Thursday, December 2, 2010

A few firsts at the finish

My darling people,

Well, it's official. I am done done doneski with my semester at La Catolica. I leave for what I hope to be an AMAZING trip to the south of the country. And, most importantly for all of you (assuming that you haven't forgotten me and still want to be friends/family), 2 weeks from today my feet will be on US soil. I won't lie to you, I don't know if I'm ready to leave this country. I'm certainly ready to see all of you, but I don't know that I'm ready for this experience to be over. Perhaps there will be another Chilean era in my future.

Anyways, perhaps I don't feel like I'm finished here because I'm still having new (and at times shocking) experiences. I'll leave you all with a few of them here.


I finally cracked down (puns!) and took the plunge to go see a chiropractor. My back had still been bothering me and as the days inched closer and closer to our trip to the south, I was getting desperate. So I blindly chose one in the phone book and hoped for the best. Turns out the doc not only was trained in the US but was American himself. So...I cheated a little and spoke in English, it made it much easier to communicate exactly how/where I was feeling the pain and the exact steps I should take to improve the state of my back. Overall, it was very successful; I felt loads better afterwards and have been stretching twice daily, which seems to be helping as well. And, the best part of all, was that I didn't have to wait in line, or take 10 tickets in order to pay for my visit; however, the one oddity was that they only took cash. When I said I needed to run to an ATM but would return pronto, the receptionist just shrugged nonchalantly, there were no precautions taken to make sure I wasn't going to run off with my free back crack. I'll miss this trusting attitude.

Museo de la Paz (Museum of Peace)

This is a museum which documents (incredibly well) the before and after effects of the golpe de estado (couo d'etat/military takeover of the government) with real artifacts such as newspapers, video footage, pictures and letters, some of which were written by childen to Pinochet and his wife, asking about the whereabouts of their parents who had disappeared. Powerful stuff. In addition, while I was waiting outside the museum for my friends, a man came running out the door with tears streaming down his face. A reminder that all of this took place in the not so distant past.

Interestingly enough, there were some lighthearted parts as well; for example, there was a television showing all the political commercials from 1989, encouraging people to vote "Si" or "No" to Pinochet's dictatorship. For a such a serious subject, they were rather comic, including people skipping on the beach under rainbows for the "Si" campaign and a rousing chorus of different people screaming out "NO!" in silly voices for the "No" campaign. I'd take silly voices over rainbows anyday.

Primer Temblor

My first earthquake!!! I know there have been dozens while I've been here but I finally FELT my first one last tuesday night! I was up writing an essay and at about 12:30AM, I felt my chair start to tremble. I immediately turned around, ready to shoo away what I thought was the dog humping my chair. But there was nothing there. About 10 seconds later, a light bulb went off in my head and I ran into my host mother's room, calling out that it was my first temblor! She jumped excitedly and hugged me, saying "Te felicito!" (I congratulate you!) A celebration of Mother Nature.

Primeras despedidas

Unfortunately with things coming to a close, come the first goodbyes. Friday night at our "last supper" (No, JC was not present) for the program, I said farewell to my professor for the program class. A truly inspiring, intelligent man; I learned more in his class than in all my others combined. The next one came Tuesday and hit a bit closer to home, I bid adieu my program mate and close friend who will be travelling when I leave the country. Won't lie, that made it all a bit too real. And finally, I had my last trabajo voluntario (volunteering) for English Opens Doors on Wednesday. I printed out pictures and wrote little notes (in Spanish and English) to all my students and at the end of each class they all lined up and gave me hugs and kisses, wishing me well, the darlings. The most difficult part however, was saying goodbye to my co-teacher; I learned so much from her, not only about the English language (which is so difficult to learn) but about educational standards around the world and what steps should be taken to improve them. She sparked an interest in this subject that I never knew I had and perhaps more educational work lies in my future as well...

Now I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of you who have kept up reading my entries all the way to the end. I hope it was enjoyable for you guys, it definitely was entertaining for me, not to mention an excellent way to document my trip and keep in touch with a bunch of people at the same time. This will probably be my last post from Chile as I won't have internet access while travelling and only have 2.5 days in Santiago when I get back before I'll be stateside once again. But, once I'm home and settled, I'll be sure to at least put up some pictures from the South for the last big hurrah.

So I think this goes without saying, but the shout-out goes to each and everyone of you. Thanks for reading and I can't wait to see you all IN PERSON soon!

