Friday, July 11, 2014

The things I'll miss

Well my dear readers, we come to the end of this blog. Something I've liked a lot about keeping it, has been watching the statistics to see where my readers live. I've had people from all over the world read and come back, and I'd like to thank you: Germany, the UK, Australia, Ukraine, Finland, Russia, Poland, Mexico, Canada, Latvia, Spain, Denmark, Argentina, Cameroon, France, Indonesia, China, Brazil, Turkey, South Korea, Taiwan and of course, Chile and the USA!
Thank you for reading, and if any readers have questions, you can get in touch with me at:

There are many things I'll miss about being in Chile-and of course, some things I won't miss. As you can see, there are many, many more things that I will miss than those I will not.

Miss:                                                     Won't miss:
My students                                           - All their absences  


Panque de Naranja                                
-The calories I consume with each bite

Living 1 kilometer from the sea           -Cold vaguada coastal (marine fog)

Street dogs
-Dog poop on the sidewalks, and the dogs' pitiful condition 

Earth quake excitement  -Earth quake excitement
Living in a Spanish speaking country
-Feeling like an idiot most of the time because of my limited language skills                                  Buying fish at Portales                        
-The smell of the fish market

Having transportation right outside my building
-The noise of Alvarez street

Rain in a dry land                                
-Street flooding due to poor drainage infrastructure

The view from the top of my building
-Apartment life in general

My colleagues

Learning new things
The kindness of strangers
Valparaíso art

Watching the ships

Lots of small, family owned stores in walking distance
Fresh bread from the corner bakery
Palta on toast
Shopping at the feria
The view from the hills
Watching sea lions, Cerro Castillo,Yummy chorillanas
The stunning beauty of the country

Please look at the link on the left, A Story for Tomorrow, which will lead you to a video that summarizes the loveliness of this wonderful country.
¡Gracias, Chile!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Riot, Protest or Parade?

Strikes and protests are common in Chile. If you've been reading this blog from the beginning, you'll have read about how there have been significant student strikes for education reform since 2011. I was told at the beginning of the semester that this was supposed to be a very active strike year for the university students. This because the students were not happy about Bachelet's election-they didn't trust her promises about educational reform, since she'd made others that weren't fulfilled in her first term. Luckily for me, as well as my students the first semester came and went with only a couple of  one-day strikes so students could march over in Valpo at the main campus of PUCV.
Something I was warned about by the US State Department at intervals via emails was when protest marches were planned in Santiago, and to stay away from them. Often when marches are held in the capitol, there would be other protests in support around the country, so the emails applied to where I lived as well.

In my last week in Chile, fishermen in Portales (where we would go for fresh fish), marched on Congress, which is in Valparaíso, not in Santiago. They were protesting a law from last year that set quotas on certain fish. Well, when the police moved in to break up the march, which was not sanctioned, it turned into a riot at the Portales metro station. Things were set on fire, kiosks were pushed over and used as barriers against water cannon, and the battle spilled over onto the metro tracks and into the station. Rocks were thrown, tear gas, the whole nine yards. The metro was closed between the stop outside of my apartment over to the port for two days, as things were cleaned up. When I took the metro out to the port on my last weekend, I saw no sign that anything had happened two days before.

But this is what I got to see that day instead. A sanctioned protest!
I heard a band, and saw a crowd of people in the square by the Iquique battle memorial and went to take a look. I'd seen lots of people doing dance performances in recent weeks, so that's what I thought it was at first. When I got there, I realized it was the beginning of a protest. I knew it was sanctioned, because there were a few police on motorcycles blocking traffic from the planned route.
 There was a real festive air about the proceedings:

