Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Amigos




It has been really great to reconnect with our friend Beth here in Santiago.  Beth worked with Danny a few years back and she lived in our apartment over the garage after my sister Lauren moved back to Chicago.  She and her husband Allen live in Santiago.  Beth works as a teacher at an American school here and Allen has started a social venture similar to Better World Books in Santiago.  We’ve gotten together a few times during our stay in Santiago and it has been so great to have familiar faces here. 
One night a few weeks back we had them over for dinner and a swim and it was the first entertaining Danny and I have done in four months!  Everyone knows I love having having friends for dinner and it was so fun to host them at our place.  Although I’m sure they didn’t need to eat more traditional Chilean cuisine, we made a few of the recipes we learned at our cooking class.  That night Harper and Cal were very excited to show Beth and Allen all of their Christmas presents and Beth even got to watch a little Sesame Street by Harper’s request. 
Unfortunately they spent the last couple weeks of our time in Santiago traveling with Allen's family in Argentina, and after one quick lunch on Friday we had to say goodbye before heading to the Lake District. 
Thanks for being our gringa friend in Santiago, Beth!  We’ll miss you and look forward to more dinners when you are back in Colorado.

Danny also made a new friend in Santiago at the Almacén de Cuentos.  Alejandro ran this little cafe/shop.  The days when Danny would sit and wait for Harper to finish up ballet or theater class, he and Alejandro would hang out.  

Friday, January 20, 2012

Reflections on Santiago

Onces- One of my favorite traditions here in Chile is onces, the custom of eating a (usually) sweet snack in the late afternoon.  People spend their four, five or six o'clock hours sitting in cafes sipping coffee and eating cake (and smoking cigarettes.)  Not surprisingly our family has turned onces into an ice cream hour.  One little old lady told us that she served her husband a slice of homemade chocolate cake everyday for onces.  What a tradition!  My immediate thought was when will I be old enough for that kind of habit to be okay?


Danny’s cab ride conversations-
he could write a book

What we’ll miss from Santiago:
Tiramisu- our favorite Santiago restaurant and in our top five best list
The empanadas at the open-air market around the corner from our apartment
Nightly swim before dinner
The reading corner, banana smoothies and sand area at Almacén de Cuentos
Building with Legos
Plaza Peru park
Sunsets from our balcony
Local Chilean wine sold at Big John’s, the convenience store downstairs from our apartment
The metro
MIM, Interactive museum
Apartment soccer
The tickling shower
The elevator rides

What we won’t miss:
The washing machine that take three hours to wash our clothes
The layer of smog-dust covering our floor ten minutes after sweeping
The blazing afternoon sun heating up our west-facing apartment


Empanadas
(our big plans)
Sweet: fruits, nutella, nuts
Savory: lentils, roasted veggies and goat cheese, scrambled eggs, taco meat, black beans and corn



Double Decker Bus
Thanks to Cal we spent one day a few weeks back touring the city of Santiago from the great height of the Turistik Double Decker Bus.  We had seen the red buses running their routes around the city for days before, and much to Cal’s delight we a day and took the bus around the city from morning until late afternoon.  We jumped off at a few attractions, the Basilica, the Plaza del Armas, the Central Mercado, Cerro Santa Lucia, and then back home.  Most rides we were the only folks on the bus and got to ride on top in the front row of seats with Cal standing and playing that he was at work.  Pretending that he was “the stander” he stood grinning and checking in fellow pretend passengers as the rest of us saw the sights.  The worst part of the day for Cal was when we would have to get off the bus at each stop and the anxiety it created not knowing if we would get the front seat again when we were ready to climb back aboard.  Lucky for us it was a very slow day in double decker bus ridership and Cal got his wish every time but once. 
The best stop I think was at the Mercado Central where we walked through all the stalls at the fish market while vendors tried to sell us all kinds of sealife.  There were live crabs, eels, tons of fish on ice, shellfish of all sorts, and even some octopus.  Harper and Cal were brave checking everything out but the fish below with the teeth and big eyes (I think they were calling it “dog fish”) definitely gave them the heebie geebies.  We had a great lunch at the market and sampled pastel del cangrejo, a crab casserole covered in breadcrumbs.  Yum.  We are glad we indulged Cal in his Double Decker bus obsession because we might not have come by this super toursity area otherwise. 


Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Ciao Santiago

It is our last week in Santiago.  We fly to the Chilean Lake District on Friday.  We've had a great time in this city and we'll miss lots about it.  But we can't say we aren't looking forward to cooler weather, less pollution, and some good ole time outdoors.  

Here are a few recent photos:
Artist, Ale Missene, works on La Guillermina,  a replica of one of the pieces at Pablo Neruda's Isla de la Negra house.   We are sending it home and crossing our fingers that it is there when we return.

Harper and Isadora, a friend from theater class, who had Harper over for a play date today.

On stage with the cast and other kids in the audience after a performance of La Sirenita, the Little Mermaid.

I had to try on a pair of these boot/sandals,  They are all rage here in Santiago.   (and maybe other places? I wouldn't know.)

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Mendoza



Artisan chocolate shop tour, tasting (and sniffing.) 
We had a crazy visit to Mendoza, Argentina last week!  We drove up the 30 crazy-steep switchbacks (!) and over the pass from Chile into Argentina. We drove around in circles for hours trying to find our rented cabin because the signs (the ones that exist, that is) are crazy-confusing.  We got pulled over by the police (long story that worked out okay), drove our car into a little irrigation ditch (unrelated but also okay) and we spent 3 hours each way going through border crossing customs (going back into Chile we actually had a dog sniff through our car looking for vegetables!)
It was also crazy-wonderful.  The olive oil farm we visited supplied us with a never-ending pile of crusty bread to dip into the four different varieties of olive oil.  We stayed at a funky, artsy cabin owned by a woman named Cecilia, who gave us the in on a few different artisan shops to buy art.  Danny fired up the parrilla and made a crazy-delicious barbecue that any Argentine would be proud of.  Our kids actually enjoyed the long beautiful car ride through the mountains each way to and from Mendoza.  We soaked all day at the Termas se Cacheuta, (hot springs.)  We drank good Malbec that grew in a vineyard just minutes away from our cabin.  And we found the people of Mendoza to be extremely friendly and helpful (especially the man who welcomed us into his home to use his internet when we were lost and driving in circles and the five strong men who helped pull our little rental car out of the ditch!)

Overall it was a great trip.  The crazy-beautiful condor we saw flying just outside our car window on the ride home was the icing on the cake.  The kids have become great travelers- 11 hours in the car one day barely phased them.  We are ready to tackle the lake district next!
Danny gets the low down on the olive oil process; Cal consumes as much as he possibly can drip across his clothes and into his mouth.
Our idea of heaven
My favorite variety of the olive oils we tried- el mas suave.
This photo does not do justice to the insane incline up these switchbacks (30 in all WITHOUT guardrails!)
Looking back into Chile
Heading into hour number 2 of the border crossing. 
Harper enjoyed the three hours it took to cross into Argentina.  Danny...not so much.
Puente del Inca

I love this picture showing the scale of these mountains (and this isn't anywhere close to the big one- we passed Mt. Aconcagua at 22,841 feet, the tallest in the Southern and Western hemispheres).
One of the many tunnels on the Argentina side. 
View from one of the "funny tunnels"
Homemade rest stop.
Danny at the parrilla 
Termas de Cacheuta
This place was amazing- huge and full of Chileans, but it did not feel crowded at all.  The smoke from all the families grilling out on the parrillas around the pools made our mouths water and the thermal pools ranging from cool to super hot were clean and lined with rock walls and winding paths.  A great place for a long day!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Colchagua Valley, Chile

This weekend we drove south on the Pan-American highway to tour Chile’s Ruta del Vino and stay in a small lodge up in the mountains.  We visited vineyards on our way to the lodge and on our way home and while at the lodge we hiked, swam in the river, played with the children of the owners’ of the lodge, and had a great barbeque lunch.

On Sunday as we drove away from Santiago two hours south and west to the Colchagua Valley I prepped the kids with our itinerary for the day.  I told them we were going on a tour at a vineyard first, then we would stop at a restaurant for lunch and last we would go through a museum.  I expected either the kids to ignore my babbling because at that point in the ride they were both immersed in their coloring books, or to hear Cal’s new favorite response, “oh” which he says to just about anything these days.  Instead Harper called out, “When do we get to drink the wine?”  Home schooling at its best!


