Monthly Archives: December 2005

Merry Christmas

December 25, 2005
Day 88

Seeing that it was Christmas, not much was going on today. A few restaurants were open, but pretty much everything else was closed. I didn't have much to do, so I took a walk along the beach to the other side of town. A few people were fishing and swimming, but the town was understandably dead all day.

Late in the afternoon, a lot of people at my hostel started cooking elaborate meals for Christmas. I was lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time, and ended up being the beneficiary of several rounds of baked chicken, mashed potatoes, gravy, steamed vegetables, and even a bit of cake for dessert.

To end the day, Sam, Kim, and I took a walk to just about the only place in town that was in full operation on Christmas: the casino. Lots of people with dreary looks on their faces were gambling the night away. I played a round of blackjack and drank a few beers there just so I could say that I drank and gambled on Christmas. It was a very quiet day for me overall. I know you're dying to learn more, so I'll describe the local traditions that were performed in my next Questions Answered session.

Happy holidays everyone. I hope you're having fun spending time with your loved ones.

Christmas Eve Dinner

December 24, 2005
Day 87

Today, several people from my hostel planned a Christmas Eve Dinner. I walked to the grocery store with Sam and Kim from Alaska, Carolina from France, and Magnus from Sweden to buy supplies. Town was surprisingly busy. There weren't many Christmas decorations anywhere, which combined with the warm weather, really didn't make it feel like Christmas.

Tonight, we ate our dinner: roasted chicken, sausage, olives, salad, deviled eggs, shrimp, sangria, and an ice cream cake for dessert. It was a big feast, and it was nice to hang out with some people from my hostel. Otherwise, not much was going on today. I figured Christmas Eve and Day would be lost causes to attempt to do anything productive anyway.

The photo album for this entry is here.

The Ghost Town of Frutillar

December 23, 2005
Day 86

Today I took a bus to the nearby town of Frutillar. It's supposed to be the most German community in all of Chile, and seeing all of the houses and signs in town certainly confirmed that for me. It's also supposed to be one of the top vacation destinations for Chileans from Santiago. However, today the town was practically empty because it's almost Christmas. I walked up and down the shoreline that spans the entire town and decided that there was nothing left for me to do there other than go to the German musuem.

The Museo Colonial Aleman depicted the typical lifestyle of the first German immigrants to the area around 150 years ago. The first place I went on the museum grounds was the Casona de Campo, a large house with rooms that looked like they hadn't been touched since the 1800's. It was kind of creepy walking through the kitchen, dining room, and bedrooms without another soul in sight. I was half expecting a German version of the “Ghost of Christmas Past" to pop up and start giving me a tour.

Next, I walked around the grounds a bit until I reached the Casa del Herrero, the blacksmith's house. Once again, the rooms were pristinely set up and preserved in their original form. I wasn't quite sure what part of the house had to do with a blacksmith, but still, walking through the rooms gave me a good depiction of what life used to be like.

After the blacksmith's house, I walked down the hill to the large circular barn. Barns built in that style used to be all around the area, but this one was the only one left. Farmers used to tie horses to the pillar in the center of the barns and make them walk around it, threshing the corn on the ground with their hooves in the process. This barn didn't contain any animals, but it was filled with old buggies and tractors, complete with the insignias of their German manufacturers.

My last stop was to a building that contained a bunch of old textiles that were worn to formal events in the 1800's. Outside of the building was a large waterwheel which water constantly flowed through to... I'm not quite sure where. It was still pretty cool. The museum overall was one of the best ones I had visited in a long time. I have been going to way too many museums lately, but this place was set up more like a small village, so it kept my attention.

When I returned to Puerto Varas, I found out that it was pretty dead there, too. Everyone seemed to be getting ready for Christmas, so nothing was going on. The culture has shifted to going to bed much earlier here, too. In Santiago, people just start to go out at 2:00 AM, but here, most people are fast asleep by then.

The photo album for this entry is here.

Am I Still In Chile?

