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Final thoughts and Observations about Chile

...and some cute pictures of the kids!

We have a week left on our trip here and have mostly been hanging out around the house, doing our Spanish lessons, eating good food, watching crime shows and the basketball playoffs on TV, and I´ve taught myself how to crochet with ´yarn´ made from plastic bags (thanks to my friends Lornor and Hagit for the inspriration). We also took a walk to the Plaza Maipu (just down the street from the house) to see the large modern cathedral there. The site of the cathedral was the location of the most famous battle in Chile´s history. It was when Bernardo O´Higgins defeated the Spanish and won independence for Chile in 1818. Here´s a picture of the modern cathedral in the background and the historic cathedral that was destroyed in a big earthquake in the 1960s.

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In other family news, yesterday Delaney´s grandfather Lew passed away. We spent the day remembering him and being thankful for all of our memories with him. One of Delaney´s favorite things about grandpa Lew was that he took him on many interesting travleing adventures around the world: from Africa to Hawaii. Lew´s love of travel inspired Delaney throughout his life to keep traveling, and is part of the reason that we found ourselves here in Chile in the first place. Thank you Lew, we will cherish your memory always.

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There is a lot that we have learned along the way from our travles and throughout the blogs I have put in bits and pieces. But, there are so many cultural, fun, interesting, weird, annoying, and remarkable things that didn´t fit into the context of the past blogs. So, in this one I am going to try to list some of these things so that you can get to know Chile a little bit more.

One of my favorite things about Chilean food is Empanadas. They are avaliable everywhere in panadarias (bakeries), which are located in every neighborhood. They are easy to make, so one day last week Pamela´s sister Loretto came over to make empanadas. The basic recipie is dough (1 kilo of flower, one egg, and hot water), and whatever you want to put inside. We made the traditional Pino empanadas, which have carne (ground beef), cooked onions, a slice of a hard boiled egg, and an olive. Empanadas are a perfect snack or lunch. While making the empanadas we enjoyed some pisco sours made with the pisco from the distilleries, Los Niches, we visited in Pisco Elqui.

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Plus while we were cooking we played with Maite in her new ´Johny jump up.´ She is so happy and smily these days.
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Chilean food is very basic. I like to joke that the three spices are lemon juice, salt, and mayonaise. You will for sure find these on any salad that you order here. Salads are usually one vegitable alone with the above spices (unless you order an ensalada mixta). But what Chileans really love is meat...and a lot of it. We went to a parrilla (barbeque) restaurant with Anne and Gil and here are some pictures of what we ordered: a tower of meat, traditional salads (mixta, papas mayo-potatos and mayonase, tomatos and avocado, and beets), papas fritas (french fries), and of course a pisco sour and glass of red wine.

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We have had some great asados (home barbeque) here in the backyard. Garrett follows Chilean traditions quite well: first we put on the salchiches (sausages) and some onion slices on the grill. When those are almost ready we heat up some fresh baked bread from the panadaria down the street and eat with...of course...mayonaise. Then, on goes the carne, the steak, sprinkled liberally with salt. While its cooking we enjoy our Escudo beer, red wine, or if we´re feeling fancy a pisco sour. When we are ready to eat, out come the salads and listo!

My other favorite thing about Chilean food is simply, paltas (avocados in Chilean Spanish...different from aguacates in other Spanish speaking countries). Paltas are avaliable most of the year here and in season are really inexpensive. The price of paltas has actually risen in many parts of Chile, however, becasue they are increasingly being exported to the US, where they are sold at much higher cost to the customer. Next time you buy an avocado (especially in the winter) check to see if it is from Chile.
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A typical place to buy fresh food is at the local feria. There is all of the typical fruits and vegetables, however, they only have them in-season. Our favorite part of the local feria is the fresh fish, which is resonably priced, hasn´t been frozen, and was usually caught the day before. My favorite fish to eat here is the reineta, which you can´t see in this picture.
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Another great thing about Chilean food is well yes, there is fast food...and thats not so great. BUT what is great about it is that you can order a beer at a fast food restaurant...and you can walk with it out the door in your hand without the fear of getting arrested for drinking in public.

