Friday, November 25, 2011

Still chilling in Chile

I had a long run yesterday morning, again with Lalo accompanying me on his bike. This time we headed north along the coast towards Vina del Mar. Once we got out of Valpo city we were alongside the sea and beaches. Vina is Chile's main tourist strip; its Riviera. There were a lot of tradespeople beavering away in Vina, readying the place for the summer. Lalo and I had ice cream (me) and coffee and croissants (him) at our turnaround point. All up, about 14–15 km. Very enjoyable.

I like to get into a routine and have really enjoyed the last few days here.

At breakfast yesterday I met an English couple, Carole and Peter, who are full-time travellers. Like me, they have sold up at home and just travel. We had lots of stories to share. I envy them their next destination: six days along the Patagonian coastline by steamer.

I'm packed up and moving to Santiago today, with the help of Lalo and Maria.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Loving the Chile burghers

After a bumpy start to my extended stay in Chile this time last week, I'm back in my normal positive state of mind. This has come about because special people keep cropping up and taking me under their wings. At Hotel Da Vinci in Valparaiso, Enrico, Natalie, Luis and others have become my Valpo family. I'm also now into a routine, which always gives me pleasure in a new place.

I'll be moving to Santiago later this week, which plan was set in place just a few days after I was robbed. I was feeling vulnerable and limited in what I could do here, but that has now changed. Never mind: I'll be leaving here feeling positive about the place, and hopefully I'll have a chance to meet again with the friends I've made here.

I'll be renting a small apartment in an area of Santiago that is opposite a park where I can run and near to art galleries, cafes and restaurants, and the metro. It seems I was meant to enquire about this apartment! The owner and her family have literally adopted me. P lives in Washington, and the apartment is managed on her behalf by her mum, Maria and Dad, Lalo. They took me out to lunch here on Sunday, and are such lovely people. Lalo lives in Valpo; Maria is in Santiago but was visiting Valpo with their grandson. Yesterday and today, Lalo rode beside me on his bike while I ran along the coast road for some hill training. These were my first runs in two weeks, and without his generosity I may not have run here at all. Maria is a hoot, and just two years older than I am. P will be visiting Santiago next month. She is a runner also, so we are planning to run together.

While I was waiting for Lalo this morning I got chatting with a young New Zealand backpacker who was waiting for a bus to the main station. Rachael came to Chile for a friend's wedding, and has taken the opportunity to travel for a month in Peru, Argentina and Chile. There's nothing unusual about that, except for the fact that she is travelling with her two-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Lily, on her hip!

There are opportunistic, dishonest people everywhere; but everyone I've met since that first afternoon in Valpo has been friendly, kind, thoughtful and generous - or just plain awesome.

If I still had a camera I would be photographing the urban art, for which Valparaiso is famous. It's a city made for exploring on foot.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Vexed in Valparaiso, Chile

Belize (continued)

After working all day on Saturday I decided to spend my last day in Belize on Caye Caulker, which is one of the small islands that line the barrier reef that is one of the great attractions of this part of the Caribbean. I took two small planes and then a golf cart taxi to the SeaBreeze guesthouse at the end of the sandy main road that runs through the township. It wasn't cheap, but it was sort of funky in a backpacker way; I could handle that. But I couldn't get the promised reliable internet access, and then there was no water. I decided to pull the plug and go straight to Belize City ready for my flight to Chile on Monday. I checked out of the hotel I'd just checked into and took a water taxi to the mainland, where a major chain hotel was the only viable option. I couldn't get reliable internet access there, either, so I was already in a bad mood when I discovered my room was double the rate they had quoted over the phone. If I feel I've been mucked about and ripped off, I can turn into The Guest From Hell, which is what happened at The Radisson Belize City. I'm sure Belize, and especially the islands, can be appealing, but apart from offering the chance to catch up with an old friend the place didn't do much for me.

Valparaiso, Chile

I flew into Santiago on Tuesday morning after making my connection back in Miami. (Be warned: Getting a connecting international flight after flying into Miami from outside the US is not to be confused with being "in transit".) I'd arranged a car and driver to meet me in Santiago and bring me to Valparaiso, where I had booked a long stay at Hotel da Vinci in the expectation that I'd love Valpo and would be comfortable here while I focused on a heavy workload over the next month or two or three.

Within a few hours, while I was walking around getting my bearings, I was robbed in a nearby street by three young men who suddenly surrounded me. Before I could fully grasp what was happening, one of them grabbed my shoulder bag and yanked it hard, breaking the strap. I screamed and shouted to people further up the street to grab them as they ran past, but they got away and disappeared around a corner. The bag contained a credit card, debit card, cash, my iPhone, camera, keys and a security device for my Hong Kong bank account. I was shaking in shock.

