Photo Enlarge

Click on any photo in the blog for a larger version!

Day/Night 32 - VERY Interesting People - March 30, 2013

Met some interesting people today.  See if you recognize anyone in the photos...

I told him my Mom says "Hi!"

I was told by a friend at our table, after I took the following picture, that I could be ejected for taking photos.  I was surprised, as photos (like the one above) were being encouraged earlier, but I stopped immediately.  Since nobody recognized anyone above, I will include a legend to say who is who.

From left to right: Peter Schiff, Nigel Farage, Ron Paul, Jim Rogers, Jim Rickards & bodyguard in background

We were able to meet and speak briefly with each of the guys above during the weekend.  All were well-spoken, pleasant, and intelligent.  All men of passion and conviction, with remarkably similar worldviews and forecasts for the future of the world economies.  We are still soaking it all in as I write this a few days later.  If you are not familiar with these guys, feel free to click the links below to learn more:

Peter Schiff wikiPeter Schiff blogPeter Schiff radio show
Nigel Farage wikiNigel Farage website
Ron Paul wiki,  Ron Paul articles fansite
Jim Rogers wiki,  Jim Rogers website
Jim Rickards wiki,  Jim Rickards blog

The conference went on into the night, and managed to catch the last subway back to the apartment after 10PM.  There we simply crashed into a deep sleep.

Day/Night 31 - A Bit Too Much to Drink - March 29, 2013

Today is Good Friday, an enormous holiday in Chile.  We slept in a bit and found the near-total absence of traffic and traffic noise to be a pleasant change.  Took it easy around the house and at 1PM we went a few stops down the subway line to register for a conference.  Met a couple of guys there and decided to have lunch at one of the few nearby restaurants that was open.  A Japanese place, we had ceviche and teriyaki salmon.  Service was quite slow and the price was quite high.  Had good conversations with our new friends, and then back to the apartment for some wine and cheese to prepare for our third cocktail reception - this one hosted, at the W Hotel.  Drinks were good and plentiful, and there was some food as well.  The dinner restaurant was packed, so we sat at the bar with a couple from Atlanta and continued drinking.  Too much was had by all, and the subway was closed (holiday schedule), happily forcing us to stagger back a mile or so in the dark, deserted streets.  The next morning was a bit rough...

Night 30 - Dinner for Two - March 28, 2013

We arrived at the cocktail hour at 7:10PM, and it was scheduled for 6-8PM.  It was going strong, and we met some new folks and talked to folks we met the day before as well.  About 9PM we were hungry, and suggested to the couple we were talking to that dinner was in order.  As these things generally work, our party of 4 grew quickly to 7, and we marched down the street to a restaurant that one couple liked.  It was full and they wanted us to wait in the bar 20 min.  I declined, and we left the 5 to wait.  We walked a block or so and found a nice table in seconds.  It was a burger place, but they were out of burgers.  So K had a meatball sandwich and S had a roast beef sandwich.  Quite excellent, but 2 sandwiches and 4 beers cost US$50.  Such is life in the big city...

The Metro (Subway) is very smooth because it uses both horizontal and vertical pneumatic tires.

Day 30 - Hating and Loving Chile - March 28, 2013

The day started off on a bad note, finding an email from Juan Carlos sent late the night before, very politely asking why we had not bothered to mention the broken mirror in the bathroom, and WTF had happened to do so much damage?  I responded (truthfully) that the chaos surrounding our departure took priority and I had simply forgotten about it.  About how, I suggested that there was a small crack that grew during our stay due to thermal cycling of hot showers and cool ocean air.  Because it had indeed happened during our stay, I said I would take responsibility for the repair.  This reply seemed to calm him down, and he said that he had reserved US$100 from our damage deposit, but that he hoped the actual repair might be less.  I told him that I would stand by for the results and thanked him for his professional handling of the situation.  Even though he was clearly pissed off, the tone of his emails was always courteous and professional.  We shall see what the final bill will be.  Ugh.

