Tag Archives: Viña del Mar

Happy New Year

In Chile there is only one place to be on New Year’s Eve if you like fuego artificiales (fireworks) and that place is Viña del Mar which just happens to be where we live.  Last night we were fortunate to be invited by friends to their apartment which has a great view of the bay.  From our vantage point we could see fireworks from six of the nine barges set up in the bay.  Thank you Marilynn and Leonard we were able to avoid having to mingle with over a half a million people lining the beaches from Valparaiso to Con Con.

Enjoy the show.

El Diario – 18 Octubre 2014

This week when we got to work we were asked if we felt the tremor (check out the Earthquakes tab) earlier in the morning (we didn’t).    That got me to wondering what Chileans believe is the difference between an earthquake and a tremor.  They called this year’s 8.2 in Iquique and the 7.1 off the coast of Easter Island an earthquake and Tuesday’s 5.2 a tremor.

To further complicate matters – on the same day last August we had a 6.5 tremor while Napa had a 6.0 earthquake.  Confused yet?  Well this got Wooly thinking (oh, oh) about what the difference is between a tremor and an earthquake.  After checking numerous sites on the web that all disagreed about the intensity required to promote a tremor to earthquake status Wooly came up with one conclusion.

Armed with that conclusion Wooly decided to test it at work the next morning.  When he asked his gringo friends they pretty much concluded anything above 6.0 would qualify as a full-fledged earthquake.  A couple of them said before they came to Chile that number would have been around 5.0 or so.  Yet when the Chileans were asked they all pretty much agreed it takes a 7.0 or greater to be called a bona-fide earthquake.

So there you have it.  If you live in an area where ground movement is rare or occasional, anything you feel is an earthquake.  Yet someone living in an area with frequent ground movement it takes a higher number.  Or in the case of Chile with lots of large earth movements (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_earthquakes_in_Chile) it seems a 7.0 or greater is required before the local folks grant a tremor earthquake status.  For those who remember, just think of the damage the 1989 6.9 Loma Prieta (the World Series earthquake) caused and how many lives were lost or the 1994 6.7 Northridge quake in the L.A. area.   I had to chuckle last March when a friend commented on the 5.1 earthquake they had in L.A. had him shook up.  Sorry, had to do that.

And what about the Valparaiso and Viña del Mar areas where we live?  Here is a list of Valparaiso earthquakes:

  • 1730 – 8.7
  • 1737 – 7.7
  • 1822 – 8.5
  • 1829 – 7.0
  • 1831 – 7.8
  • 1833 – 7.7
  • 1900’s – Nothing
  • 2000’s – Nothing

A 200 year gap without any significant earthquakes makes us overdue for a very large one.  It could possibly even be in the 9.x range.  Here’s hoping it doesn’t happen while we’re here, or if it does nothing falls on us or collapses underneath us.

Dia de Patrimonia

One of the nice things about spending a year in a foreign country is that you get to see things and attend events that tourists miss.  The Day of Patriotism is one of those events.  The presidential palace in Viña del Mar in Chile is only open to the public one day a year.  People, along with Wooly and Raeski line up for blocks to see the inside and outside of the summertime residence of the president of Chile.  Here are a few of the rooms in the palace.

A Long Humorous Lesson about Public Transportation in Chile

We ride the Metro (train) and micro (bus – pronounced “meek-crow ” really fast) to work daily.  That’s how we travel here in Chile.  Our daily work routine is to take the metro from Viña del Mar to Valparaiso.  From the train station we then take the micro to the school where we teach English.  The metro is always on time.  The micro?  Not so much.

When we first arrived in Chile we asked if a bus schedule was published anywhere.  We got the same puzzled looks we got when we asked if anyone did anything else other than ‘Just in Time Planning’.  I’m sure the thought balloon would have said, “Why would they do that?  They run all the time and one will eventually come by that will take you to where you want to go.”

Conquering the micro system(?) was a bit daunting at first with our language barrier and the rapid fire Spanish(?).  First, micros come in a variety of colors.  Orange and yellowish, green and white, blue and white, and other colors we still know nothing about.  Even more confusing are the orange and yellowish and the green and whites seem to go to the same places.  Blue and whites seem to never venture across city boundaries (we think???).

The buses have multiple signs on them informing you where you hope it will go.  Sometimes this system breaks down and it takes you to a new destination leaving you to figure out how to get back to the ‘Start’ square.  They also have numbers.  These seem to work fairly well if you are fortunate enough to have been introduced to a seasoned bus rider who has survived the ride.  The ‘word of mouth’ system rules in the micro world.

