Nescafé: a marker of how far we have come

2 Jul

Some of you may not know this about me, but I really enjoy a good cup of coffee. In the states I had no trouble indulging my habit, but Chile has been different. The first sign of trouble for my coffee bliss came when one of my coworkers was reading a Chilean travel book I had brought with me to read during lunch. She suddenly broke out into laughter and informed me that travelers in Chile often complain because they can not find a decent cup of coffee. All anyone serves is instant coffee. Unfortunately that has turned out to be largely true.


When I first arrived here I eagerly sought out the places that served “real coffee”. But what I found is that they are expensive and far from my house. Eventually I caved in and bought my first jar of Nescafé. The ingredients section shows only coffee, no additives or fillers to speak of. The flavor is not the same as the coffee we know in the states. Instant coffee has a more acidic, metallic taste. I was confused by the pervasiveness of instant coffee, so I decided to do some research.


(it looks a lot like dirt :))IMG_0881


(although Nescafé is the most common,

there is a whole isle of a lot of brands of

instant coffee in the grocery store here)

Nescafé is a Nestle product that was first produced around 1930, when a bumper crop of Brazilian coffee and a new technique from Mr. Nestle to dehydrate liquid coffee into instant powder combined to make a light-weight coffee substitute that took nothing but a cup of hot water to brew. This made it the perfect product for soldiers rations and the war helped Nescafé gain a market in America and Europe (Wilson, Randy).

The Nescafé website it full of good PR for the brand. Nestlé claims that 3,000 cups of Nescafé are drunk every second. While instant coffee is only about 25% of coffee sales world wide, Nescafé dominates that slice of the market. Nescafe is the second most recognized brand name in the world, second to Coca-Cola (Wilson).  Their website has several articles showing how they focus on helping the farmers grow coffee in a profitable and environmentally responsible manner. They have set goals to increase their effectiveness in these areas. That would be an impressive amount of influence on world wide coffee growing practices, considering how much they buy and process.

My reading on the subject did not help me understand why people here only drink instant coffee, besides that Nestlé has a lot of influence down here. My best guess it that it is just because it is much cheaper than regular coffee, which has to be imported and is taxed, and because people are accustomed to the flavor and do not miss regular coffee.

And to tell the truth I have gotten used to it too. I am sure I will be grateful for a latte whenever we return to the states, but for now I have stopped missing the taste. I have gotten used to the easy routine of making a cup in the morning:

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1) boil water                                2) dump instant coffee in mug


3) add sugar                                4) add milk

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5) add boiling water                                                   6) instantaneously have coffee

I consider the fact that Travis and I are now willing to drink instant coffee, even when we go out with friends, to be a sign of how much we have become accustomed to living  here. Of course it is much simpler thing to do than to learn the language or culture, but it is also easier to measure. I hope that the change in the way we think about our coffee shows how we have grown and adapted in other ways to our life down here in southern Chile.

All the same, if you have “real” coffee at home, or even better a Dutch Brothers drive through, please drink a cup for us!



Bariloche, Argentina

16 Jun

A few weeks ago marked my and Travis’ three month anniversary of living in Chile. It also marked the day that our tourist visas expired. The easiest way for us to extend our visas was to do a little border hopping, so we took advantage of the occasion to spend some time in Bariloche, Argentina. We took a 9 hour bus ride southeast over the mountains and across the border to get there. For those of you who have not heard us complain, we are in winter down here in the southern hemisphere. One advantage of the cold, wet season is that we got to see some incredible fall foliage when we were at a high altitude on the bus. ImageImage

Some of the views of the mountains and new terrain we saw on just the bus ride validated the trip to me. Unfortunately the quality of our Iphone photos from the top of a moving, swaying bus are pretty poor, but we hope you can get an idea:





(these are the double-decker buses we travel in)

Once we got into town there were even more amazing things to see. Bariloche is a big tourist destination on the side of an enormous lake. In the center of town they have invested in public art displays and architecture that we just have not seen in southern Chile. Despite the cold and the heavy winds (as in Travis was afraid of blowing away) we spent a lot of time walking around to see all of the sights.



