Vacationing in the Rainforest

As odd as it sounds, we are in summer vacation now.  Our summer vacation goes from December to February.  We took a family trip to Iguazu Falls, Argentina and Buenos Aires.

Jack said that he thought Iguazu would have a lot of animals because the name, “Igua- zoo.”  Jack and I think that is funny.

We left early in the morning on New Years Day to go to the airport (I had wanted to stay up until midnight on New Years Eve, but if you are going to wake up at 5:00 am that is not such a good idea). We had to make a connection in Buenos Aires.  On the flight there, Mom was taking a nap and I was reading a book when an announcement came – first in Spanish – which I didn’t understand a single word of – and then in English, “Ladies and Gentleman, we will now be spraying the cabin with an insecticide.  Please remain calm, this will not effect your health.”  I whimpered.  I could tell mom had just barely woken up.  Then the flight attendant came through the aisle with a big can spraying as she walked.

Once we landed in Iguazu, mom said, “this airport might compete with Calama.”  It was just as tiny as the little airport we landed in at the Atacama Desert.  We got a cab to take us to our hotel which was the only hotel inside the National Park.  We saw a sign that said something like, “animal crossing” and had a picture of some strange animal we had never seen or heard of before.  We were truly in the rainforest.

While we were checking in to our hotel, The Sheraton Iguazu,  through the windows we could see a beautiful big waterfall.  But it wasn’t just one waterfall, there were like five or six separate waterfalls, some were huge and some were fairly small.  The waterfalls are basically a connection between three countries:  Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay.   The Iguazu River separates the two countries, Brazil and Argentina.  Apparently, when Eleanor Roosevelt saw the falls, she exclaimed, “Poor Niagara” because it was so breathtakingly beautiful.  It is one of the seven natural wonders of South America.

Iguazu Falls

As we were checking in to the hotel, we saw another sign which said, “do not feed the monkeys”  in big white print.  I thought to myself, “I hope we see some monkeys.”  We went up to our room and mom said excitedly, “Madie, Jack, come here.”  We went out to the balcony where she was standing and saw that there were monkeys climbing all over the roofs and balconies of the hotel.  One pooped on our porch.

Brown Capuchin Monkey

The next day we began walking through the park.  We saw the little animals from the sign, they are called Coatis, and a Toucan.

Cuidado sign Iguazu

Coati

Toucan

Isn’t he cute!

One of the most recommended things was a boat ride to the waterfalls.  We decided it would be the first thing we would do.  So we got on a truck that took us through the jungle and down to the river.

Jungle Jeep Trip

Our guide on the Jeep.

Arriving at River

We have arrived at the river.

When we got to the river, we saw lots of butterflies.  They seemed to really like it near the water.  There were tons of them where we were getting our life jackets on. It was like one of those butterfly pavilions you see at the museum or the zoo but it was their natural habitat.  One of the butterflies landed on our field guide trying to find himself.

Butterfly on Guidebook

We had pictured getting on a boat, going near the waterfalls, and getting a little damp from the mist.  We actually ended up getting absolutely soaked.  The rocks that the waterfalls were hitting sent a lot more than just mist our way.  I felt like a little ant in a thunderstorm.

Jack on the River

Madie, Jack, Mom in front of falls

MAdie, Jack, Mom Falls

Soaked!

Soaked!

John, Madie, Jack, Falls

Just a LITTLE wet from our boat trip to the falls.

Madie at the falls

Madie with Rocks Iguazu

While walking back to our hotel, we got to explore the different waterfalls and parts of the jungle.  The size of the park is nearly 68,000 hectares.  That’s really big.  As big as six Disney Worlds including all the parks, water parks, hotels, golf courses and everything.  And that is only the Argentina side, the Brazil Parque Nacional do Iguacu is another 185,000 hectares, or 20 Disney Worlds.

Shot of the falls from the Brazil side

At the waterfall chico, we saw this little guy.  He is a Golden Tegu Lizard.  The ground in one part of the area was crawling with ants.  The lizard apparently really liked to eat ants.  He would go into the ant nest, eat a couple, they would climb on him and begin to bite him, he would fling the dirt in the air causing more ants to climb on him and bite him, rub his body on the leaves and bark as he squirmed away from the ant nest, and then he would go back in for more! He did this many times until he got bored of getting bitten by the ants.

Lizard

Ants with the Lizard

Lizard and ants

Lizard rubbing head

Next, we saw a tree swaying back and forth.  We quickly realized that it had a monkey on top of it.  Dad joked that there were probably five or six coming up behind us because you can’t really find monkeys alone.  Sure enough, we continued walking down the path and we came upon five or six monkeys.  One of which had a baby on his back.

