Thursday, December 23, 2010

Shaki Suni

It was inevitable. There are over 2 million street dogs in Santiago -- we couldn't go long without one of pawing it's way into our hearts and home. I was walking outside the embassy with a friend and this furry dirty little mutt comes up and it was love at first sight. She followed us for a few blocks and I swear she looked up at me and said, "You don't realize this but you are my mama and you are taking me home." So of course I had to obey. But I actually took her first to a vet to get all cleaned up. Then had to face the wrath of Fredy for bringing her home. She is a little sweetie. She has some bad habits that we need to break, but we think we will be able to because she tries really hard to understand. So, it is my pleasure to introduce to you Shaki Suni.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Working the Room

I got to do my first representational events! This week Fredy and I went to a reception at the home of the German Ambassador. It was an amazing residence with the most incredible view of Santiago. We met diplomats from all over the world. It is quite difficult to hold a class of wine, eat an mini quiche and hold a conversation about the latest human rights violations in Asia at the same time. I don't remember having a class on that in training.

Tomorrow I am going to represent at some type of Technology conference based on US/Chilean partnerships. Maybe I'll learn how to write a more interesting blog!!!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Reason to love the FS - Holidays!!!

I happen to love this new career in the Foreign Service for many reasons that most people would find quite boring, but one that everyone can relate to -- I have been here for 2 months and have had 6 vacation days, and another coming in 2 weeks. This is the best career ever! The US holidays are the best ones because everyone else in the country is working and I have my own private holiday!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Biking, Hiking, Tricking, Treating

The rain started almost 12 hours ago and hasn't stopped yet. And it is no drizzle. It is a spring-time drenching, and the perfect reason to stay in our pajamas all day and do NOTHING! At least me and the kids anyway. Fredy, on the other hand, decided to go to the stadium to watch the two rival teams of Santiago, University of Chile and Colo-Colo. It was a perfect relief from the generally hectic schedule that keeps us in constant motion.

Yesterday I joined up with a group of people to bike from Santiago to the coast. Considering that I haven't been on a road bike in countless years and had to borrow one from a friend, it was a bit of a crazy idea. We rode out of the city, and had an arrangement for the local authorities to shut down a lane in a really long tunnel through the mountains and give us a safety vehicle behind. Then there a crazy fast downhill that seemed to continue for miles. I felt like I was flying over the mountains. Then after riding for a bit on the highway, we got to some lovely country roads with flowers blooming in every direction and eucalyptus trees making it smell great.  We passed through farmlands, and vineyards, and little villages where the whole population was walking to church all dressed up with wide brimmed hats and all. I passed quite a few country gentleman on horseback, who each removed their hats to greet me as I passed. There were plenty of rolling hills to make the ride a challenge, but I have to admit that when I saw the big mountain with the switchbacks, I punked out and jumped in the support van until we got to the downhill on the other side. I made it about 61 miles, which I was really proud of considering I hadn't trained at all, but right around then it stopped being fun. We were on a major highway with trucks flying past, and it looked like it was uphill for miles and there was a strong headwind, so I decided the scenery would be much more pleasant from the van. The rest of the group made it a total of 82 miles to the coast. I am thrilled that the only damage done seems to be a very sore rear-end.  Overall the drivers here are quite respectful of cyclists, so I would do another trip in the future, but I might train a bit first!

The kids have also been quite busy - between the three of them they have soccer, gymnastics, photography club, climbing and trekking, field hockey, games and sports club, drama, and baseball. This week we also had some extra Halloween events. We were surprised that Halloween was celebrated here pretty much to the same extent as the US. The kids had a good time at a parade at school and at the embassy trick-or-treat event. They also do trick-or-treating in the neighborhoods here but it stays light out until almost 9 pm so the kids go in broad daylight at 7 or 8 and it's not very spooky. Athena made her costume and got rave reviews -- she dressed up as a carton of milk from the local grocery store - Jumbo. Dharma was a vampire and Appolo was Superman.

Last weekend I went on another outing with the trekking club Fredy and I joined - Los Malayos. It was about 17 miles roundtrip over very rocky terrain but it was so worth it. The area was very mineral rich and so the stones varied from shades of purple, green, red, and gold. And the destination was a beautiful semi-frozen waterfall. Surreal. Towards the end I somehow took a wrong turn on the supposedly one and only trail in the nature refuge, and ended up having to climb through a barbed wire fence with some other hikers to get back on track. We cut through some farmer's land and found ourselves a few yards away from a very big bull. The Chileans I was with seemed like it was perfectly natural so I just followed along, ready to run like a rodeo clown if I needed to.

More pics:

We also went to the biggest, and probably only, themepark in Chile last weekend - Fantasilandia. It was quite impressive, with several rollercoasters rivaling anything I've seen in the US and a great Halloween program with scary characters chasing people around the park.

This coming week we are housing two teenage girls from Ecuador who are here for a soccer tournament at the kids school. Should be fun to have five hungry mouths in the house!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Camping in the Canyon

We finally have wheels! It took about 3 weeks to get the car we bought registered and with plates, but it is ready and we were dying to get out of the smog of the city. There is a great ecotourism and camping area just outside Santiago, called Cajon de Maipo. It is a long canyon with a great rushing river, at least for now. Unfortunately there are plans to dam the river with a hydroelectric plant, which surely has its benefits but also impacts the many people who live in the villages along the river and depend on it for their livelihood. We had a long weekend, so on Sunday morning we stuffed ourselves with homemade pancakes and fruit, threw a bunch of stuff in the back of the car, and headed out camping.

