Saturday, July 31, 2010

Valle de Elqui, or more appropriately titled, taking pictures of mountains

Hello dearest ones!

I have returned from the northern lands! While I adored Buenos Aires, it was nice to explore a bit more of Chile and have an actual relaxing vacation. This trip was filled with sleep, fresh air, mountains and... sleep, which was a welcome contrast to our venture to Argentina.

I've decided to divide this post into the three separate days of the trip so it may be a bit on the long side. Enjoy!


Our bus was scheduled to leave at 10:55pm from Santiago and arrive in La Serena (capital of the northern region we visited) at 5:50am where we were to catch our next bus. Surprisingly, everything went splendidly. Miraculously, we all arrived on time (for 7 people who live in 7 different houses, quite the feat) and our bus left promptly at 11pm. We boarded the bus and I was awestruck at the structural beauty that was each and every seat. Each person had a seat that reclined, a fold out ottoman, pillow, blanket and received a snack at the beginning of the trip, which consisted of juice and an almond cookie. Delightful. I chatted with my friend for a bit and then constructed a nest of comfort in my seat and slowly drifted off to sleep.


Although at first the bus seemed to be a palace of heavenly comfort, the enticing masquerade ended when I tossed and turned in and out of REM cycles for 5 hours and found that despite all the amenities, I was on a BUS in the middle of the night. Yet just as I had fallen asleep for the third or fourth time, I was abruptly awoken by the bus steward shoving "breakfast" in my face. I use quotations because this meal also included juice and cookie, one of which I do not consider breakfast and the other of which was the equivalent of unmixed sugar and water. After this abrasive interaction, he demanded my pillow and blanket. Now, I don't know about you guys, but my brain doesn't understand English in the wee hours of the morning, so the Spanish was just not happening. When I didn't understand immediately, the steward decided that his only option was to rip apart my nest of comfort quickly and move on to the next row. Sulking, I tasted my "juice", was promptly disgusted and looked at my watch. It was 4:15AM. Why did the steward have to wake us up almost 2 hours before our arrival time?

At 4:45AM, this question was answered when we were dumped at the bus station in La Serena, an hour ahead of schedule. Generally speaking, it's good to be early and when travelling, I am never opposed to waiting patiently for my transportation rather than trying to board at the last second. However, it is not good to be early when your next bus doesn't leave until 6:50AM and it 4:45 in the morning.

So, what could we do but wait. We encountered some chairs, pulled out the sleeping bags, and pathetically ate our snacks, slept or laughed delusionally at the situation. We were soon befriended by a stray dog who I'm pretty sure lived in the bus station and, being such a delightfully entertaining hostess, decided to clean her lady parts in front of us. I kid you not, it sounded like she was drinking from her own teat.

At about 5:30AM we were approached by a man from whom we learned through gestures (Spanish brain still not turned on) that we needed to get up because he needed to move the chairs. After gathering all of our things, the man moved the chairs literally 20 feet. Like a moth to a flame, we made a B line for the newly placed chairs, newly arranged closer together, and two girls from the group decided to lay down. The man returned 5 minutes later and told us that we couldn't lay down because a) we were taking up space needed by other customers and b) we looked like hobos. We were the only people in the entire bus station.

Finally our bus to Vicuna arrived. We boarded, promptly fell asleep and an hour or so later arrived. We disembarked and we greeted by grey clouds, fog and the smallest, shittiest town I have ever seen. We drudged 5 blocks to our hostel, wondering why the hell we decided to come here.

Yet our trip was granted a rebirth of sorts. After sleeping for about 5 hours in the hostel, we awoke fresh as spring chickens at 1pm and started our day. We ventured outside our room and were greeted by a gorgeously colorful garden which occupied the center of our hostel (it was outdoors except for the rooms) warmer temperatures, blue skies and the most gorgeous mountains I have ever seen in my entire life. We ate lunch at a traditional Chilean restaurant and embarked on a hike up Cerro de la Virgen. About an hour later we reached the summit and took in the amazing beauty that is Valle de Elqui. I snapped close to 40 shots of the view but here are two of my favorites, the first a view from Vicuna a sunset, the second from Cerro de la Virgen:

After our short workout, we visited Museo de Gabriela Mistral, a Chilean poet who won the Nobel prize for literature and was born in Vicuna. I had read some of her work previously and can now understand her connections between nature and humanity since she lived in the most beautiful place I have seen thus far in my life. Fun fact: She is honored in nearly every pueblo (small town) in Valle de Elqui with a statue of her head or bust but never the rest of her body. In Vicuna, her head is the center of the Plaza and is close to 7 feet wide. (If I ever become famous and you guys want to honor me, I prefer my image in photos as opposed to concrete.)

After this delightful outing, we had done everything that there was to do in Vicuna. We returned to the hostel, cooked dinner, roasted marshmallows over the gas stove and went to bed at 9:30pm. Day well spent.


Woke up and got out the door at 9:30AM, the first and only time this will happen in our travels thus far. We took a bus to Pisco Elqui, an even smaller town about 50 minutes outside Vicuna. The bus raced through the curving roads of the mountain pass and although at times I felt a bit unsafe, it was worth the risk. Again, the views, just incredible. I felt as though with each inhale, I took in more and more of the scenery, not just by sight but as though I could feel the experience shaping me as a person. For those of you who have travelled to other countries, have you felt this way as well? It's like you can feel yourself opening up to allow the newness, the beauty of a new experience to wash over you and nestle into the pores of your skin, your being, yourself. I not only felt content, I felt whole, as though through this trip (and travelling in general) I was discovering a new part of myself which always existed but was finally being actualized.

