Day 9 – Home

On our last night nobody can sleep. Our taxi picked us up at 3 am local time, 11 pm Denver time. Our flight left at 6 am to Panama. After the 6 hour flight, 1 hour layover, 4 hour delay and 7 hour flight to Denver, we got home at 8 pm Denver time, midnight in Chile. Nearly 24 hours of travel.

It’s been an adventure, maybe a little too long in the big city. Our first days in Santiago were the best, along with all of our time on the coast. The trip was short, but we could have squeezed in another area to visit, like Patagonia or Argentina.

Our passports have had a workout over the past 10 years and now expire in the coming months. We’ll wait to see where college takes Melina before making any more plans. We know Maile wants to put her French to practice, so her goal is visit France, Quebec, or a French-speaking country in Africa.

Insomnia, by Pablo Neruda

In the middle of the night I ask myself,
what will happen to Chile?
What will become of my poor, dark country?

From loving this long, thin ship so much,
these stones, these little farms,
the durable rose of the coast
that lives among the foam,
I become one with my country.
I met every one of its sons
and in me the seasons succeeded one another,
weeping or flowing.

I feel that now,
with the dead year of doubt scarcely over,
now that the mistakes which bled us all
are over and we being to plan again
a better and juster life,
the menace once again appears
and on the walls a rising rancor.

Day 8 – Los Dominicos

It’s our last day and we made it another easy one, taking the subway to Los Dominicos, where we found some good Chilean and Mapuchan food, art and gifts. Everyday we saw how kind and helpful the Chileans are. It’s easy to see when we struggle to communicate in Spanish. Today on a standing room only subway, I saw a couple leave their seats to guide an elderly couple to take their seats. Minutes later, another older person boards and a passenger taps a young person on the shoulder, asking to give up the seat. They got up without protest. Seems like common decency but it doesn’t always happen like this.

It’s good the Mapuchan wood carvers have a sense of humor.

  • “Como se dice penis?”
  • “Eso es un pene.”

We walked to the Bellas Artes art museum, a historic building that needs a little TLC on the inside. Hate to see crumbling floor tiles in architecture like this. Its great that many of the museums, like this one, are free and accessible to all, but it looks like more funding is needed.

I may be in disrepair, too. After one shower and 42 miles of walking, they’re ready to get home to more driving and less walking. Better get that second shower first.

On our last night, I finished my highly recommended book about Pinochet, and the rest of this post is about that. The dictatorship here is so very recent, as I was in high school during the end of it. What I can’t shake is how the 3,000 killed wasn’t enough for immediate prosecution after he was voted out by referendum in 1988. Some of these atrocities are dramatized in Una Historia Necesaria, an Emmy award winning YouTube series of 5 minute videos highlighting real cases from the evidence uncovered in the trials. Shockingly, after he lost the Yes or No referendum, Pinochet was allowed to remain as the commander of the army for the next 2 presidential administrations, ending with a lifetime appointment to the senate, which came with immunity from any crimes. Later, when he traveled to England as a citizen for medical treatment, the courts there were evenly split on whether he could be extradited and tried on war crimes, even after seeing evidence of murder, torture, and kidnapping. Pinochet eventually lost in the highest court of England, but was then allowed to return home to Chile due to his poor health, where he still had a base of support. It seems for some, the positive he did for the economy of Chile weighs more heavily than the murder and torture, even though many of the economic gains were in beginning before the coup, escalated after his dictatorship ended. He had support in other countries, too: George H. W. Bush and Margaret Thatcher both publicly supported him, despite his killing of a US citizen in Washington DC by car bomb and torturing an English doctor. The Clinton administration and Madelyn Albright couldn’t muster words of opposition when he fell from power, either. Before he died in 2006 in Chile, he was never actually convicted of any of the crimes. And it was only later, when his financial crimes of money laundering, fraud, and corruption were discovered, that his supporters in Chile finally turned against him.

In the USA of 2018, it’s frightening to think about Chile’s history knowing how long it took for the country to fully turn against Pinochet. Perhaps a US president can attack the press and behave like an authoritarian, but kill less than 3,000, and he may keep his base of support years past his death. As long as the ills can be explained away with jobs or economic gains. Maybe all this shows how similar we all are in the world. We act and vote in our best interests based on the information we have, but often have a hard time knowing what’s true when our leaders aren’t honest. While Pinochet and Trump both had 43% support of their country, Chile turned the tables in voting for the daughter of parents who were tortured and murdered, their faces on the wall of thousands in the museum. She took office just before Pinochet died, completed her maximum allowed of one term, sat out a term, and was re-elected again. She was a single mother, Socialist, and agnostic. Politics swings hard here in both directions, unlike the US where no one like Michelle Bachelet has been close to becoming president. Maybe its our turn in 2020.

