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Chile continued, Buenos Aires reviewed


You can cut all the flowers but you cannot keep spring from coming. Pablo Neruda

Would you say that it is going to be already 3 months that I am in Chile? Hmm, my feelings are kind of mixed: on one hand I wouldn’t say so as time flies so quickly but on the other hand, when I look back on all the enriching experiences that I lived through and think about how much I miss you, it could be far more months. My feelings are equally mixed as to that there is only 2 more months left until my return to Paris: I am pretty much looking forward to it and will be happy to be again with you, the people I like in the places I like, but I am also sure that I will be sad to leave Chile because I am creating very close friendships here…and Chile is unfortunately not a destination you can visit very often since the price of plane tickets is awfully high. I would actually dare to say that it is the most, or certainly one of the most, expensive destination(s) in the world. L El fin del mundo! (End of the world) But definitely worth it! And it’s awesome to be on the sunny and warm southern hemisphere when the weather is bad in Europe. 😛 Don’t envy me and don’t be jealous, you know that I would send an A380 to bring you to Chile if I could. 😉

The two weekends after the Coquimbo region trip finally turned out to be more dynamic than I have foreseen, not allowing me to finish reading some books about Chile and read in Spanish or watch some more Chilean films as planned. The thing is there is so much to discover here in Chile and the weather is nice so you just cannot stay in smoggy Santiago. Books can be read and films watched even in Europe; however you cannot enjoy Chilean extraordinary biodiversity over there and have interesting conversations with real Chileans or other Latin-Americans who will probably not have the chance to come to Europe in their whole life. It is not only culturally enriching but also personally because I get to know new life philosophies that make me find my own way to happiness and besides show me again and again how terribly lucky I am. I sometimes have the impression we take our comfortable life for too granted in Europe, so much that we forget to be thankful for basic things and have deeper values. We seem to be never really satisfied even though we have the chance to live very good lives. A stay in Chile reminds you of that the most important thing is to have nice, reliable people around you and enjoy life with them as best as you can, no matter you do not have a lot of money, you can be happy together, they are your everyday sunshine and you are theirs. My mum, one of my sunshines, send me a song of Victor Jara that says: Chile is a place where you can find yourself and the others only by using a compass that is made out of real (everyday) life. This is so true!

As you could notice if you had a look on my photos, I did two very nice trips during the two weekends before going to Buenos Aires, both of them with Zuzka, my best “girl friend” here in Chile. We went hiking to the Parque nacional La Campana on one hot Sunday and visited the biggest underground mine of the world El Teniente and a UNESCO world heritage site, the mining town Sewell the other Sunday. I think I wouldn’t be able to describe in words what you can so well see in the photos. So just briefly some interesting facts: The La Campana Mountain is known thanks to Charles Darwin who climbed it in 1834 and mentions it in his travel memoir The Voyage of the Beagle/Journal of Researchers. The national park, UNESCO bio-reservation, is also known for its largest Chilean palms plantation of the world. I would like to visit this part just that it is difficult to access without a car. But I’ll make it! Sewell and El Teniente were obviously not that breathtaking from the natural point of view (apart from the geological one), but it was a highly interesting trip in the middle of Chile’s most important economic activity.

Sewell mining town http://www.sewell.cl/english/index1.php (very well-done webpage, have a look!) was founded in 1904 by the American Braden Copper Company to extract the copper in the El Teniente mine, and, in 1915, it was named after the company’s first president, Mr. Barton Sewell. Following many years of active life with over 15 000 inhabitants and achieving the construction and exploitation of the largest underground mine in the world, in 1977 the company started moving families to the valley and soon after the camp was being dismantled. In its active years it was the most progressive town in Chile with the first cinema and best hospital. The life was overall very nice there, even though there was a difference between the quality of life of the miners and their managers, not to say the Americans. Sewell is known as the city of stairs as there were no roads, only a train that brought workers and their families to the camp. Sewell is since 2006 on the UNESCO list as an outstanding example of the global phenomena of company towns, established in remote parts of the world through a fusion of local labor with resources from already industrialized nations, to mine and process high value copper. The town contributed to the global spread of large-scale mining technology”. It is indeed one of the most original places of Chile and South America. I was happy I could make another “check” in my UNESCO list – my dream is to visit all the places on it during my life and to contribute to the subscription of new exceptional sites on it. Mission impossible? Nothing is impossible! The afternoon 4km somewhere inside a big mountain without any quick way out dressed up like a real miner was impressive! Imagine that if you interconnected all the tunnels in there, you would get almost 3 000km (!!!) of little roads. I was also impressed by the use of advanced technologies for everything, haha, there was no men with shovels! J And I did not think they would show us so much of the work and life in the mine…Great day!

Having mentioned UNESCO several times, I will continue by telling you that it has become also part of my work. Pure happiness for an UNESCO fanatic like me! I had the chance to participate in a project related to the international (Latin-American) fair of handcraft that took place in Santiago. The cherry on the cake was the ceremony of Recognition of excellence in handcraft awarded by UNESCO. This allowed me to deepen my knowledge on current projects in the field of Immaterial Cultural Heritage in Latin America (and before all Chile of course) and to get in touch with the Regional UNESCO Office in Santiago. This office is specialized in education a priori but they have been developing projects concerning cultural heritage (both material and immaterial) since last year. I shall also have the opportunity to be in the centre of a cooperation project between my department in the ministry and the UNESCO Office. Youhouuu, I do not have to be sad any more I could not do my internship there (they do not accept anyone) since I am now in close contact with them and it is almost as if I did an internship there. Sooo happy! J

Staying in Chile on a 90 days tourist visa that you can renew by travelling to another country and having Buenos Aires at only 2hours, I left for a 4 days trip to discover the city I have always been dreaming of visiting. Everyone told me I will like it and I can now confirm that they were right. And not only that I like it, I would even say I quite fell in love with it!



Cómo vivir sin verte si se que pertenezco a esa región en donde la emoción le gana siempre a la razón, porque Argentina tiene locas golondrinas en el corazón, en donde la esperanza, siempre inventa algún color, y la gente no se cansa de soñar y dar amor. Eladia Blazquez.

Exactly as for my last bigger trip to the Coquimbo region, I travelled away to Buenos Aires already some two or three days before the actual flight, reading guides to organize the visit and excitedly looking forward to it. I was going to the Paris of Latin America, yeah! J

After a very early wake up (and almost no sleep), I left for the airport at 3.45 a.m. to get our flight at 7 a.m. and arrive to Buenos Aires a bit after 9 a.m. Arriving to the Newberry airport situated almost in the centre of Buenos Aires, we could from the first minute feel the atmosphere of national mourning for the unexpected loss of Nestor Kirchner, former Argentinean president (2003-2007), the husband and most important counselor of current President Cristina Kirchner, Secretary General of UNASUR and hot candidate for the 2011 Presidential elections. The official plane for the transport to his place of birth was ready on the airport; there was a lot of people around the main street leading to the governmental house Casa Rosada, messages of support to Cristina or saying “Nestor vive!” (Nestor lives) were everywhere. We had the chance to live through all the intense emotions in live (sorry for the morbidity). Our hotel being situated in the centre of Buenos Aires close to the Casa Rosada, we could participate in the last goodbye ceremony and see the convoy with Kirschner’s body driving through the city to the airport. It was very impressive to be in the middle of all this, see people crying or manifesting, TV’s in all places switched on tracing the event second by second, all this on a rainy day that underlined the atmosphere of sorrow. However, once the plane left around 13h, Buenos Aires got slowly back to its normal life.

Visiting a city on a rainy day is obviously not really comfortable but we overcame it and started off the discovery of Buenos Aires walking along Avenida 9 de Julio, the widest avenue in the world. Imagine something like 25 car stripes one after another and a mixture of Champs-Elysees, Wenceslas Square in Prague and a little bit of Time Square. Argentineans like to say they “have it the widest and longest” (you got the double sense), this is also one of the first things we learned from our taxi driver. So at least we knew that we switched to a country where men have a far bigger…EGO! J We then continued through the Avenida Santa Fe, the shopping avenue, to the chic neighborhood Recoleta. Buildings and shops like in Paris or Kensington, so different from Santiago and so close to Europe, with a cherry on the cake: its famous shopping mall Patio Bullrich. I do not want to sound superficial but I must admit it felt really good to be in a place that looks like the 16th in Paris and see all the charming people (that you don’t really see in Santiago L…sorry my dear Santiaguinos!). Buenos Aires is generally very European-like and actually the great majority of porteños (this is how inhabitants of Buenos Aires are called) have European origins, before all Italian and Spanish ones. Indeed, porteños often have an Italian name, even though they are 100% Argentinean and do not speak a word Italian and have never been to Italy. Unfortunately, I read there is more and more Americans (and British) moving to BA since 2004, so I hope they will not change the character of the city. I should also mention that Buenos Aires has the largest Jewish community in Latin America – about 250 000 Jews. The classy shops were of course expensive but actually not that expensive so I am sure I will do a lot of shopping next time I go to Buenos Aires, also because they have really wonderful stuff. Unfortunately, I have a limited budget at the moment with all the trips and I prefer to spend money on discovering Chile than on chic clothes so I was just admiring.J Also the architecture, mainly in the French style with balconies and windows exactly as in Paris!

When the rain failed a little bit, we continued walking from Recoleta to El Retiro. It is one of the largest hubs of transportation services in Argentina (big train and bus terminals) and a popular residential area for upper-class families. And considering the high number of 5* hotels also a popular area for upper-class tourists. J One of its dominants is the Torre de los Ingleses (British tower) donated by the Anglo-Argentine community in 1910 in the context of celebrations of 100 years of independence. Naturally, big manifestations took place here in the wake of the Falklands War. After a nice walk through the quarter, we ended up our journey in the famous shopping mall Galerías Pacífico proclaimed national historical monument such as the Galeries Lafayette in Paris. Once again, I had to fight a lot with my internal shopping devil. J Tired of a whole-day of walking after a night almost without sleep, we had dinner in a typical porteño restaurant – El Cabildo de Buenos Aires – near the Plaza de Mayo, that means also near to our hotel. Cabildo was the city council during the colonial era. One human necessity perfectly satisfied, we could return to our hotel to satisfy another one and regain energy for the days to come. I was so tired that I obviously declined the offer of some friends of a friend (who was unfortunately not in the city during the weekend) to go to a party.

On Saturday morning, we returned to Recoleta to continue our visit of this charming quarter, this time under far better weather conditions.  We first went to the most important and best known part – the cemetery. Not necessary to mention that all important personalities of Argentinean history have their tomb there and that it is one of world’s masterpieces from the architectural point of view. I got a bit frustrated about my poor knowledge of Argentinean personalities, but before all highly motivated to study more on this country on my return to Europe. We then walked to all the charming squares surrounding it – Plaza Francia, Mitra, Eva Peron, Uruguay, Chile and finally de Naciones Unidas. It was a lot of walking as Buenos Aires is huge and even though places seem to be close to each other/small in the map, they can be really far away/large in reality. Grey clouds came back in the beginning of the afternoon which was a perfect timing because their arrival and departure (!) coincided exactly with our appointment at the hairdresser’s in a chic salon in Recoleta. Buenos Aires is known for very good hairdressers.

The weather was nice again and so we continued through the southern part of El Retiro to Puerto Madero.  On our way, we visited the Plaza San Martín owing its present look to Charles Thays. This French-Argentine landscape architect dedicated a lot of his talent to Buenos Aires (and there is a huge jogging park named after him in Recoleta).  I have already mentioned one of the monuments of the plaza, the Torre de los Ingleses, I will now add three other outstanding palaces you can find there: the Beaux Arts Anchorena Palace (today the ceremonial annex of the Foreign Ministry), the Second Empire Paz Palace (today the Military Officers’ Association, note that paz means peace!) and the Neogothic Haedo Palace (today the Secretariat of Environmental Policy). There is also a monument to the “fallen in the Malvinas” and the plaza on its whole is a very pleasant place to sit down, relax watching people around you or to read a book.

Puerto Madero is the most modern (and probably most expensive) residential part of Buenos Aires on the Rio de Plata riverbank full of luxurious housing facilities, offices, good restaurants, bars, clubs and nice promenades. There was something that made me feel like in New York, the docks in London and Barcelona at the same time, really nice! I read it is one of the most successful recent waterfront renewal projects in the world and I would say so because it is amazing. Renowned architects such as Norman Foster contributed to the development of this nowadays trendiest borough in Buenos Aires, for a part still under construction. And I don’t know why but I always feel better in places where you have a waterscape around (be it a river or a sea…or an open-air swimming poolJ).

