La Despedida

In the last few weeks, everything has finished up. All my classes are done now, and all that’s really left is to buy some presents for people back in the States and to say good-bye to the people I’ve met over this journey. I always really hate good-byes, and I think Peter Pan sums it up nicely, “Never say good-bye, because good-bye means going away, and going away means forgetting.” While I don’t think this trip will soon be forgotten, I don’t enjoy the fact that it is about to become a memory. Soon I will be home and get the usual sling of questions, such as “Did you have a good time? What was your favorite part? What do you miss most?”

How am I supposed to have just one answer? I had a good time by getting to explore this country and culture and making new friends, but I missed my family and friends, and often wished there were parts of my journey that I could share with them. I loved most things about this place: my caring family here, seeing the blue ocean every day, eating fresh fruits and vegetables for cheap, and the excitement that constantly runs through this city. And what do I miss the most? I already miss being here, and I haven’t even left yet.

Yesterday we had a final lunch provided by our program so we could all say good-bye. Some people have already left, and some people leave soon, and it is getting melancholy. I grew close to some of these people, and even those who were not my close friends here were part of the shared experience, so it is sad to have to hug them one last time. I hope that I get a chance to visit them someday, or they can visit me. And I really do hope that someday I can come back to Chile and visit my family here. I am glad I have two more weeks to spend with them, and I know those two weeks will fly by.

Up for an Adventure

2014-11-22 07.49.30I am taking a class called Introduction to Mountaineering and this past weekend I had an amazing opportunity to go on the class field trip. It has been a challenging class, but also quite fun and clearly unlike anything I could take at Hope. And part of the fun was that the majority of my classmates are Chilean, and not a lot exchange students. Don’t get me wrong; I’ve loved hanging with other exchange students, but it was fun to do something outside of the norm.

For our final, we took a weekend trip to the Andes Mountains to hike and see all the geographical phenomena that we had studied in class. We stayed in a refugio, which is similar to a hostel except it is actually the owner’s home as well. The drive there wasn’t too bad. We took a bus to Santiago, then got picked up by the National Park people to drive us the rest of the way. The journey was amazing, just seeing all the lovely mountains, the roaming horses and cows, and the rapids making their journey to the ocean. We got to the refugio and got to relax the first night. But no amount of relaxing could have prepared me for the next day. We hiked to a glacier, which was about 9 km total, at an altitude of about 4,000 meters above sea level. Needless to say, it was beautiful, but also hot and difficult. I got slightly sunburned despite putting sunscreen on four times, I was super tired, and my feet were covered in blisters, but I am so glad I went and I’m so glad I didn’t give up. It was gorgeous.

I slept pretty much right when we got back to past dinner, but I wasn’t hungry. I finally went and got some tea and woke up a bit and got to hang out with all the Chilean students, who are hilarious and love having a good time. People were drinking wine and playing cards and bonding. All the people are in the same year, all about to finish up their schooling, so they all know each other pretty well. It was fun getting to know them a bit.

Sunday we thought we were just going to go on a nice walk, but instead we climbed up what seemed to be a landslide of sorts. Turns out it was massive amounts of Gypsum, which was pretty cool. From there we returned back to the refugio to eat (the owner made us lunch; how sweet of her!) and relax until the van came for us at 5. It was back to Valparaiso after a really great weekend!

It will be awhile before my feet recover, but I know the rest of me will never be the same. Hiking in the Andes—how amazing is that!

Travels in a Thin Country

I’ve had a great time in Chile. With things wrapping up a bit, I’m reflecting on all the things I’ve done. I have made a lot of decisions since I’ve been here, and not all of them have paid off in the end. So this is my advice to you. These are things I would have done differently had I known:

