Corrugated City

Wednesday 29 August 2007

How to Make a Good Cuppa in Chile

While other foreign bloggers in Chile write about inanities such as poverty, human trafficking, racism and the joy of Talca, i'm keeping focused on the serious issues. Just what do you do when your supply of PG Tips Pyramids runs out?

When i was living in Argentina, i had all my visitors from back home bring me boxes of tea. I amassed a fair few tea bags over the course of a year or so-something in the region of 1500 actually. Why did i need to have tea smuggled into the country, i can hear you ask. Because tea in Argentina was rotten. It was all locally produced, weak and foul. The only half decent tea i found was Lipton but it was horribly expensive and i'm not a great fan of it to be honest.

This was an issue that started to worry me a couple of months ago here in Chile. I was running low on PG Tips and decided to start experimenting with locally available teas. First attempts weren't altogether successful. A lot of tea in Chile is imported from Argentina. However, after rummaging around the supermarket shelves, i came across two or three that were made from tea imported from Sri Lanka. That's proper tea.

So here's my guide about how to make a god cuppa tea in Chile.

First, choose your tea. After much trial and error i've found Té Club to be the best. Be careful to only buy the blue box as this is the only variety of theirs that is made from Ceylon tea.

Next, use a big mug. None of these nancy tea cups. Use two tea bags per mug-it's not very strong and one bag gives you grey water. Pour in boiling water that´s not quite boiling. Stir the tea bags and then let stand for a minute or two.

Now use a tea spoon and wrap the strings from the tea bag around the spoon until you can squash all the lovely tea out of the bag with your thumb.

Finally, add milk* and enjoy. Do not add sugar. If you have to add sugar to your tea, it means you don´t like tea.

As a final note, you should be really aware that if you order té con leche (tea with milk) in Chile, what you'll get is a lukewarm cup of milk and a tea bag. Ask for té con un poco de leche aparte and you should get a tea bag, some lukewarm water and a bit of milk on the side. Ask for the agua that comes with the tea bag to be bien caliente por favor and you might just be lucky enough to get really hot water. Best to just not order tea when you're out and about. Save it for when you get home.

*You can't get real milk in Chile. It's all UHT stuff that tastes nasty. The least revolting tasting milk i've found is the semi-skimmed Lonco Leche brand. It's the only one that doesn't separate when it's added to hot drinks.

Sunday 26 August 2007

Costanera Camionera

A while ago i mentioned a back route into Valpo that is being created to divert the thousands of HGVs that have to pass through the city centre to reach the port. It's still not finished so there's currently very little traffic. It's been a beautiful day here so we decided to drive up and around to check out the new promenade that's also been built alongside the road. It's really quite impressive as the road winds down from Playa Ancha, past the Torpederas Beach and past the port at the bottom. Here are a few photos. For some reason i failed to take any photos of the actual pedestrianised part of the costanera. Duh.

This first photo shows the back of the massive Playa Ancha Cemetery where our old mucker Emile Dubois has his shrine.

Friday 24 August 2007

Grafitti again

It's been a while since i found any new stencil grafitti around town, partly because i'm not living there at the moment. Anyway, i found a bit more and also took some photos of some more murals that are to be found around Cerros Concepcion and Alegre.

A stencil of 2 guys getting it on? I'm surprised this hasn't been defiled. Tolerance is not a Chilean strong point. Valpo is a slightly more bohemian place than most of Chile but it's still a macho port city...

I don't know who this is...can anyone enlighten me? Looks like Des Lynam to me...

I really like this one. Click on the photo for a close up and read what's on the girl's t-shirt. I feel the same.

I'm back

Anyone who's been reading this blog for a while will probably know i've got a bit of a back problem. Just a few weeks ago i was laid up in bed completely immobile. Not much fun, if i have to be honest...

