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Friday, November 18, 2005

Would you believe, I love the Metro!


I wasn't sure what I expected from Santiago. The word on the street is that there's nothing to "see" here, it's a city you'll pass through. Not for me, I've now been here for 4 days.... I like getting to a city and settling myself into ONE hotel, unpacking and doing everything I can from one localized city. It's not as hectic a pace, not as harried a schedule, and you get a better feel for the places you're visiting, as opposed to only tastes of more cities. At least, that's what is working for me. I'm taking day trips to Valparaiso and Vina del Mar (beach towns outside of Santiago) and took a day trip to the vineyards the other day. It's just easier than being go, go, go, every 2 days. So, hi from Santiago, Chile!

Santiago is VERY modern, very clean, and feels very American. The American brands are everywhere, posted on billboards, on street signs, it's omni-present just how westernized Santiago is. It reminds me a little bit of Washington DC, at least in the "Gringo" parts of El Bosque and Las Condes and Vitacura. It's very much high-rise, glass buildings, interspersed with leafier streets and older, little townhouses that house restaurants and residences. For some reason, I'm channeling DC a bit. It actually felt kinda nice to be in a city when I first got here, the familiarily of seeing AT&T, Hooters and Ruby Tuesday, Starbucks and Jeep. I felt very "city girlish" and when I saw a Starbucks, ran for it with a pace that I haven't hit since my last jaunt on my treadmill as Sports Club LA. But, I'm over it and excited to go to Valparaiso/Vina del Mar tomorrow which supposedly have a little more culture. Then, down to the lake region of Chile for some Andean mountain time in the outdoors on Sunday. Modern is good, in doses, I'm finding. But, the more rewarding places have been those I don't know as familiar, not the ones that I'm too comfortable in.

Also, the people in Santiago are more conservative than in other cities. The city, the people just lack a little passion as far as I've seen so far. And, they admit that. They know that the city is just a little more hands-off than the rest of South American in many ways. Their lifestyle is more sedate, there's more quiet, there's less flavor. I like Santiago, it's just a little bland.
On the first day here, I just kicked around town, exploring (on foot) Gringo land. I met up with a friend of a friend who lives down here, is Chilean, Tony. We met for coffee on what might as well be the Miracle Mile of Santiago. LV, Hermes, Longchamp, Burberry. Boy, does he know where to take the NY girls... I had my first Cafe Helado and just explored the city on foot. I wound up stopping for a glass of wine at a bar, unbeknownst to me at the time, called, of ALL things, Publicity. Go figure......

My second day here I took in more of the sights, riding a funicular up to the top of San Cristobal, overlooking the city, seeing the snow-capped Andes in the backdrop. It's easy to tell direction here (thank you, Brett Isaccson), if you see the Andes, that's the east. Helpful to know. VERY helpful to know. San Cristobal is part of Parque Metropolitan, which is in Bellavista, the more bohemian section of town. Colorful little homes, tree-lined streets teeming with cafes and outdoor restaurants. Here, I stopped for a conger eel soup, which is a whitefish that they serve locally. Then, onto La Chascona. The Santiago home of Nobel prize winning poet, Pablo Neruda. His homes (there are 3) are attractions here in Chile, they are all VERY eclectic, he was a collector of everything and his houses are amazing to see. What struck me is that they let you sit in the chairs, touch the books, and things stored in the house. Imagine going into, like...Roosevelt's Oyster Bay house, and dilly dallying with the mooseheads he killed on African safaris. Right..... So, La Chascona is named after his lover, Matilde. It literally means BAD HAIR. The guide, a funny little man with a fantastic ranchero mustache that you see in my pix (couldn't pass up a photo of his 'stache...) told us that Matilde had big bushy hair and they called her La Chascona or Medusa, hence the name of the house. Granted, I have a japanese treatment on my hair now, but can you imagine if my famous poet husband of my future decided to name our house after my old hair...? I mean, talk about the most heinous of insults!!?!?! Then, to meet Ike's brother Brett who lives here and is a TWIN for Ike, but bigger. Very weird to meet someone's sibling in Santiago for the first time. He took me to a place for the typical Chilean sandwich, which are everywhere down here. Very good, but not sure how many more Chilean sandwiches are in my future. ;)

