Category Archives: Chile

The Birdman of Easter Island

We are visually saturated with the images of moai. But for me the places associated with the other, later cult of the island seemed a lot more visually impressive.

The Birdman cult was something rather extraordinary. It demonstrates again what mad fantasies can be developed by the human mind if it is left to its own devices, in relative or full isolation (this is felt very strongly all over the world in isolated places, for example in Japan, where I am right now).

The Birdman cult was concentrated in the sacred village of Orongo. The path from Hanga Roa to Orongo can be undertaken by foot, it is about 5 km up the slope of the volcano, and indeed it retraces the ancient sacred route that was used by the processions from other parts of the island to climb the volcano. This is how this magical path looks:

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Surprises of Easter Island

On my RTW trip I took a decision to travel all the time in the Westward direction. Logistically, the most complicated decision on a RTW trip is how to cross the Pacific. I considered two options: option nr 1 was to fly from Santiago to Easter Island, from thereon to Tahiti, and further to Australia or to Japan via Hawaii. Option nr 2 was to first get to the United States, then fly to Hawaii and on to Japan. Eventually it became clear that option nr 1 did not quite fit into the logic of my trip, which was to be as spontaneous as possible, the reason being that in fact there is only one flight a week from Easter Island to Tahiti, this flight is very expensive if buying close to the date of the trip, and also the further flights were rare and expensive. The working option turned out to be option nr 2, which I eventually implemented.

However visiting Easter Island was my long standing dream. And so I decided to fulfil it. From Santiago I bought a return ticket to Easter Island, spending three days on the island. It is funny that even in our day a simple price arbitrage is possible. My initial intention was to buy the ticket on the website of LAN (the Chilean airline that flies monopolistically to Easter Is). But then just for fun I checked the price on some aggregator websites as well as on related companies’ sites. And – ­surprise surprise – ­on the website of TAM, a Brazilian company related to LAN, the same flights on the same days cost 200 dollars less. So of course I bought the ticket via TAM. Don’t know how that is possible and what is the explanation, I just know that such inefficiencies occur time and again. I remember once I needed to buy a ticket from Seychelles to Mauritius (we had an Air France flight arriving in the former and leaving from the latter). But Seychelles’ national airline due to some bizarre local rules refused to sell a one-way ticket and insisted we pay the price of a return one. I just refused to accept this. So sometime later out of nowhere a ticket found itself on a site of a small web aggregator of which I’d never heard, three times cheaper. At the time I was traveling around China, was staying in a small town in the Gobi desert. It was really exciting to be buying this ticket around the Indian ocean while sitting in a huge café on the outskirts of China filled with smoke and shouting Chinese hackers.

Although Easter Island belongs to Chile, it is actually pretty far from mainland South America; the flight takes about six hours, the distance is 3700 km. Easter Island will probably be the most remote place I will visit on this trip. It’s a fantastic feeling to approach it from the air.

The clouds and the Pacific below:

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Pink tide

Leaving Latin America, I want to comment on a phenomenon that seems to be sweeping this part of the world. It is the so called pink tide, the simultaneous occurrence of a left swing in the politics of the most countries on this continent. It is pink of course because bloody red is somehow appropriated by the communists, whereas the socialists can be safely painted in pink. Latin America has been under robust American control for many years, belonged to the immediate American sphere of interests. But especially in the most recent years, after the end of the Cold War, the situation here changed radically and one after another pieces of the domino fell as socialist or left-wing presidents won elections.

There are 12 independent countries in South America. Today there are left-wing governments in 9 of them, and Michelle Bachelet just won the first round in presidential election in Chile and is likely to win the second, making it 10 out of 12.

This is how it looks:

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Valparaíso is a famously beautiful port city about an hour from Santiago. Chile’s main port, it used to be one of the most important ports in all of Latin America. In the days of old galleons full of silver sailed from Lima all the way to the Drake Strait before moving on to Europe, and on the way they always stopped in Valparaíso. It remained a key economic point until the Panama canal was opened, when all the traffic instantaneously moved there and Valpo turned into a secondary port now serving only Chile’s needs and more famous for its beautiful streets.

But let’s start from the port on a sunny day:

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Coffee in Latin America

After writing about the food in Argentina and Chile, I would like to devote a separate chapter to Argentinean and Chilean coffee. I love coffee, but only in particular preparations. Of course nothing on Earth is better than coffee in Italy. In Peru and Bolivia the coffee is rather disgusting. However once I arrived in Argentina, the land of Italian descendants, the coffee shares started going up! I discovered a coffee chain Havanna offering a truly endless variety of preparations and sampled every article with gusto!

I must say in general that the coffee terminology is turned upside down in every new Latin American country. Sometimes the same term has the opposite meaning within just one country. For example in Puerto Iguazu I described in detail to a lady in the coffee shop that I want the coffee that in Europe is called caffe latte. Finally she got my request and said: well that’s lastima! Lastima worked quite well in Buenos Aires, although produced some hesitation at times. However ordering a lastima in Mendoza resulted in a mini-espresso (very tasty)!!!

(This is true for everything though, not just for coffee. Particularly in Chile and Argentina they have invented an argo vocabulary for everything under the sun, and the Chilean vocabulary has nothing to do with the Argentinean one. In Chile in particular the pronunciation is terrible, the words are not finished, every sentence is interlaced with jargon. With some of my interlocutors, I had to ask them to repeat every sentence. Perhaps though they simply enjoyed exercising their linguistic superiority over a hapless gringo. In Argentina they have invented a whole separate grammar, they decline verbs in a different way. But at the end of the day this is wonderful. Adds a local feeling.)