After my (slightly long winded?) epiphany, we arrived in Pisco Elqui and explored a pisco vineyard (pisco is a type of hard alcohol made from grapes so it's a bit of a mix between liquor and wine. The drink of choice here is pisco sour, a mix of, you guessed it, pisco and lemon, strong but delightful and a good warming device in the winter). We lunched in a pizzeria which I found to be hilarious, although the pizza tasted more like flat bread since it was mostly sans-sauce. To accompany our food, we indulged in jugos naturales (natural juices) which were made fresh for us from all natural ingredients, shocker. I went for a mix of pineapple and coconut at first and for dessert tried carrot juice for the first time, surprisingly sweet.

After lunch we walked over to a ranch (yes, you read correctly, the population of this town was 1000 people and probably less than a square mile) and paid about $10 to ride horses for an hour. It should be noted that the last time I rode a horse was more than 10 years ago, during which I cried. So clearly, I was a bit nervous. One of the huasos (cowboys) adjusted my stirrups and remarked "Tu eres gringa grande" (You are a big American girl; disclaimer: it should be noted that although in some latinamerican countries, gringa is a derrogatory term, in Chile this is not the case, it is simply the word for people who are not Chilean). After bringing my tamano (size) to my attention (something I've clearly never thought about before, especially not during my years as a giant in elementary school) he gave me a thirty second lesson on how to ride a horse and off we went. UP THE HILL. Unfortunately my horse seemed to be more interested in eating, so I brought up the rear of the group, with the guide as my company. Let's just say I hice un amigo (made a friend, our code for getting hit on) and within a few minutes he asked me if we would be staying in Pisco Elqui for the night and if any of us had pololos (boyfriends). I quickly changed the topic to the weather (much warmer than Santiago) and hoped the hour would pass quickly. Yet over all, our horseback riding adventure vale la pena (was worthwhile) because we were privy to a view of the entire valley, hills and the Andes Mountains, gorgeously dusted with snow. After taking conservatively 10,000 photos, we descended and hopped back on the bus to Vicuna, leaving my "new friend" behind.

There are quite a few observatories in Valle de Elqui and that night we took a van about fifteen minutes outside Vicuna to Observatorio Mamalluca to take a look at the nightsky. After a short presentation (that of which I understood about 95%, success!) we ventured outdoors where we were greeted by a sky bursting with stars. Fun Fact: since I am currently in the Southern Hemisphere, different constellations are visible. For the first time, I saw the Milky Way, the Southern Cross and my own astrological constellation, Libra (it is supposed to be shaped like a scale or balance; in actuality, it's a triangle).


After this delightful outing, we returned to Vicuna and boarded a bus back to La Serena, where we stayed the night in a charming guest house. The next morning we were served a traditional Chilean breakfast which includes LOTS of bread, palta (avocado), tea, coffee, cheese and jam, which was homemade and a jar of which we received as a memento.

In all honesty, La Serena is a bit fome (boring); it's a beach town but in the winter when it's cold and there's no sun, there is absolutely NOTHING to do. We walked to the beach, played a bit of frisbee and returned to make lunch and head to the bus station. Since the bus ride back was during the day, we were privy to the gorgeous landscape that is Chile. One of our host mothers said that when God created the world, there were leftovers of every landform and he generously decided to place it all inside the borders of Chile. While this sentiment teeters on Creationism, tiene razon (it's reasonable). As we drove down Highway 5, to the left were rolling hills ,(which varied between lucious greenery and dry sandy earth speckled with cactus) and stoic mountains and to the right, the ocean. To my surprise, as we wove through this natural wonder, people snoozed away on the bus. In my humble opinion, you sleep on a bus cruising through the middle of Illinois, not the middle of Chile.

Now I'm back in my host house in Santiago and classes start Monday. I wish there was more time to travel but I'm thankful for the time we had, I not only feel enriched but my Spanish improved quite a bit over the last two weeks from (too) many conversations with strangers, asking for directions and having long talks with the other girls on the program. While I'm a bit anxious about taking classes taught completely in Spanish, I feel prepared and know it will improve with time.

Shout-out goes to Lauren Ayers for being my inspiration to study abroad in the first place. Hearing about all of your trips made me realize my own desire to explore another part of the world and being immersed in a different culture for even a month has allowed me to learn so much about not only this country but my own person as well. All I can say is thank you and I hope one day we can discover another part of the world together.



Monday, July 26, 2010

I want to BE A part of B.A. Buenos Aires, Big Apple!

Ok, and Part II! Buenos Aires was absolutely amazing, the city is so different from Santiago and HUGE! It seemed to me that there was a lot of European influence but overall I found it to be an incredibly unique city and the perfect place for my first travel adventure!

The Planning

Before last week, I had never travelled without my parents or a school organization. So of course it made sense that my first independent-ish adventure should be international, to a brand new country whose language I am currently learning to speak fluently. Clearly I wasn't on my own, I went with five other girls from the program, but we still struggled. Things like planning a day's activities, leaving at a specified time in the morning, or staying together while walking down the street all were unbelievably difficult. Yet I think we would all agree that trying to pay for meals was the most trying since it was difficult to obtain small bills from the ATM. In addition, keeping track of who owed who what in an unfamiliar currency and attempting to honor our pact to speak to one another in Spanish caused tensions to run high at times. We ended up carrying around a piece of scratch paper for the week; everyone had their own column and amount of money owed to others; seriously, we guarded that paper like it was our passport. Despite the difficult moments, I'm proud to say that they were just moments and we were able to enjoy the week, friendship intact!

