Friday, March 24, 2006

Curanto...enough said.

I thought it was time that I finally try to capture the true essence of Curanto (it deserves to be capilatized). This is an infinitely difficult task, and I am fully aware that I probably won’t be able to give this ambrosial delicacy the conclusive write-up that it’s due, but I had to try. I felt like I owed the three daring souls who tried this comida tipica de Chile something for at least trying the stuff. If anyone else is at all familiar with Curanto, feel free to let us all know what your experience was like…I’d hate to slander this dish having only witnessed what it’s capable of on one occasion.

Curanto, is indeed one of the most well known typical foods of Chileans, especially those living within close proximity to the coast (which arguably is the entire country). When translated into English, Curanto means “Chilean meal of mystery meats that we fool the tourists into eating”. Actually, it doesn’t have a translation, but if it did, that would be pretty close. It really is an entire pot full of mysterious looking shellfish (clams, mussels, and many more), claws (seafood or small sloth?), pork chops (3 whole), turkey legs (3), potatoes and various floating chunks of white, pink, and slightly off-white items (once again meat?). Now I know what you’re thinking, something like “how in the world would anyone in their right mind order something like that?”. Well, it’s a lot easier than you think when the menu is in Spanish, with many unknown words signifying various types of meats (mentioned above) and when all the Chileans that we have met have told us that it’s muy rico. Looking back, we should have known that it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be when the waiter (who would later give me a fake 5mil bill…grrr) told us that it wasn’t very pleasing to the eyes, but very good. Hindsight I guess.

Anyways, Luke, Tyler, and Emily decided to go in on the Curanto for 3 people together and give a shot…you only live once, right? Well, I’m not sure if any of them will ever use that phrase again. It was that bad. When the waiter brought out the steaming pot of assorted mystery shellfish, with 3 large pork chops sitting on top and turkey legs sticking out randomly, they all realized that this was no ordinary food dish. To their credit, they all tried a little bit of everything….and kept it down, even if it found its way out in record timing. I should note here that Luke ate Curanto within 6 hours or so of boarding a plane for the 12+ hour flight back to Seattle. I think that he would recommend that unless you enjoy living on the edge (or flying bathroom class) you don’t do the same. Once again, lessons learned.

During lunch/dinner, the Curanto provided endless entertainment for all. I thought it was funny on how eventually, all 3 of the Curanto connoisseurs basically were taking various types of food out of the big pot, peeking inside, sticking a fork into the meat and then putting the entire thing in their “already eaten” pile. I don’t think it fooled anyone though. The meal finally came to a close when someone commented on how different the insides of 2 clams looked, despite the fact they had the same shell…think light pink vs. liver pâté. That was the final straw. That and the fishing line type substance found inside another shellfish someone was “eating”.

In the end, we determined that Curanto is most likely all the scraps that have been lying around the kitchen during the past week, that they have saved in a pot and when there are people adventurous enough to try this thing called Curanto, they simply throw it in the oven with some saltwater, and bam!...Curanto. So, thank you Tyler, Luke, and Emily for allowing the rest of us to live vicariously through you and your experience with Curanto.

And that guys, is the best I can do…I think if I had actually tried the stuff I could probably written a novel about the entire experience that Oprah would recommend to millions who need help loosing weight…if only I had tried it…

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Second Half of Travels

As promised, here’s the rest of our early adventures in Chile…From the island of Chiloe we decided that we would head north again, try to fit in some thermals and possibly some hiking while still getting us a day or so in Valparaiso before everyone starting heading back to the states. We left Chonchi on the 17th of February, around 800 in the morning. We were hoping to get all the way to the Pucon area, so we could head to a hot springs we had heard about from Canadian Carlos, to stay a couple of nights before moving on to Valparaiso. This was day 9 of our trip, so you would think by now we’d gotten all of our travel methods down, and that we had learned from any earlier mistakes making us virtually flawless traveling gringos…however, this was not the case. We got off at Castro in time to buy tickets for a bus headed there within 5 minutes. However, the bus was running late, so by the time it arrived, we were already supposed to be on the road.

