Feliz Navidad (Merry Christmas) from Santiago and the Petite Hotel l’Ambassade

So the holidays approach.  It has been an amazingly full year, with “the trip”, the move, and now the wait for our apartment.  Reflection is for mirrors, so I’ll decline the full recap and instead just make this a status update with only a little taste of recent history.

We are, indeed, in Santiago.  Our arrival was made a bit complicated by my employer, but it is now all sorted.  Basically, the new job wanted me here quickly, my old job was reluctant for me to leave until a replacement was found.  The compromise was that I was in Santiago for a month, went back to Los Alamos for a month, and finally returned here for good in November.  My replacement (finally) arrived at Los Alamos in December.  Los Alamos does many things well, but react quickly just ain’t one of ‘em.

In parallel, Heather tackled a solo motorcycle tour of the western US, and a car trip to Chicago to see old friends.  She then followed me down to Santiago, and we set up camp in the Time Suites hotel, looking for a more permanent dwelling.

Dwelling:  After some false starts and a lot of flopping around, we found a good one that meets all needs, but that won’t be available until January.  We negotiated the deal, negotiated the purchase of the appliances from the current occupants, and notified the shippers who will deliver our stuff that we have a destination for them.  It is a big apartment – the entire 9th floor of a building (meaning windows all ‘round) on a quiet street, with amazing views of the mountains.  It has a very large kitchen by local standards, and has a nice big guest room, for anyone who may need to see the sunny south!  We decided it would be worth waiting in our hotel for this specific apartment, and settled in for the holidays.

And then something delightful happened that changed things completely.  The small hotel we had staid in when we were passing through down here insisted we move back in with them, but not as hotel guests, rather as extended family.  They have become great friends and didn’t want to see us stay through the holidays in “just a hotel”, so moved us part and parcel back to their hotel, with free run of the kitchen and dinner waiting every night when I get home from work.  Tres bien!

Pia and Mijo, two of our hosts at the hotel

One added benefit:  we are the only two native English speakers in the house, and normal conversation is in Spanish.  Not sure I can say I am improving the quality of my Spanish, but I am making my mistakes much more rapidly and with much more fluency.  Heather is teaching everyone to say “snickerdoodle” by baking cookies, and the result is a riot.  We are on-deck to cook the Christmas turkey, and the good news is I found one (un “pavo entero”) and captured it (it was frozen), hauling it home on my shiny new….motorbike!  (see below)

Motorcycles:  Non-moto folk can skip this part, I won’t be offended.  As previously posted, you can not (legally) import a used motorcycle to Chile.  For that reason, we had to sell our bikes in the US, and seek replacements here.  The first week end I was in Santiago, BMW was having a promotional event, so I (only a little impulsively) ordered two F800gs bikes, to be delivered in November.  And they were.  One is orange and black (mine), and the other is the white 30th anniversary model (Heather’s).  Of course, everyone knows that Orange is much faster than White.  We haven’t tested that yet, since both bikes are in the break in period and revs are limited to 5k.  But yes, we are back on wheels and damn, it feels great!

We are both very pleased with the 800s.  For me it is a lighter and more nimble bike (scaling back from the 1200 I sold), with a bit more off-road capability.  Not as smooth and comfy on the highway, but more fun in city traffic.  For Heather, it is a step up to more power, bigger brakes and fancier instruments, while retaining the off-road capabilities of her old f650.  They’re capable dual sports with no limitation to where they can carry, and have a very high grin factor.

We ordered Jesse bags from the US.  Al Jesse, in Arizona, makes the best cases I have ever seen, but FedEx caused us a bit of complexity getting them cleared through customs, since the value exceeded their $1,000 limit of what they will clear themselves.  It is also “strike season” and the customs workers decided to take a day off, adding one additional round trip to the airport to the process.  But happy endings abound, and they are now mounted to the bikes and ready for whatever adventures appear.

