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October 28, 2006

From the abyss...

So how far am I behind? Let me count the weeks…

There are many, many new photos, but there is a problem with the photo part of the website that dear Carl is trying to help me to fix...

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David has just left Santiago, Chile and is most likely getting on a plane while I attempt to document the past, let’s see, month and a half – well, I actually have only documented the past week – the week in Valparaiso and Santiago with David.

David arrived last Saturday after very, very long trip which involved two planes and a taxi. He arrived in Valparaiso tired but happy to have finally arrived. We didn’t do much that evening except a simple walk around the neighbor hood and a decent dinner at the hotel. The next day though we tried to tie a little of vacation for him and sightseeing for me into a plan. The Brighton B&B is a very well-placed, but somewhat mis-run establishment. The prices for our room were advertised as $39 but we paid $65 per night. What happened there? And don’t get me started on the shower – it was about the size of a matchbox and only sometimes had hot water. But as it was located on Cerro Conception about El Plan and had a fantastic view of the harbor and the other hills. Each morning we would take our breakfast on the deck overlooking the city and eat our pancita and drink our café (which in this rare case in Chile was not Nescafe).

Sunday we got up relatively late – a treat for both David and I – and headed out to the weekly antiques/handicraft market. We took our time walking and browsing, difficult for two non-native New Yorkers. Sauntering is just so difficult. We looked at the books, and antiques, and old prints, and knick-knacks and even purchased a few things for the house and for gifts. Later in the afternoon we visited the Lukas Museo – it is a museum dedicated to the comic art of a man who went by the pseudonym Lukas – and is pretty good. The museum is located in the house atop Cerro Conception where he lived and worked. Other than the museum, the next most memorable part of the day was eating dinner and listening to a couple from the US try to decide what to eat. She was from Washington, D.C. and he was from the Lower East Side, New York. If they weren’t being so intolerant they would have been sort of fun to talk to. It seems that they had some interesting run-ins with Chileans and henceforth proclaimed all Chileans to be weird. On the beach, some man had rolled over the sand towards the woman and freaked her out, someone else insisted on speaking to her in French even though her Spanish was better (she looks Polynesian – i.e. French speaking), and then there was something that they though was weird about the dogs. The thing that made them annoying was that they were the new version of “typical Americans” – loud, judgmental, and now young and hip looking. But we enjoyed our pizza (Valparaiso has a lot of Italians in it’s history) and drinks and headed home after exchanging “happy travels”.

Monday and Tuesday were more days of walking around. Valparaiso is a great city for walking. It is reminiscent of San Francisco with the old and architecturally varied buildings, the decay, the earthquakes, the water. It smells more like Venice though, with flowers, sewage, the ocean, and food. We rode ascensors up and down the hills, visited the Naval Museum (which was only ok – lots of costumes and stuff from military ships that had sunk). I looked for cool North Arrows on the maps in the museums and David looked for dioramas and information on the battles and attacks that occurred. In the afternoon on Monday, while we were eating an afternoon snack of Camembert cheese and olives and a glass of wine (for me only – it was VERY bad wine) Art and Judee, my cycling friends appeared at the top of the stairs of the Brighton and I went running over to them with hugs and kissing and general American Beauty Pageant squealing. It was so very good to see them again after splitting up from them in Mendoza. They had had their wallets stolen and I headed off to Easter Island. We agreed to meet for dinner. Monday’s dinner was at a place called J. Cruz Museo (recommended by the loud D.C. woman) and when we walked in we were our eyes were presented with a chaotic vision of curio cabinets filled to the brim with curios and walls covered with knick knacks of all sorts Every other surface was covered with bright colored writing and graffiti, most of which was illegible. And our ears were serenade by an accordion and song. We sat down, asked for a menu and were promptly told that the establishment only sold one thing – chorrillana (for 2 or 3)– which is a sort of drunk food consisting of a huge mound of greasy fries, topped by onions sautéed with a little bit of scrambled egg, topped by a small mound of gristly, cubed meat. Since we were drunk or well on our way to getting there (Judee and I were splitting a bottle of wine, David and Art were drinking beers and we had all partaken of A & J’s wine aperitif before heading out to dinner) it was the perfect food for the moment. After that, to make a greasy dinner even lie heavier on the stomach, we headed off to find ice cream. And yes, we found it, ate it, and stumbled to our respective hotels to sleep it off.

Dinner on Tuesday was much more elegant but started once again with a wine from a box aperitif with Art and Judee – very fitting for our last dinner together given the meals we shared while riding. We ate at Café Turri - a beautiful restaurant, slightly touristy, that overlooks the ocean and the harbor. The sun was setting when we arrived and we were, as usual for us, the only people in the restaurant at 8:30pm. It was very nice to have dinner in a beautiful location, with linen napkins, real china and crystal, delicious food and most importantly, good friends. We each chose an entrée (which was rare for Art and Judee – they have been splitting entrees lately): David – Congrio (Conger Eel – famous in Chile), Me – Pastel de Jaiba (crab mush – so unlike me), Judee – Sea Bass (I think) and Art – Steak with Gorgonzola. A real treat for all of us. The wine of Chile that I have taken to drinking is called Carmenere – well the grape is called Carmenere (with some accent that I don’t know where to place) and it has a strong, rich scent and flavor similar to Syrahs but a little less spicy. Very yummy. We dined and drank and talked and enjoyed relaxing in a beautiful, comfortable setting.

