Monday, January 25, 2016

All ashore that’s going ashore

Anton and I are setting sail (on a ferry boat) from Buenos Aires across the river to Uruguay!  First stop- Colonia del Sacramento, a colonial riverside town across the river plate.  After a few days there we head for the remote beaches of eastern Uruguay, Punta del Diablo, Cabo Polonia and La Pedrera before seeing Montevideo.  
a few of the 3,000+ seats in the theater
seven levels of sound
a building in San Thelmo district
Buenos Aires was more beautiful than we ever imagined.  On a tour of the Teatro Colón, the opera house with the best acoustics in the world, we learned that Buenos Aires experienced a Belle Epoque at the turn of the 20th century when a lot of French architecture and culture was imported and mimicked.  I knew that Buenos Aires had a lot of European influence and a big Italian immigrant population but I didn’t know it is considered the Paris of South America.  It fully deserves this title since walking down its wide avenues filled with an abundance of stylish shops and cafes while looking at the beautiful buildings was very reminiscent of Paris.  Before arriving, I was really nervous to be overwhelmed by the abundance of activity and options for diversion.  Luckily, their January is like our July, many people are out of the city and things are calm. Not-so-luckily, many activities are in the off season like the opera house and some markets.  Also, since since it was like July, it was hot hot hot, and humid.  We spent a full week there but probably could’ve crammed all our activities into a few days although with the heat were limited with just how much we could do each day.  A good chunk of time  had to be spent in front of the fan while making plans for upcoming travel.  Plus, it was nice to unpack and feel settled in one place, especially in the great, affordable apartment we rented through AirBnB in the amazing Palermo neighborhood.  And, being there for a full week gave us a good amount of time to explore the endless and delicious dining options available.  Thanks to the leads from a friend who was lucky to live in BsAs for years a few years back and from a food blog she tipped us off to, we found some GREAT places to eat and drink. 
you can buy fresh squeezed OJ! with campari!  on the street!
believe it or not the best choripan is here at Lo de Freddy
We sampled many of the city’s regional offerings.  One almost every block or manzana as the porteños say, there is a fiambre and queso shop selling fine meats and cheeses.  
Of course we had that and of course we tried a parilla for great steak and chorizo.  We also had insanely good choripan at a literal hole in the wall, Lo de Freddy.  BsAs is not short on international cuisine either and we had another great dining experience at Sarkis, a neighborhood Armenian place.  
waiting for pizza at El Cuartito

We were so enchanted with the city.  We visited a number of old timey places that are long living city institutions.  One such highlight was El Cuartito, a pizzeria that has been in business for over 80 years.  The interior is lined with faded, aging sports posters and career waiters serve tasty pizza and fernet with cocacola from the tap.  We also checked out some new places that were nearly as awesome like the bar Floreria Atlantico.  To get to the bar, we entered a beautiful flower shop at street level.  We asked for the bar and were led through a walk-in refrigerator door downstairs to a long narrow room with a 40 foot long bar.  The cocktail menu is extensive and includes many unique drinks, some that feature locally crafted yerba mate gin.  
syphons at an antique sale and still in use at bars everywhere 
an old theater converted to a book store
BsAs may have the friendliest folk we’ve come across in South America, or at least the most charming mannerisms.  Almost everyone is gregariously friendly and eager to engage and please.  The mannerisms are very charming.  “Thank you” is never answered with you're welcome but always “no, please!”.  Departing greetings are usually “suerte” (good luck), or “buen dia/noche”. 

They really love him around here 

A lot of time was spent flanuering, people watching, and window shopping around Palermo.  We checked out two different art museums (fine art for Anton and modern art for me) and the large, opulent cemetery.  In the historical center we saw the Plaza de Mayo, infamous for the madres and abuelas looking for their desaparecido family members and the Bicentennial museum.  We crossed the widest avenue in the world, 9 de Julio, with more than 10 lanes.  We couldn’t make it in just one light!  We rode the cities buses around to other neighborhoods like La Boca to see Caminito.  We saw a humongous steel flower and real ones in a Botanical Garden.  We had a great time. 
old tenement housing in Caminito
some of the opulence at Recoleta cemetery  
steel flower

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Flânuering in Mendoza and Córdoba