Un monton de besos,


Monday, November 22, 2010

Bucket list=almost complete

Hey guys,

I am officially done with classes for the semester! And I couldn't be happier, let's just say I've been less than pleased with my academic experience in the classroom here, so it's nice to be able to check that off the list. I've got finals until November 30 and then I'm home free for the travel times. I've got roughly 2 weeks left in Santiago so I've been running around like a maniac trying to do/see/experience everything possible before I peace out of this country for awhile. A couple of things I checked off my bucket list this weekend include:

1)Museo de Bellas Artes

My friend and I actually stumbled upon it by accident wandering around the centro but Lonely Planet travel guide (aka the Bible) says it's a must so we went in for a quick stroll through. Turns out they are currently remodeling/changing out exhibits, so admission was free! Normally in the US when they are changing exhibits, there are huge curtains hung around to hide the area in progress, only to be revealed when it is perfectly pristine. Not here; the museum was practically a construction site, we nearly tripped over 2x4 rods and walked past paintings stacked against the wall. I never thought about it before, but the use of a curtain is rather arbitrary and...silly. Unfortunately, our tour was cut short by a train of speeding middle schoolers literally doing laps around the second floor. We figured that was our cue to exit.

2) Answered a piropo

Unfortunately, due to the proximity of my house and 4 construction sites, my daily life has been filled with piropos (effectively, catcalls). A friend and I were standing on the corner waiting to cross the street. It was exceedingly warm so I chose to take off my sweater right when a truck pulled up in front of us with a guy hanging out the window. He looked me up and down and grined slimely. I looked directly at him and shook my head no. He took my response as an opportunity to yell "sacalo! sacalo!" (literally "take it off!). So I took his response as an opportunity to flip him off. Appropriate? I think yes.

3) Barrio Brasil

Another Lonely Planet must. We ended up going to a club there on Friday although not without getting VERY lost along the way. A couple friends of our drove us, we missed the turn and 20 minutes later found ourselves on the western side of town, which can be a bit fleite (sketch) especially at 1AM. But all is well, we eventually found our way and proceeded to dance the night away. Abby de la fiesta lives!

4) Vina del Mar

Looking for a relaxing sunday after our crazy weekend, we headed to the coast for a day at the beach in Vina del Mar. Literally, I laid there, got tan and had delightful conversation with my friends. Perfect day.

Shout-out goes to my auntie Mary for officially finishing her last class of grad school! Congratulations!!!



Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Santiago, you never cease to surprise me...

Hey all,

One month from today I will be in Chicago. With my parents. Sleeping in my bed. With my baby kitty. Eating peanutbutter. Great times? Greatest times? Although I look forward to this idyllic future, I still can't believe how the time has flown. Thus I have continued taking advantage of my time here. A couple of anecdotes from my last week...

Soccer game

On our last group outing we ventured a whole 20 minutes outside of the university to go to Estadio Monumental to see Colo Colo play Santiago Morning. The stadium was rampant with fans, shouting and whistling, especially in our direction (as the desfile (parade) of gringas, we have yet to go unnoticed). Although we were pretty far back from the field (our program director sat us here on purpose so we would be out of harm's way if a fight broke out...she was nervous) we still had a great view, not only of the action but of the mountains as well.

I hate to say it, but the whole experience kind of reminded me of a high school football (futbol?) game; each team had it's own personal cheering section, complete with a marching band and too much body paint. Songs were sung, or rather, war cries were cried, but in the end, there were real tears: Colo Colo played terribly and lost to Santiago Morning (a huge upset) and the fans trudged out of the stadium, disheartened. But hey, I was pleased, now I can check one more thing off the bucket list.

Went to a English

Last wednesday, my class on Women in Korean History had a guest lecturer come from Stanford to talk about the current state of North Korea and its relationship to the United States. He didn't know Spanish but almost everyone at my university has a decent comprehension of English so there was no translator necessary. The talk was not only interesting, it was funny too; he opened with a recent poll demonstrating the percentage of Americans who hate North Korea. The poll found the Americans 18-34 years of age hate North Korea less but the man's explanation for this was that young Americans are uneducated about geography and confuse North and South Korea, so they displace their hatred due to their stupidity. At this point, my professor looked at me and just laughed hysterically. United States youth, promoting stereotypes until we are properly educated.

Encountered some cultural differences

On Tuesday, I had a group presentation on the Tibetan culture and health systems. We had to involve the class in some way and many of the other groups brought or made traditional food, so my group suggested we bring in Chinese fortune cookies. I said that I wasn't comfortable doing that because a) Tibet is practically a separate country from China and has it's own unique culture and b) fortune cookies are an occidental creation and have nothing to do with Asia in general. A girl in my group said, "no, it's fine, no one will know the difference" but that we could ask the professor beforehand if I felt absolutely uncomfortable. The next day we asked the professor and she said, "of course! They represent the influence of Chinese culture in Tibet!" and happily munched away on her cookie. I literally still have no words.