The Plaza de Mayo being just next to it and on the way to our hotel, we visited it before returning to the hotel to get ready for the evening. Scene of the 25 May Revolution in 1810 that lead to the independence of Argentina in 1816, Plaza Mayo is the most important square in Buenos Aires/Argentina. Every time something important happens in the political life of Argentina, you can be sure something will also be going on at this square. The Peronist movement has been gathering here every 17th of October since 1945 when mass demonstrations provoked the release from prison of Juan Domingo Perón, later President of Argentina. Presidents have traditionally saluted people from the balcony of the Casa Rosada, just think of the film Evita to picture it. Since 1977, the so called Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo have congregated here to contemplate about the loss of los desaparecidos, their children who were subject to forced disappearance during the military regime. The dominant of the plaza is the Casa Rosada, the official seat of the executive branch of the federal government of Argentina and seat of the offices of the President. Here is a virtual tour of the magnificent palace: http://www.casarosada.gov.ar/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=461&Itemid=103. You can find BA’s financial district, also known as La City, another prove of Europeanism, just behind the square.

What would it be to go to Buenos Aires without seeing a tango show or going to a tango bar! The more that I love dance and music and I consider tango to be the queen of all dances. And it is a UNESCO immaterial cultural heritage! J We wanted the best so we went to Café Tortoni, famous coffeehouse inaugurated by a French immigrant in 1858. In its basement is La Peña (inaugurated in 1926), a grass-roots community meeting place where popular folklore and other artistic expressions accompanied by food and drink are showcased. It is the place where you can find BA’s best tango shows performed by artists of the National academy of tango. Unfortunately, we were told upon our arrival that there are no more tickets for that evening and that we will have to come back earlier the next day. Despite this fact, we did the queue for a table (you always have to do it as it is the most looked for place in Buenos Aires and reservations are not accepted) and had a nice dinner in this stylish art nouveau restaurant. I felt so well because so close to Paris that I miss terribly much.

Sunday was a day completely in the sign of tango. We started at La Boca, a former Italian (Genoese) fishing port. Even though a poor and therefore rather dangerous neighborhood of BA, it is a popular tourist destination for its pedestrian street El Caminito with colorful houses and tango artists performing in the numerous cafes/restaurants and tango music is playing everywhere. It is also known among sports fans for La Bombonera, the home of Boca Juniors, one of the world‘s best known football clubs. We were lucky to arrive enough early to savor the unique atmosphere of El Caminito. It got totally crowded with tourists when we were leaving and it was not that charming any more. Just as Montmartre in Paris.

We then continued to the neighbor quarter where tango was actually born – San Telmo. We walked through the nice Lezama park, popped into the richly decorated Orthodox church and took the Defensa street that led us into the heart of the barrio. Loads of antiquities shops, designer shops and street sellers of anything you can imagine, pretty much like in Portobello in London, that is what we encountered on our way to the main square with tango bars and cafés…and a flea-market as it was Sunday. I felt pretty much like at the Place du Tertre in Paris. When we fought our way through the hundreds of tourists, we had a tasty late-lunch in one of the tango restaurants listening to tango music and watching several tango performances. Just perfect!

I then needed to compensate for the huge (and delicious!) piece of meat over the whole plate so we decided to walk to the Natural reserve in the Rio de la Plata hidden behind Puerto Madero. Unfortunately, when we arrived there, we found out it was closed because of bad weather conditions. Maybe because of the strong wind? It was not very understandable because the weather was otherwise rather sunny that day. So we just had a nice walk in a park next to the reserve, stopped for a while to watch a funny street show and completed our visit of Puerto Madero. It is indeed awesome!

We succeeded in getting tickets for the tango show in Café Tortoni for that night so we got changed in the hotel and left for what was going to be one of the strongest art performances I have ever seen. So many emotions, love, hate, sensuality, violence, fear, passion, anger, sorrow expressed only by dance, singing and music…I LOVE TANGO! J And I am happy that my level of Spanish is now enough good to understand the lyrics of the tango songs which is very important and gives a whole new dimension to it. The whole story was actually narrated in singing – wonderful singing! There were really parts that were so strong that I got goose flesh. J I would love to be able to dance tango at least as half as good as the dancers and have the capacity to act, express and transmit all the emotions as they did. Next time I go to Buenos Aires – and I am 100% sure this will happen – I will (hopefully) spend more time in milongas dancing tango by myself. There was no one who would go there with me this time, otherwise I would have danced the whole night through I think. J

Still, Buenos Aires is a city that never sleeps and I really did not feel like sleeping after the impressive tango show, so I was lucky that the porteño friend of my very good Czech friend got back to Buenos Aires that night and we could therefore meet and I could get to know Buenos Aires’s night life thanks to him. Elegant design lounge bars with a cultural touch as the one we went to in Recoleta are something that you cannot really find in Santiago (I have that impression for instance) so it felt really good to be in one and learn more about Buenos Aires, Argentina and their society thanks to my new friend Mariano. I am convinced that the best way how to get to know a place is to talk to and spend time with people who live in that place. I got used to the typical porteño accent in which every “y + vowel” (written y or ll in Spanish) sound is pronounced as “sh” by that time so we could have a normal conversation. The accent is super cute! J

Monday, last day! L I was already feeling like I will not want to fly away from Buenos Aires that morning and this feeling got stronger and stronger during the day when I discovered the neighborhoods of Palermo and Costanera Norte. It was like a perfect mixture of Kensington and Nothing Hill with Bois de Vincennes and Boulogne but in a Latin American style. Palermo is divided in two main parts: the old Palermo Viejo with small houses, cafés and designer shops, and the chic Palermo Chico closer to the river with luxurious villas and picturesque neo-classicist French style buildings. It is incredibly calm there despite being in the center of a huge city and a wide avenue a few blocks away. There is also the famous MAMBA here: Museo de Arte Moderno de Buenos Aires. Just next to it, the huge and numerous parks in Costanera Norte next to the river, designed mainly by French architects, are a perfect place for a relaxing Sunday (or holiday Monday as in my case): the large Parque Tres de Febrero has a wonderful rose garden and a paddleboat lake, the Botanical Garden is a calm place perfect for reading a book and there is a lot of cute cats (!!!), the Japanese Garden is the biggest of its type outside of Japan, the ZOO is known for its Hindu elephants and you can play polo in the BA’s polo club. It was a hot sunny day and I started to seriously think about spending some more time than just holidays in Buenos Aires in the future. Hmm, spring and summer in Paris and another spring and summer (when it is cold and grey in Europe) in Buenos Aires, the Latin-American Paris: that would not be bad at all! But my engagements in Europe will have of course by far the highest priority!!! 😉

Enjoy the photos I will post soon, I hope they will help to illustrate what I was talking about. In any case, nothing compares to being physically present in the “Good Airs”! My plan was not to visit everything in BA but rather to relaxingly savor the atmosphere in its different neighborhoods. I will be looking forward to knowing more of it on my next visit(s). Plane tickets from Europe to Buenos Aires are luckily more affordable than the ones to Santiago.

Hmm, you could maybe think that I don’t feel well in Santiago and would by far prefer to be in Buenos Aires. If you do so, you are wrong. I am very happy to do my internship in Santiago and to get to know the so called “end of the world” and its society and culture closer and I would not have exchanged it for Buenos Aires if I could. Also, I dare to say that Buenos Aires, since it is so close to Europe and Paris, would most probably not make me get further in my personal development. There might not be so many charming and elegant people and so many classy cultivated Parisian like places but this is not what I was looking for and what would be that important in life obviously. These 5 months (and what is 5months in the context of your whole life?) are to be dedicated to way different things. And there is nothing like coming back home from work, looking from your window or even sitting on your terrace in 30*C with something yummy, lemon and palm trees around you, watching the colorful sunset sky and moonrise over majestic snow-covered mountains that seem to be so close that you could touch them. Pure splendor!

So I send you a lot of SUN and warm weather as you all keep complaining about rainy and grey days! I am sure I would have far less energy if I was in Europe right now so I understand you perfectly…spending a day or even the whole w-end (as I did a week ago) on the beach is like plugging in your body and mind into a charger.

Take care and SMILE!!!


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Coquimbo region discovery trip



Tengo de llegar al Valle / que su flor guarda el almendro (…) Van a mirarme los cerros / como padrinos tremendos, / volviéndose en animales / con ijares soñolientos, / dando el vagido profundo / que les oigo hasta durmiendo / porque doce me ahuecaron / cuna de piedra y de leño (…) y yo me duermo embriagada / en sus nudos y entreveros. 

Gabriela Mistral


Just as Christopher Columbus more than 500 years ago on October 12 discovered America, I took profit from the national holiday celebrating this historical moment and left with my friend Mareike on a wonderful three days trip to discover the Coquimbo region (4th region) in the area of Chile called Norte Chico.


Even though our trip started on Friday evening officially, I would say I have left already two days earlier. J I was so much looking forward to it, the more that I had been reading on Thursday the wonderful verses of Gabriela Mistral who was born, lived and was much attached to her native Valle del Elqui that we were going to visit besides other. And I was excited as I was supposed to have the chance to see the cute Humboldt penguins, my second favorite animal after felines!


So, let’s take it chronologically: Friday 19:30, Estacion Central, bus TUR-BUS, here we go!  The return ticket for La Serena almost 500km away from Santiago in a semi-cama bus (very comfortable, something between a bed – cama – and a normal seat, you get a pillow and blanket and can sleep very well) cost us 25500pesos (cca 40EUR). It is always good to buy tickets well in advance here in Chile to get the lowest fares. We arrived to La Serena at 3 o’clock in the morning, met our pick up and were brought to our hostal in the centre. Once again, it is good to organize yourself well and book your accommodation before the arrival to your destination. Our hostal Kalycanto was family run, with a very pleasant atmosphere, well-equipped, clean and for all that quite cheap (7000pesos/night/person). We fell into the bed for 4 hours to get a little bit energy for the long day to come.




It would be quite complicated to visit all the places in the region on our own, without a car, with a lack of time and being two gringas, so, also for security reasons; we pre-reserved organized tours which is the most common way to discover Chile in general.  The two Saturday tours cost us 33000pesos in total and the Sunday one 30000pesos everything included (low season fares). A nice guide coming from the region picked us up at 8:45 in our hotel and we started off the interesting tour together with 8 other tourists – all Chilean. After 30 minutes in the car, we arrived to the Valle del Elqui (named after the Elqui river, almost the last river in the north of Chile, afterwards there is only desert, desert and desertJ).  It is most famous for the production of pisco, fruits like the Chilean papaya or vegetables like the avocado (palta), as the region of Gabriela Mistral, the Chilean Nobel Prize winner, and finally for its clearest sky which makes it one of the most important places in the world for astronomical observation. Valle del Elqui is said to have 355 sunny days a year and there is supposed to be some kind of a positive magnetic zone which makes it a much-sought-for destination for mediation and relaxation. It is sometimes called the Latin-American sister of Tibet as yoga and alternative medicine are much practiced here. I can confirm that I felt very calm and relaxed over there. While La Serena on the cost is known for rather cloudy weather, especially in the mornings until 12 o’clock (which we were witnessing), it is almost incredible that you drive 50km further and the sky is blue and the temperatures are much higher (around 10C more in average). This phenomenon is called thermal inversion; you see a wall of grey clouds behind you and a beautiful clear sky above and before you. It is because of the Humboldt Current affecting the weather on the coast.


PAPAYA and OPUNTIA. Our first short stop was a papaya plantation where we learned more about papayas and the unique Chilean type CARICA. Carica is rich in vitamin C, fiber and the papaina enzyme (the same as in papaya but richer), which is a reported digestive aid, beneficial to the stomach and colon. Fresh caricas are not available. The fruit needs to be poached for a few minutes, as it is too hard to be eaten fresh (similar to a plantain or a chestnut). And, because it needs to be picked at the right maturity and then only keeps for a couple of days, even Chileans can’t buy the fruit fresh: They also purchase their carica in a jar, seeded, poached and ready to eat, cook, grill on skewers or fill. Afterwards we also learned more about plantations of tuna cactus (Opuntia) that usually is also cultivated for its fruits (mniam!) but in the case of the plantation in the Valle, it is a German company that has it for a completely different reason: there is an insect, the Cochineal, that lives as a parasite on them and this insect is afterwards used to fabricate red color (carmine) not harmful to human skin and is used in lipsticks for example. Funny the feeling of having a smashed insect on my lips! J Having read more on this topic, I found out that the cochineal dye was used by Aztec and Maya peoples and that nowadays Peru is the largest exporter of it.