Monkeys on the path

Monkey with Baby Iguazu

The next day we went to the Brazil side of Iguazu park, Foz de Iguazu.  Mom and dad got to do a ropes course.  It looked really fun but Jack and I were too short to do it.  We did get to do a few things in the beginning and the zip line at the end.

Ropes course Madie

JAck ropes course

Kiersten Ropes Course

Mom and Dad on the ropes course.

Jack and Madie ropes course

Jack on zipline

JAck on Zipline

We also got to do this activity where you climbed up a big pole and jumped off the top (you were connected to something of course).  Dad thinks it was 50 feet tall.  Imagine climbing up to a four story building that was as round as a log that shook when you stood on it.  You were supposed to try and grab the bar but Jack and I were way too short.  It was fun anyway.

Madie climbing pole

JAck on pole

Jack jumping from pole

Madie with butterfly

Also recommended for the Brazil side of the park was the bird Sanctuary.  It was really interesting.  It had a bunch of different types of birds reptiles and butterflies.  In one of the enclosures that you could walk through there was a toucan sitting on a railing.  Next to it was me looking at it, behind me was a girl who looked about my age, and behind her was a little boy.  The toucan immediately began to hop in our direction.  I quickly moved out of the way, as did the girl but the little boy wasn’t paying attention.  The big old toucan pecked him on the forehead.  He cried but he was ok.  I’m glad it wasn’t me.

Bird Santuary

My friend the toucan.

My friend the toucan.

MAdie with Green Parrot

The last day we spent in Iguazu we did the canopy trail.  About half way through, after seeing birds and a little lizard, we saw the black vultures.  We had seen them before circling the falls to find the fish and birds and other creatures that had gone over the falls, but never as close as we saw them that day.

Black Vulture

Vulture

Plush Crested Jay

The Plush Crested Jay

DSC01148

We took a canoe down the Iguazu River.  The ride started up near the Devils Throat.  One of the things dad said he really wanted to see before we left was a toucan flying.  The rest of us had already seen one.  On the canoe ride we saw a toucan and just before we floated away, the toucan flew.  Dad was glad that he got to see it.

Iguazu River

Canoe trip Iguazu

There was a little butterfly that kept following us around.  I think he liked us.

Butterfly friend

I am helping the butterfly crawl on Jack’s finger

Butterfly Iguazu

Spider

I think this was my favorite trip ever.  It was really different from other trips and it had lots of animals that I had fun learning about.  We had a field guide and checked off all the animals as we saw them.  By the end, most of the animals in the book had been checked off.  It felt good to know we saw almost the whole jungle.

Madie and Jack Iguazu

Lost in Translation

So, after nearly 6 months, I thought I would finally try to make a contribution to the blog.  I’ve been so impressed with Kiersten, Madie and Jack’s dedication to this – and I thought it was time to pull some weight myself.  We get so excited when we hear that all of you are reading these.  We really do miss all our family and friends terribly and it is great to share these experiences.

Before I begin, I wanted to say how sad we all were to hear about the tragedy in Connecticut.  The story has been completely dominating the papers down here.  Obviously, part of the story is Americans and our guns but people are also just talking about how very difficult this holiday season must be for those families and communities.  Awful.

Getting back to our experiences in Chile … one of the things I’ve been getting more involved in at work is recruiting.  It is really hard for me because of the language and culture gap … but I haven’t found anything that makes me feel connected down here quite the way recruiting does.  Bringing in new talent makes me feel like part of the base.

Anyway, we had a particularly tough recruit last week – with an incredible background and a number of offers from similar companies.  We knew he was leaning toward one of the other offers based on a belief that we were too demanding (e.g., too many long hours, too much constructive criticism, etc.) and too serious and uptight.   The team thought it would be a good idea for me to go talk to him.

I’ll admit – I was pretty nervous for a number of reasons.

First, I really HATE losing recruiting battles.

Second, for those of you who know me, I can be a pretty good recruiter when I really believe in something and (well) a pretty awful one when I have my any doubts whatsoever.  I actually think the hours we work in Santiago ARE way too long.  I was quite nervous that I wasn’t going to be able to dissuade him of this notion.

The operating model here (in Chile in general) has a bit more of a “face time” aspect where people generally stay at the office until the last person goes home … and they adopt a work pace that goes along with that.  There isn’t yet a strong enough bias toward squeezing every last bit of productivity out of the hours from 9-5 so that people can get out of the office in time for fun with family and friends.

