Nichol and Matt go to Chile!

Archive for santiago de chile

Sunset over Cerro san Cristobal

Hi all,

Just thought we’d write a brief note to show off a couple of pictures that we just took. The first is a simply meant as a comparison shot to demonstrate what Cerro san Cristobal looks like without any smog. The rain this weekend has really cleared the air, and we’ve been thrilled to let the fresh air in! We snapped the second picture because at that moment, the sky looked incredibly eerie, even a little apocalyptic.

Cerro san Cristobal and the foreground when the air is about as clear as it gets. We’ve never appreciated fresh air more than we do now.

The Seven Cell Towers of the apocalypse…

That’s all for now!


Cinco de Mayonaisa

Hola Todos!

We had a really good excuse for not updating for the past few weeks, but one of the urban dogs ate it. Honestly though, we just haven’t had a whole lot to share recently; however, looking back at the month there have been a few interesting tidbits that we should mention.

We are starting to get a feel for what kind of weather a Santiago autumn has to offer. The temperature hasn’t dipped too low yet (~ 20C high, ~ 10C low), although the odd night has felt a little chilly. Of course, this could be due to the lack of insulation in the apartment. Apparently buildings have not been required to have insulation until the past couple years. Seeing as our building was built in 2007, it must have just beat the change in building code. We’ve also discovered that our thermostat is more for aesthetics than for adjusting the heat. Rather, we have a very modest space heater, which, while effectively heating a small room, does not reach (thankfully?) temperatures that would be considered a fire-hazard. In fact, when our Spanish teacher saw it, he insisted that it was not for heating the apartment. No, this little unit was meant for pre-heating your bathroom on those oh-so-cold mornings before you take a shower. At least that’s what his Mom uses the exact same unit for. After asking our landlady about the thermostat earlier this week, she informed us that heat is paid for communally by all the apartments that choose to use it. Thus, if we wanted to use the heated floors, we would have to ask the front-desk to turn the heat on…for a measly 60,000-80,000 CLP ($120-$160 CAD) per month! Please note that our apartment is approximately 380 sq. ft. Wethinks that the space heater will do.

This cloud is not fog, the picture was taken on a sunny day. Who wants subcutaneous emphysema?

Apart from the temperature, the weather is usually lightly overcast, with at least one sunny-break per day when the temperature almost always climbs above 20C. The layer of clouds also serves a rather nasty function though: it holds the smog in. We’ve found the smog to be almost unbearable, and insist that anyone back home in Canada immediately go outside and take a few nice deep breaths for us. Have you ever put your tongue on the terminals of a 9V battery to see how much charge there is? Well imagine the metallic twinge of a battery that’s almost out of juice; that’s the flavour that settles on the tongue after walking 10 minutes in the smog. It’s disgusting, and it burns the lungs if out too long. Unfortunately, there’s just not much to be done about it, other than close the windows and try to minimize being outdoors. Matt just got over a minor sinus infection that we strongly suspect was due to the atmosphere. Nichol is now showing the exact same symptoms, so perhaps it is some sort of cold, but regardless, breathing in the ‘smair’ just exacerbates the problem. Pleasantly, as we write, the rain is falling for the first time since our last post and we have the window wide open to let in the beautifully cleansed air. The rain is also serving to clean our ‘smog window’, that is, our window that is heavily caked with the particulate matter floating around. It will be nice to finally see out the window again!

We’re not sure if there are window-washers for this building, but if there are, they don’t seem to come on Saturdays. We’d wash it ourselves, but it’s a precarious ledge overlooking a long-drop with a sudden stop.

The rain is also illustrating another interesting aspect of Santiago life: drainage, or lack thereof. It does not take much precipitation before small ponds form at every intersection of every street. This problem is made even worse by the fact that almost every crosswalk is raised, forming little dams that guide water towards seemingly non-functional storm-drains. During our walk in the last…uh, ‘downpour’, we bore witness to an unfortunate motorcyclist who failed to negotiate the street-lake which he was rapidly approaching. As we safely traversed the cracked pavement between the crosswalk-dam and the sidewalk, we heard a terrible *screeowwwlll* and turned to see a motorbike sliding on its side into the lake, with the rider six feet ahead of it, jacket-surfing on his back across Lake Calle. With great dignity, he got up, dripped his way back to his motorbike, gave it a couple of kicks, and re-saddled before popping a wheelie and tearing off down Providencia Ave. At least he was wearing a helmet.

We are continuing our twice-weekly Spanish lessons with a great Spanish teacher, Andres, who comes to our apartment on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. After one of our Tuesday sessions a couple weeks ago, we got a call from the front-desk just minutes after he left. Still having trouble understanding the impossible Chilean accent, we simply assumed that Andres forgot something and so simply said ‘que pasa por favor’. A few minutes later, our door-buzzer went off, and we opened the door expecting to see a friendly face. Indeed, the face was friendly, but alas it was not Andres. Rather, it was the face of an unshaven South American with a long ponytail, wearing coveralls with the logo of one of the local tele-com companies, ‘VTR’. He flashed his VTR ID, came in (after asking…we think), and immediately started looking at our modem and wireless router, with all indications of there being a problem with the modem and wanting to change it. Unfortunately, ‘Hay no problema’, and ‘Lo funciona!’ didn’t seem to have an effect and, realizing our Spanish was poor at best, he told us ‘cinco minutos’, and left the apartment, his toolbox and clipboard sitting on the counter as a promise that he would be back.