Flânuer is a french noun meaning "stroller", "lounger", "saunterer", or "loafer".  Anton (who else) introduced me to the word and concept when we arrived in Mendoza, Argentina and we have been doing a whole lot of it.   I think it's the best way to get to know a new place.  Both in Mendoza and in Cordoba, where we are now, we've been wandering around getting to know the cities' streets, parks, plazas and cafes.  It's been lovely.  I could never complain about double summer but while I so looked forward to traveling post-Fulbright, it slipped my mind just how incredibly hot it would be.  Without stopping for drinks, ice cream and sit downs in the park, trekking around a city in this heat would be a bit dificil.
One of many antiquities around Mendoza
We returned from Lima to Santiago on January 10th then made our way by bus across the border into Argentina.  Only a 6 hour ride.  I can't really put my finger on why, but it has been my life long dream to visit Argentina and especially Buenos Aires.  I think it is the blend of charm and allure of Latin America mixed with the sophistication and glamour of Europe.  Imagine my shock and dismay when we arrived and most ladies and gentlemen were wearing Crocs or imitations of or ladies were sporting hideous platform sandals!  Despite the poor footwear choices, Argentina has not disappointed in its attractiveness. 

Mendoza is a small city with wide, tree lined streets with channels of water to help irrigate the otherwise dry city.  In some ways, it is a city that time hasn't touched.  The architecture and decor seems old-timey, and many people drive old cars.  It's pretty charming. Right outside of Mendoza is wine country.  On day 1 of our visit we took the city bus to the community of Maipu where we rented a tandem bicycle and had time to visit 2 out of dozens of wineries Mendocinos call bodegas.  The region is famous for Malbec and it is really quite delicious.  

Olive grove at Trapiche Wineries 
my sweetie and the captain of that ship

Tasting at Tempus Alba 

 That night we had a real treat.  We met up with, Sebastian, a friend of a friend of a friend we met in Santiago.  It never hurts to reach out to connections.  He is from France but has lived in Argentina for more than a decade skiing and leading outdoor tours and adventures.  We were lucky enough to be part of an asado that he, his girlfriend and roommates organized.  An asado is a barbecue of sorts, only way better than anything I've seen in the US.  For less than $30 USD we bought six kilos of meat including, ribs, sausages, blood sausages and various steak cuts.  Using firewoood, Sebastian got fire going and cooked the meat over the hot coals.  Meanwhile, on the rooftop of their apartment, we got to chat with his kind and interesting friends, one who was a sommelier, while drinking local wine.  There were also grilled vegetables and something I hadn't seen/eaten before- red bell peppers cut in half with an egg cooked inside while it's grilling.  There is nothing quite like visiting a new place, getting to spend time with people from there and eating delicious local food.  For a minute, we had thought about going straight to Buenos Aires from Santiago but like Anton said, Mendoza could have been half as nice and it still would have been worth the stop for the evening we had.

Pile o' meat/Sebastian's materpiece
After a few days and a difficult overnight bus ride where it stopped every two hours to let on people who had loud conversations and were on their cell phones in the middle of the night, we arrived in Cordoba.  Much busier and bigger than Mendoza, still a nice city be a flânuer, with galleries of shops and cafes, art museums and a bustling historic center.  On a walking tour of the center, we unfortunately witnessed a motochorro, a robbery by motorcycle.  We were about eight people and out of nowhere a motorbike rode up onto the sidewalk and took a bag off the shoulder of a Swedish tourist.  Very unfortunate and scary.  A reminder that crazy stuff can happen anywhere and to always be careful.  
Dancing fountains at Paseo del Buen Pastor
To escape the city heat and see some of the countryside we took a bus to La Cumbrecita.  It is a darling mountainside town founded by Germans in the 1920s.  It still has very much of a German influence in the food and architecture and has an enchanted Bavarian forest sort of feel.  We had a lovely time eating, walking on the pedestrian only streets, hiking to a waterfall and visiting three swimming holes surrounded by wild raspberry bushes.

Someone's in [hog] heaven, okay we both were

 We really lucked out with our AirBnb stay in Cordoba, it's like being in a country home with modern design in the middle of the city.  The host, Diego rented out the home a few years ago and built all the furniture on his own from recycled/repurposed goods.  He keeps it up really nice with pretty decor and plants.

Soon we head off on another, and hopefully more comfortable, night bus to Buenos Aires!!!  I have just read the tip of the iceberg of what there is to do and see there and I can barely contain myself and my excitement. A full report to come!

It has been harder than I thought it would be to keep on top of the blog.  I will have to do a back log entry on the wonders of Peru.  

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Peru, what a country!

