Category Archives: Travel

Enculturation

‘Patrick, you are scheduled to work in the kitchen.’ It was 8 am. I was getting ready to work my 8:30 shift in Recepcion. It’s a pretty casual shift – support the front desk, who are bilingual, and often trilingual. Delma, one of the front desk people, was leaning through the doorway.

‘No, I’m not. I’m scheduled to work Reception,’ I said.

‘Romiro says you are scheduled to work the kitchen. Can you work the kitchen?’ Romiro was the head of the voluntarios, setting their schedules, and does some of their training. I knew I wasn’t scheduled for the kitchen, but said, ‘Sure, I can do that.’

Kitchen duty is the hardest job at the hostal, mostly because it is fast paced, everything needs to be set quickly, and cooked and cleaned quickly. And once breakfast (Desayuna) is complete, you get setup for Almuerzo (Lunch).

At La Casa Roja, there were 3 main cooks, all women, none of whom spoke a lick of English. And none of them suffered fools gladly. As an American thrust into a new culture with only very basic Spanish skills I knew it was going to be a test.

I found out that one of the new volunteers failed to arrive, and that I would be sacrificed have to do my best.

Paoula, a short stout Chilean showed me very quickly where to get things, and where to put things through her words (which I barely understood), but mainly in actions and pantomime, which were easier for me to get. But it was all a blur, figuring out where to get more coffee, screwing up my Spanish, ‘Tienes cereal?’ I asked: ‘Do you have cereal?’ They would look at me incredulously. ‘Si?’

Eventually, I figured it out, changing it to ‘Quieres cereal?’ Do you want cereal?

And then the breakfast rush was over. After putting things away, I stood watching Paoula, waiting for instructions. She looked at me as if I had 2 heads. ‘Necesitas limpio!’ You need to clean! Making rapid motions of scrubbing, sweeping…and on it went.

And in this rapid fire environment I found that I had to listen very closely to what was being said, in order to pull the words I knew from the words I didn’t know. To figure out the meaning of what they tried to convey to me. And, as hard as it was for me, I knew my inability to communicate made it very hard for them. What must it be like to have to deal with volunteers who couldn’t speak Spanish very well? Every week, new volunteers with various levels of Spanish, all saying, ‘Como?’ or ‘What?’

I’m finding the culture of Chile to be very warm, formed from bonds strengthened by daily greetings, and the “beso” or kiss on the cheek (between men and women), or the handshake and eye contact and a smile between men. I do not fully participate, because I don’t really know what is, and isn’t acceptable. So, I observe, and then try when appropriate to follow the etiquette.

But, not participating can be seen as rude.

Like this morning, I went to get my voluntarios breakfast allotment of 2 eggs (huevos) and a piece of bread (pan). I gave my breakfast ticket to Joseline, the voluntario working the shift. As she got my food, I waited watching Maria, this shifts head cook, busily preparing the special breakfasts for the private rooms. She looked up at me and said, exaggerating the words, ‘Bueenoos diiaas!’ sounding each vowel while glaring at me. I responded, ‘Buenos dias.’ I looked at her and Joseline as she spoke some rapid fire Spanish. All I caught was “…conosces…” He knows…

I looked at Joseline, who said, ‘You must say hello.’ Hmm, in the US if someone was busy you learned not to bother them, but here it was a must to say ‘hello’ to everyone. My first reaction was, man she was rude! But then it occurred to me that I was in fact the person who was considered rude, just standing in front of her without greeting her.

I figured I was confronting ‘enculturation,’ or “…the process of teaching an individual the norms and values of a culture through unconscious repetition. The totality of actions within a culture establishes a context that sets the conditions for what is possible within the society,” (source: enculturation.net).

But, to what degree must I participate in their culture, I ask myself? Can’t I just approach folks from my background rather than theirs? But becoming enculturated has its benefits, mainly to smooth over interactions.

I think it’s probably best to figure out what is incorrect first before diving in, though. For example, when I was in Buenos Aires I tried to do the ‘beso’ (kiss on cheek) with a man who was to be our tour guide through the poor section of BA. He paused as I neared his cheek, then kind of lightly smacked the side of my face with his. I learned it wasn’t as accepted between men, especially if they didn’t quite know each other well.

Stupid Gringo.

But, my tutor explained the beso to me saying, ‘Do not deprive me of my beso!’

