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August 2001

Our trip to Reñaca, Chile

Tuesday Aug 1stWe’re in the middle of winter here but I think it's very similar to San Francisco, some days are sunny and warm and you barely need a light jacket.  Then other days I wear my guantes (gloves) and my bufanda wrapped around my neck (a scarf) to the gym and my teeth chatter on the 8 block walk there.  I have a feeling August will be the coldest month, just as it's the hottest month in California.  Luckily, we still have 2 small windows open to get some fresh air into the house.  Our living room faces north and as we progress towards summer solstice we are again getting wonderful sun during the day (like having southern exposure in the northern hemisphere).  The days are getting longer by one minute every day (I saw that on the weather website).  I look forward to when we can again play cards on our balcony when we get home from the gym (with a gin and Pomelo Toro (grapefruit juice!))

Friday August 3rdOur friend Diego invited us to his house for a dinner party.  He said that there would be plenty of people there who spoke English so we’d have someone to talk to.  One of his guests was another expatriate from the USA called Tom.  We started talking and it’s kind of like when you first go to parties in college, everyone would always ask you, “What’s your major?” as kind of an icebreaker.  Here, the common ice breaker when you meet a Norte Americano is to ask them about learning Spanish.  Tom told us he’s taking classes at the University of Buenos Aires, something that we’ve heard from other friends about.  He was talking about the class and how there’s a really nice woman in his class who has this heavy Texan drawl.  I said, “Her name isn’t Dee is it?”  Turned out both Dee and Tom are taking the same Spanish class. 

Then we discover that the “other” Tom we met, the one who took us to the "Feria de Mataderos" with Dee was also at the same dinner party.  It’s a small world.

Diego is a master chef and he created a wonderful dinner for us.

Sunday August 5thOlga called to see if we wanted to go looking at apartments.  Turned out she was busy but she gave us the addresses of several to look at on our own.  She told us to be sure to tell the other real estate agents that we’re there on her behalf as our “immobilaria” or real estate agent.  She said if you look at a property alone and then later say you have a real estate agent, they won’t split the commission with them because they think you brought them in after finding the apartment you want to buy.  We duly tell each agent that we’re here because our immobilaria sent us.  We see several apartments, but none that jump out and say, “THIS IS THE ONE!”

We return home and Ron starts working on his NEXT project.  He’s putting up additional shelves in the bathroom closet.

Wednesday August 8thWe’re having friends over for dinner on Saturday so I wanted to get a few things done ahead of time.  I make a liver paté with cognac and it’s really best when made about 3 days ahead of time in order to give the flavors time to meld.  We’re also going to have salmon Wellington with roasted red bell pepper sauce.  The last time I made the red bell pepper sauce I roasted the peppers over the gas flame of the stove.  It worked pretty well, but made a HUGE mess of the stove.  There is a little hibachi grill on our deck which I’ve never used because I thought the smoke or fumes may go upstairs and bother our neighbors.  However, since it’s winter I thought I’d be safe to try it out and not smoke anyone out who lives above.  I got the grill going and after the coals were ready I grabbed a chair and sat to roast my peppers.  It was a wonderful night and it was nice just to sit there and flip the peppers every once in awhile.

             Ron wasn't really helping, he just came out
       to see what I was doing and posed for a picture.

Then I thought, “This would be much more enjoyable roasting peppers with a rum and coke!”  I went in and asked Ron, who was cleaning the bathroom, if he wanted a rum and coke and he said, “Hell yes!”, so I made us both a rum and coke.  I then grabbed my personal CD player and headphones and along with my rum and coke I went to go sit out on the deck.  There I sat, roasting red bell peppers, sipping a rum and coke and listening to “SuperTramp: Breakfast in America” over my earphones.  “Breakfast in America” is an album that came out in 1979 just as I was about to graduate from high school.  Listening to that album is always a very nostalgic thing for me as it was very popular with my friends and I at the time.  Sitting outside on the balcony with a drink, getting sentimental listening to music of the era of my old high school, flipping peppers on the grill, well, it just doesn’t get any better then that.