Our first stop was a roadside horseback riding rental. We saddled up on our horses and went on a short ride through a field overlooking the canyon. It was Appolo's second time riding and just like the last time, he jumped on, grabbed the reins and acted like a natural born gaucho. He can make the horse trot, go in circles, slow down, and maybe even dance. He loves going fast and can hold on with one hand and control the reins with the other. I'm sending that kid to rodeo camp! The fun part was watching Fredy on his beast, um, I mean, horse. We should have known something was funny when the kid at the horse corral said to Fredy, "So, you know how to ride pretty good, right?" And Fredy, who does know how to handle a horse answered with a confident nod. So the rest of us started off at a nice little trot, and Fredy's giant white horse took off like ghosts were chasing him. He ran every which way, up hills, down hills, into bushes, and came pretty close to the edge of the canyon a few times. Of course, my very confident husband surely had everything under control the whole time, but we enjoyed watching the show!

Next we found a campground and went on a guided hike to some waterfalls. The kids had a great time crossing the suspended bridges swaying over the canyon. I had a great time hanging on to Appolo by the neck of his shirt to keep him from sliding down the mountain.

Then we headed to our site and set up camp -- pretty simple since we were staying only one night. One of the cool things about Chile is that supposedly there are no animals in the entire country that pose a threat to humans.  We built our fire, roasted some hot dogs, and settled in to the tent for a lovely relaxing night under the stars... or so we thought.... The campsite across from us ended up being party central, with music blaring and people coming from all over the campground to party-- till 5 am. 

So we finally got to sleep at around sunrise and slept in late and then enjoyed a relaxing day of playing in the park. Athena had the adventure of her life -- she did the zip-line across the canyon and loved it.

Then we had a delicious 5 course lunch at a little roadside restaurant and headed home -- tired, dirty, and happy! 

More Photos

Monday, October 4, 2010

Trekking in the Andes!

It might seem overdramatic to start this story saying that I had one of the most amazing experiences of my life yesterday, but who cares, I like drama. Fredy and I recently joined a local Trekking club and were excited to go to our first group hike. It was to a mountain about an hour outside the city. We were looking forward to a day of hiking but it ended up being way more than we ever anticipated. We knew we were a bit in over our heads when people started asking where our trekking poles and polainas (covers that go over the lower legs to keep the snow out of your boots) were.

We headed out around 9 am and very quickly found ourselves surrounded by the most amazing alpine scenery we could imagine. Luckily the group we joined was filled with talented, kind people who taught us some of the basics of getting up snowy inclines and getting down slippery slopes.  Each time we thought we were arriving at the "top" we would get there just to see that it was the beginning of a flat plain that only led to another incline. It was challenging but worth the effort. The colors of the mineral rich mountains topped with snow are just amazing.

Memorable moment: me unable to catch my footing on a slippery part and Fredy staying behind me, literally pushing my butt up the hill. Thanks, Babe! Thankfully there are no photos to prove that though!  It was also fun to be walking along looking at the enormous mountains all around and suddenly the snow collapses and one of your legs drops thigh deep into a hole. 

We made it to an altitude of about 3,100 meters, which is over 9,000 feet. We didn't quite make it to the intended peak, which is called Refugio Plantat -- a stone shelter where people can camp. But that just gives us a reason to go back again!

We got back to the parking area at about 5:30, which was just perfect timing because those high altitude winds were starting to get nasty. We made some wonderful new friends throughout the day and plan to head out on another trek with them ASAP, right after we go buy some new boots, trekking poles, polainas, and hats with big flaps to keep the relentless sun off. The reflection of the snow is brutal and the ozone is depleted here so you don't mess with sun exposure. Luckily we did go prepared with plenty of sunscreen, so we were not totally clueless. Oh, and we were well nourished by some homemade granola I made that was pretty darn good.

I must say that I never had any interest in climbing the great mountains of the world, like Everest, but I think I am going to like hanging out on these "small" peaks! 

More photos

Monday, September 27, 2010

Learning our Way Around

We have been in Santiago for almost a month and have done a pretty impressive job of learning our way around the city on public transport. The bus and metro system here is clean and reasonably cheap. Best of all, kids are free! I have learned that on some days, all the planets must be aligned in order for the first bus that passes to actually stop and pick me up. Sometimes it is apparently just too much work for the driver to pull all the way over to the right lane and apply the brakes. Initially I cursed them out, threw stones at the back of the bus, and threw my body into the street in front of the bus, who promptly swerved around me. So now I just walk to another stop which seems to have more luck. I consider getting to work every day an interesting adventure now. I will probably keep taking the bus after we get a car because the traffic is miserable and apparently the tolls cost $5 each way during rush hour on the lovely highway that was constructed by some investors from Spain.

We have been so busy the last few weeks. It was the Bicentenial Independence Day celebration which means the whole country partied for like a week. We actually had Friday and Monday off work and, get this... everything, I mean EVERYTHING, was closed from Friday night until Tuesday morning. Legally grocery stores were not allowed to open so the employees could go enjoy the festivities. Even pharmacies were closed. But there were festivals everywhere and we went to a few. I'll post pictures later.

I celebrated my birthday on Sunday by doing my first road race in Chile. It was only a 5K because I got there too late (stupid bus!) and the registration for the 10K was closed. But it turned out perfectly because Athena decided (completely voluntarily without me twisting her arm at all:) ) to run it with me as a B-Day gift to me. We ran side by side and she did great. I was encouraging her the whole way and slowing down to let her catch up and then with a few hundred yards to go, she sees the finish line and takes off like a bat out of hell and leaves me behind! Some birthday present!