Passport Approved: My Summer Travel and Music Plans

Bizarre travel plans are dancing lessons from God.
Kurt Vonnegut

I am currently listening to the latest from Passport Approved, which credits itself as “an internationally syndicated tastemaker import radio show.”  That can only mean one thing: there is travel on my horizon.

I have noticed particular peculiar propensities that power up inside me when the travel bug bites.  The first is, as you might expect, an adjustment in the music that I listen to.  Normally, I sail down the street each day listening to my local Minneapolis radio station The Current (which I highly recommend), but there are some international feels that it does not satisfy.

My plan is to go to Austria in July and participate in Mid-Europe, an international wind band festival in Schladming, Austria.  After reading about this small town, I learned that it has hosted the World Championship for the International Ski Federation twice, which means pretty mountains live there.

I am going to teach my saxophone how to yodel.

I am going to teach my saxophone how to yodel.

Mid-Europe has an honor band call the World Youth Wind Orchestra Project that I have submitted an audition recording for, and now I simply lay in wait for the result.  I am not getting my hopes up; in fact, I am quite prepared for a rejection.

I wanted the most well-qualified recording that I could come up with, so I thought it would be a good idea to have a piano accompaniment.  Unfortunately, the microphone was a bit too close to the piano, and our recording process was very rushed so I did not have the wherewithal to do a sound check. (We were pressed in between the end of the school day when I finished teaching and when the pianist had to go pick up her daughter from school.  Safety Warning: No tempos were injured in the recording of our music.) Additionally, I have learned that because I play the saxophone, I must always be prepared for rejection.

Accepting that rejection is all right was actually an easy conversation to have with myself.  If I do not pass the audition, I will simply attend the conducting masterclasses as a passive participant and bask in the beautiful light of wind band knowledge.  Then again, nothing is stopping me from at least applying as an active participant and actually conducting (SCARY).

I will come clean, though.  This week-long conference is going to be couched in about a month or more of personal travel that, for all intents and purposes, will be #@$%ing amazing.  So whether or not I perform at Mid-Europe, I will still learn a great deal about wind bands, meet important figures in our shared field, and take time to explore new parts of the world.  Now would be a good time for you to set up a date for coffee with me in Prague.

Chile Rising

I follow Estudiantes Informados (Informed Students) on Facebook, and earlier today they posted this video, created by Fault Lines, an English language news source from the Middle East. It beautifully describes the education conflict in Chile that I experienced, synthesizing facts, the history of Chile’s politics since the coup d’etat on September 11th, 1973, and interviews with leaders in both arenas.

The video opens with marchers playing a simple rhythm on metal fencing, an infectious pattern that became familiar while walking through Valparaíso in the middle of the day.

A group of parents and adults banging pots and pans in front of each red light.

Students, teachers, taxpayers; in small huddles or large masses; all would chant and cheer and this rhythm was the heartbeat of their collective energy.

Outside of the Pontifical Catholic University of Valparaíso.

Lemons - to reduce the effects of tear gas.

At the end of the video, you hear the song “Shock” by singer Ana Tijoux. I’ve posted and translated the lyrics at the end of this post. The song is centered around the idea of the Shock Doctrine, a term coined by author and journalist Naomi Klein in her 2007 book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism.

A “Shock Doctrine” is the employment of economist Milton Friedman’s free market economic plan during times of great turmoil and upheaval. This is what was referred to in the Fault Lines video when the Chicago Boys were sent from Chile to study economics with Friedman in the 1970s, and employ his Regean-era policies in the fresh dictatorship.

(Haz clic acá para leer las letras en español.)

Your monologues are poison,
Your discussions colorless,
You don’t see that we’re not alone.
Thousands pole to pole!

At the sound of one choir,
We will march to the tune,
To the conviction, “stop the robbery!”

Your state of control,
Your rotten throne of gold,
Your politics and your wealth,
And your treasure, no.

The hour sounded, the hour sounded.
We won’t permit any more, any more of your Shock Doctrine.

The hour sounded, the hour sounded. (x4)

No countries, only corporations
That have more, more action,
Fat slices, powerful decisions by the few.

Pinochetist constitution,
Opus dei rights, Fascist books.
Coup supporter dressed by an elitist pardon.
Drop the drops, drop the purse,
The takeover takes the broken machine.
The street won’t quiet, the street is scratched,
The street isn’t quiet, debate that explodes.

