Friday, April 29, 2011

UPS to Chile? Needs work...

You may have seen references in previous posts to the infamous laptop shipment that I've been waiting for for some time.  Here is the entire saga.  It's long, so grab a glass of wine and settle in to enjoy the tale...

My office ordered a new laptop for me before we left, but for various reasons it didn't arrive in time, so they sent an older loaner with me, and promised to ship the new one when it was ready.  Which they did, over 5 weeks ago, on March 15.

UPS was very quick at getting it to Chile from Minnesota.  I tracked it online through Miami and San José, Costa Rica, and finally to Santiago, all in 3 days.  And then the UPS site reported that someone had signed for it and it had been delivered successfully.

I tried not to panic as I waited a couple days to see if I would hear anything.  Finally I looked up the UPS office here in Valparaíso and went over there.  It's a one-person office in a non-descript office building and I had to ask around a bit to find it, but once I did the nice person there looked up the package and explained that the package was in customs and would probably be delivered in a couple of days.

Relieved, I sent the good news to my co-workers in Minnesota and waited for the brown truck to show up.  Several days went by, then a week.  I was busy with other things and sure that it would show up any day, but it didn't.  Finally Lojo voluteered to track it down. 

Now, those of you who know Lojo know that navigating a bureaucracy is something she does very well.  She's spent many years in developing countries and always manages to get things done.  She's got persistence, charm, great Spanish, and the blonde hair doesn't hurt in Latin America.  She went to the customs office here in town and they knew absolutely nothing about the shipment.  So she went back to the UPS office and talked to the same woman I had talked to several weeks earlier.  She gave Lojo the number of the UPS office in Santiago.

Lojo called the Santiago number, and they said that the package had been referred to a 'broker' called the Robert Pizarro Agency, and that she should call them.  At this point even Lojo was starting to lose patience, and respectfully said that perhaps it was the UPS employee's job to make that call and track down the package.  The UPS guy said that (for unknown reasons) he couldn't call, but he would send them an email.

At this point Lojo muttered something under her breath to the tune of, "Why does Chile have to be so law-abiding?  In a proper Latin American country I could flash my blonde hair and a few dollars and we'd have the package tomorrow."

Another week went by, and I picked up the quest again.  I called UPS and talked to several people, including an English speaker, but got the same answer Lojo had gotten.  This time I got the Pizarro number and called them.  "Ah, yes, Señor Prince, we have your package.  Just give me your email address and I'll send you the paperwork that you need to fill out."

If you've ever tried to read an email address over the phone to someone, you know that it's difficult in the best of circumstances.  Me trying to do it in Spanish is not the best of circumstances.  But after several tries it seemed as though we had figured it out, and she said she would send the paperwork right away.

Another day or two went by, and I called back the nice lady at Pizarro.  "Ah, yes, Señor Prince, the email I sent to you bounced back.  I must have your address wrong."  Of course I wanted to ask why she didn't call me when this happened (she had my number), but I bit my tongue.  I asked her for her email address, and sent her an email.  She sent the email with a spreadsheet attached, and included her fax number so I could print, sign and fax the document back to her.

Of course, we're renting a house and don't have a printer or a fax machine, so I went out and bought a little USB thumb drive and put the document on it, and  Lojo hunted down a Mom and Pop version of Kinko's in which she could print the document, sign it, then fax it.

After all of this, we waited another day or so before we called back our friend at Pizarro.  "Ah, Señor Prince, I didn't get a fax.  I believe you sent it to the wrong fax number.  Please try this other number."

Lojo went back to the copy shop and tried to resend the fax, but there was no fax machine answering the new number.  It just rang and rang.

The next day I called Pizarro again.  "Ah, Señor Prince, I'm told that the fax machine was out of paper yesterday.  Please resend the fax."

Lojo was on a first-name basis by now with the copy shop.  She sent the fax and immediately called Pizarro to confirm that it had arrived, which it had.

Another day went by, and we called again.  "Ah, Señor Prince, I'm afraid the dollar values you filled in on the paperwork were incorrect."  Huh?  The document had asked me to declare the value of the package, so I had filled in the cost from the receipt that my co-workers had sent me.  By this time I knew it would be futile to ask why she hadn't provided me with the required numbers -- I just asked what they should be, and Lojo paid another visit to the copy shop.

