Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Valparaiso Fires

It has been a long while since I posted.  I have actually been gathering pictures to post for the past few months, planning to return to the blog, but unfortunately it took another disaster to get me moving. 

Saturday, April 12th will be an evening that will be stuck in my memory for some time as a huge, negative and scary  sequence of events. 

Actually for me personally the day started out great.  I had a fun afternoon near the coast in Playa Ancha.   We noticed immediately when a bit of smoke came over us, gradually covering up a bright blue sky, all the while getting progressively darker.  I became mesmerised and posted a photo to Instagram of the sky split between a gorgeous blue and threatening grey.  

On my smart phone I looked up the source and almost told a friend it sounded close to his house and he should worry, but quickly determined that it appeared to just be  a forest fire and I shouldn’t unnecessarily scare him without having any details. 

In no time traffic had come to a standstill and we started to realize something was more off than we thought. Without a bus, we decided to walk.  Rounding the corner, we could see where the smoke was coming from, and how much there was.  Ash was started falling on us in large chunks even though we were miles away.   

Between the chaos of  huge traffic jams,  an incredibly colorful smoky sky of unprecedented character, a short tsunami alert scare which was quickly called off… I felt increasingly uneasy with each step.  It took me about an hour to walk home. As I was paying in the supermarket the power cut out quickly and the stoplights outside did not return to normalcy.    I suddenly felt stressed out that things were going out of control and I started to rush home. 

Getting there, I of course pulled out my camera – I like to document things.  All of it was so beautiful in an eerie way.  It wasn’t til I climbed to a vintage point on a neighbouring hill and got the first phone call that a friend’s house had burned down that I realised this was not just a forest fire anymore. 

I rushed home to get some contact information and soon enough power in the whole city cut out for an extended period of time.  This would be the first of many power outages during the night, as the fires spread further and further, jumping to new neighborhoods without warning.  In the moments without light, the far off fires were so large they lit the sky orange.  

Ten thousand people were evacuated, and the city was abuzz.  Multiple points of fire could be seen along the tops of hills.  Around 2am I tagged along on a walk through the hills, but as we got closer the more we realized we didn’t want to be, and eventually headed back. 

All night I couldn’t sleep, between the sirens and explosions from bursting gas canisters, the constant fear that the fire would head my way, or that some other type of chaos or danger would come up during one of the many power outages.  I got news of a number of other friends who lost their homes, and others who, evacuated, anxiously waited all night to find out whether theirs had been spared or not. 

As soon as the sun came up I gave up trying to sleep and glued myself to the TV, watching family after family return to see nothing but ash where their houses were.   A couple of my friends returned to find their house one of the few unharmed among a neighborhood of destruction, and of course others returned only to confirm their fears that everything was lost.  

Fires continued all Sunday and were still going strong and spreading as I went to bed Sunday night.   While Monday everything seemed to slow down, small fires continued to pop up for the next few days.  After things calmed down the final count came to 15 dead, 3,309 destroyed homes and 12,500 people left homeless.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Concierto de Cuidad

When I first heard about a concert that would incorporate distinct musicians hidden throughout the hills, plan, and bay of Valparaiso, I had high expectations and an unrealistic idea of how well the hills would carry the music.  After all, Valparaiso's hills seem overly efficient at carrying all the unwanted noises: carretes, fights, barking dogs, unreasonably loud music, and other random sounds that wake me from my sleep or contemplate calling the cops.

The fact that the concert could not be heard clearly in its entirety did not draw from its appeal, but rather highlight the unique way in which this type of event should be appreciated.  Some friends and I chose one of the recommended overlooks, Paseo Yugoslavo, because it was centrally located in the hills yet not so close to any major bell or horn which would overpower the rest.  For the first half of the concert we stayed there, slightly disappointed as all we could hear well were the loud fog horns from docked ships, a faint snare drum coming from the hills, and a loud trumpeter projecting from Lord Cochrane's house-museum.  The overlook was packed with other "concert goers,"  who took the non-traditional concert setting as an excuse to be completely disrespectful to anyone who was actually trying to listen (and, due to the disapproving glares, there were obviously a large number of people attempting to listen).  Loud talkers, shouts advertising veggie burgers, and screaming children let wild without parents having the decency to go somewhere further removed completely covered up everything aside from the loud, deep, ship horns.

