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Gap Year Abroad

7 posts from November 2013



On Thursday afternoon, Dania, Yoe (two of my best friends here that I met through running), and I went to Valparaiso to spend some time together in the city. It was a wonderful afternoon, full of laughing and delicious foods, and, as I realized when I was describing the day to one of my friends, a great way to explain a bit more about where I live. 1400222_472482326193616_1961524912_o

Valparaiso: Our original plan was to meet up at around 1pm outside of Estacion Puerto. I arrived in metro a couple minutes early; Dania and Yoe arrived in Micro about half an hour late.

BREAK IT DOWN NOW-There is only one metro line here, and it runs from the port in Valparaiso all the way to Limache. I’ve never ridden the whole line, but my guess is that it would take around an hour and a half. Santiago has a complex web of metro lines more like the ones in Boston or DC, but because there is the ocean on one side and hills on the other, the line here is limited to one little worm-like stretch. I’m fortunate enough to live really close to a metro station (about a three minutes walk), so I probably use it more than the average person. When I’m lucky (like this particular Thursday), I arrive at the station right before my metro arrives; those times I arrive at my destination on time. However other times, if I just miss the train, it can take up to 15 minutes for the next one, and I have no idea of this delay until I’ve already swiped my card. Those days I arrive Chilean style.

Punctuality is not usually important here, something I learned very quickly and adapted to shamefully well. To be early does not exist. To be on time is to be early. And to be late, well that’s normal and absolutely perfect.

As for the micros, they’re a whole system of crazy. There are some bus stops that look like what you’d expect, but that doesn’t mean that the micros will stop there or won’t stop in a different place. To catch one of the wild creatures, you have to flag it down by sticking your hand out like you’re waving. That part is not too bad. The complicated part is trying decide if the micro that’s barreling down the road is going to take you to where you want to go or not based off the little writing that’s on its windows. I’m good at getting home from both Vina and Valpo, and I can get to the places I usually go to, but whenever I need to go somewhere new...that’s a whole new battle for me. Also, micro drivers are crazy themselves. One night when I was coming home, I rode on a micro that was blasting music, breaking all speed limits, blowing through red lights, and arguing with other micro drivers about who got to pick up the customers. That same micro also almost squished a guy between another micro. Granted the normal ride is much more calm than that, it’s still a type of driving that I don’t think would be legal where I’m from. Everytime you pay the micro driver, they give you a little ticket which is usually worthless and a bothersome piece of garbage. However, in the event that the micro crashes, the little ticket will pay for whatever medical attention you need, and once somebody boarded my micro asking to see everybody's tickets (once..). As far as prices, I have a student metrocard which makes each of my trips less than half the normal price, but for the micros I pay the normal full amount. For local rides, that's about 300 pesos, or the equivalent of around 50 cents.  IMG_1569Here's a picture of a micro. Notice the tiny little writing next to the 901...That's where this one is heading. 

Back to Valparaiso: We greeted eachother and then set off on our adventure. Dania was the tourguide in this case, explaining the basic history of the city to both Yoe and I. I’ve heard the general story several times now, but I catch a little something more each time, and I don’t mind hearing the history again and again. We were going to go to a little cafe up on one of the hills but first the ascensor was closed, and then, after we climbed up all the steps, we were instructed to turn around and go right back down by a van full of cabaneros. With that option closed off, we headed towards another hill, climbed another similar set of stairs, and arrived at a beautiful vista point, overlooking the city, the same one I went to one of my first weeks here.

BIDN-Chileans greet friends and meet strangers with one cheek to cheek kiss (although some guys actually give you a kiss on the cheek and leave you sort of kissing the air). Sometimes, depending on the friendship level, there’s a quick hug like action accompanying the hello smooch too, but not always. Guys normally greet eachother with a handshake or a bro hug if their really good friends, although I do see the traditional cheek kissing occasionally; I’m not really sure of the rules as far as that goes. Then there’s the hey, how are you part which could either be “Como estas,” “Como estai,” “Que onda,” “Que tal,” or a variety of others (some of which are only used between VERY good friends).

Ascensors are something I’ve never seen before outside of Vina and Valparaiso. I believe at one time there were 16 working ascensors in Valparaiso, and although not all are still functioning, those that are are used daily by the people who live there and are much much more than antique artifacts. You basically enter in a little box with benches, and then thanks to the magic of the machines, the box moves up the railroad tracks, up the cerro. It takes about a minute and costs less than 25 cents, and I’m sure it is a prefered option for a lot of the people who live in Valparaiso. Currently the ascensors aren’t functioning due to a city wide protest. This means that not only did we have to take the stairs, but so does everybody else who lives in the area, including the handicapped and the elderly. On our way up this time, we passed a grandmotherly woman with her walker, slowly making her way up the same climb that had us three young, athletic girls out of breath. This country does like their protests, but stopping the ascensors is borderline dangerous for those who can’t take the steps. IMG_0119This is one of the ascensors, probably the most famous. Each box has an eye and so when the boxes are moving up and down, they meet in the middle for a second to look out over the city. 

