Saturday, January 30, 2010

New Year's in Santiago

After returning to Santiago from Puerto Varas, we went sightseeing around the city. Santiago is very different from Asuncion, in that its much, much larger, and a more modern city. It is also surrounded by the wonderful Andes MountainsSantiago has a wonderful metro system (which we used quite extensively), neighborhood parks and a great road system. The city also has tons of history, from being almost the southern tip of the Incan Empire, to being just south of the location of the Chilean battle for independence.

We started our exploration of the city by heading towards Cerro Santa Lucia (cerro means hill). The city has two different hills, Santa Lucia and San Cristobal, that are used to give directions.
We climbed up to Santa Lucia to see this statue of the Virgin Mary. The view of the city was absolutely amazing.
The next day we walked downtown to see the sites. Downtown Santiago reminded me a lot of European cities in the layout of the city. There were a couple of pedestrian only walkways, with sidewalk cafes and in the Plaza des Armas, there were lots of artists selling their paintings. After some time of discussion, I was able to convince Jesse to purchase one.
Then came New Year's Eve. Fellow teachers at our school, Shauna and Derek, were in Santiago as well, so we went to their hotel roof to watch the fireworks. Fireworks were going off in three different locations around the city, and we were able to see all of them at the same time. It was pretty sweet!

Our final day in Santiago, we went down to the presidential palace. We stumbled across a museum exhibit about the terracotta soldiers from China and decided to look in. It was packed with families and Chileans' enjoying the exhibit. It wasn't a museum on anything Chilean, but it was something we were interested in, and we enjoyed seeing the real soldiers.
Presidential Palace.
Terracotta soldiers on loan from a museum in China.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Christmas in Valparaiso, Chile

After arriving back from Easter Island, we headed to the coast to celebrate Christmas. We rented an apartment for the time there, so that we would have the freedom of cooking our own meals and celebrating in our own way.

The view from our apartment window- oceanview!!
Valparaiso is a town about 2 1/2 hours away from Santiago, on the coast. It was the main port town of Chile and therefore, has a strong fishing, sailing, boating culture. It is also built on a hill, so the views were incredible! One of the highlights of Valpo (short for Valparaiso) is the fish market. Since it was Jesse's birthday, and he has an affinity for seafood, we headed there for his birthday lunch.

It amazes me all the things that come out of the ocean that we eat. Razor clam, shrimp, sea squirt. All of these things are basically the vacuum cleaners of the ocean, and yet we eat them. Here is Jesse's lunch, a sort of cheesy mixture of all things seafood.
Valpo, since it is no longer in its seaport heyday, has reinvented itself into the culture center of Chile. One of ways the cultural people of Valpo have started expressing themselves is in the use of murals. Murals are everywhere around the city. Some might call them graffiti, but most were absolutely beautiful works of art. They actually have designed one part of the city, with some beautiful murals, an Open Air Museum (Museo de Cielo Abierto).
The city also has many elevators, called ascensores, that you can ride instead of walking up and down the hillside. Most were made in the early 1900's, but are still working today.
On Christmas Day itself, we actually headed over to Vina del Mar, which is a neighboring town of Valpo's. Some of our friends from school, Shauna (my neighbor), Derek, and Adam were spending Christmas there, and we decided to spend Christmas together. Vina has the most popular beach in Chile, so of course, we headed there. The beach was really, really crowded, and the water was really, really cold! Having spent the last few years in the warm waters of the Caribbean, I just couldn't handle the cold Pacific. Here is Caitlin, Shauna, and myself enjoying the sunshine.
To celebrate a wonderful Christmas together, we all headed to a local Mexican restaurant and ate dinner together.
Starting on Christmas day, a forest fire just west of Valpo and Vina started. This resulted in on the 26th, a cloud of ash descended on the city. For most of the day, we were getting rained on by ash, which wasn't the most comfortable for sightseeing, although it lent itself to some wonderful photo opportunities. The photo below wasn't doctored in any way, the amazing color resulted from the ash cloud from the forest fire.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Easter Island- Day 2 Tongariki

After visiting the rock quarry from the previous post, we walked a little ways down to see Tongariki, the most famous ahu (the platform where the moai were placed). This is the one from all the pictures- 15 moai, sitting beautifully against an ocean landscape. We could see Tongariki from the quarry first, so that's how we knew which direction to head.
This ahu was absolutely beautiful. We took tons and tons of pictures, and below are some of my favorites.

Can you see Jesse and me in the picture?

Here is Jesse, just so you can see how big these things really are.

The island of Rapa Nui (or Easter Island) is roughly 15 miles long and a little less than 8 miles wide at its widest part. We were thinking that doesn't sound so bad, so we hitchhiked our way around the island. It worked great for going towards the quarry (Rano Raraku) but it didn't work so well going back to the city of Hanga Roa. It seems that everyone was heading towards the beach (which was past the quarry) and no one was heading back to Hanga Roa! We ended up walking for, we guess, around 8 miles before getting picked up by a local truck.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Easter Island- History and part of Day 2

The native name for the island is called Rapa Nui, but its called Easter Island due to Captain Cook finding the island on Easter Sunday in 1774. Archaeologists haven't agreed when the native people came to the island from other Polynesian islands. Some say as early as 300-400AD and others say between 700-800AD. The native people came in canoes from Polynesian islands, therefore bringing some of their traditional culture with them. But, since they were so isolated (the closest island over 1,000 miles away), their culture changed over the course of the years.

