19 September 2014

Chile - Day Three - Cerro San Cristobal and Los Dominicos

In the middle of Santiago, San Cristobal Hill (Cerro San Cristobal) rises more than 2400 feet (800 meters) above the city.

We set out this morning to walk the eight-or-so blocks to the base of the mountain and ride a tram to the top. Molly told us we could hike it we were up for it, but my three-mile-a-day walks in Maine and my treks up and down the steps of the cottage at the edge of Lake Michigan did not, in fact, prepare me for all the walking we'd be doing in Santiago. Walking and drinking as few liquids as possible because of the lack of public restrooms.

Needless to say, we opted for the tram, known as the Funicular of Santiago. The funicular took us up the side of the mountain in a cable car. We passed the winding road to the top, as well as the Chilean National Zoo.

Embarking at the summit, we found an array of souvenir shops, snack stands, and stray dogs, but more importantly, we weren't yet at the summit.

So we continued up. Up steps and more steps and more steps.

Molly was used to walking up seven flights of steps to her apartment each day. Sam wasn't, but had youth on her side. Me? I gasped and panted and tried to keep up. Each time I wanted to complain about my weariness, I turned around and looked at the view behind me.

Finally we reached the summit - the real summit - with a 72 foot (22 meter) statue of the Virgin Mary, spreading her arms lovingly over the city.

I was spellbound.

Sitting under signs requesting "Silencio," we gazed out over the city and I thought about how many people were down there. How many thousands of souls, our brothers and sisters, who, until Molly came here, were never on my radar. I rarely thought about South America, let alone individual countries. This realization made me feel small and petty.

As a reality check, a stray dog rested at the base of the steps to the statue.

A word about the stray dogs. They are everywhere in Santiago. On the sidewalks, on street corners, in outdoor markets and cafes, in parks, under monuments, and in the metro and bus stations. Every stray I saw was of the large breed variety, mostly mixed breeds, and all were docile and friendly. Most were street worn, with scars from fights, sometimes with limps from being hit by cars, and many had some variation of the mange.

I watched as the dogs subtly moved under occupied café tables, hoping for a hand-out or an accidental drop. I watched as the dogs moved swiftly along sidewalks, even stopping at crosswalks with pedestrians, and then moving across the streets with the people. A few younger dogs walked in the streets, but clearly the older ones had learned. The cars and buses did not stop for them, so most of them stayed safely on the sidewalks.

When I lamented to Molly about how sad it all was, and how it would be wonderful if someone would, if nothing else, gather them all up for spaying and neutering, Molly surprised me again. She pointed out how the dogs were all well fed, that Santiago is a temperate climate, and that they are social, friendly, getting fresh air, and receive decent treatment by the public at large. She pointed out that strays in the United States are put into cages, often kept isolated, and not to mention, frequently euthanized. "The way I see it," she said, "the way it is here is just a different kind of bad from the way it is back home."

An interesting perspective.

We made our way back down the steps toward the funicular station.

Before we headed back down the mountain, the mist lifted and we were treated to a view of the Andes Mountains. It's hard to see them in this photo, but the snow caps are there, if you squint.

We sat in the sunshine for a bit, marveling at the view, and I looked up at the warmth of the sun, still low in the sky at springtime, and suddenly it hit me. I was looking north. I was discombobulated for a few moments as I realized that we really were on the other side of the globe from our home in Maine. It was dizzying.

Back in the city, we headed back through the Bella Vista neighborhood, across the Mapocho River that bisects the city, and on to the Metro, to head outside town. Next stop, Los Dominicos.

Los Dominicos is an artisan craft market set in huddled adobe buildings, located in Los Dominicos Park, to the side of San Vicente Ferrer Church. In addition to restaurants, the village boasts nearly 200 booths selling artwork, jewelry, copperware, flowers, herbs, and even pets.

Of course we made friends with one of the cats who lived there. And we met two darling Chilean children who posed for us and then wanted to make friends with the cat, but the cat was uninterested.

It was a long ride home on the Metro for these two tired girls. Me? I was beyond tired. But loving every minute of it.

Copyright © 2014 - Paulla Estes

18 September 2014

Chile - Day Two - Chilean Independence Day

Our next day in Chile was Independence Day, which is why we chose to go at this time. Molly's classes were cancelled all week so we had her all to ourselves.

Read a bit about Chilean Independence HERE.

We took the metro to a huge local park where much of the city of Santiago was celebrating. There were street vendors selling everything from candy to jewelry to toys and kites. In fact kites are a big recreational thing in Chile, of which I was not aware.

A word about bathrooms. I asked Molly that first day what the deal was with public bathrooms, and she said, "Yeah, that's a bit of a problem. They're few and far between." In other words, if you have the chance to go, then go. And try not to drink too many liquids when you're out. That's why this sign was very important to us.