We arrived at the top only to turn around and head right back down at the orders of the Cabaneros or the Chilean Police. They all wear the same green suit, and their vans are green and white with flashing red lights. One time, when a Cabanero was helping me contact my host mother after my phone died, one of his superiors walked by. He stopped was he was doing and snapped to an attention stance until he was out of sight. Very orderly. Anyways, they instructed us to go back down because it was too dangerous where we were going. In Valparaiso, the general rule is the higher up you go in the hills, the more poverty there is, and the more likely it is you’ll be robbed. Past exchange students who have lived with my family have lost cameras and money up in the hills, in broad daylight and in crowds of people. There have been a couple cases of muggings and robberies this semester as well, although fortunately none that I’ve been the victim of.

Instead we went to a different cerro, one that’s much more tourist-friendly and thus also more secure, and began climbing those steps. One thing that there’s plenty of in these cities are stairs. Everywhere! They say the women who live in Valpo have some of the best legs because of all the stair climbing, and although I live in Vina, I still get my share in every day. Early on in the year I decided I would know I was in shape when I could make it up the set of stairs that leads up to my neighborhood without being out of breath; four months later I’ve decided that day will probably never come. Oh well. Most of the staircases are beautifully painted, some with poems, others with little motivational tips and others with just pretty colors.

Captura de pantalla 2013-11-30 a la(s) 11.36.38 AMThe stairs on the left were discovered during a class fieldtrip. The ones on the right were part of a Tuesday excursion with Dana. And the ones in the center are the ones Dania, Yoe and I conquered.

Back to Valparaiso: After sufficient photos were taken, we ventured off to the Navy academy/museum that was close by. This time we didn’t go in, but that’s something I would like to do in the near future. We walked around a little bit more and around 2:30 headed off to get some lunch and ice cream, because as Dania put it “Guatita llena, corazon contento” (full stomach, happy heart).

BIDN-The Armada (Navy) is a big deal in Chile which makes sense considering its geographical characteristics. It’s normal to see members of the Armada either running up and down the shore in t-shirts that say Armada or walking around the city in full uniform, and there are almost always anywhere between one and five enormous Aramda boats in the bay. The only National Holiday to recall a military feat commemorates Arturo Prat, for his exceptional heroism in the Naval Battle of Iquique on May 21st, 1879. IMG_1582

As far as meals, 2:30 is a pretty average time for lunch, and it’s generally the biggest meal of the day. My family usually does not eat this meal together during the week because we all have different afternoon schedules, but on the weekends, we set the fancy dining table and all sit down together for a feast. On this day, we had empanadas with a little shot of wine and then ice cream. Empanadas are just as popular here as they're made out to be, especially during the week long independence celebration and when walking around the city. The most common type is called Pino, and it has meat, onions, egg and an olive, but I prefer the Napolitana which has tomatoes, cheese, ham and oregano, the Concon ones with crab and cheese, or simply the plain cheese one. YUM! People here rarely eat when they’re walking in the streets, except for ice cream. On the hotttttt days, everybody seems to have either a cone or ice cream on a stick or some sort of ice cream sandwich. We ordered a big bowl of ice cream at a sit down restaurant to eat, and boy o boy was it good. The ice cream here is different, a little more gelato like, but not quite as richly flavored. It’s hard to explain, but none the less, it’s delicious. Captura de pantalla 2013-11-30 a la(s) 11.56.43 AM

And finally, the saying Dania said. For those who have studied Spanish before, you might not recognize the word guatita or guagua. That’s because it’s a Chilenismo. I think the only thing that exists more in this country than street dogs is modismos. Every time the conversation topic of languages come up, Chileans always comment how they talk really fast and use a bucket loads of words that are specific to this country. My favorite example for now is “Vamo no maahpo weon” (vamos no mas ‘dude’ or lets go!). They drop the letter s in a lot of words, use weon in a sometimes sentencely basis, and throw a po on the end of a variety of different words. Po comes from the word pues, and I hear it all the time in siipo, yaaapo (a good “yeahhh whatever” kind of phrase) and nopo, although it can be thrown in anywhere really. There’s definitely a difference between Spanish and Chilean Spanish, enough that sometimes the Mexicans here get confused (que es una frutilla??-ohh una fresa..) and my grammar teacher promises that once we understand everything here, we’ll be able to understand Spanish almost anywhere in the world (because they all speak better than Chileans).

