Thursday, March 07, 2002

Fantastic Chile

Buenos Dias,

Today is our last full day in Santiago. We are finally heading south tomorrow, after a fantastic 12 days. Dan and I have experienced the utmost Chilean hospitality, and have been well taken care of. This is the part of the trip, where we have had delicious home cooking, great beds (lots of sleep), and watched too much t.v.. As many of you know, my Father was born in Santiago. He has a huge family here, - many, many cousins with children, and a dear uncle and aunt. All of the relatives that we have met, have bent over backward to insure that Dan and I have enjoyed our stay. We were greeted at the airport by Rossina, Ricardo (both cousins) and his girlfriend, and Mattias (Rossina's son). Rossina invited us to stay at her home, with her children, Francisca (25), Ignacio (22), and Mattias (17). As is usual in Chile, many families have a live-in maid, who cooks all the meals, cleans the house and does laundry. What a luxury! We immediately had our dirty laundry whisked away by Blancita. Not speaking Spanish is difficult. We try to stretch our vocabulary everyday. Thankfully, each of Rossina's children knows a little English (more than we know Spanish), so we have been able to converse and be understood. Our first night in Santiago, and Francisca took us to a bar discotheque. Most people do not go out drinking until midnight, and then, you would not dare enter a disco before 2 in the morning. We have thus had to learn how to dance to Latin dance music until 4 or 5 in the morning, and drink pisco sours or piscola nonstop. We just had our last night out at the Cafe Vallarta (home by 430AM), and Dan is in bed with an 'ache'(a hangover). In addition to the nocturnal side of Santiago, we have been driven through the beautiful, wealthier neighborhoods of Vitacura and Las Condes, taken on day tours of the Centro, by Francisca, Rossana (another prima/cousin) and her boyfriend, Cristobal, and have shopped for necessities in La Providencia. The hectic nightlife has meant that we are often in bed until 1 in the afternoon, and somehow, this is perfectly acceptable. With our nights being full with visiting bars, and popular pedestrian neighborhoods, like Bella Vista and Calle Suecia (*we spent Dan's birthday here, with the 2 german girls, Marion and Birgit, who we had met in Isla De Pascua), and going to BBQs at mansions in the hills (no joke), our days are mainly lazy. Cable in Chile has many channels in English, so we have gotten our dose of CNN and 80's movies.

Santiago is a very European city. Next to Buenos Aires, it is supposedly one of the only cities in South America where we can pass for locals, despite our fair skin. There is a huge mix of Indian with European, and there are many blondes with blue eyes. There does seem to be a class issue based on the color of your skin - those who are lighter tend to get better jobs. You see this division among the various barrios where people live. My Father's relatives are on the 'high' end of the scale, living in the newest parts of the city, and having all the amenities that we have in the U.S.. There is a strong divide between the rich and the poor, which is amazingly evident. Middle class as we know it - does not exist. It is nearly impossible for a poor child to become wealthy, because the cost of education is steep, and most families cannot afford to put their children through university. Less than a hundred children in Chile are accepted for yearly scholarships. There is simply no infrastructure to assist the smart, but penniless.

We have seen more of the 'nice' side of Chile than the desperate, so I am sure our opinion is skewed, but I really like this city. It actually seems like a place that I could live in (for a short while). Dan and I are considering the possibility of stopping here for 3-6 months after Brazil, and maybe taking a language course. It also seems that it would be easy for us to get work teaching English. This is only a dream at the moment... When we return, it will be winter, the worst period for smog, but we are only an hour away from the ski slopes!

In addition to our stay in Santiago, my father's cousin Alvaro, took us to visit Valparaiso, Vina De Mar, and Renaca. Alvaro speaks very good english, and was my favorite 'uncle' when I visited Chile as a child. He has been our guardian in Chile, making sure that we always have a daily plan, visiting us nightly at Rossina's, treating us to a delicious Chinese dinner with his wife, Sandra. He has a beautiful apartment in Vina Del Mar, overlooking the ocean, and he let us stay on 3 nights past the weekend (when he had to return to work). This was another great opportunity for Dan and I to practice our pitiful Spanish. I have even more relatives in these parts, and every afternoon /evening, we were invited to someone's home for a meal. My father's favorite uncle Osvaldo, a wonderful man, always dressed in a suit, with cap and suspenders, is almost like a grandfather to me. He is in his 80's and very sharp and funny (he is Alvaro's father). We dined with him, Lina and Lina's granddaughter, Francisca, in their typical Valparaisan home on the hill, eating delicious locos (a type of seafood) with salad. We visited Aunt Cecilia and her family - Cecilia (daughter) with family (Jorge, Pablito, and Javier), and Marisol (daughter) with family (husband and 3 sons), and a cousin of mine, Renzo, who I remember playing with when I visited in '83. So much family!!! We had delicious seafood meals - mariscos I have never tried before, and got to spend a couple of days sunning ourselves by the pool or at Renaca beach - a place to watch all the beautiful people. Valparaiso is often compared to San Francisco, because it is on the coast, is extremely hilly, with winding streets, AND was the sister port city in the 1800's (before the Panama Canal changed things forever). Valparaiso is poor and charming, while Vina del Mar is glitzy and new. Vina del Mar has massive shopping malls, big fancy restaurants, and a casino, where Dan and I lost money. The weather was fantastic!

I cannot end this email without mentioning the women (right Matt!)- eye candy galore. Tight, low riding pants are the rage, with belly buttons flashing, little heeled sandals, tiny tanktops, and long hair flowing. All those men who have hair fetishes will be happy to know that femininity is strong and long - short hair is rare. The discotecas are packed with these ladies who all shake their hips at astonishing speeds, and the ratio is excellent for men! The men at Cafe Vallarta sport britpop haircuts, flash pearly white smiles, and swing their women with the best of them. Everyone dances! There is usually an opening act - warm-up of a musician with a guitar, and there is a big singalong. Midway through the DJ dancing, a troupe of scantily clad brazillians did an energetic dance performance to some of the hot new latin beats. The enthusiasm is overwhelming, with the place packed full of sweaty bodies.

This place is Fun!
Tonight, we are taking a 10 hour busride to Pucon, a lakeside town in the South of Chile, so Dan can get some more fishing in.
We send our love and best wishes,
Sarah and Dan

New pictures coming soon...


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