Next order of business - mucho calor (too hot) in the apartment.  When I reserved it, I knew it did not have air conditioning, but late March and early April in Santiago are known to be temperate.  Unfortunately it was unseasonably hot, near 90, with 90% humidity.  Our night with all the windows wide open was too warm and too noisy from traffic.  We decided to go to a store nearby and by a box fan, or perhaps an oscillating one.  Simple, right?  Well welcome to Chile, my friends!  We found on the map several Lider (Wal-Mart) Express stores, small groceries like Wal-Mart Neighborhood Markets in the USA, but one regular Lider about a mile away right down the subway line.  Time to get our bip! cards.  The Metro (subway) has 6 or 7 lines, all interconnected, and you can get nearly anywhere in Santiago on it.  With a bip! card you can also connect to any bus and truly go anywhere.  The name bip! comes from the "beep!" sound the system makes when it recognizes your card and drains a bit of credit from it. It cost about US$2 for the card, and we put about $8 prepaid charges on each one.  This proved to be enough for 5 trips each.  You can go as far as you like via subway or bus until you exit the system, then there is a new charge for re-entering.  So we paid about $3 for both of us to go 1.5 miles down the road, and the same for the return.  Cheaper than a taxi, and better than walking in the sweltering heat.

Your bip! card is literally the key to the city of Santiago!

Emerging from the subway we found that the Lider was an Express and there was no hope of a fan there.  We went in anyway to verify it - no fans.  I got out the translator and went to the service desk.  I asked in poor Spanish if they knew where we could get an oscillating fan for cooling.  They said they did not have those, which I knew.  "Donde?" (where?)  resulted in some complex directions to a bigger store, some miles away, too far to walk, but reachable by the subway.  The Chilean guy in line next to me spoke English and stepped in.  He advised us not to go to the bigger Lider store, but rather to go 10 blocks or so up the street (not along the subway) and find the Sodimac Home Center store.  "It's like a Home Depot," he explained, "and they will have every sort of fan there."  He then proceeded to lead the way, pointing us in the right direction, and then charging ahead at warp speed.  It was too hot for us to go so fast, so we plodded along.

Soon after I passed to close to a streetlight and smashed my cheap Wal-Mart watch into 1000 pieces.  Disgusted, hot, and angry, I tossed it into the basura (garbage) at the next gas station and we plodded on in the heat.  After a mile plus of walking, we found the Sodimac Home Center and walked inside.  There was an enormous patio just inside the gate with (literally) more than 200 models and sizes of HEATERS for sale.  But nothing for cooling at all.  We went inside and prowled around for half an hour.  Finding the electrical appliance section completely devoid of fans, we asked the guy there, who spoke English, and he told us the season for fans was done.  Since January.  They were sold out, and no more would be stocked until next summer, which is NOVEMBER!  But he had one stashed away.  Unfortunately it was one of these fancy Chinese tower models, with 50 settings for movement and a fan no stronger than waving a paper napkin.  Only US$75 or so.  Only one in town.  I suggested that whoever did stocking was insane, and the guy agreed.  But his hands were tied.  He said we would not find anything else in the entire city, and we should at least try this one.  "Return it if you don't like it."  At 75 bucks I declined, and we went across the street to Falabella (kind of like Macy's) and got the same story.  You can order one on our website and have it in 3-5 months!  (in Spanish).  At this my head exploded and I went all "Ugly American" yelling at the guy in Spanish about insanity and stupidity and how Chile sucked in general.  He stood there in shock with his mouth open, and I turned on my heel and left him to soak it all in.  We marched, dripping with sweat,  a mile back to the (hot) subway and then back to the apartment.

Subway NOT during rush hour

At this point I pulled up AirBnB and searched for alternate lodging with air conditioning. I found three apartments in the the building that was literally next door.  Air conditioned, and about half the size, but costing 50% more.  Shit.  I finally called our friendly anfitriona (landlady) and told her we were having trouble with the heat.  We had tried to purchase a fan, and could not do so until next summer.  I was thinking we may have to leave.  She was very concerned and told us she had a ventilador (fan) that she could loan us.  I asked if she did not need it, and she said no, her house was well shaded by trees.  15 minutes later we met her in the lobby with the fan, and 1 minute later blessed relief!  It seems always when Chile screws with you, some Chilean steps up and fixes everything.  Amazing.  I alternately hate and love the place, which is making me crazy.