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Ok enough about food....now transportation. For the most part, the public transportation is much better in Chile than in the U.S. There are tons of different options that take you pretty much anywhere. The only exception is trains. Before Pinochet, Chile had a rail system, but the dictator removed all of the trainlines and instead built roads. Pinochet did this to weaken the workers unions who were able to use train strikes to gain power. He crushed all the unions and along with them the trains. But, trucks on roads are a bit harder for worker unions to control so they built roads instead. In fact, Pinochet built the famous Carratera Austral, which we traveled on in southern Chile. Anyway...Delaney and I took buses pretty much in between every city we visited. They are less expensive than traveling by car (due to the high price of gas and road tolls). And since there are so many bus companies, it was easy to get a bus that fit into our travel schedule.

When you are in the cities, the best way to travel without a car is often by colectivo. Colectivos are similar to taxis, but instead of only carrying one passenger, the collectivos pack in a bunch of people going to roughly the same destination, and thus are much cheeper than taxis. This is a much needed transportaion option in the U.S. since it is basically carpooling made easy. Here is a picture of a street crowded with collectivos in La Serena. They are typically black with yellow doors and a sign on top indicating their direction.

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The roads in Chile are better than many places in the world, but of course hardly any country outside Europe can rival the roads in the United States. In many towns and cities we visited there are both paved and unpaved roads. The unpaved roads in places can be quite bumpy, but no worse than some of the US forest service roads I´ve been on. Most of the main highways are privately owned and operated, which brings benefits and downsides. The big downside is the expensive tolls. But, the upside is that the company pays to keep them very clean (despite Chilean´s bad habit for littering) and have complimentary road-side assistance. We found this out the hard way when our car broke down and a tow truck took us to the nearest off ramp. It was great to get off the highway and in a safer location.

Another interesting thing to note about roads is the proliferation of road-side shrines. They are typically shrines to people who have died on the road, similar to those in the US, but there are also shrines to saints who are said to protect travlers. My favorite shrines are the ones that have piles of water bottles around them. At first I was really confused by this, but Tamara told me the story and it makes a little more sense now. There was a woman who was said to be travelling in the desert with her baby. She died of dehydration, but miraculously her baby is said to have survived by drinking her milk even after she died. Travelers, especially truckers, put full water bottles around the shrines with images and figurines of this scence to ask her to protect them on their journey.

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Also, like everywhere in the world, people in Chile drive as fast as they can. In the US we keep our speed down for fear of a speeding ticket, but here in Chile the carbineros (police), hardly pull over drivers. So, instead they control speed the old fashioned way: good old speed bumps. This can be quite hard on the cars, especially becasue they aren´t always marked or obvious and are usually really big.

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One of the worst things that we experienced in Chile was the abundance of litter. There is trash everywhere...except in the places where there are people paid to pick it up (bus stations and city parks for example). In most of the popular places that we went camping there was usually trash strewn about the campsites. Really disgusting. We have frequently seen people just drop trash on the ground...and why not, when there is usually someone to pick it up. Despite this bad habit, like I mentioned the city parks are very clean and free of trash every morning. But that comes at a price. there is someone in almost every park daily picking up the trash and literally watering the plants with a hose. Its a great way to keep people employed, I guess.

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While Chileans may have a bad habit of littering, they do conserve in ways that would be beneficial for us in the US. For example, every house has an on-demand water heater, rather than a hot water tank. Also, our favorite is the returnable bottles. Most of the glass and some of the plastic bottles that you buy can be returned to the store in exchange for a new bottle. When you first buy the bottle, you pay a little extra for it, but if you bring an empty bottle back, you don´t have to pay again. The empty bottles are taken to the bottling factories, cleaned, and filled with delicious beer or soda again.

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There is a small movement in Chile to be more ecologically concious and I saw this vertical garden in a storefront down the street in Maipu.

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Another random thing to note is the crazy wiring above the streets in Chile. Most of the wires are not electical, but still...its a knotty mess.