I've got a long term problem-i was born with an extra vertebrae in my back. I like to call it evolution. Others (mainly my family) like to call it devolution. Anyway, part of the problem is this:. If i don't do physical exercise and stretch out afterwards my back hurts. But when it's really aching i can't exercise so it hurts more. As it hurts more, i do even less exercise. This goes round in circles until i completely get out of the habit of doing any exercise at all. Which is what's happened over the last 12-18 months.

I used to be really active. During my last year at university in 2001 i was playing football, going to the gym 5 times a week and practicing karate. I carried on with this level of exercise for the next few years but i then slowly stopped until i realised i wasn't doing anything at all and my back was killing me. The bed-ridden episode of a few weeks ago really made me think as well.

Another side-effect of not exercising is that any beer that i drink goes straight to my belly. I don't put on weight anywhere on my body except around my waist and the only things that make me put on weight are beer and cheese. The extra weight in this area then pulls on my lower back, causing more pain. The problem is that there are some really good beers in Chile and, having just arrived back here permanently, i had to try them all. Anyway, this is how i've been feeling lately:

So i've been on kind of a diet the last few weeks. It's not really that much of a diet, more just cutting out the beer and eating less cheese. I've also started running again. I don't really enjoy living in this flat in Reñaca but it does have the advantage of being next to a beautiful beach. The beach is just about 1km long. I've started out running just for 20 minutes and seeing how far i get in that time. Running on sand is really hard, much more difficult than on solid ground. But it's good because the impact is much less.

On my first run i managed about 1.5km in 20 minutes. Pathetic but it's been a long time. The second i managed about 1.8km. The next i went 2km and last time i managed about 2.6km. Still not amazing but improving rapidly and remember: running on sand is really difficult.

I've lost most of the beer gut now and i'm feeling a lot better in general as well. I'd almost forgotten how much i enjoy exercise. I find it really hard to motivate myself to leave the flat in the first place but once i'm actually running i love it.

We'll be moving back to Valpo next week where i don't have a decent beach to run along. I'll have to make do with the cross-trainer machine. Maybe i'll put it on the terrace and look out to sea while i'm exercising.

Wednesday 22 August 2007

Domes of Buenos Aires-Vote for me!

One of my favourite blogs out in blogolandia is Robert's Line of Sight. I check over there most days as there's almost always something interesting to read about. He's recently been running a series of posts on the cupulas or domes of Buenos Aires and is planning on making up a PDF pamphlet of the best. Despite my nagging, he's so far neglected to include the dome from my former residence in BA, the huge old building on the corner of Paraná and Rivadavia. I've always loved this dome as, to me, it resembles a German face from WWI with cool 'tache, little beard, down-turned mouth and spike-y helmet.

One of the things i most miss about Buenos Aires is my flat in this building. It was beautiful and a really great neighbourhood to live in, just off the Avenida de Mayo near Congress. It's been a wrench to sell but it's gone to friends so we know we can go back and see the old girl from time to time.

Below are some photos of the building, a close up of the dome and some views from the roof. Enjoy the photos and then go annoy Robert and get him to include it in his list :)


El Palacio Barolo

La Inmobiliaria

Tuesday 21 August 2007


Just thought i'd add a little update to the previous post about the renovations.

This photo used to be...


And this photo used to be...


Nice, eh?

Monday 20 August 2007


We were invited for lunch yesterday to one of Valpo's best known restaurants. Portofino is regularly visited by local celebrities and the beautiful people.

Portofino is pretty expensive by Chilean standards, around 8000-12,000 pesos for a main course but the food more than makes up for it. I had the Reineta alla Pancetta (Reineta with bacon and prawns) and our lunch companions had a conger eel dish, ceviche and one of the pastas, all excellent.

The view from the restaurant is spectacular, taking in the entire bay of Valparaiso. I highly recommend the place for the food and the view.

