Tuesday, February 22, 2011

An Update

So its a bit of an embarrasment looking at the last post from May 2010! This blog has sat pretty much dormant despite all the wild turns in my life. A baby has been the main focus as of late. This all started as a travel blog back in 2004, but as my life here in Chile has become more "normal" and less of a constantly new experience I have struggled a bit to find what to talk about here. I hope to continue with an update here or there.

The majority of my blogging and writing is going into www.foodyChile.com check it out!

Monday, May 31, 2010

Boutique del Campo

So it's been a while since the last post. Most of my time has been spent building up a new store with my wife called the Boutique del Campo. Have a look here at our facebook page. We hope to soon have the full website (at least the alpha version) up and running. The Boutique del Campo combines natural foods, gourmet products, fresh produce, juices and more. It has been quite the experience putting it all together. We started focusing mostly on fresh produce due to some good contacts and opportunities at the time. This was back in November of last year. Since then the concept has grown and evolved and we are now putting more emphasis on the gourmet and prepared foods. I plan to launch a seperate blog soon that will delve more into the products and store. Stay tuned.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Get ready to laugh: Some Improv Comedy

Getting ready to go out and see my wife compete in an amateur improv comedy competition in Bellavista. The competition is one of the many events hosted by Lospleimovil, a comedy/theater group. There are several rounds of competition between four or five member teams. Caro's team lost the last one thanks do some pretty crappy officiating (yes a bad ref is even possible in improve comedy). Hopefully today she'll get a better judge.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Cordillera Chilena: Punta Lagunas

Continue out into the Cajon del Maipo, leaving the urban jungle of La Florida and Puente Alto behind, continue past Baños Morales and you'll get to Punta Lagunas, a group of cerros with an amazing view of several of the Cajun's glaciers and a peek of a few lagunas.

I'll be honest, despite the name, the Lagunas were the less impressive part of the hike. Rather it was the panoramic view of the region around, as well as a some 300 meter wall filled with fossils and at almost a perfect 90° angle. At a bit of 3100 meters, the hike isn't too difficult, although there are some exposed points that will give you a bit of vertigo if you don't prepare yourself. Plus the constant aftershocks make any sort of walking on mountains around boulders a bit more worrisome.

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Presidential Handoff in Chile: Goodbye Bachelet, Hello Piñera, Let the Earth Shake

 Piñera, his camera smirk/smile, and myself at Vendemia Santa Cruz

For the first time in over 50 years a member of Chile’s right wing alianza took the oath of office yesterday after being elected and the earth shook below. A billionaire airline tycoon, Sebastián Piñera, is now the president of Chile. But the entire changing of the guard has been overshadowed by the seismic activity. The big presidential hand off was no exception.

At about 11.30 am yesterday morning a 6.9 (also reported in the Chilean press as a 7.2 “aftershock” struck with a an epicenter near the coastline south of Valparaiso. It hit right as Piñera was taking his oath of office, and not too far away.

A tsunami warning was issued immediately afterwards the earthquake and people scrambled to higher ground. Taller buildings in Santiago were evacuated.

What a day to take office. But then again having to deal with a 8.8 earthquake in the last few days of office isn’t exactly an attractive proposition either.

Piñera’s assumption of president is rather significant. Chile’s right wing parties and the alliance the have formed, the Renovacion Nacional and the Union Democratica Independiente, haven’t had power since Pinochet was in control. But Piñera beat Eduardo Frei, with a pretty solid margin.

Piñera managed to win the election despite a high approval rating of Bachelet. The Concertación, the three center left group is made of three parities. The PPD, PS and the DC, wasn’t able to cash in on this popularity and the relatively smooth handling of a global financial crisis.

Piñera is a very wealthy man. He controls minority and majority stakes in some of Chile’s largest companies, among them the airlines LAN Chile, Chile’s most popular (and infamous) football team Colo Colo. He controls TVN, one of the largest Chilean broadcasters. His total wealth is somewhere up there around USD 1 billion.

His success as a business man has garnered him a lot of respect from many Chileans, not surprising considering the country’s now stable love of free market policies, even if they were instilled into the national character at gunpoint.

But Piñera’s name has also arisen in several investigations. He was fined in 2007 for using insider information to his benefit to sell stocks. Probably more dubious was his connection to the default of the Banco de Talca in 1982, while Piñera was general manager. He was cleared of wrong doing by the government, at that time the dictatorship that he supported.

Piñera’s 2010 campaign took on a mix of Obama’s “change” with some old fashioned Pat Buchanan or Ronny Reagan tough on crime talking points. In the end it was his positioning as the candidate of change that allowed him to win. The incumbent Concertación was not able to produce a new candidate, rather relied on an ex president, Eduardo Frei, who now is at best an elderly statesman. Despite the popularity that Bachelet enjoyed, it wasn’t enough to convince people that the status quo was the line to walk.

Personally I have some sort of distrust of Piñera. I don’t trust him to make good decisions as a statesman. Too much time as a shrewd businessman can skew one’s sense of public good. I’m not saying that just because one is a successful businessman they are somehow corrupt or evil. Hardly. But when one already has all the money and plenty of influence, what exactly is it about being president that they feel they lack? The influence? Is he into the idea of himself as some sort of guru? Some sort of neo-liberal Chavez? I can’t trust the guy. But in the end I think this is what happens when a political party has been in power too long, even if democratically elected. It entrenches the bureaucracy, the stale institutionalism that is all too prevalent in Chile. It does need a serious shaking up.

