Monday, March 23, 2009

Adv #7 Continued.....Life around Santiago and up into the Andes Mountains!

Another episode of “Travels with Eric,” coming to you live from Santiago, Chile!

I’ve been settled into the Santiago/Valparaiso area for the past 8 weeks already, which is 4 times longer than I’ve spent in any one place for the last 9 months. (Enough with the numbers, Eric.) There are plenty of reasons to stay here as I’ve written about previously, but the main reason is that the Chilean people have been absolutely wonderful to me. Sure I could find work in other countries down here, but instinct is telling me that Chile is the place to be. Plus, I look forward to seeing in person these amazing places I've heard so much about and seen so many pictures of in the rest of the country. (Have you seen pictures from the Atacama Desert or Torres del Paine? Yep.....look at the pictures and you'll see why I'd like work and live here for at least the next couple of years....)

I’ve sent out a bunch of resumes for Adventure Tourism work, and a few interviews have come up as a result (none that are turning into opportunities I want though.) Friends here are all reminding me how much native-English speakers are needed for these tourism jobs….so I’m quite sure I’ll find the right opportunity eventually. Right now I have two obstacles though: First, even more so than in the U.S., Chile seems to operate on face-to-face introductions. Just sending my resume alone doesn’t seem so spark much interest from companies, so I’m being reminded that I’ll actually need to drive up to San Pedro de Atacama or down to Patagonia to walk in and introduce myself. (Patagonia in the south is becoming less of an option this time of year though with winter setting in.) The second obstacle right now is my weak Spanish. Yes, these tourism companies want English-speakers, but I’ll need a better foundation in Spanish to compliment that. Reading Spanish? No problem. I can work through printed text quite well. But my speaking and understanding have major room for improvement.

It’s tough to leave the Valparaiso/Santiago area because I’ve met so many great people in my short time here. In about a week though, I’m going to start the 2 or 3 day drive up to San Pedro de Atacama and start checking things out for adventure tourism. The best part about all of this is that I’m still having fun! I love seeing new places, meeting new people, and travelling around, so after “cooling my heels” for a while in the Santiago area, I’m excited to head out on the road again.

Now about the pictures below……

Though I have yet to see the most beautiful and scenic areas of Chile, it’s no secret that this country is a nature-lover’s paradise and virtually every type of terrain and scenery can be found. Much like the U.S. in this regard, Chile is just more “compressed” in that you can be hiking in the Andes Mountains in the morning, and then enjoy a Pacific sunset on the beach in the afternoon. (The country is only about 100 miles wide on average.) In short though…anyone who wants to be active outdoors can really soak it up in Chile.

Most of these outdoor activities require some sporting goods and equipment, and I can’t deny that I am CRAZY about sporting goods. Coincidentally, just outside Santiago lies one of the most amazing places I’ve ever been to called “Mallsport.” ( To prepare locals and tourists for their adventures in Chile, Mallsport is basically a collection of retail stores that offer every sporting good and outdoorsman could ever need. Camping, hiking, biking, rafting……..sailing, weightlifting, climbing, or horseback riding….it’s all there in this perfect “Mecca” of sporting goods. I love it!

Originally I just went to Mallsport thinking it was time for a new pair of trail running shoes, but that visit has since turned into 4 different visits, each about 3 hours long. I’m not much for hanging around malls, but if there’s an exception to that rule, this place is it. Check out the pics below of the wave machine where they give surfing lessons and the climbing wall inside the main building. Even though I’ve been in Santiago and Valparaiso mostly and not out “adventuring” as much as the previous 8 months, just being around all this equipment is another good reminder to me that I need to be out of the city….and into nature, being physical, moving an Adventure Guide!

I've always thought I would steer clear of climbing like this.....but seeing how many people are into this sport....hmm.....maybe I'll give it a shot sometime.

Aside from shopping around a bit, and checking out the city, there's been plenty of opportuntities to get out on my bike. Remember Jaime and Lucho from the last blog post? They had a great idea for another ride up into the ski resort area called “La Parva” which is just to the east of Santiago. Getting us out of the traffic by creeping up into the Andes Mountains sure was a nice change of pace from being around the city. We had met Mike Verbunt, a BMW rider from Holland just a couple of days earlier as he was passing through Santiago on his way to Ushuaia. Mike had been riding for about 8 months at that point through most of the U.S., Canada, and then down through Mexico and Central America just like Peter and I did. He joined us for the day-trip up the twists and turns to about 10,000 feet above sea level before heading south to finish his trip to the south.
(Above, Lucho arrives on his "around the town" bike.)

