Friday, 21 December 2012

Adios, y Gracias a Chile

Despite it seeming like I only arrived a short time ago, I've actually been here just over 5 months. In those months I've moved to the other side of the world, become "Mr Gabriel", met some incredible people, explored South America, and found out a huge amount about Chile and this incredible continent.

So here's a few conclusions before I board my flight.

1. Learn to peel and stone avocado. At some point, you will be required to do it.
Chileans adore avocado and eat it in large quantities. It's cheaper and tastier than in the UK, so I made the the most of it. However, people will judge you on your palta preparation skills. Learn.

2. Working with kids can be both maddening and insanely cool.
When they want to do what they're meant to be doing, the job is great. However, I absolutely hate dealing with kids who are misbehaving or are being difficult, and uncooperative classes can be more than a little stressful. Teaching can often be more crowd control than actual teaching.

3. Being old has it's advantages, but can be really boring.
My life over here is a bit as I imagined being 30. Working 9-5 (or 8-4 in my case) is a drain, and the weekends are amazing. I never before appreciated the true joy of a Friday night. However, old(er) people are actually quite a lot of fun, and it's nice having more money than a student. (Edit: I just realised I now have no money.)

4. South America is incredible.
What a continent. I only managed to see bits of three countries: Argentina, Chile and Perú. All three are so different, and have a huge amount to offer. Even in the developed Southern Cone, things are done very differently to the UK, and as you head North things get a lot more exciting. There's no way I'm not coming back.

5. Being British is good.
Whereas the general perception of Americans around here is of culturally insensitive idiots, the British have managed to keep up a sterling reputation. We're stereotyped by the Queen, being polite, gentlemanly, on-time, and drinking lots of tea. Aside from a few issues with Argentina, it's all good.

6. I love Chile(ans).
Whilst I've been here, the people I have had the pleasure and privilege to meet have been amazing, and the places I have had the chance to go to have been truly incredible. The hospitality and kindness that everyone has shown me was more than I could ever expect. As well as being filled with wonderful people, this country also has some of the most incredible cities, towns and landscapes I've seen.

Thank you Chile, thank you Redland, and thank you to the Prado family. It's been awesome.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Diez Soles Muchacho?

I'm now back in Chile after a whirlwind trip to Perú, where I visited the gastronomic capital of South America (allegedly) that is Lima, and the ancient Incan capital of Cusco. I spent over two days on buses, and a pleasant 8 hours on aircraft. I tried Cusqueño beer, Inka Cola, lomo saltado, peruvian pisco sour, guinea pig nuggets, alpaca meat, and lots of té manzanilla. So what's Perú like?

Cusco, where I spent most of my time, is a bizarre city in the central Andes. It's promoted by the Peruvians as a cultural and historical capital, chock a block with traditional Andean culture, ancient ruins and Incan history. This is sort of true, but it's also full of all the shops that pander to gringo needs: Irish pubs, international restaurants, and 5***** hotels. The whole "cultural journey" seems a bit silly when you're seeing it from the window of your pub quiz venue!

First it might be worth mentioning the insane journey I took to get here. Not insane as in 5 day truck ride through the Amazon, but insane as in 24 hours in bus-borne luxury.

The bus was run by Cruz del Sur, and I was going to ride in their first class service: cruzero suite. The crazyness started when I boarded from the VIP lounge onto the huge double decker to find my wide, reclining seat on the top floor. I was offered tea and coffee by the attendant, and we quickly got under way. We were shown a variety of decent films, and after a few hours the attendant then came round with our dinner. Unbelievably, it was hot, and significantly better than airline food: beef and potato stew with rice, a potato omlette, and cornet manjar to finish.

This was swiftly followed by a casual game of bingo (I was the only one who found this a bit weird) which I didn't win, then another film and finally bed. This all continued into the next afternoon when we arrived in Cusco. I would say though, however comfy the bus is, you're still spending 24 hours sat on a bus.

Back to topic - you can't really deny there is some amazing stuff in Cusco. The ruins of Sacsayhuaman and Qorikancha, both within the city limits, are breathtaking. Going some 30 minutes outside the city shows you how seriously poor peruvians live, many still holding on to the traditional ways of life. We did in fact drive through some of these villages on the bus, something that was strange to see from the tinted windows of my VIP ride.

