Saturday, February 27, 2010

Earthquake....

So it was a laid back day yesterday. It turns out my school orientation was changed from Friday to Monday since my school only starts on Thursday. I ran some errands and went with Ro to her school and we caught up over coffee. After that I explored the city more on my own and getting lunch with some people with the program I became annoyed with myself when I realized I had somehow lost my prescription sunglasses. After retracing my steps and calling the stores I was at they didn’t turn up.


I hung out at the hostel to see if anyone wanted to grab some dinner together but went home around 7. I was doing some reading on the internet and gorged on some cookies and then turned in around 10 or so.

Then around 3:30 AM I was awoken by some shaking. It started getting stronger, and I thought, “Shit, this is an earthquake”. I rolled out of bed and laid curled up with my knees and face on the ground. I heard things in my room clattering to the ground. I stayed that way until the shaking stopped.

I made my way to the doorway of my room, and it turns out that my roommate Fabiola and her boyfriend Gustavo were there too. “Daniel, ¡ponte tus zapatos y quédate en la puerta!” she told me. (Put on your shoes and stay in the doorway)

About a minute after that, it seemed like things calmed down. She told me to be sure to get my ID and money to take with me, as there might be a marremoto (tsunami). I fumbled around my room in the darkness to find them, since I still don´t have enough furniture to store or organize all of my things.

Gustavo asked me to try to call a number for him on my cell phone, but the nerworks were all down. Fabiola lit some candles and tried her internet and of course it didn´t work. She brought out some emergency bottled water in case we would need it.

At this point I was wondering what would happen if we had another earthquake. The house I´m living in is old, and as it is part of the roof is missing and is covered with some metal beams and some type of plastic tarp.




Fabiola then told me that one of the neighbors was very sick and she and Gustavo were going to help her. She told me that if the ground started shaking again to run outside since the house is so old and that there was the chance of the roof falling.
I almost didn´t pack it, but I brought a flashlight I got from Target before I left. It doesn´t need batteries, and it only depends on the energy you create by turning a crank on it. My brother showed it to me a few years ago, so I bought one and have had it for a few years in case of an emergency like this.





My thoughts then went to possibly having to evacuate and losing all my things. I even considered if I was going to end up in the hospital or if this house was going to survive. I thought about things that now I wished I had done differently: perhaps I was too strict with some of my students or too harsh of a grader, maybe I should have helped out at home more, etc.

I then snapped into action and packed my messenger bag with things I would need if we needed to evacuate: family pictures I brought with me, my camera, hand sanitizer, a first aid kit, my money and credit cards, IDs and my passport. I also realized I never backed up my laptop with anything on it, but I brought a few flash drives with me. Luckily I was able to back up all of my files (including all of my pictures) and added the flash drive to my messenger bag.

While they were gone I tried to check out for any damage to the house. Part of the wall started crumbling in various parts of the house, and we also lost the doorbell. Luckily it looks like the damage was pretty minor though.
















About half an hour later Fabiola and Gustavo returned. They had a radio and batteries so we sat down and listened to the radio while Fabiola made us some tea and brought out cookies. We kept on hearing “La cosa importante es que mantengan tranquilidad. También quita el gas y eléctrico para evitar accidentes.” (The important thing is to stay calm. Also remember to turn off your gas and electricity to prevent accidents.)



Fabiola shared her experiences of the Chilean earthquake of 1985, and at that time she was pregnant with her 2nd daughter. This quake happened around 6 PM, and her husband and youngest daughter drove to see their new apartment that had been recently painted. Since her youngest daughter was asleep her husband stayed with her while Fabiola went up to the 2nd floor to see it. It started when she was up in the apartment, and it ended up losing an entire wall. Luckily she and the daughter she was carrying was OK.

During this time I was trying to get a text message through to my program director letting him know I was OK. It didn´t go through for a long time, but finally it did go through. Around the same time Fabiola´s son Fabian called to say that he was OK.

Tuning in to the radio, we heard that the epicenter was located about 5 hours south of Santiago, and that it was an 8.8 on the Richter scale there and an 8.0 for us in Santiago. Only the extreme south and north of Chile escaped this quake. We then heard that a famous church in Providencia (the neighborhood of Santiago where I was staying in the hostel) had lost its famous church and bell. Both had been over 100 years old. At that time (around 5:30 AM) we also heard that 6 people had died so far.

