Sunday, May 31, 2009

Expatlandia...A Fictional Story.....

Bad Ex-pats. A story of greed, debauchery and shame in third-world countries.

I watched through Darlene's bay window, with the chintz curtains and padded valance, out onto the vast front yard and garden where Javier the gardener labors in a garbage-bag raincoat in the rising mud to clip and trim the roses. The rain beaded heavily on the window, and thankfully the lightening was absent. Rosa the maid cleared the table and began washing dishes while Darlene shook her head and yelled out to Javier who couldn't hear, much less see because the rain was coming in heavy sheets.

"If you ruin the roses, it comes out of your pay!" she screeches. "I shipped those from the US and I'm not absorbing anymore of your incompetency!" She is scribbling on a pad where she keeps track of how many trash bags Javier destroys to use as a raincoat to work in the rain.

Rosa slips the dishes in and out of the hot water, rinses, then drains the dishes before moving on to clean the bird cage where the captured bird snaps at her fingers.

"They expect everything from Gringos after that first fucking pay check," she remarks, and we move on into the great room where the direct TV flashes and the floor is polished to mirrors, where Rosa serves coffee. She continues, "You should stay the night. I -uh - I know you live whatchamacallit, remote". She feels sorry for me.

"No", I say. "We want to get back." She throws me a look, like - "You're kidding". No, I am not. And on the way out, we slip Javier a note. He looks up, then back at the bay window, then slips the note in his pocket without reading it.

Lunch with Darlene was interesting. We went to a small, local restaurant where the meal cost us less than three dollars a piece. I sat through her argument for a "retirement discount" which was given, and then I secretly tipped the owner more out of embarrassment than anything else. Darlene stomps out of the place with an attitude which says, "You are just lucky we are here to add so much to the local economy."

Back home, in less than the lap of "Darlene" luxury, I wondered how I happened to get caught up in a Darlene Drama. It wasn't like me at all. We put a rock behind the back wheel of the truck, and headed to bed where the scene of Javier, dripping in rain and fear of firing, stood in the rose bed would not leave me....

"Don't give these people an inch," she said shoveling in her three dollar meal. "NOT AN INCH! Let up an inch and all of a sudden you are paying for their dentures or stitches when they are too stupid to handle tools."

"And what do you pay them," I ask? She gives me owl eyes. "Pay them? I pay them the LEGAL rate. AND I pay for when Javier's kids need pencils for school, and I let the kids rake so they have money for school uniforms. Don't give me that look," she says. I don't mention that if she paid them a "living wage" they might be able to buy their own pencils. But then I think, she wouldn't have the grand pleasure of feeling like a "Duena". God forbid someone have the dignity of buying their own children school supplies or a fucking raincoat.

Less than Ten Dollars a day. That's what Javier earns. Less than TEN DOLLARS A DAY. And she bitches about a retiree discount at a restaurant where the meal is three dollars and she doesn't leave a tip? In all fairness to Javier, he doesn't earn ten dollars a day. He earns forty-eight dollars a week for a six, eight-hour day week where he cannot leave the "compound" except for lunch. He does graciously get Sunday's off for church and family visits.

Our other characters in Expatlandia:

Gabriela 65, (Gabby) former circus performer from Sarasota, four times married, three times divorced (the last husband missing). Runs an Internet/coffee shop and dates local Latin boy-toys named Felipe and David though she isn't opposed to considering any and all new ex-pats who move to town.

Beryl, 68, retired plastics salesman from Wisconsin. Divorced, two grown children who don't speak to him. Grossly overweight, badly in need of cataract surgery and a shower. Dates and marries 19-year old Marisol, the oldest of 12 children of the Ramirez family. Beryl parades Marisol around town in her new wardrobe which looks as if he's ordered her some Fredericks of Hollywood catalogs and what little he has left over from his small pension check each month is quickly swallowed up, what with the other 11 Ramirez children needing school clothes and Sr. Ramirez wrecking Beryls new Toyota Yaris,'s just damned hard to care for a family of 15 on $800 a month.

Donna and Corbin, hail from Virginia, do gooders and composters. Corbin starts a "stop-littering" campaign and pays children pennies to collect plastic bags from the town. Donna buys crochet needles for neighborhood women so they can crochet the shredded bags into "recycled shopping bags" which does not go well when there is an outbreak of ringworm and pinkeye linked directly to the used bags which have actually been collected from the town dump. Next campaign is to raise money to buy small gas stoves for the indigenous tribes in the mountains so they won't be polluting the air with wood smoke. The small gas stoves are wonderful, but the only propane tanks available weigh 30-pounds and cost more than most families make in month. Corbin and Donna return to the mountains and are devastated to find the indians have gutted the stoves and build fires inside to smoke rabbit meat. Corbin mentions to Donna that she should "leave these people alone," to which she replies, "At least I didn't give the entire elementary school ringworm," to which he replies,"whose idea was it to make purses out of trash," to which she replies, "maybe we could get these people composting toilets," to which he replies, "I'll get on my Yahoo Group and start a fund-raising campaign!" And they maneuver their $30,000, 8-mile a gallon Ford F-3500 Extended Cab carefully down the cow path onto the highway on the way to pick up a container full of used clothing to distribute. Unfortunately, it turns out not to be used clothing so much as it t-shirts printed for the Popes visit to Nicaragua for a Catholic missionary group but which were misprinted, and the kids in town run around wearing shirts that say, "Yo (heart) la Papa" (I love the Potato), instead of the "the Pope".