The Food

As aforementioned, I was sick on Sunday so for the better part of the week, my diet consisted of all things starchy, salty or yellow. After days of plain pasta, bananas, crackers and water, Thursday I took the plunge and ordered a "submarino", a specialty drink consisting of hot milk and a chocolate bar. You unwrap the chocolate and submerge it into the milk which melts the candy and creates the best hot chocolate I have ever tasted!
Other food highlights included medialunas (crossaints) for breakfast, lots of specialty coffee drinks, alfajores (a special argentine cookie which has two wafers on the outside and delicious dulce de leche on the inside) and a ridiculous amount of chocolate! Healthy, yea?

The Sightseeing
Buenos Aires is a very interesting and diverse city. We visited 4 or 5 of its many neighborhoods and each one had its own character. The highlights for me included the cemetery in Recoleta; cemetery isn't the right word, more like small (ghost) town. Rather than being buried in the ground, families have tombs the size of my garage made of marble with elaborate statues to accompany them. Due to the lengthy process of paying for groceries, we ended up getting to the cemetery about an hour before closing, yet I think the cemetery became even more beautiful as the sun was setting.

Another favorite of mine was the Plaza de Mayo, located outside of the Casa Rosada which is the equivalent to the White House. Every Thursday at 3:30pm, Las Madres de Los Desaparecidos (Mothers of the Disappeared) circle the plaza, holding makeshift signs with pictures of their children who disappeared during el Proceso de Reorganizacion Nacional, a movement enforced by the Argentine government from 1976 to 1983. The protest is peaceful but powerful, as the women walk around the plaza, the names of each desaparecido are called and the mothers shout "presente!" (present) in answer, communicating that although these people seemingly disappeared into thin air, they are still present in the hearts and minds of these women.

In addition, we visited a couple of parks in Palermo (The Garden of Roses was beautiful, but without roses since its the middle of winter), an art museum with a photography exhibit of Robert Mapplethorpe's work and La Boca, a neighborhood which holds an outdoor market every weekend. I also may or may not have done some (a lot) of shopping, but I feel good purchases were made, including a new sweater, scarf and handmade belt. Success!

The Nightlife

We were in Buenos Aires for 5 nights and went out for 4 of them. However, the best by far was Thursday night when we ventured to Club Niceto in Palermo for drinks and a drag show! We arrived at about 12:30AM and the place was practically empty since the show didn't start until 1AM yet in doing so, avoided paying the cover charge for entry. The show itself was like nothing I have seen before, an absolute delight of wigs, frilly dresses, fishnet stockings and kilos and kilos of makeup. One of the crossdressers uncannily resembled Nathan Lane and I had to reaffirm that I was not living in The Birdcage. By 2AM the place was packed with men and women, gay straight and inbetween, everyone dancing to the techno beats and cheering on the performers, one of the most entertaining and enjoyable nights of my life by far.

The Men

Ok, the theme you have been waiting for! During our four nights out, I happened upon three interesting guys. The first was on Wednesday in a bar in Recoleta, an Argentine who told me I spoke Spanish very well (overly generous due to alterior motives) and repeatedly asked me if Argentines or Chileans were more handsome, cautioning me to be mindful that I was in Argentina sitting next to an attractive Argentine man (not an exaggeration on his part). At one point, his friend jumped in and said that he would rather be shot then be told he was less attractive than a Chilean. The rivalry is real.

Thursday I met a very drunk German/Australian guy who told me that he knew all about the United States and proceeded to tell me that Americans are rather ignorant since they generally only speak English. Yet when I tried to speak to him in Spanish, he asked me to speak in English, since he only knew a few phrases in Spanish, including "Vamos a la playa" (translates to Let's go to the beach, it should also be known that after saying this, he referenced Miley Cyrus's "Party in the USA". Ciao!)

The same night I met a very attractive Indian guy from Canada. We chatted for a bit, where are you from, this party is crazy, yadda yadda and then my friends and I left. The next night, my friends and I were standing on the street to buy a bottle of wine when two guys passed us, one shouting "Chicago!" I turned and it was the same guy from the night before! Was it fate, you may ask? He was nice and, did I say attractive?, but when I told him I was an exchange student, he informed me that he was a teacher and 27 years old! Perhaps in a few years I'll be making a trip to Toronto to scout out Paul the french teacher but in the present, I'll take a pass.

Shout out goes to Brennan Keiser for a) being such a faithful and loving reader and b) because you were the first person I thought of when we arrived at the equivalent of a rave on Saturday night, complete with techno beats and conservatively 10,000 people. You'll have to travel to B.A. and hit up this place during spring semester!

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank you all for reading. I've received a lot of really positive comments about the blog and I'm so flattered that you are all enjoying it! I'll try and keep up the good work!

Abrazos y Besos,


P.S. Tonight I'm headed to the Norte Chico of Chile to La Serena, Vicuna and Valle del Elqui and will be there for the next three days. Expect an update later this week!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Travel Prep Adventures!

To my dearest readers,

I apologize for the hiatus but I have been on vacation in Buenos Aires for the last six days with limited Internet acces. So much has happened between now and my last post, so I've decided to divide it up into two posts; one for the trip itself and one for the 36 hours beforehand. Enjoy!


Crap day. Literally. I have been enduring an internal battle over the amount of food I would like to eat and the amount of food my body will accept; around 2:30pm, it became apparent that my body had won this fight (as per usual) and I spent the rest of the day in the bathroom or lying in bed. By the end of the day, I had not packed and had several errands to run before leaving for Buenos Aires monday night. In addition, I had to organize and prepare documents in order to obtain my cedula (Chilean form of ID) at 10AM the next morning. I resolved to go to bed early, get a good night's sleep and start fresh the next morning with a shower.


4:45AM-I lie wide awake in my bed, stressing about packing and running errands while simultaneously willing myself to go back to sleep. This continues for three hours and is clearly a great use of time.

