Tag Archives: chile

Fighting Food Poisoning

31 Mar

At some point in my trip to Chile I became ill with food poisoning, though it didn’t hit me until I came back to Buenos Aires. It could have been from eating a lot of shellfish while on the coast, or it could be from what I think was bad food at the airport. In any case, I haven’t felt right since Sunday night, and anyone who’s ever had food poisoning can imagine that it’s an uncomfortable feeling. I’ve had stomach pains, vomited early Monday morning, and have been weak and not my usual self.

The food poisoning has caused me to lose my appetite and eat very little, while putting running on hold and trying to rest up. I’ve been getting by the last few days on a steady diet of soup, bland crackers and water, tea and occasionally Gatorade. Yesterday I felt a bit better, though today I slid backwards. I’ve done some reading online and listened to friends here, and it seems like I have to force myself to eat normal food again, slowly anyway. It’s important to get some meat into my body, so I’ve started with chicken yesterday for lunch and again today.

Tonight I’m going to try running a little with the team, simply because I don’t want to fall out of my training. I’ve signed up for the Carrera de Miguel on Sunday, and though it’s only 8 kilometers this year, I want to be well prepared. I did this race last year when it was a 10k, but I’m looking at it as a training run for the FILA 10k which I’ll run in on April 17th. By this point my body should have had sufficient resting time, and now I have to get back out there and move again. The weather has been fair this week as we ease into the fall, and I want to take as much advantage of this weather as I can while it’s still available.


A Short but Happy Trip up the Chilean Coast

29 Mar


I arrived to Santiago de Chile on Thursday morning, where I was met by my friend Nicole’s family with a welcome lunch. After going out with some friends that night, Nicole and I moved north on Friday, driving almost 4 hours up the coast towards La Serena. This city is about 450 kilometers north of Santiago, and is the capital of the Coquimbo region (it also neighbors the city of Coquimbo, literally just a split in the road like one suburban town to another). La Serena is one of the oldest cities in Chile, but we were actually heading to a small beach town village called Tongoy, 50 kilometers south of La Serena. This is where Nicole’s father recently bought a cottage overlooking the Pacific Ocean, and where Nicole has been spending time studying for the Chilean BAR exam.

The drive up was peaceful as we talked and looked at the increasingly arid and spotted landscape. After an hour or so the Pacific Ocean dramatically came into view on the left and waves crashed against the rocks and beaches. About halfway into the trip we made a stop at an hostería that seemed to be in No Man’s Land where Nicole said we would get excellent cheese empanadas. Chile is known for having excellent empanadas, and I was not let down. Argentine empanadas are great too, but the Chilean variety are larger and have different options. This kind was a fried queso mantecoso (sort of a buttery cheese) which fueled us up for the rest of the ride. By mid-afternoon we were rolling into Tongoy, and I could start to see the houses and cottages built into the hills.

The Beach in La Serena

Tongoy is a peninsula which used to be an exclusive and popular resort town, but in recent years has lost favor with the jet set crowd. Yet you still find beautiful homes (though many sit abandoned) and in the summer months the beach fills up. Since it was late March, the town was nearly empty, but the weather was still pleasant. I’ve never been to Greece, but for some reason through photos and videos that I’ve seen, I got the impression that I was on a Greek island. There was a definite Mediterranean feel to the place, and the fact that the town was nearly empty made me feel that we were alone and on an exclusive piece of land just for us. Across the inlet was a string of white condos which reflected the setting sun in the late afternoon.

The rest of the time in Tongoy was spent doing exactly what you’re supposed to do in a beach village–vegging out and relaxing. The cottage was rustic and gave me the feeling of a Cape Cod house, the kind that a family may rent for a week in the summer time. This brought me back to my own youth when my family spent a couple of summers vacationing in Dennisport, and it reminded me of days spent heading to the beach for a few hours, playing games, reading, watching an old movie, and just recuperating. Joining us at the cottage was a friend from Nicole’s childhood, Claudio, and his mother, and that night Claudio and I made an asado under the starlight. It was a bit chilly but we had some good wine to get us through it, and later we looked out on the water and could see the horizon dotted with the lights of fishing boats, hauling in the next days’ fresh catch.