I have to talk myself off the ledge, saying ‘It’s only your 3rd week in, give yourself a break.’ Enculturation takes time. I just simply say, ‘Buenos dias,’ only responding with the beso if they do it first. I figure I can use my ‘I’m a Gringo’ excuse a little longer as I learn to navigate the intricacies of Chilean (South American?) etiquette and culture.

 

 

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Why I chose TravelingMailbox as my virtual mailbox

When planning on traveling the world, the question on how to get and read your snail mail comes up, as in: I am currently traveling in Chile, but my bank sends me something – where can they send it to where I would have access to it online?

That’s just one example, but it could also be letters that friends send, postcards, etc. But they could also be mail that you might want to forward, such as replacement credit cards, or paper checks.

Luckily, there is a plethora of services that have the ability to receive your mail, and even scan the contents, store and even forward mail to the address of your choice. One of the most well known virtual mailbox services is Earth Class Mail, and while they received good reviews, I couldn’t see myself paying $50-100/month for their service.

So, I started to look around.

Some criteria I had were:

  • Must be reasonably priced
  • Real Address (not PO Box)
  • Reasonable scanning cost
  • Reasonable storage time
  • Able to forward mail to the address of my choice.

A bonus point was for a Colorado Address.

After reviewing the major players, I selected TravelingMailbox.com.

Three reasons I picked TravelingMailbox.com

1. Cost Effective

TravelingMailbox only costs $15/month. Compare against Earth Class Mail at a starting price of $50 and the difference becomes clear. Other services such as USGlobalMail and iPostal1 start at around $10, but I passed on them since scans were an additional cost, and not part of the monthly fee. Knowing that I would be having important looking mail scanned on a regular basis I felt there should at least be a minimum number of scans as part of the fee you pay. Which brings me to:

2. Scans

TravelingMailbox has 35 scans included. This is one of the highest number of pages scanned that is rolled into the same monthly fee. Earth Class Mail actually has unlimited scans, but then it also costs a minimum of $50/month. 35 is a pretty generous amount of scans, and so far in my travels I have not used up my quota. Most of the low cost alternatives, such as iPostal1, USGlobalMail and AnytimeMailbox don’t have ANY scans as part of their fee, you have to pay per scan, and at an average of $2/scan it can add up quickly.

3. Mail Storage

TravelingMailbox has a decent amount of time they will store the received mail: 60 days. PostScanMail, AnytimeMailbox and iPostal1 only store mail for 30 days.

Conclusion

TravelingMailbox was the clear winner to me in terms of comparing its price, number of scans included, and mail storage length. Some other considerations you might have would be to see if the service also serves the state that you’d like, but having my mail delivered to a North Carolina address it was a non-issue for me. I mean, you’re traveling anyway, so why do you need a specific state? The only thing that gave me pause was voter registration, but I just used my parent’s address since they lived in Colorado. Problem solved!

If you can afford it, EarthMail may be a clear choice for you, especially if you receive a lot of mail, or need a very large amount of scans, or require HIPAA level security, and so forth. But if you are budget minded, and looking for a good mix of price, number of scans and mail storage, then TravelingMailbox may be the virtual mailbox for you!

 

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Voluntourism

Ever since I landed in Chile, I have been doing voluntourism with a couple different hostels, and I find that this type of travel seems to suit me. Instead of just paying for a hotel, or hostel, I get room (bed), and sometimes board (food) in exchange for 30 hours of work.

One of the hostels I volunteered at was also the office of the owners many other business interests, many of which included cellphone towers, intranet and even a tv movie service similar to Netflix. I found it through the website workaway.info, which is a site that puts volunteers together with hosts who need help.

The workaway was located in Frutillar, one of those cute tourist towns near their lakes district which was founded by Germans back in the 1800’s (I believe).

At first I thought I’d be working on an ERP system, but since I was only going to be there for 2 weeks max, they decided I’d create a animated logo.

Tie Up the Lion,Tie Up the Lion: An Insight Into Voluntourism, Available on Amazon!

It was sort of a throwback to my previous work as a web site designer. But, it almost felt to me like an unequal exchange. Like, I got room and board for a week for an animated logo – right?

I had an entire house to myself – and while quite cold and damp it had 3 bedrooms and I ate meals with the family at their house next door.

For an animated logo.

Just didn’t seem fair to me, which bothered me. The host, though, seemed delighted with the logo. It’s what I used to tell a friend of mine: It may be simple for you, but for someone who doesn’t know how you did it, it is like unimaginable magic.

The gig was pretty good, but the house was located about a 45 minute walk from the tourist village, and after going to the Concert hall, and eating at a few restaurants I found that I exhausted the interesting tidbits about the town.

