Sí, claro…

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.”

Our basecamp for the day, surrounded by the beautiful Andes Mountains!

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.

I may need to retake this course in English…
Knot-tying competitions! Can’t say this was my forté…

 

 

 

 

 

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.

As much as I love admiring the cordillera from my apartment window in Santiago, it was so refreshing to see the Andes up-close and personal!

Language barriers are tricky, but I am excited to see what else comes from the things I accidentally respond “Sí, claro” to.

Top of the Mountain & Tropical Mindo

¡Hola a todos! Classes have begun and I’m looking forward to learning a whole new wealth of information about my host country! However, to celebrate the end of our first week of classes, I decided to take a few trips to different places around Ecuador.

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First of all, I took advantage of Friday by joining three of my new friends to the top of Mt. Pichincha here in Quito. I can see the mountain every morning from my bedroom window, so I really wanted to explore the top of the mountain. It would have been a long time to hike up there, so we took the cable car (TelefériQo). I didn’t imagine that it would be so scary going up to the top, but I realized that the cable car was going to be like an amusement park ride; I don’t enjoy amusement parks.

But once I got to the top… the view was amazing! It was such a different environment than the city (which I could see clearly from the top of Pichincha). My friends and I hiked around and stood in silence for a while. SILENCE! There is no such thing in Quito since it’s such a busy city. It felt wonderful being away for a while and enjoying nature.

Roaming and observing the surrounding mountains.

We even observed some wild cows roaming the land. I did not pet the cows because I am also afraid of getting bit by wild animals. Instead, I just observed some of my friends getting licked by the cows and photographed them.

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We noticed that there were horse rides that would take us to the crater of Pichincha which would let us see inside the volcano (!). However, since we didn’t bring enough money for anything other than the taxi rides, cable car, and food, we didn’t ride the horses. ¡Pero eso será para la próxima vez!

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Leaving our mark on the dirt path on Pichincha.

As if I didn’t already experience enough adventure, the next two days I went to the cloudy forest in Mindo. I stayed in my first hostel and ended up traveling with a large group of IES students from Quito and Cumbayá.

I think the bus ride took about 3 hours, and we dropped more than 1,000 meters in altitude. That means warmer weather and lots of bugs! We were all supposed to go tubing down one of the rapids as soon as we got there, but right before I got on I got very sick and had to sit out. 🙁 I think it was the bus and taxi rides with all of the curvy and bumpy roads.

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The view from our hostel’s second floor.

Thankfully, I felt much better after eating lunch! A small group of us decided to hike around the rapids before we took a chocolate tour near our hostel. The tour lasted about an hour and a half, and we were able to see how chocolate is grown and made in Mindo. Plus, we got to sample a lot of cacao beans, stevia leaves, and dark chocolate! Fun fact: the only other place they produce Mindo chocolate outside of Mindo is in Dexter, Michigan; what a small world!

The next day was packed with adventure as we took a cable car (even scarier than the TelefériQo) across the cloud-forest to a trail that led us to different waterfalls. The arduous hike became somewhat dangerous after it rained and the trails became slippery with mud. The rain also made it a little colder, but I felt like I was in a rainforest! I walked around with wet feet for a majority of the hike.

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When we returned to the small town after the hike, I ate my lunch quickly and hopped onto the bus to return to Quito before dark. ¡Fué una aventura maravillosa! I hope to return to Mindo to explore more of the town and to go tubing. So until my next adventure, ¡cuídense mucho mis amigos! ¡Nos vemos!

 

Goodbyes and Hellos

I’ll start this post by saying: I definitely picked the right country to do my study abroad. The pace of life is slower, tourists don’t flood what few city streets exist, and nature dominates most of the land.  The snowcapped mountains expand much of the island, leaving a trail of sparkling blue glacial lakes where the glaciers once stood.  Every way you turn is a new and spectacular view, and you can’t help but marvel at the creation God has displayed before you.  I love to sit and imagine in those moments just how much fun He must’ve had in creating this earth and how fortunate we are to enjoy moments like these…these beautiful, peaceful, blissful moments where the silence is deafening.  I love these moments.

Lake Tapeko
Lake Tapeko: a magnificent blue glacial lake

From Christchurch, we drove south to Queenstown, a place comparable to Aspen, Colorado. From there, we continued south to the southern most tip in New Zealand, Invercargill Bluff.

Only 4,000 kilometers from Antartica
Only 4,000 kilometers from Antartica

 

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Following Queenstown, we took the scenic route back to Christchurch, but, unfortunately, the rainy weather prevented us from seeing much of the Southern Alps.  We did take a short hike up to Fox Glacier despite the rain.  The glacier has retreated so far in recent years that it is now only accessible by helicopter drop-off…a true testament to the impact global warming is having on nature’s wonders.

Fox Glacier
Fox Glacier
Fun fact: There are more sheep in NZ than people
Fun fact: There are more sheep in NZ than people

We spent the last day of our ‘holiday’ in Christchurch, seeing the city, and exploring the east coast some.  We were really surprised to find such little shopping in Christchurch for it being the largest city on the south island, but locals informed us the 2011 earthquakes wiped out much of the city and they are still in the process of rebuilding. Many roads are closed, most buildings are held up with scaffolding, and box cars block much of the damaged buildings from collapsing onto roads.  It’s hard to see such a beautiful place have to recover from such devastation.

A beautiful cathedral under construction following devastation from the 2011 earthquakes
A beautiful cathedral under construction following devastation from the 2011 earthquakes
Art College all boarded up following damage
Scaffolding supported many damaged, yet to be fixed. buildings

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We ended the night early with lamb burgers and the inevitable packing/rolling/smooshing of all the accumulated souvenirs and keepsakes over the last couple weeks.  An early morning calls for an early bedtime.  Tonight, I cherish my last night of heat: heated beds, heated towel racks, and heated rooms. _____________________________________________________________________________

For the past two and a half weeks, I have played the role of tourist with my parents.  We spent over 30 hours on a plane, visited over 10 cities, drove 1,700 miles in the car, and made countless memories.  And, tomorrow I say goodbye to my parents and hello to the 13 other students who will become like family.  Actually, tomorrow is filled with a lot of goodbyes and new hellos.  I say goodbye to my tourist lifestyle and hello to ‘local living.’  I say goodbye to central heating and hello to layers.  I say goodbye to the luxury of daily internet connection and hello to human connection.  These goodbyes (particularly central heating) are all going to be difficult, but I’m ready to embrace these new hellos, to experience something outside myself, beyond myself.  I’m ready to let myself change, to let myself become someone new through these experiences.  I’m ready for Hello.