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Alethea Eason, author of HUNGRY (HarperCollins, October 2007), writes about the process of publishing a first novel, balancing teaching and writing, travel to Chile, and issues affecting young people.
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1. more videos

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2. Leaving

Mexican Twirlers (for lack of a better term) on a summer day in Valparaiso celebrating Mexican culture and the amistad entre Chile y Mexico.

Three weeks left to live in Chile. I haven't written as teaching and editing has taken most of my time and energy, but before I go I do want to leave some last thoughts to end my blogging about this part of my life.

Favorite Places: The little plaza in the barrio Concho y Torro in Santiago, Ancud, Chiloe, traveling through the desert, watching the ocean outside of my window in both places I've lived in Concon.

People I won't forget: Susana, Pamela, Ximena and her children Paz and Gaspar, nanny Inez,the English department at St. Margaret's, the Junior School staff, Joan in the photocopy room and the rest of the auxilaries, Pia and Carmen in the library, Sandra, my neighbor . . . and my students, especially my 4th medio girls: the Andreas (A, H and P), Ashley, Romina, Alexandra, Ximena, Fernanda, Paz, Francisca, the Maria Joses J and C), Diana, Pauline, Isabella, and Maria Ignacia.

Most Chilean memory: Riding on the bus from Loncura at night, sometimes standing holding on to the seats when there were lots of people, people sleeping, listening to their MP3 players, children singing, lights from the refinary letting us know that we are almost in Concon, crossing the rotunda.

Strangest thing: The two headed baby girl floating in a large jar of formadehyde at the sad little natural history museum in Valparaiso.

Most distressing: too many swastikas painted on walls, the anti-Jewish grafiti in Valpo, Santiago and coming into Arica.

Second most distressing: the street dogs who, on one hand are delightful, but on the other, they break my heart.

Wish I had:learned more Spanish.

Most challenging things: dealing with paperwork and stamps and being told different things depending on which official I talk with.

Best places to walk: Valparaiso, the beach at Quintero

What I'll miss most: dinners with Susana, the fog, my classes at St. Margaret's, the wonderful fruit juice, the seafood.

What I won't miss: finding myself in vehicles without seatbelts, toilets with no seats or toilet paper or lights, and at times all three not present, honking horns, clocking in and out of work, things that don't work like lightbulbs right out of the pack, high prices for paper, toothpaste, lotion, shampoo, etc. etc.

Who I especially appreciate: all the people who have given me rides,and Rosemary Faille for being the fairy godmother of beaurocracy maneuvering.

I haven't been in a writerly mood lately. Perhaps I'll get to here and write another post or two, but something tells me I probably won't. I am thinking of a post I made last year about how I felt there was something in Chile that I felt was missing back home, a love of life, I think I said. I realize that this isn't quite as true for me now as it was. Being here has definitely made me appreciate the U.S. more I think we're all just people, wherever we might live and the life you choose to live is up to you. The longer I've lived here, the lonelier I've become, perhaps the newness washing off. It's time to go home. But Chile has become a part of me, and what a gift it has been to be here.

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3. Notes from the English Department: Easter in Fall

I'm writing as the sun is beginning to get low. A slow afternoon of not much going on. For lunch, we had salmon bought right from the fishmonger. One of them once told Bill he could come to her kitchen and cook anytime. I shared a bottle of wine with Bill. We rarely drink a whole bottle, but today is Easter and the afternoon slow. This morning I went to St. Peter's, the Anglican church in Vina Del Mar, which is very English. I learned that the Gospel According to Mark was written like a best seller, with an ending that leads you hanging and wanting to know more. I like trivia like that. But as lovely as the people are there, I miss St. John's, my church at home in Lake County, California, the place where most of the parishoners support Gay marriage and where Shared Ministry has been practiced because we can't afford a full time priest. That means we get to make a budget and plan the songs (not me because I can' t sing, but I did write the newsletter) and grumble a bit. I miss the grumbling. Before we sit down, most of us do a kind of little bow or curtsy to the alter that they don't do here, and we use the old form of the Lord's Prayer more often, which I prefer. We've kept more to the old forms in general. It's like how Americans still say gotten, but the English don't.

I'm reserved and my personality predisposes me to be one of the Frozen Chosen. There was guitar music during Holy Communion today and it annoyed me. I prefer the old hymns. I feel my English major coming to roost in them. I used to feel my bones were buried in an English churchyard in a past life. Weird. It passed, but the thought stayed with me for a long time as I got to know Episcopalians. I'm a latent one. Not from the cradle, as they say.

In my doubts, which I have many, i found the first church I ever was comfortable at St. John's. Redwood gothic. It creaks like a ship. Motorcycles sometimes go up the street during hymns. We've had bikers come to church. If I'm really in a rush or haven't gotten the ironing done, Iwear jeans.

This Easter, as usual, my doubts seem larger than any belief. I feel Christian because I like Jesus. Not sure I love him; he seems a bit stern at times, but he'd be one of the people from history I'd have over for dinner if I could. I know that with my disposition, had I been born Jewish or Muslim or Hindu, I'd be in just about at the same place . . . probably attending a synagogue or mosque or temple with the same half-faith that I have lived with all of my life. As a child, my parents didn't go to church but would send me to whatever Southern Baptist church that was close by where I'd ask Jesus into my heart countless times, and not feeling he ever got there, kept on asking. I guess I still am in a way.

Mrs. Haines, my Sunday school teacher when I was eight, got mad at me because I went up to an alter call after having gotten down on my knees in her class a few weeks before and asked for salvation. You only do it once, according to her. She told us that the size of our houses in Heaven would be built according to how many souls we saved. Mrs. Haines warped me, and I got in trouble at home because people from the church came to tell my parents the good news, which they would have been just as happy not to have heard.

Bill and I are were in Valparaiso yesterday buying some extra macrame necklaces for our friend Charlene who is back in Canada. While we were talking to the vendors, beautiful young women in sight and soul who happen to be Communists, a couple of ragamuffins came and pulled on Bill's shirt. They wanted a donation for the Judas they had made. Today, many Judases, along with political figures, will be burned in the cerros on Valparaiso. One of the lovely Communistas said that Bush has been burned many times. That's an Easter, if you ask me. A little fire. A little effigy burning . . .now, that sounds like a party.

Last year as I went to St. Peters, a group of about two hundred Pentacostals passed me by, singing joyously, throwing confetti and handing out candy in celebration of the Lord's resurrection. I missed them this year; they must have taken another route. Even though I have my prejudices about conservative Christians, I kind of wanted to follow them because of the music and their energy. I'm not into contemporary Christian hymns. Most of them sound like they are being emitted from a bad FM station. Really bad rock and roll from the 80s, and the like. But I do like gospel music, and though this wasn't it, it had a great beat. They were joyous, an emotion that I have to admit I feel I haven't had my fair share of.

I'm not sure where I'm going with this other than I wish that I could look at life with eyes more open, find fewer barriers in my soul, unloosen a bit. I'm one of the shy people Garrison Keillor speaks of, even if I'm not a Lutheren. I'd love to be a Buddhist, actually. I sometime admire atheists. The dead Jesus thing gets to me. I learned a few years ago that the earliest Christians, those Communistas, would have never thought of putting up a crucifix. It was too real for them, too brutal. It was only after the memory of real crucifictions faded that they started to appear.

Truth be told, I might be a better Christian Scientist or a determined follower of A Course in Miracles, as they make more sense to me. Only the sensory elements don't. Or with the history I've had. I have too many fixed signs in my chart. Maybe that's why a half bottle of wine on an Easter afternoon beats Easter Eggs.

I want to burn effigies and handle snakes and find my mind overstepped by emotion. Forget about creeds. A problem for a Protestant, at least this one, who since Mrs. Haines and before (Dr. Bob at Central Baptist could probably have hosted Fox News) has worried about what to believe. I'm shy to admit this, like how uncool can I be?

