Friday, June 26, 2009

The End?

I am home now. There wasn't much culture shock when I got to Chile so there has been minimal reverse culture shock. It's mostly little things, like the reflex to kiss people on the cheek when i say hello and goodbye and to throw toilet paper in the trash. I'm staying in touch with friends in Chile so hopefully I won't forget Spanish.

I had a fantastic semester and I was really sad to leave, but hopefully in the future I'll have the opportunity to return.

Me and my host family. From left: María, Nelson, Cote, Me, Ridicula, Francisco. Not pictured: Nelsito.

Thanks to everyone who has read this blog the entire semester. I hope it was entertaining and insightful. Or at least not boring. This is the end for now but who knows? I might have to have a few updates if I end up in Iceland or Portugal or the Dominican Republic in the future. Until then, chau! Besitos!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Impressions of Buenos Aires

I spent my last week abroad visiting my good friend Jenelle in Buenos Aires, Argentina. These are my impressions...

BsAs is called the “Paris of South America,” but reminds me of New York City. Of course, I haven’t been to Paris so I don’t really know. It’s much larger and more hectic than Santiago. It has something like 48 barrios, of which Jenelle and I only went to like 5. There are a lot of European immigrants, esp Italian, so the city is a lot more European than Santiago. There is a lot more of a café culture with people sitting outside and eating in plazas. The people are a lot more fair than the people in Chile so I didn't stand out as much.

However, the city is also much dirtier than Santiago. There are a lot of torn-up sidewalks and dog poop EVERYWHERE, which is weird because I saw fewer stray dogs.

The Argentines are a lot more fresh with women. I got a lot more piropos than I did in Chile.

Tango is fun but hard. Everyone is moving around the dance floor so much it can get dangerous, esp since all the women are in heels. While it is beautiful, I like salsa better. Tango is very elegant and austere, while salsa is more relaxed and warm. Having had many more salsa lessons than tango I may be a little biased.

Tango in the plaza

Me: Brr

Jenelle: Chilly?

Me: No, Argentina

Delicious food: pizza, pasta, alfajores, wine, steak, chocolate, ice cream :)

I didn’t realize how much of a Chilean accent I’d adopted until trying to speak to Argentineans. They use “vos” instead of “tu” (eww) and the “y” and “ll” are pronounced “zh.” Meanwhile, I’m dropping the “s” and keep talking about flaites and cuicos like they know what I’m talking about.

Porteños (residents of BsAs) have serious self-esteem issues. They are obsessed with being thin and many women are anorexic. It's kind of gross. In Jenelle's neighborhood there are a bunch of psychoanalysts and the nickname is Villa Freud.

Omg gauchooo!!!

We went to a gaucho fest! Unfortunately we only saw the gauchos on horseback ride by once, but it was still pretty cool. There was also a huuuuge feria where you could buy all kinds of leather. My favorite argentine was this old gaucho all dressed up and dancing a traditional dance while eating popcorn.


Mate is the traditional drink of Argentina. It's a hot caffeine drink, kind of a really strong tea. It has very specific requirements. You drink it out of a cured gourd through a bombilla, a kind of strainer. It's very strong and bitter but I like it a lot. It's a shared drink so you pass it around to everyone. It's a very nice way to relax and get to know people.

Because the buses only take coins (monedas) there is a huge moneda shortage. Jenelle and her friends literally hoard them. If you don't have enough to take the bus you have to get change through what she calls the Moneda Game-- you go to a kiosk and buy little candies and try to get monedas back. Except sometimes they don't want to give you monedas and you have to go try somewhere else... it's a big hassle.

I'm actually back in the states now, and in a couple days when I have readjusted I will write one final post... thanks to all who are still reading this lol. Pictures of Buenos Aires here.

This is a video of the gauchos dancing at the gaucho fair. I didn't know how to make it regular, sorry.

Thursday, June 11, 2009


I'll try not to make this sappy.

