A Month in Silicon Valley: Part 1

Last year, I was sent for a month to my company headquarters, located in Silicon Valley. With four other teammates, we went to know the Mountain View local team and to learn from them. In this bad attempt of a travel log, I will comment on the things that caught my attention of United States (or at least of the San Francisco Bay Area) and some stories of the travel.

One of my biggest surprises from the States is that the urban design is too much car-centric. My first time living this urban philosophy first-hand was some years ago, when I came for a work interview and I had the brilliant idea of walking to my hotel from the nearest BART station 1.

That's why you don't simply walk into Mordo–I say– in the States.

That's why you don't simply walk into Mordo–I say– in the States.

This time, the company rented a car for us, so I didn't suffer as a pedestrian, but I couldn't get accustomed to the differences of the city design.

Fry's

In the Third World, or at leas in Chile, electronic goods are mostly sold in two kinds of stores: department stores, that only have a little of consumer electronics, and specialized stores, that even then have little variety. In the land of freedom, though, they have the Electronics Mecca: Fry's. In this megastore, you find from electronics components, like resistors and capacitors, to computers and even home appliances. Like a colleague of mine said, the fact that you can go with cart and take an oscilloscope from the shelves is on another level.

There is even one in a Mayan styled building. Don't ask me why.

There is even one in a Mayan styled building. Don't ask me why.

Stanford

Although in Chile we have some pretty nice university campuses, they never reach the scale that is common in the States, so we paid a visit to a nearby one: Stanford.

After the quest of finding an empty parking spot2, we started wandering until the museums in the campus caught our attention.

What? Your campus doesn't have an Art Museum inside? Shame on you.

What? Your campus doesn't have an Art Museum inside? Shame on you.

Since we arrived a bit late, we didn't enter the museum, so we could see more of the campus. Given that they were more buildings with interesting architecture, I think it was some of the few times that we made a good call.

One of the Architecture Department corridors.

One of the Architecture Department corridors.

When the meal time came, we ask a security guard for pointers, but it seems that he trolled us we didn't understood him, so we ended up at the student dorms. Even when we were lost, we managed to find the food court and the souvenirs shop, which is attended by the students to finance their activities. One of my teammates bought a hoodie of his Alma Mater.

Then you can say that you went to Stanford.

Then you can say that you went to Stanford.

The dorms.

The dorms.

First Weekend: San Francisco

To plan for our free weekends, we asked our US teammates for interesting places to go. Of them, Andy Frazer3 had the more experience traveling the nearest places and gave us a lot of tips for our planning. So, we set sail for San Francisco.

Caltrain

For our first visit to San Francisco, we used the Caltrain4. Thankfully, we could park on our nearest station. Like someone said us, probably a lot less people would use it if you couldn't. I really liked that you can buy the tickets on a machine, so you avoid people interaction.

Arriving to the Caltrain terminal station.

Arriving to the Caltrain terminal station.

San Francisco Station.

San Francisco Station.

Embarcadero

Once we got off the train, we started to walk to the Embarcadero5. In our walk, we passed by the San Francisco's MoMA6. While two of my teammates were doing an express visit to the expositions, the rest wandered the surroundings, including the Finance District. However, when we saw a security guard dressed up with more style than we could ever hope to achieve, we remembered our Third World origins and came back top the MoMA to rendezvous with our teammates and went to lunch.

At the background left, you can see the MoMA.

At the background left, you can see the MoMA.

After restoring energies, we resumed our path to the Embarcadero. For mysterious reasons that are beyond my understanding7, piers are always filled with tourists traps. However, we already had tips of the place, so we avoided the traps relatively well (except for the Pier 39's souvenir shops).

When we arrived to the Embarcadero, we got to the ferry terminal, but a ferry tour wasn't on the plan, so we skipped it.

‘‘Nothing is softer or more flexible than water yet nothing can resist it’' – Lao Tzu.

‘‘Nothing is softer or more flexible than water yet nothing can resist it’' – Lao Tzu.

It is not the United States without blues.

It is not the United States without blues.

In his tips, Andy mentioned the Pier 7, which he said it is a very popular location for wedding photography. Said and done, when we passed there was a photo session in course.

I didn't have a good feeling about the photographer after he used a single speedlight to light a group photo in the middle of a sunny day. I hope he knew what he was doing.

I didn't have a good feeling about the photographer after he used a single speedlight to light a group photo in the middle of a sunny day. I hope he knew what he was doing.

After a long walk, we finally arrived to the most important pier (or at least the most touristic): Pier 39. Here, we first met the Penny Machines. This machines press a design on a penny coin for ¢50 (so, in total you spend ¢51). Also here, my teammates fell victim to the siren's song of the souvenir shops.

The crab is the icon of Pier 39.

The crab is the icon of Pier 39.

My teammates admiring this wonder of engineering.

My teammates admiring this wonder of engineering.

A seagull watching the horizon on Pier 41.

A seagull watching the horizon on Pier 41.

The view of the Fisherman's Wharf from Pier 41.

The view of the Fisherman's Wharf from Pier 41.

After a quick stop at Pier 41 to take some photos, we went to our next destination: Fort Mason.

Following the suggestion of another US teammate, Derek, we ended our journey at The Interval8, a theme bar/museum based on “long term thinking”. On this line, they have a library that is supposed to gather the knowledge necessary to rebuild civilization (of course, only based on a western/european view) or a system of bets where you can bet with an equally pretentious friend on things that will happen after you both die (like if the Santa Teresa's Sanctuary9 will be finished before Universidad de Chile has its own stadium10).