On the other hand, the service was appalling, to put it mildly. I've done a stint in a fancy hotel/restaurant in France and know what good service is and how to give it. The clowns in Portofino had obviously been trained by monkeys of little intelligence- that's if they received any training at all. One minute we had 4 waiters buzzing around, knocking into us and generally being very annoying and very intrusive and the next minute-when we actually wanted something-they were nowhere to be seen. I had to ask the same waiter four times to bring me some more bread. When he finally did bring me some, he neglected to offer any to the other 3 people around the table. Another waiter needed 3 reminders to bring a couple of soft drinks. And then, when the bill was due, they become all friendly and charming, offering free digestifs. No dice. Crap service=crap tip.

I'm perfectly happy to put up with poor service in a small, cheap or family run restaurant. But when a place styles itself as the place to eat in Valpo then they've got to get everything right. And that includes training the staff. The problem is that in Chile (as in England until just a few short years ago), restaurants can't be bothered to spend the time or money teaching their staff how to wait tables. In Argentina, being a waiter is seen as a worthy and dignified profession. It's the same in France as well. And it shows-waiters know what they're doing. In Chile that's not the case and so it's all too common to spend a fortune on a meal out and get rubbish service.

Rant over.

If you don't mind thoroughly annoying waiters then the food in Portofino is excellent.

Friday 17 August 2007

Renovations-hanging on for dear life

Termites had eaten away at the 'encintado' which is the wood frame that the exterior corrugated iron sheets are nailed to. This has to be changed otherwise the sheets will simply fall down and possibly kill someone below. In order to avoid hiring and building scaffolding of 15 metres in length and 14 in height, the builders came up with the idea of sticking 3 giant steel bars out of the side of the house and then tying them to the beams in order to stop them toppling over. They then put planks on the part of the bars sticking out of the house and then a small scaffold on top of that. It's actually sturdier and safer than it both looks and sounds...

The 'light cement' went down yesterday and is currently drying out. Here you can see the polystyrene pellets mixed in with the cement. After the weekend it'll be dry so i'm going to go and jump on it to test its soundproofing ability. We've been assured it's very effective but i think we'll wait before making any judgement.

And for anyone bored of the renovations, here's a photo of the cats Polly & Tonto Guerrero. They put their towel down early to get the best sunbathiing spot.

Valpo from Reñaca

This is the view of Valparaiso from the flat in Reñaca where we're currently staying. The view from this flat is its only redeeming feature in winter (well, ok, the free rent is nice as well). In summer it's quite a nice place to be. However, we're really getting bored here-it's freezing cold, there's nowhere to put our stuff (the cupboards are already full) and the cats are starting to wreck the place...really can't wait to move back to the house. That's only a couple of weeks away now as the decorator started on Monday and the floors will be polished late next week. Then we move back and get woken up at 7.30 every morning by the workmen hammering upstairs. A price worth paying.

And here's a photo of one of the new buildings they're building at the top of Reñaca just around the corner from the flat (in a 10 storey, staggered building-not a straight up tower). This thing is truly monstrous and hideous. The other towers aren't actually so bad, mainly because you can't see them from anywhere except right in front. This big pile of concrete can be seen from everywhere-Viña, Valpo, the bottom of Reñaca-from every conceivable angle.

Funny thing is, all these new tower blocks are being built on sand dunes. I can only assume that the engineers know what they're doing, but it's going to be interesting to see how well they stand up when an earthquake as big as the one that hit Peru the other day makes things wobble around.

Thursday 16 August 2007

Plaza Victoria

I haven't had much to write about recently. Things are going well with the house renovations, work is going well and we have a fairly big project we're working on at the moment and that we'll hopefully be able to announce within the next 3-4 months. Other than that, not much to report.

Anyway, today i met a friend for a coffee in a cafe on Plaza Victoria. As i arrived a few minutes early, i had a stroll around and took some photos i'd been meaning to take for a while. Plaza Victoria is a pretty nice square with some cool buildings surrounding it although Ripley, a large Chilean department store chain tore down one of the plaza's nicest buildings in order to construct a hideous concrete and glass building. Thanks for that.