The blog name will stay the same but the content is about to change. If I were to change it, it would be It will be longer be about Santiago and my Fulbright Distinguished Award in Teaching, but about our travels around.  We head back to the USA on March 25 and from now ‘til then we plan to visit Peru, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Southern Chile and Patagonia if we can pull it off! I’m going to try my best to keep up with the blog.  

We barely had time to say chau to Santiago and let it sink in that we were leaving, before we arrived to the Santiago airport headed to Lima, Peru.  Not long after being in Lima, I was reminded how Latin American cultures and places are so wrongly lumped together.  Lima is so different from Santiago from the landscape, the architecture, the crime rate, the weather, and the friendliness to the food.  Oh, the food!  More on that later . . .

Flepi, the delightful family dog
We arrived on Christmas Eve and were warmly welcomed by my good friend and Barbieri colleague, Lisie and her family.  We got to have a lovely Christmas that didn’t make me miss my family or the seven-types-of-seafood Christmas Eve feast too much.  We spent Christmas Eve at Lisie’s aunt’s house with extended family.  Anton and I were operating on Santiago time, two hours ahead of Lima time and dinner, following tradition, wasn’t until past nine.  Christmas Eve is similar to New Year’s Eve in that it celebrates the coming of something, in this case, the birth of baby Jesus.  At midnight there was a champagne toast, and best wishes exchanged while illegal fireworks were set off around town.  

Lisie, her mom, three sisters, two nephews and niece were wonderful to be around.  They were generous hosts who were each very interesting and fun to talk to.  On Christmas Day morning we toured by bike around the neighborhood and surroundings including coastal parks.  Lima is very humid and overcast but has some great views of the Pacific and some pretty, old buildings.  We had a delicious lunch of salmon, salad and potatoes with an ají sauce called Tarí and it was SO good.  I haven’t been unimpressed with a meal yet.  For dinner we had sanguiches criollas.  Mine a chicharrón with fried pork belly, pickled red onions and sweet potato.  Anton’s was lomo huancaina with beef, lettuce, tomato, crispy thin potatoes and a huancaina, a cheesy aji sauce.

The next day we headed to the Haustein beach home in Ancon about an hour from Lima.  On the way Lisie and her sister, Delia shared some very interesting political history about Peru, riddled with corruption and attempted reform. We spent the afternoon on a boat ride, playing cards, taking dips in the ocean and eating more seafood and potatoes.  With more than one hundred different potato varieties and a huge coastline, Peruvians eat potatoes almost daily and seafood nearly as much.  Peru might be right up there with New Orleans and Italy for great food on vacation. More delicious food was had when we returned to Lima and has fushion sushi like rollos acevichado (ceviche roll).  Sunday morning I was introduced to fruits native to Peru at a local market.  Aguaymanto, pacai, granadilla and nespiro we all amazingly exotic and delicious.  We sadly bid adieu to Lima and the Hausteins to fly to Cusco en route to Puno.  

When we passed through Cusco I immediately had a flutter of excitement. For four years, I taught my third graders about the Inca and even though it was at an elementary level, to see the history of what I had read about right in front of me is so neat.  It’s just like after studying Spanish art for years in high school and making it to the Reina Sofia in Madrid to see Picasso’s Guernica.  There are platforms on the Andes mountains, ancient stone buildings, alpaca and Inca descendants all around. We took a very cheap, 8 hour bus to Puno on which we were the only white people among the quechua passengers.  Many women wearing traditional dress and speaking quechua.

Puno was just lovely.  It is a not-too-touristy, laid back, small city on the shores of Lake Titicaca with no chain establishments at all.  Many people walking around live in outlying communities and maintain a traditional way of life doing farm and artisan work.  It is 3,800 meters above sea level and despite warding off the site affects of the altitude we had a great time.  We stayed at a B & B, with an amazingly kind and knowledgable owner.  We visited the city’s cathedral and museum.  We toured the burial ground for ancient civilization’s leaders with towers up to 12 meters high for tombs.  We also did an unforgettable tour on Lake Titicaca of the Uros Islands, the 85 floating islands built from lake reeds with 1,500 inhabitants who speak Aymara, a pre-Inca language.  We also visited Taquile, a larger, natural island with habitants who speak quechua.  It was serene and beautiful.  While looking at the immense lake, we had a glorious lunch of quinoa soup and grilled trout with of course, fried potatoes.  We also met nice people in our tour group, including a couple from Cambridge, MA and a young guy who was riding his motorcycle from Vancouver to Tierra del Fuego.
The worlds highest navigable lake
Chulpa- Ancient Inca Tomb, we later saw the mummies recovered from the site in a Musem 
Homes on one of the floating islands
A view from Taquile Island
Right this moment, I am writing from the Andean Explorer, an old fashioned, luxury train, a splurge for Anton’s big birthday!  It is like a movie set.  We’re sitting in seats that look like living room furniture with a white tablecloth table and there is a bar car and an observation car in the back.  The views of the Andes and countryside are majestic.  There was a three course lunch and lots of snacks.  We are headed back to Lima where we will meet up with Joe and Lindsey in preparation for our hike to Machu Picchu.  I can’t wait to see what adventures and dishes, Peru has to offer next.

and that's a wrap!