Ate the "best" empanadas in Santiago

Cheesy. Fried. The size of my head. Need I say more?

Shout-out goes Ben Herrmann! Happy early Birthday! Can't wait to see you in December!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Hay que aprovechar!

Hey guys,

So after that whirlwind month of travelling, my last full month in Santiago hath commenced. Upon this bitter sweet realization, my fellow program mates (who I now consider to be part of my family) and I have decided that hay que aprovechar de todo (we need to take advantage of everything). Therefore, we have constructed a sort of bucket list (if you will) for our time left in Santiago and have vowed to have new and exciting experiences every weekend in November. (I of course use weekend as a loose term since it usually starts on Wednesday). So, below is a list of some of the new experiences I had this weekend, enjoy!

1) Went to a doctor. I shrewdly omited this in my last post, but I, being the 70 year old woman that I am, threw out my back in Pucon. Literally, I bent down to put on my shoe and didn't get back up (there's a visual for you). Upon returning to Santiago, I asked my program director about seeing a chiropractor. Apparently this is an undeveloped art in Chile so she suggested I go see a traumatologo (from what I can tell, roughly a orthopoedist/physiologist??). I was told to arrive 30 minutes early to my appointment because to my surprise there were multiple steps before I even got to the waiting room. First, I went to the student center where I was given a form confirming said appointment and was instructed to pay. Then, paper in hand (VERY IMPORTANT, NEVER lose your papers in Chile) walked across campus to the medical building where the next stop was the Caja (cashier/counter) where I took a number and waited (I felt like I was in purgatory from Beetlejuice) was finally called up to the counter, where I turned in my paper from before. The woman at the counter then proceed to pull out more papers, scribble on them, rip them, staple them back the end, I was given a packet roughly equivalent to the size of the Bible and finally was allowed to go to the doctor's office. There I waited for a surprising 2 minutes, my appointment was 10 minutes, got a prescription for Ibu profen and was on my way! Oh irony, how you follow me everywhere.

2) Went to a gourmet food fair! Probably one of the best decisions I have ever made. The entrance fee was $10 which was well worth my weight in free sample of bread and olive oil, not to mention artisan marmelade, chutney, empanadas, ice cream and salsa! SPICES! It was a miracle. Highlights were by far the honey peanutbutter, dulce de leche (purchased!) and cupcakes (a new delicacy in this country! Included wine and pisco sour flavors, surprisingly not repulsive). But what you all really need to know is that Hellmann's mayonaise had a booth. Only in Chile is mayonaise considered gourmet.

3) Alto Las Condes. I was literally convinced I had returned to the US earlier than expected. This is a mall located in the ritziest part of town; it was as though I were strolling through Woodfield, multiple levels, huge crowds and Christmas decorations strung from the escalators, a month before Thanksgiving. Not the most unique new experience but something to check off the list.

4) We went out to eat for lunch! Lunch is the most important and large meal of the day and on the weekends is usually an hour and half and a time for family gathering in the home. It felt so odd to be in a restaurant; I can count on one hand the times my host family has gone out to eat in the last 4.5 months. We dined on bread and pebre (salsa that is eaten with dinner bread, literally the only spicy food in Chilean cusine) and for an appetizer someone ordered something whose name escapes me but what can only be described as a slab of fried cheese with pieces of sausage on top. My host brother exclaimed gleefully, "Great for the cholesterol levels". Yum!

Shout out goes to my darling grandfather, I stood next to a man wearing a newsboy cap on the metro the other day, of course you were the first person who came to mind.



Wednesday, November 3, 2010


Dearest ones,

Well, I have officially survived my month of travelling! Monday we returned from our trip to Pucon which is located about 10 hours south of Santiago. I had heard that the south could be a bit unpredictable with weather conditions but of course with our luck, this past weekend was exactly as predicted on; Rain the entire weekend. Que lata. (What a bummer). But we made do, still had a good time and came home in one piece...more or less. Some highlight for me were:

1) Greenery!

The naturaleza (you guessed it, nature) was gorgeous; even covered in fog and clouds, the rolling hills of evergreen trees and just general vibrantly colored vegetation was overwhelming (made me think of Ireland!). It made me realize that this was the first time I had actually seen real forests and plants in Chile since we live in an urban center and all of our trips have been taken in the winter or to the desert. Certainly a welcome change.