Cusco also has a lot of conquistador history, where the invading Spanish tried to suppress the traditional ways in favour of their new European ideals. You can see how colonial buildings have been built on top of Inca foundations, and indigenous motifs have been absorbed into the new way of thinking: one of the most famous examples of this is a depiction of the last supper in Cusco's cathedral where the disciples are eating guinea pig.

Now heading back to Lima, the only site I really saw there of any importance was the Museo Larco, a huge collection (by Lima standards) of Peruvian artefacts, including some amazing pottery and jewellery. Sorry Martha, but it was actually quite interesting! The museum is really well done, with lots of information about the various artefacts of pre-Hispanic societies: quipus, human sacrifice, jewellery, and, Greg's favourite, hand axe thingys.

That evening I flew back to Santiago with TACA, after a slightly bizarre ride to the airport with an eccentric driver. Lima airport is big on security - only passengers are allowed into the terminal - and very modern and new. The country is clearly keen to shed the image of Shining Path that P&G probably still have in their minds. For me, they have!

Friday, 7 December 2012

Lima, Perú

So I arrived in Perú a few days ago, and am now sat in Maria's apartment in Cusco. To get here I flew from Santiago to Lima with Sky Airlines, who are apparently perfectly safe, and cheap. To their credit, they served me a massive lunch in flight, so it can't be too bad.

I arrived at Lima Airport, and got a taxi to Miraflores, the district where I would stay for a night before heading out of town the next afternoon. Seeing as I arrived late, I left Lima's sights til the next day, got some dinner, and went to bed. The next day I got up (relatively) early and headed into downtown, after an extended taxi bargaining session with multiple drivers.

It turns out, taxis in Perú are neither metered nor regulated in any way. I'm pretty sure that none of the taxis I took would have passed an MOT, and they can just be random cars with no outward markings on them. You also have to bargain a fare with the driver before getting in, which adds to the excitement.

Arriving into the centre of town alive, I walked around the city centre seeing two of the major sights in Lima: the presidential palace and the Congress. I was lucky enough to catch the changing of the guard at the former, and you can see a video of bits of it here and here. I then headed to the Congress, and got shown around the national congress by a random security guard on account of me being foreign and looking vaguely respectable.

Last stop was the Convento de Santa Rosa, where it turns out the oldest university in the Americas was founded in 16 something. Turns out it was actually in this room here.

With my time in Lima finished, I headed to the Terminal Cruz del Sur for a 24 hour ride of luxury into the Andes and towards the ancient Incan capital: Cusco.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Last Week at School

This week was my last week at school - not the first time I've ever done that! However, it was the first time I've done it as a "teacher", if that's what I can be described as. I wasn't really expecting to be at all sad about saying goodbye to the kids, but it really was quite difficult!

On Tuesday I was able to get a glimpse of the Santiago high life, when Ute invited us all to the Prince of Wales Country Club. The Senior English department was joined by Carolina, Edmund form Maths, and Leo from Music in a classy evening of Kunstmann and Churrascos Filetes. The PWCC is like a little haven of Britishness in the middle of Santiago, with great facilities, a pub, restaurants, a golf-club, and Twinings tea. Nice.

Also on Tuesday I said goodbye to the junior school kids who I've seen every Tuesday since I arrived. The class above is 1st básico, roughly the same as year 1/2, and because their English is pretty basic I spend lessons with them doing art, drawing pictures, running around, and generally having a great time! I also work with 3rd and 4th básico, and we did slightly more challenging activities - still a lot of fun though.

This class is 5th básico, who I've spent quite a lot of time with. They're one of my favourite classes, and with them we did loads of lessons about different places around the world, as well as random English-related things. I taught them about the Queen, British Police, and my chickens, and some more global topics like Hong Kong and the South China Seas.

This final class is 8th básico, who I saw several times a week! They're 13/14, but don't seem to have hit the annoying hormonal stage yet. Perhaps my finest moment with these guys was teaching a frankly inspiring lesson on Walt Whitman's "O Captain! My Captain!" which I prepped in the 5 minutes Lorena was talking to them in the beginning of class. They were a lot of fun, and as such got their own page in my scrapbook where they wrote down all the rude words they've been trying to teach me all term.

