Independence Celebration and Beer Festival

Sep 7
Posted by Cami Ostman Filed in Chile 2014, Current Events, Travel log

Bill received an email on Thursday announcing that his Friday classes would be cancelled, as would all afternoon classes at Universidad de Concepcion, because the student union had decided to have its big annual “ramada” party to celebrate Chile’s independence day. Faculty members told us that university officials were concerned about safety and wanted all staff out of their buildings and off the campus by 12:30. Naturally, Bill and I wanted to see what kind of party could close down a big campus like U de C and require all adults to get out of Dodge, so we decided to walk up to campus and have a look around.

Since my Spanish instructor had told me that activities would commence at about 2pm and go on until around 9 or 10 in the evening, we thought that 3:00 would be a good time to wander through the party (after things got started but before complete debauchery ensued).

By the time we got up to the campus, students were still pouring in in droves. Apparently, though U de C hosts the event, people come from all of the other campuses in town. They set up tents to sell beer and a drink they call “teremoto” or “earthquake.” Bill bought a light beer from one of the stalls to start with… you know, to support the students…

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but we got curious about what the teremoto was and felt we simply had to try one—as a cultural experience.  The recipe calls for sweet white wine, Pisco (Chile’s special liquor), pineapple ice-cream, and sugar. Then it is served in a one liter glass.

trago-terremoto

 

I tried to help with it, but it was SOOO, SOOO sweet, and I’m afraid Bill had to manage most of it on his own.

Students simply piled onto the campus until every inch of this area was filled.

And as you can hear in the video, they had a good quality sound system set up so that we could hear the music quite easily from inside of our house a few blocks away.

Before heading home to listen to the party from a distance, Bill and I went out to get pizza at The Deli House, one of my favorite restaurants close to the campus (because they have decent coffee and English on the menu). When the waiter brought the bill, Bill said, “I assume you have money to pay for this?” I felt my face flush red with panic, because… well… no, I didn’t have any cash. Bill ALWAYS has cash. ALWAYS.

Bill always has cash except when he’s been warned about pickpockets being plentiful at an event we weren’t really advised to go to in the first place. He’d left his wallet at home so it could’t get ripped off while we were walking amidst the crowds and sipping on a teremoto among the ramada tents. And he had spent what he had brought along on the teremoto.

He quickly explained to the restaurant staff that he was leaving me as collateral while he ran home (10 minutes away) to get some money. Geez! Good thing we both had a sense of humor about it, which is more than I can say about our waiter—who was punching out and clearly wanted to collect his tip and get to the par-tay. But anyway, Bill was back in about 20 minutes and we avoided having to pull a shameful “perro muerto” (literally: dead dog, or to stiff someone on what you owe them) only to slink back the next day to pay and explain what happened.

Yesterday:

We went to a beer tasting festival. I’m always astounded that my husband, who sometimes confuses the escape button on the keyboard with the power button, thus turning off his computer in the middle of whatever he’s doing, can find ANY event on the internet that involves running or beer. Today it was beer.

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While I’m not typically a huge fan of beer (I know… I can hear the boos), I always go with Bill to beer festivals because I can’t stand the idea that fun is being had without me. So I tagged along. And I’m so glad I did. I found a good stout (which I do like) and sat and sipped while Bill circulated and tasted everything there was to taste. He ended up buying a beer from the same fellow who sold me my stout, and then we settled in to watch the band and the dancing. Chile’s national dance is La Cueca. Check it out.

 

 

There was also bull-riding for the children and plenty of Antichocos (Chilean shish kabobs) for sale. We stayed for about three hours and left smelling of BBQ.

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We ended the day by attending the Sinfonica at the Teatro Universidad de Concepcion. Smelling of charcoal and beer, we sat in a full house of Chileans as they enjoyed their national classical music. The concert (called Grande Chilenos Sinfonica) featured 18 pieces by Chilean composers. The symphony was accompanied by vocalists Claudia Melgarejo, Miguel Angel Pellao, Ramiro Vera, and the Coro Universidad de Concepcion—all conducted by Carlos Traverso.