In the middle of the Plaza is a fountain imported from France around 1870 and there are huge palm tree that provide shade in the summer. It's a nice place to sit and watch the world go by.

To one side of the Plaza is Valpo's main church. Chile is a very conservative and Catholic country. The Church has a major hold over everyday Chilean life and politics, something i really, really, really don't agree with. To the side of the Church there's a huge plaque, pictured below. I've done a translation. Everybody's entitled to their opinion I suppose.

In memory of those murdered before they were born.

They killed us because they said we were too many,
like Herod said Jesus was too much.
Nobody could defend us,
It was all done in silence in the bellies of our mothers.

They chopped us up, drowned us and poisoned us
With the coldness of a hangman.
They paid for our death
With the price of blood, just like Judas.

They threw in the bin
The pieces of our of little bodies
Or they burnt us in the incinerator
So they could leave no trace of our murder.
We didn't even receive a tomb or a headstone.

We didn't receive a name
Nor were we baptised.
We're part of a macabre number
Of tens of millions a year.

The powerful collaborated in our death,
Among them those who swore to respect life,
Even our own parents.
May our shout save the lives of others!

Lord in Heaven,
You wanted them to be your children.
We ask for your mercy
So they can be with you
And we beg you to grant
Regret and forgiveness
To those who took their lives.

Nice, eh? Friendly people the folks running the Catholic Church.

Whilst having the coffee i was there for, a bunch of reporters and cameramen turned up. At first i thought they'd come to see me :) but then the real celebrities came in. One of them was the sub-secretary for health (no idea of her name) and the other was Don Miguel. Don Miguel is famous in all Chile as his photos adorns every single cigarette packet in the country. He has a smoking related disease and has a hole in his neck. You'd think that Miguel would be seen as a role model and someone to look up to seeing as he's facing his future with courage and dignity but...he's been abused and attacked from all corners. He's actually the grandfather of a friend of a friend of the girlf and we'd heard he was getting stick from people in the street and also online. I talked to one of the reporters and he confirmed what we'd heard. Really sad. Anyway, Don Miguel will soon be seen no more as a new campaign will take his place on Chile's ciggy packs.

Friday 10 August 2007


The house is coming along quite nicely. The amount of work on the ground floor turned out to be at least double what we expected but most of it's done now. The decorator is starting on monday and then the floors will be polished and varnished so we're looking at 2-3 weeks absolute maximum and we'll be back living at home.

The 2 floors above are also receiving the full treatment. The beams between the ground and 1st floors have been checked and only one needs replacing. The rest have been treated with anti-termite varnish.

In order to reduce the noise and footstep levels between floors, we're putting in a 'light cement'. This is a cement floor of about 5cm thick mixed with polystyrene pellets. We've put in glass wool as a first layer of insulation, then OSB (compressed, structural plaques of wood) is laid on top of the beams. Plastic sheeting is put down as waterproofing, on top of that goes chicken wire and then the light cement. Once that's dry, the original wood floors will go back in place. This should sound proof every floor and also help a lot with heat insulation.

Here's the first floor-you can see the glass wool in place. You can also see the new termite proof pine that was put in place in order to level the floor (after the house slipped down the hill due to earthquakes). There's about a 12cm difference in the middle of the floor.

Here's the same floor with the OSB nailed down. The next room along will be getting the same treatment. The timber beams and struts in between the two rooms is all newly built as the old oak was in a bit of a state

The underground part of the ground floor is coming along nicely.