  • Taken more classes that count for something. It’s nice to have Mondays and Fridays off but now I’m going back with credits that only really help me in my Spanish major.
  • Explored more. The best way to learn a city is to walk it. Yeah, it’s a lot of walking, but I think I would have benefitted greatly by walking around at the beginning.
  • Saved more. I’ve spent a lot of money since I’ve started college, and not all of it on incredibly useful stuff. Things in Chile are about the same or even more than in the States, and I should have been more prepared.
  • Thought more about traveling. I knew I didn’t have a lot of money coming here, so I never even thought about taking trips. I have gone on a trip or two and I’ve LOVED IT. I wish I would have thought more about it before I got here and planned a little better.
  • I would have bought a later flight home. My program ends on the 12th of December, and they told us we could leave that day, so that’s when my ticket is for. But a lot of people are staying so I will be the first to go, and I will have to say good-bye to everybody first, and that is going to be hard.
  • I wish I could have had more time in this wonderful country. It has helped me grow and become. My Spanish is really good now, and I can tell that I am more comfortable talking and communicating. I’ve missed my family and friends and Hope College a lot, but I am so happy I got to have this experience.

A letter to the next Host Student

Dear student:

¡Felicitaciones! You got placed with the lovely Laura as your mama this semester. Here are some things that I hope will help you along on your journey with not only this family but also your study abroad experience:

Mama is still pretty new to CIEE, so she doesn’t always understand things that go on. If plans change or anything, make sure to explain things to her because she has a lot to keep track of. She’s a wonderful woman who loves being a mother, so be ready for plenty of motherly advice!

Take advantage of everything CIEE has to offer. There are various trips and classes and they are all things that you’ve paid for to be here, so use them! That includes tutoring sessions, Rabuco, and renting camping equipment.

The metro was the best option for me for getting around the city, mostly because I get motion sickness so easily. However, sometimes buses and colectivos are the way to go, especially if you need to go to the mall or you don’t want to walk up Camino Real.

Along with that, don’t be afraid to look stupid. You are not the first gringo to make this mistake, and you surely won’t be the last. If you get into the wrong colectivo, say the wrong thing, or even pay too much for something because someone scams you, don’t feel too bad about it. It’s a learning experience, and you aren’t always going to be perfect.

Take some time to travel around. Not only near Valpo/Viña, but also the whole country. Chile is beautiful, with deserts in the north and glaciers in the south. Take advantage of everything Chile has to offer. Also, don’t be afraid to go to other countries. Who knows when you’ll be back and able to travel South America?

This is going to be the greatest adventure of your life thus far. Take advantage of everything you can, and ¡Disfrutelo!

Homesickness

It´s incredible what you don’t notice when you are caught up in yourself. I have been feeling a little melancholy recently for two completely opposite reasons: because I am homesick, and because my time in Chile is approaching the end. On the one hand, I am happy to be going home soon; I miss the familiar people and routines. On the other hand, I am sad because studying in Chile has been a wonderful series of adventures, and because I will have to say good-bye to my family and friends here.

However, while I’ve been sad, spring arrived.  The weather is beautiful, flowers are blooming, and there are more ships in the harbor. It is shorts and t-shirt weather, which I love. The birds are singing, and everybody seems happier. Sometimes their happiness is contagious, and it can be a lot of fun hanging out with everyone. But sometimes, I enjoy being alone. It is what I do with that alone time makes all the difference.

I like people watching. I just go to a café and get some coffee and observe the busy people. It is fun to watch the crazy old men wander by, asking for change, or the grandmas with their grandchildren who are begging for an ice cream. I like watching the girlfriends drag their boyfriends to a movie or all the people casually smoking a cigarette before they have to go back to work.

I like observing the flowers. I love flowers, and so many of them just grow around here, wild and uncontrolled. There are daisies and petunias that grow by my house. Everybody seems to have roses. There are wild purple flowers and pretty red flowers. I like wearing flowers in my hair. It makes me feel confident and pretty.

The sea is very blue right now. It’s been remarkable to live this close to the ocean during my time here. I feel I could stare at its vastness forever. I like writing poetry and staring at the sea. I feel content.

When there is so much to do in a busy city like Valparaiso, sometime just stopping and spending some time alone is the best way to understand the people and the culture.

Chiloé

Chiloé was breathtaking, just as I thought it would be. My friend and I caught a bus Monday morning that took us from Pucon down to Puerto Montt, which took about five hours. From there we took a bus to Ancud, a city on the island of Chiloé. The bus actually went onto a boat to take us across the water! It was so crazy! We stopped in Ancud for lunch, which happened to be the best burgers at a little dive. We looked around a bit, but we were tired and wanted to relax, so we caught a bus to our final stop, Castro, the capital of Chiloé. Total that day we traveled approximately ten hours, so you can imagine we were so happy to get to our hostel!