Chile isn't necessary a Catholic country anymore . . .( my other influence as all of my parent's friends, retired cops from Detroit, were Catholic. We didn't eat meat on Fridays because we always had one or another of them over. I can still say the prayer from heart where you ask for blessing all the faithful departed may they rest in peace amen after asking for blessings for the bounty we were about to receive). The government made October 31st a holiday last year, the anti-Halloween. There are enough Evangelical voters now to be catered to. Lots of Mormons here. Seventh Day Adventist, too, who are mainstream other than that they eat healthier than the rest of us and have the Sabbath on the right day.

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4. Notes from the English Department

Rosa y Luna, photo credit:Sandra Edwards

Last night we decided to take the coastal route on the bus ride home from Vina del Mar. We got off far enough from the steps that lead up to our house for a chance to walk along the breakwater. The tide was high and waves splashed over the rocks, their last wisps directly below us. The moon lit the clouds, mottled like doeskin, and the rocks held the sheen of water and foam.

We found a path to a rickety staircase. My husband went down and sat on a lower rung that was right above the tongues of the waves. Susana spoke of how she swam naked with a friend a year ago in the sea, how cold the water was, and how much she wanted to do it again. When Bill climbed up to us, Susana said, "My turn," and glided down the steps, stepping on to the top of the rocks. Waves broke over her feet as she balanced above the water. I have lousy balance; I envied her ability to stand there, poised and laughing, as the waves surrounded her. She came back happy with wet shoes and pant legs. My emotions have been ebbing low. What a gift to watch the sea in the moonlight and to hear laughter in the midst of it.

Today has been the first day I've wanted to write fiction again, after nine months (!) of time off. I've worried that blogging might take the place of making stories and novels. It's so immediate. Satisfying. And after a tap of a key, people can read it! Is the purpose of writing to be read? Or does writing itself, most of which stays in private nooks of computers and journals, the gift? These questions are too facile, but writing is lonely, and if you do it truthfully, hard work. With Internet and blogs, we are in a new world. What would the Bronte sisters do if they had blogs? Walk upon the moors, in the heather, and then come home to blog? Would novels be written?

I'm grateful that I have had the opportunity to be modestly published. I'm grateful for friends and relations who have read manuscripts during times I was still learning to believe in myself as a writer. Yesterday I was contacted by one of my most brilliant students, a young woman named Michelle Berger who was writing novels as a fifth grader. She told me she'd read Heron's Path, and it was the type of novel that she loves. A reader. Great joy. And yet, even without that reader, a writer writes.

The ocean is not far from my door. When it's especially quiet at night, we can hear it as we fall asleep. I open my window in my bedroom when I iron and watch small sailboats, seagulls and, on hot days, the usually smooth surface transformed into whitecaps as far as the horizon. I want to put life in words. I need to put my life in words, even if they're about a girl with six tentacles or two sisters who are not sisters, one of whom turns into a bird to take her real family home. Or to write a blog like I am tonight.

I don't know how this time in a foreign country will transform into fiction, but I begin to believe it will. We return in three months to California, and our life in Chile will be a dream: a cloudy night sky over the sea, saying the words for clouds and fog in Spanish, and watching a friend standing in the foam as waves rush past her feet. I will have these words to make it real.

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5. Notes from the English Department

Sandra and Alberto, my neighbors, had their stolen car returned to them by the Carabineros, the official state police of Chile. Unfortunately, the stereo, the ignition, several personal items and some alarms that Alberto uses in his security business (irony, here) were taken, and the windows were broken and the seats torn up. For the Carabineros to pursue the matter, Sandra would have to leave her car with them AND pay for the rental storage, so she's chosen to be philosophical, get her car repaired, use a neighbor's yard (and gate) for protection for overnight parking and move on.

On a happier note, congratulations to Alejandra and Ximena. They gave their speeches today for the teachers and girls of Cuarto Medeo English here at St. Margaret's, along with three other girls with wonderful speeches, and were chosen to go to Santiago on the 15th of April. They will attend the English Speaking Union's annual contest. Students from British Schools all over Chile will come, and the two top speakers will go to London for the international event. The theme of the event is Regeneration and Renewal. Ale's speech is about the transformation that technology is having on the ways we interact with each other, and Ximena's is on recent research into prolonging life, perhaps for as long as thousands of years. Would you choose to take a pill to prolong your life? At what costs? Would it be ethical in light of overpopulation and climate change?

My school is involved with the International Baccalaureate Program. This is my second year with an incredible group of fifteen girls who could shine in any Advance Placement English class in the United States. Unfortunately, school years are different in the northern and southern hemispheres, and I have to be ready to teach in California after Labor Day. Though there have been many wonderful (and challenging) experiences at St. Margaret's, this class has been the highlight of my time here; not being able to finish the year with them is the thing I regret most about having to leave in July.

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6. Notes from the English Department










Our neighbors, a woman with a bad back, a self-proclaimed black sheep of a well-known and wealthy family (they own one of the largest banks), and an old friend who just moved in with her, have called the Carboneros twice today. The first time was because of their stolen car. At 3 a.m., my husband heard the engine start and back out of our pasaje. She always turns the car around and then drives out. He got dressed and banged on her door. No answer. I woke and tried to call her, only to find that I hadn't saved her number on my cell phone. As no one answered, we hoped for the best, that they had decided to leave . . . to get cigarettes, perhaps . . . and went back to bed, not feeling very good about it. My husband wishes now he had made more of a ruckus and woke them.

Because they now have to walk and she can't afford a new car- her black sheep status has left her poor, our neighbors have become concerned about a dog in the neighborhood that we told them about and called the Carboneros again. We actually went to the police yesterday to make a complaint. The dog lives around the corner from us, and acts docile enough as long as his duenos aren't around. If they're there, standing out of their gate or coming in or out with the car, he turns into the Cujo of Golden Retrievers. Yes, a viscious Golden Retriever, the biggest that I've ever seen. He has a scar on his nose, so we've wondered if he's been beaten. The dog goes crazy and the owners do nothing. He almost attacked a good friend walking from the bus to our house on Friday night. Earlier in the day, my husband confronted the owner once after the dog snarled and rushed toward us. Bill picked up a tree branch to fight him off and asked the owner why the fuck he didn't do something about the dog. The owner's response was, "Why do you not respect me?"

So, I guess we'll tell our story again. My neighbors feel frightened and violated and wants to feel secure again; however, we're not really sure what else to say to the cops. Or how to say that they're overwrought and we didn't want to complain again unless it was necessary, as the police told us yesterday they'd speak to Cujo's owners. The survival Spanish we've cultivated so far doesn't go that far.

The Carboneros take pride in that they can't be bribed; it's good to live in a country where the police are honest. Unfortunately, thievery is common here, and growing more so. The son of the dog's owner have driven by in their huge pick-up and have threatened Bill after an earlier run-in, and so we definitely want the police on our side. Our little home feels close to paradise at times as the roses bloom in the garden and we listen to the sea at night. We will be going home to California in four months;things like this are helping us on our way.

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7. Notes from the English Department


St. Margaret's gates, just like Buckingham Palace's.


The last day of summer here in Concon has been foggy and cold. We went to Vina today to eat at our favorite little restaurant (soup, pork and rice for 1,200 pesos, just a bit over 2 dollars a piece) and people were dressed in their winter sweaters and hats, with bufandas wrapped snugly around their necks to keep out the chilly wind blowing on shore from the bay. I've grown to like the cooler weather and the fog. I like the mood fog puts me in, as well as wearing the beautiful sweaters here, especially my fuschia ruana (a shawl that acts a bit like a poncho) I bought in Arica. On the hill where St. Margaret's sits like a palatial English manor, it's even colder, a different micro-climate. The mist down here in the lowlands often becomes rain when I arrive to work in the morning. Teachers have said that for a British school, the climate is perfect.

