Sweeping: a Spanish thing?
May 23, 2010, 4:03 am
Filed under: chile, culture, mountains, south america, travel

Santuario de la Naturaleza del ArrayƔn

Originally uploaded by cobismith.

I’ve noticed that Chileans have a thing for sweeping. I have vague recollections of the same thing when I was in Seville, so my feeling is it’s more a Spanish culture thing than Chilean per se.

Everywhere there are people sweeping. When I look out from our balcony, maybe once in every three times I can see someone on another balcony, sweeping. Yet to where do they sweep? The balconies are contained. You can’t sweep stuff off the sides. And why? We’re on the 22nd floor, there are no leaves. No mud should be trekked in from the doorway as balconies are on the other side of the apartment.

In the parks people are sweeping. It’s autumn, there are gorgeous brown leaves everywhere. Except on the paths. The leaves are swept off to the side of the path, so they no longer crunch beneath our boots, rather they sit in sad, damp piles, decomposing. Sometimes they’re swept into Hessian sacks, which sit on the sides of paths all the same. Swept, but left lingering.

On the footpaths people sweep. Council workers with brooms, sweeping the same five square metres of pavement for half an hour. Perhaps it’s Zen, like raked rockeries in Japan. Perhaps it just keeps unemployment down.

When we were in the mountains I saw a woman sweeping outside the perimeter of her rickety house. You can see a photo on the right. How futile, sweeping an ocean of red dust! Why does she sweep?

I don’t want to conclude that people are just passing time; surely they sweep for a reason. Surely?


Arriba! (up!)
May 23, 2010, 3:50 am
Filed under: chile, environment, mountains, nature, south america, travel, video, water

On our first weekend in South America we departed Santiago to head into the foothills (footmountains?) of the Andes. It was a stunningly clear blue-sky day, as if the continent had washed its natural wonders in preparation for our visit.

This might horrify some readers who enjoy building a romantic picture of my travels in your mind, but rather than give you a detailed account of the day in writing I’m going to share a couple of videos.

I ate some fresh ginger before we departed upwards; my remedy of choice for motion sickness. Why pay money for a dried, powdered form of something you can get fresher and more potent from the market?

I find it easier going upwards than downwards for some reason, but for me the killer is going side to side.

Thankfully perhaps, my friend Emma who preserved some of my ABC broadcasts in Port Lincoln didn’t preserve the one in which I did a live cross from a tuna boat. It was all I could manage not to throw up on the microphone.

Either thanks to the ginger or the lack of sideways motion, or both, I was fine on the bus ride into the Andes. So fine in fact that I filmed some of it. Thanks to Sony’s image stabilisation technology it doesn’t actually look as horrific as it was, so if you’re game you can watch here:

Once we arrived Tim and I departed the group for a bit of a hike in the fresh morning air. It was such a relief to get some fresh air after a week in smoggy Santiago. Pine-scented air accompanied by the sound of cascading water was even better.

We had a fantastic lunch with some Chilean red wine organised by Expats in Chile, who even managed to cater for the vegan despite no prior notice. Then we ventured off again, the two of us, up a different trail.

The trails were divided by a river, so you needed to choose early on which side of the river you wanted to spend your trekking time. We tried both sides, but after starting our afternoon trek on the opposite side to the morning we realised the trail was now entirely in shadows.

The Andes looming over us meant that although it was 3 in the afternoon our walk of choice would have no more sunshine. So we decided to turn back and return to the river crossing, where we could opt instead to trek on a higher path that caught the afternoon sun.

On our way back we came across a smaller point in the river were a group of Chileans were crossing with children:

It was an impressive operation, but one I wasn’t game to try.

South Americans give brazen Aussies a run for their money.

Living under mountains
May 15, 2010, 11:51 pm
Filed under: travel


Originally uploaded by cobismith.

There’s something captivating about living under mountains. Here in Santiago, the mountains are shrouded in smog half of the time. Yesterday was such a day, but it rained last night.

Tim and I had been out at a bar with some new friends and walked home in the rain through the park around 1am. Here rain is a good omen, signalling that the next day will bring clearer skies and cleaner air. So I awoke and left Tim sleeping to venture out towards Cerro San Cristobel, in Santiago’s giant metropolitan park, for some photos.