Anyways, we checked our bags below and boarded the bus, ready to go as we were already running late. However, Luke, in his effort to be the best husband ever, instinctually deciphered his wife’s comments about juice to mean that she would like some on the bus ride, so he ran off the bus to grab some, as well as some water for the rest of us. Meanwhile Emily and I were just sitting down on the bus eating an icecream treat. A few seconds later Luke was back on the bus, without juice and without water, apparently he needed more money, although I’m a little hazy on the details…so he grabbed some more money, ran off the bus again, and we never saw him again. Well, actually that’s not true, but about 5 seconds after he ran off the second time to get the juice (which in the end represented so much more than a refreshment-more like a symbol of sacrificial love) the driver started backing out of the terminal…everyone just sort of looked at each other thinking “this is not good”. I ran up to the bus driver, who is separated from the rest of the bus by a glass door, and I knocked to get his attention. He waved a finger at me, but I kept on knocking until the bus steward who was up there with him opened the door. I explained that a friend wasn’t on the bus, and he basically told me too bad. I think he was in quite a hurry because he had been late getting to the terminal in the first place. Well, eventually I convinced him that I would be 5 seconds, so I ran off the bus while he turned around, to look for Luke. He wasn’t at any of the small concession stands around the bus terminal, and he didn’t show up after a few shouts, so I ran back to get on the bus. We continued to pull out of the terminal and drive down the road, while us gringos figured out what to do. It was decided that I’d stay and find Luke and we’d meet up at the terminal in Puerto Montt, about 4 hours away. So, once again, up to the front of the bus, to talk to the bus driver who didn’t want anything to do with me this time. However, I convinced him that I was really going to get off the bus and stay off, so he stopped in the middle of the road for me to jump off, not too far from the bus terminal. I hustled back to find Luke, and found him drinking juice and eating icecream at the terminal…well something like that. We got on the next bus to Puerto Montt, and were able to meet up with everyone there. However, we did consequently miss our next bus heading to Pucon, so we decided to head to Osorno, which was about midway between P.Montt and Pucon…still a 5-6 bus ride.

We pulled into Osorno around dark, found a pretty average room rental place (someone’s home basically) and after running head on with a man peeing in the middle of the sidewalk (seriously, there are trees and walls around buddy, not to mention bathrooms…be more creative!) we grabbed some food a local Denny’s type restaurant.
The next morning we were off early for a long ride to Pucon. I think that we decided we weren’t going to figure out how many hours we spend riding buses, so that we wouldn’t get depressed…it was a ton though.

We arrived in Pucon, and got a hold of the Pangui hot springs place who said they’d come in and pick us up. Now, we had heard from Canadian Carlos, that they would do this, and I guess we assumed that it was a free service of the hot springs. However, this would be a great place to add that nothing, nothing, and I repeat nothing, is ever “gratis” down here. We learned that even if someone gives you a thumbs up and says something is gratis, that means you’ll probably pay the equivalent of 20 bucks for it. For the most part, we learned this “Gratis principle” too late in the trip to really avoid being taken every now and then by everyone and their dog at some point. Anyways, we drove for about an hour on the highway out of town, and then another 45 minutes winding our way up a dusty mountain road with some pretty unbelievable views and drop offs, right Lisa? By the time we finally pulled through the gates of Pagui, we couldn’t believe what a good deal this free ride had been. Well, after we piled out of the van, the driver, Alejandro I think, said that it was 10,000 pesos or about 20 bucks. Well, ok, not bad, so Tyler slips him a 10mil and then he says, nope, that’s 10mil a piece stupid gringos. Ouch. After that sour taste in our mouths dissipated, we all paid him the big bucks, and in a daze-like stupor wandered off to check out these teepees that we would be staying in. Although the Pangui got off to a bad start with the whole paying through the nose for a ride we thought was free, we managed to leave that behind for the most part, although we made sure to get our money’s worth, which I think we did.

We dumped our stuff at the teepees, and got a tour of the thermals, which consisted of 3 hot pools, 1 really hot pool, 1 creek temp pool, and a “mud pool” which consisted of warm dark water in a 6 by 12 shallow ditch with a hornet nest on one side of it…we didn’t use this one. However, as a whole, the setting of Pangui was absolutely beautiful. Huge Alerce trees towered over the thermal pools, with a small creek running through the middle of it all. This was one of those places you never admit to going to, a buddhist, natural healing center with organic vegetarian food and drum frenzies with chanting after dinner. However, we managed to avoid most of the weirdness of the place, and really enjoyed ourselves.

