Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Yo tengo, yo tuve, yo tendré.

When we arrived life was geared towards finding things, a school for the girls, a job for Ricky and a place to call home.  Next was the exploring phase, learning about Valparaíso and it’s people.  All the while our Spanish was growing wild and untamed.  I had always hoped to take lessons to keep up with the girls.  

Thanks to our generous family and friends I have now officially begun private lessons.  After a week of lessons on my own I talked Ricky into dropping one of his morning classes to join me.  After all if I don’t have anyone to practice with then it defeats the purpose.  

The half way mark of our year long adventure is here and now is the time to rein in all the Spanish we have learnt on the streets and from doing grade two home work and turn it into a second language for our entire family.  So thanks to everyone who chipped in, when I get home I promise to dazzle you.

Monday, 27 June 2011

Just another manic Monday.

Hugo works at the ascensor and always takes the time to chat with us, sometimes for longer than he realises.  He usually leaves the conversation after a few minutes and races back into the control room to bring up an ascensor full of people wondering why the 100 metre journey took so long.  He is also a barometer to what is happening around Valpo.  However he does only answer the questions we ask.  He is a great mime too.  I liken him to a short John Cleese.  At the weekend he told us that today, Monday, is a special day for Saints Paul and Peter, a feast day.

We went to bed wondering what happens on a feast day in Chile.  This morning we awoke and went through the usual Monday morning routine of breakfast and school lunches.  Except today it was quiet… almost too quiet.  This is Chile where the dogma of if I’m up, you’re up is ever present.  A quick look out the window and suddenly it was like looking at a post apocalyptic scene, without the usual destruction that goes with apocalypses (or is it apocalypi?).  In hindsight it was nothing like a post apocalyptic scene.  I’m embellishing.  I’m sorry.  But when I looked out the window we saw that one of the other schools was closed and the streets were all deserted, similar to a post apoc… you get the idea. 

Hugo was working the ascensor so we sent Indy out to ask him if there was any school today.  Talluah watched from the front door and I watched from the open window.  Hugo shouted out, “Hello.”  Indiana and he had a quick conversation and Hugo crossed his arms, “Siguir durmiendo,” (continue sleeping) he shouted to our apartment.  “You could have told us yesterday,” I called back. He waved and smiled and returned to his ascesorial duties.  Hugo doesn’t speak any English.

Talluah broke out the emergency arts and crafts supplies and spent the morning making a cardboard birthday cake for the girls’ two-year-old cousin in Australia.  After lunch we headed out to a park which sits in the shadow of the Navy School and is directly opposite the sea.  Indiana immediately found a new friend to play with and Truce almost kneecapped herself showing us how far she can almost jump from one cement slab to another.

All in all we discovered that the best part about having a three day weekend is knowing about it in advance.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

A new sport.

Public transport makes up the majority of traffic in Valparaíso.  Horns form the bulk of noise pollution.  In my mind I ask the bus drivers why they are beeping, do they really think people stop in the middle of the road just for fun?

The bus drivers are timed how quickly they do their route.  This is obvious once you’ve ridden in a bus.  Interestingly taxis seem to feel the need to keep up to the break neck pace.

This brings us to traffic lights.  There are numerous places to cross with the safety of lights.  It’s common for drivers to run amber lights and only a fool would step onto the road before the lights turn red.  There is only one time that I’ve seen motorists slow down – and I can assure you that it’s not when Australians are jaywalking.  Little old ladies are the Alpha Males of the road.  When they step onto a road while the traffic is flowing, the sound of skidding tyres and crunching glass quickly follows.  Armed with nothing more than inch thick glasses and a fold-up-pull-along-shopping-cart, little old ladies have the ability to part traffic and hobble across the road in safety.