Several teachers and students went to meet Prince Charles and Camilla while they were here in Chile a week or so ago. The prince was overheard saying that while Santiago is a beautiful city, Valparaiso is cool. They met him at the Prince of Wales Country Club, of all places. One of the surprising things about living here has been learning how extensive Britain's involvement has been with Chilean culture and history. Lord Cochrane, the 10th Earl of Dundonald and various other titles, fought with Chilenos in their War of Independence with Spain in the 18th century. His headquarters in Valparaiso has been perserved as a national monument. The Chilean word for plumber is "gasfitter," a left-over from the English era of manufactoring and shipping that made Valparaiso in some ways more English than Spanish in the 18th and19th centuries. It was a busy port before the Panama Canal was built, a place where ships that went around the Horn had to stop. Today, Cerro Concepcion and Alegre, the hills that were the center of British (and German) culture, are World Heritage sites and tourist areas where the corregated buildings with lots of gingerbread that were left stand in various stages of renovation or decay.

At school, the girls all stand and sing Happy Birthday to the Queen on her birthday. At one time, if girls were caught speaking Spanish at St. Margaret's they were punished. I've met several lovely women from that era who speak the Queen's English and have tea at 4 or 5 o'clock (which now is known as "onces" from the eleven letters of a brandy called Aquardiente that used to be put in tea long ago). Now, from sexto basico (6th grade) on up, all lessons are in Spanish, except for their English class. Standardized testing is requiring emphasis on Spanish literacy skills, especially the PSU, a test all quarto medeo (12th grade) students take. Performance determines what schools and professions students are allowed to go to in universities.

Saying this, there are times that I almost forget I'm in a Spanish speaking country, as I work in the English department. Margaret, the department head who shares her name with the school, helps me with my Americanisms as I make worksheets (my use of "gotten" and "jewelry" this week). I'm insisting on English only in my high school classes, which has proven very challenging. The girls thought I was afraid that they were talking about me in Spanish. I explained that that wasn't the case, I was just using a good teaching practice. My explanation seemed to be what was needed. A reward of a five minute break if they were polite and attentive during our 90 minutes together helped too.

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8. A Llama, A Lot of Adobe, and a UFO

We missed the UFO that flew over San Pedro de Atacama, a small village that not long ago had no electricity and was as far away from the modern world as you could imagine. It is now the most expensive place in South America to live, a mecca for tourists coming or going into Chile from Bolivia and Argentina. Streets mainly consist of restaurants, stores with items twice as expensive as in Arica, and places to book tours to various natural wonders that surround the town.

We had night of fitfull sleep worrying about our suitcase that a customs official in Arica had put not only on the wrong bus but with the wrong bus company. When we reached Calama,the Tur Bus driver drove the huge bus around town as dawn was breaking and located our bag at the Pullman station. Once in San Pedro, I was getting muscle cramps from being dehydrated from a stomach issue that began in Arica . . . we've seen restaurants in Chile called La Tourista and think No! No! No! . . . and trekking to La Valle de la Luna in 30 degrees Celcius or leaving at 4 a.m. to go to El Tatio Geysers, so high they're below freezing when the tourists arrive, weren't appealing choices. The mother of all bloody noses I got the first night sealed the deal: we were ending our vacation in the pursuit of shade and cerveza.

San Pedro is over 6,000 feet high and like most of the Atacama Desert, it never rains there. Ever. Irrigation water comes from the Andes but there is no potable drinking water. Many of the locals are being priced out of living there as new resorts are put in, salmon is shipped from the coast and prices for food, drinking water and other commodities soar.


The town is made completely of adobe. Even the swankier places being built are using the traditional style. The street below is in the newer section of town.

We stayed at a modest house for a modest price, sleeping beneath a ceiling made the traditional way with small limbs of trees tied together. Our floor was dusty and the outdoor showers cold, but the people who took care of it had an adorable five year old whom we listened to chat away while we laid low in the afternoons hiding from the heat.

This was the threshold to our room which we thought was beautiful because it was so worn.

We decided to visit the town of Toconao, 1000 pesos by local bus, located about forty kilometers away from San Pedro and several hundred feet higher, the cleanest place I've seen in all of Chile. There was NO litter anywhere. The town was charming, the buildings formed from a volcanic stone called laparita .



There is a very pretty Plaza de Armas, as all plazas in Chile seem to be, and a lovely church called Iglesia de San Lucas with a convent with no windows.


One of the doors to the convent made out of a type cypress.


We wandered into a taller, a workshop for handmade sweaters, scarfs, shawls and mittens made from alpaca and llama hair. We met Luisa, her daughter, and her pet llama. She was using cactus spines to knit a small puppet.


Louisa and her llama

She told us to follow the signs to take a walk in the bosque above.

Later as we waited for the bus, we walked to the other side of town and Bill spotted this volcano. It always smolders. We were told that it is the only active volcano in Region Two, but then we were also told it's in Argentina.

In the San Pedro area the light seemed crisper and the land full of a special energy that might make encountering things out of the ordinary possible. Please forgive the science fiction writer in me, but both the cloudless ultra-blue sky and the diamond pinpoints of stars at night made my imagination go to work. I wanted to keep going into Bolvia which was only a few kilometers away and run away from the school year that's facing me. Of course, I hoped for some kind of mystical experience, but somehow I just don't encounter them.

During our first night in San Pedro, we saw a man set up a telescope in the middle of the street. Looking behind me, Venus was was bigger and brighter because of the altitude and clear atmosphere. I thought he was charging money to look through the thing but later that night in the hostel we were told that he was there because something large was moving very fast and irradically. Oh, well. Even though I missed the UFO right above my head, but later that night I finally saw the Southern Cross as I made my way in the dark to the outdoor latrine.

My husband and I have camped in the most isolated places you could imagine in the Nevada desert or along the narrow spine of California between the Sierras and the Nevada state line. You'd think if there were UFOs, we'd have seen one. The only thing I know is that I've met many people, down-to-earth types, who have. More UFOs have been reported in Chile than in any other country. There was one last year right here in Concon, in fact. The caretaker where we live, a woman with no ego, told us that a something huge spun above her head for ten minutes a few years ago, only to vanish within seconds.


Right before we moved to Chile, I met a woman who had just returned from Peru and had this to say about her experience at Lake Titicaca: She and her fellow travelers were getting ready for a walk at the lake where they'd reach a viewpoint just as the sun was rising. It was around 3 a.m. and they were adjusting their cameras, snapping practice shots. People around her started to gasp. She clicked her camera and saw herself on the screen floating transparent but illuminated with a cord that stretched out of the picture reaching back to her. She and some others went back to their hotel and asked about this. The woman at the desk said, Are they your spirits or our spirits? She showed her picture and the woman said, Oh, they're yours. Later as they were reaching their destination and light was beginning to appear, she said three large "crafts" streaked through the sky, shaped unlike any airplane she'd ever seen. They fell then into the lake and disappeared.

Anyway, an interesting story for what it's worth.

We left San Pedro for a 22 hour bus ride through the desert to home. This last shot was taken an hour or so out of Antofagasta, the setting sun on a beautifully barren mountain with nothing but sky above it. It was all I really needed to see.

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9. Arica and Tacna, Peru

Traditional Dancer from Los Diablos, Dancing Fraternity from Bolivia

We hadn't planned on going to Arica when we left home, but in Iquique we decided to go as far north as time allowed. It took five hours on the bus, a snap after our other marathon rides, while we passed more behemoth mines and an oasis or two where melons and olives grew. The bus climbed a steep grade until a sheer drop of at least a thousand feet was below us and then crossed the top of a desolate mesa that stretched for several kilometers. We climbed even higher before making an ear popping plunge to sea level and the city of Arica.

I was glad I had a novel to read (Nancy Kress' Probability Sun) along the way. I looked out the window below us for as long as I could stand it, but when the bus raced around a curve I diverted my eyes and went back to the literary comfort of the possibilty of all of space-time unraveling.


