Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Trip Prep

Since making it back to CA I've been busy getting travel plans sorted out, getting documents, cards, accounts, clothes, this and that all sorted out.

I booked my flight from Sao Paulo to Montevideo this week. I'll now be in Sao Paulo from Thurs Feb 18th- Mon Feb 22, and I squared everything away with my buddy Thiago to stay with him in SP. Also, it should be awesome, I am going to meet and spend some time with the President of the Rotary club of Itai. Rotaract Chicago is helping to build an intensive care unit in the town of Itai near Sao Paulo, for a 1 year project, that started last July and ends this coming July. It just so happens I'll be in Sao Paulo, so I thought it would be a big help to meet the president and talk about the project. we emailed a few times, and it looks like we are going to meet, he might show me his home, and take me around Sao Paulo. Awesome!

I also chatted online for a few hours with the president, Anderson, of one of the Rotaract clubs in Rio de Janeiro. I'm staying with the vp of their club, in a nice (read: rich) neighborhood of Rio, called Sao Conrado. However, the president lives in Rocinha, which is why he would not let me stay with him. Rocinha is one of the biggest Favela's in South America. They are slums/shanty towns...known to be dangerous, crowded, and have poorly constructed buildings, sometimes on the sides of the mountains. Rio is also a place of contrasts...Sao Conrado, a rich neighborhood, is basically adjacent to Rocinha, one of the poorest areas. They estimate that almost 20% of Rio's population, 1.1 million, live in favelas. In the picture below, the circle is actually Anderson's house. Anderson said he would take me to his house to meet his family & see Rocinha during my stay in Rio. I am really excited about this. I mean, I've heard alot about these favelas, how terrible and crowded they are, but to get a chance to see up front from a Rotaractor living there will be a great experience. The second picture is more of an overall view of Rocinha.

Anderson's House in Rocinha:

Overall view, Rocinha.

I also booked my flight to Easter Island. I wont make it to Chile until around March 7th or so, going to Uruguay, Buenos Aires, & Mendoza before, & after my Brazil & Peru excursions. However, I fly to Easter Island on March 15th and return March 19th. For a quick refresher from your grammar school text books, Easter Island is a Polynesian island about a 5-6 hour flight into the Pacific from Santiago. It has been a part of Chile, however since 1888, and is most famous for the hundreds of statues calle Maoi on the island. I'll probably rent a bike and trek around the island one day. You are kind of at their mercy for accomodation. I guess you can do that when its a 5 hour flight to the nearest place. I found a few hostels online, so hopefully I can book ahead. The official languages are Spanish & the local dialect, Rapa Nui, we'll see how that goes, hooray!

Some of the Maoi:

I also got lucky and was able to get a host for my 3 days in Lima, from Feb 8th-10th, through couchsurfing. He is a web developer so he makes his own schedule, and he even said it was cool that my plane arrives in Lima at 5:30 in the morning. He gave me directions, his phone number, and some advice on getting from the airport to his place, which is in Santiago de Surco, a nice neighborhood near Miraflores (known as one of the nicest in Lima). My first experience couchsurfing, although of course in Chicago I have hosted plenty of people from Europe before, and it makes for a great introduction to any city intead of just puckering up for a 5 star resort hotel and hitting the top 5 tourist sights. Current 10 day Lima forecast: Sunny & 80 degrees, all 10 days. Beach, Pisco Sour, Ceviche, here I come, haha.

Other than that, I've been getting all my loose ends tied up for travel. Cancelled my auto insurance, my Iphone ($85!!! For a plan that expires in June), bought a quad band phone so I can buy SIM cards whever I go, picked up CA license & license plates, completing my teaching english training course, and checking off a list of about 50 or more things I need to do before I leave. Certainly staying busy.

On that note, here is another cultural oddity native to Chile. It's called Cafe con Piernas (Coffee with Legs). Fast forward to about 6:10 minutes into the video, or watch the whole thing. As I have read, this was a response by some women with newfelt empowerment after Pinochet was overthrown. Curious, indeed.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Cross Country Trip

So, it took only 4 days to drive 2449 miles from Chicago-Oakland, and I must say, even with very few stops, I must say it was still quite fun, thanks in part to some good weather most of the way, and some muy bueno scenery.

