The Great Plotnik

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Saturday and Into Argentina

Now the paved road of simplicity has turned into the ripio of the Argentine pampa. Ripio is like gravel, only finer, so the bus seems to be limping along at around 30 --and Plotnik just saw a sign that says that el Calafate is 200 kilometers away. That's a long way for a ride over bumpy ripio.

There's not much to see -- except those wildflowers out there, white and red, and an occasional hawk and sometimes a car or another bus coming in the other direction, towards Chile.

At the border, everyone had to exit the bus with their passports and get in line at the Chilean border station. This is high plains country and the wind was intense, blowing tumbleweeds across the highway, except there weren't any tumbleweeds, but if there had been you would have seen them moving left to right at great speed. The idea was to get off the bus, run through the wind into the border patrol office and get in line.

Backtrack: once or twice before, hostels in Chile asked Plotnik and Ducknik for their yellow copies of the immigration forms they had had to fill in when they arrived at the Santiago airport. Plot didn't remember having copies, so he showed each hostel the place where the Chileans had stamped their passports and that was enough for the hosteleros.

Except that each time they didn't see the yellow copies, the women behind the counter at the various hostels looked up quizically at Plotnik, as if to say: "You really ought to be carrying those yellow copies."

Well, yah, Bunko. Border Patrol officers with uniforms and guns are not the same as hostel keepers with forks and table cloths. The border patrol guard didn't listen when Plot said he and Ducknik didn't know where their copies were, he just said
"Busca su equipaje," and waved Plot away from the window.

The only place Plotnik, could imagine that the yellow copy of the Chilean immigration form could be was the brown zipper folder in which he keeps his passport and other necessities.

The problem was his passport was in his shirt pocket but the brown zipper folder was in Plotnik's suitcase and the suitcase was under the bus. In the very back of the suitcase locker as it turns out.

So Plot had to rush across the blustery road, determine that the suitcase storage was indeed locked, run back across through the wind to find the bus driver, who said "Que? Quitar las maletas?"

"Well, yes, I'm sorry," Plot said, "but yes indeed, we cannot leave Chile unless we produce these papers and the only place they might be is..."

OK, OK, said the bus driver and told his assistant that everybody's suitcase now had to come out of the bus and be placed on the windy road, so the two people from America would be able to find their papers.

Most of the other passengers on this bus (and every bus in Patagonia) were Germans, so they had already produced their yellow papers, because they are Germans, and had their copies EXACTLY where they were supposed to be, so they would have them when they needed them. And what did all their orderliness get them, hah?

The Germans now watched with horror as all their suitcases were removed from the bus onto the windy road. Plot kept looking into the huge maw of the suitcase locker under the bus, saying: "Quite esto! Y esto! Y esto!" And with each suitcase they brought out, to get closer to Plotnik and Duck's suitcases, another German face with wide eyes and a red nose appeared at the window of the bus.

Plot is only enjoying thinking about this now, because THEN it was awful.

Plot found his suitcase, unlocked the little combination lock he and Duck bought at the Toronto Airport, which snaps together the two zippers of the main pocket, reached down to the bottom of this suitace, pawed around amongst his socks and short sleeve shirts and found the brown ziper folder.

He unzipped it, looked inside, holding his breath, and: There was his yellow copy!

Halleluyah, he shouted, leaving Duck behind to supervise the reloading of the suitcases back onto the bus, ran back across the windy road into the Border Patrol office, and handed his yellow copy of the immigration form triumphantly to the Border Policeman, who nodded and said. "Bueno! Y el otro?"

"What other one? You mean my wife has one of these too?"

"Claro," said the officer. "Una persona, una copia."

(INTERRUPTION: Plotnik just looked out the window and saw real gauchos! Waving their bolos. Riding their horses, dressed in brown leather jackets and black leather hats. The boys in the Castro would love this place.)


Plotnik needed Ducknik to find HER yellow copy now, but Ducknik was in the bathroom.

"Un momento, Plot said," and the border agent managed to look both annoyed and bored.

The line was almost finished when Duck came out ot the bañero and Plot told her she needed her yellow form, and she said "I have one too? Let me look in my pack."

She did. It was there. Four more dashes across the windy road and the Plotniks were officially out of Chile. Qye les vaya bien, Chilotes!

A hundred yards later, the bus stopped again so the passengers could now enter into Argentina. Hola, chicos! No yellow forms in Argentina, only stamps.