Third, I wasn’t sure I was the guy to convince him we weren’t uptight since I’m pretty sure I count as uptight down here.  I know … you wouldn’t think a guy who moved his entire family from the United States to Chile (mostly because they thought it would be fun) could be seen as uptight.

But if you start to look at some of the facts from a Chilean perspective … I’m pretty sure I am.  For one, I am American – and that alone puts you in the uptight bucket down here.  We live in the suburbs now (Maryanne – I’m not going to make a Buckhead vs. Midtown comment here since we all know Buckhead isn’t a suburb but a diverse, cosmopolitan city all its own that just happens to be near Atlanta).

And then you get into the behavioral stuff … I seem quite fond of breaking my thoughts into structured (even numbered) lists of things which is a huge no-no down here; I wear undershirts which means you’re uptight even in California but here it probably suggests I’m thinking about entering the priesthood. So I wasn’t sure I was the guy to convince him that we weren’t uptight either.

Despite my concerns, the “meeting” seemed to go well.  We had pisco sours (EVERYONE drinks pisco sours- even though I don’t like them I was trying to be cool) and found a mutual fondness for Shanghai where both of us had spent time in the last few years (quite the picture of globalization).  I shared all of my adventures with him; as is typical, he was more interested in my time at the NBA than anything I have done since.  He shared his plans for the future; as is typical, I was shocked to see a 22-year old kid with such well-developed plans for the future.

I tried to hang with him – talking about all the things I had seen colleagues his age move on to do after a few years working with us (e.g., PE work in Moscow, running a charter school, starting a rice farming business in Ghana, etc.).  I used A LOT of English unfortunately … but I left feeling pretty good about the conversation.

When I got home, I got a note from one of the young Chilean guys in the office.  He was friends with the recruit and had spoken to him after our meeting.  The short note said “In his words, ‘John Murnane es la Zorra!’.  I will let you figure out what that means.”  I quickly googled “la zorra” in spanish.  The first site offered translations that weren’t very encouraging.

http://www.interglot.com/dictionary/es/en/translate/zorra

Subsequent sites didn’t offer much more hope …In fact, it became much more bleak.

http://www.spanish-only.com/2009/01/spanish-word-of-the-day-zorra/

I replayed the meeting in my head and I couldn’t possibly understand where things went wrong.  Aburrido (boring) perhaps or maybe arrogante?  But a filthy insult seemed like a lot.

I responded to my colleague saying, “from the looks of my google searching, I probably won’t be needed on any future recruiting efforts.”  So what I hoped would be a real meaningful contribution to my new office, it now looked like I might actually be a liability in recruiting.

Later that evening my colleage finally let me off the hook and told me that while the official word in Spanish (and in Chile actually) was what I had discovered online, the young kids had taken to use it to mean “cool.”

To protect my self-confidence I haven’t tried to validate this unofficial definition with anyone outside of the office. I like the story better this way.

Oh, and he did accept our offer.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

The Good (sort of)

We had our first Thanksgiving as expats.  I was surprised at how difficult Thanksgiving was abroad.  You realize just how big of a holiday it is in the States.  We always spend Thanksgiving with our family and friends.  Being so far away you really miss the cadence of the holiday – the weather starting to turn cold, work slowing down a bit the week of, a clear mark to transition to the Christmas season.  We had none of that here.  We are heading into summer so the kids are swimming in the pool.  At work, no one has the faintest clue about a holiday in the United States and here in Santiago, there is no real indication that the Christmas season is upon us outside of the malls.

So Thanksgiving here already had challenges, but we were getting together with another American family to make the most of it.  Unfortunately, the morning of, our friend’s daughter wasn’t feeling well and they decided to cancel.  I freaked out.  It was a trigger I could not have anticipated.  I heard the news after dropping the kids at school so I immediately drove straight to Jumbo (the big Target-like supermarket) where I tried to assemble the makings of a Thanksgiving feast day-of.

My whole premise was bad.  None of the traditional Thanksgiving dishes exist in Chile.  They don’t eat sweet pumpkin so no pumpkin pie.  They certainly don’t have Campbells Cream of Mushroom soup for green bean casserole.  The Turkeys, for some reason, have no arms and legs (really – something I didn’t discover until I unwrapped it at home) and the ready-made pie crusts are intended for a savory items rather than sweet – just a bit off.  Oh, and they don’t have anything like chicken stock or broth – only bouillon cubes.  But, I gathered a bunch of random items into my cart and took them home.

