally, we grabbed some cold drinks, and explored another several blocks of the region.

Oddly, we passed by a used book/media/leather jacket store (of which there are very many) advertising a plethora of Nazi materials, both neo- and classical-. We felt like throwing up in our mouths a little. It was explained to us that post-WWII, many of that party’s supporters fled Germany and settled in South America and a not-so underground community is present in Santiago. Our pace quickened as we moved past this propaganda, and we soon found ourselves at one of the more popular destinations, Santiago’s ‘mercado central’. We will have to return to the market on our own one day, as time did not permit much exploration. What we did see was a bustling marketplace full of fishmongers, butchers, produce stands and many, many restaurants vying for our patronage. It seemed that we couldn’t take more than a few steps without someone trying to funnel us into their establishment. It wasn’t annoying though, since in most cases, a simple ‘No, gracias’ sufficed.

Returning once again to the police station, the number had blessedly grown to 354 and when our number was finally up, we approached the counter to not be greeted by a very tired looking employee. We certainly don’t blame the woman for her lack of affect; after all, a nine hour day in a polyester uniform in an unconditioned 30+ degree office will test anybody’s mood. After a couple questions, pictures and our signatures, we were finally registered with the police. Just. Like. That.

It was now approaching 13:30, and the RUT office closed at 14:00. We hightailed it several blocks to said office, and were greeted by a friendly security guard who informed us that we needed to get our police certificates photocopied at the copycentre just around the corner (pointing to his watch the entire time as if we weren’t aware that we had 8 minutes to do so). Sweating bullets, we returned to the office and were escorted to the correct line to wait, and wait we did. After about 30 minutes, the line condensed, but since there was a blackout in the office that shut down their computer systems (and fans…sigh), we’re not convinced that it actually moved. It was then that we overheard two Brits behind us talking of their friend’s experience earlier in the day. It turns out that she had passed through the 3+ hour line, with her passport/visa photocopied, but not her police certificate. As such, she had to come back with the proper documents, only to go through the line all over again. Hearing this, we nervously turned around and asked the (very nice) Chap if he knew for sure that we needed our passports/visas copied, and he assured us that we did. Since it was well past 14:00, we could not re-enter the building, thus forcing us to resign and try again the next morning.  At 8:30 the next morning, we arrived at a much less busy (we were only about 40th in line) office near the campus, so after about 20 minutes we got to the counter and the rest of the process (questions, picture, fingerprints) was painlessly completed. In the eyes of the government of Chile, we’re now real people!

Since then, Matt has been spending some time digging into his first data set at the university, and together we’ve been going about our business in Providencia. The other day we were finally able to obtain cell-phones, with the  serendipitous help from a self-identified Buddhist German ex-pat, who took pity on us as we were trying to communicate with the store clerk. He was familiar with British Columbia, having traveled there, and we had a very pleasant conversation about all sorts of things. This weekend our task is to find a new coffee grinder, which banal as it may seem, will probably take the majority of a day, but maybe we’ll get lucky and find another Buddhist. 🙂



To finish a tour.

And we’re back.

Our apologies for keeping anyone hanging, but yesterday we had our first Santiago brunch since leaving Victoria at Cafe Melba, in the well-to-do district of Las Condes. Breakfast isn’t big here, so a proper Western breakfast was much appreciated. This excellent brunch (for the record: a Benny on French bread? It rocks.) was followed by a pleasant stroll through yet another park and some time watching an aviary with about 30 of the seemingly happiest budgies, parrots, lovebirds and cockatiels that we’ve ever seen. We then returned home on the Metro to ‘suffer’ a long-awaited brunch coma. While our apology is heartfelt, we don’t feel too bad. 😉

Before moving on to today’s adventure in Chilean bureaucracy, we feel it necessary to briefly finish the end of last week’s tour.

We left off during the tour’s break at a quaint little cafe at the foot of Cerro Santa Lucia (which we incorrectly called ‘San Lucia’ in the previous post). After some water and an underwhelming croissant, the tour moved on towards (what?! Another park?) Parque Forestal. Winding through some very Europeanesque side-streets, we were taken to a funky ice cream shop called ‘Emporio La Rosa’. As indicated by the line flowing out the wide-open double doors, and the smiling faces crowding the patio, this place is among the better known of Santiago’s ice-cream shops, of which there are many! Unfortunately the line prevented the tour from including some sampling, but apparently the trademark of this ice cream emporium is some of the most exotic flavours that one can imagine. While stopping short of suggesting some of the more bizarre flavours such as cheesburger or fish, the guide was fairly adamant that ordering something as banal as ‘vanilla’ is a wasted visit.