Same road, just a hundred yards further, same wind, same scramble across the road and into the Argentine border patrol office, where there were wanted posters on the wall with faces that looked 100 years old, mostly about kidnapped children, with huge letters that said 50 U$S 000! Manuel Zapata Corquinez! And then a picture of Manuel Zapata Corquinez that might have been Butch Cassidy.

Back on the bus, and it turns out that the front of the bus is all middle-aged Germans and the rear of the bus is all Israeli kids. The Israelis are loud and having fun, and they sing in the customs line and the men flirt with the women and everybody flashes huge happy smiles. Meanwhile, the Germans don't smile at all, the French keep to themselves, the Argentinians continue to speak their incomprehensible language, where they add a 'sheh" whenever they damned well feel like it, the bus driver pushes the big bus slowly down the ripio, Ducknik sleeps by the window and Plot writes on his computer, staring out the window at not nothing, just almost nothing, but as far as almost nothing goes, this is a very, very nice almost nothing.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Thursday and Friday in Torres Del Paine

Plot and Duck were in a minivan on Thursday with five Germans and three Chileans, as they drove to Torres del Paine National Park, which seems to be the treasure land of Patagonia. Every thing smells grand here, which is to say the air tastes like candy. It's too good to be just air, in the same way that The Great PD once described swimming in Lake Keuka to be H 3 0 -- it was just too damned nice to be only H 2 0.

That's what the sky in Patagonia looks like too, huge and untamed. There are just not any people here, so the country is practically virgin. It makes a big difference. These rock columns, the towers in the Torres del Paine, are not like the Sierras, or the Rockies, or even the Alps. They're so much newer that they haven't been completely eroded yet, so they burst from the landscape in strange, unimaginable geometric shapes, and some of them have glaciers suspended halfway down them, so the light reflects off the jagged edges and the ice to create brilliant, azure blue and snowy white monoliths.

At the moment, The Great Plotnik is trying hard not to become The Sick Plotnik -- he's got that kind-of uh-oh feeling in his throat that hasn't gone away, so he's not going to stay awake trying to describe Torres del Paine too much, you'll see it in the pictures, and he needs to get some sleep tonight.

And anyway, the Wi-Fi is down again in the Hostal Rincon, perhaps due to the winds, so you won't be reading about this for awhile anyway. Plot and Duck are taking an early bus into el Calafate tomorrow (Saturday), crossing the Argentine border for the first time and saying adios ciao ciao to wonderous Chile. Plot's got that great immune system stuff that P-D and 5-H gave him, so it will probably keep the cold away; still, he's got to get some sleep.

But first he's got to show you the pictures he took this morning at around 6:30am, in front of the Hosteria Laguna del Toro where he and Duck had spent the night. The Hosteria sits in a little brown and green valley surrounded by the bends of the Serrano River, and Manuel the guide told Plotnik to make sure to get up very early, just after the sun appeared, because it was only then that the mountains would glow red for a few minutes. They did just that and Plotnik got his camera out for the end of it, and Duck hurried out a few minutes later, and what an unforgettable sight that was.

And Lago Amargo yesterday, a day unseasonably warm and calm, so that the water on the lake was clear and glassy, able to reflect the craggy mountains right down into the water. P and D are in front of Lago Amargo on the top picture.

And the Hosteria de Laguna del Toro itself, which Plot and Duck got to after an older man in a beat up minivan picked them up where the tour bus had dropped them off, after a wait of only half an hour or so. The minivan had a cracked windshield, but every car or van or bus that Plot and Duck saw in Torres del Paine had a windshield cracked in at least three places, and half a dozen rock pings too, and the doors dinged up with rusting once-paint. But what would you expect? The wind is almost always gale force out on this plain and nobody in their right mind would bring a new car up here.

When the Plotniks walked into their Hosteria, a low welcoming brown building that was supposedly the economy choice of the few choices available at the mouth of the Serrano River, they were almost bowled over by how sweet a sight it was: two wood-burning heaters creating a roar of warmth, a dining room set up with glassware and tablecloths and bottles of wine in the little cabinet, two waitresses in red uniforms ready to serve all their guests, except there weren't any guests because it was only 6:30, and nobody but Americans or Germans would want to eat at a ridiculously early hour like 7 or 8pm.

They hosteria offered only one option for dinner: goulash. And was it ever delicious, and the wine was too, and the wood heaters made the room so hot that by the time dessert came (come kind of weird flan or bread pudding) Plot and Duck were three layers of clothing down from earlier in the day. No money was mentioned -- apparently they'd find out what dinner cost the next morning.