Another couple days went by, and Lojo was planning on meeting some friends in Santiago.  She called Pizarro and said, "Please have the package ready, I'll pick it up at your office on Tuesday."  That offer had the desired effect, and there were several more phone calls asking for my RUT (the Chilean version of a social security number, which of course I don't have -- by this time it must have been abundantly clear that I'm not Chilean!), then my passport number (why didn't you ask me for that a couple of weeks ago?), then advising Lojo that it wasn't possible to have the package at the office, as it was still in customs in the airport, but that it could be released to UPS.

The package arrived 2 days later at our house, courtesy of a nice guy in the standard brown UPS uniform.  Since our house is a long stairway from the road ("Ay, cómo me costó llegar aquí!"), I didn't see whether his vehicle was the classic UPS brown truck, but the laptop had survived its 5 weeks in captivity quite well.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Say it with me: ¡Puchuncaví!

Not only does it have a really cool-sounding name (poo-choon-kha-VEE), it's the site of the annual Desafío Puchuncaví Cross Country running race.  All 4 of us joined the running club I've been hanging out with, Viña Runners, last Saturday to take the challenge.  Lojo and the kids ran the 2.2K race, and I barely survived the 13K version.  We had a great time seeing a new part of the country and hanging out with some great folks.  Our orange shirts are on order!

After the race we went to the nearby beach at Con Con to celebrate Theo's birthday with some exploring for cool rocks and crabs and some good beach-side food.  It's fall here, but we managed to get a little sunburn anyway.

- Dan

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Past the honeymoon stage

Well, we're past the honeymoon stage. Things are going great for the most part! But I think in general all of us tend to write about the exciting and fun things we are doing and we tend to not write about the frustrations or challenges.

So, not to sound whiny or complain (we're all aware what a great opportunity this is) but here's a post dedicated to some of our challenges or frustrations at this point in the year - just so you don't think its all super easy all the time.

The question: "What is challenging for you?"

1) I don't know.
2) Not school...its not that hard anymore...well, still a little hard.
3) It is a really long school day.
4) I don't like climbing up the hill everyday (to our house)
5) Its kind of sad that I can't find a swimming pool
6) I miss chicken pesto tortillas
7) I miss rain

1) Some of the different stuff at school, like making up stories for class
2) Talking Spanish is still hard, but understanding is easier
3) Missing all my family and friends
4) Its hard to find stuff to do at recess

1) I am still struggling with Spanish because I'm inside working in English during the day and speaking English at night at home (Theo just suggested we switch to Spanish at night!)
2) It was challenging to get UPS and its subcontractor to process my new work computer out of customs... it took about 5 weeks and only after daily phone calls from us

1) I love that we're going without a car this year, but I get super tired of hauling groceries up our stupendously steep hill everyday (milk and orange juice are the worst- sometimes I splurge and pay for a $2 taxi). Perhaps, we are eating more.
2) It's starting to get cold here and I can tell I'm going to miss central heat big time - not to mention our electric blanket (we may have to splurge on the latter item since we can't do much about the former)!
3) Again, love that we're helping the planet with no clothes dryer this year, but sometimes I'm afraid our jeans might mildew before they dry.
4) We all miss family and friends - no question. I also miss the intellectual stimulus and gratification of my work. I don't miss the stress though.

Well, that's it. I have to say everyone has done great with rolling with things. The kids haven't complained about not having their toys or bikes or a yard or even cheddar cheese! Probably the most challenging part for the kids has been adjusting to school here, both socially and linguistically. For Dan and me, it's probably been about finding ways of building meaningful connections with folks and the community here. But that's the fun of challenges, figuring out how to overcome them. We'll keep you posted on our progress.

Laura and gang...

p.s. Oops, can't talk about our challenges without mentioning the bane of Theo's and my existence- the ever present fleas in Valparaiso and the resulting flea bites! Ouch.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Semana Santa and birthday weekend!

It's Viernes Santo (Good Friday) and a dia feriado (a national holiday) today.

For the kids and me, pouring rain made for a cozy read all curled up in our big bed, while Dan got on with his regular Friday morning - a run and back to work.

The three of us continued to indulge ourselves by kicking off Theo's birthday weekend a day early with a surprise of maple syrup and pancakes. Our first in three months. Maple syrup is not to be had in Chile, but our friend Monica explained that it appears in the grocery stores (at least in Santiago) every six months or so. She generously sent her more than half full bottle with me as a surprise for the kids!!! Shannon and Jeremy - you can guess that there's little competition for Vermont's finest and yet pancakes never tasted so good (we ate them standing - right out of the frying pan).