After 30 minutes of patiently trying to figure out what the real appeal was, I tried out a new spot next to Ascensor Peral where I was pleasantly surprised to hear the incorporation and echo of a few new sounds, the most interesting of which sounded like when weightlifters let the bar and weights slam to the floor.  Here, in between the extremely distracting squeals from the ascensor that continued to run through the whole concert, I could better understand how all of the instruments worked together to create one piece. When I realized that I could no longer hear the snare drum, I remembered a comment from the flyer that said, "Muevase y guiese por su oido. Pero tenga en cuenta siempre que cualquiera de las soluciones que escoja escondera otras igualmente validas". Roughly: Move around and let your ears guide you.  But keep in mind, whatever choice you make in order to gain access to a certain location or group of sounds will mean sacrificing other equally valid ones.

So I took off alone to wander off back up through Cerro Alegre, away from the screaming kids and inconsiderate adults, and discovered many more sounds that made up part of the dialogue.  A sax and flute added somewhat to the melody, but I seemed to prefer more of the abstract type of sounds that seemed to contribute best when heard in relation to others.  I would have enjoyed being able to hear the church bells better, I was told they were part of the music though I couldn't really identify them.  I continued to walk, constantly losing and gaining new sounds, and with time (and peace) really began to love the event itself and how it worked.

Next time, I hope that signs can be put up in common miradores which ask the public to respect silence and explain what was going on.  I would plan a walking route that could expose me to various sets of the sounds and instruments as I went along - perhaps somewhere along avenida Alemania might allow for better diversity over the course of the hour-long concert.

Also, I thought it was funny that when I checked facebook there were lots of people posting messages like "Whats up with all the boats?"

Friday, January 18, 2013

Fooled by the impostor cat

Remember this moment?  (You know 3:50, the one its stubbornly not starting at?)

It's happened over and over again in film... Twins, separated at birth, suddenly run into each other and *GASP*
"You're me?  I'm you? ...Is this a mirror?"

One evening this week I opened my front door to empty out a water bucket on the street and I noticed that my cat Daisy had snuck out behind me.  I called her and coaxed her back in.  She was a little resistant, as always, because going out the front of a house is an adventure seldom granted to my cats, and they usually roll around in the dirt a while before coming back in.

Anyway, as soon as she passed into the hall, I shut the front door and went back to the living room, though I noticed she had stayed in the entrance area, sniffing everything.  Cats don't sniff as much as dogs, but they do tend to check out everything around them....but usually not a familiar space.  She sniffed her way to the living room.  No sooner than my suspicions arose, they were confirmed:  an identical cat jumped back in the house from the balcony on the other side!

And there I had it-  the movie moment when my cat Daisy discovered her doppelganger!  Neither of them liked it very much, by the way.  Backs hunched, teeth baring, both cats looked ready to attack.  I drove out the double out just before they drew claws!

Daisy (horrified!)
Daisy's doppelganger - hair lifting as she realizes she's in the wrong

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Medical Labyrinth (part 2)

Continued from Part 1, explaining how I got one leg bashed in the shin and the other attacked by a ferocious dog.

So after being turned away from treatment at the Clinica Valparaiso on a holiday, I took the professional advice they gave me and "asked a neighbor" what to do.  Luckily, I have this neighbor that always seems to know EVERYTHING at the junta de vecinos (neighborhood meetings, which I love to attend).  I can't really figure out what he does, but he seems to be in the know on everything regarding emergencies (evacuations, fires, police, etc...) so of course I went to him and he contacted someone who found another consultorio that would have the shot, and they even said they were open if I could get there within the next 2 hours.
I hobbled to a colectivo and made it in time, though in the end they said they couldn't give me the shot until the next day because it was locked up in another room.  Defeated, a friend who is a colectivo driver coincidentally picked me up and drove me home, mentioning that a number of other people had been attacked in the same place as I had... so although I had missed my scheduled shot date, I was even less worried that the dog had rabies. (A dog attacking enough people to build up a reputation isn't a dog that dropped dead from disease!)

The next morning I lined up with everyone else at the vacunatorio of Consultorio Mena on Avenida Alemania.  The place was very clean and pretty organized.  Actually, my only complaint was that you just have to wait in line at the door to the room where they give the shots, which would normally be fine, except for that all of my fellow line-waiters couldn't seem to figure out how lines work(go figure!), and would constantly just cut to the front or bang on the door and yell at the employees.  I was nervous that by the time it would be my turn, the nurses would be cranky and rough with my shot.  Not to mention, I was again worked up thinking I'd be getting it in the stomach since I was getting the shot at a new place.