So in order to avoid linguistic debacles, I often use the old trick “I’ll have what she’s having”. Sometimes I even unobtrusively photograph the item and then point to it on the screen of the iPhone. Otherwise explaining the particular coffee variety you want may take days.

This is what they call capuccino in Argentina. A little cup. Next to it packed in gold is an alfajor, see below. In Argentina they always bring a glass of sparkling water with the coffee – a ­wonderful habit, in my opinion.

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Avocado with champagne in Santiago

Some months ago I wrote about the wonderful Peruvian cuisine. Now I would like to describe my gastronomic experiences in Argentina and Chile (with emphasis the latter). The food in these countries can be characterised as relatively simple but fantastically tasty.

Argentina is of course famous for its amazing steak, which is accompanied by wonderful Malbec. I already describe taking a self-guided wine tour in Mendoza. I’m a big lover of steak and it took me some time to select the variety that I like the most among many offered in Argentina. Interestingly it is not the most expensive one – ­which is usually ojo de bife, or ribeye. Ojo de bife tends to be rather boring, although it comes from the best meat. But the tastiest – ­definitely not the healthiest – ­is bife de chorizo. It is a real steak with small fatty parts. It’s quite incredible, just melts in the mouth. There is an ever fatter variety, very popular in Argentina, with whole long pieces of fat included, which is called here asado, but this one I could not eat.

In Argentina they love their steak well-cooked, which is right against my preference, as I like it tender and bloody. Every denomination here needs to be decreased by one notch, so for example if you want it medium-rare, you ask for rare, for medium you ask for medium-rare etc. I insisted every time that I really want it rare, i.e. jugoso, sí, sí, ¡bien jugoso!

One of the many melt-in-the-mouth Argentinean bife de chorizo:

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Chilean politics

Chile is a very particular place. As I already wrote before, it is a continental island. Geographic isolation, as it always does, has led to the development of various idiosyncratic features, absent in other places. One of them is the history of Chile, which is quite unique, and most importantly very alive, in the sense that the battle of historic antagonists rages on in the political arena to this very day. In this sense the history and politics of Chile is radically different from say that of Argentina, where there is no such burning polarisation.

In 1970 Chile became the first country on Earth where a socialist leader won democratic elections and subsequently assumed power. Dr Salvador Allende only won 34% of the vote, but due to Chilean tradition of the time the winner of the first and only tour of the election was anointed automatically by the parliament. In the context of the Cold War Allende becoming the president of Chile was an insufferable blow to the American interests, as Latin America was seen the immediate sphere of influence for the United States, with the painful exception of Cuba of course. Therefore from the moment of the election the Americans started looking for ways to displace Allende. In 1970 CIA was actively developed a plan of an immediate military coup, which however failed. For the following three years Allende systematically kept nationalising major companies, mostly owned by the Americans. The Americans on the other hand did everything to deteriorate the economic situation in Chile, including an economic blockade. By 1973 the economy was in tatters, fuel, bread and milk were in deficit. Population was unhappy and blamed Allende’s government.

Finally on 11 September 1973 an event took place that would shape the Chilean history forever. In Chile this date is repeated over and over, it is repeated on street signs and museums have whole rooms devoted to it. On that faithful day the four military commanders organised a military coup. Armed forces surrounded La Moneda, the presidential palace, and at a certain point the bombarding of the palace started from air and from tanks and snipers. President Allende asked all the personnel to leave, and surrounded by his closest comrades who chose to remain he gave his famous final speech on the radio. Right before the soldiers entered the palace he (probably) shot himself from a rifle. The putsch was headed by General Augusto Pinochet.

(The restored) La Moneda palace. The buildings around it however bear the traces of bullets to this day.

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Santiago: museums and football

Santiago is a place stuck somewhere between the utter postmodernity of Western cities and the real life harshness of the cities of the Third World. It is already far from the latter, but not quite there with the former. In any case it is refreshing to find in Santiago a lot of contemporary art and museums curated in a modern way.

The permanent exposition in the GAM museum (Gabriela Marques cultural centre):

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Santiago: the city of dancing people

Mark Twain said that life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans. In my case life is what happens and distracts me from writing this blog. I am in the United States, and the main thing I lack is time.

My initial plan was to stay in Santiago just a couple of days at most, but eventually I spent several weeks there, with short side trips. The spring in Santiago is an exceptionally pleasant time. I broke down the memories of this wonderful place into several short interconnected chapters. The first of them – ­simply the views of Santiago and the first impressions from it.

Probably the prettiest view of Santiago is from Cerro San Cristobal, the peak to the North of the centre that controls the whole place.

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The road of 365 curves

The road from Mendoza to Santiago crosses the Andes from East to West and is poetically christened The Road of 365 Curves. It passes in close proximity of Acongcagua, the highest mountain outside of Asia. From Mendoza there are organised road tours that stop in most picturesque places, including close to the foot of Aconcagua. But as I was going to Santiago anyway, I decided to follow other travellers’ advice and to see this road from the windows of a bus. The trick is to buy a seat in the first row on the second floor of the bus, which is perfectly possible on the well-organised Argentinean bus companies’ websites.

The photos from the road:

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