Thankfully, my “nana” or maid works on Thursdays.  I arrived with bags and bags from Jumbo and did my best in my broken spanish to explain she and I were going to spend the day cooking a Thanksgiving meal (by the way, just that first part – “this is a huge holiday in the United States called Thanksgiving” took some incredible effort to explain and stretched my spanish-speaking abilities.).  We had many translation issues – Cecilia ended up shredding the 10 carrots I intended to put in the roasting pan.  She couldn’t make sense of stuffing – lots of chunks of stale bread stuffed inside the armless, legless Turkey.  But, we cooked the odd turkey without arms and legs and it was tasty (side note: for those of you who like all-natural poultry – forget it.  These birds are not only stuffed full of hormones, they are injected with salt.  It really is a lot to overlook).

Madie's Thanksgiving Artwork

Murnanes at Thanksgiving2012

In the end, the turkey was delicious (all full of salt) as was my from-scratch green bean casserole.  Our pie with the odd crust even turned out ok.  And, the fact that we did it all the day-of in another country is something I’m quite proud of.  And, the benefit to the opposite seasons, the day was beautiful so we got to enjoy an evening outside in perfect weather.

Redding Thanksgiving

Redding looking out over our backyard on Thanksgiving Day

We opened a really nice bottle of wine and made the most of it.  Ended up having a lovely evening as a family.  In earnest, whole-heartedly, we could all be thankful for our family and friends and know that we are not likely to take another Thanksgiving for granted.

The Bad

The Saturday morning after Thanksgivng Jack was excited about his Fútbol practice.  I organized a group of english-speaking kids from Nido to get together on Saturdays with the former captain of the Nido fútbol team to help will some skill building.  At Nido, the Chilean kids have been playing competitive soccer for a long time.  Real competitive soccer.  All the American kids come from leagues that focus on “having fun” and “good sportsmanship.” The American kids are getting killed here.  The Chileans are so much better that none of them pass to the “Gringos.” I thought getting the Americans together for some extra practice might help level the field a bit.

We live in the suburbs of Santiago:  Lo Barnechea, and specifically, Los Trapenses, is like the Marietta of Atlanta.  The air is clear, the houses are big and kids run around free from traffic in culdesacs.  Santuario De Valle is a particularly lovely subdivisioin with a giant park that runs through the center with kids riding bikes and tons of expat families. We decided it would be a great spot for practice.

This one Saturday, two other moms and I watched the boys practice, sitting on a park bench.  When practice had ended I went to grab my stuff (which had been right next to me on the bench the whole time) and I realize my wallet was stolen.  Sure enough, I had noticed a man had been sitting on the bench just next to us but little did I know he was scoping us out the whole time.  My wallet, with all my American credit cards, my Chilean bank card and credit card, was gone.

John immediately got on the phone to cancel our Chilean debt and credit cards (because everything has to be in his name here). It took quite some time to get the cards canceled.  We thought we could manage speaking to the bank representative in Spanish.  While our vocabulary is not super extensive, we do know some key words – robar, necesito cancelar debto y credito.  No tengo debito y tarjeta de credit.  Unfortunately, I just kept hearing John say, “no intiendo.”  Then escalating into some very familiar swear words in English.     Finally, we got things canceled.  And, turns out EVERYTHING was canceled.  My account, all of John’s cards as well, so we were without any access to money.

While Santiago is a remarkably safe place, petty crime is a real problem.  And, they don’t insure things the way they do in the states.  If someone had charged a ton of things on our credit card we would be in bad shape.  It also took until Thursday to get replacement cards issued and I had to go to the bank and sign many papers and wait 24 hours for the new cards to be “activated.”  What a pain.

The Ugly

Without the clear transition of Thanksgiving, and temperatures hovering around 80 degrees and the Chilean school year ending marking the start of summer vacation, I was not feeling much of the Christmas Spirit. Minus my typical cues I had to really think about what we do in preparation for Christmas. I decided to ask around to understand what Chileans do.  The short answer, “not much.”

Not a huge surprise, but no real Christmas trees. I needed to get comfortable with the idea of a fake tree.  We went to Easy (the Home Depot of Chile)  to check out the offerings.  The trees are small, really plastic and rather pathetic.  I mean, they look so flameable that the idea of putting a light on it almost seems like putting a flame to bacon grease.  They are not big – 5 feet tall at most, scrawny and they smell and look like bad plastic from the 70s.  Oh, and they cost about $250 for the most pathetic offering. A more “fancy” option at a department store will set you back $500.