And the next morning they found that dinner had not been expensive (though the room was costly, being in the national Park), and breakfast was very nice and then Plot and Duck put on their packs and walked out next to the red mountains to find their guide for the zodiac boat trip down the Serrano River, past the Serrano and Ballmaceda Glaicers, and eventually a transfer to an old launch and a ride on the water all the way back to Puerto Natales.

The zodiac boat started off warm but got colder and colder and colder, the closer the boat motored to the glaciers. At one point it got - just almost -- too cold to take, but that didn't last too long,and the zodiac company had provided Duck and Plot and the two Spanish women traveling on the boat with them with huge orange windbreaker overcoats which seemed like overkill at the start but saved everybody's bacon later on.

In the middle of the day, the zodiac boat changed to a launch, with two levels, the bottom of which was filled entirely with Japanese tourists, so the Germans and French and Italians and Brazilians and Plotnik and Ducknik had to stand upstairs, where it was nicer anyway.

They stopped at an estancia, or sheep station, for lunch.

Two Japanese men sat down at Plotnik's table. He WANTED to speak to them in Japanese, he really wanted to. But he knew he could never understand them, so he just asked them where they were from and they said Osaka and Nagoya, and Plot said something very very simple that made both gentlemen's eyes open wide, and then they changed tables.

Don't ask, he doesn't know.

The estancia prepared a huge asado of lamb and chicken and sausage and wine and all the Japanese drank beer and got a little rowdy, while Plot gorged himself on the cuts of Patagonian lamb and, if you remember, he started out by telling you he wasn't going to stay up writing tonight.

Chileans are so nice, proud and helpful at the same time,and they genuinely enjoy all the foreigners who come to their country. They make life simple. Muy amables.

8.8 is a lot of earthquake though.

The Plotniks Dodge the Earthquake

Thanks everyone for worrying, but when the gigantic earthquake hit Santiago last night, The Great Plotnik and Great Ducknik were sound asleep in Puerto Natales, some thousand or fifteen hundred miles away. There were a lot of dogs barking during the night, but two nights past, when the Plots had stayed in this same hostel dogs had been barking all night too. Around 4am the dogs stopped barking, which was pretty much when the earthquake hit Santiago, but you'd have to be asking a lot to connect any of those dots.

There is no TV where Plot and Duck are, in the Aubergo Buenos Aires in El Calafate, Argentina, a dusty overgrown nothing town that is bursting with trekkers and trekking companies and has none of the charm of Puerto Natales, but it appears that the quake was not centered in Santiago, but in Concepcion, some distance away. On the grainy TV at the Border Patrol on the Argentine border, as we waited in the long line of people officially exiting Chile (story to follow), the TV was showing news reports from breathless reporters showing the same footage over and over again, but some of it looked like it might have been downtown where the Ciudad de Vitoria Hotel is and where Plot and Duck stayed for a week.

Anyway: we're fine. We've got an internet connection and tonight Plot will start posting some fun stuff from past days. Thanks to The Great PD for being worried and I do hope someone has phoned Mummy P.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Punta Arenas Wednesday

Dear Plotnikkies, there are many photos of the Straits of Magellan to show you, and of the view of the water from the lookout above the city, but, honestly, they are all pretty dark and Plottie cannot get any wireless signal down here so he is using a (SHAME!) PC with a German keyboard and he cannot figure out how to download photos into it.

Use your imaginations: old, cold city at the bottom of South America, peopled by descendants of Yugoslavs, Germans and Chileans. Cold, cold wind, but not even close to what it will be a few months from now.

Great dowtown for those of us who love kind of grimy, well used downtowns with shabby cabbies and the smell of salt and tide.

Not one black fly.

In less than an hour the bus heads north to Puerto Natales and the two day stay in Torres del Paine National Park begins: in by van, out by zodiac boat,

We're well, sleeping like exhausted little puppies. There is whole wheat bread here. All is well.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A short, beautiful digression

No, this is not Chile, itś Isabella in New York. Papa and Bobo are far away for sure, but they brought an extra foldup suitcase for presents.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Sunday Night after Chiloe

They told the Plotniks, when they were in Santiago, that when they got to the South the fish would be spectacular, and nobody was lying. Plot and Duck just walked back to Casa Kalfu, along the dark lake amongst many Chileans and visiting Argentinians who all seem to be used to eating dinner at 11pm, and the congrio from Northern Chile that they just ate was every bit as delicious as the kingclip in 2004 in South Africa, and that is truly saying something.