Arica lies just south of the Peruvian border. Russ, a Kiwi who with his wife runs the Sunny Days Hostel, told us that there are two or three rain showers a year at the the end of February which lasts for fifteen or twenty minutes, the entire precipitation for the year. The city's slogan is "The City of Eternal Spring," though it felt like eternal summer while we were there. But that was a good thing. We spent a couple of wonderfully lazy days walking in the morning and then coming back for a siesta of reading and the best naps of summer. The evenings were paradise, warm but with the ocean breeze flowing onshore.

We arrived on the first night of Carvinal Fuerza del Sol by happenstance. We soon learned that dancing fraternities whose participants, mostly indiginous Aymaras from Chile, Peru and Bolivia, compete for the equivalent of 10,000 dollars worth of prizes. Most groups consist of children and adults. They practice every night in their hometowns as precision and creativity are highly valued. Each group had a band and the drums beat like hearts as they wound through the streets, finally ending at the Plaza de Armas where the judging stands were located.

This is the first group we came upon. Many of the people dancing here are elderly and we wondered at their endurance as their costumes seemed to be very heavy. They kept this pace for hours. Even with frequent cups of water, it had to take stamina:


Young children often danced in the front, followed by a drum major (for lack of a better term) and group of pretty young women in short frilly dresses that chanted things like: We're from Tacna, and we're the best. Watch us win the prize. Woooo! as they shimmied down the streets in high heels. Sometimes there were young men dressed in modified conquistador costumes with bells attached to their legs that went ching-ching-ching as they paraded after the young women. A group of mature dancers, usually the largest contingent, was the focal point of the dance, and finally the band would appear with the drum and horn section blasting away, their music mingling with the bands in front and behind them. The farther away from the parade we got, even miles away at our hostel, the beat could still be felt and the music floated to us in a wave of cacophony.



The costumes cost millions of pesos (or their equivalent in soles or bolivianos). Carnivals are held all over the region and the fraternities tour from town to town. This carnival was a family affair, unlike what I imagine Fat Tuesday is like on Bourbon Street. I saw no one drunk and children were out until the early morning hours. There were stands for refreshments, an artisan market, and a dry multi-level fmunicipal fountain and an old train engine that the children climbed on with little supervision.

This young woman charmed us into buying a calendar we didn't need to help support her group.


The Aymara are one of the biggest indigenous cultures in the Americas, consisting of over two million people. Traditional beliefs include a concept of time in which the past is in front of them and the future behind. It is their culture that the coca irradication the United States has pursued in Bolivia has affected the most, devestating their way of life. For them, the coca plant is a mild stimulant that helps them deal with cold, hunger and high altitudes. Bill and I have had matte from the coca plant a few times. I don't get any more of a "high" from it than I do with a cup of English Breakfast tea.

These are quiet people and as I looked at their faces as they danced, or saw women during the day with their long braids, bowler hats--a large shipment of these hats came from England in the 1920s. They were too small and so given to the Aymara's who have worn them ever since-- and colorful skirts, they seemed like the most beautiful people on Earth. I know I'm projecting, but they just appeared to be so connected with each other, and part of something in a way I've never felt as a norteamericana.


The Plaza de Armas in Arica is located beneath El Morro, a huge rock that looms over the city. The plaza is full of palm trees (beware the yeco birds that nest in them), dancing fountains and has an expansive space that sets off the cathedral and the Aduana de Arica, the former custom's office, now a museum. Both buildings are made of cast iron designed and prefabricated by Eiffel in Paris. Arica has been destroyed by both earthquake and tidal waves more than once. Peruvian officials ordered these buildings to withstand disasters, and they have done so. Unfortunately for Peru, Chile wrestled Arica away in the decisive battle of the War of the Pacific in 1880 and the town has been a part of Chile ever since.

Iglesia San Marcos



Interior detail of spiral staircase, Aduana de Arica














This young man from the Chilean Army asked to have his picture taken with us.




We enjoyed our time at the hostel, as we always do. I love the blend of languages and accents. It's a common practice for young people, mostly English, Australians and Germans, but also some French to take at least a year off after college (for some before entering) to travel the world. It's expected by the culture and supported by parents at least in encouragement, if not financially. Many young women travel alone, blithely traveling through places like Bolivia that have proven difficult for many of the older tourist we've met. We meet very few people from the United States.

At Sunny Days, we met a young Australian woman named Ann who lives in Cochabamba, Bolivia working with young men aged 16 to 25 who are learning to transition from institutional life in the hope they won't return to living on the streets. Another Aussie couple, two sweethearts who had just earned their teaching certificate, arrived on our last day to rest before they completed their journey to central Peru where they would also be working with street children for several months.

Found at a flea market in Arica


Perhaps if we had known we'd end up in Arica, we might have brought warmer clothes and made a trip to Parque National Lauca, though we might have had to drink a lot of coca matte as it's over 17,000 feet. I fell asleep one night listening to the young people talk about the altitude pills they'd brought with them (I didn't even know they existed) and their excitement about seeing vicunas, flamingos and bathing in thermal pools. We decided instead to go to the town of Putre, near the park, at a mere 10,000 feet, but once we made up our mind we werer told there was no public transportation on the day we needed to go.

So Tacna, Peru was our next choice. We wanted to go on a train with an open wagon and springboard seats for passengers. It left every Monday. We woke up early; at 6 a.m. the music from the carnival was still going strong as it drifted across town to us. At the railway station, it turned out that, yes, the train went on Mondays, but not on our particular Monday. We ended up taking a bus, disappointed because we were looking forward to the train trip more than the city.

We filled out the customs cards in pencil, which turned out to be VERY BAD. The Chilean border guards were grumpy with us. A woman lent us her pen while we were at the border for new cards. Once in Tacna, we got a cab from the bus station to a mercado Russ suggested we visit. We walked up and down the street bombarded by young men thrusting optomitrist cards at us. We seemed to have landed at eye glass central, had I known I'd have brought my presciption. In the midst of this chaos, we heard a friendly voice. The same woman who had helped us earlier was there with her two daughters and her mother. She told us her name was Gema and that she made false teeth, crowns and bridges in her own lab at home in Arica.

The flat tax for anything bought in Chile, including food, is 19%, so many Aricanos come to Tacna for deals. Gema's mom was in search of silver jewelry and she was looking for supplies for her lab. After shopping and a visit to friends, a trip was planned for Bolivia the next day to go to the dentist. They were headed to the mercado too, which we had mananged to walk past three times.

Later Gema and her family took us to the cathedral. Before they left us there, they told us more than once not to pay more than two and a half soles for a taxi ride. Gema gave us her email address, and with her farewell beso said to contact her the next time we were Arica, we always would have a place to stay.

Madonnas are especially sorrowful in South America

We sat for awhile in the cathedral because it was cool and wondered if the arch next to us really would be seismicaly safe as the sign beneath it was promising. We then crossed over to the plaza above and several young men came rushing at us with shoeshine boxes. Bill said yes. Two boys got close to me insisting my sneakers (with the toe beginning to peal off of one of them) needed to be cleaned. I kept saying No, but they wouldn't stop pestering. Finally, I used my "teacher voice," NO! and they ran off.

Less than a minute later, they came back and quietly sat at my feet. One of them kept touching my shoe and the other one complimented my bag that I had an iron grip on. When Bill's shoes were done, his shoe shiner said, Okay, five, ten dollar American. Bill gave him a little over a dollar in soles. As we walked off, the young man still was scolding us.

We had lunch and then walked back to the bus station. A colectivo driver followed us across the street into the station, hounding us to have him take us back to Chile for 4,000 pesos. We knew that the standard fare was 1,500 and just kept walking. The guy could win a prize for persistance, which is a polite way of saying her was a pain in the ass. He kept up with us until it we went through a gate where a bus for Chile was waiting.

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10. Iquique

Festival Danza America Iquique/Chilean Folklorico- Polynesian Dance

Seven hours to La Serena, twelve to Antofagasta, and another eight to Iquique, all through exquisitely stark desert. In Copiapo, a large town which is a base for mining, I stepped off the bus to ask how long we'd be there. Standing with people who were waiting to retrieve their bags, someone bumped me. Back on the bus, I found that all of my zippers on my backpack had been opened. I had nothing of worth in it and so hadn't been careful. If they wanted my chapstick or tissues they were welcome to them, but it reinforced the need for constant vigilance of bags and purses and pockets.