If you pay a lot of money, you can have one of the ceiling bottles with your name..

If you pay a lot of money, you can have one of the ceiling bottles with your name..

Like every bar, I like this one better from the outside.

Like every bar, I like this one better from the outside.

Academy of Sciences

Andy is also a volunteer at California Academy of Sciences11, so we paid a visit per his suggestion (and hoping to see him diving with the fish, but we didn't). The Academy is located at the Golden Gate Park12, which his huge and it seems to take a few days if you want to do a thorough visit, but didn't have that much time. As always, since everyone moves by car, parkings are scarce, so our first mission was to find a free parking spot.

As we got off the car, we were received by a typical scene from the US.

As we got off the car, we were received by a typical scene from the US.

Before going into details about our visit to the Academy of Sciences, I will summarize the experience as: I would like to have thins that nice in Chile (even though I admit that in the recent years, museums have gotten way better).

My kid self would be crazy if it saw this at a museum entrance.

My kid self would be crazy if it saw this at a museum entrance.

We started our visit by the diorama area. In this case, they represented African ecosystems. On the same hall, the Academy has the pool with the African penguins13, which Andy told us he had cleaned a few times.

100% real Oryx 1 link megaupload.

100% real Oryx 1 link megaupload.

The African penguins pool.

The African penguins pool.

Hey, Listen!

Hey, Listen!

Next, we went to the Planetarium to watch a presentation about Dark Matter, introduced by the voice of Neil de Grasse Tyson himself. During the presentation, one of my teammates fell into the arms of Morpheus, thanks to the very comfortable seats. After delving in the mysteries of dark matter and skipping the earthquake simulator, since a little floor movement is chileans bread-and-butter, we went to see the Pterosaurs exposition.

Quetzalcoatlus northropi's skull.

Quetzalcoatlus northropi's skull.

A scale model on the ceiling, remebering us the span of these creatures.

A scale model on the ceiling, remebering us the span of these creatures.

Pterosaurs lived on marine habitats, ocuppying ecological niches similiar to our contemporary seabirds.

Pterosaurs lived on marine habitats, ocuppying ecological niches similiar to our contemporary seabirds.

After visiting the exposition, we went to the biodome. The main attraction are the variety of its butterflies. If you are lucky, you can even watch butterflies emerging from their chrysalides. Although, most of the butterflies are very active, the installations have for for them, so you can observe them more easily. They also have life-sized models that are so good you only notice because they are still.

A key momentto photograph butterflies is when they are feeding.

A key momentto photograph butterflies is when they are feeding.

They have fountains where you can get a closer view of the butterflies.

They have fountains where you can get a closer view of the butterflies.

Here you can clearly see the butterfly's proboscis. This is not a subliminal message so you watch Butterfly's Tongue.

Here you can clearly see the butterfly's proboscis. This is not a subliminal message so you watch Butterfly's Tongue.

Last but no least, we paid a visit the Academy's aquarium. The aquarium has a great variety of species, including Finding Nemo Dory's specie: the blue surgeon fish14. On the more exotic side, they had some abyssal fish. Finally, the Academy's symbol, located in the main hall, they Claude, the albino crocodile.

Claude, the albino crocodile.

Claude, the albino crocodile.

Botanical Garden

After our visit to the Academy of Sciences, we planned to visit the Golden Gate. However, the plan was to arrive by dusk, so we had some free time before going. So, in the meantime, we did a quick tour by the San Francisco Botanical Garden15. The Garden has variety of flowers from all over the world, separated by climate, and they even have Chilean flora.

A flower that I forgot to write down its name.

A flower that I forgot to write down its name.

A great blue heron (Ardea herodias) walks calmly by the Garden.

A great blue heron (Ardea herodias) walks calmly by the Garden.

Golden Gate

Our first stop at the Golden Gate was on the North Coast Vista. After a short pause and that some southamerican tourists recognized our chilean accent, we set our course to the bridge itself. After a few minutes of walking and some varied quality photos we returned to our cat to goto our final destination: Battery Spencer, an abandoned military fort that now serves as a viewpoint. From there, you have an awesome view of the Golden Gate, with the city of San Francisco on the background. Andy suggested the place to take night photos of the bridge, so we took the suggestion.

Acting casual on the Golden Gate.

Acting casual on the Golden Gate.

One of the bridge pillars.

One of the bridge pillars.

The view from Battery Spencer.

The view from Battery Spencer.

With a classic photo of a classic scene, we finish this first part of our misadventures on the San Francisco Bay Area. Hasta la vista!


  1. Bay Area Rapid Transit on Wikipedia ↩︎

  2. Could it be because everyone goes by car? No, it is the children who are wrong. ↩︎

  3. Andy Frazer's Gallery on Flickr ↩︎

  4. Caltrain on Wikipedia ↩︎

  5. Embarcadero (San Francisco) on Wikipedia ↩︎

  6. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art on Wikipedia ↩︎

  7. I do know, but this is my blog, so bear with my use of figures of speech. ↩︎

  8. The Interval's website ↩︎

  9. Santuario de Santa Teresa de los Andes on Wikipedia (Spanish) ↩︎

  10. Estadio de la Universidad de Chile on Wikipedia (Spanish) ↩︎

  11. California Academy of Sciences on Wikipedia ↩︎

  12. Golden Gate Park on Wikipedia ↩︎

  13. African Penguin on Wikipedia ↩︎

  14. Paracanthurus on Wikipedia ↩︎

  15. San Francisco Botanical Garden on Wikipedia ↩︎