Blessed relief!!!

We sat in the cool breeze, returning our core temperatures to something resembling normal, and calculated what to do next for amusement.  We had another cocktail hour starting at 6PM and plenty of time to do something in between.  J had advised us to go to the Cerro San Cristóbal (Saint Christopher's Hill) and take the Funicular (inclined railway) to the top.  We had a tourist magazine in the apartment, and it looked as if we could get there by the Metro (subway) changing lines twice and exiting at the Cementerio stop, then making a short walk.  The subway was sweltering, and it took the better part of an hour to get to Cementerio, where we emerged into bright sun and a cool-ish breeze.  We walked along for about a mile by the map, discovering we were now at the previous subway stop!  Oh well, we soon turned toward the hill and walked another 2 miles or so, suffering in the heat.  We finally found a market in this textile district and bought 1.5L of cold water, some of which we drank, and some of which I poured onto my head and neck.  Another mile or so of walking found us the gate to the park.  It was only about $US4.30 or so each for us to ride the Funicular to to the top, and we opted to do so.  A spectacular, albeit hot and smoggy, vista awaited us there.  Take a look for yourselves...

Mote con Heusillos - Honey syrup, peaches, barley, and corn - surprisingly refreshing!


 We walked another mile plus through a somewhat gritty neighborhood (Barrio Bella Vista) full of nightclubs and then through a busy garment retail area to the nearest subway stop, which, ironically, was 2 stops (3 miles) closer than the Cementerio stop we took thanks to the distorted scale and view on the touristic map.  Bedraggled we showed up to the cocktail hour over an hour late, making ourselves mildly more presentable in the restaurant's restrooms before going out to meet and greet.

Barrio Bella Vista is a rough place - nearly anybody can hit rock bottom here...

Night 29 - New Old Friends - March 27, 2013

By some miracle we arrived at the appointed restaurant for the cocktail hour 10 minutes early, having walked 15 minutes AND made a stop for cash at a bank lobby's ATM.  The guys at the restaurant were standing around, doing nothing.  I walked up and they looked at me strangely.  "Abierto?"  I asked. (Are you open?).  "No, señor.  Come back at 7PM."  I looked at my watch and replied in English, "We are supposed to be here at 5."  At this the apparent manager disappeared into the back for a minute, then came back and asked if we were coming from the W Hotel.  We weren't, but most everyone else was, so I replied in the affirmative.  "For you we make an exception!"  and then he showed us to a corner of the courtyard with a couple of tables and only 2 chairs.  Whatever.  Another guy came and introduced himself, and soon the place was teeming with Americans with a few from other places tossed in for flavor.  Approximately 100 in all.  I was finally able to meet two friends, Americans living in Chile, in person - these guys and I had "met" via internet email exchanges for over a year.  

We also met a lot of other people, all of whom were there to attend a conference on investing in South America in general and Chile in particular.  I was not able to keep track of very many people, hometowns, and names, but K made a good effort.  We also met a really famous guy, Jim Rogers, who was there to speak at the conference.  A personal hero of mine, he had circumnavigated the globe on a motorcycle searching for investment opportunities, all documented in his book Investment Biker.  Subsequently he did it again in a Mercedes SUV, and you can read about it HERE.  This guy has style!  Not only that, he was incredibly kind and gracious, meeting and greeting all who were there, including us.  I told him I had his first book, and he said it's too bad I didn't bring it for an autograph.  (I had considered doing so, but decided against it in the interest of traveling light).  I asked him if he rode motorcycles any more, and he told me it had been a while.  Since he now lived in Singapore (where his children could learn Chinese and be educated multi-lingually), there is too much regulation and restrictive speed limits to make motorcycling interesting.  He concurred that South America was an excellent place for biking, and also confirmed that it would be insane to try to do any investments or business in Argentina, which was really too bad - we love that place.  He said, "Every nickel you put into that country you will eventually lose."  Great to have clear advice right from the guru.