The first day was cake, I just drove to St. Louis (to be proper, Eduardsville, IL) to visit some friends, a paltry 5 hours.

The second day I had a goal of Oklahoma City or maybe a little further, a good 8-10 hour drive, but somehow managed to go about 300 miles further, to Tucumcari, New Mexico. 888 total miles!. Certainly a record for 1 day. Guess you can do that when you combine gas fill ups with McDonalds drive through stops. My ass was definitely sore by stop time, the fruits of sitting in one spot for more or less 14 hours. Thank you to Pandora, 8 Disc Spanish CD set, and stitcher talk radio for making this possible....and Monster Energy.

So anyways, after 888 miles the second day, going about 700 the next day to Needles, CA, and 500 the following day was like chump change.

7 states, $208 in gas, 12 stops, and about 4 freeways the entire way (55, 44, 40, 5). A lovely trip indeed.

Here are some of my fav pictures from the trip:

Leaving Chicago

Central Illinois


Cross near Amarillo

Texas/New Mexico Sunset

New Mexico Sunrise

Mtns in Arizona:

New Mexico Pit stop (for pictures, of course)

Into California, already at least 4 hours in, near Bakersfield

Highway 5

The vehicle of choice, loaded up in Chicago.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Hot Dogs Chilean Style

Looks like I'm gonna have to serve me up one of these behemoth hot dogs when I'm in Chile! Who cares if I get a heart attack the next day, you can't go wrong with that much guac, sour cream, sauerkraut, tomatoes, etc.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Final Saturday

Well, lots has happened since my last post.

My last day of work was Friday. Quite an the odd feeling. Especially when I think that I have nowhere to be on Monday! I suppose it mostly hit me now as I sit in a room with only a desk and chair! Oh, and that little thing called lack of paycheck. But hey, it's not about the money.

Most of my furniture has been picked up by friends now. I started consolidating everything into the living room, and will throw it all into the Fit tomorrow. Heading out around noon to St. Louis to stay with a friend from Bradley. I think I'll drive to Oklahoma on Monday, somewhere in New Mexico Tuesday, Arizona or Southern California on Wednesday, and make it to Oakland on Thursday. Theres snow in the forecast for Flagstaff, so handling that in mountains should be interesting with a loaded down front wheel drive car.

On Thursday I went out to a nice lunch at Fudruckkers with a bunch of co-workers. I couldn't eat 2 lbs of burger, dangit. Wimped out and got the puny 1/2 pounder. But turnout was great, lots o' people came out to see me off. Lots of good byes Friday as well, and some awesome churros brought in by Kirk. Good bye's are weird, you never know if you'll see people again. But that invention thing called the Internet that kids use nowadays helps out a bit....like this blog.

Final Fiesta Friday was awesomeness. People from all different places showed up, Bradley, Rotaract, Theta Chi, Work, Snowboard peoples, etc, and it was fantastico seeing peoples. You know its a good send off when people start to sing the National Anthem at the height of the party (albeit after a few drinks), and ask for a speech, haha. Unfortunately, nobody had memorized the Chilean National Anthem, so we were a bit SOL on that one. Note to self: youtube Chilean National Anthem before leaving. I think a good 30 or 40 people showed up to my place, but not all stayed for the jazz action at the Green Mill. They sure cleared out my stock of homemade & leftover Argentinian wine, though.

So, I get an email the other day from the English Opens Doors program. My 'living stipend' will be a whopping 85,000 CLP (Chilean Pesos) a month. Looks like I'm already approaching a 6 figure salary in my career. Wait...that's pesos, oops. So, thats like a staggering $170/month. Anyways, they were supposed to deposit into a Chilean Bank account once a month (1Dollar=489CLP). So, this email says that due to some problems with the Chilean Bank, they are going to pay out all months in a lump sum at the end of each semester. Basically, I have to fend for myself until June or so, and then I'll get 4 months of living stipend. I'm not too worried, I've been saving up for at least a year for something like this. Plus, I'll be living with a family, and they'll be feeding me 3 meals/day, so, that covers alot of expenses right there. More of an annoyance, but I could see that being a problem for people who haven't had the chance to save up for quite some time.