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I don’t know much about music in general. Those who are familiar with my tastes would call me a throwback to the disco age. But I thoroughly and completely enjoyed the concert as few others I’ve ever attended. Both Bill and I were awed. The music was surprising. Just when you felt like you were moving with it, the direction changed and the mood shifted. I wish I had the words to describe it, but I feel like I did when I first started tasting wine and didn’t know to describe a pinot noir as “earthy” or “full-bodied.” And I wish I could have a recording of the whole thing! My favorite piece was a long one called Fantasia Sinfonica that made us feel like we were watching a war. One side is winning, and then the opponent gains ground so our side restrategizes and gathers strength. They grow tired though, and need to take a rest. During furlough, a love affair breaks out between the general and a woman he met at a party one night, which gives him new inspiration. So he goes back into the fighting with renewed vigor and moves his troops to the right and then to the left and the right again. And finally, victory is gained and the whole country celebrates with a wedding.

Anyway… that’s what it felt like.

We came home and fell into bed with the sense that we had really experienced Chile.

How to Travel Economically inside the United States

Aug 26
Posted by Cami Ostman Filed in Advice, Chile 2014, Travel log

In Bill’s presentation at the University of Concepcion on US history and culture, one of his audience members asked him about some economical ways to travel in the United States. He puzzled over the answer because the US is such a big, spread-out, car-dependent country. Most students who travel abroad won’t have access to a car. But when Bill got home, we started brainstorming answers to this question. Bill and I have traveled all over the world and through much of our own country after all and, aside from airfare, we’ve often managed to travel “on a shoestring.” I told him, I’d write a blog post to more fully answer the question of how to travel cheaply through the States.

I know some of you who wander over to my blog sometimes (particularly those of you who are Marathon Maniacs on a budget) may be able to add even more insight. Do comment below to add websites, ideas, and suggestions!

 

So… here are our thoughts.

 

Travel with Others

The very best way to cut costs when traveling is to go with other people. A hotel room or a rental car will cost the same in most cases no matter how many people sleep or ride in it. Traveling with friends also creates a buffer for safety. To travel cheaply, you’ll have to depend at times on strangers for tips or help getting around. There is always safety in numbers, especially in unfamiliar places!

 

imageChoose One Region to Visit

Since the United States is so very vast, most of its own citizens never see the whole thing. When Bill and I travel, we do it region by region. For example, last year we did a “Southwest” trip to Southern California, Arizona, Nevada, and Utah. It’s true that we had a car to travel between the national parks we wanted to see, but we were able to see some of America’s most beautiful Southwest sites in about three weeks. We visited Disneyland, Bryce Canyon, Zion National Park, Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, and still had time to attend a few of Major League Baseball’s spring training games in Peoria.

 

Travel in the Off-Season

The busy travel times in the US are between June 1 and September 1. As soon as school starts for most children (the first of September), airfares drop, hotel prices go down, and common tourist sites clear out. September and October are still warm in most places around the Continental Unites States. April and May are also good times to travel if you want to get outdoors. January, February, and March are great times to travel in the far southern regions where it stays warm year-round. Be sure to check weather reports before you make travel plans.

 

Join Couchsurfing.com

Do you know about couch surfing? Couch surfing is when you sleep in someone’s house for a few nights and then move on to sleep in another person’s house. There is a whole community of people who offer their couches or spare rooms for other people who need a place to stay. You have to be a member of the couchsurfing.com website community to participate. Sign up and check it out. The nice thing about this site is that people can post reviews of the places they have stayed so you can see if someone’s house is clean and safe. You have to be a good guest once you arrive. Couchsurfing.com is a relationship-oriented way to find lodging. But it’s usually free!

Contact Old friends

Informal couch surfing is another way to find free lodging. Have you ever met anyone who said, “Hey, when you come to my city, look me up?” Maybe it was 10 years ago. Don’t worry. Look that person up! Tell them you will be traveling to their town, and when they offer to let you stay at their house, say yes!! The best thing about travel is spending time with local people, right?!!

 

Utilize Youth Hostels

Bill and I often stay at hostels. Hostels are not hotels. They have no services; you usually share a bathroom with other people; and they are not always as new and tidy as you might wish. But, they are usually (not always) pretty cheap. When you know where you will be traveling, google “hostels in Seattle” for example, and read the reviews. We’ve stayed at some terrific hostels, but we’ve also found a few I would never recommend to others. Hosteling International will have suggestions for you, but always do your research and read reviews.

About reviews: We are not extremely picky about where we sleep. I have only two important criteria: cleanliness and safety. I don’t mind if a review says, “The staff was not responsive,” because I don’t need people to take care of me. I do mind if reviews say, “There were insects in my bed,” or “A guy with a tattoo on his face knocked on my door and asked to borrow a cigarette.” Decide what you need in a hostel or hotel and look for that in the reviews.