We turned in around 6 AM, but we had our emergency bags packed in case if we needed them. There was an aftershock sometime an hour or 2 later, and I woke up to use the bathroom.

It is now 9:30, and I made myself a bowl of cereal for breakfast. Fabiola just popped out of her room and got a call that her daughter is OK. I´m trying this up in Microsoft Word since the internet isn´t working but will post as soon as it is up and running again.

I went back to sleep for a while, and around 12:15 our landlord Mario arrived. We showed him the damage, and he told me that he was trying to call all of us on our cell phones and on the home line but wasn’t able to get through at all. As of now he doesn’t know where Brenda (his girlfriend or wife) is. We also haven’t heard from Claudia (my other roommate who is a nurse), and we are hoping that she is OK either still at the hospital where she works down the street or staying with her boyfriend.

We turned on the news, and the pictures of up north in Concepcion are downright scary. Buildings were completely destroyed at the hands of a 9.5 on the Richter scale. Fabiola and Gustavo went out to do some shopping or walk around, and after chatting with Mario for a bit I decided to brave a trip to the supermarket to stock up on food.

I wanted to bring my camera to take pictures along the way, but Mario said that it would possibly be dangerous so I decided to leave it behind. People were out and walking, and the busses were running. I went to Lider, which was near the Metro and was hoping that it would be open. When boarding the bus a guy told me “Es claro que esté cerrado.” Rough translation: It’s going to be closed, are you stupid?

I got off at the bus stop and was relieved to see people walking out of the supermarket with bags of food. It was packed inside, and I wasn´t even able to get a shopping cart or basket. I simply decided I would carry whatever I got with me until I got checked out. After getting milk, orange juice, eggs, bread, ham, turkey, cheese, and a few other things I got into line. It stretched almost to the back of the store, and while I was waiting I spotted some candles. I grabbed some of them in case if we would need them again. About halfway through waiting my arms were starting to give out. I asked a couple behind me if they could watch my things while I got a basket. Luckily a young bagger ran and got me one. Once I got back in line we chatted a bit. I ran to get some Coke Zero, and they smiled at me. I told them jokingly “Coke es muy importante para los gringos.” (Coke is very important for us Americans). The guy lifted up his 6 pack of Escudo beer and said “Y la cerveza es muy importante para los peruanos.” (And beer is very important for us Peruvians).

After checking out I was able to catch a bus back without a problem. I ran into Mario leaving on the way back, and we chatted for a short while. I checked with him that I had my keys with me before we parted ways.

By this time it is about 2:30, and about a minute after I got back Fabiola and Gustavo showed up. They went to his apartment and it is fine. They also got to chat on the internet with family, and when I heard that I told them I needed to go to talk with my family and let them know I was fine.

Around 2:45 or so I got to call my dad and talk to him. Everyone was relieved to hear from me, and I also updated my Facebook to let everyone know I was ok. It was a relief to get to talk to my dad and brother and let them somewhat know what happened.

By the time I got back Fabiola had cooked some lunch for us. I´m glad that I went to the grocery store, and we had pasta with hot dogs and tomatoes and some bread. I shared my Coke Zero and we had some melon for dessert. While we were eating we felt another aftershock.

I got some extra water to be on the safe side, and on the TV now they are talking about a tsunami that is going to hit Hawaii and that there was an earthquake in Japan also. It is pretty scary seeing all of these pictures of what has happened at Santiago´s airport as well as all of the areas that have been destroyed. It´s even worse seeing that this is affecting other parts of the world.

Fabiola mentioned conserving lights and water to be on the safe side too, and I agree that it is a good idea. I still have my emergency bag packed and ready to go if need be.

It is now 7:15 on Saturday night, and I dozed off in front of the TV for a while. After I woke up I cleaned up my room a bit and took a much needed shower. I got shaved too and feel much more relaxed after everything that has happened. I also put in some laundry since I will be staying in tonight.

It is a littler after 8 PM, and Gustavo has got the phone line working as well as the wi fi connection. I am going to post this now so everyone can read all of the details of what has happened so far.

