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February 25, 2011

Breaking: Earthquake hits Christchurch

Just one month after we have been there, an earthquake of magnitude 6.5 hit Christchurch 2 days ago. It is heartbreaking to see all the devastation to this beautiful city, and our best wishes go to all who been touched by this disaster:(


the aftermathimage

[photo: Twitpic]

February 21, 2011

The first hospital visit

So one would think that the New Year’s Eve celebrations kicked me out so much that I ended up in hospital, but it is only half-truth:) In fact, during the night of the celebration a little insect bite on my heal turned into a big blister, and despite having no fever or other symptoms, I considered it is worth paying a visit to the nearby urgencia of Universidade Catolica (de Chile of course).

My mother always says: “If you don’t know what is your illness, don’t go to the doctor, because they won’t know it either”. It was kind of true in this case as well. None of the medics had the faintest of the idea what happened to me, so they just cut open my blister, cleaned it, put bandage on it, and told me to go back on the next day to meet the tropical diseases specialist. The tropical diseases specialist next day was just as smart as the other ones. No fever, no illness, discharged.


Santiago: a pleasant surprise

Anyone ever heard amazing stories of Santiago de Chile? No? Neither did we, so we only planned a few days here, but the city and it’s people offered a pleasant surprise.

Apart from the “standard” Plaza de Armas there are quite a few things to see: the lookout of Santa Lucia, Cerro San Cristobal, the fish market, Barrio Bellavista, just to name the most prominent ones. Unfortunately some things are damaged by the recent earthquake, but reconstructions are going smoothly.


The people are relaxed and friendly, surprisingly heavy metal has more fans here than anywhere else in South America. We were surprised to see people wearing black t-shirts of Vader, a relatively unknown Polish death metal band:) Tattoos and piercings are also popular and a good beard is almost obligatory for guys. There is a slight amount of nationalism going on, and after reading the “proudly made in Chile” and seeing the national flag on almost all products, it is really not surprising to see the following advertisement of a bank and the rather unimaginative slogan they managed to come up with. Questions aside, the Bank of Chile is really the bank of Chile!


Chilean people love to eat. While there is a lot of seafood on the menu, the cheapest food is the hot-dog-like completo, stuffed with avocado cream, or other fast-food like items, like the chorillana, which is basically a heap of fries topped with meat, sausage, onions and cheese, and is normally too much for two people:) The Santiago fish market is a good place to go if you like seafood. It’s quite touristic so shop around to get the right value for your money. The Chilean ceviche is quite poor compared to the Peruvian one and the fish is often coming in minced form. Some exotic fruits, like lucuma can also be found in the form of a good ice-cream.


The national drink is pisco and wine. Wine is usually good, but a really good bottle might cost you some money. Pisco is a sensitive topic: it is the national pride of both Peru and Chile, both of them claiming it as their own, and prohibiting the import of it from any other countries. Nevertheless, later on we managed to smuggle a bottle of Chilean pisco to Peru and made a little test to decide the debate once and for all:) Result: the maracuya sour made with the Peruvian pisco had a smoother and more enjoyable taste.


Cruising around on the streets you can also find the popular drink of mote. It is basically peach juice with an entire peach inside and soaked flakes of wheat. On a hot day it is quite enjoyable …once you got rid of the flakes of wheat:)


Last, but not least, we have met the Chef from South Park and the French Crocodile Dundee, who runs a little crêperie (French pancake shop) and happily admits: “Well, crêpe is crap …but its good!”:)



To be honest we arrived to Chile with a bit of a preconception. As Argentine and Peruvian do not really like the chilenos in general, this mood was sticking to us in the previous weeks and months. Very soon turned out that there is no place for worries, Chilean people are great and we were very welcome to their country.

We were scheduled to arrive to Valparaiso on the 30th of December to get involved in the fireworks (one of the greatest of the Americas) and the legendary parties of New Year’s Eve. The operation is not that simple as millions of people are heading from Santiago to Valparaiso at this time of the year so the roads are jammed and the buses are overscheduled, but we made it anyway.


On the night of the new year we took a little boat to watch the fireworks from the water, had a few glasses of champagne onboard with the other passengers, then headed back to the port, where hundreds of thousands of people celebrated on the streets, taking champagne, pisco, or whatever made them happy. It was a great night!


Buenos Aires: the good, the bad and the ugly

“Che, dedonde sos?” – asks the average porteño when meeting a foreigner. The people of Buenos Aires are open minded, friendly, humorous, and speak such a Spanish, that you will probably need an extra dictionary to catch all what they say. They still believe in the power of fernet and pizza, but lost their belief in their politicians long time ago. The city is soaked up with the presence of tango: in the downtown every corner features a ballroom or school of tango, frequented by the old, the young, the locals or the tourists. The quality of the tango lessons varies: some of them will teach you eye-candy tricks right away, some of them will make you learn the basic walking for hours and hours. To be honest I already forgot all the flashy tricks, but I still remember the basics, so depending on your skills, you might choose one or the other. Most dance schools turn into a ballroom at the end of the lessons, where you can freely try your freshly obtained skills.