I actually met Sebastían Piñera once last year. I had been drinking wine at the Santa Cruz Vendemia (wine grape harvest) Festival and he ran up to shake hands. I snapped a foto of him. He looks much different in person, much shorter and smaller than on TV. His head is a bit too big and his arms really long. I think if we wrestled I could pin him no problem. But that’s besides the point right?

So here we are. The era of Piñera. Lets see how he handles this mess and devastation these earthquakes have left.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Flatland Reflections on a Chilean Quake

 Curico on March 3rd

In Iowa the ground will grow about anything. It’s the solid foundation of all life, a constant in a complex equation. So naturally when my apartment building here in Santiago began to shake back and forth last Saturday (Feb 28) screaming of steel and concrete grinding together the world that I had once knew -that concept of the earth being solid and firm- it all ended in the doorframe of my apartment.

It took me over five years to finally get a taste of a Chilean earthquake. I expected sooner or later it would hit me considering the seismic activity all along the country. Chile’s geography, it’s rugged, mountainous landscape, defines it as a country. It has a bit of everything. The 5000 mile long slice of land wedged between towering summits over 24000 feet and a cold, rugged pacific beach is made of glaciers, deserts, forests, rivers, lakes and volcanoes. All along the expansive Placa de Nazca fault line.

At 8.8 on the Richter scale the quake registered as the one of the strongest since they started measuring. There is something about that earth moving that ruptures your notions of what is protection and what is just another layer between you and the harsh natural world. That ceiling, that roof, the wall of your house can all be ripped apart like paper. The single strongest sensation that I got while huddling in the doorframe of my bedroom. (Not under my blankets thanks to my wife who knew how to react.), was how small and feeble our sense of order really is. The chaos outside afterwards reinforced that feeling. No lights. A dark, damaged city of nearly 6 million people. The intersections were filled with cars playing chicken with each other to get to their destination. You could even see some of the constellations above.

The quake struck at around 3:30am, just off the coast of the Maule region, some 200 km from Santiago. The litoral central is the center of Chile’s Agricultural district, dotted with small communities and a few cities, such as Concepción, where some of the worst destruction was focused. The coast got the worst, with a tsunami follwed in the hours after the quake and taking houses, cars and lives out to sea.

In all the quake lasted 3 minutes. Actually a long time to be shaken violently. But it’s the aftermath that really is startling. The fact that entire cities have been altered forever is hard to grasp. The entire supply of the most basic goods is thrown into question. When doubts of the source of upcoming meals arise, people react by getting as much as they can while they can. For some this means filling shopping carts in the supermarket and waiting the long lines. But People start stealing. Some because they have to, others because they are just thieves. Images on the Chilean TV stations of people looting washing machines. Gymnasiums where the liftin machines and weights have all been stolen. The worst of humanity comes to the surface.

But so does the best. In a mere four days 40-year TV and fundraising veteran Don Francisco organized a massive telethon that raised around USD 60 million. There have also been countless smaller initiatives. On Saturday (March 6) the city was full of all sorts of different fundraising and donating drives. From nurses taking your blood pressure to massages in the Plaza de Armas, lots of music, haircuts for donations and old fashioned peer pressure at the supermarket line urging shoppers to donate some non perishable goods.

Even the mobs that looted Concepción seemed to come together that weekend, leaving thousands of dollars of looted goods in common plazas and along the street.

In Santiago things are more or less normal. There are several neighborhoods that received damage from the quake, especially in the northwest of the city. But for the most part basic services were restored within a few days. People have been out to have drinks, eat food and reflect on all the madness. But the central southern region of the country is a much different reality.

All the destruction is hard to believe. Massive boats moved inland. Entire neighborhoods wiped off the map by tsunamis. Brand new apartment buildings lying on their side like cast away legos. If the photos are intense, the reality must be overwhelming. One friend of mine returned recently from reporting on the tragedy in Concepción and told me he doesn’t know how he can return to his “normal” life of office work here in Santiago. Witnessing the collective loss isn’t easy for an observer, so it must be hell for those affected directly.

When the quake hit I was sleeping and without even knowing what was going on I was between the doorway, almost sure that my apartment would come down. The sheer force and violence of the earth’s movements are enough to unsettle anyone. I look and think back about what was going on in the days leading up to the earthquake, it all seems a bit trivial now. The continuing aftershocks only keep the anxiety going. Last week the ground shook my world, leaving something that is a little less certain, a little less secure, but just as intense and as beautiful as before.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Cordillera Chilena: Cerro Canoitas

Finally made it back up a cerro after a long work induced pause. This time I went with a group of about 20 people up Cerro Canoitas, located about 15KM up Camino Farellones, just a few minutes past the start of the zona de curvas that leads up to the ski resorts. The hike was pretty easy, starting at around 1800 meters up to 2600 meters. Not much of a trail though, more of a web of rabbit trails, some of which blazed by this guy below. (I must add that he was freed, not eaten nor sold for his fur). Add to that about three false summits and a very loose shale that made the decent a bit more difficult and painful. The summit was great though, with a view of El Plomo and of the city below. I would only recommend it for those who have an idea where to find the trail head (somewhere there are some GPS coordinates on the internet) and don't mind scrambling towards the peak and back down again.