Monday, November 30, 2009

Strange Days

Just a quick note to say that Ian and I arrived home safely this morning after about 20 hours of travel. Sorry I haven't posted in the last couple days--it turns out that Ian is a big time suck when he's not working. Starting Friday afternoon, all he wanted to do was eat fine barbecue with friends, or visit interesting and creative boutiques, or walk around the city that I'd already walked around, or the new city we'd just arrived at. He wanted to see parks and bookstores, music stores and churros vendors on the street. He wanted to sample sodas like "Pap" and "Kem" and "Bilz" (as tasty as they sound). He wanted to embrace spring in a new country, and he wanted me to join him. And so, writing fell by the wayside. Well, Thank Heavens, Ian's back at work already this afternoon, and will be for the rest of the week.

Anyway, I realized today that, because of the peculiarities of Daylight Savings Time and Standard Time, and the geographical positioning of Seattle and Valparaiso vis a vis each other and their particular time zones and the Earth, sunset today is pretty much the exact same time in both cities, meaning that, right now, 4:55pm here and 9:55pm in Valpo, there is pretty much the same amount of light in the sky. Valpo maybe really got dark about 30 minutes ago, but still, isn't that kind of crazy? No wonder people get jet-lagged.

This is a great map of daylight across the world.

Thursday, November 26, 2009


Note: the entrance to Ascensor Concepción. Can you see it?

One of the things that I love, love, about Valparaíso are the elevators, or ascensores, which carry people up and down parts of the hills all over the city. The first one, Ascensor Concepción (and one of the three most convenient to us), was built in 1883. The most recent came on the scene in 1915. I'm not sure that they're all still in use, but certainly most of them are. So far we've used five of the 15.

This is Ascensor Concepción, in creaking, juddering action.

It costs between 20 cents and 60 cents to ride them, either up or down, and I tell you, the thrill is well worth the expenditure. The slightly reckless, thrilled feeling is a lot like the one you get driving on the Alaskan Way Viaduct. None of these structures is completely vertical; they're all built clinging to steep cliffsides. For some reason, this makes them feel much more precarious than a real elevator that's just hanging. They offer tremendous views over the city and harbor, if you duck a little to be able to see out of the low windows. They are not cog railways—they are definitely being pulled on cables. The cars each have a wooden bench (sometimes only big enough for one person to sit on), and they act in pairs, counterbalancing each other up and down the tracks, although there is also a motor. The cars themselves seem to be as old as the system; they're rickety and clacking, and there are small gaps between the floorboards and occasionally missing window panes. There are usually cats napping somewhere in the ascensor channel. I'm not sure what the opening hours are, but they're always going when I want to use them. I've gotten lazy in my stay here—I usually take an ascensor up now and walk down (although I did opt to climb a long staircase today instead. Can't let my ass get lazy.)

If you don't know where to look for them, they are easily missed, because lots of the buildings on the flat part of the city in front of the hills—El Plan, it's called (which, like much of Seattle, is landfill)—were built long after the elevators. Since the elevators are, necessarily, right up against the hills, they're often hidden down long, creepily narrow alleys, or strange dark hallways, built into the growing city.

This is the entrance to Ascensor Concepción, viewed from a different angle.

One of the ones convenient for us is missing part of its sign, so it just says El Peral, not even ascensor. It's one that's down a long, scary hallway in a building next to the courts or the Navy or something, so you're already a little on edge.

The third one that's convenient to us, Reina Victoria, is my favorite, because of a captivating quirk up at the top. It leads up to (and slightly over) a hill that's not quite as high as the destination; there's a short wooden bridge leading to the higher hill. In case you wanted the lower hill, though, there are two sets of stairs angling down about 1 ½ stories from the bridge. And in case you wanted the lower hill in a big hurry, there's a long metal slide with an exhilarating curve at the bottom.

Today I rode the slide twice, even though I didn't ride the ascensor, and even though it took me out of my way. I, in fact, wanted the higher hill that I was already on.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

UNESCO Got It Right

I am loving Valparaíso, or Valpo as it's often called. I have never been anywhere like it, and it's kind of kicking my ass. Literally. The city of a quarter million is built on 40-some hills—steep hills—and I have been spending several hours each day, while Ian's slaving away in a basement classroom, meandering around, looking at the sights and marching myself into and out of steep ravines and up and down precipitous hills. My feet are tired and a bit blistered, but they mostly recover overnight. My hip flexors and my glutes, though, are killing me. It's awesome.

Each of the hilltops and ravines seems to be an individual small town, with a couple restaurants or cafés, a mini-mart, some business or other, and lots of homes. It's kind of like Seattle in that way, except the contrast (in this case in elevation instead of color) is turned way up. Some of the neighborhoods are pretty dodgy; others are quite posh. So far, I haven't been hassled by a single person. Or a group of people for that matter.