People are saying that things are going to get back to normal by Monday.  I will keep updating if anything else major happens.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Moving in, finding my school, and touring the city

Yesterday morning I got my things packed and moved into my apartment.  Seeing that I have so little compared to whenever I've had to move before it was really easy.

As of now, my room only has the bed, a small dresser, and a nightstand.  Mario (my landlord) has offered to take me shopping to get a desk and an armoire (or something similar) to help store the rest of my stuff on Saturday.  He has even called to check in that I moved in without a problem and if I needed anything at all.

After that I decided to scope out my school and the surrounding neighborhood, and it turned out to be quite the adventure.  I naively thought that since my school (Colegio San Marcos) is on the street Rodrigo de Araya that it would be best to get there by going to the metro stop named Rodrigo de Araya.  After walking about 7 blocks, I was relieved to find a bus stop.  People told me that the 511 goes right down the street, and I would be on it for about 10 minutes to get to my school.

Well, it turns out they were wrong.  It took a turn after a few blocks, and I explained to the bus driver where I needed to go.  He simply acknowledged I was on the wrong bus and should take another one, yet he would not open the doors for me or advise me as to what bus to take.  I had to ask him for about 3 stops in a row to pull over and let me off before he finally did.

Being the genius that I am, I did not think to bring a detailed map with me.  I called to try and get help, but it didn't work.  So I asked a woman at a bus stop, and it turns out I was able to take a different numbered bus  in the same direction Mr. Don't Let Me Off the Bus was going.

I took the bus to the stop they advised me to, and it was on the corner of a Jumbo.  Jumbo is kind of a like a one stop shopping place.  The best equivalent to the States is Walmart, but it is higher quality and doesn't seem to have the bad reputation that Walmart does.  For those that have been to Germany, it is very much like a Marktkauf.

I walked a block down the way and came across the Gimnasio Pacifico, which our program offers a discount with.  I checked it out and it looks pretty basic but very convenient since it would be on the way to and from my school.

Then I hopped on another bus and got to my school about 5 minutes later.  I couldn't go inside, but here is the view from the outside:


It is also across from a supermarket, which is perfect since there isn't one near my apartment. 

Afterwards I started to make my way back, and I did some shopping at Jumbo.  I got things I'll need like a laundry basket, ironing board, and iron along with some other small things.  I also got a bite to eat at their food court.  Beef mongolia, vegetable stew, juice, and rice milk:


On the way back home, I realized that I can take a bus directly from the major intersection of my apartment to the intersection of Jumbo, and then hop on another bus that drops me off right in front of my school.  I don't think it will take me longer than 35 minutes to commute each way, which will be really nice.

Then this morning I took a bike tour of Santiago.  Everyone else in the group didn't wake up in time, so I got my own personal tour.  The first stop was Pablo Neruda's house.  Apparently this was his 2nd house, and it was a hideaway to meet with his secret lover Matilda.  Its name means messy hair and refers to her hair, and if you look at the windows you will see a P for Pablo and an M for Matilda:

 

There is also a mini open air theater next to it, along with pillars that have one of his famous poems inscribed into them:



We then biked through Patronato (which is an area inhabited with the largest Palestinean population outside of Palenstine) and Bellavista (an area with lots of nightlife, restaurants, music, and shops).  Then it was off to La Vega, the largest and most popular farmer's market in Santiago.  They sell everything fresh and cheap there, and here is some of the stands I bought fruit and plantains from:


I was even able to get cereal at a discount.  The tour guide and I stopped and got some hot chocolate while I took in the sounds and smells that were surrounding me.  The market was bustling with people making purchases, sellers yelling out their prices, and the occasional stray cat and dog weaving their way in and out of the people and crates of food.

Then it was off to Plaza de las Armas, which is the main center of Santiago.  Every major city in Chile has a Plaza de las Armas, and it is named after where soldiers would put their guns and weapons when they were not fighting.  The post office, national musuem, and cathedral were all around the plaza, and apparently they mesaure from the very center of one Plaza de las Armas to another in any other city in Chile to determine the distance between them in kilometers.


About halfway through the tour we had someone else join along:


From time to time he would go astray to sniff something or see other dogs, but he followed us until the end of the tour.  Although there are a good amount of stray cats and dogs here, people seem to take care of them and they seem pretty well fed.