I guess the hardest part of the move is leaving sooo many good peoples & friends here. Hopefully I'll make it back from time to time & visitors to CA are welcome!!

Still working on a host through couchsurfing for Lima, grrr, not much luck yet. If not, I'll just find a hostel in Miraflores, supposedly one of the good neighborhoods in Lima. My Dad dropped off my Visa application for Brazil in SF Friday, so I'll pick that up Feb 1st, just in time for my departure Feb 7th.

Well, 12 hours left. Bye bye Chicago, it's been fun.

One of my fav pics taken of Chicago, from an el overpass in the loop:

Saturday, January 9, 2010


Loose itinerary of places I'll go in 2010:

Lima, Peru (Feb 8-10)
Fly to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (Carnival! Feb 11-18)
Fly to Sao Paulo, Brazil (Visit Thiago! Feb 18-22ish)
Fly Montevideo, Uruguay (Feb 22-26ish)
Boat to Buenos Aires, Argentina (Feb 27-Mar 4ish, Tango Festival, largest in Argentina!)
Bus to Mendoza, Argentina (March 4-8ish, Fiesta de Vendemia, best wine festival in Argentina all year!)
Bus to Santiago, Chile. Pass by Aconcagua in the Andes, highest point in the western hemisphere (7000 m)!
Stay in Santiago 3 weeks until teaching Orientation begins in Santiago March 28.
Fly to Easter Island (Sometime in March)
Fly to Patagonia (Sometime in March)
Machu Piccu, Peru -July 2 week break
Lake Titicacca, Peru - July 2 week break
Colca Canyon, Peru? - July 2 week break
Arequipa, Peru??? - July 2 week break
La Paz, Bolivia - July 2 week break
Sucre, Bolivia? - -July 2 week break

I'll be living with a family somewhere within 100 miles of Valparaiso, Chile, or Antofogasta, Chile from April-end of November, then back to CA in December.

Hoping to go to the Atacama desert at some point ,the driest place on the face of the earth. Who knows where else, the map is open.

If I have money and time before life resumes, 2011:
Fly to Bangkok, Thailand
Chiang Mai, Thailand
India! (hopefully 2-4 weeks)
Laos? Phillipines (Ron, I am going to visit your family some day!!!!)?
Afghanistan (just kidding)
Who knows, where ever I feel like it at the time.

Well now, that is quite a few places. Well, you only live once. Boo Yah.

You can see where the Valparaiso and Antofogasta areas are in the map below. Sticking to the mid & north, I'm done with cold climates! Chile is divided into 15 regions, sort of like states. Each region is divided into provinces, each headed by a governor appointed by the President. There are 53 provinces in Chile.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Whittling the Days Away

Well, its snowing like crazy today. It's weird to think this could be my last snowstorm in Chicago, mostly a good thing, it's a pain in the ass, but hey, you miss what you can't have at the time. I'm sure someday I'll want to visit during winter to relive the mind numbingly painful cold, key word: VISIT. Ha.

I'll be getting my Tetanus and my Hep A shots Friday. I think I might be able to write these off on my insurance because people get these shots normally anyways. Hopefully the suckers take the bait.

Looks like I only have about 6 days left at UL. Such a crazy thought! Good, bad, ready for the next year though. One of my coworkers scheduled a lunch for Thursday the 14th with alot of the people I have worked with, the day before my last work day, so that should be fun. Definitely a good group of coworkes and a great job, I am a bit crazy to leave, but gotta do what you gotta do while you can. I also am having a adios fiesta in the city on the 15th, with some drinks at my place to get rid of all my wine, and then a stop at the bar down the street, and maybe a final visit for some live jazz at the Green Mill.