Just seeing the ski lifts in the background sure does bring back some memories and spark some ideas. I can't believe this.....but I haven't been on my snowboard since my trip to the Swiss/Austrian alps in 2003! Something must be wrong with me. I'm going to have to fix that...

Not to be forgotten are the dinners out with the guys, including Felix, another motorcycle rider and friend of Lucho’s going back about 40 years. Plus we had the chance to meet Martin and Patric, both from the Montreal area who were riding to Ushuaia on their BMW’s a couple of months at a time. They have an interesting approach: With limited time off from work, they started riding as far as they could from Montreal and store their bikes when they have to return home for work. When more vacation time becomes available, they fly back to Texas, Costa Rica, Peru, or wherever their bikes are in storage and continue riding. How's that for an example of diligence?
Life around Hostal Providencia back in the city has made it quite easy meet people in the 5 weeks I’ve spent living there. With new faces passing through all the time, occasionally an English-speaker is amongst them and we always appreciate each other’s company and the break from struggling with our Spanish.

Such was the case with Hiten and Smita from England, two travelers in the middle of their 4 month journey around the world. They came to Santiago having just spent about 3 months in New Zealand, Fiji, and a handful of other exotic countries, and Chile was on their list of countries to see along with Peru, Argentina and Brazil before heading home to England. Since we all had some time on our hands, and were pretty new around Santiago, soaking up the cultural experience of “La Piojera” sounded like a perfect plan for one Saturday afternoon.

La Piojera is a fairly famous tavern in Santiago, and their house drink called the “Terremoto” (meaning “earthquake”) is part of the reason why this place is so famous. The drink is made from some kind of a house wine, and some other unknown spirits and then topped with pineapple ice cream. Granted, I don’t drink as much as I did back in the college days and my tolerance is not what it once was, but after just one and a half of these terremotos, my eyes felt like they were crossed and I was back in college! I’ve seen people passed out on the couch at the hostal after supposedly drinking only two of them.

Above is the table-side entertainment at La Piojera the day we were there. Normally, I really don't like table-side musical acts (and I know I'm not the only one out there!) They're always too loud, interrupting conversations, and they're never playing music I wanted to hear in the first place. Such was exactly the case again with this father and son act yelping away in awful voices, with dad on the guitar and his son pounding away on a drum. Interesting thing was, this kid was detirmined to entertain us whether we wanted him to or not. That commitment...that absolute detirmination to entertain us became evident after a while and it was amazing to see our attitudes about his performance change so much. We ended up adoring him! Something to be said about
(Below: the view from atop Cerro Santa Lucia in Santiago.)
Then later that night, how's this for a coincidence? I said goodbye to all my new friends on the Cap Blanche on February 1st, figuring we had exchanged email addresses and if I ever make it to the Ukraine or France someday, I'd have a chance to visit with these folks again. A full month after I left the ship, I opened the door to the hostal I'm staying at, and Daniel Derrien, one of the passengers amongst us on the ship was there! I knew he'd been travelling Chile and Argentina with his wife since we left the boat, but with all the hotels and hostals in all of Chile and Argentina.....what are the chances he circled back to stay at the same one I'd been living at? Small world....great to see you again Daniel!

More news will come along soon, including many other pictures that I have yet to share. It's impossible to write about every single thing that I've been doing, as each day seems to be full of different things I'm doing. As explained above, the next posting should be coming to you from San Pedro de Atacama, a place that people say is absolutely incredible....and pictures I've seen help support that!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Adv #7 Continued: What's been happening in Chile?

So it’s about time I better explain what has been going on here in Chile as it has been a while since I added to this. As explained in the previous post, folks like Jaime and Lucho, and Michelle and Carlos (and many more) have welcomed me such that I feel this is a great place to live for a while. My motorcycle riding has not even taken me into Argentina yet, but much like Columbia, Peru, and the other countries I’ve skipped up to this point, I’m sure those countries will still be there for later visits.