So in the end, we traded two used but servicable bikes, a Porsche and an FJ Cruiser for two new bikes.  If the theme is “simplify”, then we are succeeding.

Work:  My new job is a good one.  40% of Chile’s economy is based on copper mining, and my company builds the processing plants that extract the copper from the mountains of dirt they call “ore”.  These are mega-projects measured in billions of dollars on three-year timelines, and there are many of them.  With the price of copper at record levels, the owning companies are investing heavily and quickly.  It is nothing less than a multi-national boom, reaching up into Peru and also crossing into Argentina.

So with growth writ large on everything here, our workforce that was 800 professionals this time last year is now 1400, and must double again by this time next year.  And every pro we hire needs to know how we do things, so training and coordination will be critical.  My little niche area was a sideline for my current boss, with no one doing it full time in the home office.  Now there is me and one other. This time next year we need to have fifteen folks trained and deployed from here to the top of the Andes.  It is going to be quite a ride…

Enough of that.  Work is what we do to support our passions.  Or it is our passion.  Or some blend of the two.  In either case, it is work and my work is working, and I work with some truly great people.  Heather is working on building a clientele in her hair cutting biz, meeting lots of nice people here through the various social organizations for foreigners.

And indeed, we are foreigners.  But maybe feeling a bit less foreign than anywhere else we served in my old State Department days.   This is much closer to full immersion, and while the majority of my co-workers speak English, not all do and once out the door of the office, English is only of minimal use.

Getting to know Santiago on wheels is good fun, but some say I am truly crazy to want to ride in it.  The traffic is…interesting.  Drivers are very aggressive, but stop reliably for pedestrians, for motorcycles, not so much.  Cars are very pricey, but everyone drives like they have seven at home waiting in case they crash.  The buses are enormous and fast!  And the buses go wherever they want, because after all – they’re buses!  Motorbikes swim amongst the lanes like fishes.

Streets are mostly one-way, and left turns are rare.  Miss a turn and you may spend 20 minutes trying to recover.  And there is a very nifty automated toll system that requires you sign up in advance and put a little beeper on your vehicle that “talks” to the overhead toll machines.  Toll plazas are very rare.  Very fast and efficient.  Come to think of it, everything happens fast on the roads here.  Except that, as in every big city I’ve ever seen, the growth in dwellings and cars has outpaced the growth of roads, so jams and pinch points become inevitable.

So that is it for now.  Regret there is no real “adventures” to describe, no hair-raising rides over Peruvian passes, no beaches at sunset.  But be not deceived, as we are not tamed, merely positioning for the next round o’ fun.

Hope all are well and happy and enjoying the holidays…

Un gran abrazo, y Feliz Navidad de la Familia Rafferty!

what follows are some recent photos (as in…today) related to the above yakking:

Apple pie...yum!

Orange...the fastest color? Look close to see the FRONT license plate. Chile puts 'em on back and front.

Or could it be white is faster?

A little consultation...Vanessa.

Heather and Adolpho



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4 responses to “Feliz Navidad (Merry Christmas) from Santiago and the Petite Hotel l’Ambassade

  1. Caroline

    Dear Mike and Heather and family

    Wishing you a happy and peaceful Christmas in Santiago, or where ere ye go x


  2. Steve

    Hi Heather,

    long time! You look great!!!!


    the belgian bloke…


  3. doris

    and a very merry Christmas to you and Heather and extended family. I am sure the turkey will be one of the most memorable, regardless of the meatiness or juiciness or tastiness of it and its stuffing. I have a feeling each and every day is an adventure for each of you, no matter how unremarkable it may seem at the time, the sum of them all is what makes the rest of us jealous! We miss you and hope to see you soon. Your Christmas card went to new Mexico, hopefully to be forwarded since you are not there. Have a wonderful holiday, and keep in touch. Hugs to Heather.

  4. Larry Hall

    Hey Mike, thanks for the nice letter..I really appreciate knowing what you and Heather are doing…sounds like fun fun fun..my kind of adventure..Merry Christmas..

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