Tag Archives: Cerro San Cristobal

From Asia to South America: Making new memories with an old friend

As I prepared to write about last weekend’s visit from our friend Nikki, I took a minute to reminisce. We worked with Nikki at Vientiane International School in 2009-10, and she quickly became part of our family. In fact, we enjoyed weekly “family night” dinners at local restaurants in Vientiane with Nikki and another friend, Carol. One of our favorite outings was to this kooky place: Khouvieng Country.

Nikki now works at Lincoln, an international school in Buenos Aires, just a short flight away. What a treat to have her come play for the weekend!

We had booked a cooking class, in part because Nikki’s fiancé, Jon, is an avid cook. Unfortunately, he had to cancel his trip to Chile to visit his ailing grandmother in Canada. (She is feeling much better – whew!) Tony had scheduled an English Department retreat at our apartment, so he couldn’t participate in the cooking class.

Nikki and I joined a family from the States, who were traveling in Chile, for a daylong cooking class with Felipe at Uncorked. We met at Mercado Central, the city’s famous fish market.

The National Geographic book, Food Journeys of a Lifetime, included Mercado Central in its list of “Top 10 Food Markets.” An excerpt:

Under a wrought-iron, art nouveau canopy dating from 1872, this animated fish market groans with an extraordinary shoal of sea creatures, from barnacles to giant squid, many unlabeled, untranslatable, or unknown outside Chile. Marvel at the fishmongers’ speed and skill. If the thought of identifying and preparing the fish is too much, onsite restaurants offer local dishes like paila marina (Chilean bouillabaisse).

Felipe shared some information about the market’s history and architecture, warned us about paying tourist prices at the popular seafood restaurants, and pointed to the type of fish we would prepare at our class: Spanish hake, or merluza.

From Mercado Central, we crossed the street to stroll through a flower market and on to La Vega Central. I never tire of this place. Piles of produce pop with color, and I revel in the buzz of busy vendors and harried shoppers. Felipe purchased fish, meat, tomatoes, and other ingredients while the rest of us snapped photos and tried to stay out of everyone’s way. The crowds swelled as we explored. Nikki and I agreed this was a place best visited in the early morning, before most Chileans rise and shine.

Nikki excitedly purchased some pickles.

After the market tour, we hailed a couple taxis for a ride to the cooking class venue, located in a residential area. From the street, the two-story house resembles its neighbors. Inside, however, the foyer opens into a bright spacious kitchen with an island equipped with two cooktops. We sat on stools around the island while Felipe issued instructions. We helped a bit with the chopping and mixing. Most of the prep work had been done before our arrival. My kind of cooking!

We kicked off the afternoon with a mango sour, perfectly measured and shaken by Nikki and Gracie.

My pathetic contribution to our meal involved rolling out and cutting the dough for churrascas, a traditional Chilean bread. They turned out a little deformed but tasty. We ate them with pebre, a typical Chilean salsa. At the request of our finicky group, Felipe patiently made three versions: normal, one with no spices, and one with no cilantro.

Nikki hates cilantro!

Our first savory dish was crudo de res, a concoction of raw minced beef with spices, relish, and peppers. Felipe spread a little homemade mayo on the plate. Chileans love mayonnaise!

Felipe poured glasses of pinot noir from the Chilean winery Leyda, which I am adding to my list of local favorites.

The main course was a delicious piece of fish topped with tomatoes, cheese, olives, and sausage. It was served on a bed of humita en olla, a corn-based paste.

For this wine pairing, we sipped Leyda chardonnay. I’m not usually a chardy fan, but this one worked perfectly with the fish.

For dessert, a little German influence came into play with the kuchen de zapallo camote en arandanos en chancaca, a long name for a little pumpkin tart with blueberries. Delish!

Overall, we enjoyed a lot of laughs, some tasty drinks, a bit of tipsiness, and delicious food. Could I replicate these dishes at home? Most likely, no. The “recipes” we took home were obviously written by someone who generally makes them from memory. Some don’t even have measurements, and the humita en olla recipe includes instructions like “thresh the corn.” What does that even mean? When you’re as clueless in the kitchen as I am, specificity is key.