Everything leaves, everything’s sold,
Everything profits life and death,
Everything’s business, like you,
Seeds, Pascuala, methods, and choirs.


Coup to coup, kiss to kiss.
With desire and breath,
With ashes, with fire,
From the present with remembrance,
With certainty and with bleeding,
With a clear objective,
With memory and with history,
The future is now!

This whole test tube,
This whole laboratory every day,
All of this failure, all of this economic model
Doomed like the dinosaur.

Everything’s criminalized,
Everything’s justified in the news,
Everything leaves, everything’s trampled,
Everything’s filed and classified.

But… your politics and tactics,
Your typical laugh and ethnicity,
Your manipulated communication,
How many were those that were silenced?

Cops, water tanks, and nightsticks,
Cops, water tanks, and tuna,
Cops, water tanks don’t add up.
How many were those that robbed the fortunes?


The Musician and the Con Artist


I forgot to mention yesterday about the music shop. Before dinner, after returning our rental bikes, we took an unfamiliar street and found it: a store that sold musical instruments and jewelry (can’t avoid the latter). Grinning, I dragged Sophie inside. On display was more copper jewelry (copper is a huge part of the Chilean economy) and local instruments: flutes, rainsticks, recorders. I began speaking with a female worker about them — she spoke in a thick French accent and directed me to a Chilean man sitting in the corner behind a work desk. He was making jewelry and happily gave me a demonstration of the recorder; a wooden tube about two feet long with large fingerholes and only a round slice in the top that you blow across to produce the sound. What a beautiful sound! It was breathy, woody, and warm, like the stove fires that keep you cozy during the Chilean winter nights farther south.

Once I told him I was also a musician, we struck a deeper chord. He pulled out a small pink rock, about the size of a pocketwatch, that had been carved into a whistle. The sound was piercing, but with a beautifully pure tone like an eagle’s cry. He changed the pitch with his thumb covering and uncovering a hole on the side, and altered the sound by rolling his tongue.

“¿No se venden?” pregunté. They’re not for sale?

“No, lo siento,” dijo. He explained that they were meant for rituals, and in respect, he couldn’t sell them.

“Entiendo,” dije.

The one he played is in the right. The larger one was unfinished.


Back to the present.

This morning we packed the last of our things in San Pedro. While looking up the address  online of our next hostel — “Terramar” — in Ancud, Chiloé, Sophie found a curious thing (Chiloé is an island — the second largest island in South America — off the coast of Chile in the 10th Region, about a 2-hour plane ride from the extreme south).

Turns out, the owner has cheated some of his guests.

Turns out, the owner has traveled around South America doing that.

Turns out, our next hostel was owned by a con artist.

According to several comments on a hostel website, he had offered tours to his guests for exponential prices. There was an entire blog post about him, with a picture, known pseudonyms, and places he was known to scam. With only ten minutes until our van came to bring us to the airport, and a day of plane rides ahead of us with no internet connection, we had to make a decision.

The website we used to make the reservation, Hostel Bookers, said we could possibly be charged for our entire stay. At $6.000 a night, or $18.000 overall for each person, we didn’t want to risk losing so much money. Also, all the scamming reported on the website had to do with the thours, while other comments claimed to love the hostel and its friendly environment.

Against everything our mothers taught us, we decided to proceed as planned, with extreme caution. We arranged our spiels: we already planned all of our touring, and we weren’t going to share any details about it. However, we would keep it in the back of our minds that at any time, we could find an excuse to leave.

“What if,” said Sophie, “we got there and it’s closed? Like, the police have shut it down?”
“Then we wouldn’t have anywhere to sleep.” 

For the rest of the day on our flights, from Calama in the desert to Santiago, then from Santiago down to Puerto Montt in the green south, then on the bus rides from Puerto Montt to the island of Chiloé and the town of Ancud, we tried to make the best of the upcoming reality that we were about to do business with a Chilean con artist.

Arriving in the south gave me some time to forget about it. My first few hours has given me a great impression. Seeing trees and grass again is like a refreshing drink of water for my eyes. The desert was a wonderful experience, but I don’t think I’ll be able to permanently live away from flora, fauna, and particularly, water. Our bus drove us onto a ferry to get to the island. Ancud is a port town, I believe, and the seafood is supposed to be incredible.