 

Try Camping

In most cities you can find someplace that rents out camping equipment. You can still camp in mid-September or early October. There are many kinds of campsites: KOAs have showers, flushing toilets, and even wifi sometimes. State Parks or National Parks vary in terms of what kind of amenities they offer. All camping sites will cost you something—usually between about $8 and $30USD depending on how popular they are. The local visitor center can tell you where to camp.

 

Contact the Visitor Center

Speaking of Visitor Centers, this is the first stop Bill and I make no matter where we go around the world (we’ve been to the one here in Concepcion several times already). They are sometimes called Tourist Information Centers or Welcome Centers and they usually have a big “i” on the outside of the building. In most places around the United States, these centers are staffed by local volunteers who know the area very well.

 

Create a Ridebuzz.org Account

Like with couchsurfing.com, ridebuzz.org requires that you have an account to participate. Ridebuzz is a network of people who are offering or looking for rides—across town or across the country. As a rider, you agree to help pay for gas in return for a spot in someone’s car. Common wisdom in the United States is NOT to ever ride in a stranger’s car. Ridebuzz.org is working to create a safe way to share transportation. As with everything I’ve talked about here, always look at reviews and comments of other people on the site AND travel with a friend if you share a ride in someone’s car.

 

Discount Airlines

There are a few airlines which do not list their fares on kayak.com or priceline.com (these are both travel sites that let you compare airplaneprices for airfare or hotels). Discount airlines may have cheap fares inside the US, but you have to go directly to their own sites to find them. Below is a list of some discount airlines we have used. NOTHING on these airlines is free. You will pay extra for water to drink, to check baggage, or even to reserve a seat next to your friend. In order to save money on discount airlines, you have to travel light, bring your own food on board, and be willing to sit anywhere on the airplane.

Allegiant Air

Southwest Air

West Jet

Jetblue Airways

 

Greyhound and Amtrak

In many places around the world, busses are more comfortable than trains. In the United States, Greyhound busses can be a good, inexpensive way to travel short distances (say 200 kilometers), but they are not always comfortable or safe for long distances. If you want long-distance ground travel, the Amtrak train will be more comfortable. And train travel can be quite fun. The problem is that Amtrak is not always cheaper than flying. If you want to travel across the country (from Los Angeles to New York, for example), trains and planes may be comparable in price, but the train will give you a better chance to see the countryside.

 

We hope this gets our students thinking about how they might come visit us someday. Anyone else have tips for US travel on a tight budget? Chime in!!

 

 

Getting to Know Our New Town

Aug 2
Posted by Cami Ostman Filed in Chile 2014, Running for Fun, Travel log

Yesterday the University of Concepcion (U de C) hosted Bill and me to welcome us to town and to the campus.


The above video is of the mural at the art museum on campus. It is the Presencia de America Latina by painter Jorge Gonzalez Camarena

What a privilege to meet University officials and to have the chance to say thank you for inviting us to be a part of their community for a brief period of time. A Fulbright Grant is a huge privilege and we don’t take this opportunity lightly, although we do plan to have as much fun as we can cram into a few months!

After our meeting on campus, we went to lunch with Lilian (director of the English language teaching program), Cecelia (also from the university), and Laura (Lilian’s daughter) at a restaurant specializing in seafood. I stuffed myself so full of the crab and shrimp cannelloni I ordered that I didn’t need to eat again until today.

Getting to know a new town is a slow process, but we’ve been given a huge jumpstart because Laura–who is 19, speaks amazing English, and has a knack for making the big task of getting oriented feel like a cinch–has been willing to spend a couple of afternoons walking us around town, translating for us, and generally hanging out. She’s been our delightful anchor, and we’re incredibly grateful. Because we are here in Chile under a Temporary Residency Visa, we have to register our presence with local and federal authorities. Laura helped us navigate some of the red tape yesterday as if she’d done it a million times before for other foreigners (she hasn’t).

Today we simply HAD to get out for a run.

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We started at the campus, and then wound our way through the university district alongside a park called “Parque Ecuador.” Sadly, the park itself is closed right now for remodeling during the winter months (remember: the seasons are flipped when you go south of the equator), but we were able to run along the edge of it on a well-marked bike/foot path. I’m sure as time goes on we’ll find some additional routes, but this is a good start–a few safe and easy miles where I can run alone when Bill isn’t handy to come along.