And that was my afternoon as well as a little peek into what it's like to be living in Vina/Valparaiso. If you guys have any questions about my experience, the cities, the country or whatever else, let me know please :)




Hola buenas! Today I’m going to take you on a little voyage throughout the last couple of weeks here in the fifth region of Chile. Here are a couple snapshots of what what I’ve been up to.


One evening, my friend Hazel and I were on going out to dinner in the hills of Valparaiso. There was a miscommunication of when we were supposed to arrive which left us standing a ways up on Calle Ecuador without any real plans and about an hour and a half to kill. So we went for a walk. As we were looking for a bathroom, we found a dusty trail that looked adventurous, and because none of the shops in our sight were open, we decided to try it out. Long story short, we ended up discovering for the first time for both of us, the Parque Cultural de Valparaiso. Once a prison, the cultural center still has the the crumbling remains of the cell blocks, the prison yard (although I’m sure it didn’t have the lovely trees and benches that now spatter the courtyard), and public (and free) bathrooms. As we were leaving, a crowd of people were entering. I stopped and asked somebody who was handing out little tickets what was going on, and as it turns out, Hazel and I had arrived 10 minutes before the famous dance company Danzalborder was about to perform-for free. The group, directed by Elias Cohen, is a contemporary dance company born in Concepcion (a city a bit south of where I live), and that night there were performing Furia Feria or fury fair as part of a world wide touring program (there were other groups from around the world that had their performances the following nights). It was an incredible show, full of dance and humor, and even a fashion show like no other I’ve ever seen. The group’s aim was to “investigate and imagine the human body as a zone of interactions using elements of the traditional Chilean markets through a visual and cultural metaphor.” I think my favorite part was when they tied chairs and a broom to one of the actors in such a way that made him appear like a chicken! To get a little taste of the art, I invite you to watch this youtube snippet (it says it’s 20 minutes long, but that’s a lie-it’s two minutes-and worth your time). 



Only in Valparaiso do you find slides like this one.. On one of our Tuesday excursions, Dana and I found this little artsy park for all ages on our way up one of the hills. Valparaiso is FULL of stairs, and I guess the people in this specific area got tired of walking up and down the steps. For us, the effect was the opposite though, as we ended up climbing way more steps for the sake of whipping down the slippery slide again and again and again.


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Concon is the name of the city right next to Vina known (to me at least) for three things: Surfing, empanadas (specifically at this restaurant called La Deliciousa) and sand dunes. I’ve now climbed the mountains of sand a couple of times, but I think my favorite time was when I went with Nicolas. After eating amazing crab and cheese empanadas, we raced up the dunes to watch the sun set over the Mar, my home city Vina, and Valparaiso. A beautiful and peaceful experience.


Exercise + homemade bread + a group of friends (both new and old) + headlamps + lots of sliding down a dirt path + another sunset experience (I realllllly like sunsets..) = Just another weekday night in Chile.

One Thursday evening, Hazel and I met up with a group of outdoor enthusiasts to climb Cerro Mauco, one of the larger hills on the outskirts of Vina. Even though we had never met any of them before, nor did we have a good idea of what we were getting ourselves into, we decided that a little adventure here and there is healthy and off we went. We met Guillermo, the tourguide of the trip in Vina and crammed into his funny little car with three environmental tourism majors and two of Guillermo's friends for the hour drive to the base of the hill. After befriending a goat and three dogs, we began the trek (we left the goat behind at base camp despite its desperate crying, but the dogs followed us up the entire hill-one of them looked like a hot dog because its proportions were so off, earning it the name Completo). The hike took us about an hour and a half (we did it in half the time it normally takes!), and we made it to the top just in time to watch the last rays of the sun stretch across Vina, Concon, Valparaiso, Renaca and all the places in between. In addition to the breathtaking view of the sunset, we also were lucky enough to have an almost full moon and a sky clear enough for us to see the TALLEST MOUNTAIN in all of the Americas-Aconcagua! No big deal.