We have developed a new sport:  Shadowing.  When a little old lady steps out onto the road we jump out and cross the road in her protective shadow.  As with all extreme sports there is an element of danger.  The rules of Shadowing are simple.  Only cross with old ladies, old men don’t have the same traffic stopping abilities.  Stray dogs seem to be as powerful as old ladies when it come to stopping traffic but they lack the directional sense of an old lady.  When an old lady crosses the road it’s because she wants to get to a street vendor on the other side.  When a dog crosses a road it could be for any reason.  If the dog U-turns and heads back to its starting place that leaves you, the gringo, standing in the middle of a road with bus drivers trying to get to Checkpoint Zulu in record time.

We’re writing to the Olympic Committee to see if Shadowing can be included in the next games.

Friday, 24 June 2011

Here's to business ventures.

There are seals that swim close to the shoreline here and they seem to be here all year.  As a possible business venture we could buy a boat and take tourists out to Swim With the Seals.  Or in Spanish, Nadar con las focas.  The plan is simple.  Whack the tourists into wetsuits, one size fits all.  Chug out to the seals and drop fish heads in the water (to attract the seals, not sharks).  Wait two minutes and the customers jump in. 
I saw no flaws in this plan until going out to Paseo Muelle Barón.  A little further up there is a cement structure in the water where seals sun themselves.  From a distance, seals look like playful kittens that can swim.  Up close they resemble hungry lions.  After realising how big they are and watching how wide they can open their mouths I believe that the business needs a watertight waiver.

Paseo Muelle Barón is at the base of Cerro Baron.  This is the terminal for the cruise ships and unfortunately it is also where much of Valparaíso’s discarded water bottles and other rubbish ends up. 

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

New mini blog - now with 10% less sugar.

When we arrived in Chile we understood very quickly the importance of watching where we were walking.  With all the uncovered holes and doggy doo doos it is not wise to raise the eyes.   
This week we were reminded of the all important, Don’t lean on anything rule.  In the news we read about a tourist in Valparaiso who fell from the second floor when she sat on a window sill and it gave way.  Coincidently this week we noticed that a near by building had lost a piece of its wall three stories up.

Monday, 20 June 2011

The purple people eater.

Normally the sound of rain on the roof is very relaxing.  One person described this sound as endless Velcro being pulled apart.  Welcome to Velcroparaiso.    We know of one leak in the roof and it is over the kitchen.  Now whenever it rains through the night our first thoughts are, did I put the laptop away, where’s the camera, will there be a new leak discovered in the morning?  This morning’s student looked at the bowl catching the drips in our kitchen, “This is typical.”  What’s not typical is this much rain.

It’s quite difficult keeping the kids at home on rainy days.  They have to be quiet while students are here and there’s catch up work the next day.  We took a vote this morning if the children should go to school.  As a family of four the vote came out two against two.  The children learnt some Latin, quorum.  Usually a quorum is one more than half of the members so there aren’t any ties.  Talluah cast the deciding vote using her maiden name and the children were told to put on their uniforms.  

We have a purple plastic table coth left over from Truce’s party.  Thus founded the great transport company The Purple Walking Bus.  I stood at the front, Indiana and Truce in the middle and Talluah, striding like a cowboy so she didn’t crush Truce, held the rear.  We synchronised our steps and walked up to the end of the paseo in search of two things, an awning and a colectivo (a taxi that follows a set route) with three spare seats.  We found both and the children made it to school dry and in record time.

Talluah did an emergency dash to the Lider for groceries.  There were men strategically placed at every crossing selling umbrellas.   What a perfect location.  Potential customers trapped out in the rain while they wait for the lights to change.  Talluah even watched one vendor weave through the traffic to the other side of the road because there were more people waiting there.

When she returned from the Lider it was time to get Truce.  Seeing as she was already wet, Talluah volunteered to go up to the school.  She returned with not one but two children and two umbrellas.   The cleaner from the school had given her two slightly battered umbrellas that had been left at the school.

We needn’t have worried about Indiana having to do any catch up work. With all the wet weather only about 20% of the students turned up.  Several of the classes teamed up to watch Shrek.  Next time it rains this much we’ll home-school for the day – I love Shrek.  

Sunday, 19 June 2011

The politically incorrect burger.

