Arañas de Rincón: Trophies of 2013

Today I’d like to commemorate the several Chilean recluse spiders who have died at the hands of Edwin or myself over the past couple of months.  After the one I blogged about in September, I’ve decided to document their tragic deaths, basically so that I can have the pictures as trophies.

Now, I must first say that I love spiders.  I had never been afraid of spiders up until this point—between living in Vermont and adoring Charlotte’s Web, I’ve never had a compelling reason to dislike them.  I’d never met a spider that could kill me before.

And then I saw my first araña de rincón, the Chilean recluse spider.  She was perched carefully above the doorframe.  She was quite large, maybe a little under two inches including the legs.  Edwin yelled, killed her, and then I became afraid of these Chilean recluses.

Meet the Chilean Recluse

Araña de rincón en el rincón!Why are they so scary?  First of all, they’re in your house.  Second, I’m not a huge fan of necrosis or possible death.

The spider’s names tell us quite a bit about its behavior: it is often found in corners (rincón) and is reclusive, meaning it usually won’t attack you.  In fact, a Chilean recluse probably won’t bite you unless it’s pressed against your skin.  That’s the good news.

The bad news is that, since they’re reclusive, they hide in dark, damp places, such as your bathroom cabinets, your closet, or that pile of clothes that you left at the foot of the bed last night.  And you don’t know they’re there.

The other bad thing is that if they bite you, your skin turns into a gaping, infected wound that either does not heal or else heals very slowly.  If you don’t believe me, just search “Chilean recluse spider bites.”  Not for the weak of heart.

Ways to identify the araña de rincón

Male Chilean recluse spider

  • Brown body and legs; the thorax is slightly lighter than the abdomen and often has a mark on it that resembles a violin (hence the nickname “fiddleback spider” in English)
  • About one to four centimeters in length, including the legs
  • Moves incredibly fast in comparison with other spiders and Spiderman
  • Has six eyes instead of eight

I love you, tiger spider!

Please note that this is quite different from the araña tigre, which cannibalizes the araña de rincón.  This spider has long, spindly legs that can be three times the length of its body.

Two things that come to mind when you see la tigre: 1.) O, blessèd spider!  Depart not from my bedside! 2.) SH***********OT WHERE ARE THE ARAÑAS DE RINCÓN???

Prevention and treatment of bites

The summertime is the busy season for Chilean recluse spider.  They reproduce and hunt more in the summer than any other time of the year, and so you should be especially wary if you’re here to enjoy the heat.

  • When getting clothing, shoes, or other items from a closet or dresser, make sure to shake them out before putting them on.
  • Check the bed sheets before going to sleep.
  • Don’t play in closets or under the bed… or anyplace you might go if you were a spider looking for a dark, quiet place to KILL.
  • Clean regularly!  Move your furniture and other things around to scare those suckers away.
  • DON’T KILL THE TIGER SPIDERS (see pic above): they eat the Chilean recluse and do you no harm!  Seriously, check it out.

If you are bitten:

  • If possible, catch or kill the spider so that you can bring it with you for identification
  • Usually there won’t be pain at first, but the bite will gradually start to redden
  • Apply ice to the bite to slow the process
  • Wash the area with soap and water
  • Get to a hospital for immediate medical attention.  This is very time sensitive!

And with that…

Happy New Year!

Stay cool!  Stay safe!  I, personally, will be heading back to the beautiful snow and ice of the Green Mountain State in another two weeks, so I will be recluse free!


Chile: 7 Things I Like About You

Honorable mention: this ice cream

Honorable mention: this ice cream

When I was a kid, if I called my sister “stupid” or my brother “ugly” or whatever, my parents would make me say seven nice things about the other as a consequence.

I must confess that sometimes I give Chile a pretty hard time.  I’ve been really frustrated for the past month or so, and I think I owe it to Chile to say seven nice things.

Here are some reasons I love you, Chile.

7.  Almacenes or corner stores:

In most neighborhoods, you can buy fresh bread daily by walking to an almacén within five minutes of your house.  The owner, who will probably call you mi hija, usually runs the almacén out of part of his or her house.  We have three of these within a five-minute walk of our house.

Almacenes are much preferable to a convenience store or gas station on the corner, which is what we typically have in the States.  And the funny thing about those is that they frequently aren’t really “around the corner.”  And nothing, nothing, is fresh there.  What up, food deserts!

On a related note…

From our local feria6.  Fruit and veggies!  

I love the fruit Chile has to offer.  Of course, for those of you from warmer climes, maybe this isn’t so impressive.  I’ve spoken with Colombians that feel Chile has a small and expensive selection of fruits and veggies.  But for a Vermonter, this selection is phenomenal.