After our run, we changed clothes and went for a walk (I think we put in about nine miles today altogether). By the end of the day, what could we do but find a beer. Here’s Bill at Latitude Sur, a local microbrewery with ONE in-house brew. But ah… it was nice.

Microbrew

One of the really hard things for me to see every time I have visited Central and South America is that in some places, homeless dogs roam the streets in great numbers. Concepcion has this issue, just as Punta Arenas does in the south of Chile, and just as many cities in Mexico do. Probably other countries contend with the issue, too. Some of these poor pups are seemingly full breeds who have been turned out on the street by their owners. Yesterday I saw a beautiful Rhodesian Ridgeback who had to be a full-blood. People are generally kind to these sad creatures–even feed them, as I understand it. And Laura told us that there is a neutering program in town which has been helping to decrease their numbers, but still… It’s very hard for me, as a dog lover, to look into the eyes of these beautiful animals and to know there is nothing I can do for them.

Dogs sleeping on the platform in the square

Dogs sleeping on the platform in the square

Looking for scraps at the market

Looking for scraps at the market

Tonight as I sit typing this, I’m missing my own creatures and my own house, but I’ve had news from home. Jane, Fuji, and Bronte are all being well cared for, so there’s nothing to worry about. Our house is occupied by our lovely friend HH. Still, we are far away from everything we know. But we have to stretch beyond what’s comfortable to grow, friends.  We have to leave one thing to find another, don’t we?

More news to come as the days pass.

New Digs in Concepcion, Chile

Jul 31
Posted by Cami Ostman Filed in Chile 2014, Travel log

We’re here in our new home!

Our new landlady’s name is Carmen. She stocked the kitchen with dishes and pots and pans, and then she went one step further and left some of Concepcion’s best chocolates (I’m eating one right now) for us (Hugo Roggendorf) in our fully-furnished apartment.  Today she brought us some jam made from fruit grown in her own yard, which is a few doors down! Our place is small, but very sufficient. One bedroom, a kitchen, a bathroom, and a living area. We have a gate, staffed by a nice man named Julio, and outer and inner doors, so we’re quite safe.

Concepcion is a bustling university town, about 229,000 people in the city proper. So far, we’ve had rain, rain, rain. But we’ve braved it to get some shopping done and to go have dinner this evening. Bill will go to the University tomorrow (and I’ll tag along) to officially meet his colleagues, although one of them, Lillian, picked us up at the airport yesterday. Having someone meet us was a BIG blessing because we had been awake for a full 33 hours by the time we arrived at the airport in Concepcion, and I doubt very much we would have been able to navigate even a taxi at that point (we slept for 13 hours last night).

After Lillian and Carmen got us settled in our apartment, Lillian’s youngest daughter, Laura, gave us a walking tour of the downtown area and tried to help me get a SIM card for the flip phone I brought for making local calls (unfortunately the phone was locked and the SIM card wouldn’t work!).

The most obvious adjustment for me will be the language. I took French in high school and was never very good at that, even after three years of studying and a four-month stay in Paris. Spanish is completely new to me; I fear I’ll never get past hello and goodbye, but I’ve been trying to memorize vocabulary at the very least.

This morning Bill decided he was going to speak to me in Spanish while we were getting ready to go out shopping. It didn’t go well.

Bill: Hoy es el dia final de Julio.

Cami: Today is Julio’s last day? I just met him.

Bill: No. Listen again. Hoy es el dia final de Julio.

Cami: I heard you the first time. But why didn’t any one tell us that he would be leaving? Why bother even introducing him to us?

Bill: Cami, okay, listen. Enero, Febrero, Marzo, Abril, Mayo, Junio, Julio… Hoy es el dia final de Julio. Get it?

Cami: (Finally understanding!). Oh… Today is the last day of July!! I’m so glad Julio isn’t leaving. I was looking forward to getting to know him.

You can imagine how worried Bill is to leave me alone in the city while he’s in meetings at the university. Fortunately, I’m not new to traveling in places where I’m a foreigner and don’t speak the language. And I’m amazing at charades and pictionary, so I’ll get by.

Wish me luck.

Here We Go on Our Grand Chilean Adventure

Jul 22
Posted by Cami Ostman Filed in Chile 2014, Travel log

Sigh.