I already finished the plantains I bought at the market but have grapes, bananas, and tomatos for the next few days now.  Tomorrow I get to go to my school and meet the teachers.  I'm excited but nervous at the same time.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Orientation, tanning by the pool, and getting keys

I'm listening to the traffic go by on Calle Vicuña Mackenna en Providencia while I sit in my hostel.  My roommates are asleep still, and I don´t want to start packing up and disturb their slumber.

So we had the orientation with the program yesterday.  We got to meet the English coordinator, and she seems very nice and happy to have us there.  We got some basic information and then she took us all out to lunch.  I ordered churrasco (which is sliced up meat) with salad.



Afterwards Bruce (the program director) invited us back to his apartment so that we could enjoy the rooftop pool there.  It was so relaxing enjoying the sunny weather with everyone while tanning, and hopefully I'll have gained some color so I'm less pale.

After that, it was back to the hostel to change and then sign my lease.  I got the keys without a problem, and the landlord put a latch and lock on the bedroom door so that I know that my things will be secure when I'm not home.  (The program advised us to do this, as we may feel we can trust our roommates, we may not be able to trust the people that they have over).

I move in today.  I'll miss my roommates and the constant company of the hostel, but I know I will stop back to visit and hang out from time to time.

Oh yeah, and I start teaching Monday.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Exploring Santiago, Becoming Official, and various living situations

I am updating this as I am watching the first two episodes of The Amazing Race that have been posted to Youtube.  At first I thought that I would have to suffer through hearing family and friends telling me all about it without being able to follow along, but I am saved.

The past 3 days or so have blurred together.  It has involved yummy food like schwarmas (gyros) and churros con chocolate.  I haven't had either since my last trip to Europe about 5 years ago.  The delicious part of the churros con chocolate was the dark chocolate and dulce de leche that they provided as dipping sauces:


This food was all consumed in the company of cool people with the program and/or from the hostel.  Here are pictures of us together:


The hostel I am staying at is nice, but the lack of privacy and small kitchen have been getting to me.  Here is a picture of what my room (that I am sharing with 2 others) looks like:



The bunk bed looked like the wooden frame was cracking, so until the owner could check it out they gave me a room all to myself for the first night.  Here I am in it:

In case if it is not clear, I took the picture showing that storage closet thing from that spot on the bed.  And yes, that is the door to the right of the storage closet thing. 

So I started looking around for an apartment.  I took the program director's advice of wandering around neighborhoods where I would like to live and just walked into lobbies of apartment complexes to ask if they had any places free.  This did not work out well, as every place but one (out of 9 visited) told me that they didn't have any apartments to rent.  The one place that did have a studio to rent cost 360.000 pesos, or about $600 per month.  And of course I found this out after waiting 45 minutes for the owner to show up.

Originally I wanted to have my own apartment to have my own privacy, but I realized the two major drawbacks to this would be the cost and not having social contact with any Chileans.  So I decided to change my plan to try to find a room in a house or apartment with Chileans.  I also decided to try searching online, and I found a great living situation.

So, I will be living in a 4 bedroom house with 2 Chileans and a German.  For 95.000 pesos (about $190 per month) I will have a furnhised bedroom, common area with TV, wifi, kitchen, 2 bathrooms, and a washer/dryer.  This is an amazing deal, and the only additional cost will be gas (which will be split amongst all of us).  By American standards this would not be an acceptable situation with the condition of everything, but by Chilean standards this is a great place:



I will be going tomorrow to pay the first month's rent and deposit and sign the contract to make it official.  I'm really excited about it, as saving so much money will mean I don't have to work another job and I will also have the company of others and be able to practice Spanish and German.

Last but not least, the program helped us get our paperwork done with the Chilean registry to become offical here.  Luckily the entire process (from the time I left the hostel to the time we were done) was less than 3 hours.  At the first place an English guy with the program ended up taking much longer than anyone else, and we were all worried about him and what was taking so long.  When he came out, it turns out he was talking it up with the woman who was processing his paperwork and got invited to celebrate her mother's birthday next month. 

After that, we were off to get our fingerprints taken and get our official Chilean ID cards and numbers.  Because of the glare on my glasses they had to shine a lamp on me, which caused me to blink more often than normal.  This resulted in them having to take about 5 pictures before they could get one with my eyes open.  And low and behold, I once again look like a deer caught in headlights.