December 22, 2005
Day 85

I got into Puerto Varas early today after being on a bus for twelve hours overnight. I was able to find a nice hostel run by a German family. In fact, it seems that more people speak German than Spanish here. This small town is a nice break from the hustle and bustle of Santiago, and I think it will be a good place to spend Christmas.

About the only thing I did today was take a walk around town. Puerto Varas is in the lakes district of Chile, and, not surprisingly, located on a lake called Llanquihue. On the other side of the lake sits Volcán Osorno, a volcano that resembles Mount Fuji with its perfect conical shape. The entire area is quite beautiful and is starting to resemble the northern latitude where I grew up instead of the tropics, where I have been most of my trip.

It's cooler here than it was in Santiago, which is a good change of pace for me. It hits a comfortable 75 degrees during the day and 60 or so at night. The only problem is the constant wind that seems to plague the area. I've heard that all of Patagonia is cold and windy, and since I'm just at the gateway of the southernmost region of the planet, I think there will be a lot more bad weather in store for me in the weeks to come.

As usual, I didn't get much done today because the overnight bus ride left me exhausted. However, I did meet some fun people in my hostel: Carolina from France, Magnus from Sweden, and Sam and Kim from Alaska. Sam is originally from Indiana, and Kim is from Janesville, WI. There has been some talk of having a Christmas feast here, so I think it will be a good time.

American Pancakes

December 21, 2005
Day 84

This morning, Katty cooked American-style pancakes for all of us. The Brazilians had never seen such things, so I carefully had to explain how to eat them. "First, smother them with butter. Next, smother them with syrup. Finally, stuff your face with them." I think they appreciated the simplicity of the pancakes, but they didn't exactly like the taste. I didn't mind; it just meant more for me.

After breakfast, I left with the Brazilians to go on a really long excursion through the city. First, we went to the other side of town to buy bus tickets, then we went to the Brazilian Consulate to take care of some immigration issues. Finally, we got some lunch and headed back home. It may not sound like we did much, but in a city as big as Santiago, doing anything takes a long time. The metro is fast and efficient, but sitting on it for half an hour or more is not uncommon.

Later in the afternoon, I took a long nap, said goodbye to Katty and the Brazilians, and took off for the bus station. I had a 12 hour ride ahead of me to go to Puerto Varas, which is in the Lakes District of Chile. After being in Chile for over three weeks, I'll finally cross over the halfway mark as I travel south through this ridiculously long country.

Museums and Zoos

December 20, 2005
Day 83

I started my day by making my way to the Plaza de Armas again. After sitting on a park bench and soaking in my surroundings for awhile, I decided that it was time to do something slightly more productive. I took the lazy man's choice and went to the Museo Historico Nacional, located right on the Plaza. The museum was really big and contained a detailed history of Chile. I finally found out why every town seemed to have streets named "O'Higgins," "Pratt," and "Montt:" They were all war heroes. I also found out that nearly all of them were executed by a firing squad. Winning battles and getting killed appeared to be the secret formula for success in Chile.

The only other big attraction in Santiago that I had heard about that wasn't a museum was the zoo, so I went there next. It was a lot bigger and better than the zoo I had seen in Oruro, Bolivia. At least there were no house cats on display this time. This zoo featured animals from all over the world including lions, monkeys, elephants, lizards, and birds, but most of them were rather lethargic in the Santiago summer heat. I had read that animals escaped from there constantly, to the point that they had the police department's number on speed dial. I kind of liked the idea of being on the set of Jumanji, but unfortunately, it didn't happen today. In fact, I think even if some liberator had opened all of the cages in the zoo and invited the animals to come out and play, most of them would have simply peered up momentarily before returning to their slumber.

When I returned home from the zoo, I got antsy to see something completely unlike anything I had ever seen in the States, so I headed out to the Alto Las Condes shopping mall. Dubbed the "Most Modern Mall In South America," I figured it would be straight out of The Jetsons. Instead, it was more like the zoo I had just come from. Thousands of shoppers eager to get their last-minute gifts had piled into the mall, reminding me once again that Christmas was near. It's still difficult for me to get into a festive mood considering that it's the middle of summer here. I didn't feel like competing with the crazy parents in their frantic bids to find something their kids would like, so I took the long walk back home without buying anything.

