Nichol and Matt go to Chile!

Archive for transportation

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?


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!