Leaving really was quite odd, but Mr Gabriel will be back for graduation and the final ceremonies in a weeks time!

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Maria comes to visit!

Last weekend I had the pleasure of spending a few days in Santiago with Maria, a friend from University. She's currently working in Cusco, in Perú, with the Latin American Foundation for the Future. All in all it was a pretty awesome few days - but what did we do?

Maria arrived on Thursday, which happened to be the start of the Flyers oral exams the junior school kids were taking, and I unfortunately had to be on hand to act as usher, and make sure they didn't have a nervous breakdown waiting to start. However, these were only in the morning so we had the afternoon free. The first day Maria came to Redland for the afternoon, where she met the English department, had a look round, then rapidly persuaded me that it would be a good idea to go and see the new James Bond. We did, and it was awesome.

Friday night arrived, and we celebrated this in true middle-aged fashion by going for some drinks and getting something to eat in Barrio Brasil, which for me was the Chilean equivalent of sausage and chips. We then met a few of my friends, and by 2am headed out to Barrio Bellas Artes for a bit of cultural education.

The next day we continued our cultural education by heading into the south of Santiago to visit Bodega Concha y Toro, one of the largest wine producers in the world, producers of labels like Casillero del Diablo. We joined a tour, and for an hour were shown around the place along with a large group of Brazilians, who apparently swarm the place. 

Concha y Toro is very tourist oriented, but it's nice all the same, and it's not often you have the chance to discuss the "floral notes" of a fine Chilean cab sav whilst wandering around vineyards in the foothills of the Andes. However, we did get a little bored with the slightly pretentious wine tasting, and ended up amusing ourselves by taking increasingly ridiculous photos and making bizarre claims about the taste, something the Brazilians were somewhat alarmed/amused by.

For the final day, we headed out of Santiago and to the coast, where we spent the day in the "jewel of the Pacific": Valparaiso. I've already been there before with school, and so it was nice to show Maria around and also see some things I hadn't really had the chance to see. Valpo is a big port city on the Pacific coast, and is very different to Santiago: it's very cultural, historic, dirty, busy and increasingly touristy, and a really interesting place to be.

We visited the Naval Museum, which was actually quite interesting, and amusingly anti-Peru. We found loads of Simon Bolivar statues and streets, which was quite fun given that we both studied him last year. We kept up the cultural stuff by going to the Valparaiso Museum of Fine Art, which is very well done but contains mostly terrible paintings. We walked around the port, up a few hills, used the old funiculars, bought some empanadas and avocado (doesn't get much more Chilean), and then slept most of the bus back.

Nice weekend. Oh, and I'm going to Perú next week.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Buenos Aires, Argentina

Last weekend Greg was in Buenos Aires for a conference at the university there, and given that it's only a 2 hour flight away from Santiago, I decided to hop on a plane and go and see him. It was a great opportunity to see the Argentine capital, optimistically dubbed "the Paris of South America", and also to see Greg! I stayed with him for three days in a flat in Palermo, and over the course of my stay we did some serious mileage walking around BA, visiting a lot of the major sights and neighbourhoods.

Los Andes
Buenos Aires is a very different city to Santiago, and is a lot dirtier and noisier compared to the almost European feel of over here. BA also has a lot more museums and culture associated with it, as well as being generally older and more run down; the streets were regularly filled with rubbish, the pavement almost constantly in disrepair, and dog poo is a constant hazard.

Getting to BA is very easy from Santiago, and it's possible to go by bus (24 hours) or fly (2 hours). Given that I was taking time off work, I decided to fly, and LAN (the Chilean national airline) broke all stereotypes with an amazing flight that was cheaper and better than any European flag carrier. Also, the views as we flew over the Andes were pretty stunning.