As I’ve mentioned in other posts, you can buy fresh produce at the weekly ferias that happen on a weekly basis in most neighborhoods.  Some highlights for me: lúcuma, chirimoya, avocado, strawberries and all of the exotic fruits I mentioned in this post.

5.  Political discussion:

While the US has tabooed socialism and communism as the most “un-American” things you could possibly discuss, Chile is a highly capitalist state whose next president will probably be socialist Michelle Bachelet.  Bachelet is running for the Nueva Mayoría, a political coalition that includes parties such as the Socialist Party, Christian Democrats, the Social Democrat Radical Party, and the Communist Party.

In the US, the moment someone begins to talk about something like socialism, a forcefield of caution begins to flicker up around the listener.  Even if the listener is a young, educated, liberal, the fear is there: is this person a nut job?

4.  People are affectionate.  

I know that in other places in the world, particularly other parts of Latin America, Chileans are considered cold and distant.  But for a gringa, the people are much warmer and more affectionate than the typical Usonian.

This makes some gringos uncomfortable.  However, I am in constant need of physical contact, and so it helps that it’s perfectly natural to touch someone’s arm during conversation or hug and kiss a person in greeting.  Back home, I’m notorious for invading people’s personal bubbles; here, I’m considered to not be as awkward as other cold gringos.

3.  Chilean poets:  

What more do you want to hear?  It’s the land of the poets—such as Gabriela Mistral, Pablo Neruda, Pablo de Rokha, Vicente Huidobro, Nicanor Parra, to name a few whom everyone should know.

Go read them.  And check out my posts on Neruda’s houses.

2.  It is beautiful.  

I know I complain endlessly about life in the city—the smog and the lack of green and the ugly buildings—but Chile is much more than Santiago.  It is one of the countries with the most diverse, rich, and breathtaking landscapes in the world: the desert, the beaches, the forests, the lakes, the mountains, the strange and otherworldly Patagonian terrain, even down to Antarctica.  Unparalleled, in my mind.

And along with the diversity of terrain comes an explosion of endemic flora and fauna.  Seriously, there are almost three thousand plants unique to Chile.

Finally, and most importantly,

1.  Its people: 

Where to start with this vibrant and quirky people that I’ve so come to love?  The first thing that comes to mind when I think about Chileans is their humor.

There’s something inherent to the rapid fire Chilean Spanish that lends itself to humor.  Chilean Spanish is full of opportunities for double entendre and dripping with character.  On top of that, when telling stories, my husband’s family showcases a range of the human voice that rivals that of Mariah Carey.  That kind of expression is simply funny.

Chileans are quick to laugh at almost anything—even things they probably shouldn’t laugh about, like the numbing terror of living through the golpe militar and subsequent torture and disappearances.  Or talking about living in extreme poverty and becoming malnourished.  In these situations, Chileans use laughter as a way of connecting with others, a way of being able to express difficult times and be assured that life goes on.

My in-laws with their English class

In less serious occasions, Chileans are equally ready for a laugh.  This morning, for example, I was waiting to make a transfer in the metro.  Since it was rush hour, there was a huge mob of us waiting for the next train, which was very slow to come.  As it approached, metro workers told us to step back, as the train was going to another station.  Several people started to jokingly boo the worker, as if it were her fault, and then the majority of us began to laugh at the situation.  Granted, sometimes people really get angry with workers, but that wasn’t the case today.

So Chile, I’m sorry

…for calling you stupid, ugly, and hopeless at times; there are many things that make you special, and many things that I can learn from you.

Alright, readers; what do you appreciate about Chile?

Trifecta: Chile Hates Me

Well, friends, I’m exhausted.

So here’s the Chile-hates-me trifecta of the day:

  1. I went to pick up my national identity card.  I waited in line for two hours.  Then they told me it wasn’t ready and to come back in 10 days.  It was supposed to be ready on October 23.
  2. I had to take the TOEIC.  (It’s like the TOEFL, but not as hard.)  A job that I’m applying for is actually requiring this of me.  Because two American degrees plus the GRE, SATs, andMTELs aren’t proof enough.  Regardless, the experience was entertaining:
      1. Number 2 pencils and eraser: $770.  
      2. Cost of the test: $36,000.  
      3. Experiencing the test administrator’s speechlessness when you raise your hand and say you’re from the United States: priceless.
  3. We don’t have our house yet.  Why?  Because the owner was married when she bought it, and even though she and her spouse are legally separated, the bank requires his signature.  Unfortunately, he went into a coma a couple of weeks ago.  WHHHHHATT?

And with that,

I’ll leave you to contemplate the manifold implications of this fortune cookie gem:

forest fires??

