On Thursday afternoon, Dania, Yoe (two of my best friends here that I met through running), and I went to Valparaiso to spend some time together in the city. It was a wonderful afternoon, full of laughing and delicious foods, and, as I realized when I was describing the day to one of my friends, a great way to explain a bit more about where I live.
Valparaiso: Our original plan was to meet up at around 1pm outside of Estacion Puerto. I arrived in metro a couple minutes early; Dania and Yoe arrived in Micro about half an hour late.
BREAK IT DOWN NOW-There is only one metro line here, and it runs from the port in Valparaiso all the way to Limache. I’ve never ridden the whole line, but my guess is that it would take around an hour and a half. Santiago has a complex web of metro lines more like the ones in Boston or DC, but because there is the ocean on one side and hills on the other, the line here is limited to one little worm-like stretch. I’m fortunate enough to live really close to a metro station (about a three minutes walk), so I probably use it more than the average person. When I’m lucky (like this particular Thursday), I arrive at the station right before my metro arrives; those times I arrive at my destination on time. However other times, if I just miss the train, it can take up to 15 minutes for the next one, and I have no idea of this delay until I’ve already swiped my card. Those days I arrive Chilean style.
Punctuality is not usually important here, something I learned very quickly and adapted to shamefully well. To be early does not exist. To be on time is to be early. And to be late, well that’s normal and absolutely perfect.
As for the micros, they’re a whole system of crazy. There are some bus stops that look like what you’d expect, but that doesn’t mean that the micros will stop there or won’t stop in a different place. To catch one of the wild creatures, you have to flag it down by sticking your hand out like you’re waving. That part is not too bad. The complicated part is trying decide if the micro that’s barreling down the road is going to take you to where you want to go or not based off the little writing that’s on its windows. I’m good at getting home from both Vina and Valpo, and I can get to the places I usually go to, but whenever I need to go somewhere new...that’s a whole new battle for me. Also, micro drivers are crazy themselves. One night when I was coming home, I rode on a micro that was blasting music, breaking all speed limits, blowing through red lights, and arguing with other micro drivers about who got to pick up the customers. That same micro also almost squished a guy between another micro. Granted the normal ride is much more calm than that, it’s still a type of driving that I don’t think would be legal where I’m from. Everytime you pay the micro driver, they give you a little ticket which is usually worthless and a bothersome piece of garbage. However, in the event that the micro crashes, the little ticket will pay for whatever medical attention you need, and once somebody boarded my micro asking to see everybody's tickets (once..). As far as prices, I have a student metrocard which makes each of my trips less than half the normal price, but for the micros I pay the normal full amount. For local rides, that's about 300 pesos, or the equivalent of around 50 cents. Here's a picture of a micro. Notice the tiny little writing next to the 901...That's where this one is heading.
Back to Valparaiso: We greeted eachother and then set off on our adventure. Dania was the tourguide in this case, explaining the basic history of the city to both Yoe and I. I’ve heard the general story several times now, but I catch a little something more each time, and I don’t mind hearing the history again and again. We were going to go to a little cafe up on one of the hills but first the ascensor was closed, and then, after we climbed up all the steps, we were instructed to turn around and go right back down by a van full of cabaneros. With that option closed off, we headed towards another hill, climbed another similar set of stairs, and arrived at a beautiful vista point, overlooking the city, the same one I went to one of my first weeks here.
BIDN-Chileans greet friends and meet strangers with one cheek to cheek kiss (although some guys actually give you a kiss on the cheek and leave you sort of kissing the air). Sometimes, depending on the friendship level, there’s a quick hug like action accompanying the hello smooch too, but not always. Guys normally greet eachother with a handshake or a bro hug if their really good friends, although I do see the traditional cheek kissing occasionally; I’m not really sure of the rules as far as that goes. Then there’s the hey, how are you part which could either be “Como estas,” “Como estai,” “Que onda,” “Que tal,” or a variety of others (some of which are only used between VERY good friends).
Ascensors are something I’ve never seen before outside of Vina and Valparaiso. I believe at one time there were 16 working ascensors in Valparaiso, and although not all are still functioning, those that are are used daily by the people who live there and are much much more than antique artifacts. You basically enter in a little box with benches, and then thanks to the magic of the machines, the box moves up the railroad tracks, up the cerro. It takes about a minute and costs less than 25 cents, and I’m sure it is a prefered option for a lot of the people who live in Valparaiso. Currently the ascensors aren’t functioning due to a city wide protest. This means that not only did we have to take the stairs, but so does everybody else who lives in the area, including the handicapped and the elderly. On our way up this time, we passed a grandmotherly woman with her walker, slowly making her way up the same climb that had us three young, athletic girls out of breath. This country does like their protests, but stopping the ascensors is borderline dangerous for those who can’t take the steps. This is one of the ascensors, probably the most famous. Each box has an eye and so when the boxes are moving up and down, they meet in the middle for a second to look out over the city.
