I got into Santiago some days ago. The bus ride across the Andes was incredible, and often found us freakily close to the edge of sharp drops over cliffs. I think I posted at least one picture, but it's hard to convey the "oh my god he's not going to turn in time and they don't have guardrails why don't they have guardrails oh my god we're all going to die" panic of it with a picture.
The first few nights I stayed in the city center in a hostel. I was coming back one night late for a free hostel dinner and the metro was on rush hour schedule, which meant that it skipped my stop. I got off at the next stop, ran up the stairs and found myself in a little piece of heaven. It was a humongous plaza, which was exciting enough, but all around me were people playing chess. I couldn't believe my luck, and I ended up watching them for an hour and going back each day that I was in the city. It would have been fun to play, but they were way above my level, not to mention that they would often grab the clock and scream at each other in Spanish while the other person would snatch the clock back and they would struggle over it, cursing (I think) at each other.
I also went to see Pablo Neruda's Santiago house with two girls I met on the bus that are studying abroad from Pennsylvania. It was a very pretty house with lots of neat things. His salt and pepper shakers said "Morphine" and "Marijuana." The girls were staying with a friend's Chilean grandmother. The grandmother loves a Chilean reality TV show that sounds kind of like Survivor. In the subway station we saw the guy that had been voted off the night before. He was supposedly a warrior from Easter Island. One of the girls couldn't contain herself and started kind of stuttering, chasing after him, thinking better of it, coming back, starting to talk then tearing off again. She finally came back and said to no one in particular: "What's the matter with me. I'm not myself." Pretty funny.
I've now moved out of the hostel and am staying in a house. It is the house of the parents of one of Kate's students. Lots of thanks to Kate for orchestrating it for me, and lots of thanks to Fernando Zegers and Sharon Matthews, whose house it is.
The first night it was just me in the house, so I did some reading and tried a beer I got at the supermarket. The bottle was pretty big, and the trashcan was already pretty full, and I didn't want to cram it in. So the next morning when I went to look for a place with coffee and wifi I took the bottle with me to throw away. The only place I could find was a McCafe, which is in a McDonald's and has coffee. I sat on the patio and stashed the bottle under my chair to throw away later. As I was reading, a McDonald's staffer came by, took the bottle, and asked if it was mine, if I was done with it so she could throw it away. It was about 10:30 in the morning and I had an empty liter of beer under my chair on a porch at a McDonald's. I considered trying to explain that it was indeed mine, but it was from last night, and I took it with me because I didn't want to use the trashcan at the house where I was staying. This would be a difficult situation to explain even in English, so I just told her yes, it was mine, I was done with it, gracias.
There is an incredibly nice Australian couple staying in the house as well. The man is the former commissioner of Victoria (a state in Australia) to North and South America. Over the weekend they went to stay with the former Chilean Consulate General, and next week are having the current Consulate General over for dinner. He is also responsible for bringing Victoria Bitter beer to San Francisco and bringing Costco to Australia. I mentioned that I had met the Costco CEO when I was speaking at a regents meeting, and he said "oh! Jim. No, Jeff. What is his last name..." and pulled out his blackberry to look it up. Whoah.
Sharing the house with them means that my schedule is amazing. I wake up, get coffee, read a book, read some Neruda, walk around a little in the city, eat lunch, lie in the sun with a book until I get too hot, then go for a swim. Then a little more reading, and then I join the Australians for cocktails and appetizers, then we eat dinner and have two bottles of red wine. Then he goes into his room and works on Australia's alternative energy policy, which the government apparently asked him to write a draft of.
They have also told me what they say are three important tips to being successful: 1) Be gutsy, walk into places other people don't, and once you're there don't take no for an answer. 2) Charm the secretaries. 3) Once you get the CEO secretary's number, call before business hours, because the CEO will usually be there and answer his own line.
They were ALSO kind enough to offer me a place to stay when I am in Australia, and have offered to show me the University of Melbourne. She also mentioned that one of their Australian friends, the governor of Victoria, has a throne room in his house, since they are part of the commonwealth of the queen. A THRONE room. He doesn't let anyone sit in it, although he does permit pictures to be taken of you next to it.
I'm in Santiago until the 10th, because my passport is with the Brazilian embassy getting a visa. It is going to hurt to leave, however, because the Australian couple is so amazing and because of the generosity of the family letting me stay in their house. Lots of thanks again to the Zegers, and to Kate for setting it up!