Quantum of Solace, except for the trash. Some Chileans protested as the James Bond film was being made because the film claimed the desert was in Bolivia.

Strolling down Calle Banquedano in Iquique during our last evening, we saw there was going to be a perfomance which would feature dance troupes from all over South America. The picture above is of the Chilean performers doing one of the most erotic dances I've ever seen. Chile includes parts of Polynesia: the Isla de Pasquas (Easter Islan or Rapa Nui), Isla de Juan Fernandez and Isla Robinson Crusoe, named for the same Robinson Crusue Daniel Defoe wrote about. By the way, Friday never lived there.

Another of this group's perfomances honored the city of Valparaiso which had a section featuring a sailor and his pareja that made me want to smoke a cigarette afterwards. Videos of some of the dances can be found at the end of this blog, however we didn't catch the two I've just describe. I know, darn.

Iquique is morphing into a major beach resort. There are expensive hotels and a casino at the south end of town. Gambling doesn't interest us, so we didn't check these out. On Banquedano, there are beautifully restored Georgian buildings, wooden sidewalks, and restaurants that serve excellent food. We found that you can get real salads in restaurants! It's confusing to us that in a country with such a wealth of fruits and vegetables, where they come cheap in the outdoor ferias, the salads usually consists of finely chopped iceberg lettuce, a slice of tomato and maybe a beet. Even the bread in our hotel had a crusty crust like good French breads. The fact we were hundreds of kilometers from any place made this abundance especially pleasing, but shipping the food is probably not that great for global warming.

The first night we didn't venture off Banquedano. I kept asking Bill, Are we still in Chile? We peeked through a window of the Casino Espanol (not to be confused with the modern one to the south of town) and it looked like what I imagine the Alhambra might be like, intricate mosiacs covering every inch of wall space, but also with elegant tables with candles, fine linen, and stuffy waiters in tuxes.

Wh

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11. La Serena to Antofagasta

Lonely Planet says there's not much to see as you travel through the desert between La Serena and Antofagasta, suggesting that a night bus is a good idea. The guidebook can be helpful but is so wrong on this account. The entire trip was fascinating as the vastness of the Atacama Desert, the driest place in the world, unrolled around us.

We spent the first night of our trip in La Serena, where we have visited twice before, a lovely town about seven hours north of Vina del Mar. The next day we climbed out of the city and watched the ocean fog lace the top of the hills. El Parque National Bosque de Fray Jorge is located south of La Serena and is the only rainforest on Earth where it never rains. The dense camanchaca provides enough moisture for unique trees and plants to grow. Fog is a common companion to the coast of northern Chile, modulating the heat and creating moderate temperatures along the edge of this desert.

Outside of La Serana, the hills are speckled with cactus which look like cousins to the Suroro in Arizona. They shrank as our bus went inland and away from the fog, until only mesquite was left.


Even these became more sparse and disappeared.




Memorials like this are seen every few miles.


Soon the desert was "empty." Sand stretched beneath mountains molded through geological ages. Volcanic ridges rippled at their feet.

Mining in the north of Chile, especially copper mines, is what makes the Chilean economy churn. Copper prices have dropped dramatically over the last year, but there still is profit in it. We passed several operations, the only human interruptions in hours of moonscapes, and then finally arrived late in Antofagasta. The city is huge, stretching for several kilometers along the coast. Antofagasta was founded in 1869 by Bolivia to serve as its main outlet for its mining industry. Chile seized it a decade or so later, and it's still referred to as "captive province" by Bolivians. According to Wikipedia, the city receives only 4 millimeters of rain a year on average, and for forty years it never rained at all.

It was close to midnight, but the bus station and the streets were thick with crowds, car alarms, diesel fumes and barkers selling you-name-it. We dragge

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12. Chiloe: The Strange and the Beautiful

El Oso, Puñihuil

A beautiful woman emerges from the sea. Fishermen who catch sight of la Pincoyo as she dances along the rocks are snared by her long hair, but she also saves Chilotes from drowning if their boat capsizes. El Picoy, her husband, summons her from the rocky shoreline to dance in a sexual frenzy for him. If she turns toward the ocean, the sea will offer up its abundance to the inhabitants for Isla de Chiloe, but there will be sarcity if she turns toward land.

El Trauce, a tiny and hideously deformed man, lives in the woods. He attacks young women and disflowers them. When they leave his clutches and return to their village, they are always pregnant with his child.Detail from a house in Ancud

El Invunche is created from a baby boy who is given to the brujos, the male witches of the island, or he might be stolen from home. He is raised naked in the darkness of a cave and is given human meat to feed upon and the milk from cats to drink. As he grows,the witches transform him into a monster, piercing one of his legs to his backbone. When he is allowed to leave the cave, he searches for people by smell. When the "clean" ones see him, they are bond to him forever by their fears. Those that can look upon him and not show fear become the brujos. When an invunche dies, the witches indulge on his flesh because of its curative powers.

Isla de Chiloe has a unique mythological and cultural heritage, distinct from the rest of Chile. It's myths incorporate both those of its indigenous people: the Chonos, the islands first human inhabitants, then the Huilliche, a subgroup of the Mapuche, and also from stories that the Spanish brought.

We crossed the Canal Chacao via a short ferry ride where seals rode along the wake of the boat, and went to Ancud, an atmospheric fishing port on the north end of the island. I wanted to disappear there, spend a rainy winter snuggled in a warm wool sweaters, listening to cuecas and seeing what spell the magic of the island might cast on my writing.

Chiloe, at least the parts most tourists see, is a modern place, twenty-first century in many respects except for slow Internet connections and very attuned to the needs of travelers. Plans are underway for tourists to take in more of the traditional life of Chiloe by housing them with island families.

View from our hostel in Ancud

In an earlier posting I wondered why areas of Chile seem colder than in similar latitudes in the northern hemisphere, especially the farther south one travels. It turns out that there is a frigid current off the coast that affects the continent with more precipitation that even the Pacific Northwest. Chiloe is near the 45th parallel (mid-Oregon)

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13. Puerto Varas and Puerto Montt


We swore off Chilean pastry in Puerto Varas. We'd had the good experience of finding a decent cake in Valdivia, but this was rare. We've had delicious meals at the homes of friends, but restaurant cuisine in general (except for the places my husband calls "working man cafes" that serve up darn good pollo asado and papas fritas), and pastries and sweets in particular, have left us underwhelmed. They are not very sweet, don't have much flavor and are made with an incredible amount of doughy dough. But since we had success with the Valdivian bakery and hoped that the German pastry influence had found it's way down to Puerto Varas, we thought we'd give it a try. We went into a coffee house with a good solid German name and ordered a slice of pie de lemon. Two inches of dough and a sliver of lemon flavor later, we made our resolution.

The picture above is of Lago Llanguihue (pronounced yawn-KEE-way), a huge lake that puts the size of Clear Lake (the lake near our house in . . . duh . . . Lake County, California) to shame. Behind it is Volcan Orsono. If we'd had more time (and if it hadn't started to rain), we would have explored the small towns around the lake or taken one of the all day cruises. The town has a little over 30,000 full time residence but in January and February all of Chile siphons down to it. I would think that the town would be incredibly peaceful and slow-paced the rest of the year.


Puerto Varas is pleasant and pretty. The views are incredible with not only Volcan Orson to see in the distance, but two others volcanos as well: Calbuco and Tronador. The shrine below is just below the Catholic church, very typical of the ones that are all over Chile.