Today is my last day in Chile! Tomorrow I head to adventures in Buenos Aires. My goals for the week are:
1. Dance tango
2. Eat chocolate and steak
3. Drink mate
4. Go shopping
5. Not get dengue fever
6. Do all of the above with a gaucho

But Chile. Oh, Chile. This has been a fantastic semester and although my classes sucked and it's super cold right now I'm really glad I came. I didn't really know what to expect when I got here. I feel like not many people in the US know very much about Chile. It's certainly more developed than expected. Not that I thought it was really poor or anything, but I did not expect to be living walking distance from two giant malls. A number of people asked me how I saw Star Trek on opening weekend. It's simple: it opened here too. The country has issues for sure, every country does, but on the whole my experience has been very pleasant.

I must also say that things are much different in real life than in the classroom. I know this seems like an obvious statement, but a lot of times we forget. I took a class last semester on US-Latin American relations and, of course, we talked at length about the Pinochet period. In 1973 Gen. Augusto Pinochet overthrew the socialist government of Salvador Allende (with the help of the CIA) and instituted a military dictatorship that lasted until 1990. While his economic policies accelerated Chile into the developed country that it is today, he accomplished it with grotesque human rights abuses. Thousands of people were tortured, disappeared, or fled in exile. In the classroom we analyzed this history as another example of US Cold War foreign policy and discussed the political implications for the region, which is all well and good. It's a lot different when you can see the pain in the eyes of a Chilean remembering how his mother was afraid to vote the way she wanted for fear of being blacklisted (which was significantly worse than being blacklisted in the US).

Well that was a little heavy... but important. Now to preempt the questions every single person is going to ask me when I get back. And if anyone asks me I'm going to punch them in the face (just kidding... maybe).

"How was Chile?"
First of all, this question is ridiculous. There is no possible way to summarize my semester (or this country) in one simple phrase. Answer: Chile was great.

"What are you going to miss from Chile?"
Food: empanadas, cheap fruit and veggies, chirimoya alegre, pisco sour, great wine, pastel de choclo, Ramitas, Coca Light (better than Diet Coke!), papas fritas
Cheap Metro with pretty stations
Juan Pablo, my environment profe
Tuesday night salsa and merengue class
the informal economy/ferias
Staying out until 6am
the mountains
Excellent transnational bus system
And, of course, my wonderful host family and the friends I made, both Chilean and American

"What did you miss the most from the US?"
Food: PEANUT BUTTER AND JELLY, normal cake, Mexican/Indian food, macaroni and cheese, things without mayonnaise or avocado
Normal clothes and hair (aka NO MULLETS) (oh wait I'm going back to the south)
Clean air
Central heating/cooling
Metro open until reasonable hours
Animal shelters
And, of course, my wonderful family and friends, most of whom I won't actually see for a while

"What have you learned/accomplished this semester?"
I am capable of, and in fact prefer, travelling by myself
Also how to get by without speaking the language (aka point repeatedly or just smile and nod)
You don't have to go to every class to get an A
I accidentally named my host sister's new puppy (they went with Ridicula)
Salsa, merengue, cha cha, cueca, and hopefully tango
I understand why people like soccer
I am perfectly happy living in a foreign country and am willing to do it again

"What was your favorite place you went to?"
While Easter Island was pretty sweet, I have to go with the raw beauty of Patagonia and Torres del Paine.

One final story that I think perfectly sums up my life in Chile. Today I got the student discount pass for the metro that I applied for in the beginning of March. When I went to put money on it the cashier asked me something that I didn't understand so I said yes. A man got on the train carrying a car bumper. For dinner we had pizza and every single family member took one bite, said "it needs more salt," and dumped a ton of salt on it.

Viva Chile!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Adventures On (and with) Rapa Nui

Rapa Nui being the name for Easter Island, the people who live there, and the language they speak.

The Rapa Nui came to the island from Polynesia at some unknown date. Due to the usual disastrous combination of Europeans, disease, and the propensity for slavery most of them died and so little is known about their past. They are most famous, obviously, for the moai.

The moai represent clan chiefs who are buried underneath the platform. They were carved in a single quarry from volcanic rock and rolled to sites all over the island. Over 900 were made, although only 400 were erected (and only 3 were women--booo). They weigh, on average, 20-25 tons, with the biggest weighing it at over 80.