Chiloé. Something like the midwest.

So, after seeking out directions from the bus station to our hostel (around 10:30 pm), we walked along the beach and found it nestled halfway up a hill, at the curve of a road. It was later than we had told the web site we would arrive, but we didn’t think there would be a problem. Only the con-artist part.

I rang what I thought was the doorbell. Nothing. We knocked. Nothing. I tried to call them. Voicemail, no dial tone.

“What’s the deal, Terramar?!” asked Sophie, knocking loudly.

A voice called to us out of the dark. From the neighboring house, a dark Chilean woman was leaning out the window with a dab of white shaving cream on her chin. The hostel was, in fact, closed.

“¿Por siempre?” Forever?


She told us, though, that they also ran a hostel-type function, called an hospidaje, and she could help us out by offering rooms.

A young woman, probably in her early 30s, answered the door. We explained our confusion, and she said they had rooms for $7.000. We said yes.

The hospidaje is beautiful. It’s a huge European house with gorgeous furniture and a dog wearing a sweater in the kitchen. We tried to pick her brain (the woman’s, not the dog’s) about Terramar, but we only learned that it closed last summer (the North American winter).

Maybe our new hostel owners are con artists too, and maybe not. But the hosue is old and cozy, with the right amount of creaky floors and musty odors. Instead of avoiding it like we would have at Terramar, I am excited to eat breakfast tomorrow and talk with the owners and other guests before we head to Castro, towards the center of the island.

Desierto, Ruinas, Perros

Date/Fecha: 1.8.11

¡Feliz agosto!

Hoy día, fuimos a ver la Valle de la Luna, que fue maravillosa. Para ir afuera del pueblo y mover las piernas fue un sentido refrescante. Espero que mañana podamos hacer más trekking, o montar en bicicletas de montaña. Siento la necesidad a moverme más, porque en el pasado no me movía debido a mi tarea y el carrete.

En nuestro tour, conocimos a un hombre irlandés, se llamó Dallan. Él dejó su trabajo y decidió a viajar antes de empezando algo nuevo. Llegó a Argentina primeramente, y viajó a través de casi todos los países suramericanos. Ahora, planea a continuar al norte — Bolivia y Perú — y se irá de Lima en un mas más. Me gustó mucho oír el acento irlandés, especialmente cuando se dice, “Oh, for fuck’s sake.”


El día final en San Pedro de Atacama.

We said a long, chilly goodbye to our travel buddy, Lydia, at 7 am this morning as she waited for the van (which was expensive, by the way) to pick her up and bring her to the tiny Calama airport. We then fell back to sleep, and started the morning over around 10 with a slow breakfast at the same café as yesterday. Their eggs and toast and café con leche was marvelous, though we might only think that because it’s been so long since we’ve had such a North-American-style meal. Eggs. Toast. Coffee.

We then wandered to a bike rental and spent about $7USD on a great day. We biked out of town to the ruins of the Pukara de Quitor. Along the way, a dog befriended us that we named Lassie (very original, as always). Unfortunately, Lassie was a bit overprotective, and angrily jumped at a passing Chilean on bike who, upon learning that Lassie wasn’t ours chasing him off, gladly gave us advice about crossing the river that covered the road. We crossed 3 or 4 such rivers before reaching the ruins.

I won’t describe every detail behind the ruins, but they were amazing. They were built up a hill to look out over the entire valley in which was situated San Pedro. The signs, however, were deceiving. As we climbed the ruins, they said “No Orillar,” which means “Don’t skirt (the edges),” even though the designated path brought us directly to the edges of the cliff-like hillside.

After the ruins, we went to a lookout point much higher by way of a path that wound back and forth up the neighboring hill. Halfway, while we took a rest, I looked back along the trail that we already walked.

“Here comes Lassie.”

We couldn’t believe our eyes. Lassie was making his way up the trail, and soon stopped about 20 meters below to watch us. We tried to sneak away when he wasn’t looking, but it took Sophie a harsh “¡Vaya! We don’t love you!” to get him to head back.