7:45AM-I finally fall asleep.

8:30AM-My alarm goes off.

9:20AM-I finally wake up, close to an hour behind schedule. I throw on some clothes, forget about the shower and shove what I can stomach into my mouth, which is the equivalent of a small glass of water and three crackers.

10:15AM- We receive our tickets at the government office and wait. (Disclaimer: Tickets of any kind in Chile are equivalent to the golden ticket in a Wonka chocolate bar; with them you have the opportunity to ride in a Wonkavator or be considered legal in a foreign country). Our number: 132. The number they are currently serving: 63.

11:05AM-The office is currently serving the number 80. We are moving at tortoise speed. Desperate, I ask my program director if she thinks I'll have time to run to a cambio (money exchange) quick and return in time for our number to be called. She says buena suerte (good luck) and I take off running for the metro.

11:16AM-Although I have boarded the metro seven minutes before, we have yet to reach the next station. An announcement informs me that the red line is experiencing technical difficulties today and that the train should be moving shortly. The pleasant voice thanks me for my patience and I anxiously writhe in my seat.

11:35AM-I arrive at my intended metro station. I run up the stairs and emerge into the outside world, only to find that, although I know the location of the cambio, I have taken the wrong exit from the station (there are four) and have no idea where I am. Rather than re-enter the station, I embark on my adventure to exchange travellers checks, running through the streets and in and out of cambios (although there are 40+ cambios in this area, only one accepts this form of money). Amidst trying to understand directions in Spanish and sprinting multiple blocks, let us recall that I have had eaten practically nothing and had diarrhea less than 24 hours ago.

11:47AM-I find my intended cambio. The man behind the desk thinks it's acceptable to chat casually with his friend and count out the bills at a tortoise pace. I grit my teeth and try not to pass out.

11:58AM-I board the train and call one of my friends who is at the office. She tells me they are serving number 115; I try to use the energy produced by my brain to make the train go faster.

12:00PM-I think to myself that perhaps it would have been a better idea to cash the travellers checks in Argentine pesos, since I will be inhabiting that country in fifteen hours.

12:14PM-Once again, I am stuck between stations. I get up and stand two centimeters (metric system! everywhere but the US!) from the door so I am prepared to leap off the train.

12:19PM-I shed two layers of clothing, strap my purse across my body and take off sprinting in the direction of the government office. I tell myself that if I get there in time, it's totally worth it, even if I vomit afterwards.

12:25PM- I enter the office, see my program director and run to her side, asking IN ENGLISH (at this point I have no brain) if I've missed my appointment. She tells me to relax and not to worry; the entire computer record system for all of Chile has crashed and they have no idea why or when it will come back. We are 9 numbers away from being served

1:00PM-We decide to eat lunch. While the others eat empanadas with meat and queso (cheese), I drink water and eat 3 more crackers.

1:45PM-It is apparent that the system will not reboot anytime soon, meaning we will not be receving our cedulas today. This presents multiple problems: 1) We are travelling out of the country in approximately 12 hours and need ID and 2) when we return to Santiago on Sunday, we will be exceeding the thirty day trial period to register our presence in Chile by one day and our visas will no longer be valid. Our program director assures us that we can enter Argentina and re-enter Chile as tourists but that upon our return, we will have to begin the process of acquiring a student visa all over again. This is a HUGE hassle but all I can think about is that I need to find my travel sized shampoo.

2:15PM-I return to my host house and pack like a mad woman. I plan to leave in 30 minutes to catch the metro with a friend for our afternoon orientation, even though it starts at 2:30.

3:15PM-We arrive at the location of the orientation, however, it appears we are the only ones in the entire building.

3:20PM-I call my program director and she asks us to meet her our front to take us to the correct location (it was printed incorrectly on the information sheet). As we walk to the next building over, she informs us that the rest of the group has just witnessed a street dog being hit by a car. WORST. DAY. EVER.

4:30PM-The orientation meeting ends and I feel that I have wasted the better part of an hour of my life. I return home, finish packing and head to another friend's house to catch our transfer to the airport.

7:50PM-We check in and discover that our flight is delayed 45 minutes.

8:20PM-We arrive at the gate and the others eat salad, meat and cheese for dinner while I eat half a plate of plain noodles with a bit of salt for "spice". (What? I'm not bitter)

9:30PM-I ask the people at the flight desk if they know what time our flight will leave for Buenos Aires. They reply with a simple "no" and carry on their previous conversation.

9:55PM-The time our flight is supposed to take off.

11:30PM-After a rousing game of Uno (how appropriate) we are allowed to board the plane.

12:00AM-I look out the window as we cross the gorgeous Andes Mountains and am thankful that this day is over.


3:30AM (Buenos Aires time)-We arrive at our hostel and are split into two rooms; 3 in a private room and 3 in a shared room. I enter the shared room to find two other people already sleeping in there. Are they women? Men? Who knows? I stick my passport in my pajama pants and promptly pass out with exhaustion.

Shout out goes to all my fellow program mates for making it through this sucky day to enjoy an amazing week in Buenos Aires!



Friday, July 16, 2010

Vas a salir esta noche?

Hello all,

The title of this post seems to be the most common phrase uttered from the mouths of youths everywhere in Chile. It means "Are you going out tonight?" and the answer had better be yes.

Yesterday was the last day of my intensive language class, so we wanted to celebrate the start of our winter vacation (Winter in July? Sounds strange, I know)

My friend's host sister offered to take us out to a discoteca and since she a) has a car and b) is familiar with clubbing in this country, we couldn't pass up the offer. She took us to a club located about halfway up Cerro San Cristobal, we swerved around winding roads for about fifteen minutes until we finally arrived at what appeared to be a mansion. At this point, she informed us that the club was for people 25 years+ (She's 27). However, it became apparent that this was a rather loose rule since the bouncers welcomed us in with open arms sans ID check. Kind of like in the US?

