Tuesday, March 31, 2009


While our trip to Chillan hadn't been planned to coincide with Luz Eliana's birthday, our timing could not have been any better. A week after our arrival we found ourselves trotting out to Luz's childhood home in San Nicholas to celebrate her ___ birthday. Family (lots of it since Luz has 4 sisters and 3 brothers) and friends gathered for the festivities.

What transpired over the next 7 hours is hard to describe. We felt like we were in a movie of Chile in days gone by. Vegetables were growing in the yard, grapes were hanging from their vines up above and chickens were roaming everywhere. We met so many people, it was hard to keep track of names or relationships. Almost no one spoke English and we know little Spanish but that didn't stop anyone from talking to us.

We helped Luz prepare a less than traditional pizza for dinner, which was cooked in a very traditional outdoor wood fired oven. Other foods served were more traditional. We cooked, we ate, we drank, we ate, we drank, we ate! Just when you thought the eating and drinking part was over, more people would show up and more food and wine would be served. Birthday cake topped off a great meal.

But the end of the meal didn't signify the end of the party! First there was a pinata to break open which Luz's mom succeeded in doing with her one and only blow. Candy spilled out everywhere and the kids (and Luz's mom) scampered around to quickly collect it. Next the dancing. Luz's cousin Joel began a traditional Chilean "courting" dance (the "Cucea") while everyone stood around and clapped out the beat. Almost everyone took a turn dancing - even us gringos, some doing better than others.

It was a wonderful evening filled with flavor; we all had such a great time! As we travelled the world over the past 9 1/2 months, we have had the opportunity to see so many amazing sights. But we never had the opportunity to share in someone's culture so intimately as we did on this night. Luz's Chilean birthday party will be something that we will remember for the rest of our lives and will certainly be one of the highlights of our year around the world.

Feliz compleanos Luz y muchos gracia!

Monday, March 30, 2009


How many cities in American desire a vibrant and energetic feeling? How many feel like they have had their energies sucked out by people moving to the bedroom communities surrounding them or by Big Box stores taking the trade to the edge versus the center of the community? A lot. I was in Portland, Oregon a few years ago and admired how the downtown area was vibrant with cool old architecture, their neighborhoods abuzz at night and how well their great transportation system worked (light rail).

Well, in my humble and uneducated opinion, Portland has nothing on Chillan, Chile. We have been here for ten days visiting friends from home (see earlier blog on the Gutmann/Fuentes family) and have discovered what energy really is in a city. Chillan has about 175,000 people so it's not huge but not so small either. The downtown is filled with people all day. People get into downtown by taking either buses, taxis or “collectivos”. We tried to take the collectivos most of the time. They run on a specific route that doesn't vary. We take the #15 from Paseo de Aragon to downtown (or Central). The cost is afordable for everyone to ride this way. A small sedan, usually Hyundai or Toyota, will handle four, three in the back and one up front. The charge is 350 pesos. The collectivo drivers hustle and try not to leave seats unfilled. Dave, mi amigo por Clifton, says they make a good living. If you don't take a collectivo, take a bus for 300 pesos. These also fill up throughout the day. By the way, one US dollar equals 600 Chilean pesos. You do the math. So Chillan has a good transport system without having to resort to tax levies for light rail or the like. And you get to sit next to your neighbor or fellow Chilean. Nobody seems to mind.

They have modified their highway system for special needs: MOTE!!! On one street, they have constructed wooden street stalls where "mote" (a national Chilean favorite of boiled water with wheatberries and peaches) is sold streetside. Female hawkers come out to encourage you to drive by for a drink. Very tasty and the hawkers ain't bad either.

Once downtown, you have a six block square area that has businesses, from banks and newspaper offices (three now, since they have ADDED newspapers) to mini markets and big department stores. Their mall is downtown in the center. Amazing concept, huh!!! In addition to the supermarkets that are filled with people, they have a central “mercado” which sells meats (about thirty different “butchers” selling their wares similar to Findlay Market at home), fruits and vegetables. Restaurants surround the meat stands and serve their comida del dia for 3000-4000 pesos. They are filled with Chillan people, not visitors, because Chillan is really not a “tourist” city. Just outside the market are the kiosks that sell everything from shoes to band-aids. And people aren't ignoring them either. People are actively buying socks from the sock guy and beautiful strawberries from the corner kiosk lady. Vibrancy. Energy. Vital. NORMAL FOR HERE.