The big change to Santiago came on Wednesday when we checked out of our expensive hotel and took an expensive cab ride to the big city. It was easier to take a cab than to try to figure out how to get the bike and all of our luggage into a bus – the taxi would pick us up from the Brighton and take us directly to our hotel, Chilhotel in the Provedencia neighborhood of Santiago.

A brief interlude while I watch some stupid horror movie on the T.V. in the hotel room – dead teenagers and all that.

Again, much of the first day here was spent walking about. After four months of traveling – I have found that this is the very best way to get to know an area. The first initial excursion is short – only a few blocks away from where you are staying then a return. Next, you branch out in a spiral pattern so that you don’t loose your way. After that, it’s a free for all and you can pretty much go in any direction you want (as long as you have a map). Actually, even without a map it is fun to explore and by going in circles it is difficult to become very lost.

So Santiago…the first full day was spent traipsing around the center of town. Ok. I have to say that Santiago is actually not the best city to visit if you want to spend a week in. It is not a beautiful city. The mountains are often fully or partially obscured by smog and haze. I was lucky to be able to see the Andes from the city and was able to enjoy the city without the traffic and without the people. And there are a lot of people here who just don’t understand the New York rules of walking on the sidewalk – keep moving, no groups more than 2 across, etc. They have the economy, but they have not figured out how to walk on the nice wide sidewalks yet.

The center does hold lots of attractions. The San Francisco church which was toppled in an earthquake in 1906 (I think, but don’t quote me on this) has been rebuilt with big stone walls and a beautiful (although much restored) wooden ceiling. This church is near a little neighborhood that looks a bit like some weird conglomerate European city. The buildings are a mishmash of styles but the streets are ever so quaintly cobbled – it’s sort of the pre-runner to some weird Disney version of Europe. The main peatonal of the city is a little disturbing. It is a huge shopping location with a few actual malls included and a Falabella on every corner, but the stores have the look of the 70’s – sort of rundown and seedy looking while presenting the face of a strong economy. I was shopping for a digital camera and the model are about 6-9 months behind while the prices are twice as much. I hope my camera holds out for another two months.

But the two shining stars of downtown Santiago are the Pre-columbian Art Museum and the Mercado. The museum has many of the same things that other museums of this type have, but truthfully, there is a much better selection and the special exhibit, which is about head coverings, is fantastic. They have developed a method of display that uses a shadowbox technique to show the impression of a figure on a screen wearing one of the hats. It is pretty impressive and I’m sure my description has not given it justice. In both the main and the temporary exhibit, the descriptions are given in English and Spanish, but somehow the Spanish descriptions are about two times as long as the English ones. I don’t think that it is all in the translation. However, there is usually enough information to give you the general idea of the display. The next great thing about Santiago is the Mercado. There are so many freaky kinds of fish on display and everyone in the restaurants tries to get you to come to theirs. We went to Yiyi, which was actually recommended by a New York Times article (if I were not lazy I would put a link to the article here!). It turns out to be a pretty good place with a limited but decent menu. I tried (and you would be so proud of me Michelle) Piala Maricosa which is pretty much seafood soup. There were clams, mussels, white fish, pink fish, some unidentifiable pink chewy things, and some weird gray things. The broth was surprisingly dull, with a lemongrass smell, but not a strong flavor of anything. It needed salt and the chili sauce that is on every table. But, even while trying it was something that I needed to do and I did enjoy the savor of the different types of seafood. David had fried merluz with rice and an onion/chili salad. It was great and the waiter was wonderful – he talked to me about the choices and explained all the other items on the menu. I had hoped to go back to try the other stuff, but have not, maybe in Chiloe.

The next day, Friday, we walked and walked and ended up in the Bellavista neighborhood. We had had dinner here the evening we arrived – an awful dinner at some restaurant that was supposed to be “authentic Peruvian” and “lively” and “great service” and it was none of these. The ceviche was way, way too acidic and I didn’t like the fish. But the company was great, an Englishman named David whom we met in Valpariso was celebrating his last night in Chile with dinner out and while the food was only ok, the company was great.

We took the funicular up to visit the Virgin on the hill who was happily settled amongst lots and lots of media antenna and then we took a round trip venture on some sky cars (forgive me, I cannot remember what they are really called) – ferrocarils, from one side of the hill to the other. Since the day was very cloudy you could not see the mountains, but this ride would provide an excellent view of the Andes otherwise – that is if you are fearless about the 1” gap in the doorway of the hanging car. You are pretty high up.

And then the great evening out – Astrid y Gaston – a restaurant that has garnered both yeahs and boos from the egullet.com crowd. It was a great experience – the waiters put up with our baby Spanish and chatted with us in English when our Spanish failed. It turns out that the staff from Astrid y Gaston play futbol with the staff from Puento Fuy – the other great restaurant that I’ve been to in Santiago. And they trade recipes. Who knew? We had a great meal that I will describe in another post as I am now ½ a bottle of wine down, watching really bad horror movies and thinking about sleep.

Just a little update on my timeline:

Salta and waiting for the bike part
Cafayate and meeting Art & Judee
Sickness in Catamarca
Breakdowns and Flats in San Agustin del Valle Fertil
Mendoza and wine, wine, wine
Easter Island and statues and horseback riding
Valpariso & Santiago and David’s visit

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