Verl and Roger move from some mysterious state in the US, rent a typical cement block house for $75 a month and spend $8,000 installing a ten-foot high razor-wire fence around the lot. They import four, 100-pound German Shephards from Germany and clean out the hardware stores supply of halogen lights and plastic tubing. The electric company is sent to check out the meter for the house when the bill goes from $11 a month to $300 a month. It is 10:00 am and Roger is sitting in a $700 Barcolounger on the front driveway fashioning beer tabs into a clever necklace when the electric man comes. Roger offers him a beer through the padlock gate. Roger explains in his animated Spanglish that only Verl has the key to the gate lock, and Verl is very busy turning the pot plants right now and cannot be disturbed. It's a delicate and precise system.

Billomina (Bill in her old life) is an Internet Tech person halfway through a "physical makeover" and is trying to find her way. She thought moving to a slow-paced little town in a Central American country would afford her the annonimity to stretch her feminine wings. A very nice, and intelligent person, but she obviously had some "issues" prior to her transition that leak into her new life. One of them being a propensity to exaggerate. She's been a CIA hit man, worked for Nixon, knew Elvis Presley and is the person who actually created Google but because of her sexual identity, she was pushed out and penniless. Who knows. But we all know that if she really wanted to be anonymous in her "transition" she would refrain from riding her bicycle around town with a 12-foot python on her neck. Not exactly flying under the radar. At the Illustrious Expat Pot Lucks, Thomas, veteran ex-pat, makes a point to take every newcomer aside and warn them that Billomina is a "he-she".

Meanwhile, amidst the comings and goings, the locals look on in astonished disbelief. "These are Norte-Americanos?" Well, they think..."as long as they pay their bills and don't kill anyone, who cares...."

Unfortunately.... (to be continued)

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Who Moves to Foreign Countries?

This post was inspired by a discussion thread on, a discussion forum for people who are interested in Chile, want to live in Chile, or are living in Chile.

For sure not everyone moves to a foreign country as a matter of choice. Employment, or spouses employment certainly cast a different light on the experience and how it is approached. Also, the individual reasons are different. My most enlightened experience with ex-pats was being invited to a group pot-luck in [a country I choose not to name].It was in the home of a very lovely elderly couple who were career ex-pat company people...Chiquita I think. The rest of the folks were a mix...but mostly the recent rush of disillusioned recently retired folks, or hoped-to-be retired folks who wanted to live cheap and in a temperate climate. And a few other nice folks scattered in who just wanted a different life, slower pace, and who wanted to experience the culture. The pot-luck people quickly, but politely slipped into their assigned groups.

The first consisted of the ex-pat company people who never had to open an electric account, or get a driver's license by themselves, never rode a city or rural bus, or ate anything that a maid didn't cook for them...they hooked up with the career diplomats. They discussed the indigenous artwork they had pilfered or bought for pennies, the artifacts they smuggled from one post or employment or another and laughed about bribing local officials for some favor or another. Their badge is living in other countries without "living in other countries" but having all the trinkets and pictures to prove they did. How brave. I think they passed on the mondongo that was on the buffet. They sniffed and sneered at groups two and three when they werent' looking (you know, the low downs and freaks).

The second group included the Ruby Ridge Folks (though that is an insult to the people from Ruby Ridge) and they were the people who stuffed sugar packets in their pockets and shared resources for razor wire, finding vicious dogs to menace neighborhood children and cheating maids and gardeners out of a days pay and talked of how they were always getting robbed. This group often raises money for "good causes" so long as the cause is what they thing things should be like, as in "back in the US......" These people eat meat, but watch their cholesterol and often filter their water. They hate the US, but hilariously want to re-create it in this new country. They sneered at the other groups (you know, the snobs and earth muffins).

The third group...the old hippy type, and the loners, they gravitated to the salad and veggie section of the buffet. They talked about sustainable and organic (or hydroponic) farming, organizing the farm workers for better pay, and shook their heads at everyone else for not joining their little local causes. Well-meaning causes such as raising money for the "poor indians" so they could have gas cook stoves, yet not realizing that dragging a 30-pound tank of gas through the mountains isn't a very practical idea. The wood stoves worked just fine - thank you! They didn't sneer at anyone, they only meditated that the others would find their way though truth and light and understanding. Pass the organic toasted sesame seeds.