Ten More Reasons Not to Drive in Santiago

Judging by the insane amount of traffic and the continued irritations I’ve suffered in the last couple of months, my post Motivation to Stay Off the Roads in Chile has not been effective.

So I guess I’ll try again.  Here are some more reasons to avoid driving in Santiago.

11.  Tacos: No, I’m not just saying that the existence of tacos means that you should be eating them rather than driving, although I’m sure I could make an argument for that.  Tacos are traffic jams.  During rush hour, you might get home faster walking than driving.  And with Santiago’s sprawl, that’s saying something.

As a side note, rush hour seems to be about 12 hours apart… but maybe that’s why you shouldn’t work here.  Also, you’ll note that basically all cars have only one occupant.

12.  It’s EXPENSIVE.  This article from 2010 says that the average Santiaguino pays about 4,000 USD a year to maintain and use a car, which could be more than the US average.

Yes, gas is expensive.  Yes, parking can be quite expensive.  In fact, Esto No Tiene Nombre recently did an exposé on the “abusive charges” for parking here in the capital that cited the average daily spending at about six thousand Chilean pesos, or twelve U.S. dollars.  And then there are…

13.  The tolls.  The toll system here in Santiago is a little too complicated for me to get into in this post.  Maybe that’s one reason not to drive.  You have to either buy a TAG, which is a chip that records your monthly toll use and charges you at the end of the month, or pay for daily toll passes.

To the Chileans out there: what are the costs of buying and maintaining a TAG?

snuggling streetdogs14.  Dogs in the street: Sometimes they are chasing cars and biting at their tires, sometimes they are running around simply being dogs,  and sometimes they wait patiently at crosswalks for the light to turn green before crossing with the pedestrians.  How can you drive with that kind of distraction?

15.  Cyclists that don’t use their lane or helmets.  Oh wait… what lanes?

The funny part is that men pass me on the sidewalk in spandex.  Really?  You can’t go that fast.  You’re on a sidewalk.  The girl with the bike basket and the skirt is gaining on you.

16.  Running red lights.  Red Light/Green Light is a child’s game.  In the adult world, we have yellow lights.  And it’s so that the teacher can’t catch you when she says “Red light!”  Either that or something about keeping people from dying.

The video below is what happens every day without fail.  That’s why I only had to record one time to catch people in the act!

17.  Getting lost: road signs are optional.  Sometimes, the name of the street is painted on  the side of the street’s corner house… in the shape of a road sign.  Of course, after living in Boston, it’s not so bad.

18.  Stop signs after pedestrian crosswalks.  What?  Below is a tricky situation where there’s a yield, but not until after the crosswalk.  Message: yield to cars, not pedestrians.

Crosswalk where cars don't have to stop?

19. Protests and marches.  Chileans are all too eager to have protests, demonstrations, or strikes (Read more on these “traffic hazards” in my post Sea Lions on Strike?).  And this can cause some serious traffic problems for the entire day.  Below, you see Santiago’s main street closed as students push for free education.

20. Did I mention the potholes yet?  Oh, I guess I did.  Here’s a new one that showed up in front of our house a couple of weeks ago.  People began to desperately throw anything into the gaping hole that threatened to swallow their car.


But how will I get to work??

I’ve not only given you some reasons to stop driving, I’ve given you some reasons to start walking, cycling, taking public transportation, or to try a combination of walking, biking, and public transportation–whatever works for you.  You will be surprised at the time you’ll save and the stress you’ll avoid.

Of course, Santiago still lacks much of the infrastructure that would allow it to be a more efficient and navigable city.

What are some ways we can change our thinking about transportation in Santiago?  What do you do to have a more enjoyable and efficient transit to work etc.?

Reasons to Buy a Fanny Pack and Get On with Your Life

My fanny pack has received varied reactions from my gringo friends that range from disgust to mild amusement.  And then there are those who don’t even question it.  It’s just me being me.

If you are one of those who are highly resistant to the idea of donning a fanny pack, I hope to convince you that they’re worth it… especially as a gringo in Chile.

Handmade fanny packs from !!

1. Reduce your chances of being pick-pocketed.  It’s harder to steal a wallet, cash, credit cards, or condoms from a fanny pack.  (I don’t actually recommend carrying condoms in a fanny pack… or a wallet, for that matter.  Too much wear and tear for that to be safe.  MOVING ON.)  First of all, a fanny pack is situated in a place most people aren’t about to grope for.  Moreover, it’s more visible to you.  And there are fewer easy ways to access the cash—it’s zipped up, to name one.  But one factor in the lowered probability of pick-pocketing may just be…

2. Appear more Chilean than you really are.  Believe it or not, most gring@s aren’t about to hop on the fanny pack bandwagon.  So you will make people question whether or not you’re a gringo just by wearing one of these bad boys.  Don’t get me wrong, you still have to rock a fanny pack the right way.  Get one that suits your style—they come in all different colors, fabrics, and sizes.  And I feel cooler with mine when it hangs to the side just over my hip.

