Nichol and Matt go to Chile!

Archive for santiago

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. 🙂



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!


PS We found bacon. And it was good.

Despues dia seis.


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!