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Archive for the ‘Chile’ Category

I have to try really hard to keep up with Nina´s blogging superpowers..

One of the really nice things about taking an extended trip (or a mini retirement for Tim Ferris fans)  is being able to go to places on a whim.  Based on the recommendation of an American expat we met in Santiago (who previously taught English to Russian oligarchs and was really excited about the chance to reminisce about Moscow), we decided to go into Elqui Valley in the Andes Mountains, known for its cloudless skies and hence a great place for building observatories and growing grapes.

We based our adventures in Vicuña, a tiny town surrounded by Andean Precordillera mountains and the birthplace of Chile´s other most famous poet, Gabriella Mistral.

After a hike up one of the nearby mountain (the Chileans have a convenient habit of putting a statue of Virgin Mary at the top of good day hiking spots, which makes them easy to find and also means asking for directions to El Virgin will get you there) and a ubiquitous snack – a Completo (hot dog with guacamole, tomatoes, and onions) we were ready for the 30 min trip to one of the observatories outside of town.

View of Vicuña from Cerro Del Virgen

View of Vicuña from Cerro Del Virgen

As soon as we got outside the reach of the town´s lights, I realized that I was seeing the most stars I have ever seen in my life.  We were extra lucky since it turned out we were there during a new moon (as you can see the lack of planning really pays off) so in addition to being able to see the milky way, we could also see several neighboring galaxies (apparently known as Magellanic clouds).  The guide who met us at the observatory was a super laid back astronomer whose commentary provided a perfect accompaniment to the amazing views.   We got to use the 18 inch telescope (complete with a dome, whose main function is apparently to protect the telescope) to view Alpha Centauri (closest binary star), Beetle Juice (the next visible supernova), Saturn (the planet with the cool rings that for some reason appeared black and white.. have to get the scientific explanation on that).  In addition during the few hours we were there, I felt like we got to peak into the somewhat twisted astronomer perspetive – a deep hatred of the moon (so boring! plus its light makes it hard to see the stars), the athmosphere (also not good for visibility, which is why the really good telescopes are out in space), our insignificance in the universe, and an absolute certainty that there is life outside of earth, yet acceptance of the fact that it won´t be found any time soon.

Nina with the telescope

Nina with the telescope

I never really got into astronomy while reading about it in textbooks or looking at pictures, but seeing it explained ¨live¨ was pretty damn cool.

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Last night we crossed the Andes and are now in Mendoza, Argentina (yes, this is a different country). Internet problems, so no pics yet, but check out Flickr (click on right) for a ton of the super beautifu wine country we rolled through in northern Chile. More soon…

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Sorry for the lack of posts. We´ve been in a lot of places over the past week, and its been hard to keep up the writing! We left Vapo, and headed up the coast to the nearby city of Vina del Mar. Port town it is not, its more like Miami beach, with beautiful homes and gardens, serene beaches, and lots of rich looking older folks in fancy cars.  Palaces? Check. Exotic park with exotic palms from around the world? Check. We wandered around the city, taking in the intoxicating aroma of the plentiful rose gardens. An attempt to wade in the water was a fail, its damn cold!

Little Humpy followed us around half the day

Little Humpy followed us around half the day

In the evening we took a quick ride to the nearby town of Concon. Its much less developed, no condos here, just little homes on a hill that cascade down to the sea. There are horses on the beach, available for a ride, and we saw a bunch of surfers braving the cool waters to ride some amazing waves. The real reason we came, though, was for the empanadas mariscos. This place has the best ones in Chile, no joke! And for around $.75 a pop, we took it upon ourselves to sample almost every stand. Heck yeah!

Horses on the beach

Horses on the beach

We decided to go north, to the seaside town of La Serena, an overnight trip. Check out our wheels. Only the best.

Overnight bus to La Serena

Overnight bus to La Serena

Only later did we realize what a cool city this is. When we arrived it was cold, cloudy, and completely deserted. Turns out that´s just the climate there, but no one was out cause it was Sunday. It was much different when we returned several days later. Oh well. Here we mostly just kicked it at the Japanese garden (why its here, no idea), little zoo, and walked down several kilometers to the beach. I saw a young colt galloping alongside us as we were walking, and a bunch more horses on the beach. It was deserted, but the horses, the waves, and several dogs chasing the gulls gave it a sense of total and utter freedom.

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Valparaiso

Like all port cities I´ve been too so far, Valparaiso has a pretty gruff vibe, but also a ton of character.  The place is surrounded by cliffs and for those that don´t feel like hiking up the steep streets, there are historic (and I would say precarious) cable car type things to take you up and down. 
 
Ascensor (elevator en espanol)

Ascensor (elevator en espanol)

At the top of one of the hills, we had a chance to see an amazing house that belonged to Pablo Neruda (Chile´s most famous poet).  The place seemed completely perfect for relaxing and writing beautiful poetry and filled with a bunch of cool knickknacks to serve as inspiration.  Some of them even earned poems of their own – with the help of my dictionary (thanks Morwin) I was able to decipher the one about the emablmed pink Coro Coro bird.  Among other highlights was a terrace overlooking all of Valparaisso that was supposed to double as a helipad as well as a launching pad for ¨journeys to the stars¨ – the guy had a pretty active imagination I guess. 
 