The parks are filled with people. Young people walk hand in hand. Street performers do their performing. The place is clean. Dogs run around free like in Rapa Nui. The Art Institute where Amy and Andrea take their violin lessons is filled with cool art. And it had the required guy outside selling you something (if you want) as you enter and exit. Schools are downtown so you see uniformed school kids strolling through the streets.

And this is just taken for granted here. They do have their big box stores. Luz and lisa are at “JUMBO” right now looking for a baking dish that we really couldn't find in town. So what!! Our first night we shopped for groceries in a pretty large supermarket called “LEIDER”. Dave told me that, guess who, is buying them out. You guessed it, Walmart! Oh Oh. Hope they really don't screw up this really cool place.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Back to School - Chillan Style

The day that we came to Chillan, Amy said to us, "Sometime this week you guys can come to school with us for the day!." Well, a couple days after that, those words came true.

Amy and Andrea go to Martin Rucker Catholic School. It starts at kindergarden and goes up to 8th grade. Their playground is a blacktop like at North Avondale but is smaller. The kids are very loud on the playground and in the classrooms too. We didn't go to school for the full day. We just went for Amy's gym class and her arts class.

Wow! Chillan kids seem like they've never seen American kids before! Almost everybody in Amy's class followed us around the entire school, the entire day. They also kept trying to tell us things in Spanish. The first class we went to was gym. First we did some exercises before we did relay races. After relay races, we played dodgeball. I didn't have a very good time playing dodgeball because nobody wanted to hit us with the ball and I never got to throw the ball! We also split up into pairs and tossed balls back and forth.

After gym, Amy told us some things about the school and showed us their school Chapel. After every two classes, they have a short recess. For lunch they have an hour during which you can go out of the school but you have to come back in.

In art class, we got to make either Easter Bunnies or Easter Chocolate Baskets! It was really fun!!

Saturday, March 28, 2009


I've just got this thing about mountains. Snow capped mountains. It could be caused by “Growing up in the Heartland” (from the song Jack and Diane...1982...John Mellenkamp) also known as flatlands. We have incorporated mountains into the trip....the Tatras in Poland, Julian Alps in Slovenia, Apuene Alps in Italy, Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, The near Himalayas in India, The Southern Alps in New Zealand and now....the ANDES.

Because this trip is weather planned...eternal spring...we haven't seen a lot of snow on the tops of mountains. A hint as we sat on our deck at the Annex Hotel in McLeodganj in Northern India and Kilimanjaro also showed us a peak when we could see her. But nothing big. Until now. The peaks around Termas de Chillan, even though only topping out at around 7300 feet, still have snow on them. It's early fall here in the Southern Hemisphere and the snow from last winter hasn't totally melted. Cool!!!

We (Our family plus the Gutmann/Fuentes household) hiked up to around 5500 feet keeping in mind that there were four youngsters involved. Our elevation rise was not only steep but the path was filled with loose soil; unusual, almost like dust because it is so dry. The dust was also kicked up by the people walking ahead so you get a nose, mouth and body full. My shoes at the end had never been so dirty. So we went up and up and up. Our arrival at “our” peak was stunning. A whole valley with jagged peaks on the sides. Amy, Avocet, Andrea and Siena sat atop a large boulder, not anticipating the hike back. But you know what they say, “one hour up, half and hour back”.

Wrong!!! The loose soil and small rocks mentioned before (called “scree” in mountaineering parlance) were so loose that you couldn't keep your “grip” on the ground..you would slide and lose your balance. Kinda like walking tentatively on ice. It was easier to go off trail and walk in what little grass there was. But that alternative was usually steeper and filled with different issues. It took us just as long to get down as it did to go up. The kids did great but they didn't seem to mind falling. All except Andrea had sore butts. Luz did great. Dave did great. Lisa and I didn't kill ourselves.....but carried the rear.

This was our toughest “hike” of the trip. I thought at one time in my life of climbing Pike's Peak, maybe Denali, etc, etc. On second thought, maybe a movie at the Omnimax will suffice!!!

Friday, March 27, 2009


Back in December we went to Nong Khai, Thailand just to go to a specific guest house (See Mut Mee Guesthouse blog). Nong Khai was not the attraction, Mut Mee was. Well, here we are in Chillan, Chile and once again the city is not the reason we are here. If you check the travel guidebooks, you will note that there is a Cathedral here worth a visit and a nice artisan market, but other than that, there is no real reason for tourists to come to this Chilean city. But our friends from Cincinnati, Dave and Luz and their family are here and for us, that is a good enough reason to be here.