The hostel we stayed at was right on the water. And when I say that, I mean that in a literal sense! Called Palofitos, they’re little houses partially on land, but with sticks in the water supporting them. It was a lovely view, and the hostel was small but clean, which was perfect for us.

The only problem I had with Chiloé was the rain. It was ALWAYS RAINING during our short stay. The rainy season doesn’t end until December. And it was a cold rain, which just makes it worse. On Tuesday, we went to the Parque Nacional de Chiloé, which was magical and lovely… and wet. I wish we could have seen even more, but the rain was just too much for us. We got back to our hostel and took hot showers and stayed warm until dinner.

For dinner, we found a beautiful, fancy restaurant close to our hostel and thought, why not? Chiloé is known for seafood, so we couldn’t leave without trying some. The traditional dish of Chiloé is called curanto, and it consists of mussels, pork, chicken, potatoes, and some type of Chiloé bread. The dish was HUGE and was totally worth twelve dollars.

Our final day we walked around a bit, looking at their art, eating more seafood, and trying to stay dry. We left Castro at 3, arrived in Puerto Montt at 6:45, and then caught our bus at 7:30 that would take us back to Viña. We got back Thursday morning around 11, which means we traveled a solid twenty hours! I’m happy to be back in my comfy bed, but it was an adventure and I’m so glad I went to see beautiful Chiloé.

Pucón

This past weekend, my program organized a trip for all of us to a city in southern Chile called Pucón. We’ve been planning this trip for a while, so it was pretty exciting for it to finally arrive. The city is lovely, about 1.5 hours away from the ocean to the west, and 1.5 hours away from Argentina to the east. There’s an incredible volcano as the backdrop for Pucón, which makes the view breathtaking.IMG_0523

The bus ride there was twelve hours, but it was overnight in a relatively comfortable “semi-cama” seat, so most of us got some sleep. We rolled in about 8 am on Friday and headed straight to our cabañas to drop our things off. The cabañas were a lot nicer than I imagined, with two bedrooms of bunk beds, a full bathroom, a master bedroom with a master bath, and kitchen and living room area. It was even complete with maid service, so we weren’t expected to do our own dishes. (A college kid’s dream!)

That day, we went to visit the Mapuche, which is a tribe here in Chile. They were very warm and accepting, making us lunch and even showing us how to craft using their techniques. Then we were given options on what to do Saturday and Sunday. Both days there were free activities, which involved going to the termas (hot springs) on Saturday and going to the National Park for a nine kilometer hike on Sunday. But there were also activities with a tour guide company, in which you could either hike the volcano, go white water rafting, or ziplining, and the program would pay up to 20.000 CLP (about $40) for one, and any other was on you. Lots of people went up the volcano, but the termas sounded more fun to me, so that’s where I was Saturday. And Sunday I went rafting and ziplining, which were both awesome. Rafting was hilarious, and our guides kept trying to push us in and making us laugh. And ziplining was breathtaking, going over the river and being high in the sky.

Everybody left Sunday evening to get back Monday morning, but a friend and I stayed the night to spend the next couple of days in Chiloé, a little Chilean island about five hours south. I’ll update again once I’m home from Chiloé!

San Pedro de Atacama

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Sorry about the flood of blog posts, but I was on a vacation, so I didn’t get an opportunity to write earlier! I just got back from San Pedro de Atacama, which is a city in the desert of northern Chile, and wow, I had a blast. Initially I didn’t want to go because I didn’t think I had the money, but I’m so glad I went. There were eight of us, all from the same program. We went for four nights, and it was an adventure from the very start.

We had to go to Santiago at 5 am to catch a plane; that plane took us to Calama, and then we had to get a ride from Calama to San Pedro. Luckily it all ended up working out, but there were some stressful moments in there, especially with eight people. Everything ended up being okay; we all got along surprisingly well during the trip.

