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.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Santa Letters 2011

Once again I’m back with Christmas tales!  As I’ve discussed every time, I feel a little uncomfortable about sharing this but I’m such a big fan of the program that I do anyway.  This year,  I felt a range of feelings when dropping off Christmas gifts as part of the Correos Chile "Letters to Santa" program. Some moments were incredibly moving, others disappointing, some even dangerous.  Many of the families this year had members who were facing hardships or illness beyond what I could ever imagine, and furthermore, without many resources or help. Getting to the houses, some of which were located in neighborhoods like “la Copa” and “Montedonico,” proved challenging as the houses are not marked well, and its considered dangerous, especially for someone who has no business being there (ej. me.) The collectivo drivers were worried about dropping us off at some of the locations even in broad daylight, and at night it was much worse.   There was one crucial moment where we were sure we were getting led into a trap and saw no way out.  However, we found all the houses this year, and for the most part it was a success.

Getting to one of the houses. 
How it works: 
For those unfamiliar, letters to the north pole get set out in a box each Christmas at the post office and anybody can read the letters and decide to play Santa and fulfill the Christmas wishes for the family in the letter they choose. The letters may be written by children, on behalf of them, or sometimes by adults. When we deliver the gifts we try to be careful and say "Santa was so busy he needed help delivering some things,” just in case.

Many people are skeptical of doing this because they have heard of "scams."  The news has shown images of people writing dozens of letters and filling up their entire house with new electrodomestic devices.

Its understandable that some are skeptical, but sifting through sifting through the box, others were obsessively criticizing the requests and handwriting, “Look at this cursive! There is no way a 2 year old writes this clearly. Que sinverguenza! (shameless) This is a scam!”  Of course parents help kids write their letters, just because the handwriting is legible does not mean that the intent is dishonest!   Most kids, especially ones who don't realize the nature of this charity, shoot for the stars in their wishes- wanting a Play Station is only natural, it does not mean that is the standard of gift they are used to.  Adults also have needs and wishes and may see this as one of the only ways they might help make them come true, that is not necessarily a negative thing. 

But yes, I admit, certain things may happen that we may not consider fair. Some kids' letters might not get picked,  others may indeed be able to afford a decent Christmas without receiving help,  and many people do write more than one letter.  Correos Chile was making an effort in 2011 to number and cross check the letters to avoid duplicate gifts to the same house. This effort was well-meaning, though I highly suggest they use a computer to catalogue next year.  There were lots of letters falling through the cracks.

Personally, over the past few years I have had almost entirely rewarding experiences.  Every letter I have chosen has turned out to be at least seemingly truthful, and every recipient very thankful.   Honestly, in almost every case, once I got there I felt somewhat regretful that I didn't have more to give.  It has been very eye-opening for me in terms of understanding many things about hardship and Chilean society.

This year we selected six letters, and accompanied a friend on her Santa visit too. Of those 7 total, we know for sure that three of them also received gifts or food from someone else as well, because they had either sent more than one letter or multiple children's letters from the same family had slipped by unnoticed.  But also, 5 of 7 had one or more family member with mental or physical illness or disability, usually meaning medical bills, extra costs, inability to work, and often times the need for a caregiver.  

I went to drop things off over the week before Christmas. There was house we had a real hard time finding. We knew it was best not to go so late, way after dark, but did anyway.  The collectivo driver had a really hard time finding the block we were looking for and drove around, stopping to ask multiple times.  He was very concerned that we'd be obvious outsiders walking around this area.  Eventually we just had to get out and start walking, though we were approached by a young man very weary of our presence.  He insisted we tell him who we were looking for, and wanted us to follow him down an alley to lead us there.  Our gut instinct told us not to follow him, but he started to get mad and insist.  Pretty soon we gave in, and to both of our surprise, he actually took us to the right place. We were going to the house of a young mother whose husband was in jail for theft and she was unable to work because she couldn’t leave the child with sick, alcoholic family members.  All she wanted was Christmas dinner. When we finally got there, we didn't get to meet them, it turned out the child had suffered a bad accident that day and they were in the hospital.

The ocean looked so massive from here.  We're with a man who first helped us try to locate the house on the street, and still lost an hour later, we coincidentally ended up at his house asking his son to help us.   When we told him what we were doing he was so intrigued he came with. 
The very first letter I selected was written by a child whose parents were in jail.  We had such a hard time finding the house, walking around the area for hours.  We even called the family multiple times and they claimed they were coming to meet us at a centralized spot but they never showed up.  Finally we found the place dipping down over the side of a quebrada with the most AMAZING ocean view. Apparently the grandma had surgery that day and was sending the grandkids to go find us, but they were afraid because they thought their neighborhood was dangerous so they never left the front steps.  We brought gifts and a Christmas dinner, though we felt terrible because we brought a soccer ball for the letter writer, who I thought was a young boy, but it turned out it was a girl with a boy’s name!! Luckily I had a little lotion set with some candy that I could give her, but when she opened it she was obviously disappointed. 

