Si Me Ven: Los Penguinos!

So it’s Si Me Ven, not si me ren, but we’re still doing a lot of walking! And what’s really cool is, so were the penguins. My friend and I went on an ecoturismo excursion to the three islands off the northern part of Chile, near La Serena, called the Humboldt Penguin Preserve. They house 80% of the world’s Humboldt Penguin population.

(I don’t know the difference between a Humboldt and the others.)

Here are the photos of our day driving north, going out on the boat, seeing the penguins, and then, because (as the guide said) some of us must have been living right, we also saw a sea otter, nursing sea lion pups, a sea lion fight between father and son (well, I am a Quaker, so that didn’t feel so lucky, but there you go) and two humpback whales.

As the guide said, “This has been an exceptional day.”

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It’s kind of annoying that Cami looks adorable no matter what she wears – including, in this case, a crocheted skull cap and a life vest. But then, we’ve been friends a long time, so I accept this.

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I had no idea that sea gulls nested in sand. Her husband stood nearby, honking at us in an unfriendly way, so I only snatched one shot. I didn’t want to stress him out too much.

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It is called Camel Rock – well, yes.

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That is a sea otter swimming. At first we thought it might be the only wildlife we saw besides cormorants and sea gulls, but the guides knew what they were doing. You can walk on only one of the three islands that make up the preserve. They give you an hour to walk around, then take you to see the penguins and stuff. So everyone on the island was getting all bummed out at not seeing anything much, and then got happy from being taken to the best viewing spots. Good strategy! Isla del Damas 036

Pretty view of the cliffs, pretty view of the cliffs. and then…..?????????? Isla del Damas 046

“Hola! Que pasa?” The guide said he was a teenager. ?????????? ?????????? ??????????Then came the boobies. Yes, that’s what they are called. They were still nesting, didn’t have babies yet.

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And then, penguins, penguins, and more penguins!??????????

We rounded the corner, and there was a mama with her two baby sea lions. The one below is nursing. She was lying down, but as we came around the corner she lifted her head and then stroked the baby, as if saying, “This is my daughter; isn’t she lovely? Say hello to the nice tourists, dear.”?????????? ?????????? ??????????

And more penguins. My first time seeing them in the wild. I was enchanted.??????????

They took us in this cave to show us the minerals and coral.??????????

It is very hard to photograph coral in the dark in a moving boat. They’d asked us not to use flash with the wildlife because it startled them, so I forgot to use it in the cave. This coral was about the size of my head.??????????

Cormorants, and that white stuff is cormorant crap. (Guana, they calls it, and they use it to build their nests. It is about 20 degrees warmer in the nest than outside because of the guano. A mother’s love… but still, guano is crap. I dunno….)??????????

We rounded the corner and were snapping shots of another mama and baby when the guide at the back of the boat started laughing and said something in Spanish. The guide at the front said in English, “There is a sea otter below the lions. This is very unusual. And it is being exceptionally cute.” It was on its back pawing the air at first. You have to look pretty hard to see it in these photos.

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This is her preparing to slip back into the water. The boat made her a little nervous.Isla del Damas 110

I could not stop being charmed by the penguins. Suddenly they were everywhere. Isla del Damas 121

This is “Big Daddy” of the next harem of sea lions.Isla del Damas 125

And this is “Big Daddy” explaining to his son why he would be moving out soon, according to our guide. Apparently son was getting a little too big for his britches.Isla del Damas 131

And just when we thought it couldn’t get nicer, this happened. This is when the guide said, “Someone on this boat has been living right.” Humpback WhaleIsla del Damas 139

The guide didn’t want to get too close to keep from stressing him out. That’s his tale just as he flipped it at us. He stayed a good five minutes.Isla del Damas 144

And then we went home and had a glass of wine. Does it get any better?!Isla del Damas 146

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The Monday Book: TIME WAS SOFT THERE by Jeremy Mercer

“In a place like Paris, the air is so thick with dreams they clog the streets and take all the good tables at the cafés. Poets and writers, models and designers, painters and sculptors, actors and directors, lovers and escapists, they flock to the City of Lights. That night at Polly’s, the table spilled over with the rapture of pilgrims who have found their temple. That night, among new friends and safe at Shakespeare and Company, I felt it too. Hope is a most beautiful drug.”

mercerJack and I got the idea for using shopsitters at our place – people who receive free room and board in return for living there – from Shakespeare and Co. This is a famous bookstore across from Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.

On a listserv of bookshop owners, talk turned to books about bookstores. (I received ego strokes, and then we went on.) Mercer stayed at the shop for some time, watching the ebb and flow of people who ranged from down and outs to up and comings. He also spent significant time with George, the shop owner (although not its founder – Sylvia Beach did that) and some of the regulars.

Mercer’s book is in many ways journalistic, showing his roots as a true crime writer. Yet he portrays the under humanity so simply with his “this is what happened” prose. One of the blurbs on the back calls the book a romanticized version of the bum’s life, but I don’t agree. The book is far less romantic than wistful.