The lake that is more like a sea (this is not even half of it)


Pretty creepy to have this dangling along the shore of a lake, she swayed in the wind


The most beautiful cathedral I have seen in South America


“Earth Mother”


Yarn bombing!

As much as we enjoyed all the things to see in the city, our favorite explorations in Bariloche involved our taste buds. The city is famous for its chocolate stores, and we went to most of them on our own “sample tour” of the city. We tried chocolate from six places, in truffle, bar, or liquid form. We happen to have been reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in Spanish, which was the perfect combination for all the chocolate we were seeing and tasting!

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Whew, posting about it all now when we have no sweets is a little painful!

We did not stop at chocolate because the city also boasts the best ice cream shop in Argentina, “Juaja”.


I tried a lot of samples in here before choosing too!

Over the course of three days I think we ate more sweets than we usually do in a month, and we enjoyed it very much. I especially liked Argentina a lot. We found the people and the culture to be quite different from what we are getting to know in Chile. We left Argentina hoping to be able to return someday soon.

Pucón in a New York Minute

23 May

Pucón is a city northeast of Valdivia and is about 3 hours away by bus.  We had heard of the city from plenty of other people, family and friends.  It’s a well known tourist hotspot and suggested travel destination for vacationers and outdoor persons.  The town has activities for every season, snowboarding and skiing for winter, is surrounded by water for summer and plenty of hiking and regional tours for fall and spring. While Micheline and I would have liked to say longer, our budget dictated differently.  We where only in town for 24 hours, but we made the best of it.

Time Elapsed

12:30pm 00:00- We arrive at the Pucón bus station.

12:05pm 00:05- We agree upon a potential hostel.

12:40pm 00:10- We finally agreed on the direction to take toward said hostel.

12:45pm 00:15- A man greets us in English and informs us of his companies zone tour and the discount he offers if you stay at his hostel.

1:20pm 00:35- We have checked into his hostel, that was was well below our budget price, and paid for a Regional Zone Tour that highlights the natural beauty of the town minus the snow covered volcano, The Devils House. We are to be picked up outside the tour office at 2:20pm by transportation van.

2:25pm 01:10- The man from the tour office arrives at the hostel to pick us up because we’re late. We rush to the van and start our Zone Tour.

2:55pm 01:40- After picking up the rest of our group, of 12 total, we stopped at the first point.  A short forest trail to some lovely rapids.  Along the trail the guide pointed out the national flower, Copihue, and had us try a local berry, Morta.

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3:40pm 02:30- We were taken to another forest trail that lead us to two separate, equally beautiful,  lagoons which were so clear one could see to the bottom.

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4:15pm 03:05- Our third stop was at this beautiful beach.

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4:40pm 03:30- The final stop on the trip was at the local and very well known thermal baths.  The hot springs have quite a draw and exist all throughout the area.  The springs we stopped at were modern, in an area known for rustic. There were 2 outside pools of cold and warm temperature, and an enclosed area with a pool of medium temperature and well as a hot tub.  The surrounding scenery of a rushing river and green forestry was quite beautiful and serene.  In the back they were building a restaurant that they hoped with be finished within the month.

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7:50pm 06:40- After a very long day we were at the hostel in bed. The night before was a going away party for a friend, and we were up very early to walk to the bus.

Day 2

9:10am 19:00- We have woken up, paid for our night stay and put our things to be safely stored at the hostel. We begin to roam about town till our bus leaves at 12:45pm.

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12:45pm 24:15- Back on the bus headed home to Valdivia.  Our walk and through town was pleasant.  The scenery was a good mix of nature and industry.  There were clean parks, gorgeous gardens and all the tourist housing such as condos, cabañas, and hotels had a very welcoming design.  Because we were in Pucón during offseason, it did have a “ghost town” feel,  and it would be nice to eventually visit it during summer.