Like those pretty packages under the Christmas tree, my time in Santiago is all wrapped up.  174 empanadas, visits at 12 different schools, countless bottles of red wine, a summative report and a final project later, I am done with my Fulbright in Chile.  And I'm so sad it's over.  It’s been a while since my last post as our last two weeks in Santiago were BUSY, in a good way.

First, our dear, awesome friends Eric and Emi came to visit.  We were eager to show them and they were enthusiastic to see all the city has to offer and I think they were charmed by Santiago’s eccentricities.  Towards the end of the trip we were reflecting on the week’s highlights and when we started listing, we realized we were mentioning all the fun things we did!  At the risk of sounding way cheesy, the very best part of all was talking about life, past, present and future with old friends.  It is hard to pick the best part, but of all the good times, I had two favorite days.  One was on Sunday, when we rode bikes on the the closed city streets across town to the beautiful Parque Bicentenario.  There we had a picnic, relaxed, and saw the flamingoes.  On the way back, at random, we stopped off at a gourmet food festival and had so much fun visiting the stands of local foods and crafts, drinking local artisanal beer and eating delicious choripan from a VW bus food stand.  Another high point was buying fresh clams and other ingredients at the big central markets and taking them on a metro and local bus journey into the mountains of Cajon del Maipo where we stayed in a cabin surrounded by walnut and almond trees.  We hung in hammocks and enjoyed the views and fresh air.  Then with team effort, made an amazing clam and linguine dinner.  It was buena, buena! The visit was a great way to have a last hurrah!
Parque Bicentenario
After a chorillana lunch in Valparaiso
Across the street from our cabin in Cajon del Maipo
Meanwhile, being in Santiago through late December was great but strange.  It was hot, very hot, especially when in the sun.  When I would see a Christmas decoration I would be puzzled and then realize, “Oh yeah, it’s December”.  Christmas is commercial in Chile too, but it hasn’t reached the mania there is in the US.  It was kind of refreshing but like I said, strange.  Almost like a year the Christmas season didn’t happen.  No holiday parties, no baking cookies, no card writing, no gift buying.  

After the visit, I had a few days where I worked like mad to finish my Fulbright assignments and say good bye to the city.  I had to do more of the former than the latter. But we also managed to celebrate Anton’s birthday at the Concha y Toro vineyard.

Although not earth shattering, all in all, I think I wound up with some powerful findings that will help me be a better educator.  There were a few themes that came up in my classroom observations, reading and university class that I culminated in a guide for teachers.  The guide is meant to serve as “how to” for increasing quality of classroom interactions to enhance academic language learning.  Establishing a viable sense of classroom community through a strong social emotional learning program is key for successful cooperation in the classroom.  Teaching students to give and receive specific feedback with the goal of increasing quality of work is a way to have student use targeted, content specific, academic language.  Finally, implementing project based learning is a way to encourage students to collaborate instead of cooperate.  That is to engage in discourse throughout each stage of the project instead of dividing the work to be done and completing it individually.  

Before departing for Santiago, I was asked what I was most looking forward to about my stay.  I said lots of things, like being in a new place to learn about its culture and reflect on my own,  getting a chance navigate life abroad and to leave amy regular life behind for a while, meeting new people, practicing my Spanish. . . check, check, check. 

Also before leaving, I told a good friend how I was nervous about pulling off my inquiry project.  She reminded me that I would learn many things along the way about education and life.  Perhaps most important, she advised, going to be able to be recharged and refreshed from a break from teaching while still developing professionally.  She was right. 

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

High and Dry in the Atacama Desert. But in a good way!

No, not Lawrence of Arabia, it's Anton!
December 8th is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception and a national holiday here in Chile.  Since it fell on a Tuesday this year, Monday the 7th was given as a sandwich holiday.  Since I turned 33 on the 6th, Anton and I took advantage and headed to the highly boasted about San Pedro de Atacama. Honestly I hadn't heard about it before being in Chile.  Everyone here has told me it´s a must visit, and it didn't disappoint.  I´m surprised it isn´t more well known in the States, as it has magnificent natural wonders and tourists from around the world.   It´s also record breaker as it's 2000 meters above sea level and the world's driest desert.