 The marchers were protesting how funding is distributed to public colegios (secondary schools).
This group's sign says they want higher quality and more subsidies:
 No to substandard nationalized education:
 There were many schools and towns represented-this banner says San Antonio was present for the right of parents to choose.
Yes, I know, I was supposed to stay away from protests. But there were families and kids marching, so I wasn't worried.
I don't know if this march was replicated in other parts of the country that day, but it was very well organized in Valpo. Later I talked to some of my colleagues about why they thought there were so many protests and marches in Chile. They confirmed what I thought-that due to the repressions during the dictatorship, people now exercise their rights with exuberance. But things must be done properly: you need to follow procedures, not do anything in an impromptu way. Even so, sanctioned protests often do turn ugly, which is why it is a good idea to avoid after the march passed, I went on my way up on my last ascensor ride, where I saw a dog get off, then on again-it curled up, rode to the top and left with the rest of us.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Giant Chilean Hummingbirds

I never got a picture of one of these, but they are HUGE for a picaflor. It was quite common to see them in large groups, flying around a  red-blooming succulent (aloe succotrina, native to South Africa),which I saw in many places around Viña.
 Well, I decided to look up "giant hummingbird" today, after I got home (I'm back in Peoria, as of about 6 hours ago-nice to be warm again!). And I found out that the common name for patagona gigas is indeed the giant hummingbird.
I saw them more frequently in the winter, perhaps because there were fewer flowers out, and thus the birds were more concentrated around the flowers in bloom. Like humming birds I've observed in North America, they are quite aggressive, darting around and chasing off others that come to feed in the same local. They made similar sounds to the hummers I know up here in the north, which is what first caught my attention. Then when I first saw them, I was really surprised at their size-as big as a sparrow, or bigger, but not as chunky. They are not very showy in terms of coloration, but are pretty stunning because of how big they are.
I'm just speculating here, because I haven't seen anything about this in my brief research...but I wonder if their size has something to do with the colder climates where they are found. Perhaps they need to be bigger to be able to come out of torpor each morning in this type of climate?

Monday, July 7, 2014

Adios, Andes

I'm flying home tonight. Time really does move quickly, doesn't it? From February 12 to July 7th, nearly five months, here and gone. I do have several more blog posts in the works, before I wrap things up so once I get home I'll work on them.

I took a TUR-BUS here from Viña, saying goodbye to my dear friend Kathy who helped me wrangle my suitcases over to the bus. I'm leaving with three, not the two I came in with. I can't figure it out: I gave almost all my clothes and all my books away!

Once I arrived at the Pajaritos station, I grabbed a taxi and set up shop at the Lastarria Santiago Suite. There is another apartment-type hotel with almost the same name, but my Lastarria is the one you'll want to stay at when you get here someday :-). You book it through, or email Viviana directly. ( I've mentioned this place before, and it is great: the location, price, service, apartment amenities etc. Viviana is letting me stay here until 4 p.m., when my taxi (which she arranged) will pick me up.

After stowing my bags in the apartment, I headed out north toward the river, for a long walk. I ended up meandering for a while, then made up my mind and went to the Parque Meropolitano de Santiago. I thought about taking this guy home, so I could have lots of yarn in the future:
The zoo is there, along with acres and acres of park, and an ascensor built in 1925. The place was packed, it being Sunday with nice weather, so I stood in line for over an hour to get on the ascensor. Oops, I mean funicular-I was corrected by the person in the information booth. In Vapo we call them ascensores, which really means elevator in Spanish. Guess they are more proper in Santiago.

As always, I'm struck by the differences in safety between here and the US. Above you can see how you wait for the ascensor cars to come in on a set of stairs (there are several cars hooked together)...with no railing. On the way up I noticed a set of electric wires running right along the tracks, within easy reach of the cars:

This is a really long ascensor. I think the summit of this hill is nearly 3,000 meters, although the ascensor doesn't go that high. Cerro San Cristobal pops up out of the flat valley that Santiago is situated in so you can get a great view of the city and mountains. It was a sunny day, and while you can see the beauty of the Andes, there was a lot of smog.

Once off the ascensor, I walked up to the top where you can find the large statue of the Virgen de la Inmaculada Concepcion, which was opened in 1908. She is quite lovely, although it is hard to find a view that does not have some sort of antenna in the frame, I was able to manage it.