We toured the Viu Manent vineyard by horse-drawn carriage and the kids were all smiles.  The horses led us around the vineyard while our guide gave us the history of the three generations of the family-owned business.  Harper and Cal earlier had been scheming about how to get to drive the carriage- Harper had plans for the reigns and Cal of course wanted to be “the stander” like he was working his garbage truck route.  The carriage driver however was a grumpy, leathery man who barely gave them a second glance.  Instead we bumped along trying to quiet our kids down in order to actually hear at least some of the details from the guide.  After the carriage we walked through all the processing areas of the winery.  Modern and gleaming it was made up of steel tanks and metal equipment all housed in an airy open metal barn.  We tasted a wine that was only half aged and got to see all their huge steel and concrete drums.  (Viu Manent was very proud of the strength of the concrete tanks that withstood the area’s most recent earthquake without a crack.)  In the barrel room the earthy smells of the oak casks permeated the air.  Harper climbed up onto a stack of barrels and sprawled out as if she was going to take a nap.  This was our first vineyard tour and for reasons such as this we were a little worried about bringing our kids.  Fortunately our guide wasn’t ruffled at all by their antics and the other tourists were laid back, too. 

Next it was back onto the carriage for the ride to the tasting room.  Harper and I nervously asked the driver if she could sit next to him and he agreed with a grunt.  I don’t think he minded her being there, all except once when she was leaning over to the side a bit and he tried to correct her with a couple clicking sounds like he gave to the horses.  Harper tried to enjoy being close to the horses but I think she was a bit too nervous to have much fun.
In the tasting room we nervously sat down around a big wooden table lined with wine glasses.  I had Cal in my lap and Harper climbed upon Danny’s and we both took a deep breath in hopes our kids didn’t break anything.  In front of each person were five wine glasses- four with wine and one with water.  Cal and Harper were very excited to slurp water from the wine glass and luckily a plate of crackers was passed around (for cleansing one’s palate or in our case as a small snack) so that kept them busy.  The wines were all very good- we tasted chardonnay, a malbec blend, a carmenere, and a cabernet.  We all went around at the end to share our favorite.  I said I liked the carmenere and then to perfectly illustrate how little attention we could pay to the tasting (while we instead monitored our kids and the glasses,) Danny announced he liked the merlot the best!  Whoops.

So we weren’t named Food and Wine’s newest up and coming connoisseurs and we didn’t get to learn quite as much as we’d wished about the wine-making process, but we had a good time going on the tour.  We ended up buying some wine to take back to Santiago and the kids said the highlight of their day was the carriage ride. 

Next we went on to the Colchagua History Museum and there was so much to see.  Our friends Nicki and Brett, who had lived in Santiago earlier and who marked up our Lonely Planet book before we left, wrote next to its description, “this place is crazy awesome!” and it definitely lived up to that!  There were dinosaur bones and a saber-toothed cat skeleton.  All sorts of pottery from local ancient peoples.  Model cars, antique farm equipment, fossils, old trolley trains, and a room full of antique carriages.  Shrunken heads, mummies, and all sorts of weaponry from Chile’s past military conflicts.  It was so much to take in and crazy how it was all a private collection (some guy wanted by the FBI for arms dealing.)
Bees in the Andees
After the museum we drove up into the Andes mountains to a little lodge.  While we were there, we hiked around the property on the Rio trail and the Bosque trail which wind around a river valley.  We spent a lot of time playing in the treehouse, swinging on the tire swing and jumping on a trampoline!  The kids were in their version of paradise, especially after living in the city for so many weeks.  Two dogs lived at the lodge and one was a huge St. Bernard, aptly named Bernard, who we all loved to play with.  Bernard liked the tire swing and we all had a good laugh watching him trying to chew on the tire and knock it around with his huge paws.  
Cal actually smiles for a photo. Rare sighting!
Look at how much bigger Bernard's head is than Harper's!