And finally...another sunset in Reñaca

Wednesday 8 August 2007


So i'm just sitting here, minding my own business, drinking a cup of tea and reading the morning 'paper when along comes a little tremor...that slowly turns into an earthquake and then calms back down to being just a little tremor. I'm pretty used to the regular tremors that Chile suffers these days but this one was the strongest and longest i've felt. It wasn't major, at first guess i'm going to say a little over 5.0 on the Richter Scale (i'll confirm later). The flat we're in got a bit shaky and the apartment block they're building across the way wobbled a bit. I assume the house in Valpo held up without any problems, especially after all the structural repairs we've done over the last couple of months. And we've just had a little after shock. Life in Chile is never dull.

**Update: Despite newspaper reports stating that the tremor was around 4 on the Richter Scale and that it lasted just 10 seconds, The National Emergency Institute begs to differ and puts it at 5.1. And i beg to differ of the length-it lasted a minute or so...

***Further update: We went to see how work was getting on at the house in Valpo and asked how it stood up to the earthquake. The answer? The workers didn't even feel it, the second time that's happened in the last couple of months. Solid as a rock the old girl. It'd explain why it has already survived two of Chile's worst earthquakes in 1906 and 1985 with barely a scratch.

Friday 3 August 2007

Inflation and the mysterious UF

Everywhere you go in Chile you'll see 2 letters: UF. When i first arrived in this country way back in December 2003 (i can't believe it was so long ago) i just ignored it, thinking it was just some bizarre Chilean way of making things more complicated than strictly necessary. I still think the same but now i actually understand what the hell the UF is all about.

UF stands for Unidad de Fomento. It's an inflation index and once you get your head around it it's quite a useful tool when calculating how much things cost.

Let's have an example:

You want to buy a house. You look on an agent's website and see the price is listed at 1500 UF. Just what does that mean? Well, One UF is equivalent, today, to 18792.93 Chilean Pesos. So that means that the house is valued at 1500UF X 18792.93 which means 28,189,395 Pesos (or about us$54k).

The UF level is adjusted every day. Inflation in Chile runs to around 3-4% per year. Tomorrow's UF is expected to be around 6 Pesos higher, at 18798.36 Pesos. That means the same house tomorrow will cost: 18798.36 X 1500UF=28,197,540 or 8,145 pesos more than yesterday (about us$16).

If you're interested in property in Chile then please click Pacific Five, Real Estate Consulting, Chile

Pretty much all large scale purchases in Chile, such as cars and real estate, are valued in UF. Many services are also valued in this way. Retaining a lawyer on a monthly basis, for example, would be valued in UF. You would pay a fee every month of, let's say, 100UF. That fee in actual pesos would rise in line with inflation but the amount in UF stays the same. Insurance (health, car, home etc) is also valued in UF. In real terms, the cost doesn't increase, it only rises at the same rate as the Consumer Price Index. In some cases, you can freeze the UF to the level it was when you signed a contract. That means the cost of a service doesn't rise at all in line with inflation.

Chile's Central Bank pursues a policy of keeping inflation below 4% per year. A jump in consumer prices in July means that inflation is on course to come close to that 4% level by the end of the year. Last night there was a report on the news with worried Chileans wondering where it was all going to end. Short answer, it'll end with further increases in interest rates in Chile. Interest rates are currently at their highest levels for years, at 5.25% and are expected to be raised again to 5.5% in the near future. If the BC wants to keep inflation below 4% that's what needs to be done. (For anyone that doesn't understand the correlation between inflation and interest rates, a very basic explanation is that higher interest rates mean people have to spend more money re-paying loans and mortgages which, in turn, means they have less money to spend on consumer goods which reduces demand for goods and services which means prices don't rise as fast which means you can now breathe after a sentence involving lots of which).

Of course, raising interest rates has other effects. One of them is that the Peso will rise in value against other currencies (another basic explanation-higher interest rates mean that Chile is a nicer place to put your money for interest earnings so more people want to buy Pesos making them more expensive). Back in 2004 i was getting almost 1300 pesos to my Pound. Now i get 1050. The Dollar was around 750 Pesos, now it's 520. This has made Chileans goods more expensive. Chile is a major exporter and the higher price of the Peso has hit exporters hard. Further rises against foreign currencies won't help.