Tonight, four guys from Brazil joined me at Katty's place. It was strange to hear her suddenly switch to Portuguese when talking to them. The Portuguese language is frustrating for me because it always seems so close, yet so far away. Half of the words are almost identical to Spanish, but the other half are completely different. I understood the gist of their conversation, but when it came to speaking it, I had no idea where to start. I think some Portuguese classes will be in order once I get to Brazil.

The photo album for this entry is here.

Viewing the City

December 19, 2005
Day 82

This afternoon I met Morad and Helene at their hotel. We walked down a long pedestrian walkway to the Plaza de Armas. The entire path was crowded with thousands of people. It was hard to believe that it was even possible for that many people to be in the same small space at the same time, but somehow everyone managed to avoid crashing into everyone else on their way to business meetings, shopping excursions, and leisurely lunches near the Plaza.

Finally, we swam through the sea of people far enough to make it to the Plaza de Armas, at the heart of the city of over five million. It was over 30 degrees Celsius (85 Fahrenheit) without a cloud in the sky, and I needed to get some shade before turning into a lobster. We stepped into a small cafe for some lunch. It was a pleasant place to eat until an employee played some songs on the loud, annoying jukebox located right by us. There must be a law here that you're not allowed to go more than two minutes without being subjected to having one of a handful of popular songs being blared into your ears. Still, given the choice of either being baked to a crisp in the relentless sunlight, or having to listen to the "gasolina" song for the ten billionth time, the restaurant was a no-brainer.

After lunch, we took the metro over to Cerro San Cristobal, which overlooked the city from the foothills of the Andes. An ascensor pulled us and a bunch of other tourists to the top of the hill. At the peak of the Cerro, the temperature was noticeably cooler, and the gentle breeze finally provided some relief to my dehydrated body. A great view of the city accompanied the mild climate, and I could even see all the way to the horizon, something I didn't think would be possible due to the high levels of smog I kept hearing about. For a change of pace, the virgin Mary guarded the city instead of Jesus, making the cerro visit worthwhile in all aspects.

After we descended the hill, Morad, Helene, and I met Pablo, one of the crazy Chileans with whom we sang karaoke two nights ago, for a drink in Bellavista. Morad and Helene had to catch a flight to New Zealand in a few hours, so the reunion was a short one. Besides New Zealand, they are going to travel around Australia, southeast Asia, and India for the next several months to finish their round the world tour. We said our goodbyes, and I made my way home.

I heard the Green Bay Packers were going to play on Monday Night Football, and Katty had cable TV, so I figured it would be a good idea to watch the game tonight. That was a really bad decision. I quit watching when they were down 14-0 after the first five minutes. It was just too painful to see how bad the once great team had become. I don't think they'll be playing on Monday night again for a long time.

A Relaxing Day

December 18, 2005
Day 81

Considering that I was out until 6:00 AM today, I didn't get much done. I slept until noon, but that still wasn't enough. I called Morad at his hotel, and he wanted to get together later, but that never happened. I did take a long walk through the neighborhood, which is very nice, and I got a few blog entries and photo albums taken care of, but that was about it for the day. Otherwise, it was a day of rest.

Visiting the Celinto Catayente Towers

December 17, 2005
Day 80

Before I left Vina del Mar, Shannon and Cote felt that they should give me a little reminder of home, so we went to Ruby Tuesday's. It's an American restaurant like Applebee's, TGI Friday's, Chotchkie's, and Shenanigan's. There was lots of flare everywhere, and there was even an NBA game on TV. Just like at home! I got a big juicy BBQ cheesburger and fries, and then I found out about the best part of the restaurant: free refills on soda! It was a great way to say goodbye to a town I really enjoyed visiting.

In the afternoon, I took a bus to Santiago. The capitol city is about 90 minutes from Vina, and the area between the cities is filled with vineyards. Somehow, I had always pictured Valparaiso being a suburb of Santiago, but it's actually quite far away.