Our expectations for this visit were...well, we really didn't have any expectations; it was a social call. What ever happened here happened. We knew that Dave worked long hours at the University of Conception and that the girls were back in school after their summer break. We had arranged prior to arriving to have Luz be our spanish teacher for the week and we are having 2 hour lessons each morning. Other than that, we have allowed ourselves to be incorporated into whatever it is that is going on in their lives.

We have been to that "famous" Cathedral and the Artisan Market and at the moment, there is also an International Market on the Plaza de Armas that we have gone to. We all took a day trip to Thermas de Chillan in the Andes Mountains where we hiked to the top of a mountain (a small one) and then swam in the hot spring pools in the area. But the highlight of being here in Chillan is the social time that we have had with our friends and their family. It is also about being in a "regular" Chilean town and just living life here.

Since this isn't a well touristed town, short term apartment rentals are not really available. Dave and Luz's next door neighbors, Tatiana and Leonardo and their family, have vacated their house and moved in with Leonardo's mother so that we could use their house for the 10 days that we are here. Now that's what you call great neighbors! Thank you Tatiana and Leonardo for your generosity. We have a wonderful house to live in and best of all, we now have the most awesome visinos (neighbors) in all of Chillan!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

AMY AND ANDREA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Way way back in 2007 when we were planning our trip itinerary, two of our best friends had decided to move to Chile for two years. Their mom is Chilean and she wanted them to grow up with some sense of Chilean Culture. We were planning our itinerary. Why not fit them into it? Chillan, Chile is a nice town, right?

When they left in '07, Siena and I would occasionaly say to each other "I can't wait to see Amy and Andrea." But it was too far away to think much of it. As we made our way east and east and finaly south, the suspense continued to build. In Easter Island we would constantly say, "How many more days 'till we see Amy and Andrea?" In Santiago, we couldn't even pay attention to the sites! Not that they weren't nice, but every few seconds we would squeal or say "I wish we were in Chillan right now!" The 5 hour train ride seemed to last for 10 million hours, but then we finally pulled into the station. Amy and Andrea were jumping up and down holding an orange and brown banner welcoming us to Chillan. We were sooooooooooooooooooooooooo excited to see them!!! We arrived on a Friday so we had that afternoon, Saturday and Sunday to play with them. No time was wasted, we started playing immediatley. We played non stop unless dragged somewhere against our own free will. Okay, okay, we did some things that we did like. Like yesterday, we had a day at school with Amy, gym and art. She also showed us the chapel at her school, it was actually quite nice!!!

We are having a great time here, so if we decide to stay for their next four months, don't be suprised!!!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Welcome to Llama Land

Here we are - mainland Chile, also known as Llama land. I call it Llama Land because they have a lot of llamas in the north. Right now we are in the central part of Chile, in Chillan. Before we came here, we were in Santiago for one day.

The first thing we did in Santiago was get on the subway to historic Santiago. Once we got there we walked around the government buildings and plazas. Here in Chile, there is usually a main plaza and a lot of smaller ones.

After that, we took the subway down to the fish market where we had lunch. Avocet thought it smelled bad! Soon, we headed down to one of the smaller peaks in the Andes Mountain Range. The Andes Mountains surround most of Chile and border Argentina. We took a funicular up to the statue of the Virgin Mary at the top.

There is also a zoo there but we heard it was really wild!! The next day we took the 5 hour train headed to Chillan to see our friends, Amy, Andrea, Dave, and Luz.

(The following paragraphs of Chile were taken from my friend Andrea's school books and translated from the original Spanish)

Chile announced their independence from Spain officially on February 12, 1818. Chileans celebrate their independence day on September 18th. It's like our 4th of July. Just like America, Chile had to fight for independence, and there were two main sides - the royalists (who were faithful to the Spainards) and the patriots (who wanted independence). The Chileans got their idea for independence mainly from the United States and their victory from Britain and also for the same reasons as the colonists in the United States: political, social, and economic.

Chile is called a tri-continental country. This is because Chile owns land in three different continents: South America, Oceania, and Antartica. The land in Oceania are islands like Rapa Nui (or Easter Island) and Sala Y Gomez, and they are more then 3,000 kilometres apart from the mainland. Chile has a big share of Antartica along with many other countries. They have 4 basecamps, the third largest amount.

Chile is host to the driest desert on Earth called The Desert of Atacama. Chile has a mountainous terrain that stretches out from the north of Chile and lessens towards the south. These are the Andes Mountains. Not only do they border Argentina, but also Bolivia, Ecquador, and Peru. In the Summer they are very dusty, but in the Winter, some places get very snowy and make for good skiing!

