Friday, 25 September 2015

Favourites Revisited

I do love Valpo!
It has been an exciting few weeks here in Chile. It was a week of festivals and celebrations in most parts of the country, and of course the most recent Earthquake. Just off the coast of Chile, near the town of Iquique, and at 8.3 on the Richter Scale, it was marginally less than the devastating quake in Concepcion in 2010. I felt this one on the street in San Pedro (just outside of Conce), while waiting for my bus at about 8:15pm on Wednesday the 16th. It lasted a good 30 seconds and if I was wobbling on the street I can only imagine what it would have been like in an apartment building. As I got home, mobile phones everywhere were ringing with tsunami warnings - Chile is far more prepared that they were last time, and they are still scared from the last quake which nobody took seriously. In 2010, around  5,000 people died, and there was a lot of destruction in the city - you can still see parts of the coast that were destroyed too, boats overturned, houses wiped out. This time around, there was far fewer human casualties due to the early warning system and prompt evacuations, but still damage from the tsunamis only hours after the 'terromoto.' I've felt 8 since I got here in February this year - that is only a fraction of them, as most are around the 4 or 5 mark, which really isn't much. There have been small aftershocks since last week, but it seems ok - and most people here have reacted very well to it all - unlike some Americans...

Vlapo Street Art.
Now onto happier things! I visited Valparaiso when I first arrived in Chile way back in February, and earlier this month I got the chance to visit again. My first trip in Chile was a real eye-opener and welcome to the country - it was was also where I had my first empanada, trip on a local bus and also my first earthquake! It is so different to any other city in the country, and probably unlike any around the world. One thing that stands out is the street art. Houses are very colourful, perched up on the hills with winding streets, stairs heading all the way up and the old (but safe!) furniculars for the lazy, but it is the art tucked away in corners on every possible space that makes Valpo cool. Coming back gave me the chance to wander different streets, explore previously unseen secret places, and just soak it all up again... and Valpo never lets you down for this. On the other hand, it smelt exactly how I remembered it too - like one giant pee stain that wafts up and sticks in your nose at every turn. This city can also be quite dangerous, that partly goes with the sea port, but you have to watch out at night - what you walk in and who you walk into as well. It's a special kind of charm!

Naughty starfish...
I had my mission in Valpo though - and not long to accomplish it. I was due at a wedding at 5pm, so I struck out after breakfast. What I was looking for in particular is probably not that exciting, but it is a must see in the city for any tourist, and a photo is also needed. I had to check on the internet, ask some locals, and also climb the occasional steep hill only to find it wasn't where I thought it was. I did find it however, by following a German tour group looking for the same things as me. I tagged along for a bit, not understanding anything of course, and got some looks as if I were getting a free tour that they'd paid for, but I paid them no heed and just did my thing. What I wanted to see the first time in Valpo and never made it was the "we're not hippies we're happies" graffiti. This part of the city is full of art, and Cerro Alegre (every hill has a name) is probably the coolest neighbourhood in town, full of backpackers, pubs and restaurants, and lovely houses (mostly) away from the smell of pee. A good afternoon enjoying a cool city, then off to the wedding - who doesn't like this place!!

"nice view isn't it?" "si!"
If that wasn't enough, I needed to go to Santiago the following week for my visa. Yes, it had taken the Chilean government nearly 5 months to give me my temporary resident visa... but it was ready so I wasn't about to gripe. Fearing Latino bureaucracy and inefficiency, I started my run early on Friday morning. I had to visit 4 places around the city all before 2pm. Easy you say? I first had to go to my office (in the north of the city) to pick up my form to say the visa was paid for, then go back to the centre to the Ministry of the Interior where I had an appointment. Then it was to the PDI (International Police) for a photo and stamp then to the Civil Registry. Now, I was thinking that it would be impossible - I've had my fair share of these things in Spain to know better - nothing is ever done in one day. It was, and before 2pm. Well done Chile - there were lines, tickets, screens with numbers, multiple buildings, security guards and nobody spoke English, but it was done and with no major hassles! I was dumbfounded... but excited as that left me with the rest of the day to head out in to the city. I checked in to my cheap hostel ($10 a night including breakfast), which I found with no problems, and it turned out to be one of the best I've stayed at so far in Chile, then hit the streets - heading for the Costanera Centre.