Well, it's almost 1 AM here, and for whatever reason I can't see the last 20 minutes of the first episode of The Amazing Race.  I already know that Jeff and Jordan win the first leg, but I hope I can see how it all plays out.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Flight to Santiago and first few days here

My alarm went off at 3:30 AM, and I got changed and brought the last of my luggage downstairs to be ready for my taxi at 4.  The girl working at the hostel assured me that I would have plenty of time to get there for my 6:05 flight, but I still felt uneasy about it.

I got to the airport around 4:15, and the line to check in to TAM Linheas Areas (my airline) was stretching haflway down the terminal.  I was mad at myself for not insisting on catching my taxi early, but figured all I could do at that point was get in line and hope for the best.

I got checked in 5:05 or so, and according to my ticket I was supposed to be boarding right then.  I hurried to get to security but was misled by the signs and was down in a shopping area.  After talking to a few people I made it there and got through security quickly.

It's about 5:20, and I'm in the line for the immigration police.  I clutched my passport and paperwork they gave me when I entered, hoping things will go quickly.  I finally get through around 5:35 and dash to my gate.  I get there, and nothing is showing on the screen, and no one is there from the airlines.  I was puzzled and asked a woman holding a small child if it was the correct gate for the flight to Sao Paulo, and she assured me that it was.

The airline staff casually strolled up to the gate at 5:55 and proceeded to go through the gate and disappear without talking to anyone.  They came back about 5 minutes later and were bombarded by passengers with questions.  We started boarding around 6:15, and I had a surprise on board.

I was trying to find seat 10K and wasn't able to do so at first.  Then I realized that for some reason they put me in the last row of first class.  This was totally awesome and unexpected, but actually my 2nd time flying 1st class on an international flight.  Here I am enjoying my seat that reclines:
I just wish that this would have happened on my flight that was 4 hours from Sao Paulo to Santiago instead of the 1 hour flight from Rio to Sao Paulo.

By the time we take off, it is almost 7:00.  We landed at 8:00, and my connecting flight is scheduled to leave at 8:55.  Luckily I am one of the first off the plane, but we had to all pile into a shuttle bus and take it to the terminal.  By the time I get to the terminal it is now 8:15, and I'm assuring myself that everything is going to be OK.  I checked the monitors, and they are all flashing that they are making the last call for my flight.

After a few wrong turns, I find my way to gate 27.  Of course, my gate is the one furthest away from where I am.  I break into a run for short times, as I am not as in shape as I could be and also am carrying my laptop case and a backpack.

I got to the gate at 8:30 and noticed the plane pulled up.  A few seconds later a woman walked up from the connector, and I asked her about boarding.  She gave me a confused look, and I eventually figured out that they changed the gate from when they printed my boarding pass earlier that morning.

I rushed to the nearest monitor, but it had just changed to a screen for advertisements.  The next 30 seconds felt like an eterninty, but the screen finally switched, and I noticed it moved to gate 20A.  I made a quick dash and was out of breath when I got there, but I was able to board with 20 minutes to spare.

I sat down in my seat and breathed a huge sigh of relief.  I was starving and was planning on getting something to eat in the airport, but that didn't happen given the circumstances.  Then of course the flight was delayed for over an hour while we sat on the plane.

I arrived around 1:00 that afternoon, and got my bags and to the hostel without a problem.  After a quick phone call home, I got to meet some of the other people in the program.  It turns out we are all roommates for this first month, and Rochelle had already bought a bottle of wine to celebrate our first night here:


Afterwards I took a trip to the supermarket, and when I was back some others had arrived and we all went out for dinner.  We went to Patio Bellavista, which is comparable to the Americana in Glendale.  There were all types of restaurants and small shops, and we ate at a nice restaurant overlooking a patio where live jazz was being played.  There were people seated all over enjoying dinner and walking around enjoying the ambiance.  Sadly I didn't think to bring my camera with me, but others told me they will send pictures to me.