Getting to the top requires a bit of a hike up many more steps, but the view was worth it. I also spotted this statue on the way up-I'm not sure who it is, under all the ivy.  Possibly Christ?
At the foot of the statue is a shrine, where people light votive candles and leave tokens of their thanks to the Virgin.
On the way down I got to ride in the same car that John Paul II used on his visit to Chile in 1987. Steve and Joel also ended up in that car, when they visited the park a couple of months ago. It is the luck of the draw what car you get, as there are two cars, each with several sections. If you want to ride this on, aim for the lowest car in the train.
On my way back, I saw this mural and wondered if it was a self portrait of the artist:
The sun was setting on the way back, as I walked through the long Parque Forestal, where I found this very heroic fountain. I liked the spouting seal.

Adios, Santiago; Adios Andes.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Big Boats and Little Boats...Saying Good-Bye to Valparaíso

I've heard and read various opinions about Valparaíso: that is wonderful, dirty, ugly, beautiful, interesting, over-hyped, dangerous and so on. There is quite a bit of misinformation about the city floating around in cyberspace, starting with the UNESCO World Heritage designation, which is what confuses some people I think. The entire city does not have the designation, just the historical area around the port.                                           
So, is Valpo dirty and horrible? It is a big city, a working port and it is old-so yes, there is grime. Of course, I did not go to every part of the city and many places are dangerous. Many of the hills have substandard housing, which can have devastating results when things burn, as happened here in April. I've also heard that mud-slides can be a problem when it rains a lot.

But where I went around the metro line, port, points south and north closer to Viña were interesting, charming in places, run-down in others but I like the city very much.
 The boats are one of the things I found so interesting, coming as I do from a state far from the ocean. Peoria does have a river, which I like, and we have interesting traffic on it but it is, of course, nothing like Vapo!

I've seen the man in the row boat every time I've visited the port. Today was the first time I saw people with him, and I realized he ferries folks back and forth to the anchored tourist boats. Not the tourists, the people who work on the boats. We never took one of the water tours around the port-the boats looked really sketchy to me. I've heard the tours are really interesting, that you can get fairly close to the cargo and navy ships, but the way the tour boats were packed, the way some listed far over to one wasn't for me!
 Here the row boat señor, on a different day:
The ship below was one Steve, Joel and I saw about 6 weeks ago. It was really different looking from the other container ships we saw regularly, and we couldn't figure out what it was. I finally asked someone in the port office, and she said it was an vehicle transport boat. Out of curiosity, I googled its name Athens Highway, and discovered a really cool website, that shows ship locations all around the world ( This is a Japanese registered ship, and is, as of this writing, 3 days away from Nakanoseki. It left Valpo on June 3rd, so it will have taken it over a month to get back home.

 Pilot boats are vital of course, in a port like Valpo. I got to see one pull in and tie up today.

A different day, another big ship. This is the Orange River, built in 2007 (registered in Hong Kong). Yeah, I looked that up too, on the Pacific Basin website. This company specializes in "dry bulk," minerals, metals, construction materials and the like. She's currently on her way to Balboa, Panama.
Hasta luego, Valparaíso! I felt lucky to have lived next door to you.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Dia de San Pedro, at Caleta Membrillo

There are lots of pictures in this post, so get ready!

June 29th is St. Peter's day-he is the patron of fishermen, and his day is commemorated in grand style all up and down the coast of Chile. In Valpo festivals take place at Portals, where we went to buy fish, and at the smaller fishermen's dock, Caleta Membrillo (Quince Creek, presumably for a creek with quince that used to be there). I headed over to Caleta Membrillo, since I'd heard that was the place to go, rather than Portals. The Caleta is south of the main port area, so I took the Metro to the end of the line, and started walking-I did decide to get on a micro, since I wasn't completely sure where to go. The first thing the driver asked me was if I was Brazilian! (This was the day after Chile got knocked out of the World Cup competition by Brazil). When he found out I was from the US, he had me sit in the jump seat up in front and we had a nice chat on the short ride to the wharf.