After that, this is why we never went to another pot-luck hosted by illustrious ex-pat community. We did have friends there, amazing since I am such an asshole. But my favorite thing was being friends for the sake of being friends. No schedules, no expectations other than when you ran into each other, or things worked out for a get together, it was just the best time. No "I'm so sorry I haven't invited you..." or "I meant to stop by but...". I have friends I might not see for years, or hear from for months, but they are friends just the same. I love them for their fierce independence and aloofness. I love them because they added something to my life, even if it was just for a moment. And mostly because they like me too, even though I am an asshole.

Moving to a new country can be anything you want it to be. It's also a little bit about who you are before you go.

Weather in Futa. Childhood Memories

Plaza del Armas, Futaleufu. Courtesy of Nicolas LaPenna, Patagonia's Best Guide.*

A friend of ours, Nicolas LaPenna, sent us these photos of Futa, just in case we weren't homesick enough. Today I went out in a light jacket here in Temuco. In Futa it would be a double socks day and a fire roaring in the wood stove!

Yes, I actually miss this. I even find it strange that I enjoy this kind of weather. Maybe it takes me back to my childhood on the farm in Ohio. The snow would be so deep my father would leave us in the car with our mother at the end of our lane and trudge back to the barn to bring the tractor and...get this...the manure haul us back to the house. All of us huddled in the spreader under a blanket around our rosy-cheeked baby brother. My Dad would tell us that the Manure Spreader is the only machine in the world that "beats the shit out of itself"! Back then our mother would go out and get the virgin snow and we'd have snow cones with maple syrup on them. The syrup was from our own maple syrup camp back in the woods.

I miss HOME!

* Nicolas is perhaps one of the most knowledgeable tour guides in Patagonia. He has worked with scientists, biologists, TV and documentary crews, authors and journalists and everyday tourist, providing them with fascinating experiences in Patagonia. If you plan to visit the region, he's your man for Glacier trekking, fishing, volcano's, anything Patagonian. His photographs and experiences with the Chaiten Volcano are incredible. If you have any doubts, just Google Nicolas LaPenna.

Nicolas La Penna/ Chaitur Excursiones

Oficina: calle O´Higgins 67 / Terminal de Buses

Casa: calle Diego Portales 350 (Casa Azul) Chaiten X Region


Skype: nicolaslapenna

Friday, May 29, 2009

My little corner of the World and How to toast your nuts...

My little corner

It is a few days of holing up in the Temuco apartment while I should be out somewhere, doing something. Instead, I have made forays out to check on the dog, get a few groceries, and mostly enveloped myself in the internet world. I've made well-intentioned lists, washed dishes in the bathroom (the only source of hot water) and actually, for the first time in three weeks, taken laundry out to be done.

The dog is allegedly doing better, and he is so big and intriguing looking. He's been sedated a bit, and doesn't seem to respond much to me. Frankly, the old guy is just ready for an old folks home. I have to admit that I've fallen in love with him. I'm a sucker for sweet, old men. I am hoping that Jonathan Jara with the local humane society can find a "provisional" home for him in the next several days. As tough as he is, I don't think he would do well even if I could take him on the trip back to Futalandia. Eight hours from here to the ship that would take us another eight hours to Chaiten, then another four to Futa. While my heart hurts to leave him, my head knows it is unrealistic, and it would not be fair to him, or to me.

Nothing wrong with his eye, he's just getting some really great pain killers

My mother and her round-table of dog-lover friends compiled a list of names for the dog. Here they are:
Canall 9 gaelic for Strong Wolf
Fuerte Lobo (also Strong Wolf - Spanish
Mr Fuzzy

Very sweet! I can't pick! But I'm hoping that someone will adopt this brute and give him some name. I have avoided naming him because when you name a critter, you own them. We've had Chief, a boxer Greg had for almost 13 years. He died of old age. We had Stinky, who was the mother of all street dogs. She died from a poisonous snake bite in Panama, and then Max, who went out of his mind and had to be put to sleep. Alfie the cat ran away, and Minky is at the vet's house in Futa. She doesn't care who houses her, so I feel confident she will be just as pleased when we come back, as not!

Please support Spay and Neuter programs. Please support Humane Societies in your area. Please thank those local vets who donate time to organizations that help promote responsible pet ownership.