EMBALSE PUCLARO. Our second stop was the 760ha water reservoir Puclaro. It is said to be one of the best places for kitesurf and windsurf as there is a strong wind throughout the year. To point out the windy conditions, a “wind harp” (see photos) has been installed recently by the Chilean Art Foundation (Fondart). Standing in the middle of the windy bank, enjoying a miraculous view, our guide told us everything about the observatories in the region and its importance for world astronomy.  I will come back to this topic later on when telling you about our night visit to the Observatory Mamalluca.


MONTEGRANDE and CASA GABRIELA MISTRAL. The picturesque village of Montegrande in the heart of the river Claro Valley is best known for being the home of Gabriela Mistral, Chile’s most famous poet just after Pablo Neruda. I will dedicate a separate post to her interesting biography and works. In her house, besides her life and poems, we got also to know a “stone refrigerator” – when water flows through it, it gets out fresh and cold.


PISCO ELQUI – PISQUERIA LOS NICHOS. Pisco, pisco, pisco, yay! I think it was quite obvious from my last posts that I fell in love with the pisco saur drink here in Chile. As the Valle del Elqui is the center of production of pisco, our obligatory next stop was Pisco Elqui, another charming village in the most western part of the Valle. We visited the country’s oldest and supposedly best artisanal pisquería Los Nichos. Pisco is a brandy or aguardiente distilled from the white Muscat grapes grown in two main regions of South America: the area around Pisco and the Valle del Elqui in central Chile. The Elqui Valley is called the zona pisquera, due to the favorable geographic and climatic conditions, and is the only pisco producing area in Chile. You might have thought, just as me, that pisco is from Peru, but the truth is it has since always been a traditional liquor of Chile as well and even though the word pisco might have been introduced by the indigenous habitants of Peru (Quechua), the Chileans were the first to write it down and use it as what we would call “registered mark” nowadays. Recently, there has been a dispute between Peru and Chile over the appellation ownership (also because it started to be produced during the period of the Spanish viceroyalty and Chile and Peru were not separate countries at that time).


LUNCH IN A SOLAR RESTAURANT. We were getting pretty tired as it was really hot, the air is very dry in the Valle (only 7 to 15% humidity, while in La Serena on the cost it is 85% approximately) and the two different types of strong pisco and wines we tasted could be felt, so we were really looking forward to our late lunch. I was looking forward to it the more that I am interested in any kind of alternative stuff and our lunch was supposed to be prepared in its whole only by using solar rays. It was another extraordinary experience! There was times when the inhabitants of the Villaseca village had to risk their lives to cook a hot meal over a wood-burning stove. There was no more firewood left in the arid and deforested region and so in 1989 researchers from the University of Chile launched the first project to try out solar ovens. This has become a great success in the following years and the whole village uses solar ovens now to cook their meals, also thanks to the collaboration with the UNDP (United Nations Development Programme). As part of a plan to save trees and other vegetation, UNDP and its partners taught the inhabitants how to make and use solar ovens (capacity-building). Here an article on it: http://content.undp.org/go/newsroom/2009/june/world-environment-day/los-hornos-solares-ayudan-a-chile-a-prevenir-la-deforestacin.en. The goat meat in an onion-carrot sauce, specialty of the restaurant, was simply delicious!


VICUÑA. Our final stop was the principal town of the Valle del Elqui. The interesting parts to see are the Museum of Gabriela Mistral, the main Plaza dedicated to Gabriela Mistral with several sculptures to honor her and the German style wooden Bauer Tower, part of the city hall, overlooking the main square, and named after one of the early mayors. 


MYSTICAL COCHIQUAZ. Further into the interior of the high mountain range of the Andes next to Vikuña is the new magnetic centre of the earth, at mystical CochiquazI have already mentioned that I am pretty much into alternative things and also mystical cosmology, so in this sense I was somewhat in my element! We had unfortunately only one day for the discovery of the Valley, had we had more, I would have certainly liked to discover more of the hidden mystical places. The theory says that with the change of the century and the change of cosmic eras, from Pisces to Aquarius, the magnetic and spiritual energies of the earth are being transferred from 30º N to 30º S. Prior to this change the magnetic centre of the earth was located in Tibet in the Himalayas, for the past 2000 years the earth has been under the influence of Pisces. Now, the location of this special place is at 30ºS and 70º W in the Elqui Valley at Cochiguaz.  Since 1960 many esoteric Brotherhoods and Sisterhoods linked to astrology, yoga and meditation have settled their communities in the Elqui. The first group to settle in the Valley was the Great Universal Fraternity who searched for the place indicated by the Aquarius Era where a new water, Svadhisthana chakra would flow and renew civilization. They found in the Elqui Valley two sacred rivers, the river Turbio (ying) and the river Claro  (yang)  which met at the town of Rivadavia where they established their community called Ashram the Magnetic sanctuary. In 1982, the magnetic forces in the earth were measured by satellite for the first time.  The Magstat map showed a great positive point of energy between 27º and 33ºS just where the Elqui Valley is located. Another popular saying tells that when the NASA measured the electromagnetic field in the Cerro Cancana, it went up to 1500 Mega Units, the highest value in the world.  Highly interesting all this, isn’t it?


In the end of our day-tour the sky turned to be a little bit less clear and some clouds appeared. So our night visit to the observatory was in question. L Our guide brought us back to our hotel in La Serena were we were to wait for the confirmation whether we can or not do the tour. After a while of nervous waiting, we finally received the so much awaited call that said: YES, the sky cleared up again and you can do the tour, youhouu! I just imagined this would happen to an astronomer who has reserved his session in the Tololo Inter-American Observatory (the best professional one in the Valley, you have to make your reservation one year before your visit unless you have friends there). J So we had dinner and at 21:30 left for the “expedition night-sky”. We were not tired at all, no no…(a lot of irony). On the other hand, I was actually so excited about everything that it made me forget I am tired…and a bit of good music and dancing before the expedition, made me regain energy too. Really, good music, singing and dancing makes miracles! Just as says the song La Vida es un Carnaval: Para disfrutar, hay que vivir cantando! (To fully enjoy life, you have to live it by singing!) and I would add bailando! (dancing)


OBSERVATORY MAMALLUCA. http://www.mamalluca.cl/ok/ As I already mentioned, Chile provides one of world’s best conditions for observing the sky and space. The sky is perfectly clear and there is almost no light pollution, Chile together with Spain is the only country who has a special law protecting the night sky. This night at the Mamalluca observatory (now used only for educational purposes) was absolutely amazing! I have never seen so many stars on the sky, so bright and creating such interesting constellations. I have never seen Jupiter and I have never realized the rotation of the Earth so intensely – in only one hour the constellations have totally changed their location on the sky, some disappeared and new appeared, impressive! We also learned more about the Andean Cosmovision, so mystic and enriching!


Generally speaking, you can find the world’s most important observatories in Chile and in a few years you should be able to find in Chile probably the worlds most important observatory with a telescope incomparable to any other previously build one. Among the most important ones are La Silla Paranal Observatory in the southern part of the Atacama desert, 600 km north of Santiago de Chile and at an altitude of 2400 metres, where ESO (European Southern Observatory) operates three major telescopes: the 3.6-m telescope, the New Technology Telescope (NTT), and the 2.2-m Max-Planck-ESO telescope; and the Gemini Sur Observatory (on Cerro Pachón, 2700m), the twin to the Gemini Norte in Hawai: these two 8,1m telescopes, currently among the largest and most advanced optical/infrared telescopes available to astronomers, provide together almost complete coverage of the northern and southern skies.  Europe, East Asia and Northern America are collaborating since 2003 in the ALMA (Atacama Large Millimeter Array) –a major new facility for world astronomy comprised of up to 80 12-m antennas, with baselines up to 16 km and state-of-the-art receivers that cover all the atmospheric windows up to 1 THz. An additional, compact array of 7-m and 12-m antennas will greatly enhance ALMA’s ability to image extended sources. The resolution will be ten times better than the one of the pictures taken with the Hubble telescope. It will be located on the Chajnantor plain of the Chilean Andes in the District of San Pedro de Atacama, 5000 m above sea level. Another revolutionary project will be the OWL (Overwhelmingly Large Telescope). Until now, telescopes have basically an aperture of less than 10m, OWL on the contrary will have a 42m aperture (the first idea was even 100m).  The investments in all these and other revolutional projects are also astronomic! J




After three hours and a half of sleep (also due to the time change to the summer time here in Chile that made us loose one hour), we left on another awesome trip on Sunday morning.  While Valle del Elqui is to the east of La Serena, Punta Choros is about 100km to the north of it. It is the beginning of the desert so it is quite interesting to pass through the semi-arid areas until arriving to a real desert environment. Even though it is a desert area, there are once again special weather conditions caused by the Humboldt Current and a phenomenon of recent years called El Niño: an atmospheric and oceanic phenomenon that occurs by the increase in temperature of the waters of the Pacific Ocean. Practically speaking, it means it is very cloudy (almost all the time) and that it rains far more often. As everything bad is good for something, this phenomenon enabled the existence of a “flourished desert” (DESIERTO FLORIDO) and visitors can admire from September to November beautiful flowers that are in their majority endemic. Beautiful indeed! Enjoy the beauty here (and in my photos! 😉 ): http://www.atacamaphoto.com/atacama-flora/desert-flora-1.htm.


While driving to Punta Choros, we passed by numerous posters protesting against the construction of a thermoelectric center only about 20km from the natural reserve of Punta Choros. It provoked quite an affair here in Chile and filled the news when I arrived more than a month ago and so now it seems that the French-Belgian multinational Suez Energy will (hopefully!) have to relinquish the construction as recently announced by President Piñera. We also passed by several mines and the guide told us about the mining history (but also present) of the region. The same day in the evening, celebrations took place in the mina San Jose not that far from where we were that day as the digging machine finally arrived to the end of the tunnel and the next phase of rescue works of the 33 mineros could begin. I am 100% sure you are well informed about this current top world news. Right now, at this very moment, the 20th minero has seen the daylight, the whole country (and actually world) is watching it in real time and the emotions are very strong. But let’s get back to the nature and our wonderful Sunday!


After about 2 hours on the road, we finally arrived to Punta Choros, a small quite village inhabited by fishermen, our point of departure to the national reserve of Humboldt penguins. It was cloudy and windy (normal weather in this area) and  my huge excitement turned into big anxiety when I found out that we will be navigating in the middle of the DEEP, COLD AND AGITATED OCEAN for one hour and a half before our first stop ON A LITTLE WOODEN FISHERMEN BOAT (!!!)…ehm, gluck… J What was going on inside me is difficult to explain but the fact the name of the boat was Nicolas did not help and I was really scared while stepping into the little boat and I was laughing a lot in the first moments as all the adrenalin in my body reached his top. A real adventure in the Pacific Ocean, I tell you! But one that was worth it! After a drive of around 30minutes, we approached the Isla Choros and could start to admire the animals that live in the reserve: the dolphins did not seem to want to greet us at first but they finally appeared and euphoria started to reign in our boat. Afterwards, approximately 20 minutes later, we navigated closer to the caves and coast of the Isla Choros to see sea lions/wolves, different types of sea birds and…and…and…yes…the source of my utmost excitement…the Humboldt PENGUINS!!! Youhouuu! Oh my god, they were sooooo terribly cute, I would have loved to have one joining me back to Santiago and afterwards to Europe. J It would be my little dancing happy feet! J I forgot about all my fear while watching the animals and nice cliff formations. After about a total of one hour and a half on the wild ocean, we arrived to the Isla Damas, the island where we got off and had one hour to take a walk and admire the outstanding flora and fauna of this Caribbean-like island with two wonderful beaches with white sand. The weather would however not permit any sun tanning and relaxing in the sun. So we took a very nice walk and admired the magic flora of the island. Already experienced, we stepped into the boat in a far more relaxed way than in the beginning and enjoyed the about 40 minutes ride on the ocean back to Punta Choros. The late, but delicious and rich, 16h lunch in an oasis in the middle of the desert was a real salvation as we were very hungry. We had a very nice talk with the other members of the group during the lunch and I discovered the charming Spanish man is a European diplomat working in the Representation of the EU in Santiago. You might remember that I applied for an internship there. But it would not be my cup of tea really (mainly commerce analysis), so I am happy to have my present internship. When we drove back to La Serena through the desert, we had the chance to meet a Guanaco family. Guanacos (Lama Guanicoe) belong to the family of lamas and their fiber is particularly prized for its soft, warm feel and is found in luxury fabric.