On the third day, I had a debaucle with the Sheraton, as I used AmEx points for my room there the first two nights but try explaining that to the Spanish desk guy who could give a shit about you and your American Express card and tries to make you pay double. I mean.... Then, my Treo spazzed (in a modern city like Santiago of ALL places) and so, I spent part of the day, trying to get back online with that. Then, I put hot milk in my Cocoa Puffs knockoff b/c I didn't the sign on the breakfast buffet that said HOT MILK and then, they didn't have anymore cereal left and the eggs looks like vomit and so I didn't eat breakfast before heading out. Again...stupid issues but frustrating, nonetheless.

Headed then, to the vineyards. Concha y Toro, the #1 exporter of Chilean wine to the States. I tried it in Costa Rica, and have since been hooked, so it was great to get to tour the vineyard, send home a ton of rare bottles that I can't get in the States and get out of the city for part of the day. I even, GULP, mastered the Metro here. The subway is amazing. The MTA should take a few tips from the Chilean government on how to create worthwhile, clean and efficient public transportation systems. It was fantastic and I went to Conchy y Toro on the subway, then to a bus, and back....EFFORTLESSLY. I arrived at the Plaza de Armas, which is eye-candy with all the performance artists, kiosks of Chilean art for sale, chess players in various stages of games and other such distractions. Pretty wild scene, you don't know where to look first. There's a lot of dirty old men with bellies overhanging their pants on the Plaza, waiting for girlies like me to ask them to take a photo, at which point, they harass you to join them for coffee, a drink or whatnot, following you around the Plaza like a lost puppy. But, I digress....

I lunched at Mercado Central, which is the fish market. It's exactly how South Street Seaport used to be with the open air fish vendors selling their catches of the day everywhere. But, here in the middle of the market, is a huge restaurant called Donde Augusto that sells lunches, dinners of the fish from the market. Total tourist trap, but fantastic fish and atmosphere. Worth the trip. The waiters all bum rush you as you walk in, trying to get you to sit in their section (ummm, what are they all freaking out about, it's the SAME restaurant) and then, bombard you with choices to eat. It's overwhelming but kinda fun to play with them all. I sat overlooking the whole market and my waiter (didn't catch name) decided to fall for me, wrote me a love letter on the tourist post card and then, proceeded to get a guitarist to accompany his "Ode to Marie" in the middle of the whole place, and SANG TO ME loud and passionately for all to see. He said "Amor" in the song like 50 times. I was....MORTIFIED. You think getting a meek rendition of Happy Birthday by 2 waiters in ---enter your favorite birthday restaurant here----- is bad. Go to Donde Augusto, I promise, it's much much worse.

So, that's where I'm at..... now, I'm signing off to go shower for some dinner with Tony, who's going to take me out local Chilean style in Bellavista. Then, tomorrow, I'm off to the beach towns of Valparaiso and Vina del Mar to work on my jacked tan . . . I'm VERY uneven b/c of Peru. I'll report more soon... Hope you're all doing well.


Dirty nails complete a look...

Hi there...

I know, I haven't been online in a while...I've been running around South America, what else...?

Anyway, I'm going to try to play catch up today. I have a free day in Santiago, Chile and I'm just taking it to walk around, email and write a little and drink lots of coffee. I've become hooked on a coffee drink that they serve in Chile, it's called Cafe Helado, which basically tranlates to coffee with ice cream on top. Uh-huh....not the BEST thing to be hooked on. But, nonetheless... So, sitting in a coffee shop is a pretty enjoyable treat in Santiago.