Meanwhile, I'm toasting nuts. I bought a huge bag of peanuts at a bulk store last week. Tonight I had a taste for seasoned nuts, so I opened the bag and tossed them in a bowl with smoke seasoning, garlic, a little salt and a pinch of unrefined sugar. I mixed them up and put them on a sheet in the oven which was set to low-low-low. I would try this again and add a little more kick like some merken, but didn't have any tonight. If you do this on the low setting and stir them around every ten minutes or so, then let them cool completely after an hour, you have a nice snack. The sugar binds the seasoning together and coats the nuts. When cooled, they are excellent!

Greg is getting his butt kicked by the antibiotics, but doing well, nonetheless. Tomorrow is basic training...his tough days lately have messed up sleep-wake schedules, which I allowed for a few days. Tomorrow will be a walk in the park, and I don't mean a walk in the park. Sunshine (or not as the weather will dictate) and outside interaction with the world is in order.

In my little corner of the world now...I've dumped the ashtray, tossed out the beer can, taken a vitamin and put the keys in my purse. Now I will shut down the computer and get a good night sleep.


Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A Street Dog Story

A Street Dog Story in Temuco, Chile

Veterinaria Sevilla on Pablo Neruda in Temuco

Street dogs in Chile are just part of life here - at least that is the mindset. Some are well cared for by merchants or people in the neighborhood where they roam and make more street dogs. Some run in packs and menace people and pets. I was walking home from the grocery store here in Temuco today and a big white dog was hit by a car in front of the apartment we are renting. The car didn't stop, of course, why would they? Five people walked by as the dog dragged itself up onto the curb unable to use it's hind legs and twitching painfully. In the picture it looks like a healthy, well-fed dog sleeping. Neither is true.

I tossed the groceries in the kitchen and walked several blocks back to a veterinary office I saw close to the grocery store and explained what happened. Dr. Felipe Lara Gallardo and his assistant at the Sevilla Clinic walked back with me to look at the dog.

Dr. Felipe (left) and Asst. Angel carefully check the dog over on the curb where he crawled after being hit by a car.

Thankfully the dogs' spinal cord and limbs were not broken, but the spinal cord was injured and swollen. Dr. Felipe gave the dog a shot for pain and had his assistant bring a stretcher and we walked the dog to the clinic where he put in an IV of anti-inflamatory meds to bring down the swelling.

Dr. Felipe and Ange load the dog onto a stretcher for the three-block walk to the clinic.

My hand around the dogs back just below the ribs.

The dog will stay at Dr. Felipe's clinic for two days. I'll contribute some food tomorrow and see how it's going. Eventually, he will be released to run the streets and search for food again. Just like all the thousands of street dogs all over Chile.

I am so grateful to Dr. Felipe and his assistant Angel - for making a "house call" combined with a three-block stretcher ride, and medical care for this unwanted dog. I am also grateful because they didn't make me feel like a doofus for behaving differently than the numerous other folks who saw this happen, and walked on.

Note: This was not my dog. I made that clear to Dr. Felipe, and he asked for no money before coming to see the dog. His clinic is not state-of-the-art, and some animal lovers might cringe with his use of a rubber band to tie off the dogs leg to put in an IV, or his use of masking tape for securing the IV in the dogs leg. Or the old equipment and lack of equipment. Vets don't make much in Chile (or in other Latin American countries), but they still do it, and I have to guess it's for love of animals. I paid him for a consult and the medicines gladly. I know that part of the problem for taking care of street animals in Chile is that people don't have the disposable incomes to help out doing this, or to spay and neuter animals. But a big part of it is that, "It's just part of life in Chile". I wonder when they will get sick and tired of this being something they are known for...letting animals starve and be injured and die in their cities and towns. Chile is so advanced and cosmopolitan in so many ways, this is a black eye.

UPDATE: There are a couple of organizations in Chile, grassroots, dedicated volunteers who are working hard to change minds and hearts, and rescue animals. I don't have to look closely to know they don't have many resources or funds, but they are very active and dedicated. This particular organization is specifically in Temuco, however, later I will post more on their future goals...

Someone wrote me an email after reading about the dog and sent me this:

If you are on Facebook (isn't everybody in Chile on it?)
They are very active here. They also do stuff in the Plaza on Saturdays.

I went to facebook and wrote to Jonathan Jara who is listed there as a contact. He wrote back within an hour with this:

Dear Vicky:

Thanks for writing and for taking care of this dog-friend. I have to guess that you got my e-mail address from Felipe, which is fine. In fact we are friends from many years ago and I know he loves animals. I read the whole story there at your blog and I have to say you're right; that is the big picture of the current situation of abandoned cats and dogs in Chilean cities.

Our group is called 'Agrupación Protectora Canes y Felinos' and we take care of abandoned dogs and cats, as far as we can, since we are all volunteers. We don't have a shelter or any such thing, so dogs and cats we help many times have to stay at volunteers' houses for a few days until we get homes for them.

