Thursday, August 18, 2011

Snow in Santiago

It rained today, no big deal.  Around noon the rain changed to snow for a bit, a rare occassion for Santiago.  The snow didn't last too long, and it was definitely not the white, light, pretty stuff we get in Ohio.

I didn't plan for it and was soaked to the bone in the morning.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The day after the protest

On the morning after the protest I took a bikeride around the town to look at the destruction.  The day was grey and cold, yet the activity in the city, with businessmen and women walking out from the subway and people walking to their jobs like usual.  Broken glass and trash could be seen throughout the city, and a taste of tear gas was still in the air.

One of the news stories was how one of the large department stores burned for a few hours last night.  Seeing as how laPolar was recently caught in a large credit card scandal that affected thousands of Chilenos, not too many people were bothered by that destruction (although in the end we'll all pay for it from the insurance coverage, I'm sure). 

Pile of broken glass, trash and stones in the park.

Broken bus stop advertisement.
About a dozen of these in the park.
Signs of students who perished in the battle with police (just kidding!).
Street dogs recovering from who knows what from the last night.
Trash and debris from the burnt laPolar store.
laPolar department store which burned during the night.  Not too many Santiaguinos shed a tear, as laPolar was recently caught in an Enron-like scandal.
"They believed that without the march there isn't a protest? Now Hinzpeter suffers." Regarding the government official not authorizing the protest and declaring it unlawful.
Broken window near Cerro Santa Lucia.  I passed by as one of the protesters destroyed this window at about 9:30 pm.  A hush landed over the crowd at the time of the destruction, which were followed by agressive cheers.
Random destruction.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Student Protests, Gov't Response, Tear Gas & the Banging of Pans

The smell and burn of teargas was in the air today.  For months Chilean students have been protesting against the dire state of the educational system -- poor quality, poor funding, incredibly expensive university education that functions more like a "negocio" (a business) than for education. 

In the morning the governmental buildings around La Moneda (the presidential palace) were on guard and ready to shut their doors to keep out any protesters.  Padded and armed police officers (Carabineros) could be found on every city block.

Twice I had to change direction on my bike, to find a new way home from the centro.  The teargas in the air, which forces your face scrunch up, makes your mouth, saliva and the pores on your skin burn, was too strong. 

In the afternoon I had to cancel a meeting, because I couldn't get to the metro due to the movement.  I figured there would be a problem when a 17 year old asked me where the Salvador metro stop was, the metro that I was going to use.  From across the Mapocho river, which runs through the city, I had a clear view of thousands of students and a handful of police trucks spewing teargas and shooting their high-pressure water cannons, and could hear the "pop-pop" of rubber bullets to disarm the crowds.  The re-directed traffic moved at a snail's pace around the action.

In the evening I went out on my bike to *cough-cough* to buy some work materials.  I had a can of tear gas shot at my feet and high-tailed it out of there, dodging crowds of students and professionals making their way home from the city center.  I ate a sandwich at my favorite sandwich place as traffic and people built up in the street outside.  The crowd destroyed a window and created a fire from the plastic barricades in the street.  I got the hell out of there when the spotlight from the helicopter shone on the crowd and a dozen police officers on dirtbikes approached the action. 

As darkness continued to fall on the city crowds of students could be seen gathering on city blocks, and even right outside my apartment.  At around 9:30 you could hear the "Cacerolazo" from the streets, the tradition (from the 80's dictatorship) of banging pots and pans in the streets in support of governmental change.

Packs of armored policemen ("Carabineros"), dressed like GI Joe, protecting the downtown.
The Carabineros up close.
Students recovering from the tear gas.
This street is normally very busy during the day.
Large police-truck getting into position.
"Water cannon, fire!" I've heard that the liquid they shoot has some kind of chemical in it to further deter protesters.
Students after just crossing the bridge to avoid the mayhem.
Students in the park.  Note the tear gas cloud.
Students in the park.  Their running away from the police trucks.  A few seconds after this photo this scene was disrupted by large police trucks, billows of tear gas and the "pop-pop" sound of what I beleive are rubber bullets.
Huge group of students in the park across the river.  You can see the plume of tear gas in the distance.
A stampede of students running away from the police trucks and tear gas. I was trying to cross this bridge and was caught in the commotion; an exciting yet frightening experience.
Girls biting on lemons to help combat the tear gas.
Re-directed traffic outside my building.  Usually we might have 10 cars pass each minute at this time of day.