The festival starts with a mass at the local church, then moves over to the dock area across the street. St. Peter's statue, along with another of the Virgin Mary are brought over. Later, Peter is loaded on a boat, and taken in procession across the harbor to Portals.

St. Peter, all decked out and waiting for the entertainment.
This is the memorial to local fishermen who have lost their lives at sea, (also a statue of St. Peter), that overlooks the wharf area. I saw a number of people stop to read the names, and pay their respect.
One of the highlights of the day are the different dance groups that perform. Here's a group getting gathering near the memorial, waiting their turn.
I watched 3 different groups, and my favorite was the first. A nice old man who got me a chair told me these dancers were doing a traditional dance from the north of Chile-he didn't know the name of the indigenous group, but he said they were both in Chile and Peru, in the mountains. I suspect the actual native women do/did not dress like these female dancers. The boots might be good in the Andes, but I think the super short skirt wouldn't work so well.
I'm not sure how authentic all this was, not only because of the costumes, but also because of the brass band that accompanied them. But these were a set of real condor wings on the bird dancer:
The masks were really cool too:
The man I was talking to said the guy in the white fuzzy suit with big googly eyes was a bear.
Near the end of an extremely energetic 20 minute performance, the dancers paid their respects to St. Peter and the Virgin.

Next up, another group:

Yet another group waiting in the wings. My informant told me these dances were performing Mapuche dances.
But the really big deal was the parade of the small, decorated fishermen's boats, which were to take St. Peter across the harbor. I left the dancers to watch them being launched, but I along with all the other members of the public who were in the way were told to get off the wharf. Probably a good idea, with all the boats being moved around.
I found a sunny spot out of the way on the second floor of the yellow building you can see in the background of this picture. It had a lot of small rooms on both levels, which looked like lockers for fishing gear for individual fishermen. There were families up there using the rooms, and picnicking on the balcony which overlooked the dock where the boats were being launched.

It was really interesting to watch people finishing their decorations and pushing the boats on trailers down to the winch that launched them. In fact, it was such a beautiful day, and there was so much to see, I sat there for nearly 2 hours.

Eventually, though, I got pretty hungry-especially when I saw people below me walking around with plates of fried fish. So I went back around to the dance area, to find it almost deserted, except for the fishermen's cooperative's fish fry. I got a nice merluza (hake) fillet with a roll and a cup of wine for 1,500 pesos (about 2.70). I asked if I could have a soda (they had them there), but was told no, the meal came as is, no substitutions. So wine it was.
I ate my fish sitting on the sea wall, and watched the boats pull around to pick up friends and family. I did not see anyone putting St. Peter on a boat, so at around 2:00 I decided to walk back to the port.
On my walk I saw Sunday anglers out in force, and lots of people out walking. This is something notable about life here-people walk all the time, everywhere. The way back was fairly industrial, but lots of families seemed to simply be out together walking along. This was a festival day, but in general strolling families and young and old couples take walks on the weekend, and most people walk much, much more then you see in the US.
I also passed the Esmeralda Battery, constructed right after the War of the Pacific, between 1879 and 1881. It was only used for 9 years, and then it became a storage area for the navy. In 1938, it was declared an national monument, and is the only one of its kind. It was damaged in the 2010 earthquake, an restored in 2012.
Right next door, is a naval installation. I saw some people showing their ids to the guards, so I figured I'd do the same. (Wow! I finally got to use my cédula, which took months to get). I'm not sure why people were going behind the barrier, because we couldn't go any further than a few feet, and no pictures were allowed. So I asked the guard if I could have a picture with him, and it turned out that was ok.
Back at the port, what do you know? The dancers were down there doing their thing all over again.

As I made my way back home again on the Metro, I saw a long line of small boats making their way from Caleta Membrillo to Portales, way out across the water.