Daniel, the owner is worth mentioning as well. He is a gringo from out east, but has been living abroad in various countries for the major part of his life. Right off the bat, you could tell that he had done way too many drugs in his earlier years. In the few conversations that we had with him, we discovered that when he was living in Canada in the late sixties, he had a dream (a trip perhaps?) in which he saw himself walking among these monstrous trees with a creek and hot springs in the mountainous area. He heard a voice that told him he was to be the keeper and guardian of this special place. He didn’t think much of the dream at the time (maybe because he was busy having other “dreams”?) but several years later, when he was living in Columbia and self employed with his own “business” (in which he wore a bullet proof vest-were those even invented back then?) he realized that if he didn’t leave Columbia, he would soon die. Apparently the business he was in was notorious for violence and killing…hmmmm what kind of business I wonder? Anyways, he left for Chile, where he found a lady and stuck around. Eventually he heard about 30 acres of land for sale locally, with virgin forest, a creek, and undeveloped hot springs that was tucked up against the Argentinean border in the mountains. The first time he visited, he knew it was his special place (anyone tearing up yet?). He bought it in the early 90’s for 50k. Anyways, very peculiar man, one of those guys who always has a ridiculous grin on their faces no matter what is going on. Also, never moves his head, just his neck…sort of like a big turtle. Anyways, we later heard that he’s had several armed run ins with his neighbors, who have been cutting down trees near his property…he takes his guardianship calling very seriously.

Pangui really was a beautiful area though, huge trees, clean air, steep mountains and very few people. You could easily see why someone would jump at the chance to own something like the hot springs area…very unique. We hiked some in the mountains, and then relaxed in the luxurious hot springs after our vegetarian dinner. After a night of wonderful sleep we headed back down the mountain (don’t worry, the 10mil included the trip back to Pucon) to catch a bus for Valparaiso.

We had the genius idea of riding through the night, leaving at 10pm and arriving sometime in Santiago around 800am. It made sense in our minds, and we were all excited to get a good night’s sleep on a coach bus whose seats reclined just like a lazy boy but designed for someone who is about 5’6. Our theory was sound, but our sleep was not. Apparently the bus driver and his helper just couldn’t figure out how to regulate the temperature inside the bus. Tyler had the unfortunate luck to have a seat next to the heater which resulted in some major feet sweat and nearly second degree burns. He had a good attitude about it though, one of incredulity that a bus could really be that uncomfortable. During the 10 hour bus ride I don’t think anyone slept for more than an hour. We’d go from a sweaty sauna type atmosphere to a dry ice freezer all in the matter of about 10 seconds, and switching between the two extremes about every 20 minutes. It really was brutal. We couldn’t believe that sleep could be so impossible. The bus ride eventually was like a bad dream, although they did serve us pop and cookies for breakfast, as if we needed anything else besides the temp extremes to wake us up.
In Santiago we hitched the next bus to Valparaiso, only about an hour and a half trip, and slept more soundly than we had the entire night before.

Our time in Valparaiso was short and consisted of checking out the beach in Vina del Mar, hitting the local artisan tourist stores, riding the ascensores (steep trolley-type elevators that travel up and down the steep hillsides of the city), and eating good pizza, but bad seafood. We were only there for one night, so it was fairly brief. I’ll talk more about the city itself later, unless I find a job…ha. Lot’s of funny stories here though; being flipped off and told that America stinks bad by a guy who was wearing a Lance Armstrong bracelet on the same hand he flipped us off with…getting passed a fake 5 mil (10 bucks) bill at a local seafood restaurant, and the first official run-in with Curanto (a typical Chilean seafood dish which will receive its own special entry). All in all, it was a nice quiet end to our 13 days of traveling. We weren’t impressed with the city as much as we had been expecting, all the books and guides really build it up as the most unique and culturally vibrant city in Chile. However, after living here for another month, I would say that if we did it again, knowing what I now know we would have a much better time. Live and learn I guess. However, overall, the Chile trip was great fun, and an excellent experience. We learned as much about each of our traveling companions as we did about the places we went, saw several thousand linear miles of Chile, and really got to experience a little bit of everything. However, you realize on trips like this how gigantic the country really is, and how many areas and destinations that remain of interest. I guess that’s the allure of traveling and adventures though, you can always find somewhere else to go and something else to experience, whether it’s down the street or a continent away.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

How many minutes to buy a pen?

No this is not a trick question nor a riddle...seriously it took me 20 minutes this morning to buy a blue pen that cost the equivalent of 15 wasn`t even that crowded...the whole concept of a line and waiting your turn does not factor into any activity down here...that goes for bathrooms, restaurants, buses, and yes, buying pens. Of course there`s the whole personal space thing as well, but that can wait til later. The next time you buy pretty much anything in a relatively timely manner, savor the experience and realize that it sure is a treat.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Tyler, Glenn and Julie, Linnea and Brian, or whomever is lucky enough to read this first....