Today I was up early and made breakfast and unpacked a bit before going out to explore on my own.  I went to the Santa Lucia area, which apparently has lots of shops and a good place to get a haircut.  I wandered around and explored the area and got a haircut for 3300 pesos (or about $6.60).  I also stopped and got some tea and toast:



 In a department store later on I got a nice pair of sandals for 5000 pesos (about $10) and then headed back.  A bit later on everyone decided to head out to explore, and we got to ride on the Metro for the first time and ate some Doner kebabs at a local place.  I haven't had one since I was in Europe last time in 2005, so it was really delicious.


Then we headed to Patio Bellavista again, as some people were craving yogurt.  While we were there I snapped some pictures, but they don't do justice to the night ambiance and jazz that was playing last night.













It's hard to believe that the entire day has gone by already. I'm so happy to be here and want to enjoy every moment of it.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Last day in Brazil

So my time in Rio is coming to a close.

Yesterday I went to a souvenir market and got some good deals on a shirt, decorative towel type thing, and a hat.  Afterwards I was at a costume ball, and it was really amazing to see all of the costumes and people dancing from all over the world.  I got there around 11:30 at night but didn´t leave until 6 AM.  The party was still going strong then.

Today I woke up with the hopes that the 4th time (yes, 4th time) would be the charm with hang gliding.  After waiting an hour past the time they were supposed to show up (again), I spoke with the hostel owner.  They said they would maybe be there in an hour and a half, but I told him I was just too frustrated and not willing to wait around again.  So my next trip to Rio will have to include hang gliding.

Today has been a lazy day of sleeping, packing, and saying goodbye to new friends.  It´s so cool meeting other people that are traveling from all over the world, and it really makes you realize how we are all one people.  Facebook has made it much easier to stay in contact, and hopefully these are people that I will be able to visit and that will be able to visit me.

I can say that I am not going to miss the heat (today I was lying in bed and realized it was a cool day.  It was 92 degrees) nor the disorganization that seems to be a part of Brazil´s culture.  A good example of this is that they used too much water during Carneval yesterday, so the city decided to shut down all water for the Centro region of Rio for the next 48 hours.  This means that I do not get to shower before I leave for my flight tomorrow morning, but I have been through worse.  Despite those downsides, I found people that were willing to help me when I was unsure of where to go and Brazilians that treated me with great hospitality during my stay here.  They have a sense of fun and being happy, even if they have much less that us Americans have.  I will look forward to coming back here when the opportunity arises.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

What day is it?

I think it´s Tuesday.

Seriously, time goes by very quickly here.  The days seem to blend together as I meet new people, spend more time with people from my hostel, and explore Rio.

On Saturday I did a full day tour of the major sights of Rio organized through the hostel.  We saw the cathedral, which is very famous but also very controversial.  It is shaped like a square and has entrances in the front and two sides, and its unconventional design disappoints a good amount of people here.



After that, we tried to see the Sambodome, but it was way too crowded and busy for us to get near.  So instead we headed to the football stadium.  Apparently it is world famous, as it hosted the 1950 World Cup andwas able to seat 200,000 people until part of collapsed during a game.  They have since put regulations in that everyone in the stadium has to sit, and that standing room isn´t allowed, which has brought its capacity down to about 94.000.  Rio gets to host the 2014 World Cup as well as the 2016 Olympic games, so that´s awesome for them.







Unfortunately we didn't have time to see the inside of the stadium or the musuem, but it was cool getting to see it from the outside and snap these pictures.

Then we got to see the Christ the Redeemer statue in the Corcovado mountain range.  He overlooks Rio and his arms are wide open to the city, and it took 9 years to build it.  It was finished in 1931. 





Later on in the day we went to an all you can eat buffet as well as the Selaron staircase that leads from Lapa to Santa Teresa.  About 20 years ago an artist named Selaron decided he was going to take colorful tile that he collected from his travels and start decorating the stairs.  He still works on it on a daily basis, and I was able to get a picture with him when I was there.








The last stop of the day was the Sugar Loaf.  We took a cable car up to the first level, and the view was pretty amazing.  Then when we went up to the next level, and I was able to see the Christ the Redeemer stuate in the distance.  That was the end of the tour.






Other than that, my days have been spent exploring with other backpackers and spending time at the beach.  My 3rd attempt at hang gliding is supposed to happen in about half an hour, and the hostel promised me that it will happen this time.  Hopefully they will keep their word.