Among the things Mercer does is get George’s daughter to visit, and ultimately secure the shop’s future. It has a fascinating history: closed during the Nazi Era, considered a hothouse of sedition in the 1960s student riots, monitored by the CIA in the 1990s if George is to be believed.

There are a couple of startling moments: an ethnic hate crime results in murder and Mercer is less concerned about the murder than the police sniffing around a bookstore full of people with improper visas to be in France. He seems more concerned when the 84-year-old George gets engaged to 20-year-old shop worker Eva. That kind of thing. It all just sails past, along with the adorable moments of scorn for “30 minute tourists” who just want to stick their head in the door because the place is famous, having no understanding of or interest in its true ethos.

And there’s a very funny cynicism to the scheme three residents come up with, to sit and write in front of the tourists and sell the pages, story by short story. The description of this was, quite frankly, laugh out loud funny.

This isn’t a story about books, but about the bookstore itself, its inhabitants, and its purpose. Mercer’s final paragraph is a good summation: “In the end, yes, it is a famous bookstore and, yes, it is of no small literary importance. But more than anything, Shakespeare and Company is a refuge, like the church across the river. A place where the owner allows everyone to take what they need and give what they can.”  

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Si Me Ren: The Colors of Valparaiso

In a city where graffiti is illegal, it is also an art form? Yeah, welcome to Chile.

Specifically, to Valparaiso, where the walls are covered with murals and gang tags. It is illegal to write on walls in the city, but if a building owner wants his wall decorated, up and coming artists vie for the exposure. Some are instantly recognizable for their signature art elements (hummingbirds, dolls, patchworks, etc.). Others are trying to break into the bohemian art scene that thrives here, so they offer to paint for the cost of materials.

Property owners want their walls done in order to avoid gang graffiti, because gangs respect the artists. So, get your walls colorful, before somebody else does. Here are some of the great pieces we saw today on our walking tour, guided by the lovely Ignatio (red striped shirt):

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Some murals are placed so that you can only see them from certain hilltops or buildings. The one above is the most famous of the Hidden Murals.Chile Valparaiso 021

Our guide Ignatio explaining the left-to-right mural, which displays Northern Andean culture on the left, and the Mapichu Southern culture on the right.Chile Valparaiso 022 Chile Valparaiso 023 Chile Valparaiso 032

There were cats in a lot of the murals and graffiti.Chile Valparaiso 038 Chile Valparaiso 039

But I did find an owl for Kelley.Chile Valparaiso 048

Graffiti is actually illegal in Chile, so the people who own buildings have to invite mural artists to paint on them. They do this to avoid gang graffiti like that shown in the signatures here. Those are “tags” or attacks. Gangs tend to respect the art installments, and building owners don’t want their place covered in stuff like that, so they let artist cover them instead. Up-and-coming muralists work for the price of their paint, until they get known in this Bohemian Paradise.Chile Valparaiso 049 Chile Valparaiso 050 Chile Valparaiso 055

And once an artists gets known, he, or she, or they, get invited to do a great big place like this for a lot of money. (This one depicts winter into spring.)Chile Valparaiso 057 Chile Valparaiso 060 Chile Valparaiso 061 Chile Valparaiso 066

^Well, that clears that up. (It says, “You are here.”)Chile Valparaiso 067 Chile Valparaiso 069

Fisherman are always painted with stigmata or cuts, to show the troubles in the industry. It’s a signature of the local art form.Chile Valparaiso 070 Chile Valparaiso 071

The last one isn’t graffiti only, but also the wooden horse in the yard where we ate pizzas our first night here. The graffiti artist who did this place also did the horse. Please note toilet in lower right of photo. I feel trendy. :] (For those who haven’t seen it, our bookstore has a toilet on the front lawn with flowers growing out of it.)Chile Valparaiso 072

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SI ME REN: Santiago to Valpariaso

Si Me Ren is a children’s Christmas song in Spanish. It roughly translates to “if you see me walking by.” And that’s what we’ve done a lot of since arriving in Chile: walking.

More words later, but here in photos are the things we’ve been seeing and doing.

We started our morning with a visit to Castille Hidalgo, in downtown Santiago. Here’s my friend Cami (we are traveling with Cami and her husband Bill). But take a look over Cami’s shoulder for the ultimate photobomb. You couldn’t pay me enough money to do that.

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This is a statue commemorating the Mapuche people.chile 005

chile 012The circle garden at the palace, and below, Jack in the market. That’s mosaic made of broken tiles and glass.

chile 019Stray dogs are everywhere in Chile, for the most part looked after in a kind of benevolent neglect by the people. This one was working the palace grounds. chile 002

It took me about five minutes to find a cat at the marketplace. Cats tend not to be strays. This one’s name was Sol, and he worked at a jewelry booth.chile 023

It took me about three minutes to find wool at the market. On the bus ride out of Santiago to Valparaiso, I took advantage of the purchase.chile 025

We booked a place to stay via Air B&B, and it turned out to be absolutely lovely, in a quirky, Bohemian area of this seaside town. We ate pizzas out of that oven, made by the guy who did those murals.