Das ist gut kutchen

17 Apr

Something Travis and I did not realize before we came down to southern Chile is how much German influence there is down here. The city we live in, Valdivia, may speak Spanish as the primary language, but many people speak German at home. There is a German influence in the architecture and the best school in the city teaches all of its classes in German. Valdivia also produces some of the best beer and chocolate in the country thanks to the Germans. Our favorite treat here is a “berliner”, (a German doughnut with a Chilean filling), and we have increased our German vocabulary with the phrase “das ist gut bier”.

The German influence is not only in this city, but all over this region and the surrounding region, known as “the lakes district”. Travis and I have started to take day trips to other cities in the region. Our first trip was to a small tourist city called Frutillar. The city is divided into two parts: Frutillar, which appears to be a typical quiet town, and Frutillar bajo, which is a resort town on the shore of a lake that attracts huge numbers of tourists during the summer. Lonely Planet makes the comment that the Germanness is to an extent that can seem forced for the tourists. I documented an example with this photo:


Travis and I missed the crowds and the sunny weather, but the lake is still breath taking and the food was some of the best we have had in Chile. The town has a lot to look at:Image.Image

We even found a little bit of home!


The town’s most impressive attraction is the Teatro del LagoSur, a new state-of-the-art theater that sits over the edge of the lake. It hosts everything from musical concerts to comedians to magicians.

ImageWhile we waited for the evening bus to take us home we hung out in a cafe and tried kutchen, which is a German dessert made up of a combination of layers of berries, a kind of white flan-like substance, crust, and/or crumble topping.  We were pleased to be able to use our (only) German phrase “das ist gut kutchen”.

A Chilean Easter

1 Apr

Travis and I would like to wish everyone a very happy Easter! The cabanas we will be living in are still getting the finishing touches (I think the sink was the most recent installation) and we are still enjoying living with our “host” family until they are done. Today we woke up to these from the “conejo” (bunny), or possibly the two very sweet sisters who live here.

ImageI do not think Easter baskets are common here, although you can find chocolate bunnies and eggs in the grocery stores.

A more traditional Easter would involve going to Mass and having a big meal with family and friends. Since the other members of the family had various friends to visit today, Travis and I went on our own adventure.

We walked up to the farthest tip of the island (a section of the city surrounded by rivers) that we live on, mostly to look at the extraordinary houses in that part of the city. I think they are the largest and certainly the most architecturally adventurous houses in the city; some look like corrugated metal barns and others like white cubes that you might see in the Mediterranean and still others like more traditional German mansions. We also got an impressive view of the Cruces river.

We came suddenly to the end of the street and noticed a path dropping off into the shadows. Neither of us are especially sure of ourselves on a steep incline, but we decided to follow it to see if it led to a beach on the river. We never did get closer to the river, but we followed the path through and open meadow with blackberry bushes. We continued down what must have been a mountain biking trail (we could see the treads) through the forest, going through tunnels of tree roots and fording plank bridges over muddy patches, all the while hearing and seeing birds. Eventually the path got too muddy, and I didn’t want to risk Travis’ only pair of shoes, so we headed back to the house to enjoy some of our Easter basket treats.