And the fares are different on some of the micros.  We have never boarded a micro with a 700 peso fare.  God only knows where you may end up if you ride one of those.  Although we have seen people riding them we’ve never seen them again.  For all we know they go to the place of no return.  We don’t want to go there…  yet…

When you get on the bus you hand the driver the fare and if you don’t want dirty looks, don’t hand the him a 10,000 or 20,000 peso note.  Stick to the smaller denominations of 1000, 2000, or 5000 notes.  He then gives you a small paper ticket to show you’ve paid a fare.  There are 4 colors of tickets depending on the fare you decided to pay.  He doesn’t care what you pay as long as it matches one of the listed fares on the bus.  Just be sure to have the correct color in case an inspector/interrogator comes on board to check tickets.

Nope, there’s no such thing as a transfer or electronic system (System? We don’t need no stinkin’ fancy electronic system) to make things easier.  If you’re up to the challenge you can tell the bus driver your destination but be prepared to repeat yourself even if you pronounced the words perfectly.  We call it the gringo penalty.  We’ve concluded the drivers are caught up in ‘gringo gazing’ when you get on the bus and don’t pay attention to what you’re saying or they assume you can’t speak the local lingo.

There are a few drivers who have grown accustomed to seeing us on their micros and they don’t give us those puzzled looks of either shock or amazement of an ‘out of season’ gringo on the bus.  We think they’ve become victims of the Stockholm Syndrome.

Once you are on the bus you may run into the ‘getting a seat’ challenge depending on the time of day or night you ride.  In the mornings Raeski usually is offered a seat by any of the many gentlemen or younger ladies on the bus.  And what about Wooly?  No such luck.  He often stands during the wild rides.  More on that later…

Oh, and the seats… should you be “lucky” enough to get one…  These wonderfully designed seats (WDS) are perfect for short people with tiny legs.  It is absolutely impossible for Wooly to get his legs into the prescribed space without breaking them.  Even Raeski has trouble with this at times.  We think the model used during the design of seat spacing was the shortest person in Chile.

On late Friday nights after the Metro quits running the chivalry system on the micro breaks down.  Raeski rarely is offered one of those WDS.  Of course that really doesn’t matter if you are riding in one of the wild driver buses.  Again, more on that later…  And why doesn’t it matter you ask?  With one exception, it’s because you are packed in like sardines in a can.  In this case a rolling can but a can none the less.  As the bus fills up everyone keeps getting jammed to the back of the bus.  Eventually you reach the point of the one exception.  And who might that be?  Why the last person on the bus standing on the first step with his rear-end hanging out the bus.  Nope, the door isn’t shut because it can’t.  But the driver seems happy because his bus is now officially full and he only stops when one of the victims can’t take it anymore and rings the buzzer to get off.

When it’s time to get off and make your way to the “great egress” a new adventure begins.  That is unless you are right at the door.  In that case you just let go and fall out the bus, then everyone is shuffled one spot closer to the back of the bus.  But if you are one of those unfortunate souls not close to the great egress you have the challenge of pushing, shoving, pleading, or begging your way off the bus.  If you’re a fan of rubbing up full body against strangers come to Chile.  It’s your nirvana.  When you finally get to the door you have to wait for the final few pasajeros (passengers) to fall out of the bus onto the street before you can get off.  And the last passenger is now happy because he no longer needs to hang his butt out of the bus.

Wild man (WM) driving…  You haven’t fully experienced the micro system(?) until you ride a bus with a WM driving.  These wanna-be Formula One drivers attempt to wheel their bus around like a sports car.  Speed shifting a diesel powered bus?  Check.  Careening around corners?  Check.  Breaking hard enough to the point of smelling the brakes?  Check.  Drafting other cars, micros or anything else that moves?  Check.  They’re fast with horn too.

When riding a WM bus you find yourself wishing your WDS (if you’re one of the lucky ones) came equipped a five point harness and you were wearing a full face helmet.  You may even catch yourself wistfully looking for a bus sized roll cage.  But before that you first find yourself struggling to find one of those WDS as the WM at the wheel launches the bus towards the next stop.  Just when you are about to sit in that WDS the WM at the wheel attempts a gear grinding speed shift which propels you past your intended seat.  Once you finally manage to squeeze into that WDS the adventure continues.

New victims unwittingly wave to the bus to get it to stop and pick them up.  If you have one of the nicer WM drivers he will screech to a halt by the soon to be unwitting pasajero.  But if another micro is in front he will try to come to a screeching halt in front of the other micro thereby blocking the other driver from making his 15 seconds or less stop.  Meanwhile, the would be pasajeros are running down the micro to get on.  At least now they’ve been clued in that a WM is at the wheel.  Of course the WM at the wheel of the blocked bus behind you is honking his horn at your WM because his 15 second or less stop is taking too long.