Ok, backtracking...
Lima. As per usual, I got up at the crack of ass in Cusco to go to Lima. I wasn't connecting to Santiago, until 9 PMish, so I had a full day to spend in Lima aimlessly wandering with maybe two hours of sleep logged. At best. I had heard dreadful things about Lima and wasn't really looking forward to it. Dirty (check), congested (check), and ugly (check). Since I had only passed thru for the splurge night at the Marriott a week ago, I had some exploring to do to form my own opinion. As it turns out, I really enjoyed it (EXCEPT for how freaking dirty I was after walking around all nails turned grey, my white beater....yeah, not even CLOSE to white anymore (I threw it out), and my legs had a film of dust on them that I had to SCRUB with the Sheraton/Santiago soap bar to get off...yeah. You should've seen the shower drain when I finally showered in Santiago. Mmmm...hmmm. Images, images.)

When I got in, I went straight to the Plaza de Armas, chatting with the cab driver all the while (I'm really good at chatting with cab drivers. They always give me their cards when I leave their taxi. I guess I'm not intimidated to talk to them and sound foolish b/c it's only the two of us there to hear...I dunno. I give my best Spanish in cabs, though, I'm realizing). The Plaza de Armas is gorgeous. It has a huge fountain in the middle, with tons of benches surrounding. The buildings on the Plaza consist of the Presidential Palace which is a massive, white gated mansion that is offset by the municipal buildings on the other side, which are a bright shade of pumpkin color. It's aesthetically pleasing and while I'm sure you're thinking "pumpkin colored?" I really, really loved sitting in the Plaza. You would too. It's a highlight of Lima, for sure. The Catedral is on another side, and after being approached by a student named (didn't catch it) who just wanted to chit-chat with me, and for those of you who know me...I'm NOT exactly a morning person (though I'm getting better, I SWEAR!), I ducked into the Catedral under the guise of being REALLY interested in like, God, b/c you have to pay to go in and the chatty student wouldn't pay. There's a lot of ducking out like that, b/c you're constantly approached as a solo traveler. The only time I'm TRULY alone is when I'm hiding in my hotel room. Alas, in Lima, I had no hotel to hide out in.

Then, from the Plaza, I walked to the Plaza de San Martin, which was fine but underwhelming. Off the Plaza, though is the Hotel Gran Bolivar, a regal and uber-fancy hotel that I was told by a Peruvian author of my friend Michael's to visit. So, I checked into the hotel which was lovely, and parked myself on the terrace to down about 3 Cafe Americanos con leche while I wrote in my journal and caught up with myself. From there, I went to the neighborhood of Miraflores, first noticing at this point, the grey of my nails....where you can look out onto the ocean. I walked the whole area, it's young and more trendy than the other areas of Lima that I've checked out today, and full of shops and restaurants. I walked to the water, where there is a huge promenade of about three levels on the coast that overlooks the ocean. Lima is overcast most of the time, so you see a lot of fog as you look out onto the water, but regardless, it was calming and I was just completely happy being there with my Pisco Sour. Then, OBVIOUSLY, needed food. (I swear, if I don't get to a gym soon.....) So, I went to Astrid y Gaston, which was recc'd to me by everyone I met. THE restaurant in Lima. As I walk in, I feel at home. The deeply colored walls with great artwork on them, the open kitchen where you can watch the chefs cook, the waiters in their expensive, tailored suits, the hot looking Peruvians in clothes I wish I packed.......and me, in my sweatshirt and gaucho pants and Pumas, my messy ponytail with dirty nails and mammoth North Face backpack to complete the look. But, without missing a beat, they sat me right down amongst the men in business suits smoking cigars and took care of me. GREAT MEAL, they even let me hang out there until closer to my flight even though they were closing before dinnertime (I was kinda there in between meal services). And, then... I went BACK to the airport for my PM flight to Santiago, Chile...where I forgot to turn off my computer before putting it through the X-ray machine and jacked it for about a day. Yeah...sometimes there's just too much to concentrate on when you're schlepping from country to country. These are my issues.... :)

More soon...