My favorite part, though, was being at the Hostel Compass del Sur, a friendly, very clean old house where we met Shelly, from Vancouver, Canada, a chef who had tried a gig in Buenas Aires and was now traveling until it was time for her next job as a private chef in Hawaii. My husband, who has done a great deal of cheffing, had a lot to talk to her about. We all met in the kitchen, naturally. We'd gone to Puerto Montt for the day. Bill cooked up the salmon filet we'd bought there and we shared our white wine with her.

Later, we shared her red wine as the three of us had a card game with an Anglo-Indian cancer researcher with whom I'd watched the ending to Van Helsing earlier in the day. He talked about how drug companies didn't want to cure diseases because where is the profit in that? Instead, he said, their interest is in maintaining patients for life. The next day he was off on the Navimag to backpack around the Torres del Paines National Park.

Puerto Montt, a bus ride away, is the gateway to Patagonia. We looked into taking the Navimag to Puerto Natales for t

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14. Hitchhiking to Rio Nuevo

This is our dear friend Pamela leaving Vina del Mar last year for what she thought would be a job as a nanny in Santiago. First she went home to the Lake Region in southern Chile to spend a month or so with her family, but now she's decided to stay, attend preuniversario and then marticulate to university or technical school in 2010.

Pamela and me in my front yard

From Valdivia, Bill and I took a bus to La Union. The bus was full, every seat taken and many people were standing in the aisle. We were entertained by a couple of little girls singing songs and squeezing back and forth from their abuelita who sat in the back seat, through older sisters listening to MP3 players, to where their mama and papa stood, holding on to their packages and the backs of seats.

Outside the window, the trees grew even more densely here than they did on our way to Valdivia, bearing witness to the stories we've heard so many times of the mammoth rains that occur in the Region de Lagos during most of the year.

Pamela and her cousin Karen cooking lunch for us!

La Union is in a valley, reminiscent of the lumbermill towns my family passed through when I was a child on vacations to the Pacific Northwest. Pamela met us at the bus station, and we were off in a taxi to la casa de su abuelita where she spends the weekdays, saving the weekends for her mother's place in Rio Nuevo.

Pamela's cousins Karen, Carolina, Gabriela, her Tio Harry, her grandmother (abuelita)Elcira, and two of her brothers, Cesar and Felipe, were all there to greet us. Many besos (kisses) later, I was offerred the use of their computer to check on my mom in California.

Cesar sat down with my husband, apologizing for his ingles, which was far better than our espanol, wanting to find out what Bill thought about Obama. He explained that he was very concerned about Obama's position on abortion. The family is Pentacostal and very worried that abortion is legal in the U.S. Bill said that Obama supported a woman's right to choose what to do with her own body and then added that, personally, he felt making criminals out of these women was not a good idea. Cesar, in a very softspoken and careful manner, asked wasn't God the same God everywhere? Then he said that since we were guests in his country he would not argue with us and we should stop discussing the matter and enjoy the almuerza.

After lunch, we took a walk with Pamela, two of her cousins, and Felipe to a park where in the heat of the afternoon a river seemed to beg to be waded in. However, even this isn't encouraged as it's contaminated with wastes from the mills and local dairies. We then walked to the plaza de armas. Earlier in the day, we saw a funeral processio

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15. Valdivia

I love Valdivia. It reminds me of Arcata, California with its university feel and clapboard houses. But it also feels like Seattle, though it's not right on the sea. The commercial and university areas are divided by the sapphire blue band of the Rio Valdivia. Streets are wide. The town is clean. The Plaza de Armas is expansive with many benches beneath shade trees.

A young mime entertained the entire plaza by putting on a performance that could rival Charlie Chaplin's, stopping cars as he "tried" to pick up his hat only to have it skip away from him, humorously escorting old ladies across the street, giving deadpan looks at people ignoring him, and taking hats off of the heads of the most distinguished gentlemen.

My husband, once upon a time a redhead and still sensitive to the sun, needed a good hat. This store has been in the same place since the 1930s and walking in was like stepping back in time. I loved the wood walls and the elegant cases. Bill found just the right Panama-style sombrero.

You can also take a sunset cruise and look for black-necked swans. Bring a jacket, though, because you'll need it coming back.

Southern Chile was settled by immigrants from all over Germany. Many Prussian families came in the 1890s because their sons were being forced to serve in the army. The architecture, street signs, breweries and bakeries reflect the German influence. Overall, we haven't been impressed with Chilean bake goods, but we went to one pasteleria/chocolateria whose name I didn't write down. Darn . . . it's in the downtown section which only covers about eight blocks by eight blocks . . . a trip to olfactory heaven. We bought an amaretto cake that was light and melt-in-the-mouth good.

My favorite places, though, were the three-story mercado central where we found beautiful earrings and bags and the large outdoor market across the street where all sorts of fresh sea food (some still alive) could be found. Salmon, salmon, salmon, salmon. Cooked with a little butter and lemon . . .ah! We were not to buy any off a truck as salmon robberie

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16. Heading South

Just so you won't miss it (next to the bus station in Temuco, Chile)

There are certain mysteries about Chile that as guests to the country my husband and I have decided we'll probably never solve. Why does a country rich in vineyards and wonderful inexpensive wine have raisins that cost an arm and a leg? Into which black hole does the mail disappear? Why do you need to talk to the pharmacist to buy Rolaids?

And then there's the Tur Bus food mystery.

The United States could learn a lot about public transportation from Chile. You can journey from one end of the country to the other and know that buses will generally be clean, comfortable and on time. Most people can afford to travel on them. (Though using the bathroom while in transit is an adventure in itself. It's best to bring tissues with you just in case). When traveling distances we usually take Tur Bus and are generally pleased. However, there's the food issue.

The first time we went to La Serena, about seven hours to the north of Vina del Mar, everyone was served lunch: a dry sandwich, some cookies, and a coke. Not delightful, but at least it filled us up. On the way back, we found two women in the seats we had reserved. They were elderly, and we told them not to worry and sat in theirs. Come lunch time, everyone on the right hand side of the bus were handed bags with food, including the women. We kept waiting and watched the ladies eat ours . . . evidently the left hand side wasn't in favor that day. On a recent trip to La Serena, the bus stopped at a new lunch facility built by Tur Bus. We had a decent hot dog on the way up and then coming home an even better empanada at a food stand across the street. So there should be something similar in place for a much longer trip, right?

There must be some sort of Chilean bus traveling meme that we just haven't connected to where the food supply is concern. Vina to Valdivia is a 12 hour trip. There was two five minute stops and then a ten minute one in Temuco where I had just enough time to grab some crackers. We got to Valdivia after 10 at night and were starving.

Enough of that. Here's the good part, the scenery:

Everything was very dry leaving Santiago. The area around the city is more or less desert and without the snowmelt from the Andes, it would be hard for a city of over six million to exist. Chile is a first world country,yet scenes like this one of the horse and cart picking up a supply of gravel are common. This picture was taken not far from subways, fast cars, high fashion and skyscrapes.

But in a little while, the campo became verdant. We'd arrived in the core wine growing region of the country, passing kilometer after kilometer of vineyards. Our home in California is in the upper region of the wine country; at this point I felt I could have been traveling down the Napa Valley to San Francisco. The green leaves were a welcome sight.

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17. Santiago, January 2009

Detail of mural, Concha y Toro Barrio, Santiago Chile

Santiago in the summer is hot; unlike Los Angeles which has a similar latitude, there is less smog than in winter . . . I chalk this up to how things are just different in South America like dealing cards right to left and putting guacamole on hot dogs because . . . well, I'm not sure why. Chilenos don't understand why we gringos find completos unappetizing. Complete Mural

There's also the chorrellano, a meal of saugage, beef and chicken covered with greasy French fries and an egg sunnyside up that people love here. Just looking at it makes your arteries want to close up.

The Completo

I'm more used to Santiago in winter when everyone is bundled up with scarfs over their mouths, babies are thoroughly wrapped in blankets, and hostels and restaurants are quite cold as there is little central heating. In summer, the pace is just as fast, but a veneer of sweat stays with you until the evening. After a long subway ride or being in a stuffy bus, I look forward to the helados aguas, fruit popcicles that are incredibly rich in flavor, the best I've ever had; so much better than soda to quench a thirst. I was surprised to find that manzana (apple) flavored ones are sold along with ones you might expect: moro (berry), naranja (orange), pina (pineapple), fruitilla (strawberry) and, on lucky days, frambuesa (raspberry).

