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Gap Year Abroad

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A La Feria

Almost every Saturday back home in Wisconsin, one of my best friends Sarah, my mom and I head downtown to the Dane County Farmers Market to buy fresh food for the week and spend some quality time together in the incredible environment. We are regulars at certain stands, so much so that Farmer John doesn’t ask need to ask what we’d like (he just hands us a bag of fresh squeaky cheese curds), the biscotti couple updates us about their newborn grandchild, and Mr Voss takes a moment out of his busy plant sales to exchange a few French words with us. Our Saturday morning excursions are one of the most important traditions in my life and it’s an custom I frequently explain when asked what I miss about my home state.

After three months of my Saturday mornings were filled with volunteering, traveling and family activities, when this weekend rolled around with a wide open schedule, I almost begged my host mother to accompany me to the Feria. As we were leaving the house, she explained that because she had gone to the supermarket earlier this week, we had a sufficient amount of food, and all we really needed was potatoes. Remember that.

The Vina del Mar feria experience was homely enough. Afterall, food is food everywhere, farmers are farmers, and farmers markets and farmers markets. However, each area has its own little spark, its own personality, and in as many ways as the experience was similar, there were differences. In the midst of the normal "couples holding hands, kids running around, parents chasing fruit and children, and elderly shoppers with their little rolley baskets" crowd, here there were also clowns, men selling ice cream and cigarettes (what a combination..), students selling plastic crabs made out of recycled plastic (may have bought one…), and we even ran into the mayor! (election week is right around the corner, and there are signs and campaign groups EVERYWHERE). My mother insisted that we get a picture, and so here we are, her, me and Virginia Reginato, the alcaldesa de Vina del Mar.  Captura de pantalla 2013-11-09 a la(s) 4.41.22 PM

A couple other differences…

“Let’s go to the Farmers Market early tomorrow,” in the US means we set our alarms for 6am. Granted there are the days when after a full week of school and a Friday night concert, or movie, or food party or something of the sort, 6am is a bit lofty of a goal, and the reality of our departure is more like 7 or 8. However, even in the laziest of days, 11 is the latest we’d ever consider heading out. Here, when I asked my mother what time I should be ready for, she sort of smiled and asked if I was okay with going a bit early so that there would be less people and more fresh fruit. Early, she said, maybe at 12?

So at the ohsoearly hour of noon, off we went. IMG_1531

On days when it’s not raining or unbearably cold, Sarah and I hop on our bikes and pedal downtown. Because most people are sleeping at such a time on a Saturday, the roads are much quieter than normal, and it’s an incredible ride. Here, my mother and I also did not drive, but rather than the tranquil, fresh air experience, we flagged down one of the wild micros (buses) and held on. Same adrenaline rush, different source… IMG_1532

In Wisconsin, all of the food is grown or made locally and organically, so depending on the season, there is a different selection: more apples and cherries in the fall, and strawberries and blueberries in the spring and summer. In addition to the variety of fruits, vegetables, herbs and flowers, there are stands of honey, maple syrup, Amish bakery, and of course, cheese curds! For breakfast, we munch on some fruit, veggies and some sort of baked good, like a scone or a muffin. Most foods are more expensive, but with the higher price comes higher quality, and it supports the local farmers.

In Vina, resale is allowed which means that what you’re buying is not necessarily grown in the area or even Chile, and it’s not organic unless it’s explicitly labeled so. There were the expected apples, oranges, strawberries, green beans, lettuce etc but we also found foods like pineapples and bananas which do not grow in Chile. For breakfast here, I got mote con huesillo, which is mote in a sweet juice with a dried peach. It’s a very common street food, especially in the summer. Here, we also didn’t get the option of choosing our own fruit; my mom would ask for a certain weight and the vender would throw a handful or two onto the scale and then into a bag. The quality is not as guaranteed with this manner of selection, and because of this, even though the market is much cheaper, half the price in some cases, my mother prefers shopping at the supermarket. Also, there were no samples.. IMG_1528

The Farmers Market in the states is spread out around the capitol building, and there is a general current of people in one direction as people make there way around the square. The venders are usually pretty quiet and wait for you to approach them (except for the spicy cheese bread guy whose voice can be heard a mile away). Here, there was no order. People were walking in every direction, bumping into eachother without any acknowledgment or apology, and shoving when there were others in the way. About half the venders were shouting a mile a minute about what they were selling, at what price, and the other half were engaged in conversations with 6 different customers all at once. My host mother and I walked within an arms length of eachother the entire time, and even then we almost lost eachother a couple times.

All the people, all the colors, all the noise, all the smells, it was a wonderful to be part of the farmers market chaos again. However, my favorite part was definitely returning home afterwards and laying out everything we had bought on the kitchen table. I recognized the work of art all too well; it was suspiciously similar to when my mother in the United States promises, “This time we’re only going to get a few things because we have plenty of food.” So much for just papas; in some ways all mothers are the same.. <3 IMG_1540




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