3. They’re convenient, comfortable, and can be cool.  If you’re used to a purse, you don’t have to carry it around anymore.  Who wants to always be thinking about that thing hanging from your shoulder?  It’s much more comfortable to wear a fanny pack.  Or maybe you’re one of those people who wear a wallet-shaped hole into their pockets from always carrying their wallet in the same exact place.  Not anymore.  It’s fanny pack time.

So, recap…

Rihanna rockin it.Reasons to strap on a banano and move on:

  1. Travel worry-free in the metro, la vega central, patronato, el persa biobío, and beyond.
  2. Blend in with Chileans
  3. BECAUSE COOLNESS: look at Rihanna wearing one to the left.

That’s it for today!  I am now headed off to celebrate Chile at some fondas!  I just stopped by my house to drop off my backpack and load up my fanny pack.  AWwww yeah.

Fanny pack users:  what do you love about your fanny pack?  Those of you who don’t yet don the banano: what is taking so long?

Mixed Signals of Spring…

Today has marked three important signs of a coming change in weather.

  1. The first bloom has blossomed on the almond tree!
  2. I heard Edwin swear*, which meant…
  3. An araña de rincón was not far away.

Somehow, in spite of the recent frigid weather and several days of rain, the almond tree in front of my in-laws’ house pushed out dozens of precious green and barely pink buds last week.  And then pop!  The first dainty flower appeared, waving the still distant spring closer.

First almond bloom


No sooner had I snapped a picture of the flower than I walked in to the house to show Edwin… and that’s when I heard it.  Something about mothers and shells followed by a swift butterfly kick to the wall.  What you see below is all that was left of the Chilean recluse.

Squashed Chilean Recluse

So there you have it!  Spring must be on its way, what with the flowers and the spiders and stuff.

(*For those of you wondering, the last time I heard Edwin use that kind of colorful language was when we returned from our trip south and had a huuuuuge Chilean recluse waiting for us above the bathroom doorframe.)

Santiago, I’d like to file some complaints.

I haven’t thrown in enough facetious commentary lately, so here’s a short list of Santiago-inspired peeves…

1.  Dog Jackets: It seems that Chileans have taken it upon themselves to properly prepare street dogs for the wet, chilly winter air.  I’m not sure if this is a step toward a more caring and sustainable relationship between Santiago’s street dogs (which number between 200,000 and 500,000 according to different estimates) and the cityfolk, or if it will just be a soggy irritant to the dogs.  Judging from the look of ecstasy in this little guy’s face, I’d have to say that this effort has significantly improved canine happiness levels in Santiago…  Although it would probably be better to reduce abandonment and generate responsibility in the city’s pet disowners.Perro callejero con abrigo

Svelty cream... looks fine

2.  In the Thick of it:  For some reason, Chileans are really big fans of thickening agents.  Everyone has heard me complain about how Chile puts gelatin in all yogurt.  But did you know that they also add a hearty dose of thickeners to cream?  Or soy milk?  I certainly didn’t expect it.  Mind you, this is not curdled or sour; this is the way they want it to be.

Svelty Cream: delicious

And speaking of cream…

3.  A Bit o’ Better Butter:  A big part of what makes baking hard for us gringos here in Santiago is that the butter just isn’t the same (time for vegan baking!).  It tastes different.  It’s yellower and the texture is odd.  But most entertaining of all is that it just doesn’t seem to cream wellCreaming fail

I would not call this ideal...4.  Piteous Pizza: I don’t know where to start with Chilean pizza.  The sauce is never good, the crust is a travesty, and the toppings are probably only worth it if you were already planning on eating meat of questionable origin.  Below, I’m featuring a beauty of a specimen from Pizza Hut Delivery, but the must-see for another post are the cardboard-like discs smeared with red or orange food coloring for “sauce”… Mmmmmmm, just add cheese.  Something tells me Lunchables are better.

Pizza Hut masterpiece

5.  Pruned to Death: At some point over the course of the winter, about half of all Santiaguinos will be gripped with murderous intentions.  The lovely and sparse trees that bravely stand their ground on Santiago’s streets usually fall victim to this bloodlust.  I’m not an expert on pruning (here’s what the experts say), but I’m fairly certain that chopping off every last branch on a tree is not ideal.  And I’m not sure what the thinking is behind this, but I think it might go something like this: “Man, this tree looks ugly.  I bet it would be prettier as an exalted stump.”Over-Pruning Stumps Me

I hope you enjoyed the kvetching!