The animated logo that bought me a free week of room and board!

So, every day I would leave after work for a rainy stroll to town and back, eating one of the specials of the day, drinking a local germanic-like beer, then walking back before it got dark.

Every day.

So, after a week, and seeing another week stretch in front of me into an eternity-seeming repetition of my days ahead, after a week I had had enough. I talked to the other volunteer named Fucundo, and asked him how long he had been volunteering, and he said: ‘One year.’

Blew my mind.

How was that possible? One week for me and I was already going stir crazy. I think part of it was just escaping a Colorado Winter, and even with it being mild as it was it was a shock to go from Spring straight back into another Winter.

But then I found out where Fucundo was from, and he said it was the most southern part of Argentina. From his description it sounded like an alternate universe Alaska – Long cold Winters, and maybe a brief couple weeks where they might see some sun. After something like that, Frutillar must have seemed like a decent place to hangout for a year – or more!

But for me, I had had enough.

The thing about traveling is that you are in charge of the experience that you want, and since the host and I had not established how long I should stay, it was simply up to me how long to remain.

I completed the logo and bought a ticket back to Santiago.

Coincidentally, I received an offer to work in a hostel through a different volunteer service called helpx.net , otherwise known as Help Exchange. La Casa Roja was quite large, with the ability to host nearly 100 hostel guests. I was to be part of around 20 people, some paid staff, and the rest volunteers like myself.

Hey Bar Tender! Who knew voluntourism could be so fun!

The hostel need many different types of help, and so far I’ve done cleaning, grounds maintenance, helped make a fire for a BBQ and even learned some basic bartending!

I actually spent 2 days as a regular guest until my voluntourism gig came up, just to check them out, and found they facilitated alot of activities for the hostel guests, like movie night, arranging guided tours, and had a nice bar with cheap drinks.

And after spending a few nights ona shaky top bunk, it was nice to stay in the staff bedroom with only 3 other people (instead of 7) with a bed to myself, and even a dresser!

The dreaded top bunk!

It’s so pleasant, and the tasks well organized and communicated that I may even extend my stay!

 

 

 

 

 

 

700 Places to Volunteer Before You Die, Available through Amazon.

Being a volunteer also helps you connect with both regular staff, who are typically locals, and also an international contingent of people also traveling by doing voluntourism. I’ve practiced my basic Spanish with the staff, as well as get travel information from the other volunteers. It’s a great combination, because as a guest, while you may interact a bit with both staff and other travelers, as a volunteer you become almost quasi-staff, with more privileges, and some unique to staff perks.

For example, I get free breakfast as a volunteer on top of my free room. And certain volunteer activities allow volunteers extras, such as BBQ night you get to also get a plate of food, or bartending usually gets a free pint of beer as well as any tips. And certain things like bartending are great skills to develop – they travel well, and how cool is it to say, ‘Hey, yeah I learned to bartend in Santiago, Chile…’

I’m sure I will find alternate ways to do work exchanges, or even paid gigs like teaching english – or bartending! But, helping out at hostels and other places that need a hand is turning out to be a great way to facilitate travel in ways you might not have thought of! I certainly didn’t. And if you are planning a long-term travel trip I most definitely recommend that you give it a try.

 

 

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Hegira to Valparaiso

“My cousin Roland Blas did the ancestry research and he didn’t find any record on him other than the  name Don Jose Liberato Guerrero born in 1840 and must have immigrated from another country as a spanish soldier and settle on Guam and married a chamorro woman. Spanish records shows that on october 23, 1857 he sponsored a sailor from Val Paraiso City, Chile and settled in Hagatna, Guam. So there is really not much to go by. We don’t even have the name of the sailor he sponsored. It was assumed that he is from Val Paraiso just because of his sponsorship. Another assumption is maybe  from spain as he was a spanish soldier. So don’t sweat it especially if the place is dangerous.”

My mom wrote this to me as I was considering my next move. I had heard from more than one person that the thieves were, well, thick in Valpo. One scam was a person would squirt mustard or water on a person, and while acting as if they were trying to clean or dry the person they would also be pickpocketing them as well. I heard this from more than one person. Facundo, in Frutillar, told me about a woman he met who had everything stolen from her, including her cellphone, purse, and backpack in Valparaiso. Ricardo, my host in Frutillar put it this way:

They have very high unemployment with all the young people there. And whenever that happens wherever that happens, crime follows as a result.