Well, we do many things to help them each day but we are focused in getting in touch and get agreements withas many public and private institutions we can to continue helping them. Our website is not completely functional at the moment, but you can still download our e-newsletter there (at the bottom of the page), the address is . I invite you to visit it.

I'll try to get a provisional home for this dog, but I still need to know when is the deadline to take the dog out of the vet's. Is it on Friday??

Well if you have any ideas on how to help us or you would like to talk some more about the subject of abandoned animals, feel free to contact me to or you can give me a call to : 8 - 271 36 48 (before 7PM)

Best regards, and I hope to hear from you soon.

Jonathan Jara

Jonathan wrote later and added this:

Dear Vicky:

Theres no problem in you posting the letter. In fact, one of my personal interests is that the subject of animal regulation laws is discussed and widespread in the community, so that politicians take regular people's opinion on the subject. I would appreciate more people interacting and taking action on the matter.

Could I get contact info of (deleted), if it is possible? it is important to be in touch. Santiago is organized, but I think southern animal helping groups should be in touch and organised too. The group ' Albergando un amigo' from Puerto Montt was one of the main actors in the rescue of abandoned dogs in Chaitén, but all TV coverage and general coordination came from Santiago. We should be able to take on such work on our own in the future.

I'll do my best to get a home for this dog, unfortunately I can't promise that I will actually get one, given the current situation (all provisory homes are full of dogs).

Let me know how everything goes with Felipe. I'll try to reach him on the phone during the afternoon.

Thanks again for taking care of this dog-friend. I hope to continue in touch.

Best regards,


[UPDATED HERE to include the other post about the White Dog]

The dog is allegedly doing better, and he is so big and intriguing looking. He's been sedated a bit, and doesn't seem to respond much to me. Frankly, the old guy is just ready for an old folks home. I have to admit that I've fallen in love with him. I'm a sucker for sweet, old men. I am hoping that Jonathan Jara with the local humane society can find a "provisional" home for him in the next several days. As tough as he is, I don't think he would do well even if I could take him on the trip back to Futalandia. Eight hours from here to the ship that would take us another eight hours to Chaiten, then another four to Futa. While my heart hurts to leave him, my head knows it is unrealistic, and it would not be fair to him, or to me.

Nothing wrong with his eye, he's just getting some really great pain killers

My mother and her round-table of dog-lover friends compiled a list of names for the dog. Here they are:
Canall 9 gaelic for Strong Wolf
Fuerte Lobo (also Strong Wolf - Spanish
Mr Fuzzy

Very sweet! I can't pick! But I'm hoping that someone will adopt this brute and give him some name. I have avoided naming him because when you name a critter, you own them. We've had Chief, a boxer Greg had for almost 13 years. He died of old age. We had Stinky, who was the mother of all street dogs. She died from a poisonous snake bite in Panama, and then Max, who went out of his mind and had to be put to sleep. Alfie the cat ran away, and Minky is at the vet's house in Futa. She doesn't care who houses her, so I feel confident she will be just as pleased when we come back, as not!

Please support Spay and Neuter programs. Please support Humane Societies in your area. Please thank those local vets who donate time to organizations that help promote responsible pet ownership.


June 2nd, Greg and I took a walk to the veterinarian clinic to check up on the White Dog, which we decided should aptly be named Andes after choosing from the list my mothers friends compiled. It felt good to name the old guy and know that he passed on not being nameless after all. He had developed kidney and liver failure, and all of the terrible complications and hurts that go with it. Considering his age, there really was no other logical conclusion but to put the old guy asleep and let him be out of pain. It's never easy. And even had the vet told me that first day on the street when he looked at Andes that it was the best thing, I would have been just as difficult and sad. I do feel good that he had a chance, had there been one. I also feel good that other people several thousands of miles, and several countries away shared this street dog story with me, and cared enough to think up a name for him.

There doesn't always have to be a lesson in stories and incidents that happen in our lives. But if there is one in this story, it is that it truly does matter if you do something to make a difference. Doesn't matter if the story doesn't end as you wished it, it is just when not knowing the ending, you reached out and did it anyway. It is that in those moments when you have a second to decide on an action, you do what you think is right instead of thinking it through..."maybe I should walk on and not get involved...", or "this dog isn't going to make it anyway..." or "someone else will probably carry that old lady's bags". And no one does, and everyone walks on.

I had truly hoped that Andes would recover and make a wonderful pet for some family. Live whatever remaining time he had snuggled under a warm wood stove with someones toes working into his fur. I appreciate all the good thoughts and concerns from the Weim Ladies. And to Jonathan Jara who took the time to translate for me, and who does un-thinking acts of kindness each and everyday. And Dr. Felipe.

Now everytime I look out onto the snow-capped Andes, it will have an additional meaning. Soar on you old dog, Andes!