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And here are the pizzas, as beautiful as his artwork.chile pizzas

This is what the area looks like. Note the creepy baby that is the view from one of our windows. The nice seaside pic is out the other window. The blond kid Jack is talking to is from Switzerland. He’s been woofing in Chile for a few months.

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This was actually on the drive up from Santiago, a bit out of order, but there you go. Chile isn’t about order and schedules much. :] More photos later, and we need to tell you the stories that go with some of them, but for now, these pictures will have to offer 1,000 words each. :]chile countryside

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K.U.T.E (Kittens United Terrorizing Everyone)

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Scarlett, Ready to Address her Subjects

Shopsitter Jenny here. I may not have much time, so listen closely. I’ve been taken hostage by a group known only to me as K.U.T.E. I don’t know exactly what they want, but I seem to be completely in their thrall. I’ve been given the tasks of meal preparation, litter box clean up, and cuddling. The strange part is, I don’t mind at all. I’m HAPPY to do it. The hold they have over me is almost…supernatural. All one of them has to do is wave a tiny paw, or sneeze a mini achoo, and I’m ready to do their bidding. I would have written for help sooner, but the one they call Scarlett was sitting on the computer all morning looking at me with big dewy eyes. I was powerless to move her. Fortunately, they seem to nap en masse, so I am now able to send out my plea. Come. Get. A. Kitten. Save me from the overwhelming power of K.U.T.E. I fear that one (or more!) of them will convince me to bring them home to New York, and then, not only will K.U.T.E have the opportunity to spread its devastating culture of kitten kisses, but my mother will kill me!

A quick run down of the players…

Scarlett. Sister to Rhett. Cuteness exceeds tolerable levels with this one. Seems to be a bit of a ringleader.

Rhett. Scarlett’s brother. Rhett’s metaphorical tee-shirt reads, I’d Rather be Lounging.

Henry Dashwood. Dash for short. Exceptionally handsome chap. A little shy, but snuggly and playful when he warms up. Adorable kitten antics, or up to something? You decide.

Hadley. Little, but mighty, with a deceptively sweet face…Oh geez! Here she comes! She’s climbing up my pant leg! SHE’S GOING FOR MY NECK!

She’s…kissing my cheek.

What’s that you say Hadley? You want your prawns peeled and served with caviar? Why certainly. Let me take care of that for you.

 

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The Monday Book: WHERE’D YOU GO BERNADETTE? by Maria Semple

Jack guest blogs the Monday book this week

I loved this novel and read it right through in one day. Now that is unusual for me, because I tend towards non-fiction and the few novels I do read are usually whodunnits. An exception to that would be Alexander McCall Smith, author of the No. 1 Ladies Detective and the Scotland Street series. That may be a clue to why I enjoyed this so much. Semple has the same great way of capturing a sense of place. For McCall Smith it’s Botswana and middle-class Edinburgh and for Semple it’s Seattle and Antarctica!

The first half of the book seems like a disconnected series of e-mails, school reports and anonymous commentary and I was just beginning to question where it was all leading when – whoosh – it all converged and began making a different kind of sense.

I loved the way Semple nails her characters while also teasing the reader with a whole host of really bizarre settings – Microsoft, the crazy house in Seattle, Antarctica and high powered architecture.

I certainly don’t want to spoil the story for anyone, but I was completely hooked and couldn’t put this book down. Wendy suggested that it was a ‘young adult’ book, and I suppose it might be but that shouldn’t put anyone off reading it.

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Jack’s Travels

chileI count myself very fortunate to have had the opportunity to travel widely during my life, and mostly at little cost for various reasons. When I was a part of the folk band ‘Heritage’ from the late ’70s through the early ’90s we toured in France, Germany, Italy and Switzerland. Then just before and after my retirement from the college in Scotland where I worked for twenty years, I visited Romania and Vietnam on business. Of course I came over here to the US every year from the late ’80s until I moved here permanently, and visited Newfoundland when Wendy was studying there.
I really enjoyed all of that, made some good friends, and experienced wonderful cultures that I would never have known much about otherwise.
Every year, of course, I get to go back to Scotland at the end of June when I lead a small group tour of my homeland. So I get around. But next Wednesday I’ll be going to a part of the world I’ve never been to – South America!
Our good friends Cami and Bill are coming to the end of an extended stay in Chile, thanks to a Fulbright Scholarship, we will be joining them for their last few days and then staying on for a few more on our own. I know very little about this part of the world, other than something of the troubled politics of the 20th Century.
If I can I’ll blog about my impressions while we’re there. Who knows, perhaps the Chilean tourism industry will employ me to lead tours there! (A guy can dream….)

 

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