Sunday, October 19, 2014

¡Vamos a la playa! (We are going to the beach!)

Before I get too far into my excursions to the beaches, you need to know one very important word, that word would be: playa. Playa means beach in Spanish. So when I put "Playa Acapulco" it means Acapulco Beach. Good? Great!!
In the Viña del Mar-Valparaíso area there are many beaches that you can visit. Some of them are absolutely beautiful, others...well, not quite so much. Yesterday, I went on a tour with ISA (International Studies Abroad), the program that I came with to Chile for my study abroad experience. We visited four different beaches, all of which I will tell you about. I will also tell you about the three beaches that I visited previously (and are much closer/easier to get to).
So, let me start with the three that I previously visited: Playa Caleta Portales, Playa Caleta Abarca, and Playa Acapulco.
Playa Caleta Portales: At this beach you can find a restaurant, some public work out equipment, and a fish market. Also, if you walk a little ways (towards the Naval Academy - to your right if you are looking at the ocean), you can find a statue that was once part of Easter Island (which is really expensive to visit) and some other good sights to see. To get to this beach, I recommend using the metro system. You need to get off at the Portales Station and it'll be right there. Very easy to get to.

Playa Caleta Abarca: You can also find a restaurant at this beach, but since it is in Viña del Mar, you will not find a fish market here (that is a Valparaíso thing). I enjoy visiting this beach, especially since it is so close to where I am staying for the semester. To get to this location, I have two very easy ways to get here, it just depends on where you are staying and if you feel like walking a bit or not. You can either take a micro (bus) to the Reloj de Flores (flower clock) and walk from there, which is very quick. Or, the way that I usually go, is by metro. You just have to get off at the Miramar station, go out the larger exit (this station is underground), and keep walking until you hit water. This way will also take you past the Reloj de Flores (which is something that you should visit, but we will cover that another time).
Playa Acapulco: This is one of my favorites, but more for the artisan stands than the beach atmosphere. At this beach, there are lots of things to see and do. All along this beach there are stands of different artisans. They have scarves, drink glasses, magnets, posters, and street art (the spray paint art is my favorite). The majority of the things here are very cheap and good for tourist shopping. You can also find a couple of churro places (absolutely delicious) and an ice cream place (supposedly the best in Chile). Of course, there is a restaurant or two (there is usually at least one, I have yet to find a beach without one). To get to this place you should take a micro to the Mall in Viña del Mar, then walk towards the ocean (crossing Libertad then 1 Poniente).

And finally, the four beaches that I visited yesterday: Roca Oceánica (not really a beach, but a beautiful view of the coast), Con-con, Horcón, and Zapallar.
Roca Oceánica: As I said earlier, this one is not really a beach. It is a giant collection of rocks that makes for a beautiful view of the coast. It is a great place to go and sit for the day and enjoy the sun and the water (without getting wet).
Con-con: This beach is usually super crowded with the surfer types, so if you like to surf, go here. I believe they have surf boards that you can rent for the day, there may even be a place to buy your own if that's what you prefer to do. Also, on the weekends, they have horses that you can ride along the little creek that runs out to the ocean. It's a nice, calm ride and only 3,000 CHP (about 6 USD). It's about a half hour. Definitely something fun to do while you're there. Just remember, this beach is very crowed almost always, so if you want a beach to yourself (or pretty darn close), don't go to Con-con.

Horcón: This beach is a little more like a cove than anything else. This area is primarily a fishing area. You can go to any of the many restaurants for some good, fresh sea food empanadas and soups. They also have vegetarian options if you do not like/eat sea food. This area has and artisan shopping area as well, although not as nice as the one at Playa Acapulco. Just a piece of advice: if you do not speak Spanish, do not go to this area, unless you don't mind cat-calls. We were all told to watch our bags in this area as well, so be careful. It's a nice place, just have to be cautious.