When I got back to my hotel, Enrico the owner was dealing with some new guests one of whom had also been robbed. Enrico, the other staff here (Natalie, Daniel, Luis) and this bunch of nine women from the US were a wonderful support for me. Marsha, Tracy, Barbara (whose stolen bag also contained her passport), Betsy, Edwinna, Dee, Kris, Linda and another Barbara asked me to join them for dinner at a nearby restaurant after I'd given a statement to the police, who came to the hotel. Marsha lives in Northern Chile, and Tracy (a novelist) lives in Peru. The others mainly live in New Mexico and Arizona. They are connected by various networks and were just finishing a trip together through Chile guided by Betsy.

Yesterday morning, Enrico took me to the police station to put my statement in writing. He knows just how it feels: he was robbed just after he arrived in Chile from Italy a few years ago.

The experience has spoiled Valpo for me, and I'm yet to decide where I'll go after I replace my cards. My first choice would be to return to New York, but I need answers to questions about my visa status before I can decide to go that route.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Mosquito Coast: Belize

I'm spending five days in Central America as a bit of a breather between New York and my next long-stay destination, Chile.

I flew in on Wednesday. Each of the four planes I took from La Guardia in Queens, NY to Corozal in Belize via Miami and Belize City got progressively smaller, until the last one, from San Pedro in the island chain offshore from the mainland, had room for just me, the pilot and a couple from Tombstone, Arizona. We are on the Caribbean coast, so it all looks very tropical. Belize is a developing country, so it's also very ramshackle.

My main reason for choosing this particular place for a break was to see an old friend from my years in Hong Kong. Sue F and I last caught up in 1996, during a quick visit I made to HK that year. She retired to Portugal and then to Belize, and is now moving on to Guatemala. We had dinner here at my resort hotel, The Almond Tree, the night I arrived. On Thursday I did some work, then met Sue, her daughter Kim and K's partner Mark, for lunch at Blue's, a lovely place a short walk north along the bay.

Yesterday we drove to Orange Walk Town, from where we travelled upriver by small boat for about 90 minutes to the site of some ancient Mayan ruins at Lamanai. Saw some stunning birds, a couple of crocs, and some spider monkeys along the river. Back to Corozal for a swim in the hotel pool and an early dinner and chat with some other guests (Patty and Michael from Washington State, and Deb and Irv from Minnesota).

I've been working all day today, catching up on some bitty jobs and clearing up loose ends before I leave on Monday for Chile.

A marathon last week in New York

My New York sojourn ended on a high note with marathon week. Frannie from Albury flew in a few days beforehand to stay with me and take part. She gained entry through the lottery. I gained entry to next year's marathon by running races :-) The unseasonal snowstorm a couple of weeks ago saw my second-to-last race cancelled, but my last one went ahead on a cold but beautiful Saturday a week ago. I was third in my age group in the 5K that went from the United Nations Building to the marathon finish line in Central Park, and Frannie was fourth just behind me!

Marathon day was stunningly beautiful. I went over to Staten Island with Fran to see her on her way to the start, then came back to Manhattan. I watched bits of the race with Joanne on 1st Avenue, where I saw Marie, Steve and Maria. Caught Maria again on 5th Avenue. I didn't see Fran at all, who finished about 15 minutes faster than she'd expected. Both she and Maria had a bad time with cramps, but they still did really well and really earned their medals.

Frannie flew out to see her daughter in the Mid-West on Monday and I packed up my New York life before flying south on Wednesday.

On other notes: During my final week I saw three one-act plays (including one by Woody Allen) on Broadway, and saw a few films as part of the NYC Documentary Film Festival: one about Charlotte Rampling, who did a Q&A afterwards; a fascinating account of the life and work of Charles and Ray Eames, which I saw with Maria; and 'Girl With Black Balloons' (about a long-term resident artist of the Chelsea Hotel). I visited the 9/11 Memorial and saw the water features that occupy the footprints of the original South and North Towers. I had four morning runs with the usual suspects, whom I'll miss incredibly over the next six months. And I joined in the NYC Marathon opening ceremony and Parade of Nations with Fran.

On my last morning I had coffee with architect Kate, with whom I have so many things in common it's uncanny. I also spent time the last week getting to know John Boy and Anne from 96th Street a little better. I'll really miss them.

Au revoir, New York!