The mystery of the lentil and bean seeds was solved today.  It’s Father’s Day in Chile and Indiana gave me a photo frame decorated in lentil and bean seeds that her friends gave to her.  I’m not sure if we’ll be able to get it through customs when we go back home.
Truce had made a love heart key ring with her photo in the middle.  Both gifts are hanging in the bedroom so I can see them all the time.

Talluah always spoils me with a cooked breakfast on special days. We are yet to find hash browns here so Talluah set about making her own ones from scratch.  If only every weekend was like this.

A student told us about a restaurant named El Guatón.  The best translation I could find was the Fatty but I think you get the picture.  We ordered the El Guatón burger that turned out to be very disappointing.  Though it is mammoth and would feed a family of four it has an excessive amount of avocado and tomato between three slices of bread with meat on two slices of bread.  They do make great chorrillana there and we’re slowly learning how to order simple hot dogs for the kids.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Money laundering.

We didn’t have a washing machine for the first month in Chile.  Laundromats are extremely expensive, around CLP$3.000 a load, and we hand washed everything in the bath tub.  When we first moved into this apartment we were overjoyed that it came with a washing machine.

Even with a washing machine, doing the laundry here can be tricky as we have nowhere to hang our clothes. Our dining room turns into Mr Wong’s Loopy Laundry on the days that we wash our sheets and towels.  With haberdashery strung between chairs it is a tough job stopping the kids from building tents and hidey-holes.

A few months ago our neighbour’s machine broke down and it took several long weeks before a replacement machine found its way into the building.  We pitied them while we washed our clothes.  We began to fret when we noticed a strange rattling noise in our own machine.  It was a noise similar to two pesos doing a sudsy salsa on the spin cycle.  Today the noise stopped – so did the machine.  It refused to drain.  Cut to Talluah falling to her knees, hands in the air and slow motion, “NOOOOOO” escaping her lips.

As the man of the house I was voted, ordered, by Talluah to fix the machine.  With cup and bowl we emptied the water out of the tub and then removed the back of the machine.  My skills as a mechanic stop about here.  I squeezed some tubes, wiggled some wires and rattled a few things to sound busy.   We tilted the machine on its side to look at the pump from a different angle.  This is when we noticed a plug on the side of the machine to let you inspect the pump.  We pulled out the two shiniest coins in all of Chile.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

A shocking power bill.

There is only one meter box for the house so the electricity, and other costs, are averaged out and divided amongst the tenants.  This notion works well enough until some evil-take-over-the-world type people moved in next door and decided to build a Time Refracting Anti-Polarising Vortex machine.

As yet I don’t have any real evidence of said machine being built but they fit the profile perfectly.  They’re quiet and keep to themselves, they have an accent and they like cats.  I’m just assuming the bit about the cats but the first two facts are true.  I haven’t found any blueprints lying about but our power bill has made a monumental leap into the stratosphere.

We have lived in this apartment for almost three months now and in that time the power consumption has gone down progressively.  In April the house used 425 kWh and in May 180 kWh but the last bill says the house used a staggering 680 kWh.

The dots have been joined I hear you say.  To go from 180 to 680 kWh is way beyond normal consumption and therefore it’s obvious that our next door neighbours are in the process of building a Time Refracting Anti-Polarising Vortex machine.

Our next challenge is to work out what this machine does.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

You sold the cow for beans?

Big brother lives outside our window.  When we first arrived at this apartment ten weeks ago, we noticed a CCTV pointing mournfully to the ground.  I assumed that either it was broken or ant crime was a problem here.  The latter theory was debunked when I saw some ants helping an old lady across the street.
Last week some technicians were working on the camera and now it whizzes around scanning the area about the ascensor.  At the bottom of the steps there is a hostel and the camera on its roof is now patrolling the streets.  Perhaps my focus (you’ll have to pardon the pun) has been changed but I have noticed more CCTV cameras around the city.  Either Valpo is serious about safe streets or there is a new reality TV show we don’t know about.