Theo's birthday request has been to make sure we're around for all the skype calls this weekend (we are having a friends' party next weekend). We're off for a race tomorrow morning in Punchucaví (isn't that a great name for a town) - the kids and I are doing a fun run and Dan is doing a long distance run - 12 km? But we should be around Saturday late night and all day we hope to connect with many of you then.

Happy Easter and may you have some nice cuddling mornings as well!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Our first snail mail!!!

Such excitement...our first snail mail. Thanks to my lovely sisters we had two correspondences today- Britt's wedding invitation and a citation from the Valparaiso police asking Caitlin to come into the station to identify her would-be pick pocket from photos (that is if she hadn't chased him long enough for him to finally discard her wallet. This all happened a month ago).

But I digress. Our mail carrier is Juan. He rang our doorbell and handed me the mail instead of using the mailbox and in a very kind way said something that indicated a tip was in order! :-) I love it. Well, worth the 10 cent tip he requested.

Thanks sisters! We love mail of any kind really, but we're especially happy to pay the tip for a little snail mail! (see our address above - a slight correction - it should say - Cerro Bellavista and Valparaiso).


p.s. Allow three weeks for delivery.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Live, local bands a.k.a. "moment of hipness"

We tapped into some great, local music this last week. I went out with my friend Cecilia on Wednesday night to hear a fantastic artist named Pascuala Ilabaca and her group. She plays accordion among other instruments and sings divine. She then adds in guitar, bass, drums, sax, clarinet and güira! So fun. Check out this video of hers: - if for nothing else its got great video footage from the rooftops of Valparaíso.

Then on Friday night Dan and I ventured out to see an edgy artist - Camila Moreno and her band. We really enjoyed it and she has some fantastic songs as well. Here's a great song and a protest video also taken in Valpo...

To give you a sense of the scene - both nights, we walked a mere 15 minutes down the hill to a local club, La Piedra Feliz, and paid about an $8 cover. The room that staged the bands is intimate and seats about 100! Pascuala and one of her band members from Wednesday night's concert were in the audience on Friday. And another of her band members was playing in another room with another band on Friday night.

Dan and I felt a fleeting moment of hipness!


Monday, April 11, 2011

Mendoza (dedicated to the Dicus Breen Family)!

Hi everyone. This weekend we went to Mendoza, Argentina and we saw a bunch of cool stuff. We had to go because our tourist visa in Chile expired after 90 days, so we had to go out of the country and reenter. Here it is!

On the way there we (me, my mom, and my brother- Dad arrived a day later) were crossing the Andes and it was very beautiful. However there was this one road called the "Caracol", which in English it means snail cause it went from one side to the other back and forth it had like 30 turns! It was really amazing.

Then when we got there, after we had settled in in our hotel, we went and walked around. First we went to Plaza Chile. There we discovered that it had a bunch of benches that had mosaics with a design ( like ribbon ) that was red,white and blue (the Chilean flag colors ) with a different city in Chile on each- it was very cool!

Then we went to plaza Independencia where we saw a bunch of stuff to buy but unfortunately we did not buy anything -but my mom wanted to come back later. Also in the plaza there was a modern art museum underneath the plaza and we went and checked it out. It was really cool!

By then we were getting pretty hungry so we went looking for a restaurant to eat at, we went looking down the street Sarmiento 'cause that is what the person at the hotel recommended.

We walked past the Sheraton/Casino then we spotted a restaurant that looked good. So we got dinner there. We all got meat (because Argentina is famous for meat). We got "bife de chorizo" y "milonesa"
(we only got two because they were too much for one person). They were really good then we went back to the hotel and went to bed.

The next morning we decided that we would go to the park bigger than Central Park, NYC- so we walked down there and took a bus that was like a tour around the park and we ended in the zoo and looked around there. It had a tons of animals. There was even a condor! After that we were getting kind of hungry so we went down to the lake in the park and had lunch down there. We got meat again but this time it was not that good because it was really greasy. Then we had to go to the hotel because my dad was getting back. So we walked back to the hotel and a couple minutes later my dad showed up!