Zapallar: This beach is definitely my favorite. It is a little more private that the rest of the beaches, is surrounded by mountains and grand houses (of politicians, artists, and foreigners). Although it is very beautiful, I would not recommend getting in the water unless you know how to swim very well. The waves are absolutely huge, which means the pull that they have when they regress back to the ocean is very strong. It is very easy to get pulled under, so be careful. Go in groups so you can watch each others' backs. On the upside, the atmosphere is much more friendly than at Horcón.
At every beach you can find some kind of restaurant and usually a street vendor or two that has candy, water, kites, and other basics. Please take time to visit all of these places so that you can find your favorite. They are all very beautiful in their own ways, just remember to be careful and go with a group.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Places to Go in Valparaíso

This is the view of Valparaíso from the top of Cerro Alegre
Valparaíso is a grand city with a lot to offer visitors. There are some touristic areas that are wonderful to visit. These places are very safe and some vendors speak English to help assist the tourists, although their English tends to be quite basic (just what they need to know to sell products) and usually has a heavy chilean accent.
The blue building in the back is the
 Armada at the Plaza Sotomayor
Anyhow, the places that I recommend are along the farther end of the city. Well, it's far to me since I live in Viña, but the reality is that it's more like the middle of the city. If you take Metro Valparaíso, you will always ride it in Direction Puerto because you will be getting off at the Puerto Station. When you leave the station, if you look around, you will notice that on one side there is the ocean and on the other side is a plaza. This is Plaza Sotomayor. It has office buildings, cafés and the Armada (Naval building). This is a great place to take some pictures and enjoy some good coffee. There is also a tour that starts here twice a day every day. It is called Tours 4 Tips. You can either go at 10am or 3pm. It is about a 3 hour walk around the area with historical facts about Valparaíso. It is all in English, and I recommend doing it. It takes you to Cerro Alegre, Cerro Concepción, Cerro Bellavista and the port. Which are all places that I suggest visiting.
This is the acensor/funicular/elevator that
you would take to get to the top of Cerro
Alegre to see the view of the picture at the
top of this entry.
Cerro Alegre and Cerro Concepción are very close together and are very good for tourist visits. These hills (cerros) mainly consisted of foreigners when they started building. They are filled with beautiful graffiti and houses. If you go to Plaza Sotomayor, looking at the Armada building, walk towards it and head to the left. You will see a funicular/acensor/elevator that is usually working that you can take to the top and walk around to view the hill. At the top is a great view of Valparaíso and the port. Absolutely beautiful.
Palacio Baburizza (Museum
on Cerro Alegre)

As I said in my last blog, you can also find one of Pablo Neruda's houses in Valparaíso. It is in Cerro Bellavista, pretty darn close to the top. Cerro Bellavista also contains some of the Free Air Museum, which is a walking tour of graffiti that was paid for to try to beautify the city and stop the buildings form being tagged, which is very common in Chile. I recommend trying to at least see a few of these master pieces because they are absolutely incredible.

One of my favorite pieces of graffiti that is part of the Free Air Museum.
If you are not feeling so confident in doing this on your own or with a couple of friends, please take the Tour 4 Tips. The average tip is 5000-10000 Chilean Pesos (10-20 USD) for this wonderful tour. This tour also exists in Santiago, starting at the Plaza de Armas. The Santiago tours are also at 10am and 3pm, but the tours are different. If you use the Metrored (there are several lines, use the Red one for this), you would get off at the station Universidad de Chile, after that, just ask where the Plaza de Armas is, and head that way. I have not taken this tour, but I'm sure it is just as wonderful as the one in Valparaíso and I recommend doing as many tours as you can, especially if you want to learn about Chile's history and you don't have much time here.

View of Vaparaíso from the water.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Pablo Neruda

Chile was once home to the famous poet Pablo Neruda. He is well known for his love poems, but of course there is so much more than that. He was very politically active, especially during the dictatorship of Pinochet, but we won't get too deep into that. After his death, his homes eventually became museums and you can visit them whenever you please (minus Mondays, all of the museums in Chile are closed on Mondays). He had three homes, one for each wife (he was married three times and divorced twice, just for the record).

Neruda has a very strong history here in Chile. Visiting his houses is highly recommended. Within each house, you can take a tour and enjoy all of the nic-nacs that Neruda enjoyed collecting during his life time. There are also little gift shops inside that sell his books, poems, and other items with his poetry, picture, famous quotes on them.

