Tourist time

February 6, 2010

Thursday morning I was finally feeling well enough to venture downtown Santiago.  Alina would of course show me around, I wasn’t adventurous enough to go on my own.  We hopped on a bus (using our BIP! cards) and almost made it downtown  before it pulled a u-turn.  We where at Plaza Italia anyway, so we just got off and walked the rest of the way.  Alina is a great tour guide and explained the history of all that around us, from pre-Columbian times to present.  It’s too bad I forgot it all, but at time I found it very interesting.

We weaved our way downtown between different construction projects and finally ended up at Santa Lucia.  This is a rocky hill that rises above the rest of the city.  It was turned into a park in 1872, but before that spent time as a fort, look out point, and a cemetery.  Its filled with lots of beautiful fountains and old buildings.  I think you can rent it out for special occasions like weddings too, which must be amazing at nighttime.

Santa Lucia Fountain

We kept on climbing these amazingly sketchy stairs, with new levels of the park appearing every so often.  There where lots of amazing views of the city pretty much everywhere.

View of Santiago from Santa Lucia

We eventually made it to the top and had a panoramic view of the city.  I am still amazed at how slippery and dangerous the stairs going up where.  I even slipped once or twice on the way down.  Everything is made out of stone and has been worn slick by over a hundred years of use.  We managed to survive and treated ourselves to some sort of local drink consisting of sweetened water, sun-dried peaches, and some sort of grains at the bottom.  This is sort of an energy drink the locals use to stand 3pm lunches; it would prove a wise choice for us.  We sat next to a pretty waterfall with views of the top of Santa Lucia.

We then departed Santa Lucia and made our way to Placio de La Moneda, or mint palace.  This is the presidential palace and was the site of a coup on September 11, 1973.  It still serves as a government institution of some sort and also has an underground museum.  Alina and I decided to check it out.  For about $2 we got to see a special exhibit from the Ming dynasty, mostly the terra-cotta figures that surrounded the tomb of some emperor.  It was fascinating, but also entirely in Spanish so I had to have Alina translate.  No pictures in the exhibit, but I did my best to look like a stupid tourist outside.

Ming Dynasty Statue. And Derek.

Our next stop was Plaza de Armas, which is where Santiago was founded and is still considered the heart of the city.  Lots of people, street vendors, entertainers, tourists and weird statues.

Plaza de Armas Statue

We didn’t stick around very long here, I was getting pretty hungry.  Alina weaved here way through the streets and bridges and we made it to one of her favorite restaurants, of which I promptly forgot the name.  I also forgot the name of the dish I had, but it was delicious and amazing.  It consisted of large amounts of sweet corn (like cream corn, but better), chicken, beef, egg, and black olives.

Great company, delicious food, and amazing weather. Thank you Santiago!

It proved to be way too much food for me, but I was able to take some home.  This turned out to be the end of our day.  I was still tired from my digestive ailments and decided to go back to the hotel.  First we had to cross this crazy bridge though:

Steep pedestrian bridge in Santiago

We made it to a bus stop and Alina and I said goodbye.  I survived my first bus trip alone and made it back to the hotel safe and sound.  It was a good day.

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Getting better all the time

February 5, 2010

Eggs sin refrigeration

I have one word for international travelers: yogurt.  If you plan on traveling outside your home domain, its a good idea to consume a gallon or two of yogurt before you leave.  So said a very well traveled friend of mine who never got sick despite dining on things like 100 year old eggs.  I, however, neglected to follow this advice and paid the price.  Despite never suffering from drinking soda in Mexico with ice cubes or, even worse, eating food from street vendors in pre-earthquake Port-Au-Prince,  I was never-the-less ravaged by the local fauna.  The past week was mostly spent in my hotel room, to afraid to venture very far without a bathroom nearby.  I apologize for the lack of updates on this blog, but there really wasn’t anything to tell.

I did manage to venture out Sunday afternoon to a local mall and meet with Lance, an astronomer working on the ALMA project.   I’m still not comfortable with the bus or subway system, so I ended up walking.  At least I’m getting lots of exercise this way!  It was nice to spend some time with another American and pick up any tips he had for surviving Chile.  Lance spoke fluent Spanish, so I think things are going a little bit easier for him.  He was able to order furniture, pay for it, and have it delivered to his apartment.  I still can’t buy ginger ale from the grocery store without getting yelled at by the cashier.  Anyway, I spent a few hours with him walking around the mall and asking questions.  The more I get used to being here, the less different it feels.  The mall was similar to a mall back home, only much much nicer.  The furniture store was a dead ringer for IKEA, and the grocery store was similar except for unrefrigerated dairy products and an abundance of carbonated water (aqua SIN gas, por favor!).