What a time this past five months has been. In February, on the weekend I was in Texas running the Austin Marathon, Bill received Bill with Chile bookword that he had been given a Fulbright Grant to work for a few months at a Chilean University. He learned about the grant the day BEFORE the marathon but didn’t tell me until the day AFTER the race because he thought I wouldn’t be able to sleep if I knew. He was right. As soon as I knew the grant had come through, I started making lists. The minute I got home from Texas, we hit the ground running.

  • Start applying for the visa
  • Find someone to take care of the dogs
  • Find a house-sitter (doesn’t have to be the same person who cares for the dogs)
  • Prepare curriculum (mostly Bill)
  • Clean the house
  • Say goodbye to friends

Of course the list of what needed to be done in order to get ready to go was long and involved. And it didn’t even include what we already had on our schedules:

  • Bill and Cami to make a road trip to Oregon, California, Utah and Arizona
  • Bill to run the Boston Marathon, after visiting the baseball and basketball Halls of Fame
  • Cami to run a half marathon in Lancaster County, PA to see if she could meet any Amish women runners to interview for her new book
  • Cami to direct the Wind Horse Half Marathon
  • Cami to write two articles for Adventures Northwest Magazine

And certainly, my original get-ready-to-go to South America to-do list didn’t even anticipate:

  • Have tumor removed from cat’s tale and administer 10 days of antibiotics to reluctant patient
  • Treat dog’s newly developed allergy to pollen with steroids three times a day for two weeks
  • Go to no fewer than 10 chiropractic appointments to treat ongoing plantar fasciitis
  • Bill to help son (who happens to be a brand new first-time father himself) move into new condominium
Bill's Grandson Maxwell

Bill’s Grandson Maxwell

But anyway, here we are—one week from our departure date.

The thing about life is that if we don’t grab hold and live it for all its worth, we have to settle for something less than full-on living. Every time I have to make a decision about whether or not to engage in some major undertaking, I ask myself the same question. “Will I regret not doing this when I’m on my deathbed?” I imagine myself lying in a hospital near the end of my life (I know, it’s morbid, but stay with me), pumped full of morphine so that only bits and glimpses of my life find their way to my consciousness. What regrets will I have? Will doing or not doing this thing in front of me right now be one of them?

The first time I asked myself this question was twelve years ago when my grandmother, who had just turned 75, wanted to visit Norway. She’d found relatives—a cousin of her father—and wanted to see her dad’s childhood home before she was too frail to travel. I was the only one in the family with any international travel experience, and I knew she would be safe if I took her. If I didn’t go, she wouldn’t go. But I was in the middle of my divorce. I was tired and broke, and traveling to Norway would mean charging that trip. I’d never had credit card debt before, and this trip would take a year to pay off with the salary I was making at the time.

One night I lay in bed wrestling with the decision of whether or not to take my grandmother to Norway. She had some urgency about the trip (actually, looking back I think she felt that if she could get me away from home, maybe I would start to heal), but I simply couldn’t afford to go. The thought came to me, “What if I said yes and it took me a year to pay off the trip? Would I regret that decision on my deathbed? Or what if I said no and the opportunity passed? Would I regret not going?” And the answer was obvious.

I charged that trip to my Visa and it took me more like two years to pay it off—with interest. And Norway with Grandma is one of my richest experiences to date.

So when Bill told me he’d gotten the grant he’d applied for and asked me, “What do you think? Shall we say yes?” I knew how to make the decision.

Leaving home for nearly five months right now gives me mixed feelings. I LOVE my life in Bellingham and have some major projects on my calendar for 2014. But Bill has always wanted to work in South America. He applied for this grant twice; it took three years to get it. When we applied the first time, I wasn’t in the middle of structuring a book or working with writing clients; now I am. But when I asked myself what I would regret, I knew I would regret passing up the chance to have an extended cross-cultural experience. The chance to learn Spanish. The chance to find a favorite coffee shop in Concepcion (the city we’ll be living in). The chance to make friends with people I don’t know yet. The chance to go wine tasting in Chile and Argentina. The chance to find favorite running trails in the foothills of the Andes Mountains. The chance to see my best friend live out one of his life-long dreams.

Off we go, then. We leave next Tuesday on a series of flights that will take us more than 24 hours. Come along for the journey. I’ll be posting at least every week with pictures, news, wine recommendations, running reports, adjustment struggles, new friends, and whatever else occurs to me.

Concepcion