For the evening, our first idea was to go to a nice bar for a drink, but when we found out there is nothing really interesting/open in the center of La Serena, we just bought all the things necessary for a ladies evening (like pisco saur J) and had fun in our hotel. J Our tired state would in any case not permit any big partying and we told us we will spare our energy for Buenos Aires and its hot tango nights. J


Monday: COQUIMBO and LA SERENA    

Monday was a national holiday commemorating the discovery of America so we had one more day to discover La Serena and its surroundings. We did not have to get up that early as the previous days and were not in a rush also because the weather in the mornings is always really bad in this area.


Coquimbo. The name of this nowadays bustling fish port is derived from a Diaguita word that means “place of calm waters”. Charles Darwin once said that the town was "remarkable for nothing but its extreme quietness." Some parts of the town are actually very quiet, this is true. Coquimbo is a major shipping point for fruit and wine produced from the nearby Elqui Valley and there is an important fish and seafood market as well. Our visit to this market and the port was however the reason why I suddenly somehow needed to quickly go away from this town – the smell of all the pescados and mariscos, in a place with in my opinion almost no measures of hygiene, was just too insupportable. Luckily we went to the fish market and harbor in the end and could therefore undisturbed visit the rest of the town before, including the symbol of the city, the Cruz del Tercer Milenio (Third Millennium Cross). This 83m tall and 40m wide concrete cross located atop of the El Vigília hill was built in 2001 and sitting in 197m above sea level is considered the tallest monument in South America. Interesting to visit, but the use of concrete makes it look cold and unfinished. Let’s go to the beach now!


La Serena. Even though the whole region is called after Coquimbo, the main city of it is La Serena. Founded in 1544, it is Chile’s second oldest city after Santiago that has retained its historic architecture in the Spanish colonial style. As it also has a great selection of beaches (along the Avenida del Mar, "Sea Avenue"), the city has become a significant tourist centre over the years and gets very crowded in January and February. I would not go there for summer holidays however as there is typically abundant morning cloudiness and drizzles and the sun shows up (if it shows up!) only after noon. We witnessed exactly this type of weather – it was grey and cold until about 14h (until the end of our charming lunch in a restaurant on the beach) and then suddenly the clouds dissipated and gave way to the clear sky and it would have gone very hot had there not been the fresh wind. We spend a really nice afternoon on the 6km long beach joining the El Faro Monument. The beaches of La Serena are a perfect place for jogging, they have however very rough water and are therefore not suitable for swimming. As our bus to Santiago was at 23:30 only, we had enough time to visit the whole city centre after the beach and admire the picturesque colonial buildings that form the biggest “Typical Zone of Chile” (zone of historical and architectural importance that is being preserved as national patrimony). The numerous churches stand out with beautiful models of belfries, there being gained the title of City of the belfries.


We spent another nice lady evening in our hotel room before being transported to the bus terminal for our late night bus to Santiago where we arrived at 6 o’clock in the morning on Tuesday and full of nice experience went to work for 9. J We basically used every minute of these three free days and the bit of tiredness was definitely worth it! I cannot wait to go on another trip!


The next two weekends will be more relaxing and I do not think to leave very far from Santiago, even though I will certainly want to do at least one day trips to get to fresh air and discover something new. So the next bigger trip, again with Mareike, will be BUENOS AIRES in the end of October.


I hope you enjoyed reading this post, my dears!


Take care and enjoy life!


Besitos, guapos mios!

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SPRING is in the aiir!!!


The great month of celebrations of the Bicentenario might be over, but the intense discovery of Chilean culture continues. And I have now started to fully profit of the immense natural richness of Chile as well! The biodiversity of this “end of the world” is absolutely incredible!

Two weeks have already passed since my last post and I did not even have time to rest (and write you) so many activities were going on. I will point out only four especially wonderful days from the last two weeks. If only I could share with you every moment, every beautiful view, every interesting experience, simply everything! L Once again, this feeling of not being able to transmit you everything from here haunts me like a ghost. Not even the photos seem to me perfectly indicative. Anyway, I know I somehow have to cope with it and try to do my best to post as interesting posts as possible.

Since there is a little bit less of big cultural activities now in Santiago and since I have already got to know a great part of the city, but also since the air is polluted, I am now going to the nature for at least one whole day during the weekends. I must say that even though I luckily do not have any health problems due to the air-pollution, I can feel it on my skin, hair and clothes. My white clothes are all grey after one day in the city…  After my first skiing trip, I returned to the mountains last Sunday and this Saturday to enjoy more of their beauty and fresh air. I am very happy to have met a Czech girl in the fitness centre who has become my perfect travel partner. Zuzka found her love here in Chile and as her boyfriend has to study a lot even during the weekends, we do trips together. We found out we have four Czech friends in common, the world is small! Last Sunday we decided to go to la Cascada de las Animas, the waterfall of the spirits. We took a bus from the last station of one of the metro lines and in about 2 hours arrived to the destination (unknown… J). Stepping out of the bus was like stepping into paradise! The sun was shining, the birds were singing, the views were astonishing. The only little defect was that it turned out we will have to pay to access the nature “sanctuary” (that is how they call it) and do the hiking with a guide. But what we lived through that day was so precious and incalculable in terms of money that the 6000pesos (less than 10EUR) were definitely worth it! Our guide was a very nice young Ecuadorian and he was more like our friend, but one that has very good knowledge of the environment. And I must admit that we might have got lost if he wasn’t accompanying us and we would certainly not have learned all the interesting things and wouldn’t have had so much fun. I hope the outstanding beauty of the nature is obvious in my photos, enjoy them! This webpage provides all info on the eco-tourism resort: http://www.cascada.net/index_ing/index (there are also nice little videos that show more than photos). Francesco, our guide, lives in the reserve so as we became friends we are invited to come over whenever we want and stay at his place, nice!

This Saturday’s trip was even more spectacular. This time it was a one-day tour (for 13000pesos, cca 20EUR) leaving from Santiago, from Plaza Baquedano, that means something like 5 minutes from where I live. Very practical as the meeting time was 7.30 a.m.! Destination: Baños Colina, amazing thermal baths in 3500m in the Cajon del Maipo only about 20kms away from Argentina. Imagine you are in hot/warm water full of healthy minerals enjoying a splendid view on wonderful mountains covered by snow, the sun is shining, there is not even one single cloud and the air is as pure as a lily. I was so much thinking of you and how wonderful it would be if we were together. I really really miss you!!! L We were very lucky with Zuzka that it is only the beginning of the season so there were not many people and before noon it was actually only our group of 10 people there. It was indeed another paradisiacal day but also quite demanding so I fell in my bed like a dead once again that night. After having taken a nice shower because my body (and hair!!!) was all white and sticky with all the minerals from the thermal baths. J I can’t wait to try out the hot geysers in Atacama that I should discover at the end of November! There was a special offer on flights last week and so we bought tickets with Zuzka to spend 5 days “in the far north” (from November 19 to 23 precisely).

There was furthermore one very special day in the context of my internship in the Ministry. I have already told you about the “bells of Santiago” previously and promised to tell you more about the ceremony once it would have happened. Haha, when I think back on that day it makes me smile! It’s that there was this regiment of 220 bomberos (firemen) in their nice (sexy) uniforms and me and my women colleagues had a lot of fun with them that day (it will be obvious from some of my photos I guess…). I am now for example cordially invited to have lunch every Tuesday with the French company of Firemen of Santiago. 😉 Just to have a nice friendly talk of course! 😛 Generally speaking it was a very good networking opportunity and I am now also in touch with people from the office of the President which means I might be able to return to the Presidential Palace de la Moneda on another occasion and have a general show-around. I am wondering if all that was possible if I wasn’t blond and from Europe… L Anyway, let’s get to the more important part, the core of the day: the ceremony of the return of the bells of Santiago. It was another of these hot sunny days that Wednesday, perfect for our open-air ceremony in the Plaza de la Constitución in front of the Moneda Palace. My role just before the ceremony was kind of a welcome in the name of our department to all guests at their entry. So I met all the VIPs and received kisses from the Ministers. J At 12 o’clock, after the honorable arrival of President Piñera (haha, by the way there is a very funny story of a TV interview where the interviewer couldn’t somehow pronounce the name of the President correctly and finally said something like “So, Mister Piraña (!!!), what is your opinion on…”, so funny!!!), well so after the arrival of the President, the ceremony could start off. On program:  a young girl Martina ringed the bells – this was a very important symbolical act because it was precisely this young energetic lady who saved the people of the Juan Fernandez Archipelago during the February seaquake by ringing a church bell to alert the inhabitants that there is a tsunami coming; then a concert of church bells followed (registered the night before so that the noise conditions are about the same as the ones just before the fire of the Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús in 1863, you remember the whole story I hope!); afterwards the choir of the Andres Bello University created a nice atmosphere by singing four British songs, including one inspired by the Bells of Santiago; then the speeches – by the archbishop reading a message from the Oystermouth Parrish Reverend, by the British Ambassador (very nice person by the way and I wouldn’t say he is British, nor an Ambassador when I saw him for the first time J) and finally by the President. The whole ceremony ended up by the President and the First Lady ringing the famous bells of Santiago who successfully returned to their patria after almost 150 years. At 13 o’clock we all entered the Moneda Palace and enjoyed a pleasant cocktail. I had very nice talks, among others with a sympathetic lady whose son is married to a Czech girl. He is Chilean, she is Czech and they live in the US, I love this! The world is so small nowadays and it is so wonderful when all the people from different cultures are exchanging and getting mixed, while at the same time preserve their specificities. United in diversity! In the afternoon we took photos with my colleagues to have a souvenir of that marvelous and, for our department, very successful day. The vice-director invited us for a cocktail to her flat the next day to celebrate the success. It was an interesting excursion into the life of the more fortunate part of the Chilean society; the differences are really huge… L And I fell in love with a gastronomical specialty of Latin America – fried platanos (type of green banana) pancakes, a little bit similar to our fried potato pancakes, with a special sauce made out of tomatoes, basil, garlic and very aromatic green leaves of a plant whose name I don’t know. L Yummy!

Now that this big “bells” project is over, the department can return to various other projects. I am focusing mainly on the international book fairs – I would even say you can from now on call me an expert on international book fairs. 😉

Finally, I will tell you about this Sunday that I had the chance to spend in a really Chilean way, with the whole family of my colleague Angela (from the HR department). Family and spending time with his family is of utmost importance for Chileans and Sunday is traditionally dedicated to family life: you visit your parents and grandparents if they don’t live with you and meet also with your sister and brothers and their families. I find this really nice; it is not that common in Europe where we live more independent lives and where families don’t seem to me to be that united as here. Also in the sense that children tend to leave their homes to live on their own as soon as they can, whereas here in Chile it is not unusual to see young people of nearly 30 years living with their parents.  Angela invited me and Theo (my German friend doing also his internship in the Ministry) to have lunch in her place a priori but we finally spend the whole day with her wonderful family. I had the chance to discover two new quarters of Santiago and see different living conditions of Santiaguinos. We first went to visit the parents of Angela in an older and poorer part of Maipu – it did not matter the wooden house was small; you could feel it is a warm home and the family is living happily together. We continued afterwards to the new and richer part of Maipu where Angela, her husband and their two super cute children, the 3 years old Isidora and 9 years old Nicolas, live. Haha, I was la tía (auntie) Vera! I felt very good that day as there were very nice people around me creating an atmosphere of being with my second family, helping me out of the sentiments of sadness because all of you are so terribly far away. Moreover, the lunch was simply delicious and I discovered another excellent Chilean wine! We went to visit the national sanctuary, the Maipu temple in the afternoon, one of the most important Chilean churches built on the place of the symbolic abrazo del Maipu of 1818 that marked the independence of Chile. The Virgin Mary (Virgen del Carmen) of this Church is the Patron of Chile. General O’Higgins prayed her in 1818 to help the Ejercito de Chile win the independence. There is a virtual tour of the temple here http://www.santuarionacional.cl/. In the end of the day, we went to another part of Santiago in the south of the city, La Cisterna. There is also a richer part in this quarter, but we went to visit the grandparents of Angela who live in the oldest part. The whole family, including the sisters of Angela and their husbands and sons, gather in this house almost every Sunday to “tomar once”. Once is a snack similar to afternoon tea, however it is usually at seven in the evening and replaces the dinner. Chileans do not eat much for dinner; their main meal of the day is lunch – usually a “muy rico” (very rich) one.  We talked about Chili and Chilean society and started to organize a trip to the summer house of the grandmother in Isla Negra on the cost. It is best known for having been the home of Pablo Neruda and there should be nice nature and beaches. If everything goes as planned, we will spend the weekend of the 13th of November there.  Angela is really like an Angel and I was very grateful for that day spent with her family. She is totally Chilean and a good “guide” of Chilean culture as she used to be a dancer in one of the country’s best folkloric ensembles.