While at the lodge we also discovered a Chilean rose tarantula that lived under the trampoline.  We observed it for a while and though it usually was still we realized that when Danny jumped on the trampoline and made it squeak under its weight the tarantula would wiggle its legs and squirm around.  It was really neat to see a tarantula up this close, but I’ll admit that I double-checked all of our bed sheets really well before going to sleep each night!
Terry, the tarantula
video

Our big outing at the lodge was a long hike up one side of the valley.  We hiked to a small house that sat overlooking the Tumuñan River.  Directly below the house was a great swimming hole in the river where we could jump off and plunge down into the clear water.  The water’s temperature was so much warmer that mountain streams in Colorado and we all splashed about and climbed around on the rocks.  Harper and I had a slimy moss-throwing war and Danny and Cal climbed way up on the rocks to see the top of a little waterfall leading into our swimming hole.  After playing around in the water for a while we climbed back up to the house to find our guides had prepared a delicious barbeque on the parilla.  Harper and Cal devoured the sausages and grilled meat.  We were definitely feeling spoiled ending a hike with a lunch and a swim like that!  I don’t know how we are going to get the kids hiking again without such a reward afterwards. 
Hiking to the little house overlooking the swimming hole

Danny takes the plunge



On our way back home to Santiago we stopped at another winery and met up again with a nice German couple that stayed at the lodge with us.  This time we toured the vineyard of Casa Silva.  It was a much different experience than the other vineyard from earlier in the week; because Case Silva is committed to continuing time-honored methods of winemaking its facilities are very traditional.  We toured dark rooms filled with wood barrels lit by lights made to look like burning candles.  The floors were all the same flooring from when the operation was built, some hundred plus years ago.  Saying it was beautiful is such an understatement; it was like a movie set.  The kids had fun exploring and galloping around the huge wine cellars and Danny and I enjoyed all the architecture, funky antiques, and of course the wine.




Now we are back in Santiago.  I sit writing this while waiting for Harper to finish up her theater class.  I just heard her teacher call her name and then seconds later the class applauded.  I’m so glad we raced back to get her to class on time.  She was so happy to see her teacher and walked off with the other kids with a hop in her step.  Tomorrow we are headed across the border to Argentina, though just for a long weekend.  I’ll write more about Mendoza later.  

Monday, January 9, 2012

MIMs the word


Can you tell who's who? (3rd row from the top)
There is an amazing interactive children’s science museum a metro ride away from downtown Santiago.  The Museo Interactivo Mirador (MIM) is an enormous building filled with hands-on exhibits demonstrating all kinds of science concepts.  We’ve visited it twice so far and may try to squeeze in another trip before we leave Santiago for good.  There are rooms about construction, physics, the body, weather, water, bubbles, sound, sensory explorations, space, the list goes on.  It is a great place for our kids because they can just wander from exhibit to exhibit touching and trying it all out.  The descriptions are written in Spanish so the visit is a mental challenge for me and Danny as well, although the guides working at the museum are great and some like to practice their English with us.  We all do our best to jigsaw the information together for Harper and Cal’s understanding.
This last visit we spent a while at the construction exhibit where Harper, Cal and a group of kids got to use Styrofoam bricks, hardhats, kid-sized wheelbarrows, and an electric crane to “build" a building.  The structure of a two-story playhouse was made with wire grid paneling and the bricks fit right in to fill the walls.  Cal loved maneuvering the wheelbarrow and Harper spent most of her time operating the crane. 



I think our favorite exhibit however is this enclosed system for moving tiny pieces of gravel.  It sounds basic and it is hard to explain, but the concept is this: a vibrating table, one regular conveyor belt, one bucket conveyor belt, and two different Archimedes screws (new learning for me and Danny) perpetually move gravel along an enclosed track with the manual cranks operated by our kids.  We’ve spent a lot of time cranking the gravel along and although this may sound boring, it is a really cool concept.  We’ve taken enough pictures and we think we have the gist enough to explain it all to Grandpa Bob and have him build us a miniature version when we get back! 
Take a good look Grandpa Bob!


A few other tidbits we don’t want to forget- the museum has a child-sized urinal, which Cal is thrilled to use each time.  Harper got to lie upon the bed of nails (and thankfully the guide didn’t realize that she forgot to wear underwear that day!)  The mirror exhibits are always hilarious- the short and chubby Traveling Stoneleys made Cal crack up for a while.  And the visual perception exhibit where you look through glass at another person and it looks like you have some of their facial features was wild.  Danny and I face each other through the glass and we were amazed at much the features we saw combined with our own looked like our kids’ faces.  Might sound obvious but it was a real trip.