Ultimately we realized how hungry we were, not having had anything since breakfast, so I found my friend J and we adjourned across the street to a restaurant called Maldito Chef (Evil Chef), which is a really appropriate place for my buddy.  He had seen it but not tried it, so we walked in and made ourselves comfortable.  The food was decent, if expensive.  A steak and fries, two chicken plates, a few beers, two desserts and an espresso was just over US$80 with 10% tip.  We had a great time trading war stories and hearing how much better Chile was than Uruguay, where J had just spent nearly 6 years trying to make things work before giving up and moving to Santiago.  If you have a few days to spare, you can read some of J's excellent rants on his site  All in all an outstanding evening!

Day 29 - On to Santiago - March 27, 2013

Yesterday I noticed a huge crack on the left side of the mirror in the main bathroom.  Not sure where that came from, or why I never noticed it before.  K had the same reaction.  I can only speculate that there was a small crack, not easily noticed, that grew to this enormous one from the thermal cycling between hot showers and cold ocean air.  Or maybe it was there the whole time, and I just cluelessly ignored it.  Very odd indeed.

After another good breakfast cooked by K it was time to return the rental car.  This should be easy, it's only across the street, and less than 5 minutes walk.  But driving there is an altogether different matter.  There is a hill across the street and no streets parallel the one in front of us for more than a block or two.  The rental agency is on such a street.  But we can only turn right onto the divided 4 lane in front of the apartment, and then the road is closed.  All traffic must turn right again, proceeding directly away from the destination.  You can go immediately right and right again, but that only puts you back on the wrong side of the street, or on the right side of the street hopelessly past the destination.  So one must continue straight, and either turn left into traffic hell, or go across the river and turn left into traffic heck.  Either way one must proceed past the entire downtown before turning left again to go back to the main road.  We went with option 2, stopping briefly for a splash (US$5 for 2.5L) of gas for the car.  About 30 minutes later we neared our building and found the street we wanted - ONE WAY, against us, and full of traffic.  Now we were forced to make a U-turn at Lider and do the whole thing over again.  

K suggested we stop at the apartment and she would go get the map to help us.  I sat in the car and fumed at the traffic.  10 minutes later K returned without the map and announced that we can no longer get into the apartment.  The code has expired, as it was now 11:15, past the 11AM checkout time.  With all of our stuff still inside!  Wonderful.  We made the big detour a second time and turned very early, lucking into finding the right street, arriving 200 meters across the street from the apartment about 90 minutes after we left.  Insanity. Turning in the car was fine, and the guy was surprised when I told him I put air in all 4 tires (the front 2 were very low) and filled the window washer.  I also pointed out the ragged window wiper, and he said he would change it.  He decided we had not damaged the car, and so we paid the agreed amount, in cash.  It came to about $37 per day for two days, and he returned my credit card impression (made with an old manual machine) for the security.  We parted ways and all was well.   

I then phoned the landlord and explained the situation.  He understood and gave us an emergency code, and asked that we vacate ASAP, as the cleaners were coming at noon.  We ran back to the place, got in with the emergency code, and hurriedly packed - exiting at 11:50AM.  I called him back and told him we were out.  He was very polite and professional.  We walked over to the bus station and managed to buy 2 tickets for the Noon bus to Santiago (about US$15 for both), which was sitting there ready to go, and we were off within 2 minutes!  This one was from the Tur-Bus company, and while a bit worn, the air conditioning worked.  The coast was a cool 60F, but it was in the mid 80s within half an hour, and close to 90F at the end of the 2 hour ride into Santiago Alameda Terminal.  We made sure NOT to use the restrooms there again!  

The Metro (subway) stop was, as advertised, right outside of the station, and we made our way down and got 2 tickets for about US$3.  30 minutes later we emerged at the Military School exit, and walked about 2 blocks to our apartment building.  Our landlady (anfitriona) was waiting in the apartment, a charming lady, who showed us the routine and went over the inventory.  We got keys to the apartment, the storage locker, and a remote for the garage (which we were supposed to get in Viña, where we needed it).  We then dashed to the nearby grocery for a supply of breakfast foods, then made ready to hit a cocktail hour with a bunch of expats.

All in all it was a crazy, non-stop day, but we were in good form and made it to the cocktail hour on time!