The thing on their heads is hair, not a hat, although I must say the Rapa Nui had odd hairstyles

However, the good moai times would not last. In a classic case of overpopulation, the Rapa Nui multiplied from a few explorers to 20,000 and quickly used up their natural resources. The island is devoid of its native vegetation, with only a small number of exotic species dotting the landscape. This led to a prolonged civil war between the clans in which all the moai were toppled. Most of them remain that way. So let that be a lesson to all of us....

During the war the king's clan was annihilated and the islanders needed a new way to choose a king. This is how I imagine the conversation went:
Drunk Rapa Nui #1: "Heyyyy, you know what? Why don't we have each clan send some guys over to that cliff, have them climb down, swim across the shark-infested waters and find a bird egg, then come all the way back! Whoever gets there first wins!"
Drunk Rapa Nui #2: "That's the best idea I've ever heard!"

That island

Along came the white man and the Rapa Nui were no longer isolated (or alive, most of them). Nowadays there are only 5,000 inhabitants concentrated in a single town, Hanga Roa. The men are super sketch. I guess they're used to getting a lot of action from the tourists so they were really aggressive. Latinos are nothing compared to these guys-- they just whistle, the Rapa Nui actually whooped at us. Men.

Hanga Roa

Only a few moai sites have been restored because it's expensive and also part of the heritage. Only about 35 have been re-erected, and of these, only a handful have the eyes intact.

The trip went well, although after traveling solo all semester being stuck in a group of 21 all the time was chafing. I was amused at the northeast city kids who flipped out every time we saw a horse/cow/chicken. It was also disappointly chilly for a tropical island. Everyone packed warm weather clothes but we ended up in jackets the whole time. It rained the first day there :(

Rainy day at the beach

The last night we went to a traditonal Rapa Nui dance show. It was super touristy but fun. They pulled a bunch of people from our group on stage to dance (not me, thankfully). For those of you with facebook there's a great video of it. The dancers were pretty hot (both sexes) but we posed for pics with them afterwards and, once again, the guys were really sketch. Oh well.

I also went snorkeling with a few friends. We went to that island where they had to get the bird egg (the sharks are all gone by now--sad) and saw a good number of fish. It was pretty exciting. Along with us were a couple men who had participated in the Easter Island annual triathlon that morning and were then scuba diving. I have no idea how they did it--they came in 2nd and 3rd places.

That's about it. Oh, and the plane was sweet. Even though EI is a part of Chile it was considered an international flight and we got really good food and tons of movies to pick from. Yayy Lan. More photos here.

My upcoming schedule:
June 12-go to Buenos Aires to see Jenelle
June 19-fly back to Santiago, fly a few hours later (I'm a rip-the-bandaid person)
June 20-arrive in Atlanta and connect to Memphis!!

Saturday, May 30, 2009


With only two weeks left in Chile, plus one in Buenos Aires, I feel like I'm finally getting settled and therefore am starting to get really sad to leave. As much as I miss everyone, I've finally found a niche and settled into a routine and now will have to leave it all behind. But that is going abroad for you. Some adventures I've been up to lately...

My friend Kaia lives close to this place that has salsa dancing lessons every Tuesday night for about $3, so we've been going for a while. It's a lot of fun. I'm still not very good but when you dance with someone who knows what they're doing it feels like I am. The best part is that I have finally made some Chilean friends. It's been a lot of fun, esp since one of them has a car. Chileans are pretty funny and they always crack me up. We've discussed Chilean politics and US politics (they generally like Obama, although remain understandably skeptical). We also discuss cultural issues, such as their outrage that the Latin American character on Captain Planet is the lame one ("heart!").

I recently went with the car-owning friend, Emmanuel, and a couple other exchange students on a wine tour. One of them was German and can I pause here and express my love for Germans? There are a bunch of them here and I have yet to meet one that isn't awesome. I should have gone with Kate lol. Anyway, the wine tasting was definitely the most pretentious thing I have ever done in my life. Apparently it even matters what the shape of the glass is (I have drank piscola out of a coffee mug so I am not too picky). But Emmanuel knows a lot about wine so his enthusiasm made it fun.