two travellers.
8,000CLP ($16) to get up, but what a view!
A 'joven' enjoying the 'vista.'
Right in the middle of the financial district sits the tallest building in Latin America - the Gran Torre Santiago. Standing at 300m tall, is isn't quite as big as the Eiffel Tower (or the Sydney Tower at 309m), but still  something you can see from basically the whole city. When you think of world's tallest buildings (Empire State is 381m and the Petronas Twin Towers stand at 452m) you don't think the Eiffel Tower is that big, but when you actually see all 324m of it, you're a little shocked - it was built in the late-19th Century and quite an engineering feat. This building, although slightly shorter, is still quite a marvel as Chile is the most active country for earthquakes and volcanoes - so it is brave or a tad silly to be building the biggest 'Jenga' tower in South America? It does put the cherry on the skyline of Santiago, and makes the city look more like a world city. For people in Australia and The States, tall glass buildings are the norm - but for most Europeans they aren't, and I think it is a big deal here in South America too. The view from the top was quite impressive - city way below, the busy, noisy streets, buses, ice-cream sellers and stray dogs all but muted and frozen in time from the distance. The snow covered Andes the perfect backdrop and there was very little air pollution which is a rare thing in Santiago. The smog of Santiago is something people from here don't even realise any more - it's there in Summer because there is no rain to wash it away (it just doesn't rain here in summer... at all!) and in Winter everybody is using their log fires, so you have wood smoke covering the city, and sometimes that gets so bad that you are advised not to leave your house. Seriously. But none of that today - just blue sky and snowy mountains!

Santiago's financial district, and the Andes.
Some people may know Pablo Neruda, the Chilean poet (who died in his home 12 days after fleeing the '73 military coup), but most people visit his 3 houses as it is just one of the things you do while in Chile - like eat a 'completo' or say the wine is good. Up until now I hadn't bothered - I am not usually one for doing things because they are on the Top 10 Things To Do in a city - but I did this time. Mainly because I had the afternoon to kill and I thought I would visit this one, then see what all the fuss is about. He had 3 houses - in Santiago (in the cool neighbourhood of Bella Vista), Valparaiso and Isla Negra ('Black Island' and it isn't actually an island) - and built them himself. He contracted his friend and Catalan architect German Rodriquez Arias to help with the house in Santiago, which he named "La Chascona," The house is actually named after his long time partner Matilde Urrutia (who was a lover but became his wife) who had 'crazy' or 'ruffled' hair.

Pablo Neruda's House "La Chascona" with his and Matilde's initials.
Always one for shocking people was Pablo!
Not just a poet, but also a politician, a Communist, and an active peace advocate, even helping Spanish refugees flee to Chile via France after the Civil War. He left Chile in 1948 after an arrest was put out for him due to his political leanings, and later returned in 1952 after visits to Russia, India and China. In his later life, he built the house in Vellavista, and lived there with his wife Matilde, and won the Nobel Prize in 1971 for his work. He was unable to enjoy the house for long, as the coup changed everything. After his death, his house was sacked and flooded, but Matilde later returned to the house and fixed it all up. She continued to entertain guests like they did in the old days until her death in 1985. The house is just like it was when he was alive - funky furniture, strange art (a watermelon having a bath for example!), narrow spaces and small things like secret doors and funny decorations such as a 'Marihuanna' and 'morphine' container next to the tea set.

One of the bars at Pablo's House - notice the painting.