The etiquette of the ballroom tango (milonga) deserves a chapter of its own. Lets take a look at a typical ritual: The guests are seated at tables around the dance floor, women cannot ask men for dancing, all they can do is watch. Once established eye-contact with a man, even from the other side of the room, the man will approach the woman and asks her if she dances. It is very impolite to turn down this request, so the woman will accept it, and the freshly formed couple hits the dance floor. Each tango song starts with a little bit of crescendo, and until the violins kick in really hard, the couple have a few seconds to get to know each other. Once dancing, they don’t talk any more, the body does the talking. During the next three or four song the couple dances together, until there is a pause when they return to their seats, and it starts all over again, with new couples forming in the next section.

Probably one of the most mind-boggling thing in Buenos Aires is the public transportation, especially the bus system. First of all, the buses are equipped with a coin-operated ticket vending machine: the driver enters your destination, the machine indicates the amount, you feed the machine with the indicated amount, you get your ticket. This would work brilliantly in any other place, but Buenos Aires has a serious shortage on coins, and hell no, the machines will not accept anything else. This leads to a number of interesting situations: when you notice already onboard that you don’t have enough coins, you can tell the driver, who will trick somehow the machine, that will first spit out your coins so that you can throw them in again. Also happened to us that the driver himself gave us some coins to throw in. When you know you don’t have coins, and still waiting for the bus, you would think you could get change for your notes in any kiosk, hell no. Try to pay with a 2 peso note for a 50 centimo lollipop, most merchants will turn you down immediately. The shortage is so serious, that on the central train station there are coin selling machines, and hundreds of people queuing in front of them to get those damned little pieces of metal.
The other bad thing about the bus system is that it’s chaotic. All lines are operated by different companies, and even though there is a website to list all lines, you have no chance to get a map of the lines or to get directions from point A to B. The best you can do is ask someone or invest in a “Guia T”. Guia T AKA the transportation guide is a small booklet which is supposed to help you to get from point A to B. It is edited in such a way, that it will tell you which bus to take, but it will not tell you where the bus stop is, only locates the bus stop in the segment of a map with 4-5 parallel and perpendicular streets. Now lets say you found the right street, it is still a challenge to find the bus stop, as some of them are not indicated at all, and of course you cannot hail down a bus at any place.

Buenos Aires has many faces and can leave many impressions, Certainly it has ugly parts, like the heap of trash piled up on the corner of all the streets of downtown and the homeless children playing or sleeping amongst them, or the once important Molino building right next to the parliament that is now home of the homeless. Sadly enough these impressions damage the charm of the city and make me feel it is NOT the most European city of South America.

February 4, 2011

Buenos Aires, a European city in South America

All people I know who came to Buenos Aires, aka “Bs As”, kept amazing memories of their stays. As expectations were high, there could have been some disappointments… but it was not the case!

First thing which striked us, is the look of the people. They are far from the style of other South American countries we visited… white skin, very thin bodies for girls, medium-long hair and light beard for boys… we cannot contest the fact that the Italians stayed for a period of time in the country.

Beside the physical appearance, the duality between people from BsAs, so-called the “Portenos”, and those from the countryside, alias the “interior”, is an interesting fact. In the countryside (as well as in other South American countries), people are used to saying that Portenos are particularly arrogant. This is probably due to the particular ‘castellano’ they speak, where the letters ‘y’ and ‘ll’ are pronounced [ ʃ ]. Or again due to the fact that they are generally less accessible than their Latin neighbors, having a more European character. However, argentines have a surprising interest for European people and culture, which finally make these first barriers easier to pass, and will allow European visitors to discover the argentine complexity without too much difficulties. Meeting around a barbecue (called “asado”) of marvelous argentine meat, wandering around under a climate always favorable, dancing a sensual tango… this is the charm of Argentina, and its people.



Other significant element, the architecture… the Italian and French influences are remarkable. There is a constant research of style with a mix of baroque & (neo)-classic architecture. You can see great building façades, or little botanic garden on the last floor of an edifice, or again arcade-shaped walkways… everything is so beautiful, and very concentrated. That’s for me a major advantage of BsAs. Indeed, the city covers an area of 200km2, whereas you can find more than 13 million people in the metropole. This is a major comfort when you need to commute, visit friends, attend a show.



Of course, not everything is perfect. The recent history has profoundly marked people there. Both the violent dictatorship of the 70s, and the economical crisis of 2001, removed any trust the argentine could have in their politicians. Many demonstrations are occurring every day in the street… I have never seen that in any other countries. As well, as a tourist, you will need to buy a book to know ‘approximately’ where to take one of the hundred bus lines of the city, or you will be surprised by the poverty and people opening all the trashes at night in the street, making some districts terribly dirty. However, this is not removing the charm I found in the city and the people in there… a place where it feels good to live!