I am also very grateful for that I can now consider myself a person that is no longer all alone here in Santiago. I start to have close friends on whom I can rely on and that help me when I so terribly miss you. My Chilean friend I knew in Paris put me in touch with his best friend here in Santiago (Ignacio) and we get on really well. It is so weird, it has been only one week that we know each other but it feels as if I had known him for years. And I am also happy to have travel partners (like Zuzka or Mareike) because there is really incredibly much to see here in Chile and traveling with friends is so much more fun. Speaking of traveling, I am heading to LA SERENA this Friday for 3 days since it is a national holiday on Monday. You can already start looking forward to my next post about this trip. What is more, we also bought plane tickets to Buenos Aires with my German friend Mareike for the end of October since there is another national holiday on Monday November 1st. We asked for a day off on Friday and therefore will spend 4 full days in BA. I can’t wait! J I will have to plan something for the weekends of 17th and 23rd October to use my time here as much as possible.

So I’ll stop here as I have to continue to get ready for my trip to La Serena now. 😉 Cross your fingers for us that everything goes according to our (busy!) plan and we meet dolphins, penguins (yay!!!) and sea lions!

TAKE CARE!!! I wish we could be all together!!!

Your little Chilena 😉

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Fiestas Patrias, celebrating the bicentenario like a real Chilena



This is exactly what my last days here in Santiago were about.J Every single Chileno stopped working in the early afternoon on Thursday and got ready for four full days of national celebrations, this year bigger than ever as it is the…yes you got it…the BICENTENARIO! Obviously, the atmosphere of fiesta has been present since the beginning of September and bicentenario activities will take place until the end of September, but the real big party was now! 


I must admit that my fiestas patrias started in a rather sad shape. I went to the GAM to see an interesting dance performance (Loop 3) of a British-Chilean ensemble working mostly in London. And when I came back home, I realized that everyone here is going to spend four wonderful days with his family, closest friends and partners whereas I am in fact almost 12 000km far away from you. Suddenly, the only thing in the whole world I would have wanted at this point was being with my closest. I maybe felt lonelier because my flatmates and some friends (all in a couple) left Santiago for trips in Chile and to spend time with the families of her or him who is Chilean in the couple. I was also very much looking forward to skyping and answering some of you on Facebook but our internet has not been working since Thursday evening. The electricity in the whole barrio fell down on that evening and the modem switched off. Yesterday,  an IT expert found out that the only reason why the internet did not work was that my landlord did not know about some wi-fi button that had to be switched on. Argh, I felt like I’ll kill him – he prevented me from communicating with my closest when I needed it so much, just because of such a stupid mistake! Do not want to know how many bad words in at least 5 different languages I used yesterday evening.  The past cannot be played back and so it was really just me and Chantale the cat. Thanks for her! By the way, she is next to me every time I write a post to you helping to write it, she really likes me – I am her cat mama. J


Chantale also watched with me the Chilean film Be Happy on Thursday evening. I thought it would be a positive film that would put me in a better shape but I was completely wrong and it is actually one of the saddest, but also strongest, films I have ever seen. It is a very good one and if you want to know recent Chilean cinema, it is a must. This review I found on imdb.com expresses perfectly my feelings about it:  It gives you a glimpse of the poor, rural and less known Chile. The actors in the movie are very credible and give you a sense of very "ordinary" people. Manuela Martelli (Kathy) has the power to absorb you completely in the story and her performance justifies well the various international awards for best actress. In the story you see the teenage Kathy as a very strong, independent woman who has learned not to fear anything. She repeatedly says in the movie "ya no le tengo miedo a nada" (I no longer fear anything) and she adds her unsettling/scary new experiences to her list of things she does not fear. She is a child forced to grow really fast and to face circumstances that would break many of us (i.e. father in jail, death of mother) –she relies on her inner strength to overcome her circumstances. At the same time you are able to see Kathy’s vulnerability and her longing for love and affection. This is a drama with strong scenes that at times made me uncomfortable–but nevertheless a very well done film.It is definitely a film to be recommended!


I watched three other Chilean films during the last days: Machuca, Los Debutantes and La Fiebre del Loco. I did not like Los Debutantes that much (it was a huge success in Chile though, it was also the film chosen for the Oscar submission in 2004, more on it here: http://www.viewlondon.co.uk/films/los-debutantes-film-review-12214.html) but I found Machuca and Fiebre del Loco by Andres Wood excellent. Machuca (2004) received prizes in the whole world and was also much appreciated in Europe, it is probably the best known recent Chilean film. Set in 1973 Santiago during Salvador Allende‘s socialist government and shortly before General Augusto Pinochet‘s military coup in 1973, the film tells the story of two friends, one of them the very poor Pedro Machuca who is integrated into the elite school of his friend Gonzalo Infante. It shows the perspective of Gonzalo Infante, a privileged boy who catches a glimpse of the world of the lower class through Machuca, at a moment when the lower classes are politically mobilized, demanding more rights and forcing fundamental change. At the same time the upper classes, including Gonzalo’s own family, grow fearful of the growing socialist movement and plot against the country’s elected president, Salvador Allende. Infante’s sympathies, however, clearly lie with the poor based on what he has seen. When the military coup d’état is launched which brutally represses poor and activist Chileans, including his friends and Father McEnroe, his own class status comes into relief. Moments after witnessing the murder of a lower-class young girl named Silvana by soldiers clearing a shantytown, Infante is nearly arrested himself. He pleads with the soldier to recognize that he does not belong to this shantytown. The soldier is only convinced after noticing Gonzalo’s red hair, pale complexion, and more expensive clothing. Thus, Infante is forced to abandon his friend, using his class status as a free pass. At the end of the movie, his family moves into a new, more opulent home. The audience is meant to understand, along with Infante, that this new wealth is connected to the brutal repression of the Chilean masses, who had hoped for real societal change by attempting to create a socialist society. (Wikipedia source).


La Fiebre del Loco made me discover a Chilean shellfish (El Loco) supposed to be absolutely delicious and an aphrodisiac that is protected by the law and cannot be harvested and sold. However every year for a very few days the harvesting of this shellfish is allowed which provokes a real fever, something like the golden one. You might ask me where I get all these films. Well, there is also a cinema department in the cultural cooperation section of the Ministry and they have basically everything and are nice to lend the films to me so that I gain deeper knowledge of Chilean cinema. It is also a very good way to practice (Chilean) Spanish before going to sleep. And it is proved that what you hear before going to sleep stays in your head! J


Let´s get back to the national festivities! I painstakingly made up a program of all the activities I would like to attend and stuck to it. The first one was the Izamiento de la Gran Bandera Nacional (raising of the huge national flag), a national ceremony par excellence. On Friday at 12 o´clock, I listened to the Xth presidential speech (feeling like I see Sebastian Piñera every day) and this time there was not people shouting at him bad things but they were on the contrary applauding him and seemed to be happily excited about his words – maybe also because he announced some measures to be taken the next week to try to resolve the Mapuche problem through a Mesa de dialogo (representatives of the Government as well as of Mapuche and other authorities should meet in a symbolic place in the Mapuche region and dialogue). Mapuche are the most important indigenous inhabitants of Chile and some of their leaders are at the moment in a hunger-strike to fight for their rights. When the flag was being raised, everyone was singing the national anthem from the depth of his heart, the thousands of people who assisted the ceremony were shouting Chi-chi-chi, le-le-le, Viva Chile! or simply Viva Chile! and when the gigantesque flag was finally floating up in the air, people got totally crazy each time it stretched so that you could see it on in its whole.  I have never seen such strong national feelings. The national flag has a very special symbolic in Chile which became even stronger after the earthquake in February when a photo of a Chilean holding a ripped flag with a completely destroyed village behind him literally flew around the country/world and became a symbol.



The flag in Plaza de la Ciudadania in front of La Moneda has been confectioned in the US, does 18m x  27m (approximately big as a tennis court), weights 200kg and is in the height of 62m. You can watch the whole ceremony here:



Afterwards I went to the Club Hípico de Santiago to watch the most important Latin American horserace, the Clasico Latinoamericano. The Club Hipico was built in 1869 but the beautiful complex of nowadays, proclaimed national historical monument in 1992, dates back to 1923. It is indeed a very charming hippodrome. It is about at a 30minutes walk from La Moneda (where the flag has been installed) and it was a sunny (hot) day so I did not take the metro and discovered on my way there another part of the city, a part that used to be the chic residential barrio Republica. I was very lucky to have a special invitation for the horserace which gave me access to the VIP tribune as I think I would have been down at heel in the part for “ordinary people” and would not see anything. I have never seen so many people attending a horserace and I have never seen so many emotions during a race. The atmosphere during the main prize was absolutely incredible – it was an international competition and the Chileans wanted all a Chilean horse to win, they waved their flags, screamed, and shouted Chi-chi-chi, le-le-le, it was amazing! And when the Chilean horse really won, the euphoria was immense! From this moment on, I was not alone any more as my best Chilean friend Gustavo, the former ambassador of Chile in Czech Republic, joined me at the horserace and I started to fully enjoy the celebrations thanks to him.


After the race, we went to see the most mediatised part of the celebrations, the audiovisual spectacle Pura energía, puro Chile. We did well to arrive early to get a good place to see, there was something like 25000 people right in front of the Moneda. I have never seen any better audiovisual spectacle. It was awesome, amazing, wonderful, incredible, anything you want, and I will go and see it once again this evening (last day) and will try to film it so that I can share it with you, but maybe there will be a DVD made about it as it is so exceptional and it must have cost an arm and a leg to the Presidency. It is a spectacle representing the Chilean history from the pre-Colombian era until today, an ode on Chile and it´s natural beauty, all made up by audiovisual effects on the facade of La Moneda that are giving her completely different shapes as if different buildings appeared, there is a simulation of an earthquake, at one moment there is for example 3D Moia statues (Easter Island) stepping out of the building, it is totally like magic, one can´t understand how it is possible and there is even fireworks in it, the last one representing the New Year ones. WOW! Not even the French Eiffel tower spectacle when the tower changed its shape and it felt like it was dancing for the 14 July 2009 wasn´t that spectacular (désolée…) – even though the Chilean spectacle was also produced by a French audio-vision company: Les Petits Francais. When we got through the thousands of people (there was 70000 the first day of the show on Thursday), we went for a Pisco sour (my favourite drink) with Gustavo to end up the long day in beauty by a nice talk. I fell in my bed like a dead. J