I missed it in the photo, but there is an enormous crack along the left side of this mirror

View from the new place in Santiago, Las Condes - El Golf

Another view from the new place

Day/Night 28 - Chilean Wine Country - March 26, 2013

After our usual breakfast by K we hit the road in our little roller skate car and headed down the road for Casablanca, a well-known wine area.  We took a small detour looking for a big lake in a national park, but we never did find the access road.  At the town of Casablanca we found the Casas del Bosque winery.  A stunning place, it is the hobby of the owner of the large retail chain, Falabella.  We decided to pop for the family tasting - 4 high end wines.  We sampled a Sauvignon Blanc, a Carmenere, a Syrah, and a Cabernet Sauvignon.  All were delicious.  The tasting host persuaded us to stay for lunch at their very nice, high-end restaurant.  We started with abalone empanadas, then K had a lamb risotto and S had a fish curry - all delicious and accompanied by a very nice reserve Chardonnay.  Three or four hours later we headed back to the apartment for a siesta.

Wines made from this row of grapes will inspire the answer to Life, the Universe, and EVERYTHING!


After the big and expensive lunch, we grabbed a bottle of their reserve Carmenere to have at the apartment.  Dinner in again tonight, where the wine will complement the remaining cheese, salami, bread, and crackers.  Tomorrow we return the car and take the bus to Santiago for a week in an apartment there...

Night 27 - Seafood By The Sea - March 25, 2013

Since we had wheels we were able to drive to the coast and find a seafood restaurant.  Traffic there was pretty congested, but we soon found parking and walked around checking menus at several restaurants.  One looked very nice, and a bit pricy, of course.  We went in and had the royal treatment.  Opened with Pisco Sours, then a really great bottle of Chardonnay to go with clam chowder (for K) and endive salad (for S).  For main courses K had a local fish in an almond crust, and S had a different local fish smothered in mushrooms and cream sauce.  For dessert, K went with Bailey's creme brulee with espresso and S chose an apple meringue tart.  All delicious!  Drove back to the apartment - sure better than walking a couple of miles...

Day 27 - Freedom With 4 Tiny Wheels! - March 25, 2013

Today we slept in a bit and had a nice breakfast prepared by K.  After getting organized, we walked a couple of blocks across the street and found a rental car place.  The guy there did not speak much English, but with the iPhone and Google translate using his WiFi, we were able to communicate OK.  The price he quoted for a small car included unlimited kilometers and the 19% IVA tax, which made the quote WITH tax about the same as others on the internet without tax.  For a tiny car, it came out to about US$38 per day, manual transmission, no A/C.  We decided to take it.  The car turned out to be a Chevy Spark, which is really a Daewoo Matiz, made by a Korean company and assembled in Viet Nam.  I liken it to a roller skate - easier to push around than my motorcycle.  Tiny and compact, but it did the job.  He took a whopping US$532 deposit (250,000 Chilean Pesos) on the credit card, made copies of my passport and driver's license, and we were on our way.  It remains to be seen if the price ends up being $38 per day or not.

I am pretty sure my motorcycle has a bigger engine!


It was pretty easy to drive, and we made our way through the Chilean traffic without any problems.  In Santiago the traffic is rumored to be insane, but around Viña del Mar it was easy-peasy.  We made our way north along the coast, and the apartments and condos got progressively nicer and more impressive, as did the beaches.  After about 30 miles of exploration we stopped for a couple of empanadas and some water.  K noted the front tires looked low, and the worker at the Petrobras where we had parked agreed.  He directed us over to the air station, and I inflated all 4 tires to 32 PSI.  The front ones were pretty low, below 24.  Chilean air stations are automatic - you set the PSI and the machine equalizes your tire with the desired PSI and beeps when it's done.  Very nice, and no charge!

Stairway art

Making our way inland we saw small towns, orchards, cattle, horses, vinyards, farms, oil refineries, a steel mill, and the big freeway (Ruta 5).  We cut back using toll roads, paying a couple of bucks every 15 miles or so.  The roads were good and the speed limit was 100KPH (around 60MPH) or higher.  After a full day of driving, we returned to the apartment in Viña for a rest.