A kite graveyard.

And a word about the flag. Ignorant of the make-up of the Chilean flag, when we first arrived in town, I saw these flags hanging out a few windows. I thought, Wow, would you look at that - proud Texans right here in Chile.

Yeah, um,... no. The Texas flag is different. Only SLIGHTLY different, but that's not it.

We took the Metro back downtown. Oddly, there was some blond guy who kept following us and getting in our photos.

I kid. That is Clayton, one of Molly's American classmates in Chile. And trust me when I tell you that he looked even more out of place than we did!

The Presidential Palace...

And the biggest Texas - - I mean, Chilean flag I've ever seen in my life, right across the street from the palace. So beautiful and patriotic!

At this point, we had walked several miles and no restaurants were open. We walked blocks and blocks looking for someplace - anyplace to get food. Finally we found a diner - that had restrooms! Win-win! We sat down in a booth and opened the menu, but although Molly and Clayton have mastered Spanish grammar, they are still a bit rusty on their food vocabulary. It took us twenty minutes of looking up words in our dictionaries before we could order lunch, but we finally figured it out.

A word about our hotel. We rented a small apartment through Hotels.com, which turned out to be wonderful and very centrally located. But I found that in Chile, I had to put aside my expectations of what one normally finds in an American hotel.

For the three of us, they gave us three bath towels for the entire week, and that was it. No hand towels, no washcloths, no bathmat. Of course, I did not realize that this was all we'd get, so on the very first day, after using my towel in the shower, I put it on the floor to use as a bathmat, assuming housekeeping would bring more when they cleaned our room.

No such luck.

There were also no sheets on Molly's twin bed (that doubled as sofa). She had a comforter, and that was all.

We phoned, we stopped at the front desk, we begged. They were very friendly and made all sorts of promises to bring what we needed right away. But the second and third days passed with no new towels, nor sheets.

On the second day, the internet went out in our room, so we had to go to a stairwell outside the lobby if we needed to use the internet. We phoned about this too.

Thankfully, on the fourth day, they brought us one clean bath towel and one hand towel. Hurray! But in spite of daily requests, they never brought Molly's sheets, nor did they fix the internet.

At one tired and low moment, I became furious, fuming about the lack of service. To this, Molly told me I needed to lighten up. "You're in Chile now, Mom, and they might never bring you what you need. Here, you learn to do without. I'd advise you to do the same."

Good advice, young grasshopper.

Copyright © 2014 - Paulla Estes

17 September 2014

Chile - Arrival and Day One

It takes a long time to get from Maine to Chile, especially when one is on a budget.

To save money, I bought tickets for me and Sam from Miami to Santiago, and we used flight miles to get from Portland to Miami.

On two different airlines.

Plus, what this means is that we had to pick up our luggage in Miami at the baggage claim, and then re-check it to Santiago.

Sure, it saves us a few hundred dollars, but whew, what craziness!

Here's how it all went down:

- We left Portland on separate airlines at 11:00 a.m., Monday morning.
- We both had layovers in different cities and then arrived in Miami around 6:00 p.m.
- After re-checking our bags in the gigantic and chaotic Miami airport (not to mention a touch of stomach virus for Sam - ugh) we left Miami, this time on the same airline, at midnight.
- We arrived in Lima, Peru at about 6:00 a.m., local time on Tuesday.
- We left Peru at about 10:00 a.m.
- We arrived in Santiago at 2:30 p.m. and got through customs and FINALLY found Molly at 4:00 p.m. on Tuesday.

In the few months that she'd been gone, Molly became a city girl. A city girl who spoke fluent Spanish!

We went to our hotel, showered at long last, and then went back out to get some dinner at a waffle taco place. What this means is that a hot fresh waffle is folded in half and filled with meats, cheeses, veggies, or whatever your little heart desires.

It was fabulous.

Back at the hotel, we slept the sleep of the dead. Or of the terribly jet-lagged. And the next morning we set out to see the two universities where Molly takes her classes - Universidad Catolica and Universidad de Chile.

This was an small area under a bridge where someone had set up boxes and food dishes for stray cats. Molly, a cat lover, had discovered it, and even met the lady who comes to feed them regularly.

What a mind bender that it was Springtime in Chile. It was chilly and rainy and the trees were budding with new growth.

We had empanadas. Again, and again. And again!

And we walked until our feet were sore. Such a different culture. Such an intriguing city. So much to see and so many blocks to walk, metros to ride, buses to catch.

And tomorrow we will celebrate, with the rest of the country, the Chilean Independence day... after a little bit more sleep.

Copyright © 2014 - Paulla Estes