Obviously, this day was designed for entertainment first and education second, which was fine with me!

On Sunday, I took Nikki on the gondola up Cerro San Cristobal, a Santiago “don’t miss experience” in my opinion. Of course, we enjoyed a mote con huesillo after greeting la virgen at the top.

I felt a little guilty about not being a better tour guide, but frankly, it felt great to just hang out on the balcony and catch up. Thanks for making the trip, Nikki!

Santiago Summer Staycation – First 2 Weeks

It’s January. It’s January. It’s January.

I have to keep telling myself that because it’s almost 90 degrees F outside today with gorgeous blue skies and a gentle breeze. I’m sitting on our balcony sofa, listening to the neighbor kids playing in their pool. School is on summer break for seven weeks. It should be July.

But it’s January.

We made no plans for this vacation, other than enrolling in Spanish classes. Although I get pangs of jealousy when I see friends on Facebook frolicking at beaches in Asia, hiking in southern Chile, or hanging out with family wherever home is, I am cherishing this time as a way to really get to know our home, our neighborhood, and our city.

Here’s what we’ve done so far as tourists in our new hometown:

We like to move it, move it.
Every day, we either take a long walk or hit the bike trails – or both. Sometimes we stroll through our residential neighborhood, occasionally stumbling upon a café we hadn’t seen before or a hidden little park. Sometimes we join the throngs of commuters and tourists in the busier parts of town, window shopping and stopping for ice cream or beer. We bike up Cerro San Cristobal several times a week with Tony going for distance and me going for time (we both beat our personal records yesterday!). On one of our bike rides, I was determined to reach the mountains. They looked so close! But after a very long time on a trail along the man-made Canal San Carlos, the mountains continued to elude us. (“They don’t even look any closer,” Tony said, as we finally turned around to head home.)

In addition to our walks and bike rides, Tony and I continue to sweat our booties off twice a week in our neighborhood park, Plaza Las Lilas, with trainers Anton and Andrea. Here, Anton helps me with my form as I struggle with the suspension training exercises.

Hop On Hop Off.
My friend Brie and I spent Dec. 27 exploring Santiago with the Turistik Hop On Hop Off Bus. Maybe a bit overpriced, the tour nevertheless featured well-marked stops and an informative audio tour in English (as well as Spanish, Portuguese, German, and French).

We first hopped off in Bellavista to catch the funicular up to the top of Cerro San Cristobal. As I mentioned, Tony and I cycle that hill regularly, but Brie had never been there and I had never ridden the funicular. So up we went after a short wait in line at the Pio Nono station, which was inaugurated in 1925.

At the top, 820 meters above sea level, several painted crosses line the path up to the statue of Mary, but I couldn’t find any information online about who painted them.

I never get tired of this.

The funicular station at the top.

Heading back down.

As soon as we exited the funicular station at the bottom, we saw the Turistik bus approaching and we hopped back on. Our next stop for disembarking came at Plaza de Armas, the original city center established by Santiago founder Pedro de Valdivia in 1541. I look forward to coming back here to tour the Metropolitan Cathedral of Santiago, the Central Post Office, and the former Royal Palace, which now houses the National History Museum.

At the base of this Christmas tree, there was a life-sized nativity scene. Tourists kept inserting themselves in it for photos, which just seemed wrong.

Among many vendors in the plaza’s park, this photographer snapped pictured of kids posing in costumes on the stuffed horses. Soooo tempting…

Again, it was easy peasy to catch the bus, but we hopped off after a few blocks at Plaza de la Constitución to see the Moneda Palace. The palace was originally a colonial mint; “moneda” is Spanish for coin. It served as the presidential residence for a short time. During the military coup of 1973, troops surrounded and bombarded the palace, where President Allende ultimately took his own life after broadcasting his last speech to the country. Moneda Palace presently serves as the seat of the president and houses several government offices. I’ve since learned about the changing of the guard at the palace, so I’ll be sure to return for that.

