Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Archive Imports

Just in case I'm giving a number of you a major case of Deja vu with my posting tonight... yes, you have seen those posts before. I am importing a somewhat select number of posts (and comments, untouched) over to this blog so that friends, family, and new readers can look back on some of my more memorable posts or writings and photos about important events.

So far, I've uploaded a number of topics:

Tsunami Evacuation - False alarm of a tsunami has the whole city scrambling for the hills
8.8 Earthquake - My account and photos of Valparaiso in the 2010 Earthquake
Circus Convention in Chillan - A crazy weekend of circus shows and workshops
Residence Visa Info - My account of stumbling through the permanent resident visa process
How Language affects thinking - Thoughts on language and articles
Carnaval Mil Tamblores 2009 - My participation in Valparaiso's popular carnaval
18th of September 2009 - Chile's most important holiday
On being Vegetarian - ...because the vegetarian option always includes ham
Cultural Heritage Day - photos around some of the heritage sites in Viña and Valparaiso
21st of May parade, - photos of the military in a special march
Street Performing in Chile - photos and videos of an interesting scene
Ex-Carcel - One of Valparaiso's major youth and cultural centers
Chile's large river rats - i.e. Don't swim in Estero Marga Marga ;-)
When Angel's apartment building caught on fire - a major cultural shock event for me

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Chile joins Earth Hour, 2010

This year Chile became one of the 88 new countries to join the cause, "Earth Hour."

Earth Hour is about creating awareness about the harm we do to the natural environment and building a sustainable future. People, companies and cities around the globe turn off their lights for one hour, 8:30 to 9:30 pm local time to support the cause. Both this and last year I did hear word of the event here in Chile.

In my opinion, Chile is way behind the game on everything "green." Heck, I don't even have the option to recycle (unless you count the fact that the garbage men sift through the stuff I throw out). In general the city and its residents do not outwardly seem too concerned for the environment. Plastic bags are more popular than the goods that go in it (not kidding, sometimes someone will double bag your ONE item!), people litter everywhere, and any sort of message of environmental consciousness or activism is mostly unheard of. I'm sure there are some people concerned with these issues, but during the years I've been here the only times I've come in contact with the issues have been through other expats, and maybe a piece of graffiti or two.

So it was no surprise to me that to the naked eye, Earth Hour in Valparaiso looked like a huge flop.

A few weeks ago we did have a couple blackouts, however. So maybe some considered their dues already paid. In those events, the news reported 80% of Chile experienced what was almost a nationwide blackout due to grid damage from the earthquake that happened a month ago today. I was in the hills of Valparaiso at the time and took a video as well. This is what Earth Hour in Valparaiso should've looked like:

Friday, March 26, 2010

Growing out of my fins

I'm from the "Land of 10,000 Lakes," Minnesota, named for the Dakota Souix word meaning "Cloudy water." I grew up doing water sports. Summers for me meant days at the various local beaches, swimming and diving lessons, water parks, fishing, wave pools, canoeing, and when I was lucky enough to be invited by a friend, boating, tubing, or spending a weekend at a cabin on the lake. I spent so much time around water that I even began training to become a lifeguard.

In my teen years I was lucky enough to go on a number of vacations that revolved around the beach and water activities. I snorkeled through coral reefs, went cliff jumping in Mexico, and bronzed my pasty Minnesotan skin on gorgeous ocean beaches.

Little did I ever imagine that moving to the Pacitic coast in Chile to live on the ocean for the first time in my life would mean the end to water-related activities for me! It only took one quick dip of my toes* to realize that the water here is FREEEEEEZING, and I was completely turned off. Living on the ocean meant little more than a physical limit in which directions I could travel. Pools and other water activities are not widely available except for those willing to pay a steep price.

Long story short, nearly 4 years later my boyfriend planned a secret you-don't-need-to-spend money-to-call-it-a-date activity, that he dropped hints about for days until last weekend I ended up walking up the coast just south of Valparaiso, confused and terrified about the fact that I had been ordered to bring a swimsuit. (Seriously, summer is over). Then at one point we climbed over the guard railing and walked the plank across an old disintegrated pier beam, and set our stuff down on the concrete block at the end.

Getting this far did nothing to calm the feeling of dread when he said "Now lets jump in!"
I refused.
I was already cold in my dry pants and sweatshirt. He seemed disappointed, and explained that he had picked this spot because the ocean was teal blue like in the pictures, and he wanted to swim out to a further cement support block protruding from the ocean and have me take a few pictures. I said go ahead, and let him do his thing (which consisted of jumping in, screaming bloody murder and getting back out, regaining confidence and then finally swimming out there). When he swam back and out of the water, I started to feel bad. Not only am I a huge wimp for avoiding the Chilean water like the plague, but he had gone through a lot of effort to plan this day and I was being a huge party-pooper.

