First, I’m fine.  Absolutely, 100% okay.  But there were a few worrying moments today, which started in a Vina del Mar hotel.  Thursday morning, we went to Isla Negra, Pablo Neruda’s “favorite” home.  A while back we visted La Chascona, his Santiago home.  Today we toured Valparaiso and, from a distance, saw his third home.  “Why aren’t we touring that one?” was a common question.  And the answer turned out to be “because it isn’t very impressive.”  Fair enough.  La Chascona and Isla Negra are the kind of homes that take your breath away and simultaneously inspire you and convince you that you have no chance of ever being that cool.  Neruda lived a fascinating life and I will be reading some of his work.  Hopefully, I’ll write more on him down the road.

Isla Negra

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We had lunch where I made friends with a cat who then tried to use our friendship to score an empanada.  I terminated the friendship.  We got on the bus and headed to Vina del Mar and checked into the Hotel O’Higgins around 16:00.  I walked a bit, finding a cafe with a nice cup of coffee overlooking the sea while the cafe played a series of American/British pop-rock love ballads from the 1980s.  I once again got to hear a relatively elderly Chilean sing Foreigner’s I Want to Know What Love Is.  Apparently, it’s a hit here.

We had dinner at the hotel which was excellent as was breakfast and lunch today.  The room was great and it’s a grand old hotel so there are wide halls and ample common areas on each floor.  If you’re ever in town, I highly recommend it.  If there is a tsunami, I recommend heading to the roof double time.

Today started early.  I woke up a little after 5am.  About thirty seconds after I woke up, the building shook.  At first, I thought some of my students – money on three particular guys – were running up and down the halls.  But, if they had been, they’d have certainly been yelling at each other.  I don’t know how long it actually took for it to register what was happening: we were having an earthquake.  This is my first quake – I’ve felt all of three before this one – where there was quaking left to be done after I realized it was happening.  In the others, by the time I realize it’s an earthquake, it’s well over.  This morning’s quake lasted a few seconds, at least.  Not long and not bad but a much more solid ride than my previous experiences.  It registered 4.8 after being revised downward from 5.2 and was centered about 20 miles from the hotel.  A nice way to start the day (okay, full disclosure, I went back to sleep).  It woke a few students up but they weren’t sure why they woke up.  Why did I wake up?  My working theory is that I have an innate sense of nature, much like any wild animal.  My students are skeptical.

After breakfast, I started trying to round up said students.  We were to depart for Valparaiso at 10:00.  At 10:05, four of my students were present.  All of the AU kids were there as were the Chileans.  Seven of ours were having a relaxing breakfast and the others were just wandering around.  Stern Paul came out and we’ll be discussing this further.  Most of them are staying in Vina del Mar for the weekend so the correction will be administered Monday.

We proceeded to the train to Valpo and spent two hours on a walking tour.  I’m not sure anyone had a clear idea what the place would be like.  Some were like me and expected a beach town.  Others expected…I don’t know, a higher end model?  It’s a port city with great street art and really cool elevators.  But it isn’t clean and pretty and elegant as some students thought it might be.  I’ve no idea why they expected that.

As you’re no doubt aware, Chile tops out over 20,000 feet in the Andes and that is just over 100 miles inland from the west coast.  So, it starts up fast and that is evident in Valparaiso.  There are elevators used to get over the first bit but I’m guessing the residents of Valparaiso may have the finest quads on the planet.

It’s also a beautifully decorated city with ample cafes and hostels. I expect to hear about the night life on Monday.

Our ride up the hill.  And down, for that matter.

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I was on sweep.

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Some great colors on the walls.

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Nice planters.

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Two students, our guide from the university and I headed back to Santiago on a regular bus.  It costs about 5,000 pesos for a one way ticket (a little more than US$7) and, because there were only 4 of us, there was no point in our 36 person coach making the trip.  All four of us slept for the first 45 minutes for a while.  I woke up and, again, less than five minutes later the earth shook.  I’ve described the driving in Latin America and, while traffic in Chile is much, much, much (imagine a lot of muchs) calmer and orderly than in Buenos Aires or Argentina at large, people still LOVE to give as little space as possible when turning or switching lanes.  It was the latter that got us as we were passed on the right by an 18 wheeler which clipped the bus’ passenger side mirrors.  There are two mirrors there, one the convex wide field mirror which popped out, still attached by the defroster wires and proceeded to batter the (glass) door which eventually shattered.  The collision itself was quite solid – not quite as solid as the morning’s quake – and jolted everyone awake.  We were never in any real danger as the bus barely gave at all.  But the driver leaned on the horn and I heard words I wouldn’t have known had I not seen Logan with subtitles over the weekend.  It turned out we were less than 5 miles from the station so we just limped in, mirror banging on the door and really wrecking it.  Both mirrors on that side were shattered and the mounting was twisted up pretty good.  I’m guessing that bus didn’t head out on its next trip.

I’m more or less on my own for the weekend, the vast majority of my students sticking around the beach.  The poor kids.  The high in Valpo over the next two days is supposed to be around 65F, lows near 50.  Might rain.  I didn’t see many jackets.  My guess is that they come back early.  That reminds me, I need to assign some homework.

Oklahoma State, Wake and New Mexico State out before Duke plays.  If you’re curious, I don’t share our former president’s optimism about Duke.  I think they’re out in the round of 16.  Keep in mind, I haven’t watched a game in its entirety since Christmas.

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