When I got to Santiago, I took the metro all the way across town. It was really nice and clean, and it felt safe, unlike some of the other metros I've visited. I had to change to a brand new line toward the end of my trip. It looked like it came straight off the set of Star Wars.

I'm staying with Katty, who has a great apartment in Las Condes, an upscale neighborhood just outside of central Santiago. Katty is another great CouchSurfing host. I'm officially hooked on the website now. Katty had to do some major studying for an exam, so I left her alone to go and explore the town.

A month or so ago, Morad, who I had traveled with for the first three weeks of my trip, returned to South America. He worked his way across the continent from Buenos Aires, and he was now in Santiago with his girlfriend, Helene. I went to meet him at his hotel room.

Morad and I did some catching up, and he told me that some friends from Santiago that he had met in Buenos Aires were going to meet him tonight as well. They turned out to be really fun people, and we spent several hours hanging out in Bellavista, a trendy neighborhood with lots of bars with outdoor seating. Eventually, we went to a karaoke bar, where we proceeded to slaughter a dozen or so pop songs in both English and Spanish. I had a great time, and it was a good way to begin my stay in Santiago.

Santiago Photos
Karaoke Photos

Obligitory Valparaíso Visit

December 16, 2005
Day 79

I only wanted to stay in the area for one more day, and considering that I hadn't even seen Valparaiso yet, my decision for what to do today was easy. As soon as I got done eating breakfast (around noon), I hopped on a bus to take me to Valparaiso, which borders Vina del Mar.

Right away, I noticed that Valparaiso had a very different feel to it than Vina. The city was much dirtier and everything seemed older. It was as if the city passed a law around 1950 that nothing new could be built there from that point on.

The main attractions in Valparaiso are the ascensors. Built around 100 years ago to take citizens to the top of the hills surrounding the bay, the ascensors are rickety old elevators that are still being used today. The first ascensor I rode was called "Lecheros." I paid a little money, got in a large wooden cart, and was carried to the top of the hill. There was a decent view of the city, so I walked around a bit and went back down. I didn't see what the excitement of riding it was.

Next, I went to Ascensor Polanco, the only one that is totally vertical. I had to walk through a long, damp tunnel with water leaking all over just to get to the entrance. This ascensor was no different than an actual elevator as I went straight up, looked around a bit, and went straight back down. For me, the tunnel leading up to it was better than the actual elevator.

I was a little sick of going up and down hills all day, so I walked to the center of town next. Cote had recommended a restaurant called Cruz Malbran to me, and even though it was at the end of a seedy-looking alley, I found it without much trouble. I was told that it was more like a museum than a restaurant, but once I saw all the decorations on the walls, I immediately thought it could've been the first restaurant that the founder of Applebee's opened back in the early 20th century. I got their standard lunch, which was a huge plate with meat on top of onions on top of eggs on top of French fries. It tasted great at first, but so much grease had dripped to the bottom that midway through eating, I thought I was going to have a heart attack. I just couldn't eat/drink the whole thing.

Right next to the restaurant was the natural history museum, so I poked my head inside. There were a few animal skeletons and aquariums, but it was pretty much the same thing as the top floor of the Fonck museum that I visited yesterday. Still, I figured I might as well go as long as I was there.

I decided that I still had a little time left before I had to go back to Vina, so I went up one more ascensor called "El Peral." This was by far the best-looking one I had seen all day, but it was also the most touristy. At the top of the hill, there were a lot of big houses along with cafes and hotels for tourists. I also noticed that I could see all the way across the bay to the buildings I'm staying in. I felt rather proud that I was actually able to find something without having to ask where it was a million times.

Valparaiso was a very old-fashioned city, but not in a good way. When your main attractions for tourists are a bunch of old elevators, it's time to build some new attractions. A lot of people seem to be hellbent on preserving the city, but why even bother when it was just a poor, rundown, dirty place to begin with?

The photo album for this entry is here.