Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My!

Faithful friends. Furry animals. Fluorescent sun. Fearless snakes. Fierce lions. Fascinating toucans. A day spent at “Parque Safari” filled with new adventures and unforgettable moments.

The adventures of the day began with our first Safari where we piled onto what seemed to be an army truck – a truck with cages surrounding us completely. We had the opportunity to enter the home of many roaming lions, hungry after a long night without food. We drove into the exhibit and immediately, chink, thump, clatter.We looked up to see the paws of a heavy lion taking large and powerful steps on top of the cage of the truck. The guide was holding what seemed to be full, raw 18-ounce ribeye steaks for the lion to devour. We got to examine the detail of its paws, feel its fuzzy fur, and watch him roar. It was quite the up close and personal experience, and it was incredible to learn about this large and beautiful animal.

For our second Safari we rode in a trailer that was open and had feeding troughs on the sides, filled with grains for the animals to eat. We entered into the next exhibit and had the opportunity to pet, feed, and even kiss zebras, sheep, deer, giraffes, donkeys, cebraznos, and some other unidentifiable creatures, all while trying to avoid the angry spit of the jealous llamas (Don’t worry, we didn’t kiss the llamas!)

Great question. A cebrazno is a mix between a donkey and a zebra — strange, right? There are only cebraznos left in the entire world and two of them happen to reside in this safari in Chile, and I had the opportunity to feed and pet them. It was truly a magical experience.


The day was filled with many other adventurous moments. I had the opportunity to hold a beautiful toucan that was rescued from an abusive situation and is now the biggest and best photo opportunity in all of “Parque Safari”. I was also able to swallow my fear and let a giant snake wrap around my neck and arms. Although I was a bit terrified, it was awesome to feel its skin and hang out with him for a few minutes! Haha.

My close Chilean friend, Isa, and I also went kayaking in a small pond type thing where there were ducks swimming around us and the donkeys, zebras, sheep, and cebraznos were nearby wandering and watching us go in circles. It was a time full of smiles, laughter, and so much joy.

We concluded our time at “Parque Safari” by eating a famous anticucho, which is essentially a Chilean Shish Kabob, filled with only meat. We loaded onto our bus and began our 3-hour bus ride back to Valparaíso, telling stories and laughing about our day the whole way home.




Food, Food, and More Food.

Chileans not only eat a variety of different meals than we eat in the United States, they also have a slightly different meal schedule. A day in Chilean life still calls for three complete meals; however, lunch is to be the largest meal of the day – and I mean very, very large. Lunch is typically the only meal during which meat is served, making it an exciting time of the day for someone who loves meat as much as I do! In most traditional Chilean households, the mom only cooks one meal a day, normally lunch, served at 2 or 3 o’clock. This clearly leaves a pretty large gap of time between breakfast, which is eaten around 8 o’clock in the morning, and the afternoon meal. And no, snacking is not really a habit here in Chile, meaning you patiently wait until lunchtime to eat.

Meals are almost always served and eaten with the entire family present, with lunch lasting anytime between one and three hours. Families value this time together, seeing it as an excellent opportunity to share about their days and enjoy one another’s company. Coming from the U.S., this was quite the adjustment for me, as I had become accustomed to quick meals in Phelps or in fast food drive-throughs! Although a challenge at first, lunch is now one of my favorite periods of the day. I truly value this time with my wonderful host family.

Breakfast in Chile usually consists of tea or coffee, hot bread with jelly, sweet fruit, and, occasionally, eggs. However, every once in a while, you may be served a sandwich or salad for breakfast. Although I find it normal to eat certain foods at certain times, Chileans do not seem to feel the same; any food is fair game for any meal. Yet, a typical dinner happens to be almost identical to a typical breakfast: some type of bread with some type of topping (whether it be jelly again or chicken-flavored spread), veggies, and tea. An unreal amount of bread is served and consumed in Chile. Chileans view bread just as I know Mexicans view tortillas… like precious gold.

Two staple meals unique to Chilean culture are empanadas and chorrillana. Empanadas are large masa (dough) pockets, deep-fried and stuffed to the brim with an assortment of cheese, meat, veggies, olives, and many other ingredients, served to your liking. Buying empanadas on the street is a regular practice here in Chile, and they are extremely cheap! Empanadas are a must for anyone visiting this beautiful country.

Of all the meals I have been served thus far, chorrillana is my personal favorite and my new obsession. Essentially, it is a massive pile of salty French fries loaded with glorious goodness. The fries are topped with juicy strips of beef, salchicha (they say it’s sausage, but I am 99% sure it’s just chopped up hot dogs), onions, and scrambled eggs. As if that weren’t delicious enough, chorrillana is always paired with mayo. Chileans value mayo like Americans value ranch, so I’ve learned that mayo can and does go well with absolutely everything. EVERYTHING.


My Bustling and Colorful Walk to Class

It blows my mind that I have already spent two weeks in Valparaíso, Chile. The time has flown thanks to my wonderful host family and my extremely colorful walk to class. Living in the middle of the city of Valparaíso – commonly referred to as Valpo by the locals – has introduced me to many unique experiences and allowed me to immerse myself in a culture brand new to me.

Every morning, I am awakened by flocks of birds chirping as they fight for their food and by hordes of locals shouting as they sell any and every item you could possibly need. My walk to PUCV, the university I am attending while here in Chile, takes a short five minutes and covers only three blocks of the city, but it always feels as if I am walking through a whole new world.

Culture overwhelms me from the moment I step out of my door as street vendors approach me continuously, shouting the names and prices of random items they hope to sell, to the end of my first block. Cultural encounters continue as I move to the second block of my journey to school, which is by far my favorite. This block consists of tables and tables showcasing mounds of shiny, ripe, and juicy fruits and vegetables. As I walk, everything around me becomes a blur of yellows, oranges, reds, and greens. The area teems with life as people hustle to complete their early morning shopping. Here in Chile, it is tradition to buy only enough for two days maximum so that the food is always fresh (quite the opposite of most American families who shop to fill their fridges for weeks at a time). The sunlight reflecting the vibrant colors of fruits and vegetables, the scents of fresh food, the shouts of local Spanish-speakers, and the feeling of Chileans hurriedly brushing up against me are some of the strongest sensations I experience as I attempt to scramble through the crowd. I eventually break through the masses and begin walking my third and final block.

The final block is flooded with college students passing time with friends between classes, soaking in the sun and breathing in the fresh air. I continue forward, approaching what seems to be an ancient castle, and find myself arriving at the beautiful Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaíso. The single building before me is the home of knowledge. Of growth. Of challenge. Of opportunity. It is a place that has already challenged and encouraged me in so many ways, and I know it will continue to do so.

I never imagined it would be possible to experience so much culture in three short blocks. I’ve recognized that my walk to class is more than just a walk; it is a journey through the most beautiful chaos that I have ever experienced. These few minutes allow me to forget everything else, to be present, and to soak in the beauty of Valpo’s culture as I prepare myself for another full day of classes and adventures awaiting. And to think, this is just the beginning…