Sunday, November 13, 2005

Like the Liptons...

I´m leaving Cusco at 8 in the morning, to head off to Santiago, Chile. Spending the day in Lima, as my flight to Chile isn´t until 9 PM. Gets in at 2:30 in the AM. Gotta love Taca, right? Last time, the very last time.

Anyway, just wanted to write a little something less ridiculous than Bad Marie-isms. I´ve been here a week and have really come to adore Cusco. The Plaza de Armas (main sqaure) is almost European in feel, the town surrounding is quaint and warm, bustling always, and even the altitude has grown on me. I have a very weird tan, though. Like a ski tan, but peelier with a freckled nose. (Me peel? I know...) And that water isn´t exactly doing wonders for my skin. But, I really have come to love Cusco. I bought myself an Alpaca sweater, not a fancy one. One that makes me look like a local with wild goats on it, I´d be blasted a fashion faux pas in the States, but I´m kinda into it. I feel Cusqueno in it.

I finally got to see the B-level ruins with a ¨real¨tour company that spoke English and used buses (back and forth) and it was really fantastic. You get a sense of just how advanced these civilizations were back in the day. We place so much emphasis on equating modernity with material things, but it´s not that way at all. All of the Andean civilizations were far more advanced than we realize. The irrigation systems, building construction, villages are astounding to comprehend. The size of the rocks, the way they are placed and utilized, you just find yourself asking over and over again, how the hell did they do this?

At the end of the tour, I befriended Nick from London, a shaggy haired lawyer who looked like he´d rather be at a Phish show, and two Aussies. We spent much of the day together, being wow-ed by the Incans. We hiked many of the ruins together, which is scary at points, as these ruins are built high into the mountains for protection from invasion, and when you go to see them you find yourself on the top of the world, looking down, and disbelieving where you are at that very moment. At points, my knees were shaking b-c I was so high up, with so far down to fall. (You don´t hear about people falling off these mtns, but they must... I wonder.) The other thing that you notice is people of ALL ages are visiting Peruvian ruins. Like, 80 year old shrunken grandmas in orthopedic shoes, hiking unbearable altitudes, climbing up 200 steps to holy altars of the gods. It´s so refreshing. I mean, my mom (sorry, mom...) let alone my grandma couldn´t do these hikes. I was amazed over and over again at the sampling of people. It´s not just schoolkids and backpackers. AT ALL.

After the day, I was just ´going with the flow´and went to dinner with Nick and the Aussies. I now know that I am (and why I am) a complete and utter food snob. For 10 hours, the Aussies talked about the ¨gorgeous¨meal that they were looking forward to for 7 soles, 4 courses ($2.50) that was such a bargain but sooo wonderful. Nick and I got roped in. We went, starving from the day. And....I might as well have eaten my right Teva for dinner. I had to KNOW that $2.50 wasn´t getting me a Chateaubriand steak, but...calling something ¨gorgeous¨all day has to account for something. Nope, not at all. In my head, I was thinking the whole time (and I think Nick was too...) what the fuck? Is this really edible? Anyway, when it was done, assuring the Aussies it was indeed a ¨gorgeous¨meal and thanking them for introducing me to the restaurant (yep, I did...), I went around the corner for another, REAL MEAL, alone. I was starved ... and pickier this time around. I don´t eat to nourish, I eat for the experience, I decided. And will continue to do so, I decided as well. Teva-meat for $2.50. Pass.

Macchu Picchu was yesterday. And it was everything they say and more. Since I couldn´t get on a 4day hike w/o spending a practical month in Cusco, I opted for the 2 day one, which was more than ample. While I fancy myself fit, I wasn´t born in the forest and a 2 day hike was fine for me. At 6 AM, we took a train 3 hours to the 104th KM of the Trail. And, then we hiked 7 hours to Macchu Picchu, coming onto it at dusk. First of all, I know Amy and Brad (could someone tell them this please?) did the 4 day hike which Brad wrote me a lovely email about. I read it and moved on. Ok...they are now my idols. It´s a hard trek, with dizzying heights and steep drop-offs. And, the campsites....leave a hell of a lot to be desired (not that my hotel was anything of merit, more on that in a second) but, everyone is all into the 4 day Trail. I give them credit. 2 days was plenty, 4 days in likely rain, wow. Liptons, impressive.

