Tag Archives: Chile

El Tabo beach weekend: shaky start, but no surprises

Less than a week before heading to the coast for a three-day weekend, I stood in my kitchen making butter chicken for dinner when the sliding glass door to the laundry balcony began to rattle. I thought it was the wind at first, but then a cheese grater fell out of the dish drainer onto the floor and I realized everything was shaking. Tony poked his head in the door and asked, “Is this an earthquake?” He had been lying in bed rocking out to Van Halen and assumed what he felt was “Eddie bending his Floyd Rose,” whatever that means. It was in fact a 7.1 earthquake with an epicenter just 35 kilometers off the coast of Chile.

We dashed to a bathroom doorway, which we now know was the wrong thing to do. On Friday, another coastal earthquake, measuring 5.9, reverberated in Santiago, sending teachers and students under tables to “duck, cover, and hold.”

Those quakes were among more than 280 temblors created by the shifting ocean floor in Chile’s waters, just as we were preparing for a long weekend at the shore. Those red dots? Earthquakes. That blue pin? Our airbnb rental.

Although earthquakes are scary, our real fear was of a tsunami. With a few friends, we had booked a house right on the Pacific coast, where we could relax on the deck to the sound of waves crashing on the rocks. Unfortunately, an offshore earthquake could send a really really big wave right over those rocks to wash us off the face of the earth. We were all getting a little anxious about our trip.

One colleague said, “Don’t go! Why would you take the risk? The small quakes mean a larger one is on the way.” Another insisted, “Don’t worry! These little quakes don’t predict a bigger one. They are actually releasing the pressure.” One Chilena told us a renowned earthquake prognosticator swore “the big one” was coming this weekend, and another dismissed our concerns, saying everything was just fine at the beach.

In the end, the deciding factor was our nonrefundable airbnb payment. So, we packed up the car and drove to the coast as soon as school let out Friday afternoon.

Our house in El Tabo was old but comfortable. We laughed at the owner’s vast collection of breakable knick-knacks teetering on narrow shelves, a seemingly odd decorating choice in such an earthquake-prone zone. Tony and I claimed an upstairs bedroom. Looking out the window, we could see the small pool below (which would be wonderful in warmer weather), the rocky shore to the north, and the Pacific Ocean stretching from just below our house to the horizon.

After unpacking, we drove to a nearby restaurant. The chatty waitress, Maria Paz, said there had been 14 earthquakes that day. I asked if you could see a difference in the sea during an earthquake, but she said the most noticeable difference was the sound. “It’s very noisy,” she said.

As we watched the sun set, Craig asked Maria Paz what time the notoriously late-dining Chilenos would arrive. “Because of the earthquakes,” she said, “they will stay home.” That was disconcerting.

Back at the house, we chatted and played cards. At one point, we all felt a quick jolt, the first temblor we noticed since we had arrived. We nervously joked about our tsunami evacuation plans and made sure Travis parked his car facing out of the narrow driveway so we could make a quick get-away. I slept with my shoes next to the bed in case I had to walk through broken glass in the morning.

The next day dawned peacefully. My LastQuake phone app repeatedly buzzed with reports of small quakes off the coast, but we never felt them.

Our sunrise view.

We spent the morning lounging around and strolling on the beach.

After Stella and Ian arrived, a few of us toured the nearby Casa de Isla Negra, the seaside home of the late poet Pablo Neruda, which has been transformed into a museum. Neruda had two other homes in the region: La Sebastiana, which I visited in Valparaiso earlier this year, and La Chascona in Santiago, which I have yet to see.

