Thursday, September 23, 2010

Valpo to Santiago

Well, the long awaited celebrations came and went. There was a huge fair set up steps from our place and at nights the music was booming so loud that our window panes shook. People were drinking chicha and dancing cueca until 4 in the morning. There was also lots of vendors selling traditional chilean food (read - meat). We did not know, but our CS guests told us that street dogs were said to be missing shortly before the feria opened. It did not seem improbable, you just had to get a smell of the meat being fried on coals - it was definitely not fresh, and it did not taste like beef...
During our last few weeks we have hosted a lot of people through CouchSurfing. Our guests were mostly French, and most of them new to the CouchSurfing concept. Among our guests were exchange students from Valdivia, a main-stream travelling couple, a group of 5 (4 girls and 1 guy) law students, and a professional paraglider pilot. All of them from France!
The paraglider pilot took us out of town to try his wing out. The experience seemed more similiar to hitch-hiking than flying - two hours in a bus to get out of the suburbia, a long walk with backpacks looking for the ¨spot¨ and then a sunset on the beach. Gerard did take off and flew for a bit. He then gave us a short introduction and we pulled the thing up in the air, pulling it along the beach.
On our last night in town, Gabriela and Robinson, our Chilean friends, invited us to the ¨bicentenario¨dinner at Gabriela`s parents` place. When we arrived, the empanadas prepared by her mother, were hot out of the oven, the food was plentyful and delicious, and the night was the most appropriate conclusion to our month.long stay in Valparaiso.
Next morning we cleaned our room, dealt with the old grandma running the place and went to see the Navy Parade. The event did not take place since the 1810, so people were very excited. We went to the look-out and waited. The air shook with war planes flying low over the city, and then the war ships motored by the pier, where all the generals were sitting. When the fighter jets flew by and there was no end in sight of the column of the ships, we decided we saw enough of the military ¨defile¨ and headed for the bus station, it being too late to try to hitch-hike out the same day. We do not pretend to be purists, so once in a while we do things we usually try to avoid. The bus departed in a few minutes, and we were in the capital two hours later. Here, we had a CS contact, so we headed straight there (or so we thought). When we were looking for the address on google map, the system pointed us to a street that was nowhere near the real location. Convinced of the reliability of Google, we headed there. An outsirt neighbourhood, 20 subway stations from the true address. Not bad. We asked at a corner store, and the old man scratched his head and told us that we are very far away. He then called our host and put us on the bus heading our way. Shortly after, we were at the door of German and Gemma, our hosts. They live across the river from the downtown, and breathtaking views open from their tall windows. They were having a roof-top barbeque party, so we mingled with the friendly people to be found there and went to sleep pretty late in a room of our own.
We have stayed for four days now with them. We went to see a light-show on the Moneda Palace, helped to move some furniture, went to see the fairy-tale Cerro Santa Lucia, and even witnessed a sword-fencing practice, of which German was the master.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Living slow in Valpo

Valparaiso is a city of contrasts - colours, smells, and most importantly elevation differences. A walk around town is usually a struggle, unless you are going downhill, of course. There are around 30 funiculeurs (lifts like the one in Quebec City) installed around the city - a system dating from the middle of the nineteenth century. Only a few remain in service, but they are nevertheless very popular with the people.We are getting to know our neighbourhood little by little. Our baker addresses us by our names, we meet aquaintances on the street and Anastasia gets presents of empanadas from the local homeless guy.There is a very special gas station next to our house - they play music on the loudspeakers exclusively after 11 pm, and exclusively jazz or some good classical music. We fall asleep listening to Bach...
There are a lot of graffitti in Valpo. Big, small, good and not so good, they cover almost every wall in the city. We have gone on a few ¨graffitti hunt¨ walks - it was like visiting a living art exhibition, with people, dogs and traffic contributing to the experience.Dogs deserve a special note: it seems that all street dogs are purebred here. It is a common thing to see a huge beautiful bloodhound, with shining fur, to be digging in a trash can or, more often, leasurly lying in the middle of the sidewalk, in the sun, meditating on a meatshop window in front of him. German sheppards, cocker spaniels and setters also abound, running around in jolly packs. All of them are friendly and not afraid of people at all. If you were to say a typical ¨pshhh¨ to a dog in Bolivia, it would tuck its tail between the legs and get out of your way in a flash. Not so here. The dog will probably just ignore you, or slightly wiggle its tail and try to lick your hand. Dogs are not used to being kicked here.Chile is a country of good wine that is cheap. You can get a decent bottle for around $3. We are progressively becoming aquainted with the selection of the good and not so good wines available in almost any shop.
One of the late mornings, after breakfast, sipping on a hot ¨ceylon blend¨ tea, we were thinking of all the funny questions we have been asked on the road (all of them many times over). Here are a few that immediatly came to mind:
-Is Canada an island? (Peru)
-Is it in Europe? (Peru)
- I though that it is always cold in Canada... (after an explanation that there is a hot summer) (Bolivia)
-Do you have to stay indoors in Canada the whole winter not to freeze to death? (Equador)
-What do you eat in the winter? (Colombia)
-You are never cold, because you are used to it in Canada, right? (asked in the -5 C morning on the Bolivian altiplano)
-Do you speak Spanish in Russia? (Equador)
-What language do you speak in Canada? It is something strange, you say ¨eh¨ a lot up there... (an American tourist in Chile)
We are very happy that we are living here now. We are resting from the road, reading interesting books, we eat good and make a little money selling our macrame bracelets. We are thinking of getting back on the road after the 18th of September - the 200 year anniversary of Chile. The party is promising to be huge, with a kite flying competition, bag racing, lots of wine and chicha all around, good food, music and lots of dancing. The celebrations will last four days!
Good times:)