Evenings are wonderful, and there are plenty of sidewalk cafes (albiet the majority with smokers) to sit and linger in. The murals above were taken in one of our favorites places, the small barrio of Concha y Toro, near Barrio Brasil, where the neo-colonial architecture has been preserved. We had orange cake and coffee on a terrace overlooking the Plaza Libertad de Prensas. Lovers, including two young women, kissed on the benches that surrounded the fountain below, while the little daughter of the owners of the tienda circled the plaza on what might have been her Christmas bike.

We spent two days in Santiago before heading to the Lake District and Isla de Chiloe. As we travel, like the good consumers we are, we dream of an export business and are drawn into stores and artesan workshops. There are two ferias we know of in Santiago: one more centrally located across from Cerro Santa Lucia, which, generally is more inexpensive than El Pueblito San Dominico, larger and more upscale, in the Los Condes area. It is here that those large buses pull up filled with tourists with plenty of cameras and VISA cards. If you don't have time to explore more of the country, handicrafts are represented here from all over the country. But if you do have a chance for more travel, buying things from the areas they are actual

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18. I Am This/Esa Soy



I Am This
by Susana Montanares M.

I am a body without a soul,
a hungry corpse of desire,
a caress converted into torture.

I am an autumn leaf,
the trampled cry of nakedness born alive.
I am pain and forgetfulness staring together,
rage and hate joined into a fist.

I am the one you carry into the world
and cannot restore.
I am the sons of men
eagerly deceiving the wind.

You swear to protect me.
You swear to love me
but you kill the birth of my soul.

I am a frustrated dream,
annihilated desire.
I am a butterfly
undertaking its flight
and devoured by a flower.

I am this.
I am nothing,
a thing that opened its eyes to the world
but was assasintaed before it could see.

Yo Soy

Soy un cuerpo sin alma

un despojo hambriento de deseo.

una caricia convertida en tortura

soy una hoja en otoño

que pisoteada llora la desnudez de aquel que la vio nacer.

Soy la pena y el olvido

unidos en una mirada.

Soy la rabia y el odio contenidos en un puño.

Soy aquel que trajiste al mundo

y no pudiste devolver.

Soy los hijos de los hombres

engañados en el vientre.

Juraste protegerme,

juraste amarme,

pero mataste mi alma al nacer.

Soy un sueño frustrado,

un deseo anhelado.

Soy una mariposa que emprende el vuelo

y es devorada por una flor.

Eso soy...

No soy nada.

Algo que abrio los ojos y quiso ver el mundo,

pero fué asesinado antes de verlo
.

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19. Crossing the Andes and Going to Mendoza


Bill and I went to Mendoza, Argentina this last weekend. Mendoza is the center of the wine region of Argentina, a town of around 100,000 people. Coming into it, I thought of Albuquerque, New Mexico. The whole area on the other side of the Andes as we came from Chile reminded me of the southwest.

Mendoza was very warm, a bit humid, but absolutely lovely with tree lined streets, good food (yes the steaks ARE good, but be sure to say you don't want it well done if you prefer it that way), and it's famous for being a shopper's paradise. The stores were stocked with yerba mate cups which resemble honey pots with silver straws that strain the herbs as you drink the tea. Beautiful reasonably priced leather goods are everywhere, as well as artisan stands in several areas around the main part of town. Women used fans as they walked along the streets at night, and everyone seemed well dressed. I had a bit of a fashion melt down in my denim shorts, golf shirt, anklets and tennis shoes, but I got over it.

At dinner, we were approached by several people for money, something I'm slowly getting used to. We've been approached for the same thing in Santiago, but not quite so often. There are times when they just stand there after you say no. More often, though, they put cards . . . small calendars, saints, etc. on your table and then come around to collect money, no hassle if you don't want to buy anything. We got two Gemini cards from one young girl who wasn't older than ten or eleven.

Going over the Andes was incredible . . . you need to do this. They're similar to the Sierras as they were formed by the coastal plate lifting up the contenintal plate. One passes fairly quickly through the foothills and the mountains rise very fast. No trees though except in some of the valleys. Plenty of waterfalls. We were able to sit in the front of the double decker bus on the way to Argentina and had a huge window to look out of. The bus driver was crazy, passing on curves. My husband has posted a video of what it was like on his blog. Click on Travels beneath Good Links, then go to the Transportation in Chile posting. Scroll down to the third video. (If you want to know what it's like to ride the micro (public transit buses), check out the second video.

On our way back, just before we got to customs (eat your cheese before trying to enter either country) and not ten minutes after passing Mt. Aconcagua, the highest mountain in the western hemisphere, I saw a glimpse of a condor. I thought at first it was a hang glider, and then realized what it had to be. The split second made me realize how huge these birds are. He flew so that people on the other side of the bus got a better look.

Now for the unpleasant news. Right outside of Santiago, five boys (don't know their age as I didn't see them) threw rocks at the bus. One of them hit the window across the aisle from us. Fortunately the woman sitting there saw them and ducked. Glass (safety glass) sprayed everywhere. I felt a small piece whiz by my face (I ducked as well and covered my eyes). No one was hurt, thank goodness, but it was scary. Evidently this section of the road has had problems like this . . . but so does Los Angeles, unfortunately.

Anyway, I'll let the pictures do the talking now:

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20. The Spirit of Giving: Music is Magic



Every year the girls at St. Margaret's puts on an end of the year show called The Spirit of Giving. This year's theme was Music is Magic. The girls above are in Miss Bertha's segundo basico class dancing to Walk Like an Egyptian. Or I should say were in her class, as today was the last day of school. The show was an extravaganza, as I know you can tell. And yes, they are singing They snap their teeth on your cigarette.

Each class had a spotlight song and dance while the rest of the classes danced and sang in the chorus. We only had limited memory on our camera, or we'd have recorded the whole show.

Next class is Miss Alejandra's primero basicos doing the Charleston:
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21. Trials

I love this photo my husband took of a sea cave along the beach in Quintero. It reminds me of an archetypal portal, a door leading from one reality to another. The sea can easily become a symbol of the life beyond, by which I don't mean beyond the grave . . . but beyond the day-to-day life, the special world we all go to when we are forced to grow in spirit, imagination, or even in the depths of love in the midst of crankiness or fear or stress.

Bill and I assume we'll go back home next summer (winter here . . . it gets so confusing sometimes to know how to reference the seasons.) I can have a job back in the Middletown Unified School District, not as a reading specialist, but more than likely a classroom elementary teacher. If we stay longer in Chile, I'm cutting the cord for good to employment in the U.S. The companies who run the Chilian pension system take an extraordinary amount of management fees, something we had no idea of when we first got here. Bottom line: retirement. We do fine with the day to day, but what about twenty years down the line?

There have been times I've wanted to run back home. Spanish is not coming fast or easy, though at the final talk by Miss Avril, St. Margaret's director, I understood practically every thing she said. But context is everything. I find that there are times things come out of my mouth I didn't know I knew, but then ten minutes later I can't ask for directions to the bathroom.

Dealing with anything that has to do with paperwork here feels crazy, though I suppose someone dealing with visas and bank accounts in the United States might feel the same. My visa here processed fairly quickly, but I'm sure it was because I had St. Margaret's behind me. One woman who works there told me her mother had to go 57 times to the Departmento de Extranjeros. Without the help of a friend, I'd given up getting my I.D. card processed. I was told to go to a wrong office of the International Police. When I got to the right one, my papers were filled out incorrectly. There was a long wait at the civil office to find out I had to go back to the police, more taxi rides, finding everyone at lunch at the police station (Vero banged on windows until someone came out to help us), and then back to the civil office just in time before the doors locked (at 2:00). My husband is having difficulty getting his visa processed because he took my last name. Right now, a copy of our marriage license is somewhere in limbo in northern California ready for it to be "legalized" by the Chilian Embasy in San Francisco.