Neruda bought the property and a stone hut in 1938 after returning to Chile from diplomatic postings in Europe, and he began a long process of building and renovation. All materials were transported in ox carts across the estuary. He left Chile again as Consul to Mexico, and when he returned in 1943 he was elected to the Senate and joined the Communist Party. The Chilean government soon moved to the right, outlawing communism. Neruda went into hiding until 1952 when the order to arrest leftist artists was lifted. He married his third wife, Matilde Urrutia, and spent the next 21 years living and writing at Isla Negra. He died on Sept. 23, 1973, just 12 days after a military coup toppled Chile’s democracy. In 1992, at the end of the dictatorship, Neruda’s remains were moved to Isla Negra and laid to rest next to Urrutia, fulfilling a wish expressed in his poem “Disposiciones”:
“Friends, bury me at Isla Negra,
before the sea I know, before each wrinkled stretch of stones,
and before the waves my lost eyes
will see no more…”
(Canto general, 1950)

According to a 2014 article on the BBC Travel website about the Isla Negra house,

His personality is evident throughout. A closet-sized bathroom is filled with vintage photos of women in various stages of undress, and frightening masks were hung above the door to scare women away from using it. A stuffed lamb rests on his bed, and the house is packed with swords, bottles, masks, pipes, bugs, butterflies and an entire room filled with seashells. For a communist, Neruda was quite an obsessive shopper. And thankfully, most of his collectibles have survived. After the coup, soldiers raided the home. “Look around,” Neruda told them, “there’s only one thing of danger for you here – poetry.” They left without confiscating any of his priceless items.

The house at Isla Negra reflected Neruda’s eccentric lifestyle and appreciation of all things nautical. The layout evokes a ship with narrow rooms in a single file, creaky wooden floors, huge wooden figureheads looming over the rooms, shelves filled with ships in bottles, framed maps and astrological imagery, and windows revealing the frothy turquoise waves pounding the rocky beach. A large anchor in the yard seems to secure the house to the hillside. An audio tour shared many fascinating anecdotes about the poet, a complicated, passionate man who saw beauty in the mundane world around him. Over the years, he wrote odes to the tomato, his suit, bread, a box of tea, and so many more random items. The cluttered chaos of his home seemed to emphasize his need to be surrounded by interesting things.

Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to take pictures inside the house. Here are some outside shots.

This quote means something like, “I return from my travels. I sailed building joy.”

After our visit to Neruda’s waterfront home, we returned to our own, where some other Nido teachers had popped in for a visit. They were staying at another house in the same neighborhood. Later, we climbed around on the rocks (which I think is now officially a sport called “bouldering” … that sounds so much more athletic) and then enjoyed our own version of the Chilean asado (barbecue), including steak masterfully grilled by Ian.

A view of our house from the shoreline.

Posers. Me …

… and Craig.

Hanging out on the deck after dinner. Photo courtesy of Travis.

We awoke Sunday to a chilly, foggy morning. Despite my app’s occasional announcements of off-shore earthquakes, we still hadn’t experienced anything dramatic. After a lazy morning of huddling by the space heater with a mug of tea and shivering at the sight of surfers in the icy waves, I was happy to see the sun burn away the fog. Tony and I enjoyed some more bouldering, although we mostly climbed to a good spot and then sat on a rock to watch the crashing surf. The deep blue water swelled until its crest appeared bright teal, spilling over with the white froth and ultimately pounding into the towers of volcanic rock with a dramatic explosion of spray. I found myself clapping and giggling like a toddler. I hope I can channel that joy at work this week.

Laura snapped a few photos of us from the deck of our house.

For much of the afternoon, Travis, Laura, Craig and I played a card game called Dutch Blitz while Tony graded papers.

Today, the skies were gray and drizzly at the coast. Rather than linger till our check-out time of noon, we all decided to pack up and hit the road. I won’t lie to you: After all the earthquake drama of the previous week and predictions of tsunamis, I was surprised and deeply relieved that our journey to the earthquake epicenter (or close enough) was uneventful and mellow. Whew!

Back home in Santiago, we’re counting down to the end of the year: 34 more school days!

Going Chileno on New Year’s Eve (yellow underpants and all)

The other day, I was reading a book on the balcony when I got a call from Tony. He was out for a walk, looking for a place to get a haircut.

“I am at the Tobalaba metro stop and there are a bunch of stalls selling yellow underwear,” he said. “What is that all about?”

