Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Summer in Chile-and Christmas is coming!

It is truly summer, I think. I believe it was 90 degrees yesterday and will be again today. And almost Thanksgiving but it just doesn't feel like it. Living with opposite seasons is a little disconcerting. The ski resorts are opening in Colorado and our backyard is in full bloom these days. It's one thing to live someplace like Florida or California and have a warm Christmas but when it's actually warmer than any other time-that takes some time to sink in.

In our tiny front yard, the roses bloom. The bougainvillea died over the winter-how sad! And I have no idea why since I've never had it in my yard.

More roses cover the side of the house and lavender grows below. The yards are tiny in town and many perfectly kept. Yes, those are bars on the windows-almost a cultural thing here. All the houses have them, no matter hwat the neighborhood.

Homecenter(Chile's answer to Home Depot) celebrates the summer season with patio furniture and Christmas greetings for shoppers.

The gardening section in Homecenter....I love it there. I always sneak off to look at plants and flowers while Michael looks for nuts and bolts. I found Jasmine vines(which I know nothing about) for 490 pesos or about $1 each. Mostly I just look at all the varieties, some familiar and some not.

A few steps away from gardening and swimming pools, a huge Christmas section. I believe that's decorated fake wreaths-about $26 US.

When I snapped this photo, a staffperson shook her finger. No photographs of their displays apparently allowed. Maybe she thought I was a spy from another store.

They not only "do" Christmas here, they do it big!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Santiago to Mendoza, Argentina and Back Part III

And then, we were going down and I was quite happy not to be one of the brave souls sitting on the top level. Mountains eventually turned to foothills, then countryside and vineyards, then we rolled into Mendoza and the bus station. We walked out of the station where taxis wait and hopped in to go to our motel.

The motel (which we booked online) was attractive partly because they are a European, multilingual chain. The company that owns then also owns Motel 6, no kidding. And it looked like a European Motel 6-except for the bidet! As I said, the same and different. Everything very basic but a bidet a necessity apparently. Out our window, what else but a soccer field where the kids played as long as they could! By then it was 6 pm and we were starving but were told the restaurant didn’t open until 8 pm-shouldn’t have been surprised because they eat later here but we were a little sad. So we watched TV for a while and went back to restaurant promptly at 8. We had those famous Argentine $7 steaks and fries. It was so good, we repeated the next night. I also had to have several glasses of Argentine wine-for research, you know. It seemed delicious but I repeated the next night to be sure.
Nothing fancy but good to be off the bus.
The next morning, we set off for a day of tourism. First stop, the cambio to change convert Chilean pesos to Argentine pesos. It seems many will take Chilean pesos but I don’t think they were happy about it. The cambio looks just like a bank but isn’t. The exchange rate was actually better there than a bank. Then, we walked to one of the town squares, window shopping as we went. Mendoza has many, many trees everywhere you go. After sufficient walking, we stopped at café on the street and had the San Ramon special which consisted of a piece of ham, topped with cheese, topped with a fried egg and served with papa fritas(fries). Then we wandered the streets some more, mostly window shopping. It’s surprising to me that in both Argentina and Chile, clothes cost the same as in the US. I don’t know how people can afford them. Perhaps they just don’t buy as many. It’s also funny to me that you see stores that cater to hard rock bands-Metallica, Guns and Roses, Pink Floyd and all things black and pierced! Outside one store, a guy does a pretty good impression of Edward Scissorhands….

We hopped in another taxi and stopped at the mall near our motel. It was Argentina’s version of Cherry Creek mall with expensive designer type clothes so we soon decided it was time to go back to the motel and have a nap before dinner. Yes, the big steaks and wine. Michael found a casino and ran off to play his beloved blackjack for an hour or so where he won and came back before he lost. Smart guy.

A lovely old house downtown, a law office now I think.

The plaza-Argentina loves trees.

Edward Scissorhands in front of a store. He moved now and then to let you know he was real.