More Beach

On Saturday we got a late start after waking up at our leisure and headed down to the beach. As I said before, the season in Tongoy already ended, so we were practically alone as we walked the length of the shore and to the rocks. I was hoping to go for a swim but the Pacific Ocean on the Chilean coast is pretty much always cold, coming from Antarctica on the Humboldt Current, so I just settled on getting my feet wet. It was the first and only chance I’d get to visit a beach this summer (even though it was now fall). We headed back into town to get fresh fish for a big lunch with just about everything you could want to eat in one sitting. We even had outstanding empanadas with shrimp and mussels, which is something you’ll probably never find in Argentina, a country which isn’t too big on seafood.

In the afternoon Chile played Portugal in a friendly soccer match, and though I realized that my flights back home the next day were messed up while doing my Web Check-in, we maintained the good humor by heading into La Serena that night for a final dinner. As always, Nicole’s hospitality was excellent and leaving me with a desire to come back to Chile again. There’s so much more to see, and whether it’s up in the north in the Atacama Desert or in the Patagonian south, I know that it will be a good trip.

From the Hill

Notes from One of the Worst Travel Days I’ve Ever Had

28 Mar

I can imagine that you have similar horror stories when traveling. Aside from a couple of close calls in bus terminals and airports, a bus hijacking and such, yesterday’s return from Chile was a new disaster I never want to experience again. Here are the notes I took throughout the day.

6:45 am: Wake up in darkness. Prepare for day and head out around 7:15 am from the beach village of Tongoy to La Serena Airport, about 50 kilometers away.

8:30 am: Arrive to La Serena Airport after getting slightly lost on the way, with zero road signs pointing to the airport. Check-in for 9:40 am flight to Santiago.

8:45 am: Embarkation begins for LAN flight.

8:50 am: Announcement of 1.5-2 hour delay due to thick fog.

9:40 am: Announcement of delay until 10:20. Told that though I’ll miss my connection, they can put me on an Aerolineas Argentinas flight at 4 pm from Santiago to Buenos Aires.

10:20 am: Announcement of delay until 10:40.

10:40 am: Announcement of delay until 11:20.

11:20 am: Announcement of delay until 11:40.

11:40 am: Announcement of delay until 12:30 pm.

11:50 am: Begin boarding next flight to Santiago, first flight is seemingly forgotten.

12 pm: Manage to get one of last seats on flight to Santiago leaving at 12:05 pm. Board plane.

12:30 pm: Take off for Santiago.

1:20 pm: Land in Santiago. Told 4 pm fight doesn’t exist, but I’m moved to the 7 pm flight. Check-in begins at 3:30 pm, when I can receive a food voucher too. Also told that they’ll reimburse me for the flight.

3:30 pm: Begin to wait in the check-in line. Previous flight at 5 pm is canceled.

4:50 pm: Given boarding pass for 9:50 pm flight and food voucher at a cafe.

5 pm: Eat first meal of day* (To be explained later)

6 pm: Pass through Customs, boarding is scheduled for 9:10 pm.

8:30 pm: Gate is changed to other end of the airport.

9:10 pm: Crew no where to be found. Readerboard now says flight leaves at 11 pm.

9:40 pm: Change gate again to other side of airport. All lights in gate are turned off and we wait in darkness.

11 pm: Begin boarding Aerolineas Argentinas flight to Buenos Aires.

11:30 pm: Return from taxi on runway for “technical problems”. Told it will be 5-10 minutes more. Can see ground crew loading a wheel chair into the plane.

11:45 pm: Begin taxi on runway again.

12 am: Take off from Santiago.

1:20 am: Land in Buenos Aires.

1:30 am: Begin line for Customs and struggle to explain my passport/DNI situation. Officials aren’t sure what to make of my status. Bosses are called over and they refuse to let me pass without stamping me as a tourist and having me pay U$140 ($568 ARS).

2:20 am: Leave airport after paying tax.

2:30 am: Arrive at home.

*5:50 am: Begin vomiting from the meal at the airport.

*7:20 am: Vomit again. It looks like the free meal gave me food poisoning on top of everything else that went wrong during the day.

As you can see, it was a pretty miserable day in which 2 flights of 40 minutes and 1.5 hours wound up getting me home 12 hours later. We were lied to and abused by Aerolineas Argentinas, and my theory is that because it was a holiday weekend they offered more flights, yet they were undersold. Thus, they canceled a few of them to consolidate and fill up the remaining flights, saving them gas. I think this because the 9:55 pm flight was essentially filled up with passengers from the 5 pm flight.

