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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

A Sad Farewell to Valparaiso (or, The Last Border Run)

On April 1st, 2013, I wrote a post called "Introducing Valparaiso" where I talked about my first impressions of Valpo and why I was so excited to be living there.

On May 2nd, 2014, my partner Jorge and I will officially leave this city, and the entire country of Chile, for a very, very long time.

Leaving Valparaiso is a mixed bag. On the one hand, it's Valparaiso. There's actually no better city in Chile for someone like me, and while I've lived here I've finished two novels, published two short non-fiction stories, maintained and/or started three blogs, and written a heck of a lot in my personal journal.

How's that for an inspiring place to live? No wonder so many artists flock here!

Furthermore, I met my love Jorge here. Under the unblinking gaze of the cerros, our relationship sputtered to life and flourished.

March 2013

March 2014

Now, over a year after meeting each other in the dim lighting of a Mexican restaurant called Taco Tony's, Jorge and I are leaving it all behind to begin anew.

We're leaving Tony's magical tacos behind, as well as the salty air, the humid winters, the perpetual roil of dogs barking in the distance, the grit of urine and trash in street corners, the breathtaking street art, the winding hills too vertical to be safe for cars, surely; the colorful dots of homes that sprawl on hillsides for eons, the Pacific Ocean, the fresh fish gutted and displayed at market, the green trolley's, the lumbering buses to Vina del Mar, the constant asados, and perhaps most importantly....our home and our friends.

One of many lunches at Pasaje Chileno

The king of the house -- and the grill!

Jorge and I not only began our relationship here, we began our home here. We found this vagabond house empty and quiet in August and 2013, and since then we have filled it with laughter, music, gatherings, art and more. We've had countless asados here, as well as art nights, wine clubs, dinner parties, Thanksgiving, Christmas, birthdays, farewell parties, welcome parties, housewarming parties and more. We've outfitted it to be our recycled, built-from-scratch haven: with found pieces from the street, upcycled washing machines turned asado grill and light fixture, a complete urban garden bearing vegetables and heavenly basil.

This bad boy bore 7 tomatoes! Best part is, I never
even planted tomato -- came from compost, baby!

Here long enough to grow a spice cabinet, too!

Maybe you're asking, Okay, so why the hell are you leaving?

That's the other side of this extremely heavy and attractive coin. In moving on from Valpo, we are paving the way to new Valpos.

Not that we strive to recreate our exact experience, or only move to cities that resemble Valpo (if that were the case, our next and only stop would be San Francisco!). But rather, we plan to continue drifting together and settling for a time in new places. Cities where we feel a connection, can start a little home, make some friends and family, and then move on to see more of the world.

Luckily, both of us have work that can be easily taken with us. As a hair stylist, Jorge is in demand wherever we go. I can't count how many people throw themselves at him once they find out he can cut or color their hair.

And me, well, the writing and non-profit gig pack up quite nicely into whatever backpack I'm using at the moment.

We are both extremely sad to leave Valparaiso, but extremely excited for the unknown adventures that await us!

During the month of May, we will be traveling through Argentina to see Jorge's family. In June, we'll hit Bolivia, and make our way up through Peru to catch a flight from Lima to the USA in mid-June. And once we take a month in the States, meeting my side of the family, then it's back to Peru to continue to passive vagabonding...

And the first city on deck is Cusco.

Goodbye, Chile! We love you, Valparaiso!

Salud to so many amazing friendships, memories, good times, 
and learning experiences in this beautiful city. 
You will forever be in our hearts.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Weather Whining and Other Truffles, Part Two: The Cold

I frequently find evidence that I create my own reality without realizing it, and then become very confused when my expectations of this false reality don't match the actual scientific facts of common reality.

The most recent example of this is when I heard the term "South America" a couple of years ago. An equation became apparent to me.

f(x) = South of the Equator + south * More South Than Ohio (near Brazil) / America of the South = WARM.


Wrong. I got to Puerto Varas in late October of 2012, ("Oh, THIS MUST BE LIKE THEIR SPRING") and found myself shivering in my winter jacket throughout all of their spring and eventual (and very shortlived) summer.




Valparaiso is 'perpetually cool'. There are no extremes -- though I'd be willing to go out on a limb and say that the carnivorous fog is extreme, and the cold humid rains are extreme because like, shouldn't there be snow, and there's not.

At the risk of sounding like a whiny weather baby (which I am), I have to confess, I am extremely ready for some freaking warmth. I'm talking, palm trees, white sands, shorts weather, warm breezes, people frolicking in the sun and rolling around in the grass.

You know, all the things I thought I'd find when I moved down here.

This oversight (or undersight?) is completely my fault. Prior to moving to Puerto Varas, which is technically, like, you know, PATAGONIA, I compared its latitude to Ohio's on a map, did a quick and incorrect weather analysis, and actually concluded, 'Hey, this will be really similar to Ohio summers.'

Ohio is in the northern equivalent of Chile's latitude box thing...
So...based on prime meridians and cartography, we can conclude
Chile and Ohio have the same climate.

Where the HELL did I get that idea? It's Patagonia, it's not the Great Lakes. There is a different set of climactic elements operating here, which create entirely different earth phenomenons. Like the Andes mountain range, restless tectonic plates, and the Pacific Ocean, to name a few.