The stories had me rethinking my plan on going to Valpo, but Ricardo told me, ‘You must go. Your great great grandfather is from there. You can’t go to Chile and not go there.’

True.

I know that the theft probably happened outside the tourist sections of town, and I heard that if you stay away from a certain side of town (north?) you’d be fine, but how was I to know what from what?  After contemplating getting a bus on my own, among other plans, I decided to just join a tour.

I’ve always been a non-tour, non-cruise sort of person, but as far as sticking to the tourist areas and being with a group of people with a guide shepherding us all seemed like a good way to check out the city for the first time.

Vina Del Mar

The tour was split to 2 different places, Vina Del Mar, or “Vineyards facing the sea” – something like that – for the first part of the day, then Valparaiso the second.

Vina Del Mar is a big wine growing region of Chile, and our first stop of the day was a vineyard – and at 10 am I found myself drinking a sweet red, a sweet white, and a dry red. Samples, but still – sorta early in the day for that, right?

Vineyard/restaurant

I heart medialunas

Pablos everywhere

Almuerzo. Apparently Chilean Sea bass is just called “Sea Bass” in Chile.

I made a stop in the restaurant inside the vineyard and discovered my old Buenos Aires breakfast food – medialunas, washed down with a nice cortado coffee!

We also visited this impressive rounded stadium, which also had some statues of Pablo Neruda at the entrance:

In fact Neruda was sort of a underlying theme to the whole thing, with photos, paintings, and tchockes galore being sold imprinted with his image. Chile is very proud of their native son, as they have a right to be. He is arguably the 20th Century’s most noted poet in the world. That he is also Chilean has to be a point of pride (and source of tourist revenue).

He is everywhere, and became a sort of stand-in for Don Jose Liberato Guerrero, the abuelo de mi abuelo de mi abuelo…

We also visited a place that had one of those sculpted torsos with the huge heads from Easter Island. And I thought, “Maybe I should go there?” But, as this Dutch person on the tour told me, who had travelled for a year and a half in her younger days, “You soon realize you just can’t go everywhere, and so you go where you can.”

We had Almuerzo (lunch) at the coastal restaurant in Vina Del Mar, and I was right: Chilean Sea Bass in Chile IS just called Sea Bass.

Valparaiso

Valparaiso is hilly and picturesque, with paintings and colorful arty graffiti decorating the walls, and multiple houses tumbled together in bright colors befitting the seaside town of Pablo Neruda. Apparently he had 3 houses he owned, and one of them was a sort of museum that was part of the tour.

The walking tour went past all this great outdoor art, and Neruda seemed to pop up everywhere.

Pablo Pablo Pablo

Mucho gusto enconocerlo Pablo

Todos los Pablos están serio…

You talk to Pablo you talk to me!

Pablo y Yo


Pablo stoned

Pablo en arte

I think a few actually are…;-)

Steep hills filled with art

I am soon stoned!

Flowery clock

Pablo y Yo

So stoned!

Dime Pablo!





Walking the colorful art-filledstreets, I felt that I would have had no issues in Valpo – it is a city like other cities, with all the dangers and precautions one had to take in any city you find yourself in. And as a person who has travelled through New York, San Francisco, Buenos Aires, et al, I should not have been as concerned as I was.

But, like the venerable Mike Tyson said, ‘Everyone has a plan, until they get punched in the face.’

I knew that I would not find any information about Don Jose, but perhaps my photos of Valpo could assuage the searching hearts of my relatives, perhaps show parts of Valpo so that they may see what he might have seen, experienced a bit of what he might have experienced traversing the hills and streets full of art many decades ago.

I feel the spirit of Don Jose here, though. I feel a sort of kinship. What it must have taken for him to travel by ship to a tiny foreign island, marry a native there and start a family. And leave beautiful Valparaiso behind.

 

 

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How to buy a bus ticket in Chile if you are from the US

Buying a bus ticket in Chile can be difficult, unless you know the correct place to go. And going to the bus station in small towns in Chile may not work, as they have varying hours of operation. Luckily, there is a new company started in January 2015:

https://www.recorrido.cl/en

Recorrido.cl

 

Unlike the other bus websites such as Thaebus.cl or Turbus.cl, Recorrido.cl allows the input of your Passport number, instead of the Chilean RUT number. Recorrido also allows you to pay for a bus ticket through Paypal.

One thing to remember is that you do need to be able to print your ticket to bring with you to where the bus picks you up, (which may look to you like the middle of the road)! Remember this, because they will not accept electronic tickets.