That makes three spectacular fish meals in a row, with this afternoon's barbecued sheep kebab sandwiched in there between them.

First came the salmon, yesterday afternoon at the Restaurant Reloj by the plaza, and last night the amazing corvina at the Ibis, with the volcano blinking its white-capped eye over the dining table every fifteen minutes or so, and late tonight the buttery congrio at the Buenas Brasas, all three fishes grilled over wood and served with a simple sauce, tonight's with butter and capers. Here you pay for the fish, and then you pay for the sauce, and then for anything else you want, and it's not Mexico, but it's not the U.S. or Europe either.

But these picture aren't of fish, are they? It's all lamb. Only lamb.

In Chile you eat a small breakfast in the morning, toast and maybe a slice or two of cheese, and some too-sweet yogurt, and a cup of coffee, and probably a piece of raspberry kuchen. Then you go about your business until well into the afternoon, when you sit down for a meal at around two or three. This means that you're not ready for the cena, or super, until nine or ten, or tonight eleven o'clock since Plot and Duck walked first to the plaza in Puerto Varas where there was a live salsa band to listen to, before finding the Buenas Brasas restaurant.

This was after a long day. Early this morning a combi van with a young and beautiful Chilean guide named Jastra, picked Plot and Duck up at the Kalfu at 8am for the trip to the island of Chiloe, the home of the Mapuche tribe who held off the Spanish successfully for hundreds of years. This island is an hour's drive down the two lane road to a pier, and a half hour ferry from the mainland, and then you get back into the bus and keep driving.

It is usually cold and rainy on Chiloe, which has an accent on the last e so it is pronounced chee-lo-A, but today was the rare hot and sunny exception. It also turned out that today was the last day of the two day once-a-year- Costumbrista Fiesta de Chiloe, a kind of craft fair and county fair put together. Everbody in town and every town on the island was there, along with a lot of tourists and families from the mainland.

No English, no Americans. A few Brazilians, lots of Argentinians. Americans must be going somewhere else except the island of Chiloe.

It had been raining for the previous week, so the grounds were pure mud, but you slogged through it and got to the individual stands, where you could watch the men barbecuing joints of baby lamb on enormous spits over asados of hard wood, and the woman preparing the hard-to-imagine chochocas.

A chochoca starts out as a dough of flour and potatoes.. It is patted onto huge rolling pins, four feet long and two inches round, and sometimes the dough falls off the pin onto the coals, but eventually the rolling pin is full and it is placed over a pit with wood embers banked below, until the bread is browned on one side.

Then, it is somehow removed from the wood, laid flat on the table and pork chicharones are spooned onto the uncooked side.

Then the whole bread-and-pork concoction is rolled up like a very, very thick tortilla. it ends up looking more like a thick sweet roll than a savory dish, but they serve it either by itself (600 pesos - a dollar-twenty ) or with a giant chunk of barbecued lamb.

Plotnik tried one of those very greasy chochocas after he and Duck each had a lamb kebab skewer with very tender pieces of lamb next to almost inedibly tough pieces of lamb next to sausage-y pieces and also grilled onions.

The chochoca was...well, it wasn't great, but it grew on ya.

Then they walked to the next stand, whose operators were selling the same stuff, with their own asados, and chochorra mills, and their own ladies working preparing the stuff and everyone buying as much of everything as they could stuff into their mouths.

There were also local artesanial chocolatiers. Yup. Great stuff too.

There were local wool products -- sweaters, gloves, caps etc., but the style of weaving on Chiloe is so coarse that Duck only bought two things -- both for you, Beezy Weezy. Plot found his obligatory smoked chile so he's got three packets which should last until 2049.

They did have bbq salmon as well, but the Chilotos seemed to be selling 90% lamb, 8% pork and 2% salmon. People walked and ate and talked and used their fingers to emphasize everything, all while stuffing down a huge chochoca, and everyone's feet got covered in mud, and the gigantic communal curanto barbecue ended up in a pile of clam and oyster shells.

Plot snoozed in the sunny combi going home, and then it was time to wash out some clothes and get ready to go dancing.

There wasn't any dancing, as it turned out -- 'way too many people in the street and the band too far away. But there was great fish and there will probably be a lot more in days to come.