Ian and I are having a devil of a time getting our cardinal bearings, however. Valpo is a city on the west coast of a continent on the Pacific—not much different than Seattle. But it's south of the equator and it's late spring now; the sun rises in the northeast and sets in the northwest. Not only that, the bay is actually protected on the south by a giant spit of land (good for making a safe harbor), and the city is built facing pretty much north. I happen to have brought a compass with me and we were able to point North yesterday evening on one of the many promenades; we're both convinced the compass doesn't work in our hotel room, though. We're both generally good with direction, so this has been very strange. Wait a minute here—I think I'm figuring something out. The sun, right now, is NOT rising and setting in the north—it is, in fact, rising and setting in the SOUTH (well, southeast and southwest), because it is almost summer here. Okay, that's been our problem. Ooh—I can't wait to see Ian this evening and tell him! Yes, in Seattle we like to face south because then we get good light in the winter; here they like to face north for the same reason—good light in the winter, but it's summer now and so they're getting light from all around the sky. Okay, moving on.

There are some unattractive things about Valpo; namely, dogs are quite numerous here, and really seem to be enjoying a whole alternate culture to ours. In Seattle, dogs are very much an aspect of people culture; not so here. They roam the city at all hours of the day and night, occasionally battling, obviously reproducing, scavenging in garbage (none of them looks thin, although they are dirty and many have dodgy legs), and treating us to echoing choruses of barks at all hours of the day and night. Also, they shit everywhere. Garbage pick-up and street cleaning seems to be pretty good here—otherwise the city would be buried under a pile of dog do. But aside from the inopportune barking times (I've been reminded of the fighting roosters living near our friends R&K when they were in Thailand for a couple years) and the shit, the dogs are, for the most part, an entertaining part of the city to observe. We watched one the other evening ride an elevator, by itself, up from the metro track. An employee met the elevator at the top to grab the dog but the dog evaded him, raced for the stairs to the train in the opposite direction, ran down, and jumped on the train just as the doors were closing. Clearly, he knew what he was doing.

Okay, I'm going to head off on an adventure now—taking the new metro all the way to the end, to a rural town called Limache. It's not in our guide book, but is supposed to have wine and other pastoral joys.

NOTE: Ian thought the dog had come down from street level in the elevator, not ridden it up, although either one of us could've been right, because all we saw was the dog exiting (although I have a memory of an employee of the metro running upstairs, thus leading me to think he was following the dog). We are both equally mystified as to how the dog got into the elevator and got it to move without human assistance, however. And he was clearly in the elevator alone.

Monday, November 23, 2009

First Day in Valpo

Home Sweet Home--the Hostal Morgan. This morning's breakfast was a huge bowl of fresh fruit, toast with butter and cheese, a mini muffin and two jams, and a large cup of good coffee.

A hint of the steepness of the many hills, and some of the many, many dogs.

And, so the dogs don't take over the world, kitties abound to keep them in line.
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Sunday, November 22, 2009


Ian and I arrived in Santiago this morning around 10am local time, which is currently 5 hours later than Pacific Standard Time. For about two weeks each spring and fall, the two countries are four hours apart, and in the northern summer we are three hours apart, but then we fell back and they sprang forward and here we are. We paid our $260 "Reciprocity Fee" to enter the country (because that's what we charge the Chileans—they only charge an entry fee to citizens of countries who charge them, which are Australia, Canada, Mexico, the US, and, strangely, Albania.). We were met at the airport by the colleague of Ian's who set up this teaching gig and he very kindly took us to the bus station. So far, it's easy to get around here, and my knowledge of Portuguese is getting us by pretty well, but we appreciated the friendly face greeting us anyway.

The flights were relatively uneventful except that somewhere over Central America my iPod decided to skip out on me, because it certainly wasn't anywhere in our bags when we got to the hotel. It's possible that it was just punishing me for being a whiny, stuck-up airplane snob, but it had been slowly sidling away for awhile now (I was getting about 4 hours of playing time on a fully charged battery last time we met). Which is not to say that I am not a whiny, stuck-up airplane snob.

Since I had brought some knitting on the plane (American Airlines 767), I had a tape measure and so we measured the space between the front of my seatback and the back of the one in front of me when both were upright: 24 inches. The seats went back maybe 4 inches. My knees touched the seat in front of me. MY knees. I am pretty average in height, and my legs are short. And they charged $6.00 for a drink. And there was none of British Airways' "Wellbeing in the Air" literature, where you get to learn all about the dangers of Deep Vein Thrombosis. And the video screens were small and inconvenient for most would-be viewers. And where, I ask you, was my complementary toothbrush and eyemask? Yes, even in coach on BA.

Anyway, I eventually took a Tylenol PM and slept about 3 hours in Alexander Technique erectness. And we are earning lots of airline miles to apply to our next trip on BA.

And now I am utterly exhausted, and although I am going to try and keep my eyes open for the next 20 minutes, until the relatively less unforgivable bedtime of 8:00pm, I'm not sure I'm going to make it. Pics tomorrow.