Again, totally a victim of my own belief-creation.

And prior to the move to Valparaiso, I assumed, 'Hey, it's more north than Puerto Varas, which we know is cold now, so Valparaiso will be a lot like Ohio summers finally.'

Totally and unforgivably wrong.

Like a trip to the therapist, it's becoming very clear to me as I write this post what the main theme is. I'm pretty sure I just want to live in perpetual Ohio Summer. As does everyone else from Ohio, except those weirdos who like 10 months of cold and end up moving to Wisconsin, or Patagonia.

Chile is not the place for my warmth mission. While I have come to deeply appreciate the climates, topographies, and natural wonders of this country, I am extremely ready for a bit of weather that more closely approximates that which I was seeking in the first place.

On the plus side, come June time I'll be back in Ohio, where I fully expect to find a little bit of Ohio Summer.

This blog may or may not completely turn into my quest to approximate Ohio summers in any place that is not Ohio. Stay tuned.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Fire Clean-up in Valparaiso

You know what I've been sucking at doing lately? UPDATING THIS BLOG.

I apologize folks, especially to those of you who were waiting with bated breath to see via my blog that I had survived the recent fire in Valparaiso.

OK, that was nobody at all, but in case there was any doubt, I'M ALIVE. But here's the scoop: the fire broke out on April 12th due to a wild fire in the brushy areas at the top part of a hill. Around that date, we had been experiencing some extremely fierce winds for just a couple days or so. This fire, with that wind, quickly spread and began to engulf houses.

The houses up in those parts, however, are some of the poorest. Lacking access to water, there was no way for firefighters to connect to fight the flames, but that was only when the trucks could get up there.

Strong winds. Densely packed houses made of wood. A terribly hungry fire.

I snapped this photo of the fire on Saturday night.
Haunting, eerie glow from the flames. We counted 8 focal points.

It raged until Monday, recruiting not only every fire fighter in the city of Valparaiso (who, I should add, are all volunteer firefighters), but also helicopters and airplanes dumping water from above from both Chile and Argentina.

All told, over 12,500 people have been affected by this fire which, according to anyone you ask here, is by far the worst fire to ever hit Valparaiso.

And while it affected several of the 42 hills here, the effects have been felt by everyone. The entire night of Saturday and the whole day of Sunday saw a steady stream of ash raining onto houses throughout the city, including our patio. Any visit to the city center on those days felt similar to a post-apocalyptic movie scene. On Sunday, we saw the inky cloud of the fire drifting toward sea against the brilliantly clear blue sky.

Looking at the fire from Avenida Argentina

It has been a very painful and heartbreaking event to witness. Even though I am a foreigner, even though my house and hill were not affected, I consider Valparaiso my home. Watching the scene on Sunday brought tears to my eyes multiple times as I saw families fleeing the hills, all their belongings in duffel bags, as they sought refuge and the inevitable wait to find out just how much of everything they would lose.

Some people didn't have time to pack. And others didn't even have time to get out. This fire claimed the lives of 15 people. 

Through the time since the fire, Jorge and I have been donating money, time, and possessions. We donated every extra bit of everything in this vagabond house last Sunday. Every time we go to a particular part of the center, we donate cleaning supplies to one of the many shelters set up for the people who lost their homes. And last Friday we went up into the hills with a friend to shovel out rubble from properties.

We went higher up into the hills than I've ever been before.
I've never seen Valpo from these angles.

Assessing the damage.

Helping to dig out the burnt remains of a man's house.
We didn't know him, we just found them and offered to help.

I'm no delicate flower but I'm also not a burly woodsman. The shoveling was back breaking work. We were at it for three hours and my body hurt for days, not to mention the two shiny blisters I got from the shoveling. We made real progress there at the man's house, starting with a deep, drifting pile of ash, dust, dirt, and broken remains of his belongings. By the time we left, we had hit the earthen floor of what used to be his kitchen. The ash entered our eyes and mouths despite the face masks and sunglasses. There was no way to escape it.

Participating in the volunteer efforts and being around to see the ways in which Valparaiso has responded to this crisis has been uplifting and wholly inspiring. The city has come together in the truest sense of the word. People sprang into action from day one, and thank god, because there are so many victims of this fire.

And not just people victims either.
Here's an area for wounded strays -- they were adopting them out once
they'd been cleaned and treated.

Jorge and I after shoveling rubble last Friday. We found soot in our
nostrils and ears for at least the next two days.

Just seeing the solidarity of the portenos each and every time I leave my house is such an insanely beautiful sight. When we went on Friday, there was no lack of support among volunteers. It didn't matter where we were from, who we were with: we were there to help. Formalities weren't exchanged, only directions toward where to help and gentle questions of whether we needed water or food. Water was passed around freely as we worked, mandarin oranges and then actual packed lunches handed out by some lady, who knows where she came from or who she was with, just one of the many angels of the relief efforts.

By last Friday, reconstruction had already begun for some people. This is an effort that will continue for quite a long time. Thankfully, there are so many people to help, and so many individuals and companies alike that are giving time, money and efforts to help those affected by the catastrophe. 

Valpo won't only be fine, it will be stronger and better.