We arrived at the top only to turn around and head right back down at the orders of the Cabaneros or the Chilean Police. They all wear the same green suit, and their vans are green and white with flashing red lights. One time, when a Cabanero was helping me contact my host mother after my phone died, one of his superiors walked by. He stopped was he was doing and snapped to an attention stance until he was out of sight. Very orderly. Anyways, they instructed us to go back down because it was too dangerous where we were going. In Valparaiso, the general rule is the higher up you go in the hills, the more poverty there is, and the more likely it is you’ll be robbed. Past exchange students who have lived with my family have lost cameras and money up in the hills, in broad daylight and in crowds of people. There have been a couple cases of muggings and robberies this semester as well, although fortunately none that I’ve been the victim of.
Instead we went to a different cerro, one that’s much more tourist-friendly and thus also more secure, and began climbing those steps. One thing that there’s plenty of in these cities are stairs. Everywhere! They say the women who live in Valpo have some of the best legs because of all the stair climbing, and although I live in Vina, I still get my share in every day. Early on in the year I decided I would know I was in shape when I could make it up the set of stairs that leads up to my neighborhood without being out of breath; four months later I’ve decided that day will probably never come. Oh well. Most of the staircases are beautifully painted, some with poems, others with little motivational tips and others with just pretty colors.
Back to Valparaiso: After sufficient photos were taken, we ventured off to the Navy academy/museum that was close by. This time we didn’t go in, but that’s something I would like to do in the near future. We walked around a little bit more and around 2:30 headed off to get some lunch and ice cream, because as Dania put it “Guatita llena, corazon contento” (full stomach, happy heart).
BIDN-The Armada (Navy) is a big deal in Chile which makes sense considering its geographical characteristics. It’s normal to see members of the Armada either running up and down the shore in t-shirts that say Armada or walking around the city in full uniform, and there are almost always anywhere between one and five enormous Aramda boats in the bay. The only National Holiday to recall a military feat commemorates Arturo Prat, for his exceptional heroism in the Naval Battle of Iquique on May 21st, 1879.
As far as meals, 2:30 is a pretty average time for lunch, and it’s generally the biggest meal of the day. My family usually does not eat this meal together during the week because we all have different afternoon schedules, but on the weekends, we set the fancy dining table and all sit down together for a feast. On this day, we had empanadas with a little shot of wine and then ice cream. Empanadas are just as popular here as they're made out to be, especially during the week long independence celebration and when walking around the city. The most common type is called Pino, and it has meat, onions, egg and an olive, but I prefer the Napolitana which has tomatoes, cheese, ham and oregano, the Concon ones with crab and cheese, or simply the plain cheese one. YUM! People here rarely eat when they’re walking in the streets, except for ice cream. On the hotttttt days, everybody seems to have either a cone or ice cream on a stick or some sort of ice cream sandwich. We ordered a big bowl of ice cream at a sit down restaurant to eat, and boy o boy was it good. The ice cream here is different, a little more gelato like, but not quite as richly flavored. It’s hard to explain, but none the less, it’s delicious.
And finally, the saying Dania said. For those who have studied Spanish before, you might not recognize the word guatita or guagua. That’s because it’s a Chilenismo. I think the only thing that exists more in this country than street dogs is modismos. Every time the conversation topic of languages come up, Chileans always comment how they talk really fast and use a bucket loads of words that are specific to this country. My favorite example for now is “Vamo no maahpo weon” (vamos no mas ‘dude’ or lets go!). They drop the letter s in a lot of words, use weon in a sometimes sentencely basis, and throw a po on the end of a variety of different words. Po comes from the word pues, and I hear it all the time in siipo, yaaapo (a good “yeahhh whatever” kind of phrase) and nopo, although it can be thrown in anywhere really. There’s definitely a difference between Spanish and Chilean Spanish, enough that sometimes the Mexicans here get confused (que es una frutilla??-ohh una fresa..) and my grammar teacher promises that once we understand everything here, we’ll be able to understand Spanish almost anywhere in the world (because they all speak better than Chileans).
And that was my afternoon as well as a little peek into what it's like to be living in Vina/Valparaiso. If you guys have any questions about my experience, the cities, the country or whatever else, let me know please :)