I love this kind of stuff! “Take a picture,” I begged, but he had already walked too far to turn back.

I immediately got online and found out that wearing yellow underwear is just one of many strange New Year’s Eve rituals in Chile. Right then and there, I vowed to do them all. I spent a couple hours researching until I realized all the websites were saying the same thing. The traditions are pretty straightforward, but I struggled to find out the origins. Maybe nobody knows. (Side note: One of the most interesting articles I read about Chilean NYE traditions was unexpectedly found in The China Post.)

Yesterday morning, we made a quick trip to our nearest supermarket to load up on the fixin’s for our traditional Chileno New Year’s Eve. Then we headed out for a bike ride. After all, it’s summer! The ride gave me an opportunity to kick off our celebration, though.

Chile NYE Ritual #1: Wear new clothes!
For Christmas, we gave each other clothes, so this was an easy one. Tony wore his new Adidas T-shirt. I wore my new bike shirt with pockets in the back. That meant I could ride with my phone and pause for a selfie at the top of Cerro san Cristobal.

My new bike shirt pockets meant we could also stop at a street corner on the way home to buy our yellow underwear, and I would have an easy way to transport them home. Apparently, it’s important that your yellow underwear is a gift, so Tony and I parked our bikes in the shade and took turns purchasing panties for each other. You know he loved that, right? This makeshift underpants shop had a surprisingly good selection, but the sizes were whacked. Tony got me size large, and I bought him XXL. Hmmm… maybe they were children’s sizes.

Chile NYE Ritual #2: Wear yellow underwear!
This is what we bought.

Let’s pretend this is me wearing them.

(Ok, I really got that photo from the Daily Mail‘s article about NYE traditions around the world. Don’t worry, I will not post pictures of us in our yellow undies.)

We both stuffed our booties into our respective tiny underpants for the rest of the evening. Why? Some websites claimed the tradition was based on finding love on New Year’s Eve. Others said it was simply a way to garner good luck. There’s actually a website called The Underwear Expert, and it claims yellow underwear is meant to bring happiness and prosperity. Works for me.

Chile NYE Ritual #3: Take your luggage for a walk!
I was pretty psyched to hear about this one. Chile actually has a tradition that promotes travel. How cool is that? If you’re itching to hit the road and hope for an adventure or two in the coming year, you’re supposed to take an empty suitcase for a walk around the block. I’m so there.

Chile NYE Ritual #4: Put money in your shoe!
Legend has it that a luca note (1,000 Chilean pesos or $1.50) in your right shoe will multiply and bring wealth over the next year. I’m sure you’re meant to put the money in your shoe while you’re out partying and painting the town red, but our money and our shoes just sat there all night while we watched Netflix on the balcony. I hope the tradition still pays off.

Chile NYE Ritual #5: Eat 12 grapes!
Officially, you’re supposed to eat one grape for each stroke of the clock at midnight. The grapes represent the months in the coming year, and you make a wish as you eat each one. Obviously, I didn’t wait till midnight to gobble the grapes, but I did take my time and make a wish on each one. I couldn’t find any history behind this ritual, except that it started in Spain. Some websites claim that the flavor of your grape determines the sweetness or sourness of the corresponding month.

Tony doesn’t eat fruit, so he wished on 12 grape-flavored Skittles. He told me this morning his January wish already started coming true. “I wished I would have Skittles every day in January,” he said.

Chile NYE Ritual #6: Eat lentils!
I had to laugh at the supermarket when I realized all the lentil soup was sold out. I was not the only lazy NYE reveler. It was too late for me to buy lentils, soak them, and figure out how to cook them. Not my wheelhouse. Fortunately, I found a packet of instant lentils. My research uncovered various explanations for why lentils might bring luck and good fortune. Several websites claimed lentils look like coins and therefore symbolize money. Another noted the tradition emigrated from Europe, where people would eat a hearty lentil dish to stay warm in the harsh winter. Hardly necessary in sunny Santiago these days! But a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do.