Saturday August 11thWe invited Tom, Christian, Pierre and Ignacio over for a salmon Wellington dinner.  Dinner and conversation was great but what really made it a memorable evening was that Christian is a singer and after dinner he sung several songs for us, unaccompanied by music.  It was really a treat.

Sunday August 12thThe “other” Tom, and Felípe, invited us over to their house the very next night after our dinner party for a dinner at their place, a busy weekend!  Tom is Taiwanese and made some very authentic Thai dishes that were out of this world.

Felípe, who I think is an economist, said that tonight no one talks about the state of the economy!  Of course, during dinner and after a few glasses of wine, the opinions started flying.  I mentioned that we’re considering buying an apartment and wondered what would happen to the price of apartments if the government defaulted on its debt and/or the peso was devalued.  Felípe sounded like a skilled politician, saying although there is rampant corruption in the government that needs to be resolved, he supported the current economic austerity programs as sound and viable to get the economy going in the right direction. 

“But what about my question Felípe, will the government default on its loans?” I asked. 

“You just want to know if the government is going to default on the I.M.F. loans before you buy an apartment!”, he countered.

We all laughed over this one, but I really wanted him to answer the question as I see the amount of money owed insurmountable, I just have no idea how Argentina can repay it all.

Another guest, Ricardo, agreed with me that there seems not to be any consensus with Argentine people on what should happen to get the economy going again.

As dinner was breaking up, Ricardo said we could share a taxi home together since he lives very close to us.  I wanted to walk although a light rain had started, so we all walked home together.  Another very pleasant evening.

Wednesday August 15thI found a website that had pictures of apartments that were for sale and found a 70 year old apartment that was just too incredible not to look at.  It was much bigger then what we want, but had a HUGE deck on the 2nd floor of the apartment.  I called the agent and scheduled a time to go see it.  Because of the age of the apartment it had incredible detail in its architecture.  The agent said, this is the kind of apartments they built when Argentina was a wealthy country.  It was fantastic!  The apartment was built around a large light well to let light into the interior of the apartments.  The windows to this interior light well area were all stained glass panels and was just incredible.  Ron thought that the maintenance of the windows would be expensive and I think he’s right, but I said, “It hasn’t needed maintenance the first 70 years, it may not need it for another 30!”


                        This was the entry hall!  Fabulous!                            Dining room, look at the molding on the walls!


                                  The outside deck!                                              This is the floorplan I know it's hard 
                                                                                                            to read but it's 2 floors and HUGE!

Friday August 17thToday we had Sophia again for our Spanish teacher.  Sophia is a very good teacher but she drills us like an army drill sergeant and I’m always exhausted by the time the class is over.  This time I gave Sophia a run for her money.  She started asking me a question that I could not understand.  After she explained it to me, I said (in Spanish), “OK, now that I know what you’re about to ask me, please repeat the question so that I can hear it again and I can respond correctly.”  She repeated the phrase but she changed several of the words in it, it meant the same but was said differently, I told her, “¡Foul, foul, usted esta cambio la frase!”  She insisted that she didn’t change the intention of the phrase and turned to Ron to ask him his opinion, Ron agreed with her that she didn’t change the phrase (I think he’s terrified of Sophia and would agree to anything she said), I said, “OK, one more time, please repeat the phrase”.  And you know what she did??  She changed it again, “SEE??? SEE??? You changed it again!”, I said.

Hehehehehehe, I had HER sweating that day!

That night Ricardo, the friend we met at Tom and Felípe’s, had us over for dinner at his apartment.  He has worked in the Argentine consulate and has lived in several places overseas, including 8 years in Japan.  His home was furnished in a Japanese style and reminded us of how our apartment looked in California.  Ricardo had 2 other guests who were equally interesting including a travel agent for exclusive customers and another consulate friend.  They had lots of very interesting stories to tell about life overseas.

There was a light rain as we left Ricardo’s apartment and Jorge was walking in our general direction so he shared his umbrella with Ron.  We didn’t realize it was supposed to rain that night so we had left our umbrellas at home.  It was only a few blocks to our apartment so I didn’t get TOO wet!  Actually felt kind of good to walk home as the low rain clouds were keeping the city warm.