I'm getting a good wine-taste out of this one, with just a hint of fermented grapes

I guess I should explain for the non-winos that Chile is one of the largest producers of wine in the world. The area around Santiago has a Mediterranean climate so they brought a bunch of vines over from Europe in colonial times. In fact, Chile has a few varieties that were wiped out by a disease in Europe. I'm no expert but I have generally liked the wine here. Let me know if you have any requests for souvenirs.

We also went to Reserva Nacional Radal Siete Tazas, a little-known park at the end of a miserable dirt/rock road. It was worth it though--there are some awesome waterfalls called the Siete Tazas, which means Seven Cups, so called because it forms a series of pools that resemble cups. It was formed by glaciars or something, I'm not really sure as the signs were in Spanish. The water is a really nice shade of blue though.

Siete Tazas

In other news, classes ended this week (!!!) Someone mentioned that I don't talk about my classes very much on my blog. That is because they are (were) a miserable waste of time and I hated them and that is all I will say on the matter. BUT before I was able to go free I had to survive finals week. It honestly was nothing compared to finals at AU, but since it was the first time since December I've had to do any work it kind of sucked.

On top of the papers and studying I had to make up other stuff I missed while traveling (arguably a much better use of my time). For one class we went on a field trip to a preschool/daycare in a really poor part of Santiago. It was really interesting, the barrio (Puente Alto) only has 2 preschools, one hospital, and a handful of upper schools/bus stops. This preschool is free for local families and provides the kids a safe place to play and basic education. The kids were sooo cute too! I know I have limited experience but I'm pretty sure Chilean babies are the cutest babies in the world. I have yet to see an ugly one.

I also had to go to a play for my retarded Spanish class, but I ended up leaving after half an hour because the actress was just screaming into the phone and I didn't understand a word she said. Plus I don't pretend to enjoy theater. There are much better ways to experience Chilean culture.

Aka at a Chilean bar. I went with my C. friends the other night to the Piojera, a "typical Chilean bar." It was bumpin! Full of college kids and people playing the guitar and dancing the cueca (the national dance, which Emmanuel taught me at salsa--so fun). I did, however, have my first run-in with anti-Americanism. For those of you oblivious to history, the US has really done a number on Latin America. Between overthrowing presidents and supporting dictators and imposing crappy economic plans, it's understandable that they would be a little bitter. But so far I have never felt uncomfortable or discriminated against (besides the frequent catcalls). This one guy at the Piojera, though, kept talking about how much he doesn't like the US gov't and how he thinks Americans and arrogant. He kept telling me not to judge the "dark-haired Americans." I was like, dude, I'm here with Chilean friends. He never got mean about it, but it was still a little uncomfortable.

To end on a lighter note, though, my host family has recently acquired a puppy. Coté's friend found a litter on the highway and passed them out to her friends. She is super cute and tiny but also super annoying. When she whines (which is frequent) she sounds like Pippin's squeaky toy. She also likes to chew on everything, including my pants. While I'm wearing them. But she is a puppy. So far she doesn't have a name so I've just been calling her Chiquitita. María calls her Ridicula lol.

Her sweater is a cut-up sock. Also it was really hard to get her to hold still for a pic.

Next week I will be incommunicado due to my trip to EASTER FREAKING ISLAND. Apparently on last year's trip half the group made out with the Polynesians while others drove a rented motorcycle into the ocean. I do not intend to do either of these things but I'm anticipating an awesome week. Chau chau!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Some Like It Variably Hot and Freezing

Stardate 5.18.2009. Just returned from expedition to the Atacama Desert. Located in northern Chile, it is the most arid place in the world. There are parts that never see rain. And yes, I did see Star Trek recently, why do you ask?

San Pedro de Atacama
The base of the desert trips is San Pedro, a tiny town in the middle of the desert. To get there I took metro=>bus=>plane to Calama=>bus to San Pedro. The town was all dirt roads and had one main street with a few restaurants, a number of shops, and millions of tour companies. They all offered the same tours but prices varied so you had to shop around. The plaza had this little colonial church that was cute but not cute enough to be on all the souvenirs like it was.