Fingers Crossed for Chile…and the DNI

21 Mar

This week is a short one with Thursday and Friday as national holidays. On Thursday Argentina will celebrate a remembrance day for the military dictatorship of the 80s and Friday is a bridge to promote tourism. I’m taking the advantage of the early fall long weekend to go to Chile. While I thought that I’d originally just be going back to Santiago or even to the Colchagua Valley, my friend Nicole surprised me by saying that she had found an incredibly cheap flight to La Serena, a small city in the Coquimbo region about 450 kilometers north of Santiago.

The U$30 flight was too good to be true, and since a beach house awaits, on Friday we’ll be driving up to La Serena and on Sunday morning I’ll fly back to Santiago and then back to Buenos Aires. This will be a new place for me to visit in Chile, so I don’t mind, especially since it’s still summer-like weather there. Though the water is always cold in Chile, we’ll be able to go to the beach and just relax, which is what I need. Desperately. I still have another month to go until my long vacation, so this long weekend needs to hold me over until then.

The only problem that’s surfacing is transit in Argentina. We got lucky with the proposed transit strike canceled for today, but just as we dodged one bullet, another flew at us. All of a sudden today the control towers at the airports in Buenos Aires lost contact, and every flight From Ezeiza International Airport, Jorge Newbery Domestic Airport and San Fernando Airport has been suspended. Estimates initially said they could be up and running again by 9 pm, or suspended for another 48 hours. All I can hope is that this mess gets cleared up before Thursday.

Until then, this week finds me busy as usual, occupying part of my time with my DNI again. Today I went back to the Registro de las Personas to pick up my birth certificate, and tomorrow I’ll have to take it back to the Registro Civil so they can mail it all back to the Registro de las Personas. The woman in the office today was kind but didn’t give me much confidence as she said they’ll probably wind up rejecting it again without a signature on the bottom. I’m going to need a lot of luck this week.

A Short Reflection on Chile

17 Oct


While I was in Chile last weekend I had some interesting conversations with both the friends and family of my hostess, Nicole. The first time I visited Chile my friend had warned me that people don’t want to talk about Pinochet, and when I asked about it in front of the Presidential Palace, he actually told me to shut up. That’s why last week I didn’t say anything, but the topic was brought up by the locals, so I asked questions which anyone might be curious about. As it turns out, the topic is pretty well discussed, though still controversial.

Just like any society, there are many viewpoints and everyone has a story or pitch for how a politician has affected their lives. For example, on my last night in Santiago we went to the W Hotel for drinks, but were surprised that everything was closing down by 12 am and the streets were dead. Granted, it was a holiday weekend and a Sunday night, but I was told that Chile doesn’t have much of a nightlife like Argentina because of the Pinochet days. In order to prevent subversion, there was a standing order for soldiers to shoot anyone out in the street after 10 pm. Thus, the bar scene kind of died and never really came back.

There are some Chileans who say that Pinochet, while he was a cruel dictator who killed many civilians, also laid down the groundwork for a functioning society and had the foresight to say, “Look, I’m a soldier, not a politician. I don’t know anything about building a country, but I know how to kill people. But what I’m going to do is keep things in order for long enough for the country to get its act together, and then I’ll step away quietly.” And to an extent, this can be seen in the public works project that now pit Chile with the strongest economy in Latin America and a model for other nations. (On another note, I find it ridiculous to continue to say that Santiago is developing, when in my opinion, it’s quite developed. If we must continue saying it’s developing, then other cities in developed nations like Flint, Michigan or East St. Luis should be demoted to developing.)

Yesterday I sat in on a taping of BA Cast, and Fernando Farías of Radio Nacional in Buenos Aires said that Argentina’s military dictatorship in the 1980s was essentially trying to do the same thing but failed. Under that logic, you can see how Santiago now has a burgeoning climate whereas Buenos Aires is stagnant. Again, that’s if you buy the line that Pinochet helped Chile in the long run. I’m not taking sides on this one because I just don’t have all the facts yet.

And if you don’t agree with that side of the story, there are other opinions from those who say Pinochet was a cruel dictator who disrupted democratic order. I didn’t catch this until the next day, but a friend of Nicole’s said something about a political group known to work for Pinochet (something like secret police), and how her dad was a member. Since Nicole’s family is anti-Pinochet, she was offended by the comments. These are little things which take years to get over in a country that deals with post-dictatorships.