The late night hours:

Let me just say, the club was absolutely gorgeous and HUGE. When we arrived, we were faced with a huge marble dance floor with a flowing fountain in the middle and two bars, equally flowing with alcohol. But the place was completely empty! It was midnight (I thought this was late) and there were probably twenty people there total, including the DJs and bartenders. For those of you who are unaware of my going out habits, I usually go out a) one night per weekend, b) arrive at approximately 11:30 to a party which starts at 10pm, so there is a decent crowd and c) am in my bed asleep by 2:30am. Now, however, this seems like a pipe dream because the club wasn't hoppin' until roughly 2am! We were among the first to leave at approximately 3:15am and I got into bed just past 4am, the latest I have EVER gone to sleep after a night out

The dancing:

After arriving, we bought drinks and sat down and chilled for about an hour. At first the music was pretty iffy but once I heard synchronized voices of the backstreet boys, I knew that we had picked an excellent establishment. After singing every word of "Everybody (Backstreet's Back) our ears were also graced with "If you wanna be my lover" by the Spice Girls. (At this point, my friend's sister and her pololo (boyfriend) asked us how old we were when this song came out. Answer: 8 years old, this was my first CD!) Clearly we were all pleased with the song choice and as the night continued, we were accompanied by Kanye West, Jay-Z, Beyonce and "Paper Planes" by MIA. However, when we all began to do the "shooting dance" to the latter, our company thought we were insane and looked embarrassed to be seen with us.

When more people arrived we ventured forth to the dance floor. Let me reiterate that is is WINTER here, so we all were wearing jackets, scarfs, gloves, etc. Rather than using a coat check, it seems the normal thing to do is to put your coats in a pile on the floor next to you while dancing, everyone encircling the pile in rhythm, as though it is some sort of tribal ritual (credit to Karen Perille for this reference, absolutely spot on). Yet after a whole night of people "accidentally" stepping on our coats and putting out their cigarette butts on the marble floor, today I readily put my fleece in the laundry for a much needing washing.

While they played a lot of American music (we were dead give aways as extranjeros (foreigners) since we sang along LOUDLY to all of these songs in ENGLISH) there was also a fair amount latin-flavored music, such as salsa and meringue. At this point, none of us had any idea as to what to do with our bodies, so we just kind of stiffly walked forward and backward to the beat. (Thankfully, sunday we are going to a salsa club to take lessons so next time we won't be so awkward. ) Some 80's pop wove in and out through out the night and as we were leaving, Michael Jackson's "Billy Jean" was blasting from the speakers with the crowd singing along, but in slurred/hummed/murmurred/drunken English.

The people:

At times during the night, we just stopped dancing and looked around at our fellow clubbers. Let me just say that much of the style here stems from 80's fabulous, complete with acid wash jeans, leotards and most importantly MULLETS (business in the front, party in the back?). Besides the slight flair for 80's fashion, the appearance and comportment of the gente (people) was similar to that of an American club/party. People meet, drink, dance, drink, make out, regret, drink, etc. One main difference though was that it was abundantly clear that men are the seekers of women and NEVER the other way around. It seemed kind of like a prey-predator process, many of the men stood in groups surrounding the dance floor on an elevated platform, clearly better for staking out the best meat. When they spot their target, they leap forth, stealthfully slinking through the crowd until they capture their intended prey.

Yet overall, a very positive experience, it was fun to go out and just dance and let loose a bit at the start of our long weekend! Monday we have an orientation for the university during the day and then at night, we are hopping on a plane and heading to Buenos Aires for the week! I couldn't be more excited, expect a long and picture-narrated post upon my return!

Shout-out goes to Jess Woll, who I'll be seeing during my trip to Argentina, can't wait to see you and welcome you to life on this southern continent!



Wednesday, July 14, 2010

La Nana

Dearest all,

Although I feel I have settled in surprisingly well in this country, there are some cultural differences which stick out a bit more than others. One of these is the daily presence of la nana, or a maid in the house. She cooks, cleans, does the laundry, everything. I make an effort to make my bed in the morning but when I return in the afternoon, I find that she has remade what I thought was a perfectly well made bed. Many of the other host families have maids as well; it seems these women are a common aspect of middle-upper class home. Last week in my intensive language class, we watched a film entitled La Nana which depicts a woman who works as a live-in maid for an upper class family in Chile. Afterwards we discussed the presence of this type of work and what it means for the economic society as well as its effect on the class system. Here are a few of my complied thoughts.

The Film:

In the film, la nana (Raquel) lives with the family for which she works, yet despite her constant proximity to them, she is never really a part of the family. When they eat dinner in the dining room, she eats alone in the kitchen and may only enter their space if she is summoned by the ringing of a bell. Raquel rarely leaves the house and on the few occassions she does, it is apparent that she has no life outside of the family or her work and this fact has impeded her from maturing into an adult woman (at the beginning of the film, she celebrates her 41st birthday).

The Reality:

There are maids who live in the home (puertas adentro) and maids who travel to the home each day (puertas afuera). A law was recently passed which prohibits las patronas (people who employ maids) from making las nanas work on sundays or holidays. Yet many of these women are paid the very minimum salary the law states which is barely enough to afford the daily commute they make. Often times the job of la nana is outsourced to Peruvian women because of the comida rica (rich food) they cook and the fact that they are immigrants means the minimum salary does not apply.