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Like many Latin countries, the Chileans have a thing for hot women. You will see them all over the front pages of the local newspapers (except the two most respected papers in Santiago), on all the TV talk shows, and as weather girls. Why have an ugly old man tell you what the weather is going to be when you can have a former Miss Chile do it? The sad thing is that while most of the women here have darker skin and dark hair, the archetype of beautiful is light skin, eyes, and hair. There are some Chileans who fit this profile (German or English immigrants mostly), but they are a small percentage of the population. However, you would think if you watched TV and read the news here that there was a much larger percentage of lighter skinned women.

Another way that Chilean business men enjoy hot women is in coffee shops in downtown Santiago. They go during the work day, usually with business associates, to a ´cafe´with black windows where there are strippers that serve them coffee. While they drink the coffee, the women dance for them...and unlike strip clubs in the US there is no ban on touching. Yikes.

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Ok enough about that...Chile has clearly embraced capitalism like no where else in the world. The people here have a truely entreprenurial spirit (coffee shop strip clubs for example...I swear Portland-with the highest per capita strip clubs in the US-is ready for one). Despite the proliferation of walmart here (disguised as Lider), there are still lots of small businesses and markets everywhere. In Pamela and Garrett´s neighborhood, for example, there are about a dozen small markets, a furniture maker, a car parts store, bottle shops, an empanada shop, a completo (hot dog) stand, and a Chineese restaurant. Plus, on practically every street corner, especially on hot days, you will find people selling drinks and ice cream out of coolers and all sorts of random crap. If there isn´t someone selling you something the intersection is almost sure to have a street performer juggling for change from passing cars. People find creative ways to make money everywhere, like driving around neighborhoods selling propane, veggies, and cleaning products out of a truck or on a bike trailer. It´s almost impossible to park in the city without paying some random person to watch your car and help you back up. Teenagers help you bag your groceries at the store for a small tip. Some of these eneavors are so much more convienet for the consumer, and some are pretty annoying, but overall they show the hard-working and creative spirit of the Chilean people.

Now language. When we told other travellers about our plans to study Spanish here in Chile many people were surprised by our choice. This is mostly because Chileans are known to not only speak really fast, but they also have a thick accent (although not as bad as Argentinians) and use a lot of slang that is unique to Chile. Palta (avocado) is just one example of a word that doesn´t really exisit in any other Spanish-speaking countries. They even have a verb conjugation that it their own. We have had some pretty funny encounters with Chileans, especially in Patagonia where they would talk to us and we could only pick out the general meaning of what they were saying--if that! And, to make matters worse, some Chileans couldn´t understand us when we spoke because we were speaking too slowly. Seriously, a guy at the feria couldn´t even understand me when I said, ´dos cebollas´ (2 onions). So, I just pointed and got 5. Go figure.

Another example of a typically Chilean slang word is the word Flaite (pronounced fly-tay). It generally refers to young city people, who are loud, vulgar, typically lower-income, and wear clothes that are of a certain fashion (hard to describe really). The best translation that we have might be ´ghetto.´ The interesting thing about this word is the urban legend of its origin (and its the only word that rhymes with Maite). Basically when Nike Air Flights were really popular in the 80s kids started wearing them in Chile. The shoes said ´Flights´on their heel. Soon, people started refering to these kids as Flaites.

There is so much else to say about Chile, but I´m not writing a book. So, I´m gonna end with my favorite thing about Chile: its people. The people here are so generous, warm, friendly, inviting, and welcoming. Everywhere we travelled we had positive experiences with the local people. It has truely been a wonderful place to practice and learn Spanish (despite the slang and the accent) because people want to talk to us and listen to our story. We are so excited that we will have three Chilenas with us back in Oregon, so we can continue to enjoy Chilean culture and its wonderful people.

Thank you to all of you who have followed our blog. Its been really fun to write and document our adventures through stories and photos. Now it is time for our last adventure, returning home and reacclimating to the states. We hope to see you all when we get there. Until the next trip! Hasta luego!

Posted by Delaney..Jennie 05.24.2012 10:59 Archived in Chile

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