With my house successfully re-rented again, most of the financial burden is off my back for now and I don’t feel like I need to run back to the U.S. in a hurry and pickup another job like I had for the first 8 years of my career. Especially since so many issues are erupting within the U.S. right now, it just doesn't make sense. (Sad to say, but it sure does look like many years of misaligned fundamentals are catching up with us!) Yes, I have my family and friends there that I'd sure like to see, but I think you all understand that this travel bug is just something I have to get out of my system. I'm going to spend quite a bit of time here and get a feel for South America, understand better what it’s like to live here and finally learn a second language.

Having spent a full month touring around, getting my motorcycle tightened up a bit and just socializing and meeting people, now I’ve started dropping off resumes at English Language Institutes around Santiago. (I’ve even had one interview with an institute called “Tronwell,” and believe I’ll be offered a job next week.) There’s still something inside though reminding me that I’d prefer some tourism-type of work. Maybe it was just being in those offices when I was dropping off resumes or dealing with trains and buses and elevators and such in the city, but these early stages of job hunting are reminding me that I would really prefer to be outdoors and more physical. So in addition to sniffing around for the teaching possibilities, I’m ramping up my search for some more adventure touring work hoping that I’ll find a job where a 2nd language is not a definite requirement. I believe I’ll find the right opportunity!

Outside of my job hunt, there’s been plenty happening every day and night since I arrived. In the last post I explained that Michelle and Carlos invited me to stay with them until I figure out where I’ll work and live more permanently. Because I was living with them in Valparaiso for my first 2 or 3 weeks in Chile, that meant that me (and my motorcycle) were invited to the birthday parties, family lunches, trips to the beach, and everything they’d normally do anyway. (Finally, there’s a picture of Michelle below on my bike, and another one of Carlos at his birthday party doing some camera work.)

The running joke between us quickly became that, it didn’t matter so much if I showed up for a party or gathering…..just as long as my motorcycle was there. Like a father so proud of his son, I’m happy that so many people want to see my bike and get their picture taken with him. (Am I gloating here?) With the Dakar Rally having just passed through Valparaiso in January, the unique shape of that KTM bike is still fresh in everyone’s mind and still turning heads everywhere I go. I admit the occasional feeling of jealousy because my bike is the celebrity here…..not me : )
As mentioned previously, Carlos works at the Hamburg Restaurant where his mom, Trinidad and Aunt Erica work. (Below is a picture of Carlos behind the bar, and then with me and “Trini.”) His mom and aunt and all the people I’m meeting are so sweet and welcoming to me, but it’s still going to be awhile before we can communicate without Carlos or Michelle translating for us. We find little ways to laugh with the basic Spanish I do know at this point and I do my best to crack some jokes, but I look forward to someday having a more complete conversation with them.
More pics below show a walk we took through downtown Valparaiso after the Sunday family lunch my first week there. It’s a neat city with bundles of character and streets that make San Francisco look flat. (Seriously, I think Valparaiso has San Fran beat in that regard. I’ve seen cars spinning their wheels on perfectly dry pavement, just trying to get started going up these hills!)

It's tough to see in the picture above, but this local street performer has put together a musical act using nothing but garbage and recyclables to make his characters. Chunks of tire to make eyebrows, frayed cable to make hair, and maybe a broomstick to make some legs, it's pretty creative and makes an interesting point. If forces one to think a bit about all the things we manufacture, use, and discard every year. (And NO, I have not become a hippie.)

Just a few kilometers north of Valparaiso are the cities of Renaca and Vina del Mar, two touristy little beach towns with people crammed into every spot in the area this time of year. Where there are tourists, there’s advertising. Do any of these pictures below make anyone feel like drinking Sobe Adrenelin right now? Quite the marketing and advertising blitz they have going on around the beach here. Chile’s version of the “TODAY Show” is also known to be bringing these girls in from Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, or wherever they need to and the girls basically just get paid to hang around in the background while the on-air commentary is taking place. Not shown in the Sobe picture below are the hundreds of meatheads standing around salivating over the beautiful girls. (We couldn't help ourselves : )

(The General Lee and some good ol' boys in South America? Sure does feel good to have a taste of sweet Georgia this far from home : )