The Reality in my host family:

There is a woman who comes to the house everyday to attend to the cooking, cleaning and laundry. She is delightful, we've had many nice conversations over lunch (please note that at these times, I am the only one eating and I am consuming food she has prepared for me). She told me that she commutes two hours to the house each way and she arrives around 9AM and leaves about 6PM, both of which coincide with rush hour for the metro and bus system. Sometimes she comes on Saturdays as well and when we are all eating lunch in the dining room, she stays in the kitchen attending to different chores, always with the connecting door shut.

Personally, it has been difficult for me to get used to her presence. She is a lovely person, but I am uncomfortable with the hierarchy which her presence represents. In my real family, if I'm the only one eating, I prepare my own food. If I don't make my bed in the morning, it doesn't get made and the same with my laundry. From my background, it's easy for me to quickly judge this lifestyle as being wrong and demeaning and I've definitely had those thoughts, yet I'm not Chilean and I don't understand completely where this inequality comes from. In addition, if the role of nana were suddenly outlawed, would there be other jobs available to these women? From another viewpoint, women in the US who work full time and don't have hired help are often tired and overworked from their "second shift" at home as mother and housekeeper. Perhaps the nanas are keeping women like my host mom sane. But then again, who helps la nana do her chores or take care of her children?

Thoughts to think on. Shout-out goes to Mary Vasquez for always being able to cheer me up. Hope you're having a better week this week!

Abrazos y besos,


Sunday, July 11, 2010

A sunday drive

Series of events from today:

1) Woke up early to skype with my parents. It's my momma's birthday today and I am sad I'm not with her and my dad in Chicago.

2) Got ready and left the house with host mom and older host brother. Host mom had told me that on sunday we were leaving around noon for (insert place name here). Needless to say, I had no idea where we were going.

3) Got on the highway leaving Santiago. Stopped at a restaurant and ate traditional Chilean food. We ordered a pardillera to share which turns out is a heaving bucket of meat. Literally, ALL MEAT. And steaming and HUGE. Inside the GINORMOUS pile of meat is a potato. SO. MUCH. MEAT.

4) Got back on the road, drove into the countryside area, through a couple little pueblitos. Saw some buildings which had been damaged by the earthquake and still not fixed, which was really depressing. Then drove about in the cerros (hills) to a place where there was open land and for sale signs posted in the middle of fields with numbers to call. Stopped next to a field while my host brother called the number on the sign to inquire about prices. Literally, in the middle of a wide open field, calling a phone number from a sign on a wooden stake. WHAT?

5) Then went to a gated community close by. A woman was standing outside her house, we stopped the car, she got inside and we drove while she told us about the value of all the properties. I thought she was a real estate agent. Turns out she is Marisol's best friend from childhood.

6) After a short drive where I tried very hard not to fall asleep, we returned to said best friend's house and toured it as well. Outside there is a beautiful garden, pool, gazebo, huge tree with a bunny nest (hutch?) inside. She has 4 dogs, two of which were larger than I am and enjoyed smelling my butt.

7) Inside the house there are conservatively 17 plasma flat screen TVs. Ok, maybe not 17, but actually, no exaggerations, Eight flat screen plasma TVs. WHAT?? The rest of the house is beautiful, the woman's closet is the size of my room in my host house. We then sit down for onces, pronounced own-says (like tea but later at night) and I eat LOTS of toasted bread and avocado. YUMMMM

8) During onces, best friend's husband talks about prank calling emergency numbers, like nine hundred eleven in the United States. When the dumb look on my face does not disappear, he repeats this number multiple times, but I still don't get it and he thinks I'm an idiot. I don't want to be rude and tell him that it's nine one one so I just smile and down my tea.

9) Turns out, he thinks I am Chilean and did an exchange program in the US. He is confused why I can't understand him when he speaks. After the truth about my situation has been explained, he directs all questions about me to my host brother since clearly I am an illiterate idiot who is only capable of eating disgusting amounts of toasted bread and avocado.

Ok, clearly I'm a bit frustrated. Although many English words are a part of the language here, they are pronounced differently according to the sounds of the letters in the Spanish alphabet. Another example, yesterday during lunch, my youngest host brother refused to eat spinach. I teased him, saying that if he didn't like spinach, he couldn't grow up to be strong like Popeye. The table went silent, then everyone broke out into laughter because of my pronunciation of Popeye (pop-eye) when clearly the correct pronunciation is Popeye (pup-pay-yay). My host mother just shook her head and smiled. Silly gringa.

Although these types of situations are trying, it really proves the true arbitrary nature of language. Really, nothing is "correct" in English or Spanish or any other language, it's all dependent on the general concensus of the community on what sounds should correlate with certain objects or ideas. Depending on one's background, there are different interpretations of every grunt, screech or mumble that comes out of my youngest host brother's mouth (I have yet to understand a complete sentence).

As for now, I'm just breathing in deeply and trying to let my tense feelings leave with the exhale. Tomorrow's a new day.

Shout-out goes to Barb and Jack Helfrich. Today, when we were driving through the cerros, it reminded me of the lovely view from your backyard of the hills and mountains. Hope you guys are doing well!

I've decided I'm putting my host mom's friend's house on my christmas list. Including the eight flat screen TVs. One for each night of Hannukkah, how perfect!



Friday, July 9, 2010

Adventures in Comprehension!

Hello one and all!

So, for today's post, I've decided to describe some instances about my inability to communicate for your viewing pleasure. Enjoy!

Time: Day 2-3
Place: My host home

At some point on Saturday, my host mom told me that my older host brother was going to eat lunch early (1:30pm is early) at the tennis club in order to be back in time to watch the soccer game. This part of the conversation stuck in my brain; what didn't stick was the fact that a) he was going to do this the next day and b) we were all going with him. So when I awoke the next day in the morning, I'm sorry, I lied, the early afternoon, my host mom told me to get ready quickly because we were leaving soon, in an hour and a half. I went to shower, yet when I came out, the entire family was waiting for me on the driveway, turns out she actually said thirty minutes. I quickly put on some clothes and ran out; once we were on our way, I asked where we were going and if we were going to eat lunch.