Surprisingly, the girl who attended was great.  I should have written a letter complementing her to her boss (do they do that here?).  She rescheduled all my shots, recommended when I come back in order to avoid lines, remembered my name, details, and even in which arm (yay!) I had received each previous shot without even looking at my chart.  In fact, the following two shots I didn't have to wait at all for, though during one of them another man walked right in the room while I was getting my shot and asked to sit down in there.  She, of course, said no because of patient rights for privacy, etc... and the man sat down anyway with me on the bed and insisted.  I'm used to nosy people that don't wait behind the lines at the pharmacy, but I cant believe someone would barge into another person's doctors appointment... When I put this on facebook someone commented "at least it wasn't the gynecologist's office"(...That's an understatement!)

Unfortunately, my last shot again was scheduled for a holiday, and the consultorio was going to be closed.  The day before this holiday was Mil Tambores, and I was absolutely exhausted, yet I woke up early and went to "la posta" of Hospital Van Buren thinking I might beat a rush.  To my surprise, within minutes I was called to a room on the side where my pressure was taken and they said they'd call me back in a few minutes for my shot.  The woman told me, "if I don't call your name in a while, come knock again."  Of course I asked how long "a while" was and she said within 30 minutes.  However, the place just seemed to fill up more and more, and there were moments when there was hardly standing room at all, with huge anxious crowds pushing against the doors. I assume they were all waiting for the chance to visit a family member or something after an accident on public transportation or something. Anyway, I had gotten my hopes up, and in the end, I spent most of the day waiting for my shot.
In the meantime, la posta's waiting room was a show of its own!  Multiple guys came in handcuffed and escorted, one of which screamed constantly at the top of his lungs "POR ANDAR TOMANDO, POR ANDAR TOMANDO!" Soon rumors justifying slow attention passed around that there was "only one doctor on duty to treat women and one to treat men", and once even that all of the doctors had been called out to on-site treatment.  Some people in the waiting room looked so sick and in pain, yet just sat there waiting to be called.  I understand that the hospital must manage a system of priority and urgency, and didn't question in the slightest that my rabies shot was low priority, though I pitied the people who seemed to sit helplessly as their appendix exploded.

 When I finally did get called in, it was a little confusing, but I made it to a large room with many beds, mostly filled with elderly ladies.  While not a private setting, it was not nearly as horrifying or chaotic as I had expected from rumors and my experience in the waiting room.  The nurses and doctors were nice and organized, the room clean and calm.  I got my shot and left within a few moments.  Since then, I have obviously not died of rabies, so I can only conclude that my treatment was successful and/or the dog never had rabies to begin with!

 As for the huge bump on my other leg, which 2 months later still wasn't going down, a physical therapist from work recommended I see a traumatologist.  I tried to but I wasn't having fun dealing with secretaries on the phone, so I ended up calling on a doctor friend (something which I hated doing, but I was having trouble getting appointments the normal way) who saw me right away and sent me off to get an ultrasound on my shin, and started treating my ankle which had become quite weakened from the injury as well.

Checking first at Centromed and IST, the Clinica Renaca was actually the quickest to get me in for an ultrasound, and despite the reputation, there wasn't really a price difference.  It was my first time going there, and coincidentally someone else I knew was badly injured that day so I had the chance to stop by to visit in another part of the building on my way.  The facilities and everything were nice, though my attitude turned sour at my appointment as soon as my ultrasound doctor judgingly remarked that my soccer injury happened to me because I really "should've been playing sports for girls."  Now I'm the biggest proponent there is for giving the benefit of the doubt, so I initially took this comment as a meaningless joke, though as soon as he rambled off a list of the sports adequate for females (my temper caused me to forget everything after field hockey), I was pretty sure that there was a sexist attitude behind his advice.

It turned out that there was a pocket of blood in my shin that couldn't get absorbed correctly, and I could either wait until it eventually went down or do a small surgery with high risk of infection.  Talking with my doctor friend, we decided to treat it with papain (a protein found in papaya) pills to break up and absorb the excess material, massage, and wraps during exercise.

Its been a slow recovery and I've still got a bump though its no longer quite as noticible to the naked eye.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Medical care review (part 1)

Reviewing books, movies, and albums is overrated... we all know a foreigner's real interest is in getting the low-down on all places involving paperwork, lines, headaches, and confusion.  Thanks to a whiffed kick and my lack of wearing shinguards, a major blow to a ligament in my shin started off my stint in checking out a number of the region's medical facilities.   (Before this moment, I have tried to get most of my medical stuff at CentroMed in Vina, which I have found perfectly adequate and easy enough to navigate.)

