Day 3 – Arica, Chile
We hit land for the first time, landing in Arica, Chile. Emma suddenly became apprehensive – we are really and truly in a foreign country. It is interesting how quickly we establish a home base and comfort zone. The idea of walking on foreign soil in a land where English is not the language, suddenly hit her. Especially when it required getting out of bed before 11 a.m. I waited until the last possible second (7 a.m.) to rouse her, and it took some grandmotherly persuasion to get her up. Kisses, tickles and a few friendly threats eventually worked. Something tells me this may be the daily routine.
The sunrise/sunset in this area of the world really throws me. As we get closer to the equator, the days and nights are of equal length. Twelve hours of daylight and twelve hours of night. I don’t like it! No daylight savings time. Twelve hours is a flipping long time to be dark! Sunrise doesn’t come until after 7 a.m. That, coupled with the time zone changes, I can’t tell what time of the day it is. We had to be ready to leave on our excursion by 8:15 am, and I was worried we would oversleep. Also, the sunrise and sunset is very quick. One minute it is dark and then suddenly it is light outside. No lingering sunrises or sunsets. Perhaps it is a reminder that we need to live in the moment and be aware of our surroundings; including the people we are with.
George is a perennial procrastinator, so between getting him going and Emma up, I was frazzled. Oh my, we might miss breakfast! God forbid this food-focused frenzy of a grandmother should miss chewing her morning cud! Get up you lazy louts and don’t make me miss my food. The world will end, yes – I cannot miss my food! At this point we have 15 minutes to get to the food, eat and make it to the other end of the ship to meet with our excursion group.
The kind, patient and caregiver grandma/wife did the only thing a food focused weight loss leader can do. I said, “See you at the muster point for the excursion. I NEED FOOD!” and left them.
I have taken a vow not to take the elevator. It is only seven flights of double-stairs to the Buffet. 142 stair steps. I now have 12 minutes. I can do this! I start jogging up the steps. Suddenly, all my walking/exercising from yesterday hits my calves and they start cramping. I’m winded, as well, and personal recriminations for not exercising more before the trip are shouting in my ears. Should I skip breakfast? Hell, no. I love my food, more than sore muscles or the prospect of a heart attack. I keep climbing. I concentrate of visualizing my lovely breakfast plate. No food obsession here, of course.
In record time, I stagger to the floor with the buffet. Clutching the wall I try to get my breath. George ambles off the elevator, raises an eyebrow to me with a superior smirk, and heads to the buffet.
We now are truly down to minutes. I grab a croissant and slice of frittata to take back for Emma and wrap it in a napkin. A scoop of scrambled eggs with a few slices of soft-smoked salmon and a roasted tomato fly down my gullet. George slowly strolls up with a heaping bowl of slow-chewing Muesli, eggs, fruit and rolls. Chewing patiently, he reminds me of a Jersey cow chewing her cud in the pasture. Only the Jersey doesn’t check Facebook while she chews.
This is the story of our marriage. I am frenzied and over-prepared, George takes his time, eats slowly and figures they will wait for him. And they generally do.
I left him ruminating on the state of his muesli and rushed back down the stairs to grab Emma, forced a croissant into her hand and rushed us to the debarkation point for our group. George joined us at his own pace, and made it just before the group marched off to the bus.
Our tour guide spoke English well, but I can’t say she was particularly knowledgeable on the subject matter at hand, which was a disappointment. Arica is a tired looking city on the Chilean border. Chile, Peru and Bolivia are the three touching countries. Apparently they all were at war at one time or another (the guide was a bit vague) and Arica was at the heart of it, having periodically belonged to each of them. It has a great seaport, so everyone wanted it. Especially Bolivia, because it is a landlocked country and needs access to the sea for trade. It eventually ended up that Chile won, Peru lost and Bolivia has permission to use Arica as a port. There is actually an international court case pending right now to allow Bolivia to have a corridor to the sea, including, Arica. So they may change landlords again.
It is a well-worn city, which is a kind way of saying they have a ways to go for urban renewal. It sits beside the ocean, on a desert. The only green comes from careful drip irrigation. The river that runs through it has water January thru March. We would call it a sandy creek – for them it is the major water source. There are a number of living areas that consist of haphazard tin roofs and gaping walls covered in boards and plywood. The are jammed together, sharing “walls,” with weaving paths between them. The government must build temporary walls around these settlements somewhat hide them, but you can see down into them from the hillsides. It has to be a terrible existence. It also appears they periodically bulldoze them down. There are large sections on the roads that looks like a leveled landfill. Garbage, tin and plywood all buried and sticking out of the soil. The guide was careful never to mention any of the poverty, but it was apparent. It was an eye opener to Emma and a sober reminder of my easy, and privileged, life.