Saturday August 18thWe headed off for a one week trip to Reñaca, Chile.  Reñaca is a very nice, coastal town close to Viña del Mar (a more widely known small coastal touristy town).  We actually found out about Reñaca from our vacation timeshare exchange catalogue.  Ron was looking for a place to exchange our weeks vacation and found this resort in the book.  It’s always fun to pick something out of the timeshare exchange catalogue because you never really know what you’re going to get until you get there.  Makes it kind of a surprise!

We arrived at the airport and our travel agent had reserved a seat for us on a bus to take us from the airport to the coastal town of Viña del Mar, from there he said we could take a taxi for the 15 minute drive to the next town of Reñaca where we were staying.  As Ron was waiting to retrieve the luggage I saw a man standing by a bank of telephones to call the different hotels, I asked him if he knew where to pick up the bus and he explained that it was right outside the exit.  Sounded great.  Once outside, we weren’t exactly sure where the bus was going to pick us up so we went over to a cashier booth where you can pay for your parking before you leave the terminal.  We asked her our standard, “¿Habla ingles?” to which we got our standard, “¡No!”  We talked with her in Spanish and she explained we’d have to go inside and ask at the information booth because she wasn’t sure about the other bus.  At least we could understand her!  Ron went inside to ask again, and just as we thought, the bus was going to pick us up right at the curb.  Right on time, there was the bus, a nice large bus with a bathroom on board!  Great bargain for a 2 hour bus ride for 3,500 Chilean pesos (640 pesos to a US dollar = about $5.50 for the bus ride, each).  The airport, countryside and neighboring towns seemed to be in very good shape, apparently with a better infrastructure then Argentina.  We didn’t travel through the country’s capital of Santiago, but went directly for the beach area.  The bus dropped us off at a public bus stop next to a park and we then needed to grab a taxi.  Of course, public bus stops that drop off unsuspecting tourists are the prime spot for unscrupulous taxi cab drivers to take advantage of someone.  I usually like to get my things and walk a few blocks to a different area before I hail a cab just to be on the safe side.  However, a taxi cab driver approached us and even though he looked like he needed a shower and a new set of shoes, something in his eyes told me he was an honest guy just trying to drum up some business.  We asked him before we got in the cab how much it would cost to get to Reñaca, “mas o menos” (more or less) and he quoted us 15,000 to 20,000 pesos.  The travel agent had told us it was about a 20 minute ride so after doing some quick mental calculations to determine how much 15,000 to 20,000 pesos was ($23 to $31) we thought that was a reasonable amount, agreed and jumped in the cab.  The cabbie turned on the meter before we left and it started at 150 pesos (25 cents) so I thought that was certainly a cheap starting fare.  He got us to our hotel and the meter had only gone to 6,000.  He brought out our luggage and showed us his empty trunk, just to be sure we didn’t leave anything behind.  We tipped him an extra 1,000 pesos ($1.50) because he seemed like a nice man and the ride was so much cheaper then he estimated.
Our hotel, the Mykonos

A bell boy came to get the luggage, we quickly checked in and they showed us to our room.  WOW!  It was a 2 bedroom, 2 bath apartment that could sleep 6 people, it had a fully equipped little kitchen and had a beautiful ocean view and right off the coast there was a big rock outcropping covered with noisy barking seals.

          View of the seal rock and ocean from our room!

Whenever I get somewhere I like to throw all my things in the room and then go exploring.  We checked out the little town of Reñaca which is about a 15 minute walk south from our hotel and checked out places for dinner.


We then went north of the hotel and found another little clump of buildings and restaurants.  By then we were getting a little chilled and thirsty and Ron spotted a restaurant on the water where you could see a roaring fireplace visible from the road, great advertising for the restaurant!  We went inside and ordered a few beers, then I grabbed a menu to see what their dinner selections were like. 

The waiter gave us 2 menus, one in English and one in Spanish so I did a little cross checking to see what the different dishes were called. They used lots of different Spanish words to describe food on the menus, so it made it challenging to figure out what to order!   I thought that some fried calamari would go great with the beer and I did see some “calamari pil pil” on the menu.  I asked him “¿Es ‘calamari pil pil’ con salsa de vinagre o frito?”  He goes into some long explanation never mentioning the words “vinagre” or “frito” so I say, “OK!”  What do we have to lose?  The dish came and it wasn’t fried like I what I had a craving for, but it was still wonderful, sliced calamari rings in a butter and garlic sauce, YUMMMM!  We’ll be back for dinner that night.