So I'm a little stubborn.  I realized of course that I had been kicked pretty hard, but it definitely took over a week and a few more limped soccer games for me to accept that I should probably get to a doctor.  
These colors are normal, right?
Ignoring all the missteps I took to get there... I finally found a doctor who I actually liked, partly because he asked me about my medical problems rather than talking to me about being a gringa, and partly because he had his daughter in the office with him, and looking at the ugly bruise on my leg gave him a great context for him to give her an English lesson on colors.  
"Blue.... Purple... green..... yellow.... orange.... " 

He tells me to stay off it, "no dancing cueca at the 18" (I'd been needing a new excuse), and by this time I accepted the order to rest because the injury had somehow spread and caused a sprain in my ankle.  Every step hurt like hell.  

The next night, it must have been my awkward limp that attracted a dog to come from behind out of nowhere, growling, and sink his teeth into my calf.   By the time I got it off and was out of view from the men who had just stood by and watched me get attacked, my calf was throbbing and slowly dripped blood out of a couple deep puncture wounds. 

So off I went to the Clinica Valparaiso, where I waited a couple episodes of "En su propia Trampa" to be attended. The doctor saw me.  He made me uncomfortable. He told me I'll get a tetanus shot and the first rabies shot in the stomach! 
The doc said to sit tight... so I did, for over an hour, so nervous about getting a shot in the stomach I almost vomited. When the nurse finally appeared, I gave a sigh of relief to learn that these days the anti-rabies shot is given in the arm.  We planned a schedule for the remaining 4 shots which had to be taken on specific dates for the vaccine to be effective. 

However, when I went back the next time to the Clinica Valparaiso for shot #2, things took a turn downhill.  Chile hit ROCK BOTTOM in the customer service category when the lady at the desk told me they couldn't treat me.  Despite previous conversations with the nurse and front desk and the paper in my hand which indicated otherwise, this woman insisted that you can only get the first shot there, NOT the second.  The second, she said, must be received from the "place close to your house."  When I asked her what type of place, she was of no help.  She told me to ask whoever I live with.
I was very confused and said calmly, "This is close to my house.  When you say to go to some other place, do you mean another hospital, a private doctor, or what type of place should I look for?"
She said she didn't know.
This went on in a similar manner for a few minutes.
I was getting frustrated.  I took a deep breath and said "It's a holiday, nothing except for the emergency room would even be open... and my shot MUST be today.  I'm not from here... I don't understand where I need to go to get my shot."
She deflected, "I'm not from here either."
I said that I would like to speak to someone else who could help me and she defensively said I couldn't.  So I tried one last time to affirm I understood I needed to go somewhere else, and asked how I could find out where to go....
She started shaking her head back and forth and repeating quickly: "No lo sé. No lo sé. No lo sé. No lo sé. No lo sé. No lo sé. No lo sé. No lo sé. No lo sé. No lo sé........."   
Obviously not getting anywhere with this lady acting like a 5 year old, I got up and left as she continued to repeat these words, effectively blocking any further conversation.  Anyway, by this point I was so frustrated I felt like I would either burst into tears or just literally burst from my racing heartbeat.   

On the way back to my house, I stopped to ask a policeman for some indication of what other type of medical services might be open on a holiday.  He said just the hospitals, but in the future suggested that I just buy the vaccine and find a nurse to inject me.  I never tested out whether this would actually work but this sounds a little sketchy.  

Revisiting this was stressfull, I'll continue later... 

Monday, April 9, 2012

Guy Fawkes-meets-Piñata Party (a.k.a. La quema del Judas 2012)

Una monedita para el Judas!

Once again, Easter came and went, and that means that Valparaiso had yet another round of "La quema del Judas" or "The burning of Judas" (though, in other countries this is sometimes called "The burning of the Jew").   Every year (see photos of the burning 2011, photos of the burning and parade 2010), this means that kids make an effigy of Judas out of clothes, straw, crumpled up paper, etc...  and collect money around town to stick inside his body.  Then on Easter Sunday night, the neighborhood with gather around, hang Judas up high, and light him on fire, letting the kids run around collecting the coins that fall out of his body as it burns up.
Judas 2012

This year I witnessed how they celebrate this tradition in the Plaza Waddington, in Playa Ancha.  Here, the Judas effigy was gigantic, though it didn't have any coins inside it. With such a huge Judas, that was probably a good thing as it would've been way to dangerous to get close enough to pick up the coins.
This tradition was different than the others I've seen as there was a show with various acts beforehand, and the whole tradition had a political focus.  There was angry talk about cell phone towers, the developed world taking advantage of the rest, government corruption, etc...  In fact, the monstruous Judas wore a patch on his chest representing the Chilean government, and while some may have wondered whether he was a member of Weezer, others affirm he bore the likeness of Chilean Minister Rodrigo Hinzpeter (I'll give them the benefit of the doubt that it was purely politics and nothing to do with the fact Mr. Hinzpeter is Jewish).
You decide...do you see the resemblance? 