Like a half of an hour later we went out and walked around a bit. And then we had dinner but all of the restaurants were closed up (because it was only 7pm and most folks in Argentina dine at 10pm) except for the restaurant that we had dinner last night. Since we liked it, we went there again and got the same thing. But dad got something different. And after that we went back to the hotel and went to bed and the next morning we were off again.

It turned out to be a really good trip but the only thing is that it would have been cool to have stayed there a little bit longer because I really liked it.


Sunday, April 10, 2011

things that I like about mendoza, argentina.

hi. I know I already did a blog about going to Argentina, but then we did not know too much about it. so here's a list of things I liked about Mendoza.

  1. about every street is lined with trees and huge parks. (including one park bigger than central park)
  2. it's a beautiful trip through the Andes to get there. (even if it is a little curvy)
  3. it has great meat.
  4. it has a lot of cool animals in the zoo
  5. the taxis were cheap which is good because I am always tired.
by Theo

Thursday, April 7, 2011

out of the country again.

Guess what were doing tomorrow. Going to Mendoza, Argentina to renew our visa because we've been here a quarter of the year! It's a eight hour bus ride through the Andes. It's supposed to be beautiful.

The only bad thing is that it's someones birthday today and there's going to be a suprise in each classroom at school. But it will still be there when we get back.

(Mendoza is straight east from Valparaiso on the map)


Tuesday, April 5, 2011

"I understood everything today!!!"

One month into school and there are glimmers of light at the end of the tunnel. Many "end of the tunnel" is too optimistic a phrase...maybe it would be better to say some oases have appeared on the kids' desert sojourn.

Anyways, on our walk home from school yesterday, Gracie said, "I had a great day today Mom. I understood everything!". I couldn't believe it! Of course, this statement was rather disconcerting to Theo. But today he was helping some of the younger kids understand the coach's instructions at soccer practice - so a big success for him too.

They are both making leaps and bounds in their language acquisition - much faster than they even realize. This week both kids were to have read the above pictured novels for their respective classes. I would guess that both kids had a preschool or kindergarten reading level when we arrived in country and now, with our help obviously, they are reading 3rd and 4th grade level books!

I don't mean to down play the slow and arduous process of learning another language. All of you who have experienced immersion are familiar with the long, initial days. This weekend was almost entirely taken with reading the novels for example (we even turned off Skype). One of us would read a paragraph or two and then check in about comprehension and look up some words if necessary - and repeat for all 150 pages.

And there are still tears just about everyday. They don't last long, but I think a combination of exhaustion, frustration, and feeling a bit overwhelmed build up each day. But each day it seems to get easier. And Dan and I couldn't be prouder of these guys for the herculean effort they are making.


p.s. I'll try to get the kids to blog about school again soon.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Lulled to sleep by the fog horn

The fog rolled in off the ocean last night. It enveloped everything in a cool, white mist. Dan and I enjoyed listening to the deep bellows of the fog horn as we went to sleep. It made us think of Dan's dad, Robb, and his stories of growing up in Duluth and listening to the fog horn there.

This morning as I took my morning walk along the water after dropping off the kids, I could barely see through my glasses. The fog was still thick and the horn was still booming.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Geeky Stuff: mail forwarding

When I traveled abroad by in my college years, I had all my mail forwarded to my parents' house. They would do triage on it: throw away the junk mail, deposit checks, and call me if there was anything important-looking. They forwarded some stuff to me, and even faxed some important letters (I was doing a job search at the time) -- the faxes arrived at the local post office in Costa Rica, and I would take the bus over there to pick them up.

Times have changed, and we don't get much snail mail anymore, but we haven't quite eliminated the need to deal with dead-tree documents and such. Luckily there is a 21st-century solution to this problem, without having to burden relatives with dealing with a bunch of your mail while you're living abroad: internet mail-forwarding services.

Google turns up lots of these services; we've been using, and it's been working great. The company gives you a new address, and you tell the US postal service to forward your mail to it. They scan all incoming mail and send email when you get some, and they post the images of the envelopes to your account on their web page. You look at the envelope and then select (a) Shred the mail, (b) Open it and scan the contents, or (c) Forward the mail to a different address.

The service costs a reasonable monthly fee, plus a handling charge for each letter that you ask them to scan or forward. The main downside is the setup that the US Post Office requires, which involves filling out forms in triplicate and getting them notarized. It's definitely been worth it -- check it out if you plan to be away for more than a month or two.