When I pointed one out to Emma and explained that people live there, in the heat, without apparent water, she took a double-take and asked if it was for real. A piece of my heart regretted that she had to see it, but she is growing up and this is the real world. Girls the same age live there, and what they must think of us looking down into their homes from the luxury of an air-conditioned tour bus. Emma tries, but doesn’t have a great poker face, and her face reflected surprise, disbelief, understanding and compassion – all in the span of a few seconds. And we both felt a guilty sense of unworthiness at our lovely lives.
There are also acres and acres of plastic greenhouses, growing crops, using drip irrigation. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the tomatoes used in our homes don’t come from Arica. Not one crop of anything was growing directly outside; it is much to hot. Inside the opaque plastic coverings, you could see workers bent over while tending and harvesting the plants.
Arica is the home of alien art work on the hills. Funny, that is how I have always seen it on TV. You know those shows; the slightly spooky baritone voice echos that these are giant pictures left by the ancients as signals to outer space. Nobody seems to have heard that story here. They are so misinformed in Arica! Don’t they know that this is a giant info visual of landing information for alien life forms? They seem to think their giant art was made from volcanic rock, carefully set in place by natives who did this as art in the hot dry desert with little vegetation, thousands of years ago. Actually, it has continued throughout the ages and some of the art is very recent.
Of course they are amazing, and giant. The size of their scale isn’t apparent until you realize the distance. It took a lot of imagination and thought to set these rocks in place and then have to hike a huge distance from them to see how it looked. “No, that llama neck is all out of kilter, better move those rocks a bit to the right…..”
Arica is the famous home of the Andean mummies. Ever since I had watched a documentary about them, they have been on my bucket list. The first excursion cruise I had booked was the deluxe mummy and Andean geoglyph tour. I was devastated to find out later that the customer service rep had accidentally deleted our excursion when I was purchasing George’s specialty dining meals. By the time the error was discovered, the tour was filled and we had to be content with the shorter, less extensive tour. I want to say that Celebrity admitted their error and gave us a good discount on another purchase as compensation. But I was very disappointed. For me, the mummies and the Panama Canal were the two big draws of our voyage.
But back to the mummies! We were taken to the official mummy museum, which was seriously interesting. These mummies were far more complicated than I expected. Some as old as 8,ooo years old; these babies make the Egyptian mummies seem recent in comparison. Again, the guide was a bit vague, but it appears they only stopped the practice of mummy art in the 1500’s when the Spaniards wiped out the Incan people.
From my vast TV documentary education, I knew that they had found mummies in a sitting position. Their bodies had been preserved in the hot caves of the desert. Sort of like the old geezer I thought was a mummy on the cruise ship. These mummies were folks that wore grass skirts (too hot for jeans) and lived in primitive lean-to type coverings. They made bone hooks and fished, plus hunted for small game. The museum had many daily tools found at the burial sites.
Ancient life is always so much more complicated that we assume. There were many tribes, and they had different rituals and mummy stylization, including some of the mummies found in a sitting position. While the early tribes were considered to be a primitive, these folks had complicated and elaborate death rituals. How “primitive” is that? It included removing the internal organs, using sticks to reinforce the skeletons, posing them in their death position, wearing their finery to express their station in life. The tools of their trade (hunter with a spear), dishes, jewelry etc, were placed with them and set into their final resting location.
Obviously, they treasured life and believed in an afterlife – for all ages and stages of life. An unborn fetus was mummified, as well as children born alive. I was hit by the dignity of their efforts, and the pain a mother must have felt sending her tiny child into the hereafter. She grieved as deeply as a mother does today, without a doubt.
After the tour, our bus dropped us off in the best part of the town for tourists. Emma was hot to go back to the ship; she was definitely a bit nervous at wandering without a guide. But then we spotted a McDonald’s and that restored her nerve. Until we approached it – then she kind of panicked. We were all starving (except George) because of our abbreviated breakfast, and Emma declared she had always dreamed of eating at a McDonald’s in another country. George brightened at this – he always wants to go to McDonald’s in other countries and I won’t let him.