El Ateneo
I arrived Sunday morning, and Greg joined me the next morning, bright and fresh from a terrible 13 hour flight with Iberia, and the bizarre Argentinian customs/immigration procedure. That day we made our first inroads into looking around the Federal Capital. We spend the morning in Recoleta, looking around the large and famous cemetery there (resting place of the likes of Eva Peron) and then headed to the Museum of Latin American Art, where I was lucky enough to find some works by Frida Kahlo, potentially my least favourite artist ever.

The next day we met with Lucas, Greg's contact at the University, who took us out for lunch at a very edgy vegetarian restaurant in Palermo SoHo, after which we headed into town again. We went to el Ateneo, one of the best bookshops in the world, and housed in an old theatre, then got the metro into the Microcentro. We saw Casa Rosada, the seat of the Argentine executive branch, several churches, Puerto Madero, the "hip" docklands area, and then headed down into San Telmo, a very bohemian barrio of Buenos Aires.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Teaching Assistant?

Most people actually have no idea what I do. To be honest, neither do I a lot of the time; it's a really undefined job role, but it basically involves doing everything teachers do except actually properly teaching.

I spend 4 days a week working with kids in middle and senior school, which is year 5 to year 12. The other day I spend with the junior school, working with slightly younger kids who are from year 1 to year 4. Predictably, the two schools involve slightly different work.

At the junior school my role is almost entirely to run conversation classes with groups of kids, where I'm responsible for what I do for the 20 minutes I'm with each group. Although I started off just talking about various things (usually One Direction, for some reason) this quickly got boring so now I tend to do a frankly bizarre mix of exercises.

Last week the group took it in turns being a "tour guide" and showing me around school, and for another group I set up a mock border, which we all had to cross (legally) and have our passports and luggage checked. This week we got topical, and one group all pretended to be characters from James Bond and we ran around playing secret agents (I had a great time...), and another filmed election ads. In fact, here they are:

Working in the senior school, unfortunately, isn't quite like this. I do cultural classes, help the kids with their English and writing, and generally just be British. The general level of English is very good, so it's less teaching and more giving them practice speaking. I also help out with a bit of marking, exam administration, and general work around the department. Not bad, all in all.

Monday, 29 October 2012


In classic Chilean style, I was invited on a hiking expedition over an extended lunch one day. The trip was over 2 days, up into the Andes mountain range just to the East of Santiago, climbing a mountain called Cerro Provincia, a relatively small 2750 metres high. Despite Wikipedia telling me the trip was doable in a day, I was assured by Enrique (the other teacher I was going with) that the kids we were taking would take at least double this. We were going with 15 children from Primero Medio, which is pretty much year 9, aka 15 year olds. Yay.

Enrique's orange trousers
We left at 8.30am on the Friday, and I rapidly realised that Enrique was entirely correct and these were some of the slowest people I'd ever walked with. This being Chile, we also had an extended 90 minute lunch break for everyone to have their food and a nap. The walk up was pretty easy, and we arrived at the campsite by 1500 that day where the boys went off to find water (no taps here!) which we collected from a nearby stream. Because there's really no wildlife up that far (save the odd Mountain Lion) and it's remote, the water is drinkable straight out of the stream - at least this is what I was told. However, no cholera so far, so it seems as if it was indeed legit. Arriving back at the campsite (basically a clearing) we put up the tent and had a nap, followed by a dinner of chicken and rice that Enrique's friend had brought with her. Then, marshmallows over the bonfire and an early night, after a suitable amount of time admiring the insane views over night-time Santiago.

Defying health and safety
The next day we were up early (well, 7) and after a quick trip for water the one group that was still keen headed up towards the summit. On this trip the path became a gradually less well-defined concept, and at some points we were essentially climbing, minus safety equipment. However, still alive, we reached the summit after about 2 hours climbing and found it to be considerably colder than expected; snow was still on the ground from last week's bad weather. After a few group pictures we rapidly headed back down, and made it back to the campsite in good time, amazingly without any major casualties. Finding the girls had wandered off somewhere, and decided to do nothing in our absence (like take their tents down) we settled down for another nap and waited for them to arrive. 2 hours later we were ready to head back down to Santiago, and set off with me at the front attempting to set a slightly faster pace. This rapidly failed, especially when combined with the steep slopes and massive lack of traction - lots of slipping and falling ensued, and meaning I accidentally taught some of the kids a few more colourful words in the English language.