And we are on the 18th of September, the DAY D, the INDEPENDENCE DAY. From the northern deserts to the southern tip of Chile, Chileans party in remembrance of the day in 1810 that the Chilean criollo leaders proclaimed limited self-government during the Napoleonic Wars on the Iberian Peninsula. Actual independence came in April 1818, but the Dieciocho is a treasured celebration. I spent this day rather in a calm way, not by furious partying but more by calm savouring of the folkloric culture. I did not go to the national catholic ceremony in the Metropolitan Cathedral and arrived to the Plaza de Armas only after noon. I expected something bigger going on there, just as two weeks ago for the Day of Patrimony. This day there was just a few people participating in a cueca competition, a few people playing typical criollo games (a tradition) and there was actually in general far less people in the streets than usually, Santiago felt a bit like a dead city. Anyway, I went there for a particular reason: Mensajes del Aire, and therefore accomplished my mission. At 2 p.m. the Chilean Air Forces (FACH) started to fly above the main Plazas of Chile and threw book notes with classical Chilean songs and poetry. The sun was shining again and the silver ink made the papers twinkle and shine seeming like there were treasures falling from the air. Impressive! It is very similar to the project my department in the Ministry realized in Berlin this end of August when Chilean and German poetry was falling from the air during the Museum Night and this “rain of poems” is said to have been the most successful event during the Night. I then had the idea to walk to the Park Ines de Suarez in Providencia where there was supposed to be a nice Fonda.  Fonda (or ramada) is a big area for national celebrations with places for dancing cueca or other dances (like the Chilean cumbia), concert podiums, little shops with artisanal products, restaurants where you can eat mainly empanadas and barbecue and drink chicha (fermented apple or grapes drink), criollo games area etc. etc. It is usually in parks. On the map it seemed to me not that far so I decided to walk there…however, it was further than I thought, I was really tired, there was a huge queue at the entrance and I had tickets for a theatre about the life of Violeta Parra for the evening so I just bought a Mote con huesillos, a typical very sweet drink made from pears with nuts, sat a little bit down in a park with it and went back home by bus. J So no fonda for the 18th of September! J We were actually planning to go to a fonda that evening with Gustavo but we were both so tired that we decided to postpone it for Sunday – in any case, the fondas are during the four days all the time the same, maybe with the difference that there is more borrachos (drunk people) on the 18th. So we just went to the theatre in the Centro Cultural Gabriela Mistral, enjoyed the very nice performance and finished up for a drink (in my case freshly squeezed strawberries) in the Patio Bellavista, an area with nice bars and restaurants just next to where I live and also almost the only place open as otherwise everything (really everything!) was closed during these 4 days. I learned a lot of interesting things about Chile that night. For instance I found out what causes everything to be so terribly sweet in Chile: they use sugar made out of a special beet (La Remolacha) that is sweater than what we have in Europe. Seen that I am not particularly fond of sugar in general, you can imagine that I don’t buy any pastry here. I think I will buy out the whole Paul when I am back in Paris. J Motivated to learn more about Chile, I watched the film Machuca before going to sleep.


And the celebrations continue: we are on the 19th and it is the Día de las Glorias del Ejército = ARMED FORCES DAY, that means day of the Gran Parada Militar, presentation of all parts of the Chilean Army, this year supposed to be the biggest one in the history. It was another sunny and very hot day – I remember I read on Wednesday it should be 21°C that day but it was at least 27°C and of course even more in the sun as there was not even one single cloud. We went to the Parada in Parque O´Higgins with my German friend Mareike who is doing an internship in a tourist agency here in Santiago. The Parada was to begin at 2h45p.m. but we arrived already at 11 to take a walk in the huge park, see a bit of the other activities (especially the National fonda) and products of the thousands of sellers. But I must admit I did not feel well in that place as it was way too different from the other festivities I saw until now that were more cultivated and with middle and higher classes. I really did not feel comfortable in a place where everything looked like a mess, it was dirty, people (and children!) were stuffing their necks with very bad quality food (of course the people were fat) in unhygienic conditions, the main smell in the air was fried meat and sometimes urine, there was thousands of people that you could not walk through in some places and I had to concentrate on holding my handbag as close to my body as I can, so that I am not robbed. All the people were watching us because it was obvious in the first second (sufficient to compare our clothes with theirs) that we do not belong there. I felt totally like Infante arriving to the poblador (poor living area) of Machuca. Really! Imagine living through all this during something like 4hours, that it is terribly hot without any shade, that you cannot see anything from the Gran Parade unless you are on the VIP tribune (and I did not have an invitation this time unfortunately!) and you will understand that we gave up at about 3.30p.m because it was all just too unpleasant and maybe even dangerous. I really wanted to see the Big 3-hours Parada but did not imagine it like this. In any case, I saw the air forces part on Wednesday from my window at work when they were training and the rest on the TV. More importantly, all this “mess” was a very good experience! It made me discover another part of the Chilean society and again see that there is “two (or maybe even more) Chiles”. The image of Chile as a developed country comparable to Europe/North America and Santiago as a global financial metropolis is only a facade hiding several social problems (poverty and lack of education of an important part of the society, huge differences between the rich and the poor, indigenous rights questions etc.).




After this adventure, we went like typical gringas or middle/high society Chilenas for a coffee to Patio Bellavista. A very nice middle-aged couple, a Chilean man living in Sweden and a Cuban woman working in Santiago, started talking to us and we had a really pleasant exchange – I learned more about Cuba besides other. We all concluded that travelling and getting to know different countries and cultures is awfully enriching (and personally I feel like I could not live without it) but that Europe is by far the best place for stable living. A lot of things are so easier and so much more comfortable. Even though in Santiago it is in many ways pretty much like in Northern America or Europe. But there are also always elements that make you remember that you are far away…


Finally the cherry on the cake: celebrating like a real Chilena in a fonda! At 6 p.m. I met Gustavo and we went together to the Fonda in Parque Ines de Suarez (you remember? Pedro de Valdivia was crazy in love with this charming lady) in Providencia – that is where the richer part of the society lives. This wonderful evening has been added to my “favourite evenings list”, it was AWESOME…no, this word is too American, they use it all the time, let´s rather say…MAGNIFICENT! I simply had a great time, saw a lot of interesting cultural performances from all parts of Chile – the ones of Easter Island being the most impressive ones, of course not because of the fact the men were dancing almost naked, no, no, of course not because of that!!! 😛 – all the typical dances in traditional costumes from Chiloe island to the Atacama desert, in the air there was just the smell of a nice celebration going on, it was clean and people were having fun in a cultivated way, just like an opposite of what I lived through earlier that day in Parque O´Higgins. And before all: I LEARNED TO DANCE CUECA!!! I can now dance cueca and have my own pañuelo (handkerchief)) like a real Chilean girl! Wouhou! J Once again, I fell in the bed like a dead. J


I said “finally” for the previous paragraph because although there was still one day of celebrations (Monday) and I returned to work only today, I did not take part in any further celebrations that day which I dedicated entirely to studying Spanish and doing some housework. By the way, it is very common that the washing machines use only cold water to wash the clothes and this is also the case of our washing machine. L So if I want to wash clothes in warm water (and I want), I have to wash them by hand… I first thought I would join some friends (Stephan, the German flatmate and his Chilean girlfriend) in the Cajon del Maipo, nature reserve close to Santiago, to get some fresh air but the weather was not top and I was said this is not the best day to leave the city as a lot of traffic and road accidents are expected. This is the sad part of the celebrations: there were really a lot of accidents these last days, mainly because people were driving or walking in the street drunk or wanting to arrive to a place as quickly as possible. I heard that on Friday almost 30 people died in car crashes.


Oh but actually there was another bicentenario activity! I watched the naval and air forces parade in Valparaiso on the TV. That was sort of a compensation for the Gran Parada and I really enjoyed it directly from our living room. J     


Now that the Bicentenario is almost over and there won´t be that important national activities in Santiago on the weekends, now that I know the majority of Santiago quite well and now that the spring has really arrived and the weather is nice, I will start to plan weekend trips to discover more from the rest of Chile (one would say the real Chile). The geography of Chile and its more than 4000km in length are unfortunately complicating things a little bit as the majority of trips cannot be done only in a weekend and I cannot ask for holidays all the time, especially because I would like to take longer holidays around Christmas to travel with my mum. Well, we´ll see, I´ll try my best and let´s hope there is some special offers because I would have to spend a fortune on the trips otherwise! J


I hope the autumn has not really started yet in your places, I send you some spring sun!



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Neither tourist, nor Chilena

Hola hola!


It has been 3 weeks since my arrival and I would say I have switched from a gringa-tourist to a gringa-living in da place. I orient myself well; basically know how everything works here; I am in the working mode and have routine activities like going to a fitness centre, shopping or doing housework.


My routine looks quite like this: during the week, I am at work from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. (until 5 p.m. on Friday), with a break for lunch from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. approximately. I am very grateful for the lunch in the Ministry as it is really good and so rich that I usually take home a big salad. There is also a nice atmosphere in the casino (this is how they call any restaurant in the working place) as it is densely decorated and cueca music is playing as part of the Bicentenario celebrations. After lunch I usually take profit of the absolutely wonderful roof terrace in the 17th floor (I work in the 16th) from which you feel like you can touch the Andes. Coffee or tea, fresh air (does good when you are in the office the whole day), usually sun and a wonderful view on the city and mountains, just a perfect little pause!


My main mission at work is for the moment the international translation projects so that Chilean literature becomes better known in the whole world. It is very enriching for me to see the panorama of all the activities that are going on in this field in the whole world and all the organizations implied in cultural cooperation and their projects. The main project, however, that everyone in our department, including me, works on now is the CAMPANAS (bells), a word I hear probably a hundred times a day. Let me tell you more about it as I find it interesting and it is of huge importance. So in 1863 there was a very serious fire, actually one of the most serious fires in the world history, of the Church de la Compania de Jesus, the only Baroque style Jesuit church in Chile. Over 2500 people died, before all women and children who attended the Celebrations of Virgin Mary. Almost the whole church was destroyed; however three precious bells have survived the terrible event. An English merchant bought them for scrap and brought them to England where they ended up in the Oystermouth parish (Swansea). After being displayed since 1964 in the parish, they became famous as Bells of Santiago and inspired British literary and music authors. United Kingdom decided to give the bells back to Chile as an act of solidarity after the terrible earthquake this February. And so our department organizes everything concerning their transport back (it is the Royal Navy who brought them two days ago to the Valparaiso port), the national ceremony of utmost importance that will be held on September 29 as the closing act of the Bicentenario celebrations and the remake of these bells to a national memorial of Chilean tragedies that will finally be installed in the Gardens of the Old National Congress, place where the church used to stand. I am so happy I can be in the centre of all that, I will dedicate myself to it as much as I can so that the whole project is a success. I will tell you more in detail about the ceremony in another post after it will have happened. It is also important because the first firemen brigades (Bomberos) of Chile were established after the fire in 1863.



Actually day after day, this internship makes me surer and surer that the field I want to work in after my studies is cultural cooperation. I feel that I can get really passionate about working on such projects; it is like a driving force and fuel for working. It is very important for me to do something I believe in, that I like, that makes sense to me and fulfils me.


After work, I go to the fitness centre on Monday and Wednesday – there is a nice one just next to where I live, where you have all the necessary fitness machines but also good classes (with a funny instructor). It cost me only 39000 pesos (60EUR) for 3 months with the possibility of going there 8 days/month. It does me really good to work my body again! By the way, Chileans in general do not have very good bodies, first because they do not do much sport as it is rather something for the higher classes and second and most importantly they do not eat very healthy food (for example a lot of fried stuff). I will also go jogging on the weekends and maybe do Zumba classes on Thursday as it seems there might be classes for people from the Ministry during lunchtime. However, I will unfortunately not be able to play tennis here as it is too expensive (there are not many courts compared to Paris and it is again something connected to the rich high society). On the other hand, I might learn some more golf thanks to my older Chilean friends.


Generally speaking, my days are mostly filled by CHILEAN CULTURE: of course by working on the cultural cooperation projects in the Ministry, but also by participating in the numerous cultural events that are taking place to celebrate the Bicentenario and make me gain deeper knowledge on Chile. Once again, I must say I am really lucky to be here at this time, I could not have chosen a better period. Everything started up with the amazing Pergola de las Flores on September 1 I told you about. I still have the main songs in my head and I could sing with the song playing in the supermarket today like a real Chilean lady! I almost did not have the time to breathe last weekend so many things were going on and I fully enjoyed the first day of the Semana de la Chilenidad this Saturday. To point out the most impressive moments:

  1. Inauguration Centro Cultural Gabriela Mistral (GAM): one of the big Bicentenario projects (another one is for example the renewal of the Estadio Nacional). It should become the new most important cultural temple in Santiago/Chile with the best equipment for any sort of cultural events from dance performances to concerts, including a library and exposition halls. All this in the former UNCTAD conference building (held in 1972). Enjoy the photos and a video! I can unfortunately not share with you the whole ceremony, all the amazing audiovisual projections on the facade of the building, neither the wonderful concert with compositions of Enrique Soro (1884-1954, one of the most important Chilean compositors) and symphonic interpretations of Violeta Parra and Victor Jara (exceptional Chilean singers/musicians I will certainly come back to in a further post – for instance I absolutely love the song Gracias a la vida of Violeta Parra, in my opinion one of the most beautiful songs ever written so be sure I will post a tribute to her soon). Hmm, I might also try to dedicate a special post to Gabriela Mistral.