So I got up, gave him the camera, climbed down near the water and (after only 15 minutes of quivering in fear and failed attempts)... JUMPED IN!!!! In the split second I hit the water, my years of fears were verified. I had flashbacks of those crazies jumping in a hole in the ice for the Polar Bear Plunge, and emerged instantly only to desperately want out, all the while trying to make my frozen, salt-water filled mouth squeal "ayudame, ayudame, ayudame!" Those key words requesting help were intended to remind my boyfriend of his promise to immediately come help me out of the water, since there was nowhere to grab on to the cement.... though apparently the sight was so pathetic and funny to him that he had decided to just stay up there, laughing and capturing the whole embarrassing scene on video...

*and stories of beach robberies and a couple nasty historical anecdotes about the previous state of the beach

Thursday, March 25, 2010


My thoughts are on the tradition of doing besos in Chile are complicated. (besos are when you say hello or goodbye and you do a quick "kiss" on one cheek, almost always on the right cheek unless especially inconvenient or you are meeting my boyfriend's brother's girlfriend, who nearly planted me a big one on the lips this week because she insisted on going for the opposite cheek for no reason- awkward).

Anyway, besos took some getting used to, and there are still moments when I'd be much more content to just keep my personal space without offending anyone in the process. Not to mention I find it tedious and ridiculous in situations like a party, etc... and you're obligated to walk around robotically doing besos to dozens of people you hardly talked to.

One thing I find really interesting, however, is that I never personally observed many people doing besos in the US, yet on American TV programs and reality shows, its a fairly common sight. Is it a California thing? Is it a 30s thing? I can't quite figure out how my personal recollection and tv image two differ so much, and why one of them might be skewed slightly depending on where I lived, age, trend, etc... Many of my English students are shocked to hear that's not a traditional or necessary part of most greetings in the U.S. and say television makes it appear that it is indeed an American thing as well.

However, despite my moody opinion about the action, its a different story considering teaching toddlers the custom, when you have little munchkins giving you big slobbery smooches on your cheek - Absolutely adorable!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Bane of my Existence

As much as I'd love to blame my biggest frustration in Chile on stares, catcalls, or navigating through bureaucracy to collect stamps, my real answer is: FLEAS- Valparaiso is full of fleas.

My arms covered in bites!

I grew up constantly facing the bothers of insects- living on a lake was a breeding ground for mosquitos, while wasps and flies threatened my family's enjoyment of doing things outdoors. But there is nothing, and I mean nothing, I have experienced in my life that comes close to the annoyance, complete insanity I'm driven to, after being bitten by a flea. Unlike misquotes, scratching a flea bite cannot be avoided by pure willpower. About a full day after I'm bitten by a flea, the spot will turn red and sometimes puff up to about the size of a dime. A bite, scratched or not, will stay that way itching for a week or two. In fact, contrary to mosquitos, scratching seems to help rather than aggravate the bite. The only way I can come out of my misery sometimes is to just scratch a bite until it bleeds, because from that point on the itching will stop. And although that is not usually my intention, I often unknowingly do so while I am asleep. To make matters worse, there is never just one bite, most often there is a whole string of bites along my waist or ankle. There have been multiple times where I have counted over 100 bites at one time.

When I first started getting bites in Chile I was unsure what they were. I was living at my host family's house at the time, and they insisted they could not be flea bits as their house could not possibly have fleas. I went to a dermatologist to see what the problem was, however she never actually even looked at a bite, she just automatically told me I had flea bites, and prescribed some medicine because she said people from cold weather have a higher body temperature and are especially allergic to the bites, yet fleas are "uninterested in Chilean blood." (The meds turned out ot be a bottle of "dry skin lotion", as it said on the label in English. I'm not sure if this dermatologist was crazy, anyway, I mean how could she not even ask to see a bite? What if I had hives or chicken pox or something?!) Perhaps needless to say, the lotion didn't do anything at all except make me smell toxic. My host family went into cleaning and vacuuming frenzy, seemingly embarrassed that their house would appear to have fleas. But despite looking spotless with clean sheets daily, their efforts hardly did a thing to offset the number of bites I was getting.

On and off since then I have experienced the same phenomenon of dozens of bites on and off. 2 years ago when I arrived from the US, I was covered in bites already by the time we got to our hostel from the airport! I am obviously a complete magnet for these little dudes. During this whole time, my boyfriend (with whom I live, swap sweatshirts with, etc) has had a total of about 5 bites. To this day, I have very very rarely seen a flea where I am living. But I often spot them or feel them bite me when I am on the bus or collectivo- with no possibility of avoiding them. I even get bitten in the cleanest of places. Unfortunately, contrary to what most people would like to think, being bitten by fleas doesn't necessarily imply an uncleanly living space or that the person him/herself is crawing with the little buggers.