The other way that works is to go to the station during their operating hours and purchase a ticket there. In Santiago, this worked for me at Alameda Station. I was able to select my seat, and purchase the ticket with my credit card.

There you go! If you know of another way to purchase bus tickets in Chile, please leave a comment below!

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Frutillar Baho, Voluntourism and Kuchen!

Who knew I’d be designing logos again a couple decades after I ended my graphic design career?

I had a little miscommunication about the volunteer requirements – I thought I’d be working on Odoo, but I guess their immediate need was to transfer email servers. That, frankly, was waaay out of my skillset.

So, after some back and forth about what I could do (and couldn’t do) it was decided that I’d take a shot at redesigning one of their logos.

I had a bit of a throwback emotion to my old working life – having to discuss what was expected of me, and what I could realistically provide. Just because I’ve worked in the tech industry for 20 years, doesn’t mean I’m also a developer, a network admin, or understand how to transfer to a new email server!

But I do not want to freeload either, I want to be of service. They provide a house, an excellent wifi service, 3 square meals – and I don’t just expect it all to be free.

So, I’m designing a new logo. I find it sorta refreshing to do this again, especially since my career isn’t on the line – I just want to do good work in exchange for their hospitality.

Voluntourism is an interesting way of doing travel. You have interactions with the people of the area, you do some sort of service in exchange for room and sometimes board. And you have a person to get information about the area you are in. I’ve budgeted for about $30/day for the year, and any day I can either do voluntourism, or get paid work is another day I can extend my trip.

Frutillar Bajo

Frutillar Bajo is kind of the main tourist part of Frutillar (I think). There’s also a “Frutillar Alto” which is sort of newer (if 100 years vs 200 can be considered “newer”).

Funny, you start the morning thinking you’re isolated and not able to contribute in any meaningful way, and then you start work on an interesting project, and then find out the town is a pleasant 40 minute walk away!

I was just contacted regarding doing house-sitting for 2 months in Bariloche, Argentina. I planned to go north to Valparaiso and La Serena, and maybe find some desert heat east to San Pedro de Atacama, but we’ll see what Destiny has in store for me…possibly in Bariloche!

But, Bariloche, while in Argentina, is still basically in the same region – a lake region with similar cold and rainy weather right now. And, I need to find some climbing soon – the El Muro gym in Santiago slaked the climbing thirst for a bit, but perhaps made me thirstier in the long run. Will need to find a solution soon!

Iz dat Jeebus hanging from a tree?

Jeebus luvs u!

Take a long walk off a short pier

El Teatro de Frutillar

Kuchen ist bichen

 

 

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Can you help me? I am lost

‘¿Puedes ayudarme? Estoy perdido.’

It must have been strange to see this Norte Americano, with the flat-brimmed light grey baseball cap approach her at 10pm near a bus stop where she was playing with her 7 year old boy.

Le Virgen

Earlier, around 4pm, I started the hike to visit “La Virgen” – a famous statue of the Virgin Mary on top of the highest hill in Santiago.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By the time I had started down, it was getting dark fast.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It took over 3 hours for me to hike up, and I didn’t start to head down till after sunset, around 7:45pm or so. In the darkened terrain I didn’t notice how the road down looked different till I was a quarter of the way down. At that point, a certain inertia took over, and I thought: ‘I’ll figure it out once I get to the base.’

But, the surroundings looked completely different – more like a suburb than part of the city center. And there were tall gates lining the highway, with barking dogs to keep people from approaching too close. I passed a couple of guys sitting on an old ratty loveseat who said something to me I didn’t recognize as I passed. I knew at that point that this was not a situation I could get out of by myself – I would have to ask someone for help.

I went into a small grocer and asked, ‘Necisito direcciones.’ I pulled out the map and pointed out where I was trying to get to.

‘Esta lejos,’ he said. It was far. How far? ‘Tan lejos caminar.’ Too far to walk.

He tried to explain how I needed to get to the metro (subway). What he didn’t know was that I had tried to get a metro card earlier, but my card was rejected because I failed to notify my credit card company of my travels. ‘Pero, me gusta caminar.’ But, I like to walk.

A younger man walked in, and asked about the situation. I could only catch a few words in his rapid Spanish, something about it being way too far to walk, that I needed to go down this street, and take a left, and a right blah blah blah.

He seemed to get increasingly frustrated every time I said I wanted to walk. I was wondering why he was getting so worked up, and in my ignorance of language, body language, I thought the worst. I went, ‘Bien, qual modo esta metro?’ Something like: Okay, which way is the metro?