By now, Brie and I were getting peckish. Google Maps showed us a nearby restaurant, The Blue Jar, which turned out to be a great choice. We had a nice lunch and even ran into a family from school, who were also touring the city.

Back on the bus, we felt too hot and tired to hop off again, but we both felt the tour offered us a glimpse of Santiago’s hot spots. I’m looking forward to a longer linger.

Masters of public transportation – sort of.
Jonesing for some cherries, I decided we should visit La Vega Central Market. In my quest to master public transportation, I also decided we would take the bus. It was so easy! There’s a bus stop right at the corner of our block. We each have a rechargeable Bip! card, which works on the bus and metro (and, weirdly, even lets me make copies at school), so we caught the turquoise 517, found seats, and cruised straight to the market.

We have also bopped all over town on the metro, with only one peculiar experience. We were waiting for a train, and when it arrived a few people got on and the others in front of us made a solid blockade so nobody else could get by, even though there was plenty of room still on the train. The next train arrived, and it happened again! The third time, we walked around them and boarded the car, which was crowded but not packed. Perplexed, we tossed around some theories … Maybe they were waiting for a train with open seats so they could sit down? Maybe there had been some announcement in Spanish that we didn’t understand?

Anyway, we prepared to exit at our station, but the train zipped right past it.

At the next stop, we jumped off and rode the escalator to street level feeling completely confused. On the walk home, we paused at the pet store to buy cat food. One lady there speaks English, so we told our story and asked why the train didn’t stop at Cristobal Colon. She explained that during certain hours, this metro line runs express trains – red and green – that stop at alternate stations, so you have to get on the green train to stop at Cristobal Colon.
“That’s confusing,” I said.
“It is to us, too,” she said.
“Why do you think those people were blocking us?” I asked.
She shrugged. “There are just people like that, I guess.”
So, mystery partially solved.

Soaring over Santiago.
The same day we bused to the market, we met up with friends, Stella and Ian, and their kids, Mane and Berlin, to master yet another mode of transportation at one of our favorite places in the city. Yes, you guessed it, we were heading back to Cerro San Cristobal, our urban mountain. I have walked, biked, and funicular-ed up this hill, but there was still one way to reach the top that I hadn’t tried: the newly reopened Teleférico Parque Metropolitano, or gondola lift. The gondola opened in 1980, but a series of mechanical malfunctions in 2008 and 2009 shut it down. After an expensive renovation, the system reopened in November.

I stood in a short line to buy tickets, and then we all climbed into a gondola for the 2-kilometer ride.

Without a doubt, the gondola offered the best views of Santiago.

Despite many previous visits to this hill, I had never entered the tiny chapel at the base of the Virgin Mary statue. The little girls and I ran up the steps and sat on the benches in the chapel for a few minutes until the other adults showed up. We tried to figure out the Spanish Bible verses painted on the walls. I can see how this would be a peaceful place of prayer if you weren’t accompanied by two giggly goofballs.

So much museum, so little time!
On Friday, Tony and I took the metro to the Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos (Museum of Memory and Human Rights). Everything was labeled in Spanish, but the English-language audio tour was excellent. In fact, it was so informative that we lost track of time and had to rush through most of the museum or risk being late for our Spanish class. We realize now that this place would take most of a day to appreciate. We’ll be back.

Estudiamos español.
We started Spanish classes on Tuesday at the Goethe Institut, just a 15-minute walk from our apartment. It may seem odd to study Spanish at a German organization, but we had heard good things about the teachers there. In my fantasy world, our class would include fun, outgoing professionals who lived in Santiago and wanted to be our new best friends. In reality, the group comprises mostly shy Chinese businessmen and a couple shy Asian students. However, the teachers really are great, and I already feel more confident using Spanish in our daily life.