Wrapping Up Temuco

I think we are winding down our trip to Temuco. One last major doctor visit to ensure all the parts are in working order. I took the time to try out some of the Cachayuyo (see previous post for explaination and recipe),

and yesterday bought some of those little eggs that look like Easter candy (700 pesos for 12). Turns out they taste just like regular eggs but are a pain in the ass to peel...

I also found this bag of yeast in the healthfood section. It said Levadura de Cerveza, so I bought it just cause I thought it migh be Brewer's yeast and I want to make beer!

Then, at Al Portal, the big mall in Temuco, there was an art exhibit, and I fell in love with this carving, made from one piece of wood. Awesome. And only $5,000 US!!!! Where should I put it in my house?

The carving below was Greg's favorite:

I boxed up some of my staple stuff, spices, unrefined sugar and the like, and will send a box to myself in Futa from the Correos. After I find out how much one box will cost, I may send the others and save myself the agony of dragging it back with luggage.

We met a couple of Chile forum members a few days ago (or a week, time flies) who were very nice. It was a seven hour gab-fest with everyone talking over everyone else as if we'd all been stranded on an island with no one to talk to for the past two years! A mania English-fest!

Getting my ass moving to wrap things up is always difficult. Always. Even if we are out at our house and need to go into town, I have to drag myself. I love to "mushroom" myself wherever I am. However, the homesickness for our little cabin in the wilderness is far greater than my awful procrastination, and while the grueling journey home doesn't help, I'm more than ready!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Let's All Try some Cochayuyo!!!!

Yes, it's ugly. Yes, it's almost obscene to look at or carry home to your kitchen. But...I decided after a year and a half in Chile to try this hideous looking spectacle of a sea vegetable called cochayuyo. Here is a picture:

Keeping it real, I asked at the market for an explanation of what it was, and how it was prepared. The clerk spoke, as usual, a dialect of Spanish which I am not familiar with and I was instantly lost and almost abandoned my quest for a culinary adventure. Then I remembered my own advice: When shopping in a foreign country for food stuffs, always look for the tiniest, oldest woman, who has taken 15 minutes just to choose a tomato, and ask her. A lovely elderly woman, about 4 foot 7 inches had been working the lettuce table for almost that much time, so I grabbed the extraterrestrial food item and went to ask her about it. She said this...

You soak it overnight in a pan of water with salt. The next day you rinse it well, and cut it into pieces and serve it with oil and lemon and cilantro. I got the general idea, then came home and went to my trusty Chile forum for more takes on preparing this prehistoric beast. Generally the responses were the same, except that it turns out you should cut it into at least three inch pieces first, then soak.....

I tried it today, and it was, well....let's just say the lime, olive oil and chopped parsley I used to toss it with were the only thing I enjoyed about it. It tasted like cold, boiled pork rinds. To be fare, I love pork rinds, but crisply fried, and salted sufficiently. Not giving up, I tried a few more pieces and decided YES, it does taste slightly smoky and like pork rinds. The next logical step was to make a pot of my favorite bean soup using some lovely porotos (frijoles-beans) I bought at the market. I cheated a little by adding some liquid smoke flavor and then dumped in the Cochayuyo. I have to tell you that it is absolutely excellent! You'd think I cooked the beans with some nice, fatty ham hocks, or pork rinds. It's wonderful!

Tomorrow, I will drain and mash the leftovers and add a little garlic for a bean dip and see how that sits.

note: the Cochayuyo is a seaweed, long and tubular, brown, and frankly hideous looking. It is harvested off the coast of Chile and apparently eaten as a salad, as my online chefs shared with me. When dry and newly purchased, it has a slight mushroom odor. As it is soaked and cooked, it loses the brown coloring and the cellulose cells inside swell and fill with liquid. Might be better to use some flavoring in that process...lime, lemon, give it a little more distinct taste.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Thinking about Eating Differently

From the first week in Futaleufu, Greg and I began to eat differently. This was not a conscious effort, but simply because there aren't supermarkets, or fast food restaurants in Futa. Aside from the invading stands of snack foods such as strange corn-based cheetos-like food bites and hideously colored candies in bags, Futa offers basic ingredients, and what they don't have, you don't need. Little home storefronts are also devoid of good fresh fruits and vegatables, noteably because most folks grow their own in front, back or side-yard gardens. There is one nice produce store and the wise rule is "get-it-while-they-got-it". beginning to cook and eat unprocessed foods (even the meats are mostly local, grass-grazed, and non-hormone, antibiotic-free fare) we unwittingly began eating healthier. But we were still in that old-mode of feeling the need to have one meat meal a day and butter, real cream, eggs, home-made bread with local jam, or honey were also in our diet. Then Greg's blood-tests and his leg issue slapped me right in the old cookbook and I realized that we had to ramp it up a notch, or ten, and truly think differently about cooking. No-fat milk, unrefined sugar, or just honey instead. No butter, no oil other than olive oil (until I find other healthy substitutes), for a while no eggs, cheese, whipping cream. No bacon, ribs, or fried chicken. Go light - real light - on the salt, have lots of beans, greens and also for a while, no meats except deep-sea fish. Lots of lemon and lime and garlic and ginger and avocados. That said, here are two nice meals/and or snacks with the only processed food being whole wheat tortillas.