Time: Day 10
Place: The house

I called my host mom to tell her I would be late for lunch because our program was meeting to make travel plans after class. Disclaimer: It is hard for me to understand native speakers in person, the telephone is a completely different story (When the phone rings and no one else is home, I refuse to pick it up due to multiple fears which include agreeing to buy something that I cannot afford and hanging up on my host family's friends because I think they are telemarketers). Anyways, my host mom said that was fine and that she was leaving but that when I got home there was ramble ramble murmur, salad, ramble murmur consonant vowel murmur, rolling of the "r" fruit, consonants, vowels, murmur ok ciao! When I got back to the house, I ate salad and fruit which was fine for me, but when my host mom returned, she asked why hadn't I eaten the chicken? She told me there was chicken on the phone, protein is very important, wasn't I so hungry, how about I come and eat lunch now for real? I said that I was full, I was fine, I had eaten plenty. Twenty minutes later, I ate a second lunch of salad, fruit and chicken.

Time: Day 13
Location: The Metro

During peak hours, the metro can get unbearably crowded and if you are towards the back of the car it can be difficult to squeeze through and weave around the massive jigsaw of commuters. So yesterday, as the train approached my stop, I tapped the guy in front of me on the shoulder, attempting to say the following:"Excuse me, are you getting off at the next stop? Because I am and if you aren't will you let me go in front of you so I can get off the train?" Unfortunately, I only knew how to say "Excuse me, are you getting off at the next stop? Because I am" and I believe the connotation was that I wanted him to come with me. He just stared at me, horrified, and I heard him say "mumble mumble not my stop ramble murmur mumble with you no thanks". At this, I turned every shade of red in approximately five seconds and got as far away from him as possible (approximately three feet). One minute later, the longest minute OF MY LIFE, the train stopped and I ran out of the train with my head down and my tail between my legs. Goals: Learn the rest of that sentence and only talk to women on the metro.

Hope you all had a good laugh at my expense! If you have any embarrassing travel tales, do leave them in the comments, I'd love a laugh myself: )

Shout out goes to all the Glee fans out there: Today, I heard "Total eclipse of the heart" on the radio (in English) and nearly cried remembering Rachel's gorgeous rendition of it this past season. I wonder when Glee is coming back/ if it is aired in Chile? Questions to ask.

Happy two week annivesary to Santiago and myself, it's been quite a whirlwind romance! Cheers to moving out of the awkward phase of the relationship and learning how to communicate effectively with one another.

All the love,


Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The best part of waking up?

Hello dearest ones!

What do you all think of the morning time? Good? Bad? What! That exists? Well, usually I abhor it, I stay in my bed until the last possible second and then move about my habit like a roming zombie until I am able to focus my eyes in my corrective lenses and then to use my hand-eye coordination in order to feed myself.

But I have found that I enjoy the mornings in Santiago. My mother has probably fainted from shock at this point, she who had to drag me out of bed moaning and groaning (those of you who have lived with me are familiar with my morning performances) every day until I graduated high school. But seriously, I am usually the only one awake at 8 AM and I can leisurely shower and eat breakfast at my own speed before leaving to catch the metro at 9:15AM. I was thinking these exact thoughts as I tranquilly ate breakfast this morning and continued as I walked to the bathroom to brush my teeth. However, I became distracted when I heard the sound of water from the men's bathroom (yes, in this house, like most public places, there is a bathroom for women and men. I think it is for my benefit and/or privacy but I still find it a bit odd). I thought to myself, how odd that one of my host brothers is showering with the door open (let's recall that I do not have rational thoughts in the morning time), and went on my way to brush my teeth only to return two minutes later and find the entire hallway submerged in a puddle of water. Let us recall that I am a) the only person awake and b) have only lived in this house for a week and a half. So, in a state of sheer panic thinking that I had begun to drown the entire house in completing the simple process of scrubbing my molars and after taking thirty seconds to translate the following sentence in my head, I timidly knocked on my host mother's door and said "Umm...I just brushed my teeth and now the whole hallway is covered in water. Ummm...what shoul I do?" At this exact second, my host mother bolted out of bed having heard the doorbell signaling that la nana (nanny/housekeeper) had arrived, stepped in the rapidly growing puddle and, rather than begin to scream out a list of choice words, asked me if I had eaten breakfast yet. I kid you not.

In broken spanish, I asked her if there was anything I could do to help but she told me not to worry and that I needed to be on time for class, and seriously, had I eaten enough for breakfast? Because yesterday I only ate one piece of toast instead of two and it's important to start the day off right.

With that, she bid me goodbye, pulled out a broom from the store closet and began sweeping the water out onto the patio, still clad in her high-heel patterned pajamas and rubbing the sleep from her eyes.

Needless to say, this woman is amazing. If I had been jolted awake by the idea that my house was being flooded, I would have a) said something vulgar or b) cried, only adding to the amount in the house and clearly not helping the situation. It turns out a pipe had burst at about 9AM and within a matter of ten minutes had gushed out enough water to cover half of the first floor of the house, thankfully no one has carpet in their rooms!

So, even though the experience sucked, I now have even more confidence in my host mother than before. Seriously, I'm pretty sure a volcano could erupt next to her bed and she would just calmly stand up and get the vacuum to clean up the ashes. I should try and learn from her example.