Spanish is essential in this city. Here’s an example. Tony took our car to Portillo, the Toyota dealership, Friday morning for routine maintenance. He picked it up Friday evening. On Saturday afternoon, we decided to drive across town to our favorite supermarket. On the highway, a motorcyclist honked and gestured at the back passenger-side tire. I looked in the sideview mirror, and the tire did seem wobbly … but I had never looked at it that way before so I had no basis for comparison. We decided to skip shopping and drive straight to Portillo instead. When another driver honked and pointed, we worried that we shouldn’t continue on the wobbly tire. Tony pulled in to a gas station, and we pondered our options. Obviously, the mechanic at Portillo had screwed up. I wanted them to come fix the problem. I used google translate to write a text, which Tony sent to his contact there, Jorge. He never responded. I called a couple Spanish-speaking friends, who all recommended an English-speaking mechanic, Julio. I called him and interrupted a family party. He was very kind but said he was heading out of town after the gathering. I beseeched him to call Portillo for us, which he did. They refused to send help! Julio must have sensed our desperation because he offered to fix our tire on his way out of town, two hours later. As we waited, feeling guilty and stupid, Tony decided to take a stab at solving the problem himself. He pulled out the car’s manual, figured out the complicated jack, took off the tire and re-attached it – properly this time. I texted Julio to say he didn’t need to come, but thanks anyway, and we resumed our shopping expedition.

So you may be saying, “Well, hey, you got out of that pickle without using Spanish!” But the thing is, I want to be fluent enough to storm into the Portillo office and go bananas on them. I mean, they freakin’ attached the tire wrong! It could have flown off the car in the middle of the highway. And then they refused to help us? Are you kidding me? For now, I can only speak in present tense, and I pretty much only know the vocabulary for describing my family members. But I promise you this: Whether it takes months or even years, I will eventually give Portillo a piece of my mind in Spanish.

Anywho… the staycation continues, and we have plenty of fun on our Santiago bucket list, including a visit from my parents just two weeks from today!

Settling in Santiago part 2: looking for a silver lining in the cloud of exhaustion

How is it possible to feel overwhelmed at the pace of life while also feeling like nothing is getting done? Since I last posted, I’ve enjoyed a few fun outings with new friends, received our shipment from India, and started school. However, daily life is a series of baby steps and barely recognizable accomplishments as we navigate so much newness.

Tuesday, Tony and I left school with plans to meet a handyman at our house and hang curtain rods. (Three weeks after moving in to our apartment, we still don’t have curtains in our master bedroom, so we’re still sleeping on a trundle bed in a guest bedroom.) The handyman cancelled at the last minute, which seems to happen more often than not here.

OK. Change of plans: We checked out a supermarket near school called Lider, which is owned by Wal-Mart. The underground parking was nearly empty, so we wondered whether the store was even open. Not only was it open, it was amazing. It pretty much WAS Wal-Mart. Not that I love Wal-Mart … but … after living in India for five years with no convenient supermarket option, this was Nirvana. We took our time, strolling down every aisle, realizing – with the help of google translate on my phone – that we could find just about any ingredient we needed for just about any recipe. We bought cheese and wine and avocados and fresh bread and a rotisserie chicken and a pork roast and some school supplies … oh man, I could go on and on. We knew to weigh our produce and get it priced in the produce section, and we knew to do the same for bread in the bakery section. At checkout, we had actually remembered to bring in the cloth shopping bags (which we usually forget in the trunk of our car) and I knew how much to tip the woman who bagged our groceries (one of a gajillion little learnings on this steep curve). We pulled out of the parking lot, consulted with google maps, and got right on the highway. We went grocery shopping and got home without screwing up dramatically or getting lost! We were buoyed by a sense of success.

So, try to understand our state of mind if that made us happy. You can only assume that we are generally not that successful. Daily life is riddled with mind-numbing frustrations and inconveniences that we haven’t figured out how to handle. My eyes continuously brim with tears that I somehow keep from spilling over.