He thrust his arm to the right, and I left.

The route followed more of the high fenced wall, then I moved to the other side, which turned from a sidewalk to a wide dirt path. I passed a construction area, and a security guard took a look at me, then down to his paper he was reading.

I kept looking behind me, expecting me to see the young man with a group of friends after some easy prey. In my anxiety, I couldn’t grant him the benefit of the doubt. I just kept walking, even though I knew that really I should just stop and try to find another place to ask for help.

For all I knew I could be walking exactly away from where I wanted to go.

I thought of the worst. His last known location was a hostel in Santiago, Chile. He told no one his whereabouts. The last photo he posted to his Facebook account is this one:

Le Virgen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A young guy passed, and I was about to ask him, but I saw him stumbling and weaving – casualty of a night out.

Finally, the bus station came into view, with a few people waiting for a night bus, and the young woman playing with her child.

Her eyes were wide, cautious, as she assessed me. I tried to look as harmless as possible as I asked for her help. She was possibly the best person I could have asked. She told me her name, but I have forgotten. I will just call her Mary.

She told me that the men were right: it was way too far to walk. ‘Cinco kilometres.’ 5 kilometers. She didn’t know how far I’ve walked, but walking that far, and not knowing my way, would make things difficult.

She spoke some english, ‘You are in a poor neighborhood,’ she said. ‘I am poor,’ she said and laughed a small laugh. When I speak Spanish or French, and other people respond in English, (like in Monreal) I think they believe I cannot speak their language well enough, and instead of hearing me mangle their language that it would be easier if everyone involved would simply speak English. They are right.

But her motives seemed more simple: she knew I could understand her little english better than her spanish. I responded in my meager spanish for the same reason.

Vive acqui?

Yes. All my life.

Cuanto anos tiene? (pointing to her boy)

He is 7 years old.

Solo uno?

I have 2 kids, my other kid is 3. I am a young mother (laughs).

Como joven?

Fourteen.

Cuanto anos tiene?

I am thirteen three.

Thirty three?

Yes.

I did the calculation in my head. She should be 21 now if her oldest son was 7. Something lost in translation.

A taxi passed. I said I could take a taxi. ‘No, it is too expensive,’ she said. ‘It is very far.’ She saw me take some peso coins from my pocket. ‘The bus does not take money. You need a card.’

Pero, no tengo una carte.

I will talk to the bus driver.

After about 30 minutes, the bus arrived. She stepped up ahead of me, and I could only catch a few words, but the gist of it was: He is a tourist. He doesn’t have a card. Can you take him to the station?

He nodded. ‘He will take you,’ she said, and offered her cheek. I only encountered this in Buenos Aires, the cheek kiss, and I brushed her smooth cheek with mine, air kissing.

I felt so grateful to her. I wished I had given her a card, an email address, something to stay in contact. And I regret not taking a picture. But perhaps this is for the best. She probably had a husband, or not, or whatever. And this way, it was another selfless act from a young woman to a foreign clueless traveler.

I pondered my luck. I have, except for a couple exceptions, felt fortunate in my life.

Then a thought crossed my mind: why was she playing with her kid at 10pm on a Saturday near a bus stop? And then a thought: there probably were no playgrounds in her neighborhood. That she worked odd hours, and this was time she made for her eldest son. And a bus stop with people is a safer place than a random piece of dirt.

I made it back to my hostel, to my Macbook Pro, my iPhone 6s, my ability to make money, and realized I had no problems at all. I turned on the light to my shared room, and my roommate shaded his eyes, and I quickly disrobed, turned off the light, and went to bed.

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Santiago – Day One

Some photos on Day 1 in Santiago

It’s been a couple decades since I spent time in a hostel. My funny first thought was “this must be a little what prison is like.” New guy, have to position oneself in the hierarchy, punch out someone, or be someone’s bitch. But “little like prison” really means “very little like prison.” Nice desk person, everyone quiet and respectful as befits a shared space.

 

 

Acrobatic busker act during traffic stops

“Un chico” size is a single small fried donut, 100 Chilean pesos, or 15 cents USD.

A Viking themed restaurant.

Magic of using Google Translate app. This is the “before” photo…

… after Google Translate

Interesting looking busses

I don’t think Tom knows about this.

The airport lounge during my overnight at the Lima Aeropuerto. Could only use it for 3 hrs at a time. Rested there when I arrived, slept out in the main airport seats, then went back prior to my flight.