Anyway, whilst browsing Argentine daily, Clarin (a paper that somehow manages to be both tabloid and high-brow broadsheet at the same time), i came across yet another report about inflation in Argentinaa. Compared to their cousins across the mountains, Chileans really have nothing to worry about. I wrote about inflation in Argentina a while back, after my last visit there. It's really out of control. Again. Official figures are a lie. Friends still living in BA say that things are getting really expensive. Just read the articles linked-in some cases there have been 900% rises in the prices of basic fruit and veg. 900%!! That's absurd.

From being far and away the best tourism bargain in the world just a couple of years ago, Argentina is now, in many cases, more expensive than Chile. Supermarkets in Chile are now cheaper than in Argentina (and food is of a higher quality in Chile, with the exception of the unbeatable Argentine beef which can be bought here anywhere), eating out at a really decent restaurant is cheaper, hell even the price of a beer in a bar is less in Chile nowadays. And i'm not even including the fact that electrical goods and cars are 50-75% more expensive in Argentina due to ridiculously high import tariffs.

And it just has to get more expensive. Inflation will continue to gallop along at 12-40% a year (depending on who you believe) until the government drops its policy of maintaining the Argentine Peso below its true value (currently trading at around 3.12 to the Dollar). When this happen, prices in foreign currency will increase by up to 35% overnight. It should be around 2.1-2.3 to the Dollar. And prices in Pesos won't come down. So you'll have had 3-4 years of rampant inflation followed by a monetary adjustment of 35%. That'll make for one hell of a pricey country.

A lot of foreigners moved to Argentina because of it's great value real estate and extremely low cost of living. Both of those aspects of living have now been pretty much eroded. Property is over valued and the market is a big bubble waiting to burst. What's left is the cultural aspect of Argentina, something that far surpasses what Chile can offer (in terms of theatres, cinemas, film, art, literature, architecture). But i wonder how long all these foreigners who moved to Argentina for the cheap life will last as prices continue to rise?

What i've always found funny is the claim by numerous people involved in both tourism and real estate in Argentina (actually, both are very much linked as many foreigners have bought property there as a rent-to-tourist investment) that "Buenos Aires will be as expensive as Paris, New York and Madrid in a few years time. Invest in Buenos Aires property!!" This is ridiculous. BA tries to model itself as the Paris of the South. If the real Paris is no more expensive then i think i know where most foreigners will end up...especially as the flight is half the price...

Anyway, Argentina is still a pretty damn cool place to visit and i'm looking forward to my next trip back, probably sometime in the next couple of months. Nightlife is much more fun over there than here and i love going to a packed restaurant on a Tuesday night. In Chile restaurants aren't even packed on Saturday night. That enjoy life to the full attitude is something sorely missing in Chile. I guess it's a trade off between a stable economy and culture to the roller-coaster fun of Argentina. I love roller-coasters. But they make me feel sick after too many rides.

Wednesday 1 August 2007

Cafe Con Letras

When you head up Alte Montt from Plaza Anibal Pinto, you'll reach a curve in the road with signs pointing to Cerro Alegre or Cerro Concepcion. You'll also see a huge mural in front of you and a small cafe, the Cafe Con Letras. The cafe has excellent coffee, really good puddings and cakes and a pretty extensive menu with things like salads, soups and sandwiches. Unfortunately, it's all bleeding vegetarian but the cakes are worth stopping by for alone.

The cafe also works as a small bookshop, selling slightly arty books at Chile's extortionate books prices. Most of the books are cellophaned shut but there are a few you can browse whilst sipping your coffee and chomping on your pie de limon.

One thing i should add...In every cafe and restaurant in Chile, unless you order your cortado (like a macchiato i guess) bien caliente you will invariably be served a small cup of lukewarm coffee. It's like doing your cortado as a shot. You have been warned...