Salar de Atacama
In the middle of the desert is a giant salt flat, caused by an upwelling of water from the mountains that evaporates in the heat and leaves behind the salts and minerals it was carrying. I didn't see much of the salar since I only had a half day (apparently there is a large colony of flamingos), but we did go to one pool, Laguna Cejas. The water in the pool is 80% saline so you float, just like in the Dead Sea. The weird thing was that the water at the top was cold but the deeper parts were boiling hot.

After that we were all salt-encrusted so they took us over to another freshwater pool to wash off. It was a 6-foot jump into freezing water, though, so I opted for the portable shower the guide had on the bus. Then we went to a different lake, where I performed a miracle.

Ta da!

Just kidding. This lake had a very shallow layer of water over a base of salt, so it gave off a good reflection and the illusion of walking on water. Still pretty cool. We stayed there for the sunset and pisco sour. The nice thing about Chilean tours is that they usually include food and/or alcohol.

El Tatio Geysers

The next morning I got up at the lovely hour of 3:30 to witness geology in action. We drove for two hours through the dark and arrived at the geothermal field at 6:30, just in time for the geysers to wake up. Another fun fact about Chilean tours: to be a tour guide you must first be proven certifiably insane. So our guide (i didn't catch his name, but it was probably Juan Pablo. Everyone in this country is named Juan Pablo) led us over to a hole in the ground and starting talking about how geysers work while we all peer in. Then he said, "Oh, hear that bubbling? It's ready! Let's back up." Not 20 seconds later the thing erupts with boiling hot water.

Juan Pablo and I huddle in the warmth of the geyser

We were fairly high up, approx. 4500 m (almost 15,000 ft). It was also extremely cold-- 15 below in Celsius. I don't know what that is in Fahrenheit but it was freaking cold. Once the sun came up though it got warm pretty quickly. It was also beautiful seeing the sun come over the mountains and light up the billowing columns of steam. Definitely worth braving the early morning cold.

On the way back the guide kept spouting some nonsense about morraines and underground rivers. I didn't really care, but the scenery was wonderful. We saw some cool wildlife (that I am obliged to tell you about :)-- vicuñas, smaller cousin of the llama and guanaco; Andean geese, which mate for life; vischazas, mountain rabbits or, as JP said, "Chilean wallabies"; and a couple foxes. We also stopped in this little village (pop. 6) to get some lunch. They had llama kebobs and llama empanadas. Let me tell you, llamas are delicious! There was also a lady with a baby llama but she charged a mil to take a picture of it so I don't have one.

Llama kebob!

Sandboarding and Valle de la Luna
That afternoon (after a nap, of course) i went on yet another tour, this time to the Valles de la Muerte y Luna. In Valle de la Muerte (which literally translates to Valley of Death but is supposed to be Valley of Mars) I went sandboarding. It was so much fun! It's basically snowboarding on a sand dune. I was embarrassingly bad at it, of course, and I do not exaggerate when I say my underpants were full of sand. If they had given me sand skis I would have been queen of the dune. It was exhausting, not least because there was no lift of any sort. You had to carry your board up the dune.

You can tell I'm posing because I'm upright

Then we popped over to Valle de la Lune (Valley of the Moon) for the sunset. I've wanted to go to this place since my freshman year of college when we watched a movie about it in my Spanish class. The valley is desolate of life because it never gets rain, and it has a bunch of really weird rock formations carved out by the wind. All in all it resembles an extraterrestrial landscape. Unfortunately, we got there right as the sun was setting so I didn't get to see very much of the valley. I would have liked more time there but it was a short trip so I had to be selective. It was still really cool though. Definitely a boom de yada experience.

To boldy go where no man has gone before...

Boom de yada!

And finally, a big shout out to my hermanito Raleigh who graduated from high school last Saturday. So exciting! The lucky kid won a flat screen tv at the postgraduation party too. He's going to the Mississippi U. for Women in the fall, entering their culinary arts and honors programs. Goooo Raleigh! : D