Joel, the server at my favorite restaurant, watching the door and keeping out protesters.
The scene outside the restaurant door.  About 6 busses were stopped by protesters and had to back up and find a new way out. Notice the tear gas at the end of the street.
Deserted, trash-ridden streets.
Flags and signs supporting change to the educational system.
Flames begin.
My roommate, Rulo, (and me) banging pots with our neighbors to support the movement.
People in the streets banging their pots in support (photo from El Mercurio).

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Library card and the Café Literarios

Just recently I signed up for library membership.  Providencia (one of the main comunas in the city center) has a small number of Café Literarios (Literary Cafes) where you can relax and find books and other reading materials.  These places are a bit different than US libraries, in that they are more like, well, cafés.  You can find a few books here, but they are mainly places to relax and read or work on your computer.

The membership cost me about USD$20 and is good for a year.  After I got my membership I found out just how small (and poor) the library collection is -- they don't have any books-on-tape!
One of the Cafe Literarios, found in the center of Parque Bustamante, just south of the main Santiago hub (Baquedano and Plaza Italia).
A good place to sit, read a newspaper, drink a coffee or surf the web.
The upstairs, with a long table for computers and stands of books.  The size of the book collection leaves a bit to be desired.

The second-floor walkway out the back of the building, with a beautiful view.
The view south through the park.

The official registration form (no library card issued, I'll just use my Chilean ID).

Monday, July 25, 2011

The end of classes with the kids

English classes with two of my favorite students ("the kids", both 5 and 7 years old) have ended.  Florian and Alexandre's family moved out of Santiago last week to follow the parent's careers and to gain experience living in the States.

Classes with the kids were an interesting experience; we played card games, read books about spiderman, built things with a plastic tool set, drew pictures of superheroes and they even cooked crepes for me out of play dough (the kids are French, of course). 

Getting to their house was a unique experience as well, requiring a metro ride and then squeezing into the back of a taxi colectivo while the taxi driver (usually with a cross hanging from the mirror and some form of latin music blaring from the speakers) cruised around the neighborhood dropping the passengers off at their destinations. 

For posterity's sake here are some photos of a very cool card game that we used to play.  Called Mille Bornes the game requires the players to select cards that enable them to travel 1000 kilometers.  The first person to travel exactly 1000 kilometers (and not over) wins, and they must avoid flat tires, car crashes and running out of gas to do it.  One of the funniest parts of the game was the car engine noises that the kids made when they selected their 50, 75, 100, or 200 km cards.  Who says kids need video games to have fun these days?

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Skiing in the Andes - La Parva

Julia and I got the offer of a lifetime over the weekend, a good friend of mine, and an avid skier, invited us out to the mountains to go skiing.

We started off at 9:30 am from Santiago, expecting heavy traffic on the one-way road to the ski slopes.  The 1.5 hour drive took us about 3 hours as we climbed slowly up the mountain side.  Interestingly, the direction of the road changes during the day -- in the morning you can climb to the top and after 1 pm you're allowed to take the road back down to the foot of the mountain.  At the base of the mountain there is a police checkpoint where the carabineros (police officers) check to make sure you have either snow chains or 4 wheel-drive.

At approximately 10,000 feet the ski slop was beautiful, and daunting.  Julia and I spent a few hours on the "beginner" slope and Tomás and Paulina spent most of the day on their own, making their way to the top of the mountain (about 11,500 feet).  After a picnic lunch of leftover pizza and clementine oranges Julia and I hopped on the ski lift ("telesilla") for the 1.4 kilometer ride up the hill.  From there we had the pleasure of skiing back down, a fairly long descent with spectacular views.

The sun started to sink low, the clouds began to rise up the mountain, and the temperature dropped significantly when the slopes closed at 5 pm.  The four spent a while drinking hot wine and coffee in the restaurant and watched the sun set above the clouds off in the distance.
A traffic jam ("taco") on the way to the top.
Forty curves on the way to the mountain top.
Snow on a cactus.
Paulina, Tomás and Julia; getting ready.
Anticipation building.
All ready to go.
Beautiful view from the "beginner" slope.
Me on my second run downhill.
The "telesilla" -- 1.4 kilometers long.
La bandera Chilena and the clouds below.
The sun sets and the cold rolls in.