We’re conventiently located within walking distance of the fine restaurants in Providencia, like El Huerto, where we went for dinner last night, the bustling nightlife of Bellavista and the funky designer shops around Lastarria. I find the names of these suburbs in Santiago as charming as their streets.

However the highway at the base of our building is an unfortunate distraction. If we move back to Santiago later in the year, when the worst of the smog season is over, I think we’ll move to the tiny suburb of Lastarria or nearby Bellas Artes, aptly named with its many galleries and museums. Alternatively we’ll move closer to Pedro de Valdivia in Providencia, among the wide, tree-lined boulevards filled with cafes and restaurants.

But all of those places are within 20 minutes walk from where we live now, so the Chilean consulate in Australia, who recommended I live around here, certainly gave good advice.

In a couple of weeks we’re moving up to Arica, at the northernmost tip of Chile, for two months. It’s cheaper up there, and warmer, with clean air and good surf. We’ll both work on our laptops and live cheaply for 2 months, with some side trips to the Atacama desert and Peru, before returning for a month of the very expensive snow season in central Chile, then perhaps skiing in Argentina for the start of Spring.

Budgets permitting… we’ll see how our international work goes over the next two months!

For now, I’m still enthralled by the breathtaking mountain views here in Santiago.

Right under my nose
May 3, 2010, 3:16 pm
Filed under: chile, culture, food, santiago, south america, travel

Parque Balmaceda

Originally uploaded by cobismith.

We’ve spent the week exploring our local neighbourhoods, Providencia and Bellavista. It’s a ten minute walk half through park and half along highway (what a contrast) to the hubs of both neighbourhoods, in either direction.

On our first morning in Providencia we stumbled unexpectedly upon the local market, where they sold all the fruit and vegetables I could imagine, along with several I’ve never imagined before. We’ve become fond of a fruit that sits alongside the apples in supermarkets but is more like a small melon. It’s mottled white and green on the outside but on the inside is like a small, but sweeter, honeydew melon.

I love the way they handle pumpkins here. Rather than sell pre-wrapped portions, or opt for some dwarf variety, most market stalls and even supermarkets have one giant pumpkin. A customer asks for however much pumpkin’s desired and the grocer lops a chunk off with a giant knife there and then.

There’s also a bewildering array of grains and pulses. I was thrilled to get a bag of quinoa for about a dollar at the market, given that it’s typically several times that at health food stores in Australia. They also have puffed and honeyed amaranth as a breakfast option.

South America is lucky to have these excellent, whole-protein grains to call their own. So it could be a health food paradise – except fast food chains probably have more of a grip on the local population than traditional staples. As well as the typical Macdonalds and KFC there’s a fast-food chain called Schopdog, which sells hotdogs and revels in United States kitsch. Here in Chile guacamole comes with everything; hotdogs are no exception.

Guacamole or avocado salsa comes with everything because avocados are abundant. Tim was thrilled to discover you can buy them for a dollar fifty a kilo at the supermarket. Given we use avocado instead of butter (especially with vegemite on toast – try it!), having this staple so readily available is a one of those little things that make living in Chile worthwhile.

They eat late here, with breakfast nearly non-existant and lunch the main meal after 2pm. This took a few days to get used to, and one day we were hungry at 1:30pm after wandering since 11. We were in the heart of Providencia’s restaurant area but everywhere we asked said they didn’t start serving until 2. We resigned ourselves to eating at home, so walked back to our apartment with growling stomachs, imagining what we’d concoct with what remained in the fridge.

We reached the base of our apartment building and, still in the spirit of wandering, peered down the lane alongside. It was filled with upmarket cafes! Somehow we’d missed this every time we’d left and returned from the apartment thus far, as from the street the lane looks like it could be just a service entrance. I blame the jetlag on our lack of attention to detail.

Fortuitously it had just passed 2, so there was food and service galore. We sat down at a table where we could bask in the afternoon sun, where I had a vegetarian pizza (which was average, but I was hungry enough not to care) and Tim had a tofu and betroot salad, which was excellent. We also had fresh mint and pear juices served in beer glasses, which was a delightful combination I intend to repeat at home.

The best value vegetarian food we’ve found so far turned out to be right under our noses.