While I understand the link between Judas-the-traitor and government officials who are considered to have betrayed the people in one way or another, I personally don´t find it necessary to link the two things.  Moreover, given that the minister is a living human being, I feel uncomfortable with talking about and, more so, pretending to harm him or any specific people or groups of people, no matter what they may do or believe.  (I mean, at least Judas doesn't have the option of being offended or freaked out about what all these communities around the world are pretending to do to him!)  Anyway, the connection was never explicit, and the show was quite good and entertaining.  I enjoyed the opportunity to at least talk to people and find out their views on various present-day traitors.  

Although the article refers to examples in Venezuela,  I found it interesting in discussing the way the event brings together a community. It talks about ways they channel violence into this horrible creature to be burned, that´s why its important to represent him as someone hated by all the community, and why often he is represented as doing or being something worse than just a human traitor. 

For the record, other Judas´s were modeled after figures like Freddy Krueger or Satan.  With no further ado... Here are the pictures from the show and burning: 
A little boy looks as if he is checking to see if Judas is real.

Tug of war before the burning of Judas in the Plaza Waddington.

The cutest game I`ve ever seen of "Arriba las manos" (Chilean version of Simon says that only has hands up/hands down). The boy in green is adorable. None of them are sure if they`re doing it right. 

The effigy awaiting its fate. 

The flames had not taken over the glasses yet. 
 The event in Playa Ancha ended early enough that I still had time to make it for round 2 in El Litre. (Pictures to follow) While they didn`t have the whole show and production, they did beat out Playa Ancha in 3 areas: 
  • Judas` testament.  (Though these were kinda funny ones verging on inside jokes of the neighborhood, like such-and-such finally getting a girlfriend so he could get rid of the blow up doll). 
  • Actually having coins in Judas
  • Community spirit. The crowd was so into it! Everybody was yelling or joking around and participating in some way. 
Awaiting his fate. 

Judas being set on fire in the El Litre event.

A burning Judas swinging on a cable between some houses. 
Everybody backs up and waits before the first coins start to fall. 

The older kids monopolize the coin search. 

Collecting the coins falling out of Judas` burning body. 

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Though I would've settled for half-priced sushi

When you heard "fun things to do,"  getting a little volume boost was what first came to mind, right?

I found the link on a friend's facebook wall. I'm not especially against the idea of plastic surgery, breast implants, or near-naked models.  In fact, I'm a big supporter of companies advertising their services in a truthful, respectful way, which, given the nature of the product in this case, is bound to be scrutinized a bit regardless. 

Even so, this still struck me as a little odd and definitely not the type of thing I'd expect to see when I click over to the page.  I've never used Groupon or any of its copy-cats which have gathered a pretty decent following in Chile over the past couple years, but I've always thought I might.  
Well, some other day, I guess. 

Edit (April 9th, 2012): Another good find this week... 

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Dangerous? I'll convince myself otherwise...

In Chile, everybody who doesn't live in Valparaiso tends to claim that Valpo is "dirty and dangerous."   I will usually give them that first point, but not the second.  I tend to believe that people exaggerate and that bad things can happen anywhere.

I lived in Minneapolis for a while before I moved to Chile.  Minneapolis is a fairly big city.  It has a downtown area with sky scrapers, a good sense of culture, people of diverse backgrounds and religion, and a crime rate that makes the charts nationwide... especially in some categories such as forcible rape (where it unfortunately leaves most other cities in the dust).  While the amount of violence one is exposed to varies depending on where you spend your time and what type of people you hang out with, that's not a rule, and one should always be careful and alert, especially at night.   When I lived there, I rarely felt unsafe during the day, but I was never very fond of walking alone at night in some areas.  I would always have my phone close in case I needed to call for help.  I'm not entirely sure how true it is, but I was usually under the impression that if you called 911 upon entering a dangerous situation, there was a chance that the police would get there quickly and in time to help you and/or catch the offender.  This idea is probably supported by Hollywood movies, where the police surround the house just as someone is about ready to pull the trigger... but honestly I feel that response time is pretty good, as I have noted it when calling for things as little as a neighbor's loud party.

The other thing in Minneapolis is that it felt safe walking in places where there were other people.  I felt less likely that something would happen to me with witnesses around, and if it did, I felt fairly confident that other people would step up to help.  This might not be the case if I were being held up at gunpoint, but especially if others weren't putting themselves in danger, I feel they would be more than likely to help a victim, call an ambulance, possibly even go after a criminal.  Luckily I never tested this out personally, but at multiple times I saw this process in action.