Chile NYE Ritual #7: Put a gold ring in your champagne glass!
Prosperity comes to those who drink their New Year’s toast with a gold ring in the glass of bubbly. We plonked our wedding rings (washed first, of course) into the flutes of cheap sparkling Moscato. Our toast came a few hours early, but I’m sure it had the same effect.

Fireworks and all-night dance parties didn’t make the cut for us this year. Also, a local tradition is to eat fish soup for lunch at the central market as a hangover remedy. I did finish off most of that aforementioned Moscato by myself, but I chose to skip the soup ritual. (“If I were hungover, the last thing I’d eat is fish soup,” Tony said. I must concur.)

After all that, the Dents are looking forward to a pretty fantastic 2017. Bring on the health, wealth, and happiness!

Feliz año nuevo, everyone! Any interesting NYE traditions in your home?

Settling in Santiago: hurry up and wait

Here we are in Santiago, Chile! We have accomplished a lot in our first six days, but we still feel eager to get out of the hotel and into our own place. Our new employer – International School Nido de Aguilas – put us up at the Atton Hotel el Bosque with a posse of helpers who facilitate apartment hunting, buying a car, setting up our mobile phones, getting registered with the International Police, learning about banking, and more.

This is our fifth international school and the first one that didn’t provide furnished housing to new staff upon arrival. The only drawback is that we will have to leave the hotel and move into our new apartment about a week before our shipment arrives (assuming it arrives on time). That means we have to buy a bed, sheets, towels, kitchenware and other necessities that are presently en route from India but just won’t get here soon enough. The good news is we found a nice apartment in a quiet leafy neighborhood, just a short distance from parks, a gas station, a grocery store, a pet supply store, and lots of restaurants, bars and coffee shops. A 10-minute walk gets us to a huge mall, massive supermarket, Home Depot-ish store, and many entertainment options.

It’s winter here now, but so far that has meant mostly beautiful sunny skies with clear views of the Andes Mountains and temperatures in the high 50s. We have walked from the hotel to our apartment and all around the district, feeling giddy that this is our new home. People make eye contact and smile. They greet one another with a kiss on the cheek. And the wine – hola madre! – is cheap and delicious. So far, no complaints!

Here’s a little rundown of our transition up to now. I haven’t taken many pictures, but I will soon!

Getting There
Which would you rather hear for your entire flight? A screaming baby or a howling cat?

If you said “baby,” then you would have won the jackpot on our Detroit-to-Houston flight. The poor lady in front of us held a 10-month-old baby on her lap that shrieked for the entire three hours. Bad for her seatmate. Good for us because our cat, Ella, was also shrieking in her carrier under the seat, but nobody could hear her over the baby din. Whew!

If you said “howling cat,” then you should have joined us for the 9-hour joyride from Houston to Santiago, when Ella screamed her face off and attempted all sorts of prison break maneuvers for the whole flight. She dug at her pee-pee pad like a madwoman scratching an escape route through the padded walls of her cell. She clawed and bit at the mesh of her carrier (my pinky suffered some collateral damage when I tried to soothe her). She rammed her head and body into the fabric, effectively opening a zipper at one point. After a few hours, I discovered she would wail slightly less maniacally if I extended my leg and rubbed my toe against her head that was wedged against the end of the carrier. If I fell asleep or shifted my weight, she went into full psycho mode again, so I basically held that position for about five hours. Ella’s anxiety spread to Tony, who spent most of the flight in the bathroom.

When we landed in Santiago, we were greeted by a young man from Wou Vets. Although we had stressed for months about leaving Ella at a “pet hotel” while we stayed at a “people hotel,” all our apprehension vanished at the opportunity to unload her for awhile. So that’s where she is now. Probably angry and confused, but safe at the Wou Vets Pet Camp. You can check out photos of Ella and the other furry guests on their FaceBook page: Wou Vets Community.