Lance and I parted ways soon after, and I decided to break down and stop at McDonalds.  I really wanted to avoid eating anything “american” down here, but it was a little late for lunch and too early for dinner and I thought I could get a quick snack.  Unfortunately, the concept of fast food is a little different down here.  Both people ahead of me inline had a 5 minute conversation with the cashier, none of this “I’ll have a #1 with a coke”.  Not that having a meaningful conversation with people is a bad thing (I look forward to adopting to this once I can speak the language), its just taking me a while to get used to it.  I concluded that this was all too complicated for a big mac, so I left and picked up some tomatoes and avocado’s at a local convenience store on my walk home.

That pretty much ended my adventures in Santiago for a while.  I spent the next few days in the hotel room, not eating and sleeping.  Alina eventually convinced me to get some medicine and I recovered.  Hopefully my body is used to the local food and I can explore Chile without worry.  More to come…

Getting Settled

January 30, 2010

Maybe getting settled is getting ahead of myself, but I’m slowly getting over the shock of living in Chile.  I still haven’t wandered very far from my hotel, but I’m seeing new things every day.

Yesterday I received a blackberry and laptop from my work and spent the rest of the day trying to figure them out.  I spent a few hours in our local office and was even taken out to lunch by a few of our employees there.  After work I wandered around for a few hours and eventually settled on what was to be a very expensive restaurant.  I started with a salad that I thought would contain artichoke but instead contained asparagus and some other vegetable.  The menu was even in English, so that was all my fault.  It turned out to be delicious though, the first time I’ve been able to stomach asparagus.  Main course was some sort of lamb chops, but the waiter explained that I was supposed eat it with my fingers like spare ribs.  Or at least, thats I what I think he was motioning with his hands.   It was a great meal, but I need to find cheaper places to eat.

17th Floor of Plaza El Bosque

This morning I had breakfast on the roof (17th floor) of my hotel, it was an amazing view!  You can’t see much from the street level here, there are too many tall buildings in the way.  It was a surprise to see mountains and further than just a down the street.  Also, food was great.  I spent the afternoon walking around for a few hours and then sitting and reading outside for a bit.  All the meals are eaten much later than in the US here.  I couldn’t take it and finally sat down for lunch at a cafe at 1:30.  It was just starting to fill up when I left at 2.  Next adventure was the grocery store.  Pretty much the same in the US with just a few differences.  The cashier talked to me as if I was fluent in Spanish, then ignored me once I sputtered out “no hablo espanol”.  I really wish I had learnt at least a little Spanish before moving here; people seem to be really upset that I first didn’t speak fluent Spanish before setting out.  Lo Siento, Chile!

En Route

January 28, 2010

My flight to Chile was almost over before it even began. Yesterday my dad dropped me off at the airport and I thought my biggest concern would be checking all my extra oversize luggage. That went smoothly. What didn’t was my lack of a work visa. Work set me up with a round trip ticket, with a return trip in December. Unfortunately I needed more paperwork to stay in the country over 90 days, but I wouldn’t get this paperwork until arrival in Chile. But I couldn’t even check in until I had the paperwork. I was stuck in this catch-22 for 30 minutes or so until after several panicked calls we arrived at a solution: change my return date to April. Whether I come home them or switch it to a later date doesn’t matter. I was able to get my boarding pass and get on the plane. And as a special parting gift from the wonderful people at Detroit Metro Airport, I was treated to a slightly uncomfortable full body pat down in security. Oh well, I’d rather be felt up than blown up.

After a uneventful flight I arrived in Santiago (via Dallas). It was snowing and well below freezing in Detroit, but it’s in the middle of summer here and HOT! I was met at the airport by one of NRAO’s finest, Alina. She helped me get checked in to the hotel and later took me out to lunch. Next we walked around town trying to start the mountain of paperwork. We even made it to the NRAO office and I got to meet everyone.

After that I was on my own. I found my way back to the hotel, changed some dollars into pesos, and bought some bottled water. The money is still hard to figure out (all the zero’s confuse me), but I think I have it under control.

Once the weather cools down I will explore the city some more.

Hello world!

January 27, 2010

I really should be nervous.  I’m about to turn my life upside down, yet my biggest concern is stuffing as much Thai food in face as possible.   In about an hour I head off to Detroit Metro Airport and catch a flight to Santiago, Chile.  About 2.5 weeks ago I started working for the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, with the understanding that I would be working on the ALMA project in Chile for at least 2 years.  That’s right, I signed up to live in a country for 24 months, a place I’ve never been before, a place that has a language I have no knowledge of, working on state of the art telescopes I wish I knew a lot more about…and I’m not even slightly nervous.  But I am out of Thai food.  Dang.