2) Termas
The owners of our hostel recommended a dip in the natural Termas de Pozones (Hot springs) as a good rainy day activity. We hopped on a bus which literally had a plastic sign in the window saying "Destinacion: Termas" and shared our one our journey with sopping wet school children who were homeward bound after finishing class for the day. (Note: the music was particularly excellent; an ever so artful mixture starting off with Paul Simon and ending with great 90's hits, don't worry, Britney was not forgotten). We arrived at the termas and spent the afternoon relaxing, eating chocolate and conversing with the other vacationers. Let's just say, we made a lot of "amigos".

3) Ojos de Caburgua

Day 2: We had run out of rainy day activities so we decided to brave the weather and hacer trekking (go hiking) anyways. We headed to Ojos de Caburgua which consists of a forest, a lagoon and some gorgeous cascadas (waterfalls). Despite the weather which was pesimo (awful) we still had fun and the naturaleza was gorgeous!

But the views weren't the only entertainment, there was signage everywhere in broken English and what I found to be rather abrasive (and grammatially incorrect) spanish. The one below translates to "Mr. Visitor, demonstrate you education and culture, don't vote garbage".

4) My current physical state

After our delightful hike through the wilderness, we returned to the hostel to drink some tea and do grocery shopping. I bent down to put on my shoes and when I came back up I felt a twinge in my lower back and suddenly it became very difficult to move. Yup, like an old woman, I threw out my back. So, unfortunately for me, the rest of the weekend was more low key. Advil and I have gotten very close and I now have a new gel of sorts (equivalent of vick's rub I think) thanks to the owner of a booth at the artisan's fair in town who took pity on me. I was trying on some wool leg warmers (which I bought! see below) and lamented my debil (weakened) situation to the shop owner; she promptly dragged me to the back of her store where she procured said gel and demanded that I lift up my shirt. She massaged the gel into my back and afterwards I felt much better, much looser. In the end she gave me the gel for free, told me to apply hot vinegar to the sore spot and tied a piece of yarn around my waist to "hold things in place". Not sure about the yarn but the gel has been working wonders, I'm still hobbling around a bit but it's getting better every day. I'm learning patience is a virtue...which I do not possess.

Shout out goes to Jill Smith, I had dark chocolate for the first time in Chile the other day and obviously immediately thought of you! Can't wait to overindulge with you when I get back!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Soy Santiaguina??

Hola guapos y guapas! (For the non-spanish speakers, look it up, I just paid you all a compliment!)

Hope you're all doing well. This last week and a half I've been in Santiago so my life has been, well, I don't want to say boring, but average. Perhaps I've gotten too used to the jet setting lifestyle? Or perhaps I'm actually acostumbrada (used to) life here in this smoggy metropolis. I'm beginning to find that I'm making less comparisons (in my head...most of the time) between Santiago and my life back in the states and have begun to really settle into the pace and Chilean lifestyle. Hey, it took 4 months but I made it!

A couple highlights from the past week:

1) Thursday night we all went to go see Que Pena Tu Vida (Your life sucks), a newly released Chilean film about a rather undesirable dude who is having love life troubles. The plot was nothing special but I understood 95% of the movie!!!! This is a huge improvement, considering my 3rd week here we saw La Vida de Los Peces where I understood approximately 10 phrases. Real learning has occurred!

2) About a month ago, I failed a test. I mean straight up failed, on a scale of 1-7, I received a 2.1 (hey man, if I'm going to do something, I'm going to go all the way). Anyways, this past week I met with my professor (who by the way is never in class, literally, I can count on my fingers the amount of times I've seen this woman and there are 3 weeks of classes left) to find out what happened. After a short chat, I realized I had misused a few words in my essay (typical foreigner) but after explaining what I had actually intended to say, she raised my grade to a 5.5! Credit will be received!

3) On Friday, a couple friends and I went to a hip hop class. Although I was an excellent dancer at the age of eight, se me fue mi habilidades (my skills have since left me). However, I still enjoyed myself; it was good exercise and the instructor had an (unhealthy?) obsession with Michael Jackson. After showing us the moves, he would continue dancing on his own, and let's just say it wasn't hard to imagine the red pleather jacket and one gloved hand.