La Chascona - Santiago

La Isla Negra - Out side of the house, over looking the ocean (it would be to the right way off of this photo) is where the remains of Pablo Neruda are buried. And, contrary to the name, it is neither on an island nor is the house black. But, when visiting this site, it is fairly isolated from the rest of the area and the rocks and sand on the beach bellow are black. Making it "the black island".

La Sebastiana - Valparaíso

Monday, September 29, 2014

Places to go in Santiago

Santiago, Chile. The capital, and the place you will fly into and out of for pretty much all flights throughout the country and outside of it. Being the capital, there are many interesting places to visit. There is so much history within this booming city that you need quite a few days to take it all in. The ISA group stayed there for a few nights for orientation, I revisited it when my mom can to see me, and I went back again just a couple of days ago (again with ISA). I hope this gives me enough things to tell you about so that you can have a wonderful time touring this grand city, at least for a couple of days.
First of all, you definitely have to visit Cerro San Cristobal. It is one of the most religious places in the country, the Pope even had a mass service at this site. There is the statue of the Virgin Mary at the top of the hill. Along the way you can stop at a church, gift shop, outdoor auditorium space, and much more. You can take a bus, walk, or, my favorite, take the funicular from the base all the way up to the top (well, close to the top). You can get off of the funicular half way up and walk through the zoo. When you get off at the top, there are some vendors with great Santiago memorabilia. This should be stop #1. You'll thank me for it later.

If you are feeling comfortable and confident, I would recommend at least stopping to look around the central market. It is mostly fish for sale, but you can also stop to eat at one of the many restaurants inside. Now, this is why you need to be comfortable and confident: the vendors can be a little forward, at least to people from the United States. the vendors have small print outs of menus and promos that they hand out. They also try to get you to come and sit in their restaurants. If you don't want to eat just yet, simply say no. You may have to say it a few times, but they will get it eventually.

On your way to Cerro San Cristobal, assuming you go by metro, or at least while touring the area, you will come across Patio Bellavista. In this little area, there are some small shops, a Starbucks, and many restaurants to choose from. things in the Patio are a little more expensive than most places, but it is still a nice place to stop and look around. There is also a little artisan market a couple blocks down the road. Things are a bit cheaper and most things are hand made. Both of these places can be found on the same street. When you get off of the funicular, just go to the road and walk straight away from the hill, do not turn. The street's name is Pio Nono.

If you are feeling like a history lesson, there are two places that you can go to learn about the dictatorship of Pinochet. I would suggest starting at El Museo de la Memoria. You can take a full tour of all three floors that tell you about the coup, life during the dictatorship, and how it ended. It is worth the visit as long as you have an interest in the topic. There are videos, photos, documents, and all kinds of propaganda from this period in Chile's history. You can also visit Villa Grimaldi (in the picture to the right). This was a site of torture and a holding area for prisoners. In the picture is the garden for the women who died or disappeared at this site. Villa Grimaldi also has a replicate of the cells that prisoners were held in, the original tower (which people very rarely returned from), and the pool that was used for torture and hiding prisoners when the Villa was under investigation. There is a room filled with pictures and personal items of people that were held there. This place has so much history and is absolutely beautiful, but enter at the risk of learning the dark side of Chile.
Last but certainly not least, you should visit the Cementerio General. Inside is a city of tombs. There are over two million people buried in this cemetery. People from the well known presidents to everyday people. There is also a section, Number 29, that used to be for the bodies with no names placed there during the dictatorship. When you visit this area, be sure to go with other people and keep track of all the turns that you make. It is literally a city and it is easy to get turned around in there.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

¿Dónde está el baño? (Where is the bathroom?)