Having exchanged a number of ‘what the hell is going on?’, ‘I don’t know!’ looks, Nichol went into super-sleuth mode and (perhaps inappropriately) investigated the clipboard. She soon realized that, among the addresses listed on the pages, was an apartment building with the same street and apartment numbers as ours, but on a different street, while on the back of the sheet was an address with our building, but an apartment ten floors down from ours. Proverbial alarm bells started ringing. Just then VTR-man returned with a shiny new modem to replace ours. When we eventually distracted him enough to pay attention, and pointed out what we thought was the problem, silence fell as he thoughtfully looked at the two addresses, then at us, then back at the pages, finally clasped both hands together, and replied with a ‘lo siento’ before gathering his gear to go down to apartment 401, who must have been eager to receive their new equipment.

Unfortunately, in order to replace the modem, he had previously shut off access to the internet. We waited about 15 minutes, hoping that he would come back, but eventually decided that it would be a good idea for Matt to simply wait in the lobby and catch him before he left the building. Luckily this plan worked, and he was able to come back up to the apartment and return the internet to it’s initial, gloriously working status. Dinner ended up being a little late that evening.

Well, this post is starting to get a little long, so we’ll wrap up with a couple of culinary curiosities that we’ve recently been enlightened to. The first is in regard to a commercial that we’ve recently been seeing during ‘La Rueta de Suerte’, aka Spanish ‘Wheel of Fortune’ (which is great for learning vocabulary, if you can get over the fact that everyone in the audience seems to have a tambourine, as well as the soccer chants during every wheel spin…that being said, the young buck hosting the show is *much* better looking than Pat. We like how he never does up the last five buttons of his shirt). The commercial is for Hellman’s mayonnaise. Chileans love mayonnaise. Really, really, really love mayonnaise. You can actually order mayonnaise as a side-dish here. It is not uncommon to see half an aisle in the grocery store dedicated to mayonnaise, sold in large 1L hermetically sealed plastic sacks. In any case, the commercial features a recipe that we can follow even with only our basic grasp of Spanish. It is as follows: take chicken, slather it in mayonnaise, bake it, serve it to guests and bask in the glorious smiles as they admire your culinary creativity.

The second is in regard to what is apparently accepted practice in Chile (among other countries…let’s be fair). We won’t go into the details of the conversation we had, but remember the butcher that we mentioned in one of our first posts? Well, we should probably be glad that we didn’t wind up getting any beef there. It seems that in some Chilean butcher shops, ‘carne de caballo’ is often sold as ‘carne de vaca’…look it up. It is even often sold as raw meat and jerky near the beaches, so that beach goers can have a snack and hasados (BBQs). We’re told that it tastes good, but, uh, ‘no gracias’.

That awkward moment when you notice the horse on the food vocab list…

Anyway, tonight we’re making chili in Chile with one of the culinary success stories we’ve come to know: merken. We can’t say enough about this Mapuche flavouring; the mix of smokiness and spice puts chipotle to shame. We will definitely be bringing some of this home with us! Until next time (this time, it will be less than three weeks…Matt has a special upcoming astronomy post up his sleeves).


Pierogi y El Parque

Hola All,

Yesterday was Dia del Trabajo here in Chile, or Labour Day in May.

It appears that the Chilenos take Labour Day pretty seriously, as even the “Big John” convenience stores and the supermarkets were closed yesterday (FYI, they were open on Easter). We spent the day at El Parque de las Esculturas taking some new pictures with our proper camera (i.e. not the iPod; check out the Pictures section if interested) as well as spending the afternoon/evening engaged in the most labour intensive meal we know: the almighty pierogi (piroghi, pierogy, perogy…we look forward to your e-mails).

As a good Canadian, the humble pierogi is one of Nichol’s favourite foods. Especially made from scratch. Not that she’s above the frozen ones, she’ll just secretly judge you for it as she ‘gags’ them down. Anyway, pierogies, frozen or not, aren’t exactly in abundance here (some may claim that the empanada is Chile’s pierogi, but we digress…). Since it has been a good 3 months since indulging in perfectly-poached-potato-dumpling-paradise, pierogi night (with a Chilean twist) it was.

After Hunky Bill hit the scene, the Canadian Union of Ukrainian Grandmothers simply wasn’t able to compete.

First up was the traditional cheese and potato filled pierogi. We’re not entirely sure how authentic it is, since the recipe is from a Kinette cookbook from the 1970s, but it’s freakin’ yummy. For those of you who are unaware, good cheese (i.e. cheese with any flavour whatsoever) is hard to come by in Chile. When you do find semi-decent cheese, you end up paying a small fortune for it (our 1st, 2nd and 3rd born may or may not be mortgaged to the Cheese Man….). After recently finding the queso mother-load at a Unimarc grocery store in Las Condes, we dropped approximately $80 CAD on cheese in a week and a half. Clearly this isn’t sustainable, thus, we haven’t been back (yet). We’ve been rationing the imported American cheddar, but this was finally used up in our pierogi filling.

Ready for action. Hunky Bill, meet dough. Dough, meet fillings. Fillings, meet ‘rolling pin’. Now that we’re all acquainted…

Since cheese is at a premium, we decided to try a new pierogi filling from ingredients that are readily available: ground beef, merken (a hot and smokey blend of dried and smoked red chilies, coriander seeds, cumin, and salt…that’s merkEN, do NOT google ‘merkin’), quesillo (mild farmer’s cheese), and cilantro. We feel that merken deserves a post of its own and will get one up soon (alas, the quesillo, no). In the end, the cheese potato filling won out, but we enjoyed experimenting with some Chilean ingredients. If you have ideas for other pierogi variations, or any questions/suggestions on Chilean food/ingredients, please let us know!

The finished product: sauteed onion and ham, cheese and sour cream. Oh yeah, there’s pierogies under there too.


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…