We found a tour guide company that would take us everywhere we wanted to go for 56.000 CLP (roughly 112 USD). That included breakfast or snacks on some tours, too, so we got a pretty good deal. We went to Puritama hot springs, which were a little cold because the snow is melting right now and flowing into the springs, but they were still nice. The next day we went to Lagos Altiplanicos, which are salt lakes up in the mountains, and then to Laguna Cejar, which is a lagoon so salty that you cannot sink in it, like the Dead Sea.

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The next day we went to see the geysers, which are the third largest in the world, after Yellowstone and some in Russia. Those were especially awesome to see because I’m a geology major, and geysers are a geological phenomenon. And that afternoon we went to Valle de la Luna and Valle de la Muerte, which are just two tours you have to do if you’re there! There are incredibly popular attractions that are basically just valleys you can walk through. It was so hot, but even that couldn’t stop us!IMG_0466

We all got home sometime on Monday, some early and some late. It was such a good time, and I’m glad I went. If you’re going to study abroad, it’s important to take advantage of as many things as possible.IMG_0513

Festival de Mil Tambores

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A week ago, I was a part of something awesome! There was a festival called Mil Tambores, or a Thousand Drums. It was a weekend long event, and it was so much fun! It’s been going on for fifteen years, and it’s just a celebration of happiness here in Valparaiso, Chile! Friday there were poetry and song-writing contests, drawing in many wannabe artists dying to get a chance to publicize their works. Saturday there were many small parades up in the hills of Valparaiso. There was dancing and music and fun had by many families. There were so many people in the city that weekend! It was incredible!

Sunday there was a giant parade filled with music and dancing of various groups. There was samba and salsa and dances from the north of Chile and the south of Chile all being performed. There was also body painting going on at the beach, where people could wear as little clothing as they wanted and get their bodies covered in artwork. Some pictures are amazing!!!

Sunday is where my fun came in, too. Since I’ve been here, I’ve participated in a samba group. Every Saturday I’ve gone to a two-hour practice, just learning the samba step itself and learning to move more sensually. This group performed in that big parade, and I got to be part of it! We wore heels and a miniskirts and had to sew sequins and beads on to a bra to wear. I would have never worn such little clothing back at home, no matter what the reason. But I figured I wouldn’t get this opportunity again, so I went for it. And it was a blast! Afterward my feet hurt and I was sunburned, but I’m so glad I danced in the parade. It was an amazing opportunity to participate in Chilean culture and break out of my comfort zone!

Fiestas Patrias

September 18 and 19, Chile celebrates its Independence. Although most activities really take place on the 18th and 19th, school shut down two days before that, so I did not have class that entire week! It was quite a fun cultural experience.

First off, everybody has asados, or “grill-outs,” kind of like Fourth of July in the United States. But multiply the quantity of food we eat in the US by eight and that is how much food is consumed in Chile during that week. There are all kinds of meat: chicken, ribs, pork, and steak. Everything is grilled to juicy perfection and covered in sauces and dips. There is honestly SO.MUCH.FOOD. It was heaven. People spend the week drinking, too. Wines go great with meat, but there are two drinks that are pretty popular during this time, terremotos and chicha. Terremotos are wine with grenadine and pineapple ice cream, and chicha is a wine made from apples or grapes. Both are pretty good, but one needs to be careful when consuming any kind of alcohol, especially around the 18th of September. Many people drink too much around this time of year, and it can lead to some pretty serious problems.

There were fairs set up, too, in many different locations. They included rides and games, restaurants, and crafts for sale. There were always a ton of people, but it was a lot of fun to go. The restaurants grilled fresh empanadas and chorripan, and prizes for the games ranged from stuffed animals to bottles of alcohol. There was an entrance fee if you entered after 8 pm, and everything in there cost money, but it was still fun to go and hang out and catch all the sights. I have never really been to a fair before, so that was an awesome new experience!

Learning about another country’s Independence Day and the way they celebrate is important to understanding the culture. Chile has been a free country for almost 200 years, and more recently had a dictator in the 80s that set them back. Although there are still negative ramifications from that time, Chile is rebounding nicely, and that week was a lot of fun!

For more information on Chile’s dictatorship, visit: http://global.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/111326/Chile/25275/The-military-dictatorship-from-1973