Anyway, during the hike, which I happened to get the most amazing, perfect, sunny days for, I felt a million different things. At turns, you´re peaceful and calm, exhilarated, frightened to death, and physically taxed. But, it´s one of the greatest things I´ve ever done. Hiking a trail thru 12,000 feet in the mountains, looking to your right of the 2 foot trail you´re walking on and seeing the amazing view, with the treacherous drop off. It´s like NOTHING I´ve ever experienced (or likely will for a while). I used a walking stick (wasn´t sure about it at first, then got REALLY into it, b-c it a) helped and b) made me feel officially hiker cool). But, of course, nothing in my life is without incident. I had an allergic reaction to the sun, b-c I was so overheated and it was so hot. I basically had baby water blisters all over my arms and back. Like teeny tiny spots, that were filled with water. In the shade, they went away. In the sun, they returned. I don´t know what´s happening to me down here in South America. I know you´ve all been envious of my tan at some point in your life. Don´t be. I´ve lost it. I´m a peeling, water blistery (they´re gone, relax!) mess of a tanner down here.

When you come onto Macchu Picchu, it´s amazing. I felt VERY impressed as I was the second in my group to arrive (the first woman!) and awed by the sight. It´s massive. A literal lost city. And since we came upon it at dusk, we got the place to ourselves. Similar to the feeling at the B-level ruins, you can´t help but feel inspired and, a lowly materialistic ass. We were staying the night in Aguas Calientes (the town below that was created around the tourism that MP brings), so we would be able to go into the site in the morning at 6:30, watch the sunrise and be inside MP for about 4 hours, before the first train of tourists arrived. Not bad.

At the end of the day, my body was exhausted. But, accomplished. It was a fantastic day, really one of the best I´ve had. We retired to our hotel in the town and since they stuck me and 2 other Americans (ben and asra from colorado) on the tour at the last minute, we were put at some fleabag hotel b-c the other one where the rest of our tour was staying couldn´t accomodate us. Don't ask... The room was a color pink that even a 128-box of Crayolas wouldn´t house among its assortment. I was terrified to look in the corners-walls of the room, certain a cockroach was going to lay eggs in my ear while I slept. There was a stench of feces eminating from somewhere in my room, but I couldn't locate where. I sniffed all corners (without looking in them) without resolution. Thoroughly nauseating. Whould've thunk this is my life...after such an amazing day. Thank god I got home drunk as a skunk with only 6 hrs to be IN the room. Maybe I should´ve camped out like the Liptons . . .

Gotta go and sleep for an hour or so...onto Lima, then Santiago in a few hours.
More adventures soon.
Miss u all.


Bad Marie...

So...she surfaced. Bad, NYC Marie. BUT....only for a bit.
And, then she was gone. Here goes...

I decided that since I was going to be in Cusco for a week until I could get on my Inca Trail hike, I would make the most of this town and see everything there is to see. So, priding myself on my horseback riding skills (as you all know, ad nauseum), I decided to tour the C-level ruins (there are B-level ruins too, A-level obviously being Macchu Picchu) by riding thru Cusco for the day. I got up at 8 AM, very excited for it and wound up being paired with two Brits, Warren and Keri. He, a paparazzi (who admits that´s their job? Everyone hates the paparazzi.) and she, a typical worrisome British wife, ¨Waaaahrin, are you wearing your sunblock? Waaahrin, don´t bugger on my horse to make it trot. You know I don´t fancy trotting. Waaaahrin.¨ Blah blah. They were amusing, though.