The next morning we went to the bus station early to catch a bus and soon we were back on the road. I did find some bus station shopping to keep me happy. I buy very little these days but love to look at things. The bus ride back was still fascinating-we even saw a different side and immigration coming back was quicker, maybe because we left earlier. The same and completely different. A trip to do again.

Many, many more photos. Amazing colors.

This one looks futuristic except for the bridge!

Yeah, I just loved the way this looks....
You just can't have enough rocks in photos, I think.
This looks like a digital painting. Nice shot, Michael.
Just so you don't think we were hiking, there's the rim of the bus window!

This mountain seemed to rise from nothing, like a promise.
Checkpoint along the way.
So that's how those rocks get their curves...the wind blows constantly too.
Snow on top and green below. We're back to summer and construction now....

Santiago to Mendoza, Argentina and Back Part II

The bus stopped at the top for immigration where it was cold and windy. The Argentine flag was valiantly flying but it no longer looked blue and white but was faded from its high perch at the top. They busline served a snack but many more experienced bus riders chose to buy something from the little café there. We were unfortunately in line behind 4 or 5 other large tour buses so immigration there was quite slow. We all got in a very long line, first to Chile’s immigration and then to Argentina’s immigration booth. Everyone’s papers and passport checked and stamped, as well as all the luggage and backpacks. All of that took nearly two hours, but we were able to admire the many Porsches coming through the shorter lane. There must have been some sort of Porsche rally or race because there were dozens. Finally, we were on our way.

Our bus waiting at immigration.

A tiny little restaurant and evidence that Argentinans use horse trailers(In Chile, I've only seen horses in closed trucks.)
The argentine flag waves goodbye as we get back on the road.

Santiago to Mendoza, Argentina and Back Part I

We recently took the 7 hour bus trip to Mendoza, Argentina. While 7 hours on a bus sounds unattractive, it was a really lovely trip. The bus was a large tour bus with comfortable seats (comparable to 1st class air travel seating) and cost 10,000 Chilean pesos or about $20 US. Dozens of tour buses go back and forth daily from Santiago to Mendoza so you can simply go to the bus station and choose one (of dozens of companies) that is leaving when you like.

The bus was a double decker and we chose the bottom level. I’ve heard the top level can be quite frightening but those who enjoy roller coasters might enjoy the upper level best! The large windows show great scenery and views but I wonder how those sitting on top felt going around the many curves(you can feel the top of the bus sway) on narrow roads passing large trucks and slow moving vehicles! I think we saw plenty from our level, thank you very much.

The views from the bus window were surprisingly good-photos even came out better than expected.

You did have passing trucks obscure the photo now and then- just when you almost had the perfect shot.

The views were just gorgeous and fascinating. Never ending and always changing colors and textures due to different mountains and terrain as well as the wind and water’s affect on them.

We took many photographs but every turn in the road brought a brand new view that seemed completely different and more beautiful. It’s hard to describe and the photos don’t do justice to them really but the Andes are simply remarkable. They are sometimes like the Rocky Mountains but are also completely different. That’s something that runs through life here-I see schoolchildren on the street, passing by the house, and think “they are the same as kids anywhere” as they laugh and share secrets and flirt. But at the same time, they are so very different too. I digress-back to the Andes…. We started from the Santiago bus terminal and the first part of the trip is the outskirts of Santiago, soon the views are countryside and vineyards. After a time, you can feel the bus begin to really climb and the foothills are in full view. The scenery continues to change and real mountains roll by outside. Small mountain streams and waterfalls appear here and there, along with sheep and even horses grazing amongst the rocky land. For about 2 ½ hours we gazed out the windows-I can’t describe how amazing the Andes look.

Both telephone lines and ski lifts run across the Andes. I didn't get a photo but many closed lodges up high.

It's summer here but plenty of snow on top for those that miss it!

The highway winding below us.

I don't remember finding rocks so amazing but they were...

A mountain peak seems to beckon us, as we near Argentina and immigration.