John and I thought maybe we would skip the whole thing.  We wouldn’t put up Christmas at all and instead just head to a small beach surf town for a few days.  Go completely in the opposite direction.  But a friend going back to the States for Christmas kindly offered her tree if we wanted to borrow it.  What a wonderful thing.  At least now I would just need to come to terms of the fake tree – not the fact that the fake tree cost upwards of $500.

We got the tree home and while trying to put it up I nearly cried. There is so much wrong with looking at a bunch of super plastic parts.  No smell of pine, no sticky fingers from the sap, no rush to get the fresh tree in water.

christmastree2012parts2

Is this really better than having no tree at all?  Giant gaping holes in the plastic allowed me to see straight through to the other side.  Isn’t the ONE benefit to the plastic tree the fact that it CAN be perfect?  You can actually construct the tree so that it looks really symetrical and lovely.  Hmmmmmm.

Not quite the fullness of a natural tree

Not quite the fullness of a natural tree

John trying to work miracles on the Christmas Tree

John trying to work miracles on the Christmas Tree

Even Redding wasn't quite sure about the tree.

Even Redding wasn’t quite sure about the tree.

Don’t get me wrong, we love Chile and feel grateful for this adventure.  But, we have learned that the holidays are rough as an expat.  I was really surprised to learn that Chileans put much more energy and excitement around Dieciocho, their independence day celebration, than Christmas.  We learned most Chileans work Christmas Eve and the days following Christmas.  For a country 85% Catholic, wouldn’t Christmas be a bigger deal?

We realize now that we took many of our Thanksgiving and Christmas traditions for granted.  We would complain about how many holiday parties we had to attend, how could we find time to get to the mall to shop, all the family we had to make a point to see.  My guess is we probably won’t complain about any of that when we return.  I’m glad we decided to put up the tree, pathetic and sad as it is likely to be, the kids really were excited and so happy to bring out our Christmas things.

But I do think we will try and find a little beach town for Christmas 🙂

The Atacama Desert

Family at Salt Flats

Family at Salt Flats

Instead of Trick-or-Treating this Halloween we took a family vacation to the Atacama Desert in Northern Chile.  It is said to be the driest place in the world.  Our hotel, Explora Atacama,  offered many different hikes, horseback rides, bike rides, etc.

When we arrived at the Calama domestic airport, instead of going out through the jetway, the opened the stairs off the plane.  We had truly just landed in the middle of the desert.  The Santiago airport is rather impressive compared to the one in Calama.  I can’t imagine having the job to advertise for the Calama airport, “Welcome to the Calama not-so-international-airport, where you can fly to places like Santiago, Santiago, and Santiago.”  Really.  I looked at the departure board and there were no flights to anywhere but Santiago.

We got in a van with a Brazilian couple speaking Portugese and drove to our hotel which took about an hour. My dad tried to do a call on the trip to the hotel and got disconnected twelve times in seven minutes. There was obviously no cell reception in the desert.  Looking out the window, my mom said, “those mountains look like a bunch of volcanoes.”  We later found out that those mountains were a chain of volcanoes, and a few of them were active.(yikes!)

Once we got to the hotel, we departed on our first excursion.  The van took us to a small town.  We noticed that the roofs were only sticks and dried grass.  I guess it is because they don’t get any rain there so they don’t need a roof to keep the rain out.  Our guide said he wanted to show us some llamas.  He led us to a small door in the wall.  We opened the door and there were a few people standing with three llamas.  The baby one liked me.:)

llamas

Llamas in the small town on the way to the Salt Flats

Rocks? Sand? Nope! Actually, these rock-ish things are clumps of salt.

We got back in the van and the guide took us to the Salt Flats.  At first I thought it was a bunch of rocks.  I asked the guide why they were so weirdly shaped.  He explained that because the salt flats were so old the salt had formed itself in big shapes.  The salt flats, the largest in Chile, are home to the Las Flamencos National Reserve and hundreds of Flamingos.

The Gray Flamingo (a la izquierda) is a Baby.(if you don’t know what “a la izquierda” means, look it up.)

Our Guide Showing us the Salt Formations

The Sunset’s reflection on the mountains Was Beautiful

The next morning we set off on our second excursion to the Valle de Muerte.  Our guide said they called it the Valley of Death by accident.  The Frenchman who named it had meant to call it “Mars” after the planet but his accent on the Spanish was misunderstood and therefore “Muerte.”  This was my favorite excursion.  First we hiked up for about an hour.  My mom kept telling us to stay to the right of her because on the left was a giant cliff.