* * * 

We’ve received emails asking if the volcanic ash has caused any problems for us.  The answer is, not directly.  The volcano was about 1000km south of Valparaíso and so far we haven’t noticed any repercussions.

Our greatest resource for learning Spanish has been Indiana’s homework.  Understanding the words doesn’t always mean we understand the task.  Indiana also has a habit of speaking first and verifying sources later.   And I tend to believe whatever comes out of her mouth, “You have to find 200 things starting with the letter “j” by tomorrow?”
Last night’s homework consisted of having to bring in a seed from a bean or a lentil.  This is where the blog gets interactive.  If you have a lentil or bean seed in your house - at this very minute, press the letter [B] once.  If you do not have a lentil or bean seed in your house, do not press the letter [B].

The results are in:

You can watch that screen all day – that number isn’t going to change.  Even in Australia, where we had an established life, we didn’t have lentil or bean seeds in our house.  I don’t even know if a lentil has been inside our house much less happen to have dropped a seed during its visit. 
Why do you need a lentil or bean seed?
Insert shoulder shrug here.
How many do you need?
Reinsert shoulder shrug here.
Perhaps you’re growing it.
At this point, Indiana’s shoulders usually remain up to save time.

Never fear, there is a fruit stall that sets up about halfway between here and the school.  I sprout my plan of leaving five minutes early with Indiana and… What’s that?
“Can you take both the girls up?  I don't feel too well,” says Talluah.  At this point it should be mentioned that Indy and Truce start at different times and when it comes to walking to school, Pangea moved faster than Truce does.  We normally walk them up separately.
We have to leave now then.
“But we haven’t brushed our teeth yet,” chime the girls.
Here’s a Tic-Tac, let’s go.

I stutter out my pronunciation of poroto (bean) to the man at the fruit market.  He disappears inside his house and comes out a minute later and says, “Hay no.”  Undeterred he looks to the ground.  Of course.  The ground.  After spending the last four months telling the kids not to pick anything off the ground we all begin searching through the cobblestones for a poroto seed.  Pumpkin seeds, carrot tufts, something bluish green but no bean seeds.  I thanked the man for his time and continued to school.
Indiana has a well-rehearsed line to tell her teacher that we are but simple travellers from another land and didn’t bring certain items with us.  This speech now includes bean seeds.
I hope tomorrow her homework consists of algebra, that’s a bit simpler.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Happy 30th Birthday Talluah.

“Would you like to have a sleep-in for your birthday, mum?” 
Sounds like a nice gesture doesn’t it?  Just so there is no ambiguity, 7:15 is now considered a sleep-in.

The day started with presents at the breakfast table as the girls and I had a big day planned for Talluah.  Talluah is now sporting some of great fashions from Valparaiso.  Though she would look fantastic in anything today she was particularly beautiful in her jacket made by a local artisan.

We met up with Boris this morning and headed out to Quintay.  If you’ll pardon the cliché, Quintay is a sleepy little fishing village forty-five minutes south of Valpo.  It was once a whaling station and there is a very small museum with photographs from the 1950s when the station was in its heyday.  The museum isn’t a highlight but it does allow you to get to some great viewpoints along the craggy shoreline.

Talluah is a keen seafood fan and Quintay offers some great fresh seafood.  Boris showed us parts of Quintay that we wouldn’t have found on our own, such as Playa Chica (Small Beach), which is in the opposite direction to Playa Grande.  We went out to Playa Chica to help walk off lunch but the day slowly changed from brilliant sunshine to a crisp breeze.  We headed into town to catch a colectivo but in winter they aren’t very regular so we waited for the next bus.  In the next fifty minutes the crisp breeze turned into a fog, which forced us to huddle in the bus stop.  When the bus driver opened the bus we ran to the warm vehicle.

Back at the apartment we sang Happy Birthday by the glow of a single candle on a lemon merengue cake.  Thank you to all the people who sent birthday wishes and helped out with the Spanish lessons Talluah was thrilled.