Shopping list:
One bag or porotos (frijoles, beans) preferrably white or brown -garbanzo beans are excellent too.
A very large bunch of spinach
fresh garlic least three
five nice tomatoes
green onion - at least 6 or 7
limes - 6 or 7
whole wheat tortillas
olive oil
5 avocados
three large Portabello mushrooms
pint of low-fat yogurt
coursely prepared mustard, regular, or dijon (though dijon has tons of salt)
Crushed dried peppers, or finely diced jalpeonos - depending on your palate.

Initially, buy a bag or porotos - fresh is better, but the dried white, or brown beans and garbanzo are good too. Put them in a pot and cook them with just a dash of salt until very soft. Take a bean from the pot, cool it, and if you can mash it with your tongue on the roof of your mouth, they are done.

First snack or meal-Baked whole wheat tortilla chips with bean dip, guacamole, salsa and yogurt. Any non-salt spice you enjoy - you can add to taste.

Drain (save a little liquid to thin the bean dip) and mash the cooked, soft soft beans, add in minced garlic and keep mashing as you add drizzles of olive oil and the juice of one lime and a litle cooking liquid from the beans until it is a soft creamy consistency.

Cut the tortillas into quarters and bake/toast in the oven until crisp.

Mash up two or three avocados, add juice of one lime, minced garlic, and a pinch of crushed dried peppers or minced jalapeonos.

Finely dice tomatos saving the juice. Add a little lime juice and a pinch of crushed peppers. This would be complimented by cilantro, but the King hates cilantro. No cilantro enters the kingdom.

Cut up one more lime into wedges. Snip off the ends of the green onions, chop the hollow green stalks. Assemble small bowls of the bean dip (best if warm) , guacamole, salsa, yogurt, green onion and chips with lime wedges on the King's Snack Tray and serve.

Portabello-Spinach Salad -

This is a great simple salad which is adapted from a steak salad recipe I saw on TV. Instead of a nice rare thinly sliced steak heaped on the salad, I used portabello mushrooms. It's simple...

Sautee the mushrooms in a small amount of olive oil and let cool slightly. Wash the spinach and snip off the stems. Cut more green onions, slice tomatos, mince a couple cloves of garlic, another avocado scooped out and sliced. For the dressing, reserve the liquid from the mushrooms (in fact, just use the pan you cooked them in. Stir in a tablespoon of honey, a tablespoon of mustard, minced garlic, and a big squeeze of lime. The mushroom juice gives the dressing a meaty flavor. Whisk it while drizzling in olive oil. Slice the mushrooms into long, thick slices. Through the spinach in the center of a serving plate, arrange the salad ingredients around the spinich. Lay the mushroom slices on top of the spinach and drizzle the dressing over top. You can add any kind of fresh greens...I love buying one head of fancy red lettuce to use to decorate the plate, and eat. You can make this an oriental salad by adding freshly grated ginger to the dressing and a dash of soy sauce to cook the mushrooms.

No matter how much bean dip I make, there is never any left. I also sweat finely chopped spinach and add it to tomato sauce for pasta.

So far these past two weeks we have had NO meat. We had salmon steaks once. No eggs, no cheese, no fat, no butter, almost no salt, no processed foods except the tortillas ...lowfat yogurt substituted for my beloved sour cream. I found whole-wheat linguini, fat-free powdered milk (we'll switch to regular milk later in el campo where there are no antibiotics or hormones in the milk) and we haven't felt cheated or starved. I have not ripped open a package of any processed foods except the tortillas and yogurt.

Greg has my home-made granola with low-fat yogurt and bananas for breakfast. I toast raw rolled oats, wheat, walnuts, sunflower seeds and some other odd nuts which I don't know the names of in English, raisins, fresh grated coconut, puffed barley all drizzled with honey and dusted with fresh grated cinnamin and nutmeg. I toast it, mix in honey, then bake it low for several hours then let it cool and break it up into containers.

I hope my trusty home-boys (mother and father) will be sending me yogurt, kefir and butternilk starter soon. That way I can just make my own and not have to buy it. And, I hope to have my little window pots of spinach and lettuce go throughout the winter, and nurse a cherry tomato plant too. I will continue to dry and toast garlic along the may diminish a bit of the medicinal properties, but the taste is unreal. Armed with my big box of other spices, and a big ginger root which I will put in dirt and grow, I'm ready to get back to the Twilight Zone which is my little homestead outside of Futa and snuggle up for the winter with good food, good company, and if I'm lucky, a little electric to fire up some music while we watch the snow fall.