We watched our first sunset and had to snap a few pictures, everyone takes pictures of sunsets, and they always look very similar, but we do it anyways and still “ooooh” and “aaaah” over them.  We are no exception.

We walked home and Ron asked the man at the front desk what time did Chileans usually eat dinner.  Turns out they are similar to the Argentines in that they don’t eat till 8:30 pm or so.  We did a little reading and then felt too tired to walk a lot for dinner so we decided to have dinner in the hotel restaurant.

We went up to the dining room and we were the only ones there.  The waiter was dressed in a tux though and looked relieved to have someone to wait on.  We asked for a menu but he just started spouting off what they had for dinner, we asked about “pescado” and he replied with “¿salmón?”, “Plancha, por favor” I said to indicate I wanted it grilled.  Off he goes and started bringing us food.  I guessed by his actions that the menu is all inclusive with salad, etc.  As I’ve said many times, we may not be able to converse fluently, but we haven’t starved yet!

Sunday August 19thA glorious day, even though it's winter now the weather was clear and nice and we hiked along the ocean.  The beaches were filled with running children, playing in the sand.  Makes you just want to grab a pail and a plastic shovel and go to town building the best sand castle EVER!


Monday August 20thWe grabbed a small bus to visit the neighboring town of Viña del Mar.  They have these small buses that run continuously and are very inexpensive.  It’s kind of funny because as you’re walking along they’ll just lightly toot their horn as they pass and you can signal them if you want them to stop, they’ll stop anywhere you are!  I had read about a museum there and we wanted to check it out.  Unfortunately it was Monday and the museum was closed on Monday.  The other museum that had a huge botanical garden was also closed for renovations.  I had also read about a Japanese restaurant and decided to try it for lunch, but it too was closed.  Oh well.  We had lunch sitting outside at a restaurant chain called “Lomito’N”, I guess that means, “beef N lots of other stuff”.  The weather was beautiful and it felt great to sit outside in the sun drinking a big beer.

We found a little mall of stores that had arts and crafts kinds of things and Ron found us some llama wool hats for 1,000 pesos ($1.50 each) for our trip to Antarctica in December.  Can’t believe someone can make a hat and a profit for $1.50.

That night we walked into Reñaca to a restaurant that I had seen, they had German / Japanese on the sign.  I have NEVER seen a combination German and Japanese restaurant before.  We walked up and the restaurant was all lit up but no one was in it.  The door had the dead bolt open to prop the door open ever so slightly, but I just didn’t think they were open.  Thank god Ron walked right in and started saying, “Hello?  Hello?  Anybody in here??”  A young guy came out from the back room and seated us and we ended having one of the best Japanese dinners we have ever had.  The seafood was incredible and very tasty and he even made the California roll with avocado wrapped around the OUTSIDE of the California roll, can’t figure out how he did it, but it was a work of art and delicious.  We were still laughing at the menu, it was equally split between Japanese and German dishes.  Ron said that he wanted to return and try their bratwurst, I’m sure if it’s half as good as their Japanese dishes, it would be excellent.

Tuesday August 21stFor dinner, I wanted to go to the restaurant that was north of us, the one where on the first day we stopped and had a beer and the calamari pil pil.  We walked there but they were closed for the night, darn!  There was another large restaurant and we decided to have dinner there, it was either that or walk back south to Reñaca.  We entered and the restaurant had a musty, been too long next to the ocean without good upkeep, kind of smell, but we sat down anyways.  The dinner was actually very nice once you got used to the smell, not a glowing recommendation, but that’s the best I can say!