Up at the top, we discovered that we were on the opposite side of the Valle de la Muerte that we saw yesterday on our Valle de la Luna tour. A huge cross stood to commemorate some 300 indigenous people who were massacred by the Spanish. Around the cross was written, “My God, My God, why have you abandoned me?” in four languages. I find it ironic, though, that there is a Christian symbol commemorating the massacre of non-Christians by Christians. ¿Cachai?

In the meantime, as we marvelled, Sophie took a look back down the trail.

“Lassie’s back.”

Over and out

I’m currently in San Pedro de Atacama, and have written on paper some of the things I’ve done. Here are those entries, more or less, up until day 3.

Sunday (day 2, after traveling).

My eyes cracked open and I couldn’t see anything. In confusion, I swung my head around in a sleepy attempt to shake off any blanket that covered it. I then caught sight of the faint grey outline of the window on the other side of our room. Outside was a rumbling of voices – French, German, Spanish, and English – that, when mixed together, formed an amiable din like laughter.

Unfortunately, this joviality made sleeping difficult.

Even with our long, final day of sad goodbyes over, even with the late journey alone out to Santiago and the overnight wait in the airport, even with a half-hour nap on the flight and the 2-hour van ride in the morning to our hostel in San Pedro de Atacama, sleeping soundly was like balancing a wine bottle in its cork.

After our less-than-peaceful night of rest in the hostel, we woke up at 3:30 am to be picked up for a tour of nearby geysers. Within 2 hours, our bus ascended 4,000 meters into the high plains of the Andes above San Pedro. Surrounded by dozens of volcanoes – many of whom have long lost their names due to the death of the ancient, indigenous language – was a geothermic plain, flat and filled with geysers and hot springs. The temperature was about -6C or -10C, with a fierce wind that bit. Unfortunately, this wind dispersed the geysers’ steam. Supposedly, the steam rises many, many meters into the air and forms a dome over the entire plain. If the conditions are right, this dome may even snow.

And that’s way we woke up at 3:30 in there morning.

In the plain, we ate a chilly but delicious breakfast. Traditional flat, round bread to make cheese sandwiches, hot milk, coffee, cakes and jelly. We drove a short while to see a hot spring, gawking for four minutes (certainly not five) at the youth of our world who dared to swim in the frigid climate (it wasn’t the going in, it was the getting out).

Along our way home was a tiny pueblo that I will mention. It was about 2,000 meters lower and once held many more people. As a result of the exploitation of work opportunities and natural resources by big companies and the government, they are limited to surviving solely on tourism. Now, there are only 4 or 5 inhabitants, and they make handmade crafts and homemade food.

Delicious homemade food.

Because of the wind, they could not have an asado (a big barbecue of chicken and slabs of pork). Because of bad timing, they were not making sopaipilla (small, flat fried dough). But I ate two unbelievable cheese empanadas while walking through the few houses and peeking at the white Spanish church in the center. Every house had a cross on the roof, but they existed in South America long before the Spanish came and represented the Southern Cross in the night sky. It felt good – morally good – to buy those empanadas. The image of that church beneath a snowy mountain will always bring back the memory, though I’m afraid that my own memory of it will go beyond the inevitable end of what once was a hard-working, hard-earned pueblo in the high plains of the northern Chilean Andes.

After that is when we get to where I am writing this in my journal. We arrived back in San Pedro in the middle of the day, with barely a horizon except clouds of sand. We covered our faces with scarves while walking back to the hostel, though it didn’t keep sand out of my teeth and we still comically swiveled around when a particularly violent gust blew. Everything inside our room had a fine layer of dust, which accumulated, even with the door closed, within minutes. I suppose that’s what might happen in the driest desert in the world. The power, also, was out, which provided an atmosphere where the best option for activity was sleep.


It’s now nighttime. I ate two empanadas de pino and a monjar pastry for dinner, which I bought from a small store a block away. We also split a liter of chocolate milk, which is incredibly delicious here in Chile. The winds are still raging, though there’s less sand. I’ve always enjoyed sitting warmly indoors and listening to the wind batter the walls outside. The large group of French people in the hostel attacked the showers earlier today when we got water (which we didn’t have for a day or two), and now they are sitting in the kitchen, where I would have heated up the milk if they weren’t, chased out of the courtyard by the wind. This probably means a quieter night for us sleepy-heads.