A granddaughter’s request pulls far more weight than a spouse – so off we went to McDonald’s. I did tell her that I wouldn’t have my lunch there; I love eating local cuisine and somehow a Chilean Big Mac wasn’t going to do it for me.
Again, she panicked as we approached; what if they didn’t speak English? I told her they probably wouldn’t – but we could figure it out. This McDonald’s had a special annex outside of it that sold ice cream cones and McFlurries. That threw her because we don’t have those in Portland, Oregon. She decided it was a far more sophisticated Micky D’s than in America – and it made her nervous. At this point, I was physically holding her arm and pulling her towards the door. She was ready to run, so I shoved her in.
Emma is definitely experiencing some travel angst at being a stranger in a strange land. Her initial reaction is to run; we may do a lot of hand holding and dragging on this trip!
The menu was in Spanish, of course, but it wasn’t too hard to figure out. She refused to order and asked George to handle it. Then she said to ask for it without lettuce, mayonnaise or tomato. Like George speaks Spanish. George looked at her like she had just asked for a check for a million dollars. I mentioned she could just pull them off and not eat it.
George may have a doctorate of law, but as far as a flair for languages – well, this man is not a linguist. He probably thinks that is a type of pasta. I told Emma she better be happy if she got a chicken burger and she could pull off the lettuce.
Now, I have the same linguistic ability as George. But I do cook and I know pollo means chicken. On the menu, it says McPollo – which I pointed out to him. He nodded knowingly, and this lovely Chilean girl asked for our order.
At least I think she asked for our order. She could have been saying “Hey, you fat American – what sat fat are you thinking of adding to that already corpulent waistline??”
Actually, she had the sweet and patient look of a person who knew she was up against a challenge. As our conversation (if you could call it that) progressed, her look keenly resembled the same teenage look of panic on Emma’s face.
George mustered his best Spanish accent and says slowly and loudly, just in case she was deaf and had a cognitive disorder –
“MY….GRANDDAUGHTER….WANTS…A….CHICKEN…..SANDWICH…..AND I WANT A KIT KAT MCFLURRY.” I think his slight Spanish accent added a touch of flair to his request.
Her sweet face fell, and she repeated her original question in Spanish back to him in the same slow and ponderous fashion. She probably thought he was old, deaf and slow, so she was earnestly trying to help him out.
Emma grabbed my arm and pleaded permission to leave. She knew this was not going to work out well. I whispered she had better get used to it – this was traveling with Grandpa.
“George! She doesn’t speak English,” I mutter. “A chicken sandwich is called McPollo – and I point to the menu.” Please note that I did know enough to say a “y” sound when there are two letters of “L” together. At least I thought this was correct!
George waved me away – he was conducting business here. He repeated his original order, only more slowly and in a louder voice. I hiss “Two “L” sounds make a “Y!” I point at the sign – see it there? McPoi-yo!”
Giving me a look, he turns to the girl and says “KIT KAT MC FLURRY!” She gets this one and nods eagerly.
Then he says “POLO” like he is going to mount a horse and whack a ball. Now the poor girl is really confused and starts looking wildly about the room for help. Her comrade next to her was busy and waved her off. She smiles weakly as George shouts “PO-LO”. “PO-LO.”
Emma has disappeared around a corner and is peeking out from behind a column. I’m not sure whether to laugh or yell at poor George, who is just trying to buy his little Princess a chicken burger.
Finally, the girl gets the attention of the guy next to her. He said something and she grabbed a pad of paper and wrote the price down. I nodded enthusiastically, thinking she had got the PO-LO and now wants cash. George hands her a credit card, which she takes and completes the transaction for him. Thank goodness he didn’t offer her American dollars. Although many of the vendors accept dollars instead of pesos, it would have started a whole new discussion – which neither of them wanted.
Whew! We moved to the other end of the counter to await our order. Emma came out from behind the column and said she had no idea how difficult it was to order food in a foreign country. Oh my goodness. With the number of people in the US speaking Spanish, I feel really stupid that my language skills are so inadequate. About that time, the girl who had helped us comes around the counter with a big smile (so happy to be done with these incredibly obtuse Americans) and hands George his McFlurry. No chicken sandwich.
Emma looked crushed, George looked satisfied and said he was going outside to eat it. And walked off. Emma and I looked at each other. She said, “It’s okay, forget it.” I started laughing like a psycho grandma and told her that we can do this. Poor kid looks like she knows this won’t end well, but takes a deep breath.