In Chile, my hope of being helped in a dangerous situation is non-existent, as numerous events have formed this outlook.

But if I'm going to find myself comparing places, its good to live somewhere where I am not in constant risk and fear of physical danger.  My worries in Chile, in general, are limited to getting robbed, groped, or my house being broken into- not getting shot or raped. However, to some extent, I feel my perception of security is just a myth I hold on to.   In reality, I have been followed home and attacked by a man from behind a car.  Just last month, on the way home from seeing the giant puppets, I overheard two sketchy individuals planning to attack me.  According to them, my pants would be ripped off in the process. Friends who have been robbed have also been beaten or worse.  Tourists have their cameras ripped off at gunpoint. I am uncomfortable sitting next to men on public transportation.  Despite convincing myself I should feel safe, I have felt unsafe in many other situations, whether with cause or just on a hunch.

My boyfriend has a friend who has been living with us while he saves some money and looks for a place to live.  Friday on the way to our house when he was getting off the micro, the chofer heard a lot of change in his pocket and accused him of having stolen it from the micro.  He denied stealing anything and tried to push by the driver to get off, though the driver jumped up and stabbed him in the neck with a knife.

As he grabbed his neck to put pressure on, he started asking everyone on the busy street for help, that they call an ambulance.  But nobody would.  He was already bleeding all over his clothes, and said people literally ran away from him.  He made his way to some police at the gas station, who rushed him to the emergency room and got him attended to immediately.  The doctors said if the knife would've gone a little big deeper or sideways, he would've been dead.  Instead he's already back home with us, neck stitched up, ignoring his doctor-instructed rest.

The driver got away.  Given how often I recognize stickers and trinkets hanging from the rearview mirrors inside the busses I take, I will probably unknowingly ride in his micro within the next couple months.

I try to convince myself this was an exception, one crazy isolated occurrence.  Maybe I need to tell myself that in order to feel safe, and I support it with the fact that I've been relatively lucky so far. But objectively, this is our third friend/acquaintance to be stabbed within the past year.  Is that number really able to coexist with my perception of safety?

Friday, March 2, 2012

Why I've gone back again and again

Don't get up from your beach towel to shop! In Florianopolis (and Rio) beach vendors pass around selling everything from munchies to dresses. 

As you may have guessed given that I recently gave advice about how to get a tourist visa to Brazil, I recently travelled there!  Though jumping through bureaucratic hoops just for kicks sounds fun too... 

This was actually my third trip to Brazil, I keep going back because there's always more to see and I love it.   I went through a little rough spot this summer when I got injured during my vacation (honestly the main reason I love vacation is so that I can go running during daylight and work out at the beach), so I price-checked about 15 countries throughout South & Central America, Europe and Africa and deduced, based on price and having not really researched most of those options, my best travel option was Brazil.   

To me, Brazil is very comfortable, almost nostalgic, to travel in.  There are so many tall blondes I don't call too much attention.  Things in Southern Brazil are organized and clean, the people friendly, the system easy to navigate.  It actually reminds me a lot of Minnesota in how things work and how people in society act.  Nobody bothers or cat-calls, health and fitness is big, recycling is everywhere, public transportation works with set bus stops and orderly lines, and people are willing to help you out in whatever situation.  It helps that I'm fluent in Spanish, which is fairly easy to get by with in the parts I've been, though from what I understand it gets progressively less useful as you go further North.  English is also pretty useful, as many people speak it well, especially those in tourism.

I don't really want to do a play-by-play of my entire trip, so instead I wanted to highlight some of the places and things I've seen, liked and tried.  

Iguaçu is worth stopping by!
I am not a luxury traveler.  I usually travel by bus between cities, carry only a backpack, don't book anything in more than a few hours advance, and sleep in hostel dormitories.   I love the open hostel atmosphere and enjoy meeting other people from around the world while I'm traveling.  

During my trips I've been to Foz do Iguaçu 1 2, Rio de Janiero 1 2, Curitiba, Sao Paulo, Florianopolis (city proper, Canasvieiras, and Lagoa da Conceiçao), Sao Vicente, Camboriu, and Santos.  By far my favorite cities have been Rio, and Florianopolis, though Foz makes the list just because Iguazu Falls are not to be skipped.  I've enjoyed everywhere to some extent, though Sao Paulo has nothing on Rio for anyone wanting a city, and Camboriu, despite a beautiful beach, lacked atmosphere (for my standards in Brazil, at least, though it easily surpasses Chilean beaches by a long shot). 
Rio has a little (or a lot) of everything...  city, beach, character!