Crossing one more street brought us to Emporio La Rosa’s adopted overflow patio, Parque Forestal. Strangely enough, our first stop was in front of a large bust of Honest Abe Lincoln himself, placed so because the building nearby used to be the American embassy. Corralled by two main avenues, the park is long and narrow, culminating with ‘La Fuente Alamana’, a large bronze statue of a ship representing early German immigration to the country and gifted by Germany in honour of Chile’s centennial. Chile recently celebrated their 200th anniversary and speculation regarding what Germany would give this time was reportedly rampant throughout the city; sadly, they didn’t get anything.

Meandering across the ‘mighty’ (and muddy) Rio Mapocho, we next entered the last neighbourhood of the day, Bellavista. This district is known to be a very student-centric area, evidenced by the many eating and drinking (if we had a peso for every Heineken sign hanging…) establishments that line the sidewalks. This will definitely be a location for us to return to as the choice of international cuisine seems endless. One place in particular sounds fantastic, as we are assured that it serves some of the most authentic Patagonian cuisine in the city. Also, we’ve been promised a free Pisco Sour if we drop the tour guide’s name. Winding our way up a quiet, cobblestone street we finished the tour outside the former house of famous Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. His house has been converted into a small museum, which features many of the nautically themed objects that he obsessively collected. It is said that he loved the sea, but was afraid of sailing, and so as any neurotic artist would do, lived vicariously through his collectibles. We’ll return to the museum at some point during our stay and will be sure to add some further details afterwards. At the end of the tour, the time came to pay for the tour in the form of whatever tip we feel was warranted, we gave a well deserved 15,000 CLP (~$30 CAD). If anyone reading is interested in doing this tour, more info can be found at; we highly recommend it!

Switching gears a little, we spent today in a blisteringly hot and confusing haze of Chilean bureaucracy (registering our visas with the police and attempting to obtain RUTs). Unfortunately, and despite our best efforts we were unable to obtain our RUTs (necessary to register for school, get a bank account, etc.), but we’ll be making another attempt first thing tomorrow morning. We can’t express how grateful we are to Matt’s supervisor for burning his entire day helping us with this venture; without his help it would have been near impossible. After all is said and done we’ll wrap the whole experience up in another post, and may even start a whole new page with helpful tips for those looking to come to Chile for an extended stay. You’ll need it.

On a lighter note, we finally snapped a picture of one of our neighbourhood pooches, which we are coming to love. You’ll find Blacky being fed a treat by a local Santaguina in the Pictures section. Chuck and Willie haven’t presented their photogenic sides yet, although we did pass by a napping Chuck on the way to the Metro this morning.

Until next time!


Urban nuts & urban mutts.

Feliz cumpleanos Padre!

Today was a pretty big day, and not only because of Matt’s Dad’s birthday. Today we finally visited the San Joaquin campus of Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile (PUC), where Matt will be doing his studies. The trip there is quite easy, with one transfer on the metro and a total of about 25 minutes one-way from our apartment in Providencia. We met with Thomas, Matt’s supervisor (who by sheer chance, lives a 30 second walk around the corner from our building) and rode with him to the campus to get our personal tour. The campus itself appears to be slightly smaller than UVic, but PUC as a whole has several campuses spread throughout the city, making it among the largest universities (if not the biggest) in Chile. Thomas took us around the astrophysics building, introducing us to what seemed like the whole department and made sure to acquaint us with the particularly nice espresso machine to which the department is always free to use :D.

It seems that the campus is in a bit of a transitional phase, as new buildings are under construction/renovation everywhere. Three of the places that Thomas tried to take us for lunch were…gone, even though just a month ago he says they were there! We were strangely comfortable with that though, as we instead enjoyed ‘Italianos’ from one of the other eateries. Italianos are probably not what you think. Picture an 8 inch hotdog in a steamed bun, slathered with avocado, fresh salsa and a drizzle of what looked suspiciously like nacho cheese sauce (here’s to your birthday, Dad!). Oddly enough, they were wonderful! More on the university will be said after classes begin, but for now we can’t go without mentioning yesterday’s tour.