We got up to the top and the guide informed us that we were going to go down.  I wasn’t sure if he meant we were going to walk down the sand dune or if he meant that we had to hike all the way back.  Then he took off running down the sand dune.

Ready…..Set………

Go!

Our guide and me.

Running in the sand dunes was hard because of the elevation.  Atacama is at 7500 feet high which is even higher than Lake Tahoe where my grandparents live.

Start of the Hike

In the afternoon, we did the Cactus hike. It was a very different hike from any of the other hikes.  There were multiple times where we had to cross the river.  We also climbed over many rocks.

We found a lizard!  I like Lizards!

He is Blurry Here, But Isn’t He Cute!

We walked into a canyon and followed the river for about two hours.

Then we began to climb up out of the canyon.  Jack got ahead of most of the group on this hike.  He did really well.

Hiking Out of the Canyon

Jack  and our guide leading the pack on the hike

The next day was the official “Madie day” of the trip even though it was my dad’s birthday. In the morning we went horseback riding.

Getting Fit for my Helmet

Jack and Me on horses

Mom and Jack had gone back to the stables because Jack could barely breathe (he is allergic to horses). After a while of walking our guide explained to Dad and I how we could get our horses to trot. All we had to do is bounce up and down on our horses, giving it a little bit of a beat to trot to. It was really fun.

The next excursion we did was a mountain bike ride to a salty lake similar to the Dead Sea.  We could float in the water when we got there.  When we were deciding which excursion to do, and they suggested this one, we actually said that Jack wasn’t the strongest bike rider but they said he’d have no problem with it.  When we were getting ready to start biking the guide admitted that he didn’t have a bike small enough to fit Jack.  Jack ended up having to ride in the van.  When we began to ride, mom asked the guide how many kids did this excursion.  “Not very many” he replied.  We had a feeling this was not going to be an easy bike ride.  Biking in Atacama

The ride was 18 kilometers. We had no idea it would be that long.  It was really, really hard.  By the time we got to the salt lake, I was absolutely ready to pass out pooped.  But the swimming was fun, even though the salt really burned our sunburns.

The last excursion we did was probably the prettiest.  First we walked across a field of salt – very different from our first experience with salt flats.  

Valley Of the Moon

Valley of Moon

salt formations

When we reached the bottom of the canyon, the salt began to look less like salt and more like frosting on a cake or snow.  Our guide said we had to be very careful not to damage any of the salt so that the next people who came and did the hike could experience it like we did.

Okay, so sure I’m a little disappointed that we didn’t get to celebrate halloween, but the desert was even better!

Rio!

One of the great benefits to moving to Santiago was the opportunity to explore a different part of the world.  Now that John is part of the “Latam” office he had a conference in Rio de Janeiro that happened to coincide with my birthday.  My mom came to stay with the kids and John and I headed to Rio for 4 days.

Rio was amazing.  I was expecting a very dirty city with lots of crime but instead found an amazing exotic place.  We were fortunate to stay in a fabulous hotel, the Fasano Hotel was located right on Ipanema Beach.  The spot was great.  Each morning you could take a run along the beach and join the most eclectic array of people and watch as all the vendors set up for a busy day at the beach.

View from the rooftop of our Hotel

While in Rio we got the chance to go to a samba school where they work all year in anticipation of Carnival.  We visited the famous Mangueira Samba School.  Two of the dancers gave us lessons in the dance and then we got to decorate a headdress and watch a performance.  I can honestly say I’ve never seen anything quite like it.

John, our instructor and Henry and Liz learning how to Samba

I took a tour of downtown Rio.  While the tour was interesting, I’d probably stick to the beach if I came to visit again.  Some of the architecture was really stunning and it was fascinating to hear the history of how this city came to be.  Unfortunately time has seen many great buildings fade and new “modern” architecture replace the old.

Downtown Rio

We did have some fabulous meals in Rio.  One night we had dinner at Roberta Sudbrack.  The chef (for whom the restaurant is named) was the former private chef of the Brazilian President.  She has been named the best chef in Rio many times and her restaurant is included in the list of the top fifty restaurants in the world.  It was one of the best meals I have ever had.  The dessert was amazing (and I don’t even like dessert!).  With such great meals, my one regret is not being able to find the hole-in-the-wall place with great beans and rice.  Next time.

The highlight of the trip without a doubt was a trip to Christ the Redeemer.  I was nervous that it might be one of those iconic tourist destinations that can be incredibly disappointing.  It was the opposite.  One of the amazing things they do is make every visitor (even if you are in a tour group) take a sponsored bus to the top where the statue is located.  This prevents all the cheap souvenir salesman from overwhelming the place.  Instead, it is this stoic, peaceful place at the top of the largest urban rainforest in the world.  It was truly spectacular.