The letter that reached me the most was of a girl older than myself that had many serious diseases.  She has been bedridden her whole life.  Her mother wrote on her behalf asking for diapers and food to stock up the pantry, and a doll that she could give to her 3 year old niece that helped take care of her.  This visit was emotionally hard for me to do, as the girl asked us to sit and visit with her on her bed.  I could not imagine a life like that, furthermore her father is expected to die soon and the mother cannot work because her care requires 24/7 attention.  

One of the most thought-provoking things about visiting this girl was that she would not believe that I wasn’t Chilean.  She laughed it off as a joke first then told us to stop lying when she was told I was from the U.S.  I wasn’t sure what this means, but I wonder if she has never met a foreigner before, and possibly doesn’t have enough interaction with people to notice that I am different from the rest.  She seemed confused when I asked her if she noticed that I spoke funny with an accent. In the end I felt terrible because when we got back home I realized I had forgotten to give her the doll for her niece.  Its sitting in my living room.  I’m contemplating going back with it, though it would feel a little awkward. 
The view from a path we followed.  In the distance under the bridge you can see where a truck carrying wine fell off the side of the Camino de la Polvora.  Neighbors claim that many people jumped down there to recover as many bottles as they can, while a group of people sat around in the wreck having a drink. 

Accompanying my friend to drop off her gifts was one of the most rewarding moments of playing Santa this year.  I was a little nervous about this because its her first Christmas in Chile and I wanted it to feel worth it to her and be a good experience.  It was beyond what I could’ve expected.  The letter was written by a little toddler that lived with her grandmother.  The grandmother was actually quite young, and was taking care of many grandchildren and her baby daughter as well, as the mother of the kids had drug problems.  When they came to meet us, the toddler ran as fast as she could with arms wide open to give me friend a hug and and spent the whole afternoon in her arms, giving her big sloppy, sticky, candy-cane kisses.  It was adorable.  They took us back to their house, which they were building in a toma (land taken over and claimed by a group of people), and the kids were so incredibly excited by the gifts.  They had been writing every year but this year was the first time they’d been chosen.  Some of the brothers and sisters had been chosen as well.  The grandma made a really sad comment, however, saying that she wanted to help out with drug rehabilitation but it didn't work out because more people want to keep using drugs than recover. 

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Capoeira/A great investment

Capoeira is an art form that incorporates elements of fight, dance, acrobatics, music, and history, among others.  Its roots are in Brazil, where it is believed slaves taken by the Portuguese from Africa used some of the movements in resistance against their oppressors.  Over the centuries, capoeira has developed into an inclusive art form practiced all over the world as a form of self-expression, physical training, martial art, spiritual experience, etc...

Before this was about the best I could hope for: well-timed, unobstructed, with the full subject in the shot.

I have been taking capoeira photos for years.  Most of them are just fine, as I'm mostly focused on just capturing the photo at the right moment.   However, in terms of composition I actually prefer to have the full body in the picture.  Because of the way capoeira is normally played,  I would always get someone in the way of my shot because there are people standing around the players in a circle (called a roda), or to avoid this, I would have to crouch down practically between someone's legs and it became a struggle to get both players in a shot.  I would miss many of the impressive moves as players came so close to me they were out of frame.

Anyway, I finally got a lens to solve this problem, and I've really happy about it because to me it feels it captures the whole essence of the roda a lot better.  Its easy to get the players, the musicians, those watching, etc... the whole event.

Now... See???  Players, musicians, singers... ATMOSPHERE!  yayy

Well, I'm please at least.  Except for the ugly sky and grass this day that made me want them B&W.

The only drawback is that the distortion from the viewfinder is so mind-boggling that its only a matter of time before I get kicked in the head, completely unaware that I'm so close to the action.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Quick trip to Antofagasta

One of the most notable events in my life this past year was getting sent to Antofagasta.  I probably otherwise would've never considered going, and didn't expect much because in general people don't speak too highly of the city; I'm not really sure why that is.  It wasn't so bad, though it was more expensive and I definitely wouldn't trade it for Valparaiso.   

Since I didn't really have a choice in the matter I was just glad to be able to go on a little trip and get to see something new.  It didn't hurt that one of my boyfriend's best friends was living there at the time so I had someone to show me around, and I also got to meet many other people, including a few other young and interesting foreigners, while I was there.  

La portada.  It's pretty, though I don't get the hype.
I surprisingly liked Antofagasta.   It felt like Valparaiso a lot in terms of the layout, especially at night, though the plan was actually much bigger.  It took quite a while to get from one end to the other.