I have to think about these things though when I consider that Santiago and Buenos Aires are similar in some ways, but worlds apart in others. What was different for the two countries, both of which had military dictatorships in the 1980s?

Leaving Chile, Back to Buenos Aires

14 Oct


My last day in Santiago, the last day in Chile, and instead of going out on a crazy spree by cramming it all in at once I was sitting on my friend’s bed watching National Geographic specials. For hours. She was sleeping well past noon just like her brother and his girlfriend. Her parents had gone out to shop for a birthday present for a niece, but when I was asked if I wanted to go I said no because I thought we’d soon be heading out anyway. Instead, Nicole slept off a couple of days of playing tour guide and drinking the part, and I caught up on some familiar programming.

It wasn’t exactly a waste of time, though. As I’ve written before, I spent a lot of time just relaxing in the countryside, which was what I needed. This short rest on the bed was also necessary. I didn’t exactly want to show up to work exhausted after a three day weekend, but come back feeling refreshed and clean. Our plan had been to head out to San Cristóbal Hill and maybe sneak in another touristy thing, but with an overcast day and hangovers looming, I was on my own. The other problem was I had no money and couldn’t get any. I brought no Chilean pesos with me and was unable to take money out of the ATM the only time I tried to in the countryside, so I couldn’t just go out and explore much on my own.

Yet after a couple of hours of TV I was itching to make the most of my time, so just as Nic0le was getting ready to shower up I went out for a walk around the block. Just as I got downstairs the sun began to poke through the clouds and it heated up a bit. October is a weird time in Santiago, just like in Buenos Aires. You can’t really predict the weather well, and it can quickly go from sunny and hot to rainy and cold. I took a right on Vespucio and walked a few blocks, quickly at first with my usual Buenos Aires pace. I had to think about walking slower until my legs would do so.

Las Condes

In the Las Condes neighborhood, surrounded by high rises and beautiful houses, I took a leisurely Monday (holiday) stroll by myself. It could have been like any other day alone in Buenos Aires when I go for a walk alone, but this felt different not only in location, but in knowing that I wasn’t really alone. A few blocks down and I turned on Errazuriz, and was stunned by how quickly it went from city to neighborhood in the suburbs. It was quiet and calm, with just a few cars going by and random people walking by on the sidewalk. I took in the neighborhood, it’s groomed streets and comfortable-looking houses. I was looking for a plaza which my friend suggested I walk to, but wasn’t really heading towards it and after a while decided to head back for lunch.

To go back a different way I went down Malaga, passing English Tudors and the Algerian Embassy. There was nothing wrong with the walk and I probably should have gone even longer. To cap it off, before crossing the street I stopped as a bus was coming, and the driver actually stopped and let me pass. This was definitely not Buenos Aires. Back at the apartment, we had a final lunch together, and as usual the food was excellent. I felt so grateful and didn’t know how my simple gift of alfajores and continual “thank you’s” could truly capture just how much it all meant. Some ice cream, my treat, would just have to suffice, for the time being anyway.

A quick trip to the park with the dogs and soon Nicole was driving me to the airport, where I quietly got back on the plane to Buenos Aires to call an end to the trip. Landing around midnight, I was surprised to find that now, after already leaving the country, border control was giving me a hard time. The woman said she believed me and understood that I had citizenship, but didn’t know what to make of my papers. She went to find a supervisor while I stood in line and everyone looked at me like I was a criminal. I thought that maybe I’d get thrown into the Customs jail and have to make a late night call to a friend or the Embassy, but she eventually came back and said it was OK, then gave me a new 90 day stamp. My taxi driver thought himself a professor and gave me a lesson on the Falklands War and current situation as he drove about 10 kilometers an hour until I actually had to ask him to drive faster, probably the only time in my life I’ll have to ask a cabbie to do so. But I made it home in one piece.

The trip to Chile was short for sure, but it was helpful in so many ways. I realized once again that I need to travel to keep me happy, and that it helps bridge gaps in so many aspects of life. I don’t know when I’ll be able to get back to Chile, but then again, the last time I left I don’t think I had any thoughts of going back so quickly. At least now I know that when I do go back, I’ll have a special place with some friends waiting for me.