With the family, we’ve also done the pool-side barbeques on Sundays and even hiked to the top of La Campana, which is a feat certainly worth making note of. It might not look like much in the pictures below, and I was thinking the same thing when I first saw the mountain and Tio Manuel suggested we climb it. Even with a full week to prepare for the climb by ramping up my exercise, this was still one of the most physically rigorous days I can remember in my life! Neither Carlos or Manuel who had lived there all their lives had ever attempted it before, and it turned out to be a real surprise how much of a challenge it was. It made the toughest hikes I’ve done in the Grand Canyon and Yosemite last year look like a casual stroll in the park.
(Below is a view of the top of La Campana after we'd already been hiking about an hour. It was a total of about 5 hours to get to the top, and you'll see below how the terrain got so difficult that we had to use our hands much of the time to climb. No actual climbing equipment was needed....just hands, feet, and endurance. My kind of climbing!)
(Above: There's Carlos's Uncle Manuel, still feeling fresh early in our charge to the top : )

As we kept thinking "20 more minutes, 20 more minutes...." the markers guiding us to the top would take twists and turns around the opposite side of the peak, and our hopes of reaching the top seemed to be useless. There were a few plaques posted commemorating the efforts of Charles Darwin and other explorers as they neared the top of this climb with the Pacific to the west and the stunning Andes Mountains to the east. Another day where I wish my bike had enough space for me to carry a more powerful camera, I just hope these few photos do the view some kind of justice.
(In the pics above, my back is facing a haze over the Pacific Coast, and behind Carlos are the snow-capped Andes just across the border into Argentina. It's absolutely beautiful!)

Since we're both between jobs right now, Michelle and I have both have some spare time during the week to hit the produce markets around town, grab lunch, or just hang out in the Valparaiso. Let the picture below give some small indication of how much mayonaise is typical on Chilean sandwiches, and notice that on the side, they even gave me an extra portion! The mayonaise section in a typical grocery store here will rival the size of the beer aisle in most stores in Wisconsin. Since the sandwich below, I've learned to say "sin mayonesa" quite clearly.

A typical night around the neighborhood might include the 1-minute walk from Michelle's and Carlos's place to the football (soccer) field they have just down the street. Valparaiso is sectioned apart by cerros or "hills" and each cerro has a football team representing it. Sure, it's just non-professional guys getting out after work in the summertime to play a match. But in a country and culture where only 1 sport is even considered important, you can bet these evening matches are pretty intense and the occasional scuffle will break out.

And finally, I'll explain a bit about meeting Jaime and Lucho. On my first trip to Santiago, I was stopped in traffic by two guys in the car next to me who just happened to be huge motorcycle enthusiasts as well. (This is not uncommon, cause there really is a sense of "unity" amongst riders out there.) After pulling over in traffic for a more thorough greeting, we exchanged contact info and made some rough plans to go for a ride. XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX
Jaime is originally from Chile, but spent the last 35 years living in Boston and running the ice business he started some years ago. Lucho is a semi-retired neuro-surgeon also from here in Chile, and both guys are enormous fans of motorcycle riding much like myself. They had teamed up to help Jamie buy his most recent bike, a 2006 BMW 1200 GS just to keep it down here in Chile for his annual winter vacation. The timing was such this year that both friends were able to chase the Dakar Rally around the northern parts of Chile for a couple of weeks on their BMW's. (Just a few weeks before I arrived in Chile.) XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX
Much like the incredible welcoming I've had by Carlos's family, Jaime and Lucho have also made me feel like "part of the gang" around Santiago and I've been invited to join for many motorcycle rides, dinners at home and out on the town, barbeques with friends and family, and plenty of other gatherings to keep me busy and enjoying my time here. XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX
Look back to the early days of "Adventure #7 on this blog and you'll see that I rode my motorcycle down the entire west coast of the U.S., from top to bottom. No doubt, parts of Oregon and California were absolutely breathtaking. Not trying to "one-up" those areas or anything....but Chile has some incredible scenery to boast along it's shores as well! (See what I mean below, and finally a few pictures of my friends Jaime and Lucho, out on one of our rides with Karin. First picture is of Jaime.)

When I say "these guys like to ride motorcycles," the next post will show you more of what I mean. It's quite a bit of work to get all this stuff online, so please bear with me as I try to get caught up with all that's been happening!