Day 7 – Maté

We are slowing as the trip winds down, appreciating the friendly Chileans we have met so far. It’s been tour guides, waiters, Uber drivers, and tonight Francisco, our highly recommended AirBnb host. (Thanks Rich!)

Today we slept late and then spend 3 hours in Starbucks. It’s fun to take in new cultures, but other times it’s good to have a comfortable chair for reading and homework. Then we went to Café Palermo for maté tea and a walk around the Barrio Italia neighborhood. Nice to see the Uruguayan cafe has a sense of humor with their Mordisco de Luis Suárez on the menu! That will take some Spanish and soccer to understand.

Day 6 – James Blunt

Not a great day for me, after the worst pizza ever last night. The orchestra show ended at 10 pm and we were rushing to leave the areas of the protest, which meant eating at the first place we saw: Telepizza, a Pizza Hut look-alike. I paid for it all day today.

We did make it to the Museum of Memoy, focused on the Pinochet era but also took a larger perspective of the human rights abuses worldwide. I was surprised to see nothing on the US involvement, perhaps Chile taking responsibility for what happened. I was surprised to learn that in 1989, after 16 years of repression, executions, exile, torture, etc, 42% of the country voted to keep the dictatorship in power! That was the vote that changed it back to a democracy, but it is scary to think almost half of their country wanted no change. 42% sounds like the approval rating of Trump, though thankfully he has a long wait to go before he earns a museum like this.

Our other event today was the soccer game. We chose to see La U because they play in the Chile National Stadium that holds 50,000. However, it was a mess and we never went. It was the last game of the season, with La U in second place, with the first place team Colocolo also playing, across town, trying to keep their 2 point lead in the table. There were seats available, but I was never able to buy them online due to errors, likely because it required my national Chile ID to buy them. I went to a ticket outlet this week, and they said online only. I some some available online, so I figured we could buy them there, but it turns out the team rents the stadium and there is no will call, box office, etc. Just security at each gate letting people in with their already purchased tickets. I asked a few people to find this out, though one did agree to sneak us in after the game started.

The only positive from this was the 30 minute Uber drive to the stadium, with the first driver who was social. He was older, whereas the other 5-6 we’ve had a young men who didn’t say a word. Every one of them listened to romantic and emotional songs Spanish-language songs on the radio, with one even signing along with James Blunt came on in English! Finally, Michele found another fan. I knew the country tends to be more introverted, unlike the rest of the continent, but this was extreme. It was fun to hold a conversation for the 30 minutes, talking about soccer, families, vacations, etc. Verb conjugations are still hard for me, so I say a lot of “en el pasado…” and “vamos a…” He questioned why we would want to go to a La U game, which is a team followed by the common folk of Santiago. Unlike his team, Colocolo, which has a new stadium, peaceful experience, and attracts more of the upper class. I told him La U seems like “el equipo de la gente” and we want a typical, even if loud, experience. The hard class divisions in Chile were apparent here, with the foreign tourists choosing one game, whereas the full-time Uber driver with an old car, seeking experiences of the upper class.

In the end, we saw no game, and couldn’t even get on the subway to get home:

  • Buses and trains do not take cash here
  • The re-chargeable transit card I had could not be recharged in the automated machines due to no chip reader
  • We took out cash and tried to use cash, and it would not accept a $10 bill, only $5 at the most
  • The staff behind the register were not authorized to give cash

Crazy! Maybe points to some of the inefficiencies in a country bouncing back and forth between extreme economies. We see a lot of road construction workers with shovels, but the pace is slow without many trucks and machines. Even though it a modern country with industries, Chile is not considered a developed/industrialized country. Chile and Argentina are the top two on the continent. There are many positives about Chile, like a murder rate nearly half of the US. We feel safe walking around, and I see young women walking alone after dark. I found this description online which sounds about right.

We’re walking 5-8 miles per day and I can count the number of homeless I’ve seen on one hand. It’s unbelievable that the number here is the same as in Denver.