  3. Fiestas de Cueca, the Chilean national dance. I hope you read the post on it and had a look on the photos (by the way I added more of them today!) and also saw the video I posted on Facebook (impossible to post it here but here is the link http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=moq88oQC-pM). Watching cueca and listening to the typical music (often with intermezzos when funny folkloric stories are told) creates such a feeling of happiness of life, I wish you could be here to live it through. My impression is that you must chuckle and even laugh, you just cannot feel upset when there is cueca. And the men representing cocks flirting with chicks (women) are sometimes sooo terribly funny as they put a lot of energy in the dance, I have a nice video in my laptop waiting to be shown you when we see us in real.
  4. Gala Bicentenario of the Orquesta sinfonica de Chile and Ballet Nacional Chileno (el BANCH): I was very lucky to get invitations for the two concerts performed by the nation´s best ensembles in its field (last Sunday Orquesta and this Friday el BANCH). It was a great cultural experience which can hopefully be felt from the photos I posted. Enjoy also the videos of el BANCH.

  5. Semana de la Chilenidad and Rodeo, the Chilean national sport: The Chilean nation will be during 10 days celebrated in one of the biggest parks of Santiago Parque Padre Hurtado. On program cuecas (naturally!), concerts and traditional music, army presentations, agricultural fair, a stand dedicated to miners (mining is of utmost importance in Chile and I am sure you heard about the “miracle” of 33 miners currently being saved – the news n°1), etc, etc, and Rodeos. You could have read about this mythical sport in my last post. It was a strong experience for me to see a real rodeo after having only read about it and seen it on videos. However, I must admit that this is a part of the Chilean traditions I am not very fond of. Apart from the fact that the huesos (men on horses) can be really really sexy (don´t worry honey! ), it is too violent for me and I do not see any point in smashing a bull towards a wall (simply put). Anyway, I have spent a very nice day in the park and from all the activities liked the most the reconstruction of the historical battles for independence and the famous Abrazo de Maipu of generals Bernardo O´Higgins and San Martín that sealed the independence of Chile in 1818.

All these activities are highly enriching for me not only when I am attending them but also because when I come home, I try to gain deeper knowledge on everything I hear or see, all the national symbols and traditions that are so important for Chileans. They are a nation that had to live through a lot of catastrophes in their history and stick very firmly to their nationhood. The sentiment of love for its country is even stronger now during the Bicentenario celebrations and after the terrible earthquake in February.


Finally, to finish up the part about my nonstop cultural discovery, I enjoy getting to know more about Chile (and not only Chile) by having interesting conversations with people around me. My Spanish is getting better and better! ;-)…Which makes me think that I should stop here for today and go back to the Spanish grammar book to progress even more!


¡Entonces hasta luego mis queridos!



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RODEO, the Chilean national sport

Rodeo is a traditional sport in Chile. It was declared the national sport in 1962. It has since thrived, especially in the more rural areas of the country. Chilean rodeo is different from the rodeo found in North America. In Chilean rodeo, a team (called a collera) consisting of two riders (called Huasos – skilled horsemen, something like a cowboy) and two horses rides laps around an arena trying to stop a calf, pinning him against massive cushions. Points are earned for every time the steer is properly driven around the corral, with deductions for faults. Rodeos are conducted in a crescent-shaped corral called a medialuna.

The sport, in its modern form, is strictly regulated. Chilean Horses are used exclusively and riders are required to wear traditional huaso garb. Rancagua hosts the annual Campeonato Nacional de Rodeo, the nation-wide rodeo championship. The greatest rider in the sport’s history is considered Ramón Cardemil, who obtained the national title seven times; the last champions were Juan Carlos Loaiza and Eduardo Tamayo. Riders practice in the countryside throughout Chile, but is most popular in the central zone. Even so, huasos have been known to travel hundreds of miles to compete in competitions.

The sport has become so popular that in 2004, more spectators attended rodeo events than professional football matches.

The birth of Chilean rodeo is placed in the 16th century during the rule of Governor García Hurtado de Mendoza. At the time, the cattle in Chile were not well identified and it was not uncommon for the animals to get lost. To help prevent the loss, Governor Hurtado proclaimed that, in Santiago, every 24th and 25th of July, the commemoration of Saint Jacob – patron saint of the city -, the cattle would be gathered in the Plaza de Armas de Santiago to be branded and selected. In later years, this round-up became mandatory but, the date of the event changed to October 7, the day of Saint Mark. Though the purpose of the gathering remained the same, the riders had become extremely well trained with the constant work of transferring cattle to the various corrals.

Towards the end of the 17th century, the rodeo begins to get regulated and is practiced in a rectangular track 75 meters long. The riders would bring out the cattle from the corrals and on the main track, display their abilities to separate a single calf and guide it without the help of other riders. All this activity was regulated and the most talented riders would receive honors and awards.

In the year 1860, the medialuna type track becomes the dominant track form with one apiñadero and two quinchas, where the riders have to stop the cattle. The medialuna, at this time, has a radius of 20 to 25 meters.

Standardization and regulation

During the government of General Carlos Ibáñez del Campo, in 1927, a law was passed regulating the "cattle runs", placing the Chilean rodeo under the supervision of the Chilean army.

Rodeo became, by law, a national sport on January 10, 1962 by decree Nº269 of the National Council of Sports and the Chilean Olympic Committee. Beginning on May 22, 1961, the sport is regulated by the Federation of Chilean Rodeo. In 1986, the National Federation of Rodeos and Huaso Clubs of Chile (Federación Nacional de Rodeos y Clubes de Huasos de Chile) is founded to regulate, to a certain degree, the "labor rodeos" (rodeo tournaments not recognized by the Olympic Committee).

In 1949, the first National Rodeo Championship occurs in the city of Rancagua and the very first champion was the team composed of Ernesto Santos and José Gutiérrez. The riders with the most victories in the history of the championship are Ramón Cardemil and Juan Carlos Loaiza, each having won the national title seven times. The most recent champions of the 2007-2008 season were Jesus Rodriguez and Christian Pooley.

Although the Chilean rodeo was declared a national sport, it finds itself in a precarious position in terms of finances, political support and promotion. Part of the reason for this is that the federation does not receive any of the revenue of Chiledeportes like the rest of sports federations in Chile. This is because only sports that represent Chile overseas receive funds. The Chilean Rodeo Federation has been critical of the government for the lack of funds towards the sport, arguing that because in many parts of the country, due to the distance from population centers, sporting events do not arrive, the local population turn to the rodeo as their primary pass-time throughout the Chilean rural territory. Nevertheless, thanks to the commitment and support of its many fans, the rodeo has maintained its popularity, especially in the rural areas, and its status as the second most popular sport in Chile.

Animal ritghs organizations object to Chilean Rodeo and refuse to call it "sport". The arguments against this activity are related to the treatment the animals receive: the calf is driven near a wall and suddenly is hit by the horse’s chest (a charge) in order to stop him. This occurs several times, until the calf is severly injured and unwilling to stand up. In 2006, a group of 40 people protested against chilean rodeo outside Medialuna de Rancagua where the Campeonato Nacional de Rodeo (National Championship of Chilean Rodeo) was taking place. Since then, other organizations are seeking a ban on chilean rodeo. This is similar to the 2010 ban on spanish bullfighting in Catalonia, Spain.

Source: Wikipedia.






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La CUECA: National Dance of Chile

La Cueca: National Dance of Chile

The national dance of Chile is the "Cueca" (or "Zamacueca",) given national status by Decree #28 of September 18, 1979. The Cueca has been danced in Chile since approximately 1824, and is the only dance which has survived from the time of colonization to the present. It is considered not only the national dance of Chile, but perhaps the best expression of the Chilean spirit.

There is much speculation as to where the Cueca originated. It is generally accepted that the Cueca began in Lima, Peru, but some maintain its origin to be Chile. There is no definitive evidence either way. There are also scholars who believe there is a possibility that the rhythms of the Cueca are of African or Indian origin, yet others feel it may be European (Spanish). In some respects, there are "zoomorphic" elements of the Cueca which may be reflective of the behavior and movements of the amorous conquest of the rooster and chicken. The man’s steps roughly reflect the wheeling and enthusiasm of the rooster’s amorous struggle, while the defensive and cautious nature of the chicken can be seen in the movements of the woman. Versions of the Cueca include the Cueca Nortina, Cueca Criolla, Cueca Campesina, Cueca Valseada, Cueca de Velorios, Cueca Larga del 21, Cueca Larga, Cueca Larga del Balance, Cueca Larga del Capote, Las Cuecas Cómicas, Cueca de Destreza, Cueca Robada, Cueca Libre Pensamiento, Cueca Portena, El Pequén, Cuecas de Chapecaos, and Cueca Chilota.

The Cueca is a very complex dance, and the music is generally performed with one or two voices accompanied by guitar, piano, harp, accordion, or other instruments. Sometimes guitars are substituted with a group of musicians playing brass instruments or pan pipes. The music will also include percussion instruments, supported by hand clapping which stimulates the dancers. In the beginning, the man approaches a woman and offers his arm. The woman rises, and accompanies him on a brief pass around the room. The then face each other, both brandishing a handkerchief, and begin to dance. Both partners dance separately, never touching yet never losing contact with each other through their facial expressions and their movements.

The initial steps are very short, tranquil, and hesitant. The handkerchiefs move softly, and following the continuous circling of the Cueca, the man pursues the woman who flees from him. Using the handkerchief as if it were a soft lasso, the man surrounds her with it without touching her, and brings her steadily and persistently to his side. The woman approaches him with elegance and flirtatiousness, then as slightly lifts her skirt with her left hand and gracefully moving her handkerchief with the right, she flees from him again. This continues with the man’s footwork becoming ever more complex, almost as though he is having a competition of skill against himself, until with the last turn the man ends with his arm around his partner and with one knee on the ground.

By: http://www.spotlightchile.com/cueca.htm 

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Here we go! Internship: day 1.

Hola chicos!

After my first general impressions, I can now share with you also my feelings after the first day at work – in the Department of Cultural Cooperation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Chile. For the moment, I feel like one of the luckiest and happiest persons in the world!J Well, to be honest, this is also due to something completely different and far more poetic than my work…yeah yeah, I am really in love for the first time in my life… (blush)

So, after a wonderful week of acclimatization and discovery, but also of overcoming of the jetlag and getting used to temperatures that are more than 10°C lower than those I was used to in Europe (not to say Andalusia), after a highly Chilean weekend full of dancing, partying and enjoying life with a cherry on the cake – this awesome concert Akongakwa inspired by traditional Mapuche celebrations (I will certainly come back to this most important indigenous community in one of my further posts), after a pleasant Monday with 3 other gringas (means female foreigners, especially Anglo-Saxon) a la “Sex and the city” (imagine a rich brunch with Champaign, a lot of shopping and going for a coffee, NO sex!), after a Tuesday dedicated to reading about Chilean culture and studying Spanish, well after all this, THE DAY HAS COME!!! J The day has come and my internship has started!

The only thing about which I feel a little bit uncomfortable is my Spanish that is everything but perfect and it frustrates me that I can´t use this language as easily as the others I speak. As to comprehension, I can understand quite well, even though it is sometimes very difficult as Chilean people don´t pronounce very well and also have their own specific vocabulary and expressions. I have learned Castilian, the Spanish of Spain, but I am slowly adding to it these typical Chilean expressions. I will show you examples in one of my further posts when I have made a longer list. However, it is important to me to maintain the Castilian as my main Spanish. I have a very big motivation to work hard on my Spanish and really believe in that it will quickly get better and better. This is just the beginning and I spend the whole day practicing so it must get better! Everyone is very tolerant with me and some people even say that I speak Spanish very well (that´s when they don´t have a long or complicated talk with meJ).  By the way, it seems to me that Chilenos are terribly chatty and are able to talk and talk and talk for hours, just like mills, so my days are like a nonstop exercise of listening and comprehension. J I discover so many things every day; this is why I know I will never be able to share with you everything I live here through. L

So apart from linguistic things (I will of course have the possibility to use my other languages at work), everything seems to me for the moment as a fairytale. I received a very warm welcome in the DIRAC (Direccion de Asuntos Culturales), all the members of the crew that I met until now are very very nice and will try to contribute as much as possible to my training in international cultural cooperation and the deepening of my knowledge about Chilean culture I find so interesting. I received a lot of presents already the first day that I appreciate enormously as it is for example the Anthologies of works of Pablo Neruda and Gabriela Mistral (Chilean Nobel Prize winners) or an audiovisual book in two volumes and with 4CDs/DVDs with everything about the Chilean folkloric culture. I have already started looking for things like that in the bookshops in the previous days so you can imagine how happy I was when I received them. I think I might have problems with luggage overweight on my way back to Europe – very precious overweight! As to my missions, I will generally speaking be an asistente de proyectos so contribute to the realization of several projects of cultural cooperation that are/will be going on. For now I will start with some tasks related to international cooperation in matters of translations; I will for example study the UNESCO fund for these purposes and how Chile could use it for translations of Chilean authors. I really feel all this will be very enriching and interesting for me.