We have the pig dilema to deal with. What to do with the fattened hog? I may butcher and trade the bacon, ribs and lard for other things. I also thought of selling it live, or keeping it and breeding it to sell the piglets. Hhhmmm. Things to think about. but I do know we won't be having bacon. Maybe just lean chops. It would be more convenient for me to not deal with butchering, but I will think about it and talk with Nono.

Eating better and differently isn't hard. It just takes a catalyst to shove you in, "We simply cannot eat these things, or this way anymore" and here I find myself making "choices", learning a different way, and having a good time with it. I cannot help but "present" Greg's meals to him!

"Tonight I am serving a Wonderful Spinach Salad with sauteed Portabello mushroom and a Ginger, Honey Mustard Dressing. " Oooh! Ahhh!


"Our Saturday evening meal is a Baked Salmon Steak with a Yogurt Dill Sauce and a Watercress Salad with a Olive Oil Lime dressing and toasted garlic." Watercress, he says...isn't that rabbit food? Shut up and eat, I say. And he does.

(I will edit this post and add photos of the meals later.)

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Standing tall and looking gooood!

And here he comes, walking down the street, singing doo-ditty-dum, ditty-dum, ditty doo....

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Trip to Temuco and a Femoral Bypass

Greg and I headed out on a cold, overcast Monday morning at 6 a.m. on a bus to Chaiten. Four hours later we were boarding the ship in the harbour. It is a pleasant eight-hour trip to Puerto Montt. We plugged in the computer and watched movies and listened to music. Unfortunately the weather was rainy and cloudy, so the views along the coast were mostly obscured.

In Puerto Montt we disembarked and walked across to a crappy 5,000 peso hospadaje to spend the night. This is the kind of electric pole you will find outside a hospadaje charging so little. We had a nice view of all the street dogs below, and the Duena warns me not to go outside at night!

Innovative Electricity Hook ups

In Puerto Montt we took a bus to Temuco. The purpose of our trip was medical. Greg had recently experienced increasing pain in his left leg when became impossible for him to walk from the house up to the road without crippling pain, and a visit to the doctor in Futa confirmed that he had a serious problem. There was no pulse in his left leg below the knee, and little above. The doctor in Futa referred us to a vascular surgeon in Temuco at Clinica Alemana, which is not a clinic, but a full-fledged, modern hospital. We arrived in Temuco around midnight on a Tuesday and at 7 a.m. Greg was admitted and wheeled away to start all the tests; angiograms, echo-somethings, EKG, blood tests, the works. A couple of blockages, hardening of the arteries in the leg, On Friday he was discharged with femoral bypass surgery scheduled the following Wednesday.

Surgery done and a complete success, he is planted back in the room and his first two concerns are the hydro system at the house, and the TV remote. This is a guy with priorities!

Greg has a snack after surgery...precious TV Remote laying within quick reach.

He will be sprung on Monday if he's a good kid this weekend with physical therapy and walking. We will spend the rest of the month here for follow up before heading back to Futalandia, and hopefully an electrified house.

Anyway, aside from the obvious lessons like paying attention to your aches and pains, and having emergency plans when living in remote areas, there is another lesson. Chile is not a third-world country, it has incredibly talented doctors, surgeons and health care professionals, as well as excellent facilities. Just because Chile is south of the border does not mean it has substandard health care. In fact, so far, this has been an incredible experience...and we feel like we made the right decision in staying here in Chile, instead of making the trip back to the US for evaluation and surgery. From Greg's first visit to a doctor in Futa, to his surgery at Clinica Alemana in Temuco was two weeks. We even got a complimentary DVD of his angiogram! I know many folks are apprehensive about medical care outside of the US, and while there are some countries which should cause concern, Chile is not one of them.

All is good. I'll get some shopping done, stock up on some spices, get some spare parts for the truck, and May 30th, start the slow trip back to Futa, where it is fully into winter now with freezing temperatures and snow!

Our smooth experience was facilitated by Zandra Valenzuela and Charles Spencer, our good friends at who have once again rescued us. Zandra is an attorney (and law professor) who along with her husband Charles, have put together a team of relocation specialists and they tackle everything from property purchases, to visa issues, translation services, and assisting with situations such as medical emergencies. Dr. Marcelo Lagos at Clinica Alemana was wonderful and patient with our Spanglish. Typical of many Chileno docs, he's cute too.

So in our five-star hospital room, we are enjoying a continental breakfast while listening to some nice jazz on the computer as I tap away at this post. Yes, in-room wi-fi! Greg is already surfing channels for some Futbol. While we'd rather this trip had been for pleasure, the experience has been one of the most pleasant hospital experiences we've had.