The Hot Cherry

(The Hot Cherry is where the guide says the salmon hatch: in the fish hot cherry.)

Plot and Duck have just drunk a bottle of Concha y Toro Chilean chardonnay, and they don't usually like chardonnay but this one was really good. Carmen, the wife of the husband-and-wife couple who run Hotel Kalfu in Puerto Varas prepared a special cena tonight, consisting of mariscos -- shellfish -- mussels in dill and cream, crab and local clams in a parmesan crust, shrimp in butter and garlic, and something else Plot is forgetting right now because of the chardonnay.

This came after a day of travel overkill, which is to say too much time on a bus and too much time on a catamaran crossing a lake to see some astoundingly beautiful scenery, but -- going there would have been great. Going there and then turning around a few hours later and coming back was a bit much.

Lago Todos los Santos is a gorgeous lake all right -- the Orsono volcano above, a river crashing over rocks, a glacial valley, and the water green and deep. The feeling is like Yosemite, without Half Dome but with a few volcanoes -- the great meadow is cattails and pampas grass and the animals are not deer but llamas. And there is no commercial sense whatsoever. The Argentine border is only a few miles away and you'd think there would be a military since the two countries really don't like each other very much, but there is none. And barely any people visit the national park.

So maybe the little village of Peulla is no Yosemite Valley, but you know -- there is something solid to say about a place 75% as beautiful with NO people, no graffiti, no coke cans, no beat boxes and tvs and campers and vans, no paper plate and plastic graffiti, no beer bottle garbage, no signs at all of any human presence. Plot and Duck lay in a spot that in America would have had "Jose loves Maria" spray painted all over the trees, and here in Chile there was...nothing. Just trees and rocks and water.

Sometimes Plot thinks about American pop culture and values and it just makes him sad.

They hiked to an absolutely beautiful spot by a waterfall and sat down on the rocks and soaked in the sunlight. And then they went back and got back on the boat and got off the boat and got onto the bus and got off the bus and ended up at the plaza in Puerto Varas and when they walked back to Casa Kalfu they set in motion the bottle of chardonnay and platter of delicious mariscos.

The Great Plotnik and The Great Ducknik are feeling contented tonight. Tomorrow you'll hear from the two World Travelers from Punta Arenas, Chile, at the bottom of South America. The weather here has been so good they know they will have to pay for it somewhere. It might be there.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

A Plush Bus, Pablo Neruda and a Volcano

Plotnik wishes he could show the photo he didn't take of the main bus station in Santiago last night, but to take that picture he would have had to reach onto his belt to get his camera out and this was just not going to happen, with at least 10,000 people running in every direction to catch their bus, probably 9,000 who knew what gate they were looking for, or even where the gates were, but that left the other thousand, including Plotnik and Ducknik, with their packs on their backs and wheeling their stupidly heavy roller bags, carrying their ave con palta sandwiches (chicken and avocado), who did not know where they were going and had just realized that the kid cab driver had dropped them not at the terminal where the Tur-Bus long distance coaches left from, but at the OTHER terminal a block or two away, with twenty minutes until the bus was scheduled to leave and a large river of humans with wheeled weapons in the way.

So no time for a picture, and barely time to get to the bus. But, they made it.

And the bus was the most comfortable conveyance ever. The Chileans have long distance bus service down pat. The Plotniks bought the semi-cama, which means their really wide and plush seats reclined more than half way down, and they were downstairs with only seven or eight other people. It costs double -- $80+ bucks for a trip just about equal in distance from Saint Plotniko to San Diego, but it was money well spent, and probably 1/2 to 1/3 of an airline ticket.

Plot kept waking up and looking out the window -- in the blackness there wasn't much to see but early this morning the countryside had turned green, and the cattle had come out to graze. At 9am, the conductor tapped Duck on the shoulder and said: "Puerto Varas." The bus pulled into the small, wooden Puerto Varas station on exact schedule and Plot and Duck got their suitcases and did the usual stand around. What do we do do now?

There was one cab out front. Duck had to use the rest room. Plot saw that cab waiting and thought about Duck in the rest room. By the time she came out, the cab had been grabbed by a group of Brazilians. The town has two cabs. So Plot and Duck decided to walk to town, which they thought they could see, or at least they could see the lake on which the town was supposed to be, down at the end of the road a few blocks away.