That said, here are some things that have marginally improved our quality of life in recent weeks:

* We have searched and searched for adaptors for the oversized Indian plugs on our microwave, coffee maker, electric kettle, portable heaters, and back-up UPS batteries for our computers. Obviously, we haven’t been able to use any of those things since we gleefully unpacked them. Finally, Tony snipped off all the plugs and rewired them with Chilean plugs! I actually stood in front of the coffee maker and watched it brew the first pot of coffee, just in case it caught on fire. So far, so good!

* I paid some bills! Oh sure, you may think that’s mundane and not worth mentioning. Try moving to a country where you don’t speak the language, don’t receive any actual bills and suddenly get inundated with people saying, “What? You haven’t paid your bills yet?!” I had a major freakout yesterday when I got a text message from my mobile phone company saying: “Your plan will expire tonight if you don’t pay your bill.” Except it was in Spanish. And then someone reminded me that we have to pay the rent before the 5th or we’ll get slammed with late fees. And then there’s the gas, water and electricity bills, not to mention the “gastos communes,” which are fees for apartment dwellers that cover the concierge, groundskeeping, janitorial services in the common areas, and so on. Fortunately, it seems almost everything can be paid online. My good friend google translate helped me figure out the phone company’s website, and then I paid the rent from my Chilean bank website (which involves a LOT of steps, including using a little clicker that looks like a garage door opener and gives you a code to enter online). Our concierge says the other bills haven’t arrived, and I nodded and pretended to understand when he rattled on about something, which I decided to believe was, “When the bills arrive, I will deliver them to your apartment.” We’ll see. So, whew!

* Tony and I joined a couple newbies for a hike up Cerro San Cristobal July 17. Just a 5-minute taxi ride from our house brought us to the trail head, where we met Jen and Sarah. We trekked up for about 45 minutes, a 300-meter increase in elevation, to the 14-meter statue of the Virgin Mary on the summit. The statue towers over an amphitheatre, where Pope John Paul II said mass and blessed the city in 1987. A nook at the statue’s base features racks of candles and a wall of offerings and prayer requests. A small chapel sits a few steps further down the hill, flanked by a few gift shops and snack stands. I couldn’t find much information on the chapel, but these guys have a nice summary (and a pretty fun travel blog): Cleared and Ready for Takeoff.

Even on this overcast day, the views were exhilarating.









* Our shipment from India arrived! The moving company delivered everything on Saturday, July 23, and we had unpacked all 138 boxes by the end of the weekend. “Unpacked” is different from “put away,” of course. I will use the metaphor that Tony uses when I put on pantyhose: 20 pounds of potatoes in a 10-pound sack. That’s what our apartment feels like right now. Too much stuff and not enough space, so it sits in piles around the perimeter of each room. However, it’s such a treat to enjoy a home-cooked meal at the dining room table instead of eating a peanut-butter sandwich while sitting on the toilet seat (or standing in the kitchen). We cuddle with Ella on the sofa each evening, and we’re slowly digging through the mountains of clothes to complement the limited wardrobe we brought in our suitcases. Even in this state of chaos, our stuff brings a sense of comfort.

The kitchen boxes towered on the balcony and overflowed out into the hallway. And this kitchen is puny. Whenever we try to do anything in the kitchen at the same time, Tony mutters, “It’s like we live on a boat.”

Ella mostly hid in the closet, but she came out to explore when the movers took a lunch break.



This is where we’re sleeping till we get curtains in the master bedroom. Yes, it’s a trundle bed.

The only casualty of the move: a big terracotta elephant I bought at a street market in Delhi. I really loved him.

Furniture unpacked and reassembled. So grateful for places to sit!

Cross your fingers that we experience ongoing successes that outweigh the oppressive sense of failure permeating most of our days… Wow, that was intense. Oppressive sense of failure? Really? Well … frankly… yeah. That pretty much sums it up. But – and it’s a big but – we learn something new every day. That’s the silver lining, for now. Stay tuned.