Most of the places I've stayed have been good, though I suppose since my very first night in Brazil over 5 years ago was in a scetchy motel... it can only go up from there!  I added links added to the city names above for hostels I'd recommend.  Two places I will hands-down promote are Tucano House in Lagoa da Conceiçao*, which has an absolutely spectacular, relaxing atmosphere for backpackers, and Copa Hostel in Copacabana*, Rio de Janiero, because it has everything you could want in a hostel including an unbeatable location just 2 blocks from the beach, in the middle of shopping and night life, and with easy access to everywhere in Rio.

Açai and a cheese/onion quiche!

Honestly, I am not a fan of the food (and especially not the juice!) in Chile, so I love going on vacation to places that have tasty new things.  In Brazil, I pig out on 3 things:  Açai, Guaraná, Pão de queijo.  I could live off these and nothing else.  I may start obsessively writing Chilean supermarkets begging them to start importing Açai, anyone with me?  It'd probably be so expensive I'd never afford another trip again anyway.  I always like to try feijoada because its traditional, and, just because I can, have some guy whack off the top of a coconut with a machete so I can drink the milk out with a straw.  

The green ones have way more coconut milk than the brown furry ones you buy at the grocery store. 

I've been studying Portuguese on my own for about a year now, and though this trip would be a good chance to practice.  However, I have sort of a struggle seperating Portuguese and Spanish.  The two languages are so similar that its not terribly difficult to manage with the comprehensive skills..  its pretty easy to read in Portuguese if you already speak Spanish, and you can probably at least get the gist of a conversation.  However, this can become a negative aspect of studying the language because everything in Portuguese seems so obvious that I think the brain doesn't put in so much effort to remember new things...it thinks its so obvious no effort is needed.  However, when it comes to actually needing to produce the language, its difficult to recall the slight changes or pronunciation to the words I thought I knew. I did to speak sometimes, but I found myself speaking a lot of Spanish and just hoping whatever I said was similar enough that they got the point.  

*I wasn't sponsored to write this but if you feel like sending me money in retrospect, thank you in advance.  I accept paypal, flight vouchers, and/or shipments of tasty goodies.  

Friday, February 24, 2012

How to get a Brazilian Tourist Visa

Title shortened from: How to get a Brazilian tourist visa for American citizens at the Brazilian Consulate in Santiago, Chile.

I wanted to do this post because travel to Brasil from Chile is fairly common in the expat community, as well as for study-abroaders...both groups which I have constant contact with, and therefore I am asked the same questions fairly frequently about this process.  Unfortunately, the information is not easily found online and communicating with the consulate in Santiago can be somewhat complicated, so from now on hopefully I can just link to this post and not have to retype or rely on my memory.*

If you are a United States citizen/passport holder (regardless if you have residency & a carnet in Chile) you will need the following things: 

  • A book to read while you wait in line
  • 1 Application form, which you can fill out and print at scedv.serpro.gov.br , they do have a computer in the office where I have seen people doing the form there...though I wouldn't leave it until then! 
  • 1 "passport sized" photo.  (Can be taken and printed at Kodak or other photo stores for around $2,000 for 4).  Do this the day before, as waiting for stores to open the morning you go to the consulate will set you back in line. 
  • 1 photocopy of the photo ID page of your passport
  • 1 Photocopy of your plane ticket or the confirmation page that lists the information and dates  
  • 1 photocopy of your credit card itself (front and back).  They requested NOT to black out the numbers. 
  • 1 photocopy of a bank statement that lists the available funds for the credit card (statement and photocopy must be for the same card).  
  • $$ Money!  (commenters say its currently at $112,000 CLP) 
  • Your passport itself 
  • Photocopies of your tourist card (small paper given when you entered, if applicable) 
Disclaimer:  requirements WILL change with time, so please double check 
You can call the consulate 10am - 1pm at this number: (2)820-5800.  (Put 56 before it and include the 2 to call from Skype). However, I have never had anyone pick up when I press the number for English, and when I call in Spanish they haven't always known what to tell me United States citizens need.

You will need to take these things to the Brazilian Consulate in Santiago, located at 6191 Los Militares. Tall building, 1° Piso (Metro Manquehue).  Enrique Mac Iver 225, 15th Floor.   They only will accept visa applications between 10:00 am and 1:00 pm.  However, there is usually a long line, and sometimes not everybody will get in even though you are on time because they only process a certain amount of tourist visas each day.