Anyway, Ricardo, our guide doesn´t speak English, but is leading us by walking alongside with a handheld transistor radio that looks like the Germans used it in WW2, it´s so old and all he gets is static the WHOLE time. Never a song, never a newsflash, static. But, you´d think he was listening to the Word of God the way he´s got that thing to his ear. We get up into the mountains to saddle up. horse is probably as big as me (when I download pix, you´ll see...). But, I´m still excited, even though I feel like I´m riding My Little Pony. No worries, right? Ok, so go to see the ruins. C-level, nothing to REALLY describe. The views of the mountains were breathtaking, but the ruins were, well...underwhelming. Anyway, the day is long (but nice, glad I did it) but it´s starting to get cold. It´s rainy season here in Peru now, and it rains at least once a day. So, we get to the last ruin and after we get off to go take a look, Ricardo goes: ¨Adios,¨ takes the reins of all three horses and starts to leave us.

Me: ¨Wait...Ricardo -- where are you going?¨ (in Spanish, obv... which is ´A donde vas?´ for those practicing along with me)
Ricardo: ¨Fineto. Ju wawk now.¨ (Broken English)
Me: ¨Where is the bus from earlier?¨(El autobus?¨)
Ricardo: ¨No autobus. Camines.¨ No bus, you walk.

REALLY..............Ok, so we start to walk to Cusco, which looks like it´s 50 miles off ...
And, on cue. It starts to rain. No, sorry. It starts to hail. Ice balls. The wrath of the Incans.
I´m wearing off-white cargo pants (why I thought off-white hiking anything was a good bet (yes, Cherilyn...), I´m not sure...) that are now soaked thru and my orange underwear is begging to be seen. And is. The Peruvian peasants farming potatoes are whistling. I´m FREEZING, being hailed on. Ricardo and the wee horses are gone. Of course, Warren and Keri are prepared with North Face ensembles, of which I´m insanely jealous. And, I´m pissed off. We hitch a gypsy bus after about 15 minutes (buses of wild colors that pick up anything along the road with a pulse for soles) and are taken back to town. MIZ.

Getting back into town, I head to the SAS Travel office. Walk in and wail on the guides that they never told us there wasn´t a bus back and we´re freezing and cold and paid for a tour with a guide and a bus. And, all they say to me is...Aaaah, Marie Elena, we thought we told you there is no bus home. And stare at me. Um....what does one do with that? Shake it off. Shake it off.

Am supposed to meet Gabriel in the Plaza for coffee before he heads off to Arequipa, BUT also have to go to Taca (airlines) to get my flights to Santiago. So, run to Taca. Calm again. The woman who helped me the day before isn´t there, so a new agent is helping me. The flights are now $200 more than yesterday. Ok...fine, just get me to Santiago, please. ¨Jes, missus.¨
And, strike two against me brews...AmEx machine is down and can´t authorize my transaction (you need an authorization to, like, buy a bottle of water here).

Me: Um....when do you think it´ll be able to authorize.
Taca Lady: Yo no se. I hope soon. Seet down, I try again in 10 minutes.
10 minutes later.
Me: Um....are you able to authorize, I have to go, I´ve been here for 30 minutes already.
Taca Lady: Well, we just got new computers and I don´t know how to use them, actually.
Me: And, that problem gets rectified HOW, exactly, in 10 minutes?
Taca Lady: I cannot help you anymore. And leaves.

I leave (Yes, I wound up going back at around 7 and got the tix...) to go back to my hotel. Gabriel is long gone, foiled again. And...shocker, they can´t accomodate my new Inca Trail dates, so I have to find new lodging. Strike three. I am irate. I run around in orange thonged-see thru wet pants in the rain to find a new hotel (which I wound up loving), get my tix at Taca, thaw out, take an Ambien and force the day to end.

Thought you´d all appreciate. Not everything is all bubbles and sunshine EVERYDAY.
I´m learning how to deal....It was, looking back, a hilarious day. :)