Yesterday started with our introduction to the metro. We scanned our Bip! cards in the machine and lunged boldly into the turnstile…that didn’t turn. Another scan: still no turn. It was after the third attempt that a kindly gentlemen indicated that we had to go through the turnstile to the left of the scanner, not the right. We’re not sure if he told us to be friendly or whether he just wanted to catch his damned train, but he was polite about it so we were appreciative. The rest of the metro trip was smooth, and we successfully arrived at la Plaza del Armas. We were not prepared for the throng of humanity that awaited us there! It is truly incredible how many people were milling around, especially since this was mid-afternoon on a weekday. A pedestrian street flows down towards the presidential palace, lined with department stores, cafes, and countless merchant kiosks selling everything from bottled water to tourist trinkets to cell phones to scarfs for your dogs. Speaking of dogs, urban mutts are everywhere here, but they are all amazingly tame. Rather than being the stray dogs that we had them pegged for, it turns out that Chilenos love these lovely perros and have no desire for them to go. The local public, as a city-wide community, feeds them, pays for their vaccinations, and our favourite, even donates the old doggie-clothing retired by their own pooches to the local homeless hounds. It’s nice to know that our local Blacky (black lab cross), Willie (black lab with shorter hair) and Chuck (a brown, uh…dog) are being well taken care of :). We’re still awaiting an opportunity to snap a photo of them, but we promise to post some when we can.

We began our tour in front of the rebuilt Catedral Metropolitano (see the pictures) in a group of about 30-40 people; mostly English speaking, but from all over the world. The tour itself is fourth on the list of Tripadvisors things-to-do in Santiago, and is only funded through tips (about $10 CAD, but worth much more). It is conducted completely on foot and runs about four hours with a short break in the middle. Starting in Plaza del Armas, we got a brief and really fascinating history of Chile, followed by a walk down the aforementioned pedestrian avenue. With the mass of people, it was tricky to keep track of our lone, red-shirt clad tour guide, but it seemed to add to the real hustle-bustle feel of the area. Stopping every so often, we learned of the origins of ‘coffee with legs’, both old (attractive ladies in short skirts serving coffee…no really, just coffee. Seriously!) and new (basically a strip club…serving just coffee). The ‘new coffee with legs’ has blacked out windows and, not surprisingly, both the clients and employees get a little annoyed at tourists taking pictures.

Continuing down a few more side streets, we arrived at the Presidential Palace which was accompanied by a small education of Chile’s more modern history (for which we can’t do justice here, but we highly suggest googling Sept. 11, 1973). On that day, under the command of General Pinochet, two jet planes bombed and destroyed the entire left side of the palace while tanks blocked the exits, allowing the dictator to assume power until 1990. The history is fresh enough that it is still a very sensitive topic to the locals, but the tour guide indicated that the healing process has begun. Indeed, the Museum of Memory and Human Rights (Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos) was inaugurated in 2010 to commemorate and tell the stories of many of the victims of Pinochet’s regime.

After the Presidential Palace, we were led towards the business district of the city. Here we stopped for roasted peanuts at the ‘Nuts 4 Nuts’ stand kitty-corner to Chile’s version of Wall Street. The history of ‘Nuts 4 Nuts’ is a story in and of itself, but suffice it to say that the down-to-earth millionaire owner is still known to personally man a peanut stand himself on occasion. Of course, this is only when he’s not running the business from New York, where the franchise took off after a failed attempt at selling honey-roasted peanuts in Santiago. Interestingly, a copy-cat business, with suspiciously similar colours, has popped up around the city under the ‘Nuts 5 Nuts’ umbrellas.

We then descended into a much quieter neighborhood, known as Barrio Lastarria, where we walked by a man-made hill named Cerro San Lucia. According to our tour guide, in the 1800s this former rock pile represented the edge of Santiago and was basically the place where the Santaguinos threw their refuse and buried their dead (on separate sides of the hill, of course). At some point, the city officials desired Santiago to become the Paris of South America, and commissioned free labour (in the form of prisoners) to add more rocks to the pile and beautify it to create the park that we see today. Time did not permit us to walk up the hill, but we hope to explore it in the coming weeks. After a brief interlude at a local cafe, off we went for the last part of the tour which, seeing as this post is getting rather long, we will have to describe next time. It may or may not include such ice cream flavours as fish and cheeseburger. Mmmm?