So, contrary to the title, I am not actually telling you where all of the bathrooms are in Chile. I am actually going to tell a little bit more information about the bathrooms here. You already know about the used toilet paper in the trash can, so we will expand from there. Sound good? Great!!
First and foremost, why am I telling you about the bathrooms? It seems kind of like a silly thing and that in our naive little minds, we think that all bathrooms are the same in all countries. That is not true. Some people learn it the hard way. Others learn it by watching others learn it the hard way. Also, my dearest mother, who came to visit me over the last week, pointed out that I should make a blog about the differences so that travelers and studiers alike would not get confused or end up in a stale without any toilet paper (to throw in the trash cans).
So, what is there to know? There's actually quite a bit. First of all, just because it's a public bathroom does not mean that it is a free bathroom. Some people make you pay to use it, others make you pay to use the toilet paper (in which case you should carry tissues on you at all times, just in case). It's not usually much, usually starting somewhere around 200 chilean pesos (about 40 cents). The price usually depends on how much toilet paper you need/want.
Next, there aren't always public bathrooms. In the US it is common to see one in public places, like a mall or in a park. Of course, you can always pop into a restaurant, buy a water, and stop to use the bathroom before leaving. But not all restaurants have bathrooms for customers and not all public areas have super easy to find bathrooms. Hence the title of the blog. If you don't know much Spanish, but you want to go to a Spanish speaking country, that is a very important sentence to know how to say. So if you can't find a public bathroom, or one in a restaurant, or the mall, just ask "¿dónde está el baño?"

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Terms of Endearment

Everywhere you go you will hear terms of endearment. Common ones in the US are: honey, baby, sweetie (pie), etc. As many Chileans say, they are not quite so politically correct here, and that includes terms of endearment. So what do they say and what does it mean? I'm glad you asked! Here are some terms that they say and their translation:

  • Chino/a/ito/ita: 
    • Of asian decent (no distinction between the different oriental countries)
  • Negro/a/ito/ita:
    • Of african decent
  • Gordito/a:
    • Chubby/fatty
  • Guatón:
    • Chubby/fatty
  • Gringo/a:
    • From the United States
  • Mi hijo/a:
    • My child
  • Mi niño/a
    • My child
There are many more for sure, but these are the most common ones used. They are not meant to offend anyone, simply to describe your appearance (or the opposite). For example: If you are fairly thin/fit, they may call you gordito/a. Almost like a joke or sarcasm. They will use the same term if you are not quite so thin/fit. Please do not take offense to these terms. Chileans mean well when they call you by one of these words. It is their way of welcoming you into their homes and their hearts. 

Friday, September 5, 2014

Chilean Pesos and Currency Exchange Rate

So if you have been following along, you will know that the last post I made was also about money and how to budget. This entry is about what the money looks like, and how to quickly convert it to US dollars. I will also put the exact conversion, but for budgeting purposes, I recommend using the quick conversion. It will allow for a little more wiggle room in your budget (you will see why in just a minute).
So, let's start with the coins. You will see one, ten, 50, 100, and 500 peso coins.
One peso = 1/5 of a cent. (.17 of a cent)
Ten pesos = two cents. (two cents)
50 pesos = ten cents. (nine cents)
100 pesos = twenty cents (there are two different coins used for the one-hundred peso, both coins are displayed). (17 cents)
500 pesos = one dollar. (85 cents)

Next, paper money. There is a 1000, 2000, 5000, 10000, and 20000 peso bill.
1000 pesos = two dollars. ($1.70)
2000 pesos = four dollars. ($3.41)
5000 pesos = ten dollars. ($8.52)
10000 pesos = 20 dollars. ($17.04)
20000 pesos = 40 dollars. ($34.08)

As you can see, the quick conversion is much cleaner looking than the actual amounts, and it gives you some room for budget adjustments later on. So, how do you get the quick conversion of Chilean Pesos (CHP) to US Dollars (USD)? Super simple. Let's say you're shopping at Jumbo, the supermarket. You've just gotten into the check out lane, everything is bagged, and they give you the total owed. It looks something like "19.950" (they use periods in place of comas and vice versa when it comes to numbers). You can either round that up as say it's 20000 CHP and almost 40 USD or if you leave the period where it is and use it as a decimal point, take the number you have and double it. So 19.950 CHP becomes 39.90 USD. Obviously, it is not exactly equivalent, but it is close and quick enough for you to use when you are on the go. You don't even have to be "good" at math to be able to do this little trick.