Perfect temperature!
Like at the baseball!
The weekend I was in Santiago was September, and Friday was the 11th. When I say September 11, most people think of the Twin Towers back in 2001. For people in Chile, it is the day that Pinochet and the military bombed the government building in Santiago, killed the current President (some people believe he committed suicide) and took over the country. A dark day for everyone, as this began more than a decade of oppression and mass killings for the regime. Although there are still a few protests on this day, and some a little violent too, nothing happened in the capital this year, although the Carabineros (or 'Pacos' to our 'Pigs') were out and prepared. What happened this week in Santiago was much better - a real Chilean fair. It was like the Easter Show in Sydney, or the Fira de San Isidra in Cardedeu - animals, carnival games and food galore! Music, food, beer, young people hanging out - like an outdoor festival back home! The games are all the usual ones that you pay to show off to your girlfriend but never win anything (and would cost you less if you just went and bough the cuddly toy anyway), but they are entertaining. The food was your usual mix of popcorn and tradition foods, mixed in with Chilean Cuchifli with manjar (a sweet caramel paste... my new Chilean love), mani (fried nuts), mote con huesillo and churros, all carried around by guys with trays like it was the World Series in the 50s. My favourite thing was the tradition Chilean cowboys (Huasos), who wore the cowboy hat and a special poncho. I was expected a bit of bull riding, but there was only chasing cows around a paddock, and a lot of chit chat between the boys. I also discovered that there are different 'tribes' of young people in Santiago. The 'flaites' I know about - they are basically 'bogans' or 'chavs' and there are loads of them here in Conce. They sit around, grow their dreadlocks, play drums, smoke (whacky) and drink (from cartons). The other group are the 'quiocos,' which are the posh kids - basically your North Shore crowd - good education, cool clothes and attitude. I might add that there is a 3rd group - posh kids who try to be bogans... ahhh kids!

Howdy pardner.
Bit of love at the rodeo.
2 Huasos having a chat.
Going back to Santiago made me reflect a little on my life here in Chile. A big city with so many things to do and see, the culture, the music and nightlife, made me think of Sydney. Sure it's busy and polluted at times, but it's also cosmopolitan, warmer than Conce, and quite beautiful too with the Andes as a backgdrop. I always strike up a conversation with someone on the metro, and being a foreigner here doesn't make you a freak. Concepcion on the other hand is a little close-minded in this regard, and people don't even want to sit next to me on the bus! You get the 5 questions; Whats your name? Where are you from? What do you do? How long have you been in Chile? And why Chile? That's about it. In Santiago it's all cool. On the other hand, living and visiting are two very different things as travellers well know! By now, I'd probably have no money saved, been sick and tired of getting the metro in peak hour, ill from pollution and worn out from going out partying all the time. Maybe the slower pace of Conce is good too - much easier to not spend money that's for sure! It lacks life sometimes though - all the students go home on Friday to their families. The bars are always the same, the 3 nightclubs seem to have 1 playlist, and the food is average. The dogs are friendly though - my new favourite is a 3 legged who walked me home at 3am the other day, and wouldn't stop jumping all over me with his 1 front paw!

Street art in Bella Vista in Santiago.
September 11 flowers for Allende.
The Carabineros.
The difference between Santiago and Concepcion could be put like this - Sydney vs Brisbane. No competition really. Ok, so Brisbane has got 'everything you need,' but does it have what you want? There is a big rivalry too - people from the capital hate the 2nd biggest city, and visa versa. They speak differently here - their voice are much higher pitched, and only get higher as they reach the end of their sentences - the women seem to be always speaking as if on helium! The weather is a big argument - Conce weather is pretty wet and cold, and you need your onion laters, whereas in Santiago it is warm and sunny, and winter barely gets cold enough for a scarf and 2 jackets, and hardly ever rains... like never. Maybe Chileans are just competitive by nature - they paint the power lines in their neighbourhood for their football teams (Colo Colo vs University de Chile), hate Argentina and think that they are better than the rest of South America (and the Copa America proves things...), but I guess everyone does the same. Sydney vs Melbourne. Australia vs New Zealand. Kirk vs Picard. You get the picture.

Blue sky.

Birthday Weekend

The always impressive Pedraforca. Just beautiful! Hiking with a touch of snow. Winter was setting in by November, and although ...