Under the statue is this area to walk out with 180 degree views of Rio.

Before we left Rio, we spent the morning on the beach.  There is an entire industry surrounding the beach in Rio.  Vendors of all kinds, bathing suits, food, suntan oil, etc create this background noise and a constant hum to the experience.

Oh, and it is not a stereotype that Brazilian beaches are filled with scantally-clad people.  If you were 99 or 19 you were wearing a string bikini and most suits didn’t appropriately over all the right spots. Even the men revealed as much as possible.  It made me smile when I think of how older women in the states move on to a swim suit with a skirt 🙂  Brazilians must look at Americans and think we have serious issues.

I am anxious to go back to Rio.  It is really a magical place.  That said, in talking with people, they have done a ton very recently to clean up the city and decrease crime.  The very poor areas of Rio, the favelas, can been seen from anywhere.  According to Wikipedia, nearly 12 million people live in favelas in Brazil.  With Brazil hosting the 2012 World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympic Games, more work is being done by the government to improve these areas.  I’m sure you could hear different perspectives on how successful the efforts have been, but the majority of residents told me things have improved dramatically.  I found a very interesting article about this in National Geographic Magazine.  A complicated issue for sure.

Dieciocho 2012

We have neglected the blog a bit.  I didn’t want to miss posting about the Dieciocho Holidays.  It was such a different experience for us.  Here is our much overdue post:

September brings two big holidays to Chile:  September 18 or “Dieciohco,” which is the Chilean Independence Day and September 19 which celebrates the Army.  The two holidays together create a celebration that lasts for a whole week with schools closed and everyone off work.  All over Chile, people celebrate with fiestas patrias or “national parties”, reenactments, traditional dancing, music and games.  (some additional background with this link from About.com)

It is hard to properly convey how big this holiday is in Chile.  I’m not sure there is an American equivalent.  A bit of fourth of July – in that there are so many outdoor activities in parks across the country.  A bit like New Years Eve –  in how hard people party.  You are even expected to give gifts to everyone from your nana or maid, trash folks, newspaper delivery people, etc.  It might be bigger than Christmas, and for a country that is 85% Catholic, that is a big deal.

Dieciocho at Nido de Aguilas

In anticipation of Dieciocho, Madie and Jack spent weeks learning traditional Chilean folk dances in PE and traditional songs in music class.  The cueca is considered the national dance of chile, many traditional dances are on display during Fiestas Patrias.  Each class at Nido learned a different dance.

Madie and Jack  had to dress in traditional outfits for the performance.

Madie’s class waiting to perform at Dieciocho Celebration at Nido.

Jack’s class waiting to perform at Dieciocho Celebration.

Jack’s class dance had the girls and boys dancing as couples.  You can imagine what a bunch of second graders thought of that! But the dances were quite elaborate.  I was very impressed with what the teachers took on.

In addition to the performances, the kids also had parties organized individually by classroom with traditional Chilean food, crafts and games.

A bit of a sidebar here:  The idea at TCS (our old school) where parents were expected to bring in healthy food options would never be a thought here.  “Fruit Break” in the states translates to “Candy break” here in Chile.  Most kids bring in Starbursts for snack.  You can imagine what comes into the classroom for a party.  Even Minute Maid fruit juice has extra sugar here.

Madie trying to get the coin in the frog’s mouth.

Madie and her teacher Ms. Maca putting together the pinwheel with the colors of the Chilean flag

Another mom teaches the kids how to spin a top by wrapping a rope around it and releasing it.

Jack in his classroom for Dieciocho party

Students listen to Ms. Sandi as she explains how to make a Chilean flag.

Traditional game of “Duck, Duck, Goose” but in Spanish.

Dieciocho in Santiago

Throughout Santiago different groups, Municipalidads, etc. host Dieciocho parties.  We had heard the that most kid-friendly was the Partido in Parque Hurtado.  In fact, we understand that the Parque Hurtado option was created because many of the other parties are insane.  Lots and lots of drinking for days on end.  Check out this link for “Fondas 2012” and you can get a sense for just the many options there are.  You can choose from hundreds of Fondas for every taste.  Santiago Magazine provided a good overview of the choices for this year…. if we were 10 years younger.

Choosing the family-friendly Parque Hurtado option, there were so many great activities.  It reminded me a bit of a state fair but many more horses.  The Chileans love the Rodeo.  There were two different rodeos going on at the park along with many craftsman making cowboy hats and other gear for the rodeo.