Market in Santiago

Hamburger Italiano had slices of beef, guacamole, tomatoes and mayonnaise. Not sure what was so “Italiano” about it.

Fried empanadas had cheese in the center.

Would like to find out what mountain that was – largest on the horizon.

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I am no longer there

The day of departure I felt an enormous pressure, as if I was under the deep ocean. I checked, and double checked my packing, a third of what I have brought are electronics and computerizations of various sorts: a miniature speaker cube 1.5” per side, my Macbook Pro, noise canceling Bose earbuds, my iPad for watching Netflix, iPhone 6s, a charging brick with 2 USB ports. At the last minute I bought a warmer jacket – a waterproof soft-shell a tad warmer than the shell I bought earlier – as soft as the one I loved so much the zippers no longer zipped, and estimate it will make my trip 10% more comfortable.

I weighed the decision on whether or not to bring my white ExOfficio shirt, or the one that had a khaki pattern and was less likely to show stains. There’s a reason English expeditions went with Khaki.

But I liked the white shirt!

I weighed its heft in my hand, and muttered ‘fuckit’ – brought both at the waning hour.

And still I am sliced thin. A forgotten bag, and coat mistakenly left behind would not spell absolute disaster, but ordinary disaster can be failure enough.

My 2 bags – what’s called a “personal item”, my PacSafe 25 liter backpack with security features, and a 2nd larger Pacsafe roller – my “carryons” are misnomers.

They are my oxygen masks.

At least that’s what the melodramatic side of me calls them. But this I know: because of the additional weight, any of the above could be assigned as an asset or a liability.

I am kitted to do some tech work, some web work for farmer’s in Chile, to build an ERP system for them. I know nothing of Chilean localization and formatting, but I am keen to be a quick learn.

A curious thing happened though: once I boarded the plane my anxiety dropped away. All my preparation caught up with me, and sailed me through Ft, Lauderdale to Lima, Peru, and next: to Santiago & Frutillar, Chile. And while I haven’t set foot in a hostel for a couple decades, I knew now, slash proof backpack and combination lock in hand, I was fully prepared to take that fateful step.

The Peruvian server at the Pachakama Restaurant on the Hollywood Beach boardwalk in Ft, Lauderdale very kindly disabused me of the thought that I might be at all fluent in her native tongue. She herself flawlessly shifted from speaking slowly in Espanol to me, catching me in Ingles when I faltered, then shifted to francesa for the French couple at the table next door.

After looking up traditional Peruvian dishes online, I settled on Lomo Saltado – a traditional beef dish of tender chunks of beef marinated in soy sauce and vinegar – like the marinated chicken I ate as a kid. This dish emerged from the Chinese influence in Peru, and melded into something with a Latin American twist. It even had the molded Chinese white rice, but also a slightly spicy green sauce as a side that didn’t appear remotely Chinois to me – but I admit I haven’t tried everything Oriental.

The beef also had sautéed onions, and not-chinese fries as a side. All washed down with a Peruvian lager. I asked which was her mad favorite postre (dessert) , and she said “Lucuma”, which was very sweet, and tasted somewhat of Dulce de leche custard, but she said it actually came from the fruit by the same name. She told me to find it once I got to Peru.

As a passing gift she wrote on a lined yellow piece of paper

  • LUCUMA IS A FRUIT
  • TUMBES IS A CITY TO VISIT – FRONTIER WITH ECUADOR
  • BARRANCO IS A GOOD PLACE TO VISIT IN LIMA
  • (EL PUENTE DE LOS SUSPIROS)

She also told me to be careful in Lima – it’s a big city with big city dangers.

The kindness of absolute strangers staggers me.

I see what I am doing as if outside my body. I question what the hell I am doing, but paradoxically  have no doubt about what I am doing. I hope to limp with my palsied Spanish till I can walk, with possible visions of running. I hope to rock climb, and know that I am destined to do so, even though it is not clear as yet. I figure providence will hold me aloft to push me towards the right place at the right time.

THE LETTER
I carry a letter from a person I have known for 3 decades and refused to talk to in the past 2 years. One page, typed, packed with as much sorrow as a page could hold. I carried it for 2 months, burning like something radioactive in my bag. I responded with a 4”x6” postcard I got from a tourist shop on the Hollywood beach walkway with a happy “Hollywood Beach” sign, and folks strolling along the beach.
The 4”x6” space conveyed less than I would have liked, but all that I could really express. I failed to fill the last inch, so I drew a picture of what was in front of me: a couple on a park bench on the right – palm trees to the left. It was dropped in a cloth shopping bag marked “MAIL,” the cashier taking a longer glance than I would have liked at the contents, stopped when she saw me watching her scan the lines of what I had writ. I paid for a 2nd postcard to write to a happy friendship to wash the sad taste from my mouth.