Shout-out of the day goes to all of my homeboys/girls on Pine Street. When I saw the inches of water floating down the hallway, all I could think about was our poor photo albums, files and in my case American Girl dolls which have been ruined by year after year of flooded basements.

Here's to my host mother who, inspite of water cascading from her bathroom, can enjoy a peaceful morning.



Monday, July 5, 2010

Valparaiso and the Alcachofa

Hey all,

So, I realize that the title of my post sounds like a rousing children's story with an earnest moral. Sorry to disappoint but these are actually two separate things but both of which I believe are important to share.

First of all, yesterday, our program went on a day trip to Valparaiso, which is on the coast, about two hours from Santiago. It was just...amazing, some of the vistas (views) were just incredible. Valparaiso actual city resides at the lowest elevation but the residences are located in the hills and are painted all different colors, like below:

I was amazed, I've never seen anything like this! Most of the day was devoted to just LOOKING at the city, which was no problem for me, I couldn't get enough. In addition to all the looking, we had lunch practically on the beach which consisted of empanadas stuffed with cheese and mariscos (seafood) and some of the freshest fish I have ever tasted YUM! And already paid for through the program, Excellent!

In the afternoon, we visited one of the houses of Pablo Neruda, the famous Chilean poet. This was also very interesting, the house was five stories (WHAT?) and incredibly narrow. Unfortunately, we weren't allowed to take pictures inside but a few highlights were "la nube" (the cloud) which he named his La-Z-boy located next to a expansive window on one of the top floors of his home, a mural of a map made completely of stones and seashells which took up an entire wall and a mirror in one of the bathrooms which belonged in a funhouse at a carnival. Perhaps it just became convex with time?

I'll be posting the rest of my pictures on my facebook profile, so look out for those, BUT NOW, onto la alcachofa!

So, on Saturdays, or at least the last two Saturdays, the entire family eats lunch together. Usually we start with soup or salad but this past Saturday we started with an alcachofa (artichoke). Now, clearly I have eaten/seen artichokes before but never the WHOLE vegetable, let alone sitting on my plate waiting for me to consume it. I guess my shock and dismay must have been obvious because my older host brother called for my attention and began to instruct me as to how to eat this strange-looking food. I figured pictures would help with my narration so here is the vegetable.

As you can see, there are a few leaves peeled off already (I was in the middle of eating it when I got the idea to take pictures). Anyways, the part you are supposed to eat is the stump-like part at the bottom and each time you peel off a leaf, a bit of that portion comes with it, like so:

Then, you place the leaf in your mouth and suck out the white part at the end, like so:

Know that it is absolutely necessary to make the face I have made in this photo while consuming the alcachofa. The popping out of the eyes and raising of the eyebrows demonstrates the highest level of enjoyment in consuming the vegetable. After you have enjoyed the alcachofa, take the leaf out of your mouth (don't forget to smile for the camera) and then choose another leaf. And repeat until you have reached the end. It is a rather long process and to be honest, each leaf does not contain that much of the edible portion but I enjoyed the activity!

Shout-out today goes to my parents! A) for giving birth to me so I could eventually make my way to Chile and discover the delightfully though slightly odd alcachofa and B) because I think you guys would really like Valparaiso, perhaps we should make it a day trip when you both come visit!

Abrazos y besos,


Saturday, July 3, 2010

Reality Check

Hello all,

So, last night was our first night out as a group. We went to La Piojera, a bar on the north side of Santiago. Like always, my host mother told me to be careful but this time she was absolutely right; this bar was literally the craziest, dirtiest, sketchiest place I have ever been. The amount of people inside definitely exceeded capacity and the floor, what little of it I could see, was covered in used napkins and dirt. Yet good times were had although bad times were to follow.

The Good Times:

If any of us had low self esteem before entering the bar, we came out afterwards incredibly ego-centric. Literally, all of us were approached by at least five men who had no qualms about flirting with us mercilessly which included telling us how beautiful we are and touching our hair. As we circled around the crowded bar, one guy playfully told me I could not pass until I gave him a kiss. There was a woman there selling earrings and another guy offered to buy my friend Christina a pair or two or three even (he was extremely curado (Chilean slang for borracho, or drunk). The best by far though was the guy who approached Victoria, he asked for her name and upon answering, told her his name was Victor and offered his ID as proof. They had a short conversation and then he asked the palayo (clown, yes, there was a clown there, though I promise you it was not a children's birthday party) to make her balloons. She ended up walking away with a flower, a heart and a pink poodle. So, was it fate? Are they soulmates? It became pretty clear that this was not the case when three minutes later he asked her to come home with him...we skidaddled soon after.

The Bad Times:

Although the night started off entertaining, it ended on a rather sour note. During the course of the evening, four fist fights broke out, three of which were right in front of my face and one of which occurred on the street, complete with stray dogs jumping on top of the wrestling men. But worst of all, when we were standing outside la Piojera waiting for a taxi, my friend was robbed. One minute we were standing together and the next, this guy came out of nowhere and ripped her purse right off of her body and booked it down the street before any of us could react. Thankfully she only lost some cash and her debit card (which she then cancelled) but the experience was still traumatizing for her and the rest of us as well.

So, needless to say, we were all feeling pretty crummy after that. We went home in taxis which cost WAY too much money and tonight I don't think I'm the only one who is passing on going out. I know it is an isolated incident and won't happen everytime we go out but I think I'll wait until next weekend before I once again venture out into the night.

Well, clearly this bad situation didn't remind me of any of you so my shout-out is not related to the majority of this post. But I have been thinking of Cameron Jacoby the last few days since my host brother has become a FANATIC of the song "Down" and literally listens to it (or rather plays it loud for the entire house to hear) conservatively thirty times a day. Everytime I hear it, I have a clandestine dance party and wish you were here.