Wednesday August 22ndWhen we told our new friends at Ricardo’s dinner party the previous Friday night that we were going to Reñaca for a week, they suggested that we should visit the capital, Santiago, for 2 days to break up the trip between sleepy seaside resort and a larger, more modern city with more action.  However, Ron and I really like to just kick back and relax.  We really get a lot of pleasure from hiking along the ocean, looking in tide pools, looking at a patch of wild flowers growing out of a crack in a rock, having a long lunch and reading.  Such simple pleasures, but so enjoyable.   After hiking all day, it was great fun to sit and watch the barking seal lions in the afternoon from our balcony (with a drink in hand of course!) fight for the best spot on the rocks.  They’d bark at each other and try and swim up and snatch a prime piece of seal real estate, just as a big wave would come along and knock half of them into the water.  I thought they were supposed to be more graceful then that, but that’s what I say all the time about our cats!  Ron has enjoyed several John Grisham books and he gave me my first Grisham book on this trip, "The Brethren", it was very enjoyable.

The travel agent Ron booked the trip with said we should visit Concón while we there, he said it was a small fishing village but that it would be interesting.  We took the efficient and cheap bus to see it and when we arrived, it was truly a small and quaint fishing village, we walked through it in 5 minutes.  A nicely dressed waiter came out, crossed the street, and tried to get us into his restaurant for lunch, but it was still early and we weren’t really hungry yet.  We decided to jump on the bus and went back to Viña del Mar.  By the time we did some more walking around we were hungry so we went back to the Japanese restaurant that was closed on Monday.  We had a great lunch, I’m glad we returned.

After that we headed for the museum which had an authentic Easter Island head in front of it.

More Reñaca Museum Pictures

When we were planning this trip, we really wanted to include going to Easter Island while we were in Chile, however, our travel agent said that it's very expensive to fly round trip from Santiago, so we didn't go.  He said that usually people stop there for a few days on their way to Tahiti, so I mentioned to Ron that we'll just have to go to Tahiti now.  The museum was small but very interesting with information on Easter Island and the local indigenous Argentine Indians.  There was a totally creepy natural history second floor with lots of gross insects, spiders and other venomous critters.

This night we decided to go the local cinema and watch “Evolución”, an enjoyable, light sci-fi comedy.  After the movie it was about 9:30 pm so we thought we’d grab a small pizza at the local pizza joint.  As we walked in they were trying to clear the smoke from the central fireplace in the middle of the restaurant.  Ron wanted to sit close to it to capture some of its warmth.  The owner came over, handed us the menus and asked us if we wanted something to drink while reading the menu, YES, a local beer would be great!  We had a nice pizza and the owner came over to ask us if it was good, or just so-so.  We assured him it was a very good pizza but I still felt sorry for him.  It is off season, but we appeared to be his only customers for the night and even though we ordered a pizza, 4 beers and Ron ordered a packaged ice cream for dessert, the bill was only about $12.  Don’t know how that would pay for his 2 employees who were also there, the lights, and the firewood for the fireplace, but I’m glad he was open and we had a good pizza.

Thursday August 23rdOn our previous trip to Concón the other day, I noticed a vista point that was within walking distance of our hotel, so off we headed.  We hiked along the coast and saw some great vistas.  At the vista point, there was a guy selling snacks and drinks and a guy selling T-Shirts and little mementos made out of shells and driftwood.  We hiked around the point and cursorily looked at the table filled with tacky souvenirs and T-Shirts.
More Reñaca Museum Pictures

As we waited for the next bus to come along to take us back into town, Ron mentioned that the guy selling snacks was eating all his profits.  Then he said, “Did you see those cool T-Shirts he had, they’d be great for the gym!”  I told him to go buy the T-Shirt if he wanted it, not likely we’ll be back here anytime soon.  Ron went back and got a T-Shirt for 2,000 pesos ($3), not the best quality, but not bad for $3.  A bus came along, we flagged him down and then we were off to Reñaca.  We stopped in a restaurant near the German / Japanese restaurant and proceeded to have the best meal I think we’ve had since we moved to Argentina 10 months ago.  It was a combination platter with mushrooms prepared 2 different ways, grilled beef, grilled pork, and sautéed chicken.  It was just fabulous and with an inexpensive bottle of delicious Chilean wine, it was a lunch made in heaven.