Understanding how fleas work makes it all the more disgusting to think about. The little pests are nearly unstoppable! According to the Frontline website, a flea can lay up to 50 eggs a day and 2,000 in a lifetime. Basically, if one mama flea ever sets foot in your house or on your pet, you are screwed forever, "One adult flea could lead to tens of thousands." The eggs lie dormant until they are somehow prompted to hatch, such as when people or pets walking near provide warmth or even carbon dioxide from their breath. Adult fleas must initially find food within a week, but after that can go for up to a year without. Fleas can cause a variety of diseases in animals and some could even be passed on to humans-fleas transferred the bubonic plague, and can transfer typhus fever and tapeworm. Think of this in terms of quantity: Wikipedia says "A flea population is unevenly distributed, with 50 percent eggs, 35 percent larvae, 10 percent pupae, and 5 percent adults." Eew.

The Frontline site had this nasty diagram of the life cycle that gave me shivers just reading it and thinking of how this matter must exist everywhere in this city full of stray animals.

Egg stage:
It's a good idea to check pets for fleas on a regular basis. It is especially important to check if your pets seem unusually nervous or grumpy, or if they're scratching more than seems natural.
The average life of the egg stage is 10 days.

Larval stage:
After hatching, the larvae find a dark place in your home and feed on flea feces. They grow, molt twice and spin cocoons where they grow into pupae.
The average life of the larval stage is 12 days.

Pupal stage:
Pupae spend 8-9 days in their cocoon growing to adulthood, then wait for signals that it is time to emerge.
The average life of the pupal stage is 4 - 5 months. Many pupae are present in the household before adults are seen.

Adult stage:
Adult fleas detect a host from inside their cocoons at which point they leave the cocoon, hop onto a host, find a mate and start the cycle again.
The average life of an adult flea is 50 days.

I have searched HIGH and LOW for the miracle cure, without much luck. I spend $8,000 monthly to buy Frontline for my cat and I have tried obsessively cleaning, I have tried crazy repellants and itch-relieving creams and gels... All to observe only minor results (and smell like garlic until my boyfriend put his foot down on that experiment), which are hard to measure ag
ainst the chance that the fleas simply weren't biting me for this period of time. They come in waves. I am open to any and all suggestions, no matter how crazy! This is what I've got so far:

To treat skin: benedryl, cortisone, Camomile lotion, Also a bath with TCP and bicarbonate of soda, calamine

To treat the house: I've heard recommendations of borax, permethrin spray, natural flea treatment made from boric acid, dusting with Diatomaceous earth, and even the hazardous home contraption of a lamp over a bowl of soapy water, Raid, Fleabuster, etc...

To prevent bites: Eat garlic, vitamin B, use Avon SKIN SO SOFT Original Bath Oil mosquoito and flea repellant, brewer's yeast in your food

To treat the cat, there is Frontline, Advantage, an imitation French brand, flea collars, ... I haven't personally found any to work that well. They definitely show a sharp decrease in the number of fleas but not necessarily the 100% they claim. Not to mention, these treatments are expensive.

Any ideas?

Monday, March 22, 2010

You found me!

Sorry I couldn't put up a note somehow before I shut down, but blogger was not being flexible with what I wanted to do so I'm here starting over at a new URL. Sorry about any dead links I've caused in your archives and sidebars.

Aside from that news, I've been entirely drained recently, finding myself without the words or drive to post about everything I've been thinking about. Not to mention I've been spending all my free time doing undesirable tasks like reevaluating my healthcare options in Chile, and various other attempts to navigate through the paperwork and legalities of living in Chile.

Anyway, Welcome!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Tsunami Evacuation

I didn't think I'd have to post about seismic activity anymore, and I also told Lucie I'd try not to post about my experience with breaucracy this morning. But its not gonna go down as I thought afterall.

This morning I took an administrative day. First I woke up early and waited outside the Intendencia to go to Extranjeria. Though there were other people going there as well, I was the first to make it into the office when they opened at 9. And by "opened" I mean I apparently snuck in before they shut the doors and had a 45 minute staff meeting as everyone else waited trapped outside. After a few minutes some jote intern that skipped the meeting came over and started hitting on me, asking me to tell him about myself and such. He did tell me that the Intendencia is set on large wheels below gound level that help it safely move during seismic activity, which must feel terrifying on floor 15! Eventually the meeting ended and all the employees came out and made fun of the weon hitting on me. I was called in and I came out to see the room FULL of other foreigners, including two friends. Then, I had to do various other beaucratic things that went more or less OK as well.

A few hours later, I went to Registro Civil, took a number and waited until I remembered I had to go to the international Police first. So I left, went across town, battling all the police and road blocks since everybody came to see the new president sworn in. I almost made it back before they called my number too! International Police is a pleasure every time.