A line from my fateful 1st postcard sticks with me: ‘I am leaving the states. Do not write to me at my old address because I am no longer there…’

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Accidental Casita Owner

The trailer hitch jack bottom was scraping on every dip, making a horrible screech. I stopped the truck and studied for a moment, feeling like a moron, until it hit me – the hitch on the truck was too low. Duh!

So I up and went to get a hitch that was a little higher, and attached it. When I got back to the Casita, I backed the truck, but heard a slight ‘thunk’ as I backed up too close. But as I shifted the stick to first gear, I didn’t account for the slope, and slipped backwards again before going forward. I heard a louder crunch, and in my panic I gunned the engine, and did this:

Done broke it!

The edge of the bumper snagged the trailer ball hitch lock, dragging Conchita la Casita a foot before the bumper gave way. Luckily the wheel chocks held, otherwise I might have seen the Casita roll down my brother’s steeply sloped street.

The Casita, except for a slight bent hitch latch, was none too much for wear, and while the trunk bumper will still work, I went online shopping for this unexpected “upgrade” on a truck I didn’t own.

C’est la vie, c’est la guerre.

In my early twenties, a $200+ repair may have been much more serious, a choice between repair or eating. I remember living in San Francisco’s Lower Haight pre-tech days, living with 5 roommates and their significant others, who my roommates swore didn’t actually live with them, even though I saw them slipping in every night.

I worked in an outdoor cafe in the Embarcadero, serving the financial serfs, who would tell me unironically that they had to budget their morning lattes. I wanted to tell them, oh darn, I got up at 4am today, will work again tonight at an art film house in order to make rent. I can barely keep my eyes open

Broken lock

What the truck did

But, now I know, we all go through phases like that in our lives. I’ve had my salad days, and now almost feel like I’m coming around, but hopefully not full circle. Hopefully, more like a spiral, with maybe a similar spirit of adventure, and less financial tightrope walking.

I think with age, though, comes a certain knowledge about what you can withstand, what you have withstood. We get to a comfortable place, a place we had to claw tooth and nail to get to, taking evening classes, doing self-learning, making things up as we go. And suddenly, we reach a place we never thought we’d reach – a place of relative comfort.

But, back in the far reaches of our minds we remember that, yes, we too suffered and bore our suffering. I remember getting to Alaska in my mid-twenties, and standing in a cold room with that sorta fake wood paneling with the lady foreman saying she couldn’t find my resume. I was 2,000 miles from home with $50 in my pocket and no job. The salmon factory foreman told me to go pitch a tent at Tent City, and apply at unemployment.

Sometimes what is born out of what we think might be the worst of experiences are tales of unimagined adventure.

I remember riding camp bicycles to a local salmon factory, pretending we were new workers to steal showers, and free saltine crckers. These factories often had hundreds of workers, with new ones coming in every day, so no one questioned us.

There was a weekly soup kitchen that rotated volunteers from different churches. I loved the Baptists with their huge spread of casseroles, desserts, and even rarer – salad! Salad takes on a new meaning in places where everything is shipped in, so much from cuisine born from cans. Seeing fresh salad was a curiosity, a delight, more so than even than the desserts – though we had seconds of those as well! Made me want to convert!

And then the Catholics came, with their watery soup, and bread with no butter. Frost, this guy from Norway, at a burly 5 foot 4, with the blondest hair and beard, looking like a pocket Thor, said under his breath, ‘Man, I’m gonna just return this! This is Bullshit!’ We told him to shush, and be grateful. I, having been baptized Catholic, was mortified.

But I also remember wrapping the sleeping bag closer around me as the wind tried to rip the sheet plastic off the makeshift PVC tent poles. I remember feigning sleep, as the owner of the Tent City came by in the morning to collect the $6/day rent. And one night, hearing something large sniffing around my tent.

But eventually I got a job at the local shrimp factory, and things became more routine.

I think back on those days as I hold the broken lock, which my brother and I laughed over. There are much worse things that can happen when owning a Casita, this among the least of them. A $200 dollar repair beats the Casita running wild downhill ’til it meets some other immovable object. And no kids on a 4pm partly sunny afternoon. Lucky.

This weekend we plan on making another climbing trip down south, as a last hurrah before I set sail for Chile.

 

 

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