  • Denver: 700,000 people with 5,000 homeless
  • Santiago: 6 million people with 6,000 homeless
  • New York City: 8.5 million people with 65,000 homeless

I’m not sure why, other than the programs like Operation Chalk that gave away land in the city to the homeless to build on, similar to the Homestead Act in the US. One homeless problem they do have is the dogs, which wander into restaurants on their own. Referred to as “quiltros,” it is estimated that half a million live in Santiago, and there are some interesting programs underway to reduce the number. One group tied balloons to the dogs and made a video of it to improve awareness.

I am “Tro” today.

Today was Sunday. They close a bunch of streets to let the bikers ride on their own

Day 5 – Mi Nobre Es

That’s my experience ordering food in Santiago, not my homage to Eminem. Twice today the staff did not know how to write “Troy” on my food order. Once they even called over another person to try to understand. I finally just said, “Mi hombre es Pablo” and they smiled and wrote it down. For the rest of the trip, I’m Pablo.

The best news of tonight is our peaceful orchestra concert at the same theatre where the protests have been happening. As much as I support the issues being protested, I don’t want to be in the middle of tear gas in a foreign country. Americans could learn from how the Chileans are fighting for the rights of all people, especially the Mapuche who have been driven from their land by mining and forestry companies. There’s a history here, sparked again by the police killing of a young Mapuche man last week. The parallels in the US are endless: Keystone pipeline, Travon Martin, and Colin Kaepernick are just a few. One killing in Chile brings thousands to the streets, whereas it’s happening nearly daily in the US and we seem more focused on our Snap streaks.

I thought the national symphony was making arts affordable by selling good seats for $10 each. Instead, it seems the arts may be underfunded here. The building had torn carpeting and only 75 people in the orchestra, for a city nearly the size of NYC. Despite this, Melina agreed the music was very good. I really liked the powerful piece by basoonist Nelson Vinot, a tribute to the Mapuche people, played under the Mapuche flag.

I’ve never seen four encores, with everyone on their feet with intense appreciation for the music, and what it stands for after the recent murder.

Before the concert, our day was mostly shopping. After returning the rental car, we took an Uber to Costenara Center, 5 floors of stores attached to a 300 meter tower. It’s the highest point in South America but everyone wanted to shop, not chase vertigo. So we gave the kids 4 hours on their own. We found the usual US stores but also plenty of new stores, like Ellus from Brazil. We took another Uber to the Artesanal market, which turned out to be more flea market than local artists, but an interesting walk around the shops.

Across the street is Santa Lucia Hill, named for the day the Spanish conquistador Pedro de Valdivia took over the hill in 1540. The next year, he founded Santiago. We climbed the small hill for photos before making our way home.

Today was mostly kid activities. Tomorrow, I hope to get back to what’s important, human rights and football.

Day 4 – Winery Tour

For our 90 minute drive to Santiago I had wanted to use the car to get to a hike. But following Darwin’s path up La Compana would be a full day. Instead, we had our last empanadas in Valparaiso and toured a winery in Casablanca Valley, halfway to Santiago.

Michele found Emiliana Organic Vineyards online and the tour was similar to New Belgium in Fort Collins. Lots of reuse, sustainability, profit sharing, integrated pest management, etc. Great tour in English with Maria, our vegetarian (except in the presence of ceviche) tour guide from Italy. It was our first vineyard tour. The cheese plate, WiFi and big tables for the girls to do homework during our tour worked out well. And they liked the manure producing alpacas.

Once we got to Santiago, I was not ready for the density and traffic. I should have expected it for a city of 6 million. Not far off from the 8.5 million in NYC. The only problem for me is the car. Sixt has been texting me, requesting that I return the car early. My Spanish is not great but I figured out that I now need to keep the car for one more night. Our Airbnb host Francisco kindly agreed to let us use his parking spot. But it took 5 laps around a congested block before we figured out where exactly his spot is. Thanks to Melina for talking to a security guard to explain our predicament and convince him to let us into the resident-only parking garage. All this was an hour of stress for everyone, and Starbucks didn’t fix it. Hopefully, a day at one of the biggest shopping malls in South America tomorrow will help. I had to find something. It should be easy, unstructured time, and best of all, walking instead of driving. The one problem with tomorrow is Melina and I have tickets to the orchestra, and the theatre is right where CNN is showing video of the protests and tear gas.