Caracoles, the main drag. Named after the Caracoles mine since workers would walk down this street to work.
It´s about a two hour flight to Calama and then an hour bus ride to San Pedro.  There is nothing to see but desert for the entire ride.  It´s not desert like what I would imagine African deserts to be nor like the desert I´ve seen in the Southwest of the US.  It was something all it´s own, crazy different and beautiful.  The small town of San Pedro is the oasis of this immense desert and the tourist hub,  with only about 2,000 non-tourist inhabitants.  The dusty streets consist of hostels, tour agencies, restaurants and artisan gift shops.  The north of Chile used to be part of Peru before the War of the Pacific.  Atacama and Peru have some descendants and handicrafts in common.

We arrived and realized the hostel we booked was on the outskirts of the town, next to the highway but with a great view of the towering Licancabur Volcano and it was just a short walk to the center.  Just the right amount of time for digestive walks after meals.  There are three mountain ranges in the area, the Andes, the Salt Mountains and the Doymeko which can be seen from different parts of town.

For dinner on the first night, we had great food and delicious drinks.  There are pisco sours all over Chile but in San Pedro they can be made with desert herbs like rika-rika, yum! To allow ourselves to adjust to the altitude, we spend our first morning strolling around town shopping for tours and relaxing in the town plaza.  It reminded me a lot of the piazzas in small town Italy minus the toursts.  It was a lovely public space for strolling, people watching, events and ice cream. That evening we went to Lagunas Cejar, Ojos de Salar, and another lagoon to watch the sunset.  The first stop was a lagoon with 30% salt content.  It was like swimming in the Dead Sea, or so we were told.  We walked past the rocky salt shore to the lagoon's center which is MUCH deeper.  It was somewhat eerie since it was like jumping off a cliff except one that was filled with salty water.  It was effortless to float and easy to be vertical in the water.

There is an abundance of tourist agencies that offer the same tour options for different sights in the area and it can be daunting to choose which one to go with. We lucked out with Roberto, a passionate, energetic and patient tour guide for two of our tours.  On day 2, we went on a tour of lakes in the high plains, about 4000 meters up.  First we stopped at a lagoon that is a flamingo reserve and learned lots of neat facts about the different breeds.  They eat a kilo of brine shrimp a day, and the men age more severely than the lady flamingos, they turn white when past breeding age. I didn´t even know they could fly, but we saw some in flight and learned engineers use biomimicry in airplanes to recreate their flight abilities.

That evening we went to space camp.  Not really, but we did go on amazing visit to an observatory and hear an astronomer talk about the stars as well as get to look through ten different telescopes.  Even without the talk, the stars were incredible.  You didn´t even have to look up since there were no tall buidlings.  The starts were all around us.  Not a bad way to spend a birthday.  Because there is very little humidity and light pollution, there is actually quite a bit of astronomical research that happens in the Atacama, including ALMA.

On day 3, we headed out again with Roberto, and 27 other tourists, to the Geysers del Tatio.  The third largest and highest geothermal field in the world.  It was spectacular.

Another highlight of the weekend was sleeping.  Sounds silly but it was so relaxing to sleep on the tour buses vibrating with the bumpy roads with the sum beaming in the windows as they drove from sight to sight.  Napping was a necessity after the early wake ups to visit the sights and with the fatigue brought on by the heat and high altitude. A lowlight, and a conflict of visiting any popular sight, is dealing with the throngs of tourists and the invention of the selfie stick.  I, myself love to commemorate occasions and try to capture the beautiful views to treasure and share.  However I don't go to the extreme that some do, pretending they are supermodels at a photo shoot.  Por ejemplo, Anton and I were trying to enjoy one particular geyser and were asked to move over because we were in someone´s photo.  We obliged and slid over. Not two minutes later we were approached yet again by another lady asking us to move back in the direction we were just in because we were in her photo.  Good grief!

My favorite, and our last visit, was to the Valle de la Luna, a place unlike one I had even been before.  It was if the Badlands National Park, the Sahara, the Moon, and a salt flat procreated together. There was different and awe striking landscape every where you look.  I was most impressed with the massive sand dunes.  I love when nature takes my breath away, helps you understand the order of things.

It is great to return "home" to Santiago, if only for just  few more weeks.