I recommend you get there before 9:00 am in order to get a good spot in line.  (Edit: commenters lead me to believe its gotta be much earlier than that!)  It'll probably be better off in the end to spend (at least) that extra hour waiting before they open than more than that, or possibly not get attended at all, if you show up later.   When you get to the 15th floor, people form one long line regardless of the type of paperwork you need done.  When the office opens, they begin allowing people in the office and giving them a number.  There is more waiting inside until your number is called, and there are various counters that do different types of processes, so once in a while they will call people in out of their spot in the original line if a particular counter is free, for instance asking if there are any Brazilian citizens that need paperwork done or signed.

You will need to give them all the above requirements. They'll give you a bank deposit form which you need to take to the BCI around the corner, pay, and return to the consulate immediately with the payment receipt. You do not need to wait in line after going to the bank, simply knock on the door, and wait near the counter of the person who processed your application until (s)he frees up for a second.

The consulate will give you a slip and keep your passport for usually 7 days (they will tell you an exact date of when to pick it up).   When you come back to pick it up, you will go to the same place, wait in the same line, though when your number is called it is a very fast exchange of your slip for the passport and that's it.

The new tourist visas for American citizens are valid for 10 years.  It is still valid if your passport expires within that time; you just need to travel with the old and new passport in order to show the visa.

*Unfortunately, I've made 6 visits to the Consulate at the crack of dawn all the way from Valparaiso.  Learn from my mistaken visits and do it right the first time! 

Did I forget anything important?  Has something changed since I wrote this?  Any other advice???   Please leave a comment for future readers. 

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Festival de las Artes 2012

This past weekend was the "Festival de las Artes" that I had promoted in a past post.  This festival seems to be the evolution of what used to be called "Carnivales Culturales," without the massive parade and concerts.   Although these two aspects are definitely missed, this festival does include a ton of interesting and varied events.  This year I had my schedule mapped out well ahead of time.  In some cases I was very pleased with what I saw, though others were not quite as I had hoped.

One of the things I felt a little let down with were the "Invasion Callejera" events.  There were 6 of them on the schedule, however what I didn't realize that instead of six completely separate events, this was six chapters of the same piece, Ser.  There were some great costumes, dances, etc.. however the first episode was in a location (in the median of Avenida Argentina) where it was difficult to hear when cars and micros passed, blocking the audience's view and eating up the dialogue.  Though visually appealing, I was not especially drawn into the story.  By the end of the second event, it had a weird, dream-sequence vibe, though I wasn't drawn in enough to keep attending the other chapters given that the visual part wasn't changing much.  I would have preferred to see a variety of artists and talents that normally form part of the scope of the Invasion Callejera events.

Really neat bicycles as part of the Invasion Callejera piece, SER.  

Actors in SER perform in the middle of Avenida Argentina on Friday. 

A definite highlight of the weekend was the show "Transeuntes" by a Chilean company, Balance, from Santiago.  I have, surprisingly, never seen or heard of this group before, but their show was fantastic!  It was a modern, city-themed, aerial acrobatic and dance performance.  Although they had a projected screen of metro-scenes and city life, the show took place on Muelle Baron with the whole city as a backdrop.

Aro/Lira in Transeuntes.   

Tela/Aerial Silks in Transeuntes. 

Tela/Aerial Silks in Transeuntes.

In the hills there were many events as well.  If I had a toddler, I would have been more than impressed with an adorable performance of Repunzle.  Since I don't have a toddler, I myself sat in the middle of the carpet laid out on the floor to get a good view among all the screaming kids.   It was still good.

I was very excited to see the "Best clown acts from the UPA Chalupa Festival," however in the end I felt like I was expecting more than what I saw.  They did indeed get a few laughs out of me even so.

One of the cutest acts they presented was of a marionette Condorito who selected a young girl to dance cueca with him.   The dancing Condorito was absolutely adorable, however the little girl froze on stage and another girl came up to replace her.  When the second girl took the handkercheif out of her hand, the first girl started bawling.  It was a difficult not to laugh at the whole situation.
Condorito dancing with the enthusiastic replacement dancer chosen from the audience.

The first girl chosen to dance with Condorito froze on stage and burst into tears when she was replaced.

I think the Teatromuseo del Titere y el Payaso does some really wonderful things.   Something always neat to see are the giant puppets.   They had two parades during this festival.  I only went to one, but there was an incredibly low turnout.  It was also weird to see many busses taking tours of the hills, with tourists smashed up against the window to see these wonderful creations, and the tour operators wouldn't slow down or stop to let them really have a look.  Can you imagine just passing by something like this in a foreign country and not getting a chance to take a picture??
Freaking awesome.

Parade of giants.

I was also pumped to go to a cinema event where they were showing Mysteries of Lisbon, however I had a lot of things to do and the movie is about a million hours long, so I couldn't fit it in.