Brace yourselves – El Mechoneo is coming…

20 Mar

What? You’ve never heard of El Mechoneo? Well, let me tell you a tale… It started off like any other trip to the University.  Micheline and I had walked to the campus countless times before to put up and check on our flyers.  Clearly something about this time was different. Maybe it was something in the air or perhaps we could just tell because there were signs all around us, but we could sense that El Mechoneo was here. We had only been on campus for perhaps five minutes when we saw the first victim.  She was dirty, smelly, her face had something smeared all over it, and she looked as though Stevie Wonder had dressed her! Fortunately, our host family had forewarned us and told us their own horror stories of how they had survived El Mechoneo. They had been forced to crawl through mud and change their hair color.  Seeing it up close like this just made it all that more real.  Quickly, we decided that the flyers were probably fine and decided to retreat from campus to run our errands downtown instead.  BIG MISTAKE! It was after we came out of the other University that we noticed them. At first there were just a few shoeless packs here and there but soon we were surrounded.  Each pack was distinctively different, yet similar.  They all smelled of rotten eggs and sewage, with things smeared all over their face but each victim varied in gender, height, and weight. They didn’t notice us at first but once we were noticed by one group, they all wanted a piece.  All desperate. All begging for money!  We gave all we could, but it wasn’t enough. As flashes of The Walking Dead started going through my head I hailed a taxi and prompted him to take us home, Isla Teja, and the nightmare was over.

In reality El Mechoneo is a decades old tradition that happens the week after all the freshmen arrive on college campuses. The sophomores haze the incoming freshmen by cutting and/or coloring their hair.  In some instances they also put flour or eggs in their hair. We were informed that a lot of the freshman wear their most raggedy clothes because you never know when the sophomores will attack and force you to crawl through mud or cover you in suspicious substances.  Another common thing is to take the freshman’s shoes and force them to beg for money downtown to buy their shoes back.  At the end of the week the sophomores take the money and throw a large fiesta for the freshmen as a welcoming. While hazing in the United States has a very bad rep, and rightfully so, I personally think this is a way it’s done right.  While I’m sure there were a few freshmen who got it worse than others, all the freshmen we ran into were  jovial and understood what it was, a rite of passage. I think they enjoyed it.  Here are some visual aides.

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The hostel, yet not so hostile lifestyle.

10 Mar

We received fantastic news today that we will no longer be needing to live in hostels. Our new landlords were gracious enough to offer us the chance to move into their own home until ours is finished in a week.   Because of this, I (Travis) want to quickly reflect on the lifestyle that we have been living.

My college experience was different than most in that I did not live in the dorms like a good portion of today’s college students.  After these three weeks of living in hostels I can happily say that I have had my “dorm experience” and would happily suggest it to any high school senior or anyone else who might have missed out on such an experience.  The two things that I can think of that encompass both experiences best would be the community forced upon strangers and bathroom etiquette.  I for one have enjoyed the community in a hostel.  Micheline and I have met some very cool people from all over the world in a very short period.  In three weeks we have met a Scotsman, an Australian, 3 Canadian women with very different family heritages, 2 Brazilians (one of which was 3rd generation Japanese), 4 Japanese people, 2 French Canadians, a Mexican gentleman, a Welsh woman, a couple from Israel, a man from Holland, and plenty of Chileans.  We have been very fortunate that all of these experiences have been pleasant, with the exception of one that was a little awkward.  We also met a great married couple, The Wallers(, from Wisconsin who we spent a solid amount of time with. I really enjoyed the exchange of cultures that was had over food and drink,  as well as the view of my culture from outsiders.  For example, one of the Canadian women we met, Sally, has spent a large amount of time in the Southern United States and found that their text books referred to the Civil War as “The War of Northern Aggression.”

Growing up in a house with 1 shower and 3 persons of the female gender, bathroom etiquette is something I’m very familiar with.  I understand that there is only one water heater and when everyone showered, I always drew the short stick.  Because of this, I felt quite at home regards to the hostel bathroom etiquette.  First rule of bathroom etiquette, don’t be greedy.  There is enough for everyone if we all play nice.  Second rule, don’t use the middle shower.  Yes, we’re all adults, but lets not make this awkward. Third rule, if the shower can wait, wait.  Everybody knows that feeling when you’re in the shower, and you hear someone else walk into the bathroom you pray that they just need to pee or even go #2 instead of showering.  Why?  Because, you’d rather spend 5min smelling the stink of someone else, than re-crack the code that is the heavenly balance of hot and cold water coming out of the shower-head.

In conclusion I’m every happy with this experience and quite excited to move on to a new phase of the journey where I’m only smelling my own stink.