Nina In Pablo Neruda´s Bathtub

Nina In Pablo Neruda´s Bathtub

Around sunset we wandered over to the pier where a very excited man named Nixon Jimmy (Nixon being his first name.. apparently his grandmother was a fan of American presidents) persuaded us to board a rickety propeller boat for a ride around the harbor.  Although it wasn´t very romantic despite his promises, we got to approach way too close to Chilean navy battleships and a Russian scientific boat from the South Pole (here Nixon was met by a lady shouting ´´Nadoyel Cherniy!´¨)
 

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Strays

The first few days, Dim and I were puzzled at the sheer number of stray dogs in Santiago. Here inValparaiso its the same story. We even saw some blue-eyed Siberian Huskies out on the streets. What´s the deal?

Our last day in Santiago, we took a bike tour of the city, which was awesome, although I must admit the city isn´t yet quiet cut out for repeat velo´ing around. I pummeled our guide with questions, such as why a poet (Pabo Neruda) is a national hero, but failed to get a decent answer. However, the dogs he knew about. Apparently, the city´s mild climate and lack of pests, and fleas, is conducive to mutt breeding. It seems owners also feel no shame chucking unwanted doggies on the street. Hmmm.

A stray takes a power nap mid day in Valparaiso

A stray takes a power nap mid day in Valparaiso

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Back  in New York  I became involved with a very special organization that has provided help, in the form of access to healthcare, for hundreds of thousands of families aroud the world who´s children are born with clefts. Its called Smile Train, and turns out to be one of the most effiient non-profits in the US.  They put me in touch with a partner clinic here in Santiago, and Dmitry and I were invited to visit the facilities, about 30 km from city center, and shown around by its entire staff!

This clinic, called Fundacion Ganz, was started in 1985 by Doctor Monasterio,  a world specialist on cleft pallate surgery and recovery therapies. The clinic has a staff of 25 full time ppl, including several speech pathologists, an audiologist, family psychologist.  Most importantly, is that they provde free (or heavily subsidized) surgery and follow up services to over 50% of children bon with clefts in ALL of Chile!!! We were told families come from as far away as Lima, Peru, Argentina, and even Ecuador, for complicated cases. Besides providing this life altering surgery, the Gantz Foundation  also arranges for YEARS of follow up dental, orthodontic, and speech therapy care! To my knowledge, there isn´t even a place like this in the US, which provides this range of services, all in one building, available to anyone who seeks it for FREE.

A huge thanks to Maria Eugenia, Lucia, and Paula for welcoming the incredibly warm welcome and for taking pains to show us all aspects of the clinic´s inner workings!!!

Fundacion Ganz Staff

Fundacion Ganz Staff

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Santiago: Day 1&2

Hey Folks,

So despite ourselves we ended up starting a blog right here in Santiago, Chile, so now you too can follow our travels from New York to this fine city and beyond. Since we’ll be on the road until August 1st,  expect to see lots of updates!

Make sure to sign up for the email alerts (check the right hand column) if you´re not much of a blog reader. This way you´ll receive an email each time we write something new.

Here goes:
We arrived in Santiago around 5AM, and while trying to start the day off early proceeded to pass out for a few hours at our hostel. Whoops.  However, afterwards we managed to walk around all of downtown, visiting the Palacio de la Moneda (sight of the bloody coup of ´73). We thought we´d peek in this presidential palace, but as witnessed by about 30 very formall dressed armed guards, it seems they take the security of their rulers rather seriously.

We proceeded to climb the very lovely Santa Lucia hill, which has great views of the city. It also has guards who love to keep things tidy, no matter what. Dmitry passed out for a bit on a parkbench, and one worker insisted on spending a good 5 minutes raking the 3 leaves directly below his bench.

We got a chance to visit the Museum de Bellas Artes, which housed mostly Chillean modern art, but must say that today´stop at the Precolombian Art Museum was much more insightful. They have an incredible collection of artifacts from the Maza, Aztec and much earlier civilizations that rules Middle and coastal South America from 1500BC to around 1500AD.

We popped by the main fish market, and ate some of the most amazing assortment of wee bit see creatures ever.

Update: eating somewhat raw fish the second day in a new country at a not-too clean market turned out to be a bad idea. Sticking to bread, yogurt, and other boring food for a bit.

The one on the left insisted on pretending to be gayish

The one on the left insisted on pretending to be gayish

We then spent the next 5 hours working it off to climb the city´s much larger hill of San Cristobal.  Its most famous for the humungous statue of the Virgin Mary at its peak,  reminiscent of Rio, but the place is huge. It took us an hour to hike up, and once up there, another 45 minutes to hike out to another recreational area with a basketball court size swimming pool (now green in the off season), gardens, and funiculors– yes they do exist!

Dima unde the Virgin at San Cristobal Hill

Dima unde the Virgin at San Cristobal Hill

More to come soon. Check out the pics for a taste of what we´ve been up to.

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