Sunday, March 22, 2009


This will be one of the easiest blog posts to write. No phrases will be written such as “it's the most beautiful place in the world” or the man/child thing of “ever since 1965 I've wanted to see a volcano”. No, none of that! Lucky for you!! In New Zealand we did see volcanoes but they were more like conical shaped hills. Here, on Rapa Nui, were ones with a crater rim you had to climb to and an interior flat surface. Both of these were filled with rainwater over the millennium and became crater lakes.

A quick geography lesson. Rapa Nui was formed thousands, maybe millions of years ago (I don't know, I took a really nice nap inside the Museo de Archeologico) by the eruption of three volcanoes. Take a look at a map of Rapa Nui – Google it - you will see it is in the shape of a triangle. These eventually settled together into the current landscape of this beautiful island.

Enjoy the pics

Rano Kau

Ranu Kau volcanic outcrop

Ranu Kau caldera wall - worn away by the Pacific Ocean's waves

Wild grasses atop crater rim - looks somewhat like Scotland

Lake formed at bottom of Rano Raraku

Entering Rano Raraku - possibly iron in soil

Lake at bottom of Ranu Raraku - rained later that day

Rano Raraku - Moai manufacturing facility

Saturday, March 21, 2009


I know I mentioned these Moai dudes on my last blog on Rapa Nui but I feel I must give them a little more attention than what they received in my last missive. If you have had your archaeological fill, just skip this blog, but be prepared for the photo albums which will feature Moai ad nauseum.

The Moai were not created by slave labor but by a master carver and his apprentices. When someone wanted a Moai, they went to the carver and bartered for his services. The Moai was then fabricated from the volcanic rock in the Rano Raraku quarry on the south side of the island. That was probably the easy part! The Moai then had to be moved to the desired location. As I mentioned in my Rapa Nui blog, it is still not conclusive how this was done. Speculations are that they were moved on logs either lying down or in an upright fashion. No matter how you look at it, this was an incredible accomplishment.

Once the Moai made it to the desired location (which was not always accomplished give the number of “dead Moai” covering the landscape), this 20 ton statue had to be erected on top of an Ahu, a stone alter. Again no one conclusively knowns how this was done but it is believed that they used ropes, wooden poles and stones. A crane sounds a whole lot easier to me. It is only after the Moai was erected onto the Ahu (or shortly before) that the eye sockets were carved; Moai in the quarry do not have eye sockets, only the ones moved to other destinations have them. Once the eye sockets are carved it is then that the Rapa Nui belived that the “statue” embodied the spirt of their ancestors that were buried in that particular Ahu. Only one “actual” eye has been found made of coral and obsidian so it has not been determined whether at one time all erect Moai had “eyes” or if only some Moai had “eyes” and the rest had only eye sockets.

Great cylindrical topknots (Pukao) were carved from red scoria and added to the heads of some, but not all Moai. These may have signified hats, hair tied up into a knot, or a feathered headdress worn by warriors and had some connection with status and power. The red scoria from which the Pukao were carved came from a different quarry, Puna Pau, which, of course, is on the other end of the island – who was in charge of the manufacturing organization of this society? Given that these Pukao were round, it is assumed that they were rolled to their destination. But a 20 ton Moai doesn't just need a small hat, it needs a BIG one! The Pukao alone could weigh up to 12 tons so even rolling it couldn't be easy. Also, how do you lift a 12 ton Pukao to put on top of a 9 meter statue? Little research has been done on this but some archeologists have suggested that the Pukao were lashed to the stautes and raised together as a unit.

There are almost as many Moai in the quarry as there are on the rest of the island. For whatever reason, these Moai were carved but never transported. The entire quarry, both on the inside and on the outside, are dotted with Moai in various stages of “life”; many still attached to the rocks from which they were carved, others free standing and upright. The largest Moai ever carved is still attached to the rock in the quarry, possibly because the carvers realized that it would have been impossible to move.

The largest Ahu, Ahu Tongariki, holds 15 Moai while smaller Ahu may hold only 5 or 7 and many stand alone. By the time that Rapa Nui was discovered by the Western World, all the Moai had been toppled due to tribal warfare, all face down, and all clearly positioned with their backs to the ocean. Only Ahu Akivi, with 7 Moai, face the sea. It was believed that the Moai faced inward toward the island to protect it's inhabitants. Only about four dozen Moai have been restored to their upright position while the majority of the Moai lie where they were last left by The Ancient Rapa Nui or buried for some future archaeologist to discover.