Monthly Archives: January 2014

Days Designed for Dawdling in Chile’s 4th Region

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We took to the beach over the holidays, hitting La Serena first. It’s about a 5 hour drive north of the capital passing through scrub-covered, dusty mountains as you near the coast. I knew little about the place before we arrived, and I was pleasantly surprised. It is quite serene, as its name suggests. But there are plenty of things to do, buildings and churches to look at in the city center and long stretches of beach. It was jellyfish time. Fried cheese-filled seafood empanadas abound. DSC_0037DSC_0024DSC_0003

This bookmobile serves as a bringer of literature as well as a place to stay for its owner. We found him reading outside on a Sunday so the shop was closed, but he let me snap photos inside anyhow. What a great life plan!

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I found this ad posted on a wall in the plaza for a Santa Claus in case anyone is running low in the jolly big guy department. I admire his business sense.

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The next town south of La Serena – 25 minutes drive – on the seashore is Coquimbo. The number of bars with live music is surprising, the drinks strong and the people friendly. Head to Tongoy during the day if you want to see multicolored beach houses sitting below the high hills with a host of restaurants to choose from lining the shore. A properly made pisco sour here will give your sunny afternoon an extra glow. The waters at this latitude are apt for dipping.

After several sleepy, sandy beachy days we moved inland to the Valle de Elqui, Elqui Valley, where Chilean pisco is made. It is a grape brandy only found in Perú and Chile. Everywhere you look the valleys are laden with sweet, pisco grapes. Their sugar content is increased by the powerful sun striking the hills.

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We stayed here at a place called El Refugio Alma Zen, a play on words. Almacen, or store, is what it sounds like. But written as it is means zen or peaceful soul. Technically it’s located in Cochiguaz. They have newly built small apartments on the top of the hill near the pool, as well as a few larger houses or domes down below by the river. Cop a squat by the river with a book or snag the hammock. The rest of the noisy world melts away here, cheesy as that may sound. Get yourself a good brain cleanse in these here hills. If you stop by, go to the pool at night and stare at the 3D star show. It’s one of those things I just don’t see enough of. “When you see the southern cross for the first time, you understand why you came this way.” Every time I see it I think of that Crosby, Stills and Nash song.

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While you’re in the pisco valley, there is an interesting tour at the Fundo los Nicho artisanal distillery, the oldest in Chile. You’ll learn about the pisco making process, the history of the distillery and the founding family. The patriarch used to host friends in the basement, men only. They built “niches” (hence los nichos) that looked like acrosolia to age the sweet wine in the cellar. The friends decided to “claim” a niche to house their remains after they died, so committed were they to their fraternity. Each one has a witty rhyme explaining the man’s alcohol-infused life and death. I can imagine the shenanigans that went on down there.

DSC_0222 DSC_0200DSC_0207 DSC_0211 DSC_0215As you can see, it’s a prize-winning pisco. I am not a big fan of pisco, well, I wasn’t before this. The craft that goes into this smooth and delicate liquor is notable. Pisco sour with freshly grated ginger is a distinctive pleasure. The prices are incredible as well. The price ranges from six to ten dollars. No joke. They also bottle a sweet, red wine if that’s your thing.

The Pueblo de Artesanos de Horcón is not to be confused with the coastal town of Horcón. This place is a peaceful craft oasis along the road side, just a ways down from Los Nichos. People rent out little spaces in the roomy woven huts to sell their wares; jewelry, food, home decorations, clothing, etcetera. It’s a great place to steal ideas about making recycled crafts.

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We had ten fantastic days here, a medium hop from Santiago. The Fourth Region is sleepy in places, a bit rowdier in others but there is never any hurry.

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Apartment Hunt

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UPDATE: There are many websites in Chile to find somewhere to live (Vendebien, Trovit, Emol, Portalinmobiliario, Yapo, Mercadolibre, Bienesonline, etc.) and they are mostly legit advertisers posting, but the site itself does not vouch for the veracity of the ads. After searching so many I’ve noticed a couple of advertisements that repeat themselves, but with some detail changes. Overall they show absolutely gorgeous, furnished apartments for a really low price. These are scams! Don’t transfer anyone money to Chile sight unseen or without having real data on them. Some swindle artists bank on someone’s trusting nature or desire to have a place to land immediately. Here is one example:

“Magnifico piso en zona privilegiada y emblemática en el centro de la ciudad. Acabados de exquisito gusto cocina totalmente equipada y amueblada con muebles de diseño office independiente lavandería trasero y parking. El apartamento dispone de puerta blindada, sistema de alarma, aire acondicionado frío / calor, doble acristalamiento, suelos de parquet en todas las habitaciones, eléctricas e instalaciones sanitarias en perfecto estado y parking.
Estratégicamente ubicado, a 150 metros del metro (estación de metro Francisco Bilbao) y el transporte público, a una cuadra de Las Condes y 2 cuadra de Ñuñoa.”