4) I walked up a hill! For reasons only known to my subconscious, I woke up at 9AM on a Saturday to climb Cerro San Cristobal with a few friends as prep for our 5 day hike in Patagonia in December. Although I was under the impression that all of Santiago stays out until 6am, it appears that they also wake up (or stay awake) until this time and run for the hills to exercise. We came across a herd of bikers, runners, walkers and 3 different group exercise classes, including step aerobics, although I sorry to say the hunt for the Chilean Richard Simmons still continues.

5) My inner Betty Crocker was calling out to me (that and the approaching birthday of my host brother) so I decided to bake cookies. My lovely parents sent me Nestle chocolate chips (which are not sold here. Yet literally every other product here is Nestle, coffee, ice cream, the Cheerios I eat for breakfast in the morning, I'm pretty sure they have an illegal monopoly going on. Irony) so I of course chose to make the classic chocolate chip cookies. All went according to plan until the baking part, Chilean ovens and I have a strained relationship.

1) In order to turn it on, you have to turn on the gas on the stove, light a piece of paper towel on fire and then quickly stick it in the bottom of the oven. Without burning the house down. What??

2) There is no way to set the temperature; it's either on, or it's off.

3) There is no timer but this doesn't matter because cookies bake in literally 4 minutes.

The last one I found out the hard way. After about 6 minutes, I opened the oven to check on the little galletas and was greeted by a puff of smoke. As I pulled out the tray and swung open the window for oxygen, my host mother comes strolling in the door and says sweetly what a finely pleasant aroma the house has. I'm chalking this up to cultural differences.

Shout out goes to Tosin Akinsanya. The other day on the metro, Me Gustas Tu came on my Ipod, so obvio you were the first person who popped into my head. Hope you're well and can't wait to talk next week!



Tuesday, October 19, 2010

San Pedro de Atacama!

Lovely People in my Life!

I have returned from the Northern Lands aka the best viaje (trip) thus far! 3 days of exploring the driest desert in the world left me breathless, gleeful and in the mood to watch Indiana Jones (a certain type of hat was purchased and now I can't get the theme song out of my head).


1) Salar de Atacama (Salt Flat) was unlike any place I have ever been before. The national park is covered in white and produces 50% of the world's lithium (I'm sure the Energizer Bunny is thankful!). Besides being a gold mine for exports, Salar de Atacama is also home to 3 different types of flamingoes which soared over our heads travelling from one laguna (you guessed it, lagoon) to the next. Know that a good hour was spent taking photos of the landscape, animals, humans imitating the animals and our jumps for joy over our discovery of this other worldly location.
2)Hacer trekking en Valle de La Luna (Hiking in the Moon Valley) was probably my favorite part of the whole weekend. In 3 hours we ran down sand dunes, crawled through caves and scrambled on salt rocks. Salt is one of the most prominent materials in the entire region; now I understand its prominence (over abundance?) on the table during almuerzo (lunch).

3) Atardecer en Valle de La Luna (Sunset in the Moon Valley)

After our fabulous trek, we went to higher ground to watch the sunset over the mountains. The colors ranged from pink to purple to blue and changed by the minute. A relaxing end to a wonderfully nature-charged day!

4) Yet another birthday surprise! Saturday night we were privileged enough to listen to musica andina (Andean music?) and learn some of the traditional dances from the owner of our hotel. Suddenly the band started playing "Feliz cumpleanos" and all my friends pulled out noisemakers and sang to me as the hotel owner brought out the most delicious cake ever (peaches and manjar) brightly lit with 21 candles. I was sufficiently surprised and very touched; I'm so lucky to share this life changing experience with these six amazing women.


1) Although babies and children love me, it seems animals and I are not on the same wave length. We visited an indigenous community where there were goats, horses, sheep and llamas. When I tried to interact in a calm and friendly fashion with the latter, his response was to spit in my face (chewed grass included). Needless to say, that was the end of that short lived friendship.

2) Yet the lowest low was actually due to the highest high: Saturday morning we woke up at 5AM to see 5 different types of geysers! Unfortunately, this also meant doubling the altitude we were at in an hour and a half from 2,000m to 4,300m. While I was impressed with the sights and sounds of these natural phenomenons, my body was less than pleased. After about an hour in the upper stratosphere, I came down with altitude sickness and was confined to putting my head between my knees and sleeping in the van for the rest of the morning. But hey, sometimes sacrifices have to be made and I would say it definitely valio la pena (was worth it)!

Shout-out goes to Laura Adkins; know that when I was taking 10,000 pictures of the flamingoes, all I could think about was baking apple pie (and the cinnamon sugar crust crispies) with you in your kitchen while you stood with one leg perched on the knee of the other like a rare form of bird. But don't worry, you are, and always will be, the most elegant.