Touring Around the Colchagua Valley

14 Oct

Viu Manent

In driving through Chilean Wine Country we passed through various estates and villages, always surrounded by the vineyards and mountains. Heading from Nancagua, we took a stop at Bodega Viu Manent, which had a wonderful restaurant before the earthquake I was told, but it’s roof collapsed and was being rebuilt. We talked to a couple of the employees who seemed to know my friend Nicole, and they recommended that I buy a bottle of their Secreto Caremenere. Caremenere is a special grape that originally came from France and was brought to Chile. After a disease wiped out the grape in France, it was sort of forgotten in Chile, and people labeled it as another variety until realizing what it was.

Now it’s basically the only place in the world where it’s grown with success, and Chile is able to boast this as a claim to fame while Argentina touts the Malbec grape as their cash cow. I didn’t buy a bottle at the winery because I wasn’t sure if I’d get it through customs, but I did eventually buy this bottle at Duty Free shopping. At the very least, it will make a nice addition to my wine tasting series.

Cochagua Valley

We headed off to the Apalta region, with vineyards at the base of hills with a deep green. We didn’t stop at Clos Apalta, but went for a quick look around Viña Montes, where several tourists were beginning a tour. Throughout the time in Wine Country, we didn’t actually do any wine tasting. Kind of weird, right? But there was really no need as my friend Nicole put it, because why should we pay for just a small glass when they already know what the best wines are? Instead, we can just buy whole bottles and enjoy it comfortably at home. Of course, that logic will only work if you’re a local and a seasoned wine drinker.

We took a walk through the town of Santa Cruz, where a laid back feel was mixed in with tourism driven by wine and luxury accommodations at Hotel Santa Cruz, where I found some delicious manjar (like dulce de leche, aka caramel but better) with different flavors. A quick nap upon returning to the house and another glass of wine, and soon we were headed back to Santiago as darkness fell over the peaks of the Andes. The time spent in the Colchagua Valley was slow paced and relaxing, and exactly what I needed. There’s nothing that I would change about the trip there.

Finding Peace in the Colchagua Valley

13 Oct

Country House

I was sitting on the swing lounge chair in the backyard letting the sun slowly bake my light skin and the breeze blow little parts of tree dandruff on me. My wine glass wasn’t empty but the little particles somehow avoided the rim, as if an invisible wall was keeping the dirt out of my drink. The dogs came and went, and the dog named “Black” kept coming over to me until he jumped up on the chair with me. Instead of just sitting still he went through this process of sticking his nose into my armpit and scratching my wrist with his front paws. It was funny at first but after a while I thought of him as an annoying person who just wouldn’t go away and let me enjoy the moment. But in the small village of Nancagua, about an hour and a half southwest of Santiago, nothing could really bother me, and all I had to do was sit back and relax.

My second full day on the trip to Chile and I was already taking laid back lounge time. There was no time for rushing around. We’d arrived to my friend Nicole’s family country house the day before after waking up with hangovers from Friday night’s welcome party. But by 12 pm we were on the road to get there in time for a big Chilean asado (barbecue). The ride was beautiful and quiet, with the music blasting as the windows rolled down allowed in a rush of air. The two girls in the front seat talked the entire time about various things while I stayed silent and looked out the window with the snow-capped Andes Mountains on the left and vineyards on the right.

Colchagua Valley

Immediately upon entering Nancagua we could see some of the damage from the earthquake. The smaller towns were hit hard, but my friend told me that the tsunamis were what caused the most damage, just about a half hour after the first tremors hit. Pulling into the family house I felt at home, a feeling which hasn’t been to familiar to me for a long time. A glass of wine started things off while Nicole’s dad and I talked about random things until the food was ready. Later that night her cousins showed up and we talked well into the night, going out to look at the thousands of stars, totally undisturbed by city lights.

So the next day after the cousins had left and Nicole kept snoozing, I sat on the chair in the sun thinking about lots of things. I thought about how long it’s been since I was able to sit in a backyard and listen to the wind rustling through the trees, or feel grass under my feet and hear someone cooking from within the house. Tucked among vineyards, this house seemed nearly secluded, and the silence helped me clear my head. Things haven’t been totally easy for me over the last year, and it was important to take stock of things. I didn’t necessarily come to a perfect solution, but a better understanding and acceptance of things.

Aside from other things, I realized that at some point in life, I’m going to need a little country estate of my own where I can just chill out and get away from it all. For the time being though, this little break in the Colchagua Valley seems to have given me a bit more steam to get through this rat race in Buenos Aires.