I loved the cool buildings in Antofagasta.
The ones in the city center had such amazing colors, windows, and decorations. 

Look at the gorgeous materials used here! 

Most interesting find, at the museum house in the train yard, was this old poster of mug shots. 

Check out the hilarious nicknames.

All aboard!

Awesome murals on this building play eye and mind tricks on you. 

Of course we stopped by the Huanchaca ruins, where they used to process silver extracted in Bolivia.  The state of the ruins was surprising to me given that this site only shut down around the turn of the century, houses on my street were built then and they look nothing like this! 

Probably the best part of the entire trip was that, for the first time in my life* I got to stay alone in a nice hotel.  I normally stay in hostals when I travel, and I am usually with other people. This time, however, I found myself with a brand new hotel room with two huge beds, a flatscreen TV, a nice view, and an elegant bathroom full of marble and a futuristic, pressurized shower!!  Nothing like the little drip of fixed-temperature water I get in Valparaiso!  

Staying in such a nice place, I almost didn't know what to do with myself.  I literally ditched out on the bars to take the worlds longest shower and watch TV.  And, between you and me, I may or may not have spent a while jumping back and forth between the beds.  

*The real first time I stayed in a hotel room by myself was horrifying.  I had booked the room in Sao Paulo online in order to take a taxi straight there from the airport.  However, the hotel turned out not to be, well...  geared towards backpackers, or, tourists at all.  Long story short, I didn't get much sleep on top of the beach towel I set on top of the comforter in my wall-to-wall-mirrored room off a dark alley. Good times!  

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

There's no place like home

One of my best guy friends got married a few months ago and I was lucky enough to get that time off to go back to the US for the wedding in Philadelphia.   I have never been there before, though I loved the vibe of downtown - it reminded me a lot of Minneapolis in the summer, though with even more weird random people wandering around.   Everybody was quite friendly.

The wedding was absolutely gorgeous and I was really happy to be exploring a new city with so many friends.  Despite it being an out of town wedding, over a dozen of my best friends also flew out, along with many other acquaintances and relatives of the groom that I have met over the years.  Staying in a fancy hotel with everyone for the weekend was incredibly entertaining.

The highlight of the wedding itself was actually during the ceremony.  The groom had selected two best men, both of them also good friends of mine.   One of them just has the type of personality that seems perfect for the job- he's completely on top of the challenge and responsibilities of being a best man.  The other, well... doesn't necessarily emit that vibe, and was the butt of many jokes in the time leading up to the wedding.  People were constantly teasing him... "just don't screw it up!"   It may have been a jinx.
During the wedding everything was going fine until the priest instructed the best men to hand over the rings to the groom.  The church was so silent you could hear a pin drop.

... So it was really easy to hear the ring drop.

All of the wedding guests tried not to giggle as the best men, groom, and priest scrambled to get the ring back and continue with the ceremony.  In retrospect, I think everyone saw it coming.  The bride laughed it off as well, and later during the reception, he poked fun at himself for what happened before delivering an incredibly touching and heartfelt toast.

I had so much trouble expressing this to him, and of course I'm sure it just sounded like one more person trying to console him after an embarrassing moment, but I thought that little unexpected mistake added so much character and humor to the event that it made it really special.  His response was even funnier, as he said that the sound of the ring hitting the church floor was actually a relief considering that he was starting to freak out when he opened the ring box and saw nothing inside!

For the rest of my trip I just hung around Minnesota, running, biking, kayaking, boating on Lake Minnetonka, and hitting up all the restaurants I could.  Chipotle probably saw a spike in their sales for the weeks I was back.   I also tore through bags of candy corn and Andes mints cookie monster style, washing them down with all the wonderful drinks and juices that you just cant get in Chile.

It was great to get to see my parents, sister, grandma and other friends and relatives.  Though it's not entirely true, it's always strange to have the feeling that almost no time has passed and so little has changed.  I feel like my life back in Minnesota merely goes on "pause" every time I'm away.

Oh, and there is no better way to appreciate Minnesota than hitting up the State Fair.   There is nothing that is beyond frying on a stick!
Giant slide at the State Fair.  I'm racing some friends. You can hardly see me as I'm currently in last place.  They cheated. 

Mall of America never ceases to impress me with its size.  Its huge! So are the decorations.
I don't really like beer, but how many friends do you think I could invite over for a drink with this? 

OH YES!   Cupcake from a place very close to my heart... and stomach.  And my all-time favorite, A&W Cream Soda. 

I'm not too patriotic in the traditional sense, but this gas station sure is! 

I <3 Minnesota

Mango waffles to die for. Victor's 1959 Cafe.  Go there.