They divided the island in 12 different chiefdoms, where each chiefdom had a certain resource that was needed for the entire island. One cheifdom had the rock quarry where the heads were carved, one had the red rock quarry where the pukao (the red hats) were quarried, one had the highlands where most of the food was grown, etc.

The building of the moai started with ancestor worship. Each head was made in the likeness of a dead chief or another important person from the island. Each head took over a year for 5 or 6 people to make. The heads are carved out of a quarry called Rano Raraku, in the center of the island, then they are moved to their location around the coast, but facing inward. Some anthropologists believe that the moai are faced inward so that they are looking after their descendants still living on the island.

The building of the moai didn't last very long. The resources needed for such a massive building enterprise weren't sustainable on such a small island. Once the island was deforested, there was no way of transporting the heads to their proper place on the coast, so the ancestor worship was giving up. Jesse will explain the culture/religion that took its place in a later post.

Even today, with large areas of the island re-forested, the island isn't sustainable, especially with all the tourism that takes place. The soil is volcanic, since the island is a volcanic island, and the nutrients of the soil were depleted. When Captain Cook found the island in 1774, most of the population was starving and was only 10-15% of what it was when they were building the moai. Most of the food consumed today is brought in from Chile and therefore is very expensive.

So, now enough with the history, here are some of our pictures.
The second moai that we found. This was is toppled over and Jesse is investigating the surroundings. Most of the moai had fallen over by the time that missionaries, arriving in the 1800's, started to take over the island. The missionaries' accounts of the island are where a lot of the information about the culture comes from.
In the quarry where the moai were carved from. Jesse is being attacked by one moai in this picture. There are tons of moai still stuck in the mountain, awaiting their final place by the sea, which makes archaeologists debate about the cause and the problems the people had to make them just desert their religious beliefs.

The moai below is still stuck in the volcanic face of the mountain. This moai is also one of the biggest moai on the island. Its over 100 feet long.
There was a path along the volcano where the quarry is and it leads to a beautiful crater lake.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Easter Island- Day 1

Before I start telling about the wonders that exist on Easter Island, I have to tell the tale of how we happened to end up going there for our vacation. It all started with an idea that spawned when our friends Alex and Caitlin, after getting their jobs in Ecuador, and us, getting our jobs in Paraguay, decided to spend this first Christmas holiday season together. It was the first Christmas that Jesse and myself haven't spent with family back in Wisconsin. So, after looking at flight prices for both couples, we settled on Chile.

Of course, after booking the flights, we started to plan our trip. Alex, being an overzealous vacation planner (even more than me) really wanted to take advantage of our time in Chile and fly to Easter Island. Easter Island is part of Chile, even though its a five hour flight from Santiago. The only flights in the world that go to Easter Island are from Santiago or Tahiti, both with the same airline.

So, Alex convinced Caitlin to front the money and they purchased their tickets. I, having no willpower when it comes to traveling, was easily convinced. The trick was convincing Jesse. After a few weeks of discussing, pleading, conniving, and promising to find and read a copy of Jared Diamond's book "Collapse", we bought our tickets!

The day after the winery tour (discussed below) we went to the Santiago airport to catch our flight to E.I. It was delayed. For 6 hours. Believe me, we had a blast waiting for updates on our flight. It was all worth it however, once we landed on Easter Island. We were greeted with leis, as E.I. is part of the Polynesian Islands, and our transportation to our hostel/campground. Alex and Caitlin brought their tent along and they camped oceanside at the same place that Jess and I had beds.

Caitlin and I with our leis. Most hotels that came to the airport to pick up their guests brought leis with them.
These two photos are views from our hotel/campground.
Below is the first moai that we saw. A moai is the large stone heads that the native people of E.I. made for their religion. More on the history of E.I. to come in the day 2 post.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Winery Tour in Santiago

Jesse and I started our current trip way back on December 18th. We flew to Santiago, Chile, and were standing in the customs line ran into another teacher. During this accidental rendezvous, we discussed getting together to do a winery tour on the next day. I, being the wine connoisseur that I am, really voted for the tour.

Chile is world renowned for its wines, and there are wineries all over the central area of Chile. We decided to go to the most famous winery, Concha y Toro, because unlike some of the other wineries, we actually drink this wine at home.
Concha y Toro exports more wine than any other winery in Chile. The tours take place at where the winery started, and part of the tour grounds are where the proprietor used to live. The Concha y Toro label has many different lines, from pretty cheap to exquisite.
Outside of the tour were large casks of wine just waiting for a beautiful picture to be taken.
As we walked along the tour, we saw the storage facilities where the wine is kept in oak barrels. It was interesting, because they use mainly oak wood to make the barrels, and most of the oak is shipped in from the U.S. One type of wine, called carmenere, is only grown/made in Chile, and the grape variety was only rediscovered in Chile a few years ago.
The winery offers a wine tasting with a sommelier, to teach us a little bit about the different types of wine they have. Each type of wine (merlot, syrah, cabernet sauvignon, and carmenere) has a specific type of cheese or flavor that helps bring out the flavor in the wine. I didn't actually think it was true, that cheese or a specific food really accentuated a wine, but its true. It was amazing how much more body the wine had after tasting the cheese. We learned the correct way to breath wine to allow for all the flavors to be enjoyed, and how to properly taste test different styles of wines.

After the sommelier was finished teaching us everything she knew about wine, we were able to finish our wine, take a glass with us, and scout out the wine shop. It was a really nice way to spend part of a day, and we definitely plan on taking our newly found wine knowledge with us on our next trip to the grocery store.