Whirlwind Week
The school transported us from the airport to the hotel on a bus with a bunch of other newbies who had arrived on early morning flights. Tony and I had arranged to move into the apartment of a departing teacher, and we were eager to see it, so we quickly unpacked and headed out for a walk. Without the keys, we simply stood on the sidewalk and looked up at the building. Then we strolled around the neighborhood, popping in to the Lider Express supermarket where a huge display of palta (avocado) greeted us at the entrance. How can I not love a country where avocado is a dietary staple? (about $2 for a pound)

We had a quick meeting with bank representatives, who set us up with accounts but didn’t really explain how much money was in there or how to use our new cards. Oh well! Many of the newbies met up for dinner at an amazing pizzeria called Tiramisu. We were told to get there when it opened, so we arrived a little before 7 p.m., and the line had already formed. Quaint and cozy with delicious food and wine, this place was a special treat. I have a feeling that wasn’t our last Tiramisu pizza.

My first glass of Chilean wine IN Chile!

Monday, we met Anna, a representative from the relocation agency finding homes for all of us. We joined a small group that had already targeted specific apartments. Our place was the first stop, where the realtor, Roberto, met us in the lobby and took us up to the third floor. Workers were painting and working on minor repairs, so it was tricky for the six of us to check out the apartment with any real scrutiny. We basically said, “Looks good to us!” and jumped back in the bus to visit the other newbies’ digs.

Tuesday, a group of us bused to the International Police Station to register as residents of Santiago. That took for.ev.er. Fortunately, our school helpers had gone ahead to pull numbered tickets that secured our places in line. When we arrived, there were still about 200 people ahead of us. After getting fingerprinted and photographed, we got our precious RUT number. This is like gold in Chile. You can’t get a phone, buy a car, sign a lease or even purchase pillowcases without it. So getting that number was the necessary first step before we could do … well, literally, anything. That process wrapped up in the early afternoon, so we grabbed some snacks on the street and then went en masse to buy mobile phone plans. Again, thank goodness Nido gave us handlers. We never could have done this by ourselves.

Wednesday, we were wrangled for vehicle shopping by Tito, a car-savvy Nido employee, and Valentina, a Nido graduate and university student serving as translator. Tony and I ultimately bought a 2016 Toyota Yaris Sedan, a boring but reliable car that gets pretty decent gas mileage … something we have to take seriously in a city where gas is about $5 a gallon.


Thursday, we signed our lease in the morning and then met Roberto at the apartment in the afternoon to pay the deposit and pick up the keys. We spent more time really perusing the place, trying to get a feel for what it will be like to live there. We both think we’re going to love it!

Friday, we had an early morning meeting at the school about banking. We each have a peso account and a U.S. dollar account, and we can’t have a joint account, and we don’t get our money sent to the States automatically, but we have to pay to wire money, and some things can be done online but most things have to be done at the bank’s branch office, which is only open till 2 p.m., and there’s some little clicker that gives a code that we’ll need each time we make a local transfer, and sure, of course you can pay bills online. But how? We’re still thoroughly confused, but I suppose we’ll figure it out.

It was our first visit to the school, and we only got to see the meeting room inside the elementary school library, but this was the view from the parking lot. Not bad, eh?


In the afternoon, we went to the mall to shop for a few additional items we’ll need to camp in our empty apartment next week.

Transitions suck. That’s all there is to it. This seems like a fantastic city, and we’re meeting great people, and so far, we’re so completely 100% thrilled with our decision to move here. And yet… I want to start living my life here. I want to speak fluent Spanish right now. And have my shipment delivered and unpacked right now. And have my apartment arranged and decorated right now. And I want to start my job and meet my colleagues and know how everything works at my new school. Right. Now.

Patience is a virtue that neither Tony nor I have ever fully embraced. So, for the next few days or weeks or … let’s face it … most likely MONTHS, we’re going to try our best not to bite each other’s faces off for petty reasons as we navigate so much newness. One step at a time and all that. I’ll keep you posted!