Without Saint Margaret's help, I wouldn't have a bank account either. I'm not a permanent resident, so no bank would give me an account. I WANT TO GIVE YOU MY MONEY, I would say. They're weren't impressed. I was carrying nine thousand Chilian pesos home with me in my purse for two or three months, the equivalent of 2,000 dollars.

Getting Internet hook up at our new house was a similar spike in stress. The technician came out, couldn't find our place, wrote the wrong address down. We went back to the mall where we signed up but they wouldn't believe the address was different because . . . well, there it was on the official paperwork. We got through this with our duena's (landlady's) aid, but the address on our bill is still the neighbor's house, though somehow it gets put in the right mailbox.

Dogs on the street are everywhere. Many times I've had delightful encounters with them, but they're not always friendly. On Magdelena Paz, our passaje, there are three dogs that have adopted the street. We all feed them, and they're healthy and happy. Miel (Hon

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22. Susana

 

This is our dear friend Susana. A summer goal is to translate her poems. As I wrote about in my last posting, there are challenges living in a different country but to leave wonderful people like her will be very difficult if we decide to go home. Susana is one of our hijas, along with another young woman named Pamela, whose family we hope to be staying with in another week or two down in the south in La Union. Susana bring trickster energy to us, amazes us in how she's learned English by watching TV, and also the way she can remember new words when we've only mentioned them once or twice. She loves history, wants to teach, and is a writer by nature. So . . . soon, I'll get to the poems and share them here.

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23. Mirror by Susana Montanares Muñoz


I look at you. You are there looking at me,
but I won't let your eyes penetrate.

I listen to you, but your words won't capture me.
When we are far away, I feel the air cut me inside.

Your distant laughter feels like a sprinkle of rain in spring,
a smooth arrangement of music.

Your young scent mixes with jasmine
and lifts me through fresh clouds.

But today your words are like the echo of rainbows
reflecting a host of vulgar songs.

What distance doesn't steal becomes habit.
Our love has become a mirror's reflection.

It is not the same.
My heart beats with the knowledge of your heart.

I know I can live with past memories,
but can you look at that reflection

and continue believing I love you?
Instead I am the bubble of your spell,

the sigh that follows you until the mirror breaks
and we appear not as we were, but as we will be.


Espejo.

Te veo, estás ahí mirandome,

pero tus ojos no logran penetrarme.

Te escucho, pero tus palabras

no logran alacanzarme

Cuando estás lejos,

siento como el aire me corta por dentro.

Tus risas lejanas se parecen

a la llovizna en primavera

suave composición musical.

Tu aroma infantil mezclado con jasmines

me eleva hacia la frescura de las nubes.

Pero tus palabras que parecían

ser el eco de la aurora

hoy parecen ser la canción de la muchedumbre

vulgares y comunes.

Lo que no logró la distancia

lo logró la costumbre.

Nuestro amor se convirtió en el reflejo de un espejo

es igual, pero no es lo mismo.

Sé que mi corazón sólo late al saber

que el tuyo late.

Sé que aún puedo vivir de un recuerdo

de una memoria pasada

¿Pero, podrás mirar aquel reflejo

y seguir creyendo que me amas?

En cambio, yo en la burbuja de tu encanto

seguire suspirando por tí,

hasta que se rompa el espejo

que nos muestra lo que fuímos y no lo que será.


This and other poems by Susana can be found at: http://www.sussiemontanares.blogspot.com . A computer glitch is preventing me from creating a link. Please cut and paste into your web browser.

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24. New Years in Valparaiso

Valparaiso's firework display for New Years is world renowned. Every year there are several displays that run up the coast for thirty or forty kilometers from Valparaiso to Concon, the community we live in. Instead of staying home, we joined our friends Norm, Charlene and Susana to view the fireworks on the rooftop of the Shuttleworth's apartment on Cerro Placeres.

This is the Esmeralda, lit up for the night. Fifteen naval cadets are chosen each year to train on her as they sail around the world. The ship is a replica of the one on which Los Heroes fought and died in the Battle of Iquique against Peru during the War of the Pacific (against both Peru and Bolivia) in 1879.

Resentments still exist as Chile, with the aid of Great Britian, after having lost the battle won the war, and annexed a huge swath of coastline that belonged to the other two countries, taking away Bolivia's access to a seaport. At that time, nitrate was being exported from huge guano deposits in this area. Chile got the coast and the revenue from the nitrate. Chile has offered Bolivia rail access to use its ports, but Bolivia has declined. I have a norteamericana friend who moved to Bolivia with her husband about the same time we came here. I asked if they would ever consider Chile. She said no, her husband's family would never forgive them.











On the roof we had plenty of champagne (as demonstrated above by Susana) which unfortunately mixed with the sewage smells wafting off the ventilation system. If we were to be here next year, Susana tells us the place to be is in the streets where people dance all night long. Still, I enjoy smaller settings and was satisfied with the view we had of the whole bay and coastline, the feast we shared, and the way we finished our evening with quiet conversation on their balcony listening to the sounds of the city below. Norm and Charlene will be returning to Canada in two weeks; both Bill and I will miss sharing our adventures and misadventures as extranjeros here. We've made friends for life.



Charlene and me







Susana, Bill and I walked down Cerro Placeres, through the dusty plaza and the streets blowing our New Years horns, which elicited a spicy comment to my husband from an elderly senora sitting on her front steps . . . much of Chilean humor has a sexual base. We past parties set on other rooftops lit with fairy lights and vibrating with loud music. The ever

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25. La musica de los perros

My house, the second in a row of brick casitas, sits above a small canyon on the edge of a barrio called Los Romeros, a neighborhood of sandy streets that wind through a eucalyptus forest with working and middle class homes. The eucalyptus remind me so much of California, but the homes here are virtually all gated, a trend I loath in the United States. Almost every home has at least one dog who spends its life outdoors. Some never leave the enclosure, others jaunt around the streets. Most are friendly, though it's wise not to try to prove this.

There are many street dogs without owners who feed on trash and handouts, for the most part the tougher guys and gals on the prowl. It's not unusual to see one limping from an encounter with a car. Some are sick. It's estimated that there are 70,000 dogs in Valparaiso alone; where I live they number in the thousands as well.


Of course, there are exceptions. Many Chilenos have little pampered dogs like this one who get to go to the veterinaria peluqueria and sleep in the house on any bed bebe wants.

I previously wrote about the situation of dogs here and stated that they needed to be sterilized. How wonderful it was to find out yesterday that this has started in Valparaiso. Six free permanent clinics and three mobile ones have opened in the city with the goal to substantially reduce the dog population.

Dog sounds fill up the nights. From across the canyon, from our side and on our own street, we fall asleep (or not) to a cacophony of shrills and barks, high-pitched yipping, and the machine gunning of the most persistent perros. It goes on for hours until the rooster begins to crow. I'm reading a book now called Metidas de Pata, which explains blunders native English speakers make in Chile while also discussing the culture. A case in point: I recently told some people it was nice to eat them instead of meet them . . . and I really thought I knew what I was saying. I guess an appropriate metida de pata since I write of flesh eating aliens. Mabel Abad C., the author of the book, states that it mystifies foreigners why the dogs aren't brought inside at night and friends tell me they barely notice the "musica," as it's been with them all of their lives.

Security is the issue, a constant concern; crime is up. Our neighbor's car was broken into earlier this month, and almost everyone I've gotten to know here has a story of a wallet or a purse stolen. Insurance for replacement help for important papers is highly popular to have. Gringo friends were actually attacked by boys with a broken bottle in Valparaiso.

A couple of days ago a young couple were pushing their baby in a stroller, and Miel, the little bitch, went after it. We called her, hoping the people didn't think she belonged to us. "Don't bite the b

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