Anyway, when I got back to Registro Civil I took a new number to sit down and wait. After a while, the earth started moving significantly. At first, I thought it was in my head and I was going to faint. Then when I realized it was another temblor, I thought it was kind of amusing. I love temblors. I just don't like when they get big, earthquakey and destructive. This one lasted a really really long time and I was nervous it would get worse. All the lights and signs are hanging in the building and they were swinging around for quite a long time. Another 15 minutes later, there was another one. Being in registro civil which is ground level of a building near the ocean, the temblor felt quite big, and I felt really connected to the earth. I again found it very interesting, calming... I kind of liked the feeling of the earth moving, as long as it wasn't distructive. But as it continued for what seemed like a very long time for a temblor, I got a little nervous that it might pick up intensity and send some of the overhanging lights shattering down above us. After the earthquake, my imagination has tended to run. (On preview: my imagination isnt the only thing that tends to run after an earthquake!)

Finally, they called my number.

I got to the booth and pulled out my papers. Again, I was missing a photocopy and the nice employee offered to make one for me. As he wandered off, I noticed that behind him there were police, one was walking back and forth quite quickly. Being the snoop I am, I tried to read his lips, which I understood quite clearly; " tsunami warning.... evacuation." What!

I waited a second until the employee rushed back over with my ID, handed it to me (I stupidly looked at him with a face of pity that, again, I wasn't going to finish the process). He looked at me like I was crazy before he told me "come back tomorrow," and advised me to bolt. I got out onto the street which is located only a block or so from the ocean, and it was pure PANIC. I was in the business district so there were people in suits running everywhere, accumulating people into the crowd as they went. Cars were honking horns and I could hear warning sirens in the background from police or fire trucks or something. A car had stalled and a couple people were trying to push it out of the way. From buildings everywhere more people were emerging, but we were all stuck at sea level with buildings blocking access to the hill. Everybody on my side of the street sprinted along the sidewalk until there was a passageway where dozens of flights of stairs led uphill to a lookout.

as we get higher up people begin looking down to see how high up they've climbed, make sure there is no water coming, and in general scope out the chaos.

Everybody was climbing as fast as they could, but many of the women in high heels were having trouble on the narrow steps, already in bad shape. People were trying to make phone calls as they climbed, but the phone lines were tied up. Every few steps people would look back as if they expected to see the water arriving at any minute. Many people were shouting to be calm and keep going so that the people further back could advance. People everywhere were bawling in pure hysteria. There were a few old people who had stopped, suffering from some sort or medical problem, asthma, or otherwise suffering from the harsh climb. Further up I saw a number of disabled people struggle to keep up with the crowd and get over obstacles.

I continued up until Avenida Alemania, the winding street that goes along halfway up the hill (mountain), and walked sideways, over an hour until I reached my street and headed down towards my house, where everybody was still outside waiting for the O.K. to return to their activities.

everybody looking down from high ground

the water looks normal

It was seriously one of the most chaotic, traumatic experiences of my life. For me it was much worse than the earthquake itself 2 weeks ago.

I really hope nobody complains about it being a false alarm. I noticed people have very poorly educated concepts of how earthquakes and tsunamis, and their precautionary measures, work. I'm glad they evacuated the city even though it turned out to be nothing, because in the end its better that then the doing nothing and having the tsunami turn out to be something real.


Natalie said...

We'd finally got into see the visa lady when it happened! 15th floor, much fun. And then the second on our way down the stairs. Total chaos when we got out onto the street. Like you, we ended up on Concepcion. Headed home before the tsunami alert was lifted. Quite a scary micro ride!

Cool photos, I wish I'd had my camera with me!

Dana Elizabeth said...

I was in salinas and got evacuated up to the naval hospital with everyone else in the navy and then was stranded there two hours because alert after alter kept coming. They had naval police at the exits waiting to arrest whoever tried to go back down to sea level. INTENSE!! My poor students stood in formation for like three hours. I guess they will have to get used to that! After all that I was really hoping to see some sort of biggish wave...maybe not anything destructive but something. I am glad that people reacted quickly and were serious about it. You never know when a small alert will become the big tsunami!

Lou said...

Wow...how scary! Hysteria and big crowds is not good. I just can't believe how many aftershocks you guys are getting! I read it's been over 200 now? I thought aftershocks generally lasted for a few days after the quake, but now weeks!

sarabeck said...

Sorry. First to have to deal with bureaucracy then to have to do that!
My boyfriend had a hard time calling his family because of the phone lines being busy. I talked to him most of the day. It was stressful.

Oh, this is my new blog.

lydia said...

ugh what an aweful day. i wonder why they made you leave, natalie, supposedly they were saying anybody above the 4th floor on a building is safe. though i would prefer to be somewhere where the bottom of my building wouldnt get hit either.

i heard we had over 200 aftershocks just after a few days... i wonder how many its been by now! i havent felt any since thursday