If you really want, you can watch my video of the trip below, and notice how, for some reason, I go massively rah at sunset. But that's about it.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Government Chats

In a slightly odd turn of events, this week I ended up at a panel session with two members of the Chilean cabinet: Minister of Energy Jorge Bunster Betteley and Minister of Agriculture Luis Mayol Bouchon. They each gave a short talk, introducing their ministry and what they are doing at the moment, as well as giving a lot of background information.

Unfortunately, the Agriculture talk was unbelievably boring, and seemed to only discuss water supplies throughout the country in great detail, but the Energy talk was significantly more interesting. The Minister talked about the Chilean power network, gas prices, dependence on foreign powers for fossil fuels, and the increasing role of alternative technologies. Impressively, Chile has 35% of its energy coming from hydroelectric sources. The rest is made up of mainly coal and natural gas, with some other renewable technologies thrown into the mix (don't say my blog isn't educational...).

It also gave me an excuse to see the seriously nice (and expensive) Grange School where the talk was held, and who kindly invited me along...

Monday, 15 October 2012

Valparaiso Cerro Abajo

Last week I had the luck to be invited on a school trip with 7th Basico, who were spending the day in Valparaiso. Valpo is a large city about 90 minutes drive from Santiago, which used to be a major shipping hub in the South Pacific. According to Wikipedia it's the site of the longest continuously running Spanish language newspaper, and of Latin America's oldest stock exchange. The Guardian also has a semi-interesting article.

On the trip we visited a few museums, went to an organ recital, walked around the town, went in a funicular, and took a harbour tour (it's still a big container and naval port). It's quite a dirty, sprawling town that has a lot of character and is a very interesting place to look around. However, it's also the site of an annual downhill bike race (Valparaiso Cerro Abajo), and you can see one guy's ride downhill here - pretty impressive stuff:

Thursday, 11 October 2012


So today I experienced my first earthquake! According to the USGS, it measured 5.5 on the Richter Scale, and 17.22 UTC, which is 14.22 my time - just as lunch was finishing. I was in the office doing some marking (/on Facebook) with the others, when the floor started shaking like someone was playing really loud, bassy music below.

(You can see more info from USGS here)

Initially, that was exactly what I thought was happening until people started getting under desks and someone mentioned it was an earthquake. The shaking got stronger and then stopped after about 15 seconds. Although it was definitely noticeable, nothing was falling off the walls or toppling over, so it was hardly chaos.

This kind of thing happens really frequently in Chile, given their unfortunate geographic position, and so there are established drills for earthquakes, just like we have fire drills in England. Everyone knew exactly what to do (except me) - we all went into the playground and counted the children. Maintenance then inspected the buildings to make sure everything was alright, and we went back inside.

Such fun.

Sunday, 30 September 2012

Fiestas Patrias

The Phoenix, of
Chilean miner fame
The Fiestas Patrias are the two most important days in the Chilean calendar, and they mark both the beginning of the Chilean independence process from Spain (September 18) and the Army Day (September 19). However, for most Chileans it's a great excuse to eat huge quantities of meat, drink a lot, and dance some cueca. Although only a 2 day holiday, the government decided that, seeing as the fiestas fall on a Tuesday and Wednesday, they'd better give everyone the Monday off as well so we can all have a 5 day weekend. Not bad.

Unfortunately, my dieciocho (meaning 18th, cunningly), was somewhat spoiled by some unfortunate timetableing constraints with a TurBus, which meant that I spent the day on a coach back from San Pedro watching Undisputed 1, 2 and 3 badly dubbed into Spanish. Not exactly what I had planned.

However, the next day I went to a fonda with Ignacio and Soledad in a local park. A fonda is basically a sort of temporary outdoor fair, where they put together a mix of eateries, bars and entertainment together with more Chilean flags than I've ever seen in my life. They're hugely popular, and this is where pretty much everyone goes over the fiestas patrias.

Meat being cooked on a traditional wooden fire.
Me and Ignacio (plus randomer in background) with Terremotos
Chorillana: chips, steak, chorizo, egg and onion.
A Chilean cowboy, aka Huaso
Traditional rodeo with huasos

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

San Pedro de Atacama

As promised, Ross, here's a post especially for you.