No joking around here, the first one to respond to this Blog Entry will be the proud new owner of this poodle/chihuahua Hybrid. This cute little guy is on my way down the hill everyday, and just keeps getting cuter. He likes to chase balls and frisbees, lay in the street, eat garbage, cuddle, and yes, scratch...I think he`s even worse than Mya. Anyways, this is your one and only chance to call him your own...for only $200 I will bring him home to the U.S to be the beautiful pet of whomever replies to this entry first...the clock is ticking...and he`s not going to be without an owner for long, c`mon, look into his eyes and tell him he`s not worth $200...can`t do it can you...

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

¡Que tenga suerte!

Emily has been in school for 3 days now, I´ll let her write about that whenever she get´s a for me (which is why you are tuning in anyways...ha) I am still wandering around the streets of Valparaiso (Valpo if you are cool) looking for something to keep me occupied. Sometimes this is buying bread and feeding pigeons, sometimes it is bearing witness to a new breed of dog being created that you never thought could happen. Today however, it is looking for employment (yes, still). The family that we´re staying with, Hugo and Mariaesther thought I´d have no problem finding a job doing just about anything I wanted to do...however, after many calls, several face to faces with secretaries and countless hours spent walking around, I still have nothing to show. It´s a good thing that they play so much 80´s music here, otherwise I would have been depressed a long time ago. Anyways, I have a few potential jobs in the works, and will let you know as soon as I do what happens. I think they may work out though...why? Because a pigeon pooped on my yesterday. That´s right, there is a reason that the shadiest bench in the square is usually empty, or occupied by clueless gringos (in this case). Emily had just hopped off the bus and sat down with me to chat about the day when a creamy white chunk of watery frosting exploded on my arm and shoulder...I´m not sure what these pigeons get fed, but this was no white-bread raised pigeon...probably more like asparagus and yogurt. At any rate, I tried to play it cool, while Emily laughed and pointed and drew even more attention to us gringos...I eventually had to take off my shirt and walk home watching the sky so that I would at least survive with my only white T-shirt still clean. Anyways, when I got home Mariaesther told me that down here, they call that a pigeon baptism...which always brings good luck. So, that´s it for now, I´m headed across the street to the same shady bench in hopes of bringing as much luck as I can to the job hunt, I figure I might as well be trying to get as much luck as I can right now. Take care.

Friday, March 03, 2006

First Half of Travels

The Adventure Begins: We left Phoenix on Monday Feb 6, flew to Atlanta and then through the night to Santiago Chile!! All in all a pretty uneventful trip, hardly even any turbulence. The flight to Chile was about 10 hours, not too bad. Upon arriving we were welcomed into the country with the typical Latin American hospitality of being grossly overcharged (well, I guess ounly about $4.00) for a taxi ride to our hotel, Hotel Los Arcos. We spent the next few days trampsing about Santiago, sleeping, sampling the completos (blog in the works), absorbing the history and culture, and catching up on sleep while we waited for Luke, Jamie, Tyler, and Lisa to arrive for our trip.