Our Airbnb works great for the 4 of us. A queen and 2 bunks on the 26th floor in a centrally located apartment building. It is hot though, 85 degrees and no AC.

With the car safely parked, we walked around, passing what appeared to be the protests. We found a vegetarian restaurant El Naturista where I could finally have quinoa and porotos, two more things to check off my list. I’m still looking for maté in a bombilla. Everyone was ready to get home to a quiet space with reliable internet, something we haven’t had on the trip yet.

Day 3 – Street Art

We booked a walking tour of the street art of Valpairiso with Valpo Tours, which was a great local option. Eddie and the others that run the tours are actual artists, and he could not only describe the types of art and meaning, but knew many of the artists, some he talked to during the tour. He explained that the city of Valparaiso was built very quickly, without street names, and residents wanted unique colors to identify their homes. Street artists gladly jumped in to paint their homes, with their permission. That trend continued, with home and business owners seeking artists to paint their property. Municipal approval processes were very quick and efficient for public art. I didn’t realize that during the Pinochet exile of the 1970’s and ’80’s, many of the families moved to New York and grew up in the emerging hip hop culture. When Pinochet was overthrown in 1989, many moved back, bringing the hip hop they knew into their street art and culture of the ’90’s in Chile. We saw many famous works, like the Beethoven piano and “We are Happy” by Art + Belief, and also saw school groups sliding down the cements hills around the city. I asked if Banksy has ever painted here and he showed us a tiny painting that he is believed to have painted, his only one here. Maybe someday Rino will become a street art destination, though it far behind the top two, Valparaiso and Bogota. Here, nearly every single wall is painted. It’s a far cry from the beige and covenants of Highlands Ranch.

After 2 1/2 hours of walking around the city, we made an effort to find good food for lunch. The locals and tourists seems to agree on the best empanadas being Delicias Empanadas, where they we have 80 different kinds, including the cheese, mango and pineapple that I loved. Then we found some good candy gifts at La Dulceria and art at Bahia Utophica.

After another siesta, we were back to Viña del Mar for beach time, even though the currents from Antarctica make the ocean here very cold. It doesn’t stop the surfers, but they wear wetsuits. I can’t say I was my best self on that 4 mile, 30 minute drive to the beach. The DIY international vacation includes some stressful situations and planning conflicts, but we survived. Sunset photos on the beach helped.

For a Thanksgiving dinner, we stumbled onto the perfect place, Ilo Mapu. It’s a fusion of Chilean and Mapuche food, making it a Native (South)American meal. We weren’t all vegetarians tonight:

  • Maqui berry juice, native to Chile
  • Salmon with quinoa in squid ink
  • Seaweed and cheese
  • Fried quinoa

  • Last year on this day, Maile and I walked south London looking at the street art there while Michele and Melina toured Cambridge. The year before that, we had a 7-11 Thanksgiving picnic on the hot springs in New Mexico with Anni. It’s been a good holiday for us to travel!
  • It’s our last night near the ocean in Valparaiso, a fun start to the trip. We learned a ton on our tour, even about the recent protests going on at the port where a worker fell 5 stories off a cruise ship he was supplying. There are now protests about safety conditions for the workers. Workers are on strike, refusing to supply the monstrous cruise ship docked in the harbor. We also didn’t realize Chile is known for earthquakes. I did a quick Google search and saw that there was a 4.7 magnitude earthquake just yesterday, only 75 miles up the coast from where we were in Zapallar. An 8.8 earthquake in 2010 killed over 500 people and caused power outages for over 90 percent of Chileans.

    Tomorrow, we drive to Santiago and return the rental car finally. I won’t miss driving in Valparaiso’s narrow, winding cobblestone streets with lanes that seem like just recommendations. I was a mess parking on a steep downhill road behind a brand new truck. Trying to parallel park, I got too close and had to reverse, which was tough with a stick shift. I had my feet on the brake, gas and clutch, gunning the engine trying to avoid rolling forward a few more inches into the truck. After 5 minutes I finally got us moving backward, leaving some burned brake pad aroma in front of the restaurant.

    Doing a last check of the Airbnb for tomorrow, I saw a message about free cancellations in Santiago because of the protests there. We had not heard about the police killing of a young Mapuche man and the protests in the streets there.