What is wrong with this? They give no contact information beyond an email address. Most people here still do business by phone. It includes no information on gastos comunes or how to actually go about renting the place. A real ad will usually say it is being rented by the owner (no commission) or an agency (usally 50% of one month rent as commission), 1 or 2 months as a deposit, “liquidaciones de sueldo” to show how much money you make, clean DICOM meaning your credit report is fine, etc. There is never NO information of this kind. Furthermore, it is impossible to be located near the Bilbao train and be 1 block from Las Condes and two from Ñuñoa, as they are two distinct and spacious neighborhoods that don’t even touch. It also calls the rental an “apartamento” which is used in other Spanish speaking countries, but in Chile they are called “departamentos”. Yeah, it’s weird and sounds like a department store but that’s the term used. This ad poster could really be anywhere for all we know. Lastly, the list price for this was about 400 dollars, but with all that bling included I’ve be shocked to find this truly for under 1,000 dollars (500,000 pesos) per month. As I said, the ad was posted on about 9 sites with no phone number. One site requires users to include a phone number so I called the one posted – not a real number. This ad is total B.S.

I recommend you get here and stay in a hostel for a week or so to look for a place. If you do line something up in a shared space ahead of time, that usually works, but don’t transfer ANY money until you are in person. This is a handy means to part ways with your cash and the asswipes continue to get rich while providing no service to society. If you have any questions, ask. I’ll be happy to help where I can.

Time to report the fake ads. Deseas denunciar este aviso como fraude? Yes ma’am.

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I’m on the lookout for a new place to live, and it occurred to me to put a little note on here for anyone searching for a place in Santiago, Chile. Craigslist is a good site to find rooms to share or fully furnished apartments for shorter terms. If that’s what you need, great. But if you will be in Chile a bit longer, bear in mind that any ads you find in English will have the Gringo Tax included. This means the price for those living spaces are hyper inflated; at least 3 to 5 times what they are worth. Look for ads in Spanish. If you don’t speak Spanish, find a bilingual friend or hire someone to help you. It will save you a lot of money. Look in printed newspapers and online, or even check the ad spaces near the door at a grocery store. Maybe you’re the crazy type and don’t care what you pay for a place to live. Well, then you’d be encouraging these people to keep up the rapery. Find a place at a decent price and donate your savings to someone else in need.

Another thing to think about are gastos comunes, or shared expenses [water, hallway/rooftop lighting, gym or pool, door guys]. If you rent an apartment [not a house], this is likely an additional fee that you have to consider. In my current building I pay about 35 bucks a month for this, as I have no pool or gym. If you rent in a high-rise, expect to pay 150 USD per month or more. If you share an apartment, ask if the price includes these expenses or not.

Lastly, I should mention this apartment / house sharing website. You can offer space in your own place or find a room for rent. The cool thing about this is two-fold; you don’t have to worry about finding all the paperwork necessary to set up shop. You just find people you get along with and install yourself in an already functioning home. Additionally, if you came to Chile to learn Spanish as a lot of people do, you will find Spanish speakers to live with and your language skills will progress much more rapidly than living alone or with English speakers. I  recommend making sure there is a lock on your door. While the vast majority of people will be respectful of you and your things, there is always that shit-head out there ready to give everyone a bad name. Don’t tempt society’s scabs.

Happy hunting.

Love or Evangelicals

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People can believe what they want to believe. I think we all pretty much agree on that, as long as that belief doesn’t translate into violence or harm toward another. But what about proselytizing? Or as a former Evangelical has put it “Annoying people for Jesus”. We were in the plaza the other day in the center of La Serena, Chile, talking with a friend I haven’t seen in a year about some serious life realness, when a big ol’ band of folk marches through making a ruckus. The noise is apparently designed to get our attention with the ultimate goal being conversion. What a nice interlude. DSC_0011When they finally cleared the square, we picked up our conversation, no less converted than we had been. It seems to say, “Look at us. We’re so holy, and we have a lock on truth. Na-na na-na boo-boo.”  Super mature, and less than convincing. If I were the retaliatory type I’d knock on their doors at 4 AM and launch a diatribe about alien life and the multidimensional universe.

In Santiago at the Plaza de Armas, there is always a group there shouting over loudspeakers trying to theoretically bring people into the flock. There are artists and vendors, groups of friends and lovers all about the plaza. They go for a break or to peruse the wares, but not to find the lord. These mic’d folk are simply annoying. They don’t stop when there is an event in the square either. Frequently, groups from all over the world come to perform in live, public shows. Do they turn off their speakers and respectfully listen and let others enjoy, too? No. They turn the volume up louder! How do people who show such disdain for others and don’t know the meaning of the word ‘respect’ think they will convince people to join their group? It’s all just illogical to me.

The senate yesterday continued it’s debate on the Acuerdo de Vida en Pareja, which is basically a domestic partnership registry that would apply to homo, bi, a-, pan or hetero sexuals, romantic pairs or just friends – any two adults who want to join their financial futures together in order to have better prospects and a more solid foundation. Guess who was there to protest that? Oh, yes. The evangelicals are calling on us to come back to Jesus, as if this decision had anything to do with their church. 6 senators voted against; 28 in favor. The measure moves forward.