The front door was propped open and stray dogs would continually come in and lay down right inside the door.  Not to beg, but just to be in the company of people and get out of the chilly winter air I guess.  The waitress would half heartedly try and shoo them away, and I think they were used to it, because they would just look up and give her the ole sad puppy dog eye look, and since they weren’t really bothering anyone, she’d let them take a nap inside.

Afterwards there was an art exhibit store I saw from the road that I wanted to check out.  There were lots of different artists and lots of paintings displayed and stacked up in piles.  I found one artist I liked, the painting was applied with a knife and Ron told me that it’s actually called “knife painting”, strange as it seems!  The deep impressions in the thick paint gave it a very 3 dimensional feel and because of the blurred edges of the thick paint, it lends itself to very well to paintings of rainy scenes.  There was one in particular that I like, it looked like a painting of a park in late afternoon in the rain, reminded me a lot of a park in Buenos Aires during the rain.  I asked the proprietor about the cost and he rattled off some figure, I asked, “Escribe por favor” so I wouldn’t make a mistake in understanding the price.  It turned out to be about $390 with a very expensive looking frame.  The painting was quite large, over 2 ½ feet across and the price seemed reasonable to me.  However, I was worried if I could get it back into Argentina on my tourist visa without them charging me a fee or tax, so I decided against it.  I'm sure the airlines would have charged me extra cargo or something as it would have been even larger after he wrapped it up.  I already regret not getting it.  :o(  They always say if you see something you want, don't think about it too much, just buy it, you'll always regret it later if you don't.  I remember once seeing this Rolex on a dock off a cruise ship in Mexico, it looked like it was worth $15,000, it was SO COOL looking.  The price you ask???  $20  Of course I knew it was fake, but for $20 who cares??  If I only wore it once before it broke I would have got my money out of it.  I always think about that watch!  Hah!  Hope that painting doesn't haunt me like that stupid watch does.

Friday August 24thOur last full day in Chile and we spent the day hiking up and down the coast.  We noticed that they use the term ¡aló!, instead of ¡hola!, when they greet or answer the phone.  We were tired so we decided to take one of the little shuttle buses back to the hotel.  The bus took a different turn and started going up along the crest of the hill instead of along the coast.  I always wondered how people got to the homes up along the top of the hill as the entire hill seemed to be covered in homes with no apparent roads between them, now I could see how they did it.  I waited till we were almost directly above our hotel and we both hopped off the bus.  Now to find a way down.  We walked along the road till we saw one that went down at a sharp angle.  We hoped this would eventually lead to the ocean.  It started to dead end when we say this very steep stone staircase heading down the hill, AH!  That’s how the locals do it.

More Assorted Reñaca Pictures

The steps got us down about ½ way, then we were at another impasse with no apparent way down.  The road went off in 2 directions, but which one to follow?  We picked a direction and headed off.  By the time we got down to the ocean we were back in Reñaca.  So much for being tired and trying to take a bus to save a few steps!

Monday August 27th - We went to meet with Zelfa, the agent who has setup our Antarctic cruise, and gave her some completed forms she needed for our December cruise.  She's a real interesting person and married to Gunther who runs a leather furniture business out of India, he says that labor is so cheap there that it's cost effective to have things made there and shipped elsewhere.  They have both traveled extensively and I put 2 of their articles that were published in the Buenos Aires Herald in the "Travel / Culture" section of my  website. -> Antarctic Articles   I told Zelfa about being disappointed in not being able to visit Easter Island when we were in Chile recently because of the cost of the airfare, and that we’ll just have to plan a trip to Tahiti now so that we can stop off and see Easter Island on the way.  After hearing this she said, "Well you know it's expensive to fly to Tahiti, you should really plan a trip to New Zealand that stops in Tahiti."  Boy!!!  I like her thinking!  Now I get to visit Easter Island, Tahiti AND New Zealand!!  Zelfa also mentioned that after the coming summer season this is the last year they're going to use the Russian Ice Breaker ship.  She said it's too costly for them to run tourists on an icebreaker and the Russians want it back to break up some ice in Siberia somewhere.  THE NERVE!  We feel like we lucked out on the cruise because they’ll still have the icebreaker.  Next season, they'll still have other ships going to the Antarctic, they just won't be able to go to as many places as this ship can.