And now you are treated with the entertainment of other people trying to find and get to one of those WDS as the WM at the wheel launches into traffic again.  If the WM at the wheel recognizes the new victims as seasoned pasajeros he will toss in a few quick lane changes for added difficulty in getting to that WDS.

When everyone gets off the micro you know you are at or close to the end of the line.  You will also get puzzled looks from the wild-eyed driver wondering where the obviously lost gringos are trying to go.  This happened to us once when we foolishly thought the bus was taking us to Cón Cón before we figured out the Cón Cón bus system(?).  This is when we learned that when riding to a new destination you should always sit at the back of the bus so you have advance warning that you are the last survivor on the bus.  This will also clue you into the idea that your bus may not be taking to your intended destination.

We kind of figured this out when we started getting strange looks from our wild-eyed driver.  As we were foolishly sitting towards of the front of the bus we didn’t see we were the last remaining bus survivors.  As the bus pulled onto a dirt road the realization dawned on us that we screwed up and weren’t on a bus that would take us to our desired destination.  After stopping at a shack selling empanadas our wild-eyed driver asked why we were still on his bus.  After we finally were able to communicate our destination he took us back to the last stop, booted us off the bus and pointed us to the direction we needed to walk.  Fortunately the walk was only a half mile.

Now that we’re pumped full of confidence at conquering the micro system(?) we are considering taking one of those 700 peso buses of no return to see where they go.  After all we are on an adventure.

Isn’t it Dangerous?

But isn’t it Dangerous?  Raeski and I often hear this question when people learn of our plans to move to Chile.  Driving is probably is the most dangerous act we will do in Chile.  If you’ve ever experienced driving in large South American cities you understand.

I believe people’s fears of South American countries are based on events from decades ago.  For years the American press focused on revolutions and dictators which often were a result of foreign governments meddling in their internal affairs.  More recently Columbia and its war with FARC and drugs were vilified by the press starting with the Reagan presidency and ending with the Clinton presidency.  Sadly, the press never returned to Columbia after the war was over (after Americans got over their cocaine addiction) so they missed the drop in Columbian violence.  If they did they would find a vastly different and revitalized country.

But you’re probably asking what about our destination?  Is Chile safe?  Is the government stable?  If you are reading this in an American city you are in more danger than if you were in Chile.  Crime in the U.S. is four times higher than Chile.  Economic prosperity is a stabilizing factor in Chile.  With a positive trade surplus and a debt that’s less than 5% of its GDP, Chile is doing well and the middle class is growing.  Chile is a country with a bright future.

But statistics don’t tell anything about a country’s people, culture or attitudes.  To get a feel for those one must visit the country to gain clarity.  For both Raeski and I, our experience in Viña del Mar on New Year’s Eve left a lasting impact.  When I think of Chile my memories take me back to that night.

Viña del Mar time
Viña del Mar time

The coastal town of Viña del Mar, a short drive from Santiago, is located on a crescent shaped bay shared by Valparaiso on the south, Reñaca and Cón Cón on the north.  It’s the site of a fantastic fireworks show that draws people from all around South America.  For New Year’s Eve, eight barges of fireworks lie offshore guarded only by red hazard flags.  That’s all that’s necessary in this law abiding country even though there are between 500,000 and 750,000 people gathering for the festivities.  During the day we watched kayaks paddle around the fireworks barges and ships from the Valparaiso docks line up on the other side for the show.

Fireworks Respect

After dinner we sat in the hotel bar watching a parade of people streaming by on their way to the beach.  Minutes before the show started we asked the bartender if it was okay if he refilled our champagne glasses before we went out.  With a, “Sure, it’s holiday!” he reached under the bar and handed us an unopened bottle of bubbles to take with us.  Outside, with our viewing spot secure, we popped the cork and were met with smiles from those around us.  And then the show began.

Fireworks from two of the barges
Fireworks from two of the barges
Wooly's head explodes
Wooly’s head explodes

After 15 minutes of almost non-stop synchronized fireworks from the eight barges, my inner thought was, “This sure beats watching a crystal ball drop.”  After 20 minutes I’m asking myself how long the show will continue.  Finally, after 25 minutes, the unmistakably finale began.  Then the crowd moved to their parties that lasted into the early morning.

Reflecting back on the evening I was struck by the sounds I didn’t hear.  Absent were sounds of gunshots, fighting, sirens and firecrackers.  However, oohs and aahs seem to be universal.  As the mass of humanity walked back to their rooms and parties I realized we weren’t being jostled about as we walked.  Wow, talk about everyone respecting everyone’s space.  And into the early morning all we heard were people having a good time.  What we experienced spoke volumes about the Chilean people.