Chileans are incredible chatters, and they don’t slow down for anyone. It can be pretty difficult to keep up, especially with all the Chilenismos and “po’s” thrown in. Within hours of my arrival, I humbly accepted just vaguely understanding most things in the coming semester. When I don’t know how to respond, or if I get lost in the conversation, my go-to response is, “Sí, claro.”
This response can get me into some interesting situations, and this weekend was the perfect example. Last week, my host sister and I were talking about how I love hiking and being outdoors, and Santiago’s vast opportunities for exploring and traveling was a huge draw to my decision to study here. Her boyfriend is a guide in the mountains, so she warmly invited me to join their outdoors group on a “hike” (this is at least what I pieced together). Naturally I responded, “Sí, claro.”
Come Sunday, I woke up at 5:30am to gear up for the long day of exploration ahead. Her boyfriend, Alexei, picked us up in his 4-seater Jeep, along with two other friends. We met up with the rest of the hiking “group,” about twelve 65+ year-old men. I’m not sure who was more surprised– me, or them when they saw the young, blonde “gringa.”
Two hours of windy roads, an outrageous amount of speed bumps, and a stuffed Jeep took us to the beautiful Cajón de Maipo. We pulled over at a roadside barren area, mountains surrounding us. What I thought was a pit stop to admire the grazing horses and mountainous views was actually our basecamp for the day, which I didn’t even realize until a few hours later.
Alexei began his lesson on map orienteering, compass skills, and GPS navigation. I tried to understand, but as mentioned before, Chilean Spanish is muuuuy rápido, and I can’t say that I got much out of it. I was also a little antsy for the long-awaited hike (that never came). Hours later, we began knot-tying. This is a skill I’ve been interested in picking up, so I eagerly participated. I can’t say I have really mastered the skill, but I’ve added it to my semester goals.
After 8 hours of Outdoor Adventure Orientation, we took a short drive to a mining town to hunt for fossils. Good conversations were had with my new adventure buddies as we admired Argentinian cordillera at golden hour, working up our appetites for the fresh empanadas that were to come.
On the late-night drive back to Santiago, my eyes batted heavily from the carsickness and exhaustion of only Spanish communication for the last 14 hours. However, I couldn’t help but laugh when I thought about how my expectations were quite different than the reality of the day’s events.
Language barriers are tricky, but I am excited to see what else comes from the things I accidentally respond “Sí, claro” to.