With more assurance than I felt, I bravely walked to another line and avoid the one with the nice girl. I was afraid she might quit her job if she saw me there. Mustering my total conversational Spanish, I say “Uno McPollo” also read the name for French fries, which I can’t recall. Memory is the first thing to go, you know….
This apparently meant I was ordering a Micky D meal and he started rattling off a conversation asking what else I wanted. All my bravado fled, but I did hear the word “Sprite” in there, so I nodded yes, although I knew Emma would have preferred a coke. He beamed at me, I passed over my credit card and all in the world was good.
Emma came out from behind the plant where she had been hiding, and was amazed that I had managed to order. Secretly I was worried that we would get something totally different – but voila – one chicken sandwich and a drink appeared. Okay, two orders of fries also came, but on the whole, I think I did pretty well. I also decided that I had sweat off at least the number of calories in the second order of fries, and ate them. Emma swore the chicken was different in America, but the fries tasted the same to me.
George’s McFlurry was amazing looking – tons of Kit Kat and heaps of caramel on it. I don’t know if we have it in the States, but gosh it looked tempting!
Afterwards, we walked down a lovely section of town that had shops all around. Everything that could be found in America. We bought makeup in a makeup store. Besides my computer cord, I had also forgot bring my makeup. Emma LOVES makeup and she had a great time checking it all out. George did a masterful job of paying for it all, since he didn’t have to order anything. I totally have no idea what it cost; probably twice what we would have paid for at home, but it was the experience that mattered.
I found a beautiful hand knit alpaca baby sweater for my friend Marilyn’s grandson. Marilyn is a wonderful attorney who is also subbing for George, and because of her we can take this trip! I also found a lovely, cream colored alpaca shawl for myself. I’ve always admired them, but they are so expensive at home. Much less expensive in Chile! At least I think so!
I was still starving, so we had an incredible lunch at a seafood restaurant. Again it was the language barrier, but I knew the word “mar” meant it came from the sea, and beyond that it was an adventure. I saw a super good looking plate of salmon go by, and lo and behold “salmon” is the same word in both languages. I was not disappointed! I did mess up, because I thought it said it had a salsa on top of the fish. The waitress was rattling off something, and I heard the word “mango.” Immediately, I thought she meant mango salsa, but she was asking if I wanted fresh mango juice. Thank goodness I misunderstood, because I would have missed out on a glass of nectar, straight from the gods. I know it was 250 points of natural, sugary goodness – and worth every single point. I almost licked the side of the glass.
Emma, still filled with her McPollo, snacked off our plates. I had a two giant pieces of salmon with a potato dish and a great salad. Instead of dressing, they served fresh, juicy limes to squeeze on it. Fresh greens, white beans, cucumbers, truly ripe tomatoes – oh yeah! The only points were in the potatoes, and Emma ate most of those. George had a hamburger that was the size of a cow’s leg with incredibly tasty fries. I do believe they were fried in lard – remember those old days when a fry really had great, greasy flavor? Yeah, a cow had to die to make it happen, and apparently they still do in Chile.
Ever health conscious, George abstained from a huge selection of Chilean desserts. Thank goodness, because they looked so delicious that I would probably have eaten one. Or two.
We wandered slowly back to our ship, having survived our first port. We didn’t lose our granddaughter, only a bit of dignity at McDonald’s. All in all, it was a ton of fun, and watching Emma gain confidence throughout the day was a big joy in itself.
I think I mentioned that I forgot my darned charging cord for my laptop. There is actually an Apple store on the ship – isn’t that amazing? You can buy a new laptop, but they didn’t have any cords to sell. I must be the only person who has ever forgot their computer cord. But the crew is absolutely charming, and the nice young man at the ship Apple Store, offered to charge it for me every day. All I have to do is drop my computer and pick it up later. And no charge for the service!
Whenever we are in a port, all the ship stores are closed, so I couldn’t drop it off when we left for Arica. Stores open as we leave port, and I dropped it off after dinner. They are open until 11 pm, and I intended to pick it up – and then write my daily email. After dining, however, we went to the nightly floor show (another winner!) and were forced to walk through the casino to get back. George and Emma forged on and went back to the room, but I focused my eyes on the flashing lights of the slot machines, and became hypnotized. Funny how you snap out of it as soon as the cash in your pockets disappear. Forty dollars later, and past 11 pm, I staggered dizzily back to our room. Emma said the computer guy called and he had closed for the night. I am going to have to get more organized with ship life, or there will be a daily dead battery to contend with.
We have another day at sea, and then we hit Peru. More fun to come!