San Pedro de Atacama is a small town that's completely overrun with tourists in the middle of the Atacama desert, the driest in the world (according to Wikipedia). It is, however, one of the coolest places I've ever been. The town itself is kind of interesting, but its the places around it that really make it special.

The town, minus tourists, could almost be out of the American Wild West. The streets are sand, the signs wooden, and the buildings made of some kind of plaster stuff. Have a look:

Caracoles: the main street in San Pedro
Iglesia in San Pedro
Side Street off the Main Street
There's an awful lot of stuff that goes on around San Pedro, and I managed to do a fair share of them whilst I was there for a few days. Here are a few pictures of the best things:

Massive telescope showing the insanely clear night sky
Salar de Atacama: one of the largest salt flats in the world
Chaxa Lagoon Natural Reserve: James Flamingos
Thermal Pools in the early morning at El Tatio (4000m)
Cejar Lagoon: salty lake in the desert where you cannot sink
Valle de la Luna: amazing sunset over the Andes
Tatio Geysers at Dawn: the highest geyser field in the World

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Travelling North

I've now reached San Pedro de Atacama, in the middle of the driest desert in the world, after 5 days travelling with Pachamama Bus.

Day 1: Santiago to Coquimbo
This was the first day travelling, where I met the other people I would be with over the next few days. There were 8 of us in the bus, as well as a guide and driver: we had a german, a pole, 2 danes, an american, and 2 dutch people. We headed up the Pacific on the Pan-American highway, stopping off at Pichidangui, a small fishing town, for lunch on the beach. Several hours later we were in Coquimbo, in an old hostel likened to the Adams Family house by Yersin, our guide. We had a quick look around the town, which is a large fishing port, and then had dinner and some drinks in the hostel.

Day 2: Coquimbo to Bahia Inglesa
The next day we headed further North towards Bahia Inglesa, a beach resort that was founded by English pirates, hence the name. On the way we stopped off in the Humboldt Penguin Natural Reserve, where we all got onto a boat and headed out to the islands that make up the reserve. Unsurprisingly, the reserve is home to the Humboldt Penguin, as well as sea otters, sea lions, dolphins, and a lot of birds. After that, it was further up the coast to our next overnight stop at Bahia Inglesa.

Day 3: Bahia Inglesa
Today was a break day where we got out into the nearby towns to have a look around, and check out the local food offerings. Caldera is a small town near Bahia Inglesa that is little more than a port town outside of the summer months, but which turns out to be home to the Chilean miners who were trapped underground around 10km away. In the evening we got together for a big Chilean asado, with the usually huge quantities of meat.

Day 4: Bahia Inglesa to Antofagasta
We left early the next day to keep going up the coast, towards our penultimate destination of Antofagasta, the mining capital of Chile. Along the way we had two stops: at the mano del desierto, basically a big concrete hand in the desert, and a cemetery left over from the nitrate years in the Norte Grande. About 100 years ago one of the main exports of Chile was nitrate minerals used in fertilisers, and this area was very rich in those deposits. However, these quickly became obsolete when people managed to artifically synthesise nitrate, and the subsequent end of mining created the ghost towns that are dotted around the area today. Interesting.

Day 5: Antofagasta to San Pedro
This was probably the best day. The first stop was in Baquedano, where we visited a train cemetery, another hangover from the nitrate days. It was basically an old train yard where engines had just been left, but because of the dry conditions they had been really well preserved. Its actually a lot more interesting than it sounds. Next we headed to the Atacama Salt Flats, the biggest in Chile and second biggest in the world, where underground activity has created miles and miles of rock salt crust in the desert.

Then it was further up into the Andes, with a stop in Peine, a small oasis town in the foothills that has a pool fed by rivers from the mountains, where we swam and played water-polo (of sorts). The final stop before arriving in San Pedro was the Chaxa Lagoons, potentially the most beautiful place I've ever seen, with flamingos and birds wandering around in the shallow salt lagoons creating mirror reflections of themselves, all with the backdrop of a clear blue sky and the Andes. Bit smelly though.