Furthermore, the Director told me that I will also have training in the terrain visiting all sorts of cultural institutions and cultural events. That´s amazing! You know I LOVE culture and getting to know a culture; culture in the large sense of the word is my life! So I´m perfectly in my element! And once again I must say I am incredibly lucky: I am here for the Bicentenario (200years from the beginning of the process of independence, period of the biggest festivities and most important cultural activities, something that happens only once in the history). Luck that I am here right now + luck that I am working in the DIRAC = ultimate happiness as I had the chance to be present at the inaugural VIP cultural event of the Bicentenario and watch a remake of the best-known Chilean musical La Pergola de las Flores something like 5 rows behind the Chilean President and surrounded by all the important Chilean people. I was so excited!!! I certainly do not want to pose for a show-off and boastful person; this is really not how I would like to be perceived as right now, I just want to share with you some of my excitement and happiness. I am sure that you already felt like me now: being so excited about something that you were like wanting to tell it to everyone and share the positive vibe. I unfortunately did not have my camera with me (I could not foresee such an invitation and I try not to have any valuable things with me if not necessary as there is this ever-present risk of being robbed). But you can see some photos from the show that will now be on stage for the public on this page: http://latercera.com/noticia/cultura/2010/09/1453-288430-9-la-pergola-de-las-flores-llega-a-todo-chile-de-manera-gratuita.shtml. The story written by Isidora Arrigue and musical by Francisco Flores del Campo (couldn´t have a better name) is based on the conflict that arose in the 1930s when the mayor of Santiago wanted to shut down the flower market. It shows very well the huge difference between the low and high society that can unfortunately still be conceived nowadays, the foreign influence and it is also a story of love. J Enjoy the most famous song from the film version: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ukJwYItt14Y. In the end of the musical, everyone in the hall was singing this song (even me) together with President Sebastián Piñera and the actors on the podium. Que fuerte! Quiere flores, senorita, quiere flores el senor? 😉 I would have liked to dance the waltz!

A lot of cultural activities will follow as the Mes del Bicentenario (month of the Bicentenario) has just started and the whole Chile is living from this historical moment. A lot of official activities are however only upon special invitation so let´s hope I will continue to be as lucky as until now and get access to them thanks to my internship (and/or my eyes J).

The weather has been pretty bad in the last days, it is heavily raining right now, but the sun should come back on Saturday with temperatures over 20°C and the spring is knocking on the door so warm days should arrive. Haha, it´s pretty weird to talk about spring when you are used to that it is autumn that starts in September…J Almost 12 000km far away and on a different hemisphere, I still somehow can´t believe it!   

Hm, I have tried out a new typical Chilean dish today (and couldn´t finish it once again as it was too big) but I will tell you about it in the next post. I will go to the canteen of the Ministry for the first time tomorrow/today for you (argh, these 6 hours…) so I´ll tell you about that too. I do not have to care for lunch and it will be for free, yay! J

Que todo vaya bien y hasta luego!

Besitoooos 😉 



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Almost one week in SANTIAGO, first impressions part 2

Hola hola,

I hope you are all fine, enjoying life as much as you can.

I have been now in Santiago for 5 days and there is so many things I would like to tell you that I don´t even know where to start. If only I could share with you every second, every view, every sensation. I post photos to picture as much as possible how it is here but I know that I can never bring the whole reality into your homes. You will have to come around to see it all on your own eyes! 😉

My impressions, I would say still first impressions, continue to be purely positive. I stay indeed in a very nice place with very nice people and, eureka!, the hot water works well now, you just have to know how to handle the gas heating. I have my own (often shared with the cat Chantale) bedroom with everything I need, you can see our living room and views from the apartment and my room (view on the mountains and Cerro San Cristobal) on the photos. There is a lady that does the cleaning up of the whole apartment (except for our rooms) two times a week which is very comfortable.

The weather continues to be sunny with nice temperatures during the day, but it is quite cold when the sun goes down around 18h30 (already). It is because it is the end of the winter but it seems that even in spring and summer the sun goes down quite earlier as what we are used to in Europe. I was advised to pay attention after the sunset so I always got home before until now. But it should not be that dangerous, and not at all when in a group of people, so I will start to go out at night a little bit with my co-locators. We have so many nice places all around us that we do not have to go far from our apartment luckily. I might tell you more about my “night experiences” by the end of this weekend. Of course, when I´ll start to work, I will go home after sunset more often and maybe even have some dinners until later but then the taxis are not expensive. Santiago is in general a very secure city (in terms of Latin America), you only have to take good care of your belongings as there might be very quick pickpockets; otherwise the carabineros (policemen) in the streets make sure there are no problems.

You can read in every single guidebook that Chilean people are very nice, kind and helpful. I confirm! I might change my mind (or not and I hope I will not!) but for the moment I think I have never met so many warm-hearted people. I could live this experience already with the delegation of diplomats and I continue to live it here. I think that with a minimum of attention on with whom you get into a conversation, you can only gain: have very positive souvenirs, make friends and discover a lot of interesting things. Not to say that it is a perfect way to practice Spanish, one of the reasons I am here. Of course you have to have your eyes open all the time especially when you are a young rubia (blond girl) and all the men look at you as on a miracle! I hear all the time around me that I have beautiful eyes and positive words like preciosa, hermosa or linda. Ah, these men! Everyone was very nice to me this week and I had several very fruitful conversations, by the way not only with Chilenos but also for example with tourists from other Latin American countries like Argentina or Uruguay. This is all so enriching and this type of cultural exchange is something I absolutely love! And it is nice to see what a positive resonation has Prague and Czech Republic all over the world!

Two encounters have stroked me particularly: first on Wednesday when I went on a walk to the city centre, I spent about an hour with a public accountant who is about to retire and would like to become a touristic guide. While sitting in the sunshine under a Chilean palm on the Plaza de Armas, he told me about all the buildings on the Plaza and in its environs and the story of Pedro de Valdivia (the founder of the city) and his mistress Ines de Suarez. Briefly put, Pedro de Valdivia was so enchanted by the beauty of this Spanish conquistadora that he decided to give her everything he had to gain her love. To hide it before his Spanish wife and preserve his honour of a knight, he made one of his best friends officially marry Ines (however with a clause that if he touches her, he will be executed on the Plaza de Armas). He then told me a few of the legends surrounding the death of Pedro de Valdivia at the hands of the indigenous Indians. I particularly like the one that they ate him in pieces because they believed he was sent by the Gods and had superhuman abilities. They thought the horse he was riding was part of his body and his in-the-sun-glittering knight armour a symbol of his exceptionality. In their minds, eating him would make them acquire his superhuman abilities. In any case, his friend who was supposed to marry Ines only on paper could from Pedro´s death live with her happily, also because all the fortune Pedro gave to Ines.

Listening to Diego (that was the name of the man) narrating me stories and interesting things about the history of Santiago was amazing, like in a film or even a fairytale! In the end, he recommended me a good and cheap restaurant so that I could taste my first typical Chilean dish, the Cazuela Chilena.  For 2600 pesos (4,16EUR) I had in one dish one big piece of beef meat, a potato, cooked rice, sliced carrots, a big piece of sweet corn and a piece of pumpkin, in a stock obtained by boiling all the things together. The Cazuela is typically eaten by consuming the liquid stock first, then eating the meat and larger vegetables (as written on Wikipedia J). I ate it like a mix of everything and I must admit that I couldn´t finish it because it was just too huge for me. In the afternoon I had a delicious freshly squeezed orange juice with a bit of banana. I think I will have drunk hectoliters of the fresh juices by the end of my stay here. Talking of typical food, Empanadas that I knew already in Spain are eaten here a lot and are really good as a fast hunger killer. It is a fried bread or pastry stuffed with anything you can imagine. You usually eat two that cost you something like 1800pesos (not even 3EUR). And to finish the food section in this post, you can find really good and cheap sushi everywhere. Some of you know that I love maki and california rolls, so this is like being in a sushi paradise – I paid 2500pesos (4EUR) for a box of 14 big ones. They are a little bit different from the really Japanese ones but taste good anyway. I will try to eat rather Latin American specialties though which are often composed of a lot of meat. Chile is also known for delicious seafood (mariscos) and fish (pescados) that are said to be one of the best in the world but I am unfortunately not a fan of those. Another reason for my mum to come here, hm? J

Well, I said there were two encounters that were particularly enriching but told you only about one for the moment. So the other is connected to my SKIING trip to Valle Nevado. Valle Nevado http://www.vallenevado.com/en/ is the best ski resort in Chile and the Southern Hemisphere where you are skiing in more than 3000m (up to 3500m) with a view on glaciers like the El Plomo, 5424m which is also the highest peak visible from Santiago on a clear day. Unfortunately this year was quite dry and so if it won´t snow this weekend the ski season will be over in one or two weeks although you can usually ski until the beginning of October. This is also why I did not wait and got during my first days in Santiago all the necessary information to realize one of my dreams and go skiing to the Andes. This trip was in the sign of luck: first of all, the ski agency with the best offer is located only one minute from where I live (almost opposite the street) and the owner lives in the house where I live so I had the best service and prices guaranteed. The transport + ski equipment + ski pants cost me 32000pesos (cca 50EUR), I had a jacket and gloves from my friend and bought a nice Alpaca cap. It was also very comfortable because the ski bus left in the morning and returned in the evening basically before my house. Just perfect! The bus driver was very nice and we talked a lot which made me gain quite a lot of information about the mountains. I could also admire the beautiful scenery during this very pleasant trip of about two hours (we left at 8h). Secondly, I had big luck when arriving to the ticket office. There was an offer of two tickets for the price of one and a nice man proposed me if I did not want to buy it with him. Of course and with a big pleasure, it made me economize 12500pesos and so I paid only something like 20EUR for a whole day ticket, wow! Third, he and his friend whose wife is a ski instructor in the resort, proposed me to spend the day with them. Skiing is always better (as everything) when you are with someone so I was very very happy to have found such nice skiing partners who moreover know the resort perfectly and are great skiers. I was first worried to slow them down because it has been one year and a half since I last went skiing but I realized already after the first downhill that you don´t forget skiing so easily. Ahhh, I was so excited! I love skiing more than any other sport, it felt sooo good I cannot even describe the feelings! J The day was the better that I was with those very nice people, mainly with Alfonso and Diego (another one J), but also with the wife of Alfonso and a young couple, their friends, from time to time. They have a house in the mountains where they offered me to stay with them (but I had to go back with the ski agency) and they live in Vina del Mar, one of Chile´s best beach resorts that I will certainly visit in the summer (in December I think) as it is only something like one hour and a half from Santiago. They said I am warmly welcome to come and stay with them as they have a big house. Their 22 years old son is studying business administration and spent one exchange semester in France and loves Prague.J On the way back to Santiago I had a nice talk with a Uruguayan who among other told me that his girlfriend is in love with Prague. By the way they succeeded to maintain a relationship although they did not see each other for almost one year and a half. EVERYTHING IS POSSIBLE! When there´s a will, there´s a way! 😉 Enjoy a few photos of this extraordinary day, actually one of the best ones in my life (it would have been probably the best one if my love could have been there too…).

Oh my God, I see now that I already wrote almost 3 pages. So to not to tire you and to leave something for the next post, I will stop here, have dinner and go for a Pisco Saur to the Patio Bellavista with people from my apartment. Pisco Saur is a delicious cocktail made from the Pisco liquor (35°), lemon, sugar and white of the egg.

TAKE CARE everyone!!!


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