Once upon a time, three guys decided that they wanted to create a space of creativity, connections, comfort and community, a place where people could go to work on their projects or business, meet new people to form friendships and to share ideas/skills and to ultimately just have a good time. They bought a house way up in the hills, did a little renovating, and voila, Ancora was born. I was first introduced to this place on a fieldtrip with our CIEE class lead by Barbara, one of our teachers, and I fell in love immediately. Every Friday a local chef comes, and for 3.000 pesos (or $6) one can drink some wine, eat an incredible three course meal, and meet all sorts of people with fascinating stories and dreams. I’ve been quite a few times now with a variety of different friends, and every time is amazing. My favorite foods have been squash soup, a Thai peanut stir fry with traditional Chilean vegetables, and strawberry basil mousse with dark chocolate fudge. I know the people who live there well enough that we stop and chat when we see eachother in the streets, I’ve heard some inspiring stories like one from a Scottish man who started his own business and was spending the week in Chile to promote his product, and I’ve meet some life long friends. The last time I went, I met a girl named Camila who’s from 18, from Mexico, and is traveling around South America for a gap year like experience by herself. We’ve hung out a couple of times since, planned a couple of adventures together, and I’ll probably see her again in either Brazil or Mexico, or Chile or who knows where, a couple months or years down the road. Ancora is definitely my favorite place in all of Valparaiso. 1412673_640147089341074_568214472_o


The sun was shining in the flawlessly blue sky; the water was unusually calm and almost the same color blue; there was a gentle breeze, but otherwise the day was hot enough to appreciate a splash of cold water here and there. It was a perfect day for a relaxing kayaking adventure in the ocean. Dana and I took the metro to Valparaiso, rented a little plastic kayak for each of us, sat down in the already provided puddle of water covering the seat and pushed off into the blue blue blue. We paddled up and down the shore, waving to the sea lions flumping and grumping and groaning and sleeping in the sun on the island pier on our left and to the people sun bathing on the rocky shore to our right. We splashed eachother we water, sang a little Billy Joel (thankfully nobody else could hear us..), and paddled all the way out to one of the huge ocean barcos; inspired by Buscando Nemo, we both made sure to “touch the butt” despite the weird looks we got from the confused people on board. The entire time we were out in the water, we were the only ones within our range of vision, and to us, it was our ocean. IMG_0566

I didn't have my camera with me when we were out on the water unfortunately, but here is a picture of the ocean and the "butt" that we touched way off in the distance.


Wednesday night, around one hundred of the international staff and students at the University of Vina del Mar gathered on the rooftop of one of the campus buildings to celebrate the closing of the spring semester 2013 (remember, the seasons are flipped). We started off the night with a potluck style dinner. Each student brought a different plate of food to share, and there was a competition for the best dinner dish and the best dessert. True, competition only sometimes brings out the best in people, but it always brings out the best in food; the meal was delicious! The best dinner dish ended up being a Mexican Salad and the best dessert was Caramel Apple Cheesecake. I made homemade macaroni and cheese (made Chilean style, meaning without a recipe and without cheddar cheese and elbow noodles), but I ended up only bringing half of what I made because I left the dishes unattended in a house where there was a hungry boy.. After the enormous meal, we all gathered around to watch a local salsa band play. At first that was all it was: watching. But after our stomach digested a little bit, and the stars came out, people started to sway a little bit, and then suddenly everybody was dancing. For a good two hours, the band rocked the night, and we danced danced danced. I danced with my friends, with people I’ve talked to maybe once or twice and with people I’d never seen before. It was wonderful. 823426_10151672634886486_587721042_o


Along with all these other little adventures, I’m also still attending school and volunteering. We have three weeks left of classes with at the University, but this week marked the end of our CIEE class. Our final project was a 10 page paper in either English or Spanish about a research topic we chose and then an 8 minute presentation in Spanish about that same topic in front of a panel of our peers and four teachers (three from our class, and one from another university). I spent one Friday night at Hazel’s house, both of us working on our papers together and chatting with her host family, and I pulled an almost all-nighter another night to finish up the project. My topic was legends in the city of Valparaiso, and for the research part, I read some books, did a little google searching and interviewed professors, friends and people I met in the streets. It was a lot more work than I was expecting, but I must admit I did learn a lot throughout the process, and it was a nice reminder of what it feels like to have real homework again (and not just read this page and answer 6 questions). For the creative part of the final, I decided to write my own legend about how the Cerro Lecheros got its name. (for those of you who would like to read it, I’ll post it at the end of this blog).

So there you have it, a little taste of what’s happening in my life these days. I have one month and three days left of my Gap year abroad in Chile which sounds like a decent amount of time, but really it’s nothing. I miss my family and friends in the United States more now than ever before, and I cannot wait to see them all again. I miss biking in my city, really good chocolate, fields of just grass, Indian food, the Big Dipper, hugs, and clothing variety, but I know that I’ll be back soon enough. The truth is that I’m settled in here now; this dog has laid down, peaced out (Unfortunately for Uri, my mother was so disgusted after she cleaned my bed comforter that he is no longer allowed to sleep in my bed. But now he has his own bed, just like me). I have a life that I have created here, and I am just as comfortable in this house, with this family, with these friends, in this city, with this lifestyle. It’s finally become my home, and I am truly happy :) IMG_1341

 Here's the LEGEND. 