Animal exhibit at Parque Hurtado

Vaca, por supuesto.

One thing that was very similar to a state fair was the lack of fine food.  The meal of choice was anticucho which is basically meat-on-a-stick.

Slow cooking meat over an open fire.

They had tents filled with traditional craftsman. Here Madie is watching someone make the brim of a cowboy hat.

With all the copper mines in Chile, there was an exhibit that showed all the uses of copper. Here they were fitting a horse with horseshoes.

With September 19 the celebration of the army, the military had a HUGE display.  They also have parades throughout the city.

Madie and Jack in an army helicopter

Many families also take advantage of the week off from work and school to travel.  The downside for non-planners is that when the entire country is off at the same time, you need to book any vacation a year out.  Next year we will be much more on top of everything.

Given that all of our stuff had just arrived from the states, it was good to stay in Santiago and just get our house settled.  We hung pictures, organized rooms.  It really made a big difference to getting our house to feel more like home.

An Amazing Weekend

We had an interesting weekend.  It started with Fiesta Huasa which is a party that happens in September every year that celebrates Chilean history and culture.  My mom said it is part of Fiestas Patrias which is part of the Chilean Independence Celebration.  It is kind of like one of the festivals in Piedmont Park except different.

There were games that you might find at a festival in the United States such as sack races or games where you try and get the ring on the bottle.

Jack and I doing Sack Races

There were also games that were not common in the United States.  One game had a circle of what looked like bunny houses with numbers on them.  In the middle of the circle was something that looked like a cage.  A man in a festive colored poncho sold tickets with all the numbers of the bunny houses.  After he sold all the numbers, he would open the cage and a scared little guinea pig would come out, look around, and skitter into one of the little bunny houses.  We didn’t win, but I didn’t really care.  The prizes were barbies and dinosaur figurines. (You have to watch the video below.  It is Hilarious!)

Guinea Pig Game

Selling Tickets for Guinea Pig Game

Next we ate some food for lunch.  They had a booth for hotdogs, a booth for anticucho, a booth for empanadas.  Jack said he was in the hotdog line and they asked if he wanted avocado (palta) on his hotdog.  I had no idea that hotdog toppings would be any different in Chile.

Food Menu at Fiesta Huasa

Horses are a big part of Fiesta Huasa,. The Vice Principal of Nido was riding a horse as part of a parade, he fell off his horse and his horse fell on his leg.  I saw him a day later with a cast. (Don’t worry, he is okay.)  He and his family also just moved here from Oregon.  His wife is Jack’s teacher.

The Horses at Fiesta Huasa

During Fiesta Huasa, I noticed that I was one of the only people wearing jeans and a t-shirt.  Many girls were wearing flouncy dresses that didn’t think even existed anymore.  There were also women and men in equally elaborate outfits doing traditional Chilean dances on a stage.

Girls in their traditional Chilean party dresses.

A tradition in Chile around this time of year is to fly kites.  It looked like there were thousands of kites in the air during the fiesta.

Kites for sale at Fiesta Huasa

On Sunday, my mom found this little church with a Mass in english.  She suggested that we go on a short hike after church.  The church happens to be located next to the largest park in Chile and one of the largest in the world.  Parque Metropolitano de Santiago is also where the zoo and the madonna are located.

Directional Sign in Parque Metropolitano

We began the hike thinking we were only going to go to a lookout post we could see on the horizon.  We ended up just taking a break there because we realized we could walk all the way to the zoo.  We were not sure how long it would take but it looked like it was about seven kilometers.  We knew we couldn’t walk 14 kilometers (7 there, 7 back) so we decided we would take a taxi back to our car after the hike.

Map of Parque Metropolitano

A park ranger on his caballo

Top of San Cristobol

Our plan was to walk to the Madonna at San Cristobal  and take the funicular down the mountain.  After three hours of hiking we arrived at the top of the mountain only to find the funicular was closed.

Sign posted saying that the funicular is closed

So, after three hours of hiking, we found out we had another hour and a half hike to go – this time down the mountain that we had just climbed.

At first it seemed okay.  The path was really steep so I was glad we were going down instead of up. We kept saying to each other that our legs felt like jello but there was really nothing we could do about it since we had to get down the mountain. Eventually we got to the bottom.

Once out of the hiking trail area, we landed in Barrio Bellavista and we found a great pizza place in Patio Bellavista called Pizzeria Constitution and sat outside.  We celebrated the end of our weekend (and our incredibly long hike) with the best pizza in Santiago.