In other developments, I am still working on my 60 hour class I am taking online for ESL training. Should have it done before I leave. It's a good class and is giving me some good resources, but I still got to get behind the wheel and drive the car. I can't say I'm nervous about anything at all for the next year except the teaching! Whose going to listen to a schlep talk like me? It'll be raining spitballs. ha. I haven't been practicing much Spanish since I got back from Mexico, so I am hoping to start up a bit more the next few weeks. Gotta close my safe deposit box here in Chicago, change my oil and rotate my tires, and that should wrap up some of the final loose ends.

Maybe I'll go out and play in the snow while I still have a chance later today, ha. Oh, and book a flight to Uruguay, hooray.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Everything is coming together now!

Well, got my yellow fever jab yesterday. Needed that for my Visa to get into Brazil, since I'll be coming from Peru. If I decided to go to Bolivia I would need it to get in there as well. Thinking of possibly going to La Paz & Macchu Piccu during the 2 week break in July. Well, that will be winter I guess, not too sure what the temps will be like at that point, so I'm keepin my options open.

Passport Health also recommended Typhoid, so I got some pills for that. I just need to take 4 doses over 8 days and then I'm immune. $255 for the consulation plus Yellow & Typhoid, woooooooo, what a deal!!!! Also, I'll probably get my 2nd shot of Hep A & also a tetanus next week just in case. Just need to do a bit of internet surfing on those first. Suprisingly, for Chile, you don't really need many if any vaccines. There's no risk of malaria or most of the other mosquito diseases there. I think it has alot to do with the climate. Peru, Bolivia, and parts of Brazil are very foresty so there is a greater risk. Chile has quite a few different climates from Antarctic to Mediterannean to Desert & Mountain. They also gave me a prescription for some diahrhea(sp?) medication, but hopefully I dont get the shits! If you have a few loose stools, you just take a few over a few days and you should be shittin bricks again! I think I'll just expect to feel like crap at least once or twice with all the different types of food I'll be trying.

Also, I finally got a host for my week in Rio during Carnival! Super excited. Rotaract coming through big time. I'll be staying with the VP of one of the Rio clubs and his family. They even offered to pick me up at the airport! We've been emailing back and forth and the guy seems really nice.

Hopefully, I'll be able to stay with my Dad's friends in Uruguay, and maybe one of my co-workers friend in Lima for 3 days. I'm also staying with another Rotaractor in Sao Paulo that lived in Chicago for a bit. It's starting to come together pretty well.

Started the removal of material items so that I can pack all my belongings in my car haha. Selling most of my furniture to China Dave for bargain basement prices, my bed to a coworker for a spare bedroom, sold my skateboard, my bike to a good friend, and....well thats about all I have. Oh, one of my friends is taking most of my framed art as well.

Oh, and today at work it was announced in my section meeting that my last day is the 15th. The cat's outta the bag! Everyone seems to be pretty nice & respectful, even if they think I'm a doofus for doin what I'm doin anyways, ha.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Almost 2010!

Well, sick on New Years. Bah Humbug.... that's ok, 2010 will be an epic year full of adventure, learning, difficulty, and fun! Estoy Emocionado!!!

Finally kicked off the process of telling some co-workers today about my plans & my imminent departure. Suprisingly, not actually an easy task for me, considering I actually like working at UL, and expected a decent amount(but not all) people to be a bit stunned and als think "WTF?"...Anyhow, I only told a few people today...started with the ones I figured would say 'congrats' or 'awesome' instead of 'why?', and it more or less went that way. Figured it'll just trickle it's way around to everyone within the next few weeks.

Finally got my Schwab checking Visa fully set up today. Hooray for no foreign exchange fees or ATM fees! Should save a chunk of change over the course of a year or so.

Suppose I'm a bit nervous about my stay in Rio. My Rotaract host hasn't responded to my emails/FB messages during December, so I'm not sure whats up with that. I looked up hostel prices if it comes to that for a week in Rio during Carnival, YIKES. Talk about price gouging, but hey, people will pay. I'd love to couchsurf, but seeing as lots of people leave Rio for Carnival, and with thousands or millions of people going there for that week, I'm not too sure that will pan out well. Guess if I have to buck up a few dollars for a pricey dorm room, I'll have go for it, I don't see myself heading to Rio anytime soon otherwise.