But as Pablo Neruda would have said, had he been standing with them: "All life is an illusion. Only my love for you is true, Dear." Or something like that. Pablo Neruda discovered that writing and selling romantic love poems could buy you a lot of houses and probably counteract being fat and bald.

But Neruda did know how to live. He had three houses and three women that he wrote poems about. Plot and Duck saw his second house yesterday in Santiago and it is just as cool as cool gets. But when the military took over they sacked it. Why? Because Neruda was a communist, like all his artist friends -- Diego Rivera, Pablo Picasso, all of 'em. The military never gets it.

Why is Plotnik telling you this? Because he was walking down the road thinking about Neruda's second house when the SECOND town cabbie saw the Plotniks! He spun around to give them a lift and Dios Bendiga a Pablo Neruda.

It's cold in the Lake Country of Puerto Varas. Lakes, see. And lots of wind. The Plots drove by the lake, which looks a little like a huge Lake Arrowhead surrounded by German villas. A few minutes later they rolled up in front of Casa Kalfu, and Señor Horacio Bovolo, who Plotnik had been writing to on the internet, was waiting with open arms.

With breakfast! With whole wheat bread! "Ah ha! We made it to Hippie Country!" said Plotnik, happy as a weevil in a bin of granola.

And they've got these volcanoes here.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Valparaiso: My House is Made of Air and My Chair is Made of Clouds

Pablo Neruda said that. Valparaiso, wow, Valparaiso. It's sort of like Sausalito, maybe, fifty years ago, but no, it's 'way bigger than Sausalito, and it's got a working harbor not a plaything harbor. Valparaiso is a collection of hills linked together with secret stairways and winding lanes and funiculars leading down to the commercial district below. Every other building is either a bar or an art gallery or a coffee house and none of them are marked very well and, when you get inside, they all feel a little like Berkeley and a little like Paris, and they also feel like if they have another big earthquake everything is coming right down.

The funiculars are old and delapidated and an old lady sits at the bottom and collects either 100 pesos or 300 pesos to go up to the poorer or richer hill.

There are old sailors asleep on benches next to the monument to the martyrs of the Chilean Navy.

Every blank wall has a mural on it, every fence a lemon tree or bougainvillea spilling over it. Plotnik gets the sense he could live here, not for too long, but for long enough. Perfect climate, sense of profound boho and the beaches of Viña del Mar just up the way. And hour and a half from Santiago but 'way further away than that.

Oscar Squella won 25,000 Plotnik Bonus Points today for taking his whole day to drive Plot and Duck to and around Valpo. A night at Plotnik World Headquarters costs 1,000 Plotnik Bonus Points and comes with Breakfast.

What a great hotel the Ciudad de Vitoria is! And cheap! And accidental! Plot and Duck have taken to drinking their coffee in the room so they can brew and drink their own Saint Plotniko blend. They borrowed two coffee cups from the breakfast room upstairs, and now, every day when they come back to the room, the cups have been washed and set out like this:

They're gonna miss this place.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Sore Feet: Santiago 2-17-09

Between this (churrasco Italiano sandwich -- beef, tomato and avocado)

and this (razorback clams parmesana) today

The Great Plotnik's feet got really hot and his temper sour. Tight shins, burning toes, Plot and Duck have been walking too much on concrete. Plotnik should never be around other people when he has hot, sore feet.

Tonight, the man at the hotel gave them excellent directions to get to the Bella Vista neighborhood. He said when you get to the bridge over the river, turn left.

But when they got to the bridge, it looked too small, so they kept walking until they got to the second bridge. When they crossed the river Plotnik immediately realized he'd screwed up the directions again, and his feet and his temper got even more miserable.

Luckily, The Great Ducknik is the greatest travel companion ever. She said "Honey, you look hot. Let's take a cab." It took a few bucks and three minutes to correct the mistake Plot would have agonized and grumbled over for the fifteen minutes it would have taken them to walk back. He NEVER would have allowed himself to take a cab because it was HIS mistake, see. But Duck knows. If you ever need to take a trip, Duck's your girl.

Oscar, Alejandra and Agata are doing well -- on the surface, anyway, it seems a million times easier to live here. But Oscar hopes to someday come back to live in San Francisco. People are weird.

Tomorrow we're off to Valparaiso, the San Francisco of the South, supposedly. In fact, in the heyday of the clipper ships, both seaports were tied quite closely, as both were the principal ports on the West Coast of the Americas for the ships that sailed around the horn. In fact, Valparaiso was even known as "Pancho." Pancho is the Spanish diminuitive nickname for people named Francisco -- like Francisco "Pancho" Villa. So San Francisco and Valparaiso were Frankie and Little Frankie.