Adios Santiago! Once everyone arrived and recuperated we were off to see the country (actually only about 1/6 of it). Fortunately for us, the public transportation here is amazingly comfortable and relatively cheap. Almost all the intercity buses are big, clean, coach stle buses that put the US greyhounds to shame. Our first stop was Talca, unbeknownst to us at the time as large, dusty, and fairly unimpressive first stop. We were less then excited about the city (which we would discover again and again with all cities we encountered), so we decided to seek sanctuary in a small hostel outside of town, which turned out to be a great decision. La Casa Chueca, our oasis was a small peaceful guesthouse located on a hill over looking the Lircay river. The actual casa chueca was full, but we were able to stay at the summer home of a wealthy businessman right next door. Basically, we had our own private soccer field, swimming pool, and gourmet breakfast experience...definitely the nicest place we ended up staying in during the trip.
La Vina Balduzzi: The open road was calling our names so we said goodbye to the lovely Casa Chueca and hit the road for Temuco. En route to Temuco we stopped for a wine tour at the Balduzzi Winery. The tour was fairly interesting, and although I couldn´t exactly describe all the subtle flavors of the various wines, the grapes were the sweetest thing I have ever tasted. We arrived in Temuco around 10:00pm, late for us Americans, but early for Chileans seeing as they partake in more of the European lifestyle, where the day starts much later around 9, they eat lunch and take a siesta around 1-4. Typically there is no dinner, but instead an once, which consists of tea and sandwhiches and can happen anywhere from 8-11pm. We stumbled upon a wonderful pizzaria in an uptown area of Temuco, which we all agreed was the best pizza we´d had in quite awile...original too.
Pucón the adventure capital: The next morning we made our wa to Pucón, a picturesque town situated on a beautiful lake that happens to be right beneath an active volcano. This however did not deter the Chileans nor ex-patriots from building obscenely large houses, hotels, and condos in the area...think Lake Tahoe for a comparison. We weren´t sure what the town felt like, but it definitely wasn´t Latin America. Chile has the second highest disparity between rich and poor in Latin America (Brazil is first) and Pucón was our first glimpe of that reality. Despite the disturbing similarity to the U.S we still managed to have a ton of fun. We rented a small house for 3 nights where we were thrilled to have our own space and be able to relax without some stranger blowing smoke at your face. We spent the days touring the town, swimming in the refreshing/briskly cool lake, cooking our own meals, and of course otherwise testing our limits.
Hidro Speed or bust: Definitely a limit tester. Being that Pucón is the adventure capital of Chile, we knew we had to do someting daring and life threatening...we talked about hiking the volcano to catch a glimpse of the lava spray, or river rafting, but none seemed quite right. Then, we came across Hidro Speed, which is more or less floating (felt more like a hard swim) down class 2 and 3 rapids wearing dry suits (which we all peed in) helmets (which Tyler peed in) and flippers in what appear to be the front half of a sawed off kayak. It was the rush we had been looking for and turned out to be an absolute blast. I´m not sure I would do it again, it seems like you can really rack yourself up on the rocks if you don´t hit the rapids right. Tyler is thinking about bringing the Hidro Speed to the maybe in a few years ýou´ll be able to Hidro through Yankee Jim on the Yellowstone.
Isla Chiloe: After our time in Pucón we were looking for something a little more chile and a little more local, so we decided to head further south. We made a group decision to head to the island of Chiloe in order to experience the supposely more laid back and authentic coastal chilean lifestyle. It took about 8 hours by bus to get to Castro, a city that would put us in striking distance of various day trips. Because we didn´t rent a car, we always needed to be near towns that had bus services to the destinations we were wanting to go to...a bit annoying, but not much else you can do besides rent a car. One of the themes through the trip was the huge amount of good sized cities that we encountered all along the way. Although Chile has 1/3 of its 15 million people living in Santiago, there are still a multitude of larger cities that range from 50,000 to 500,000 scattered all over the country. Castro was one of these cities (50,000 with a summer vacation crowd as well), and instead of finding the small town feel we were hoping for, we turned up in Castro at the tail end of a heavy metal concert, complete with punks and everything...sort of a bummer. However, we found a house fro rent just outside of all this action and right next door to one of the beautiful old churches that the island is famous for. There are over 200 of hese things, built by Jesuit priests in the 1700s and 1800s to jump start Christianity on the island. Chiloe is an island that had and still has strong folkloric beliefs, so the priests built all the churches in hopes of curbing their traditional beliefs...doesn´t seem to have worked too well though. From Castro we took a day trip to Curaco de Velaz, a small island NE of Castro. We went solely to eat fresh seafood and lay in hammocks, and were were not dissapointed, although we later found out that it was illegal for the small restaurant to serve us raw oysters because of the seasonal warmth of the surrounding ocean. The oysters weren´t anything special...I guess if ou like them they were good and cheap, but I´d rather have a shellfish empanada anyday. There was fresh apple cider as well. Our other day trip was basically a walk on the beach outside of the island´s national park...interesting but by no means a highlight of the trip.
Chonchi, an authenic and small fishing village that we visited next however, was a highlight. We roamed the streets checking out the knitwear and even tried some liquor de oro, fermented cows milk liquor which tasted like bugspray. No one bought any. We spent the night at Esmeralda´s by the Sea, a hostel run by an ex-canadian named charlie, but known far and wide as carlos the gringo. He was an extremely interesting guy, but had many useful travel tips and man did he know how to cook (or had someone who knew how to cook working for him). We had the most delicious meal of the trip at his place, for about 8 bucks a person. Fresh merluza, a local cod with a butter and onion sauce, with fresh salad (a delicacy in Chile), a whole pot of clams, fresh wheat bread (also a wonderful suprise in this world of white bread and constipation) and chilean wine...buen provecho indeed. We followed all this with a large Vienetta icecream cake...maybe you remember them from years ago when they still sold them in the US (at least MN anyways). Emily and I have been looking for them for a long time and we were ecstatic when we caught a glimpse of one in a chilean grocery.

To be continued...we´ll finish up with the rest of the trip and our first week in Valparaiso in the next BLAAAG. It promises to be exciting though, with hotsprings, teepees, stoned ex-american bhuddists, and fake money. Stay tuned.

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