Then they finished the Panama Canal and that pretty much took care of Valparaiso. And both cities had devastating earthquakes in 1906. Valpo is said to be the most unique city in South America. We'll let you know tomorrow.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A Day of History and An Old Friend in Santiago

The Great Ducknik took this photo this morning of the Main Cathedral in Santiago reflected on the glass of the new office tower across the street. They are tearing down everything old in this city as fast as they can, and putting up tower after shopping center after office complex. It's a little like Singapore a generation ago.

To us it's a shame, but to the Chileans it seems to be a necessity. They are trying so hard to erase the memories of General Pinochet, who many here say was the very worst of all the South American dictators of the last fifty years.

But they also say Pinochet, who killed and disappeared so many innocent people, was the only dictator whose reign brought economic prosperity to the country, and whose transfer back to civilian rule, almost twenty years later, was peaceful and without incident.

It's hard to know how to deal with that for we Americans who see black and white and can almost never relate to all that lies in between. Whatever the many truths are, the Victor Jara Foundation still has their building on Brazil Street. Victor Jara was a Chilean folk singer who was murdered by the government in 1973 and whose legacy is probably stronger now that it ever was.

Chile is also red and blue but we're talking about red subway trains and blue subway trains.

After a very long walk to the Victor Jara center, which was a story all in itself
because you can't get people to tell you where the place is -- they don't want to talk about it, even to give directions, it seems -- Plot and Duck finally got to hook up with The Great PD's friend and one time roommate in Santa Cruz Oscar Squella. Oscar is a Chilean artist who is back in Santiago now. The last time Plot and Duck saw him was at PD and 5H's wedding.

He has a year and a half old baby daughter now, Agata Marina. Here is how Papa drew his little girl.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Santiago 2-15: The Unfortunate Guitarist

In the main cathedral in downtown Santiago, a few blocks from The Ciudad de Vitoria Hotel where Plot and Duck are now staying...

This altar is pure silver.

This one is pure alerce wood.

In the mercado central, also downtown, these tourists are happy because the menu is nothing but local seafood -- they have just ordered shrimp a la plancha and grilled congrio.

Man, each vacation the boy's hair gets whiter and whiter.

While Plot and Duck were eating their lunch, on the second floor looking down at the main floor of the market below, they had a lot of fun guessing where each couple might be from -- ha ha, they must be English. Ha ha, those two are gringos for sure.

This couple who had ordered the King Crab had to be from France, Germany or England -- she ate with her left hand, and fork upside down, which made her European, and his hat made them English or German but there was a bottle of wine on the table so that made them probably French.

But then came a moment Plotnik only tells you about because you know he has been in the position of musicians like these many times. You will forgive his lack of polite discretion in the following matter.

He also vows not to write in this blog every day, because he thinks it is kind of pathetic to be on vacation and keep blogging. Actually, he probably will keep blogging but he wants you to know he recognizes the pathology.

Anyway, these three guitarists were walking around through the tables, singing songs and attempting to cadge tips from the people eating their crabs and lobsters. They ended one song on a particularly long, full-throated and beautiful three part harmony...

...let us put this with all due constraint and compassion, adding only that Plotnik was directly above them and was able to view what followed with true clarity. It is also true that he just about choked on his water when the guy in the blue shirt turned to his left and sneezed like a pinchi cabron.

This was no puny little American sneeze, it was not even a true Plotnik Sneeze, it was the Sneeze of September 18, that is the Sneeze that brought Independence to Chile.

Projectiles issued from the poor bastard's nose. And not just puny little projectiles. Plot won't mention the color, but he'll hint at it below. The effluent covered the man's guitar, and his glasses, and his pants, and probably ended up on the shoes of the woman that you see next to the dude in the white cap. The other two troubadors kept holding their note, but turned backwards to stare hard at their third compañero.

The guy ran away.

He sneezed again. This one wasn't so bad, but, see, now everybody was watching.

He ran under the overhang, sweat and embarrassment covering his face, and Plotnik felt for him. Still, for the sake of journalistic integrity, he then repeated the story to everyone around him, who also found it quite entertaining.

Reporting live from Santiago de Chile, this is El Gran Plotnik with local color, which was kind of like lapis lazuli.