Hace mucho tiempo en los cerros de Valparaíso  vivía una familia, una mamá, un papá y su hijo, Pedro Pérez. La familia no tenía mucho dinero, pero aún así era feliz porque estaban juntos y eran muy unidos. Pedro era muy inteligente y sus padres lo querían mucho.  Cada mañana, la mamá preparaba panqueques para la familia y todos venían a la mesa para comer juntos. (Algunas noches, el papa tenía que trabajar hasta muy tarde, por eso  solo la mamá y su hijo comían juntos). El desayuno era el momento  más importante del día para la familia. 

 Pero un día, cuando la mamá abrió el refri ¡se dio cuenta que había olvidado comprar leche la noche anterior! Sin leche no podía hacer sus panqueques. Ella corrió a la tienda que estaba en la parte baja del cerro, pero tampoco tenía leche. El sol estaba a punto de salir y la mamá  no sabía qué hacer. De repente ¡tuvo una idea!

 Ella siguió corriendo hasta otro local, pero ese local era raro porque los animales venían algunas veces de otros países. Esa tienda, aunque estaba cerca del puerto, tenía gallinas, caballos y vacas. Compró una vaca rápidamente y juntos, la mamá y su nueva vaca, regresaron a la casa en los cerros.  

 Con su vaca la mamá tenía leche y cuando su hijo y su esposo se levantaron ¡había panqueques calientes para todos! Pero se acordó que ellos vivían en los cerros y  todavía no había ascensores en esa época. Entonces el día siguiente, cuando la mamá intento devolver la vaca, ella no pudo. Solo había escaleras y como todos saben, las vacas no pueden bajar las escaleras. Tristemente a la vacas no les gusta vivir en los cerros (prefieren el  campo plano) y por eso  todos los días la vaca lloraba---MOOOOoooo. 

 Si va a ese cerro,  aún se pueden escuchar sus aullidos. En honor a la vida de esa vaca, el cerro se llama Lecheros.



“The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.” Eleanor Roosevelt 

Last week a bunch of gap students and I took a trip south to Pucón! Before we left I researched a little bit about the place and found it was known for having of different activities such as whitewater rafting, caving, zip lining, hot springs and more- activities that I had never done before! I love trying new things, especially activities that involve being outside and especially, especially activities that involve water!  So I knew I was going to love this trip!

These new activities brought up old memories and experiences that are near and dear to my heart. It was weird how these completely new experiences somehow felt so comfortable….

Travel frequently involves unanticipated situations and this trip was no different; the unexpectedness just happened to come VERY early on in the trip.

Maggie, Tommy, Anna and I arrived at the Viña bus station at 8:45pm for our 9:00pm overnight bus, but when we got there, there were two things missing. Andrew…and all of our bus tickets. We called Andrew who actually was at Valparaíso bus station. So after we laughed, cried and freaked out all at the same time we pulled ourselves together, got our luggage and sprinted to the metro, took the metro to Valparaíso then sprinted to the bus station. We got really lucky because the bus ended up leaving 20 minutes late so we were able to catch the bus right in time. But it was a little more excitement then we wanted. 

After a 10 hour bus ride overnight we arrived in the beautiful town of Pucón! We got off the bus, found our hostel, checked in, and decided to go out and explore the town! It was raining on and off so we dashed in and out of stores and when there was a break in the rain we walked around admiring the beautiful landscape of the mountains covered in clouds. I could feel myself glowing because the area reminded me of my favorite place in the world, Lake George. Every year my family goes camping in upstate New York on this beautiful lake, surrounded by the Adirondack Mountains, with campsites only accessible by boat. Lake George is such a special place to me so being able to make that connection was comforting. 

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The group minus Maggie, plus an adorable dog that we met

We found an amazing organic foods restaurant where we had lunch. I haven’t found organic restaurants in Viña and I really don’t go out to eat much so this was an absolute treat! I had an amazing lemonade, mint, ginger juice. When I tasted the juice I immediately thought of this juice my mom and I get at a juice bar in Maryland. I also ordered something that I had been craving, a nice big salad. Chileans really aren’t into just having a big salad for a meal. It was an absolutely delicious meal and we all left feeling very happy and content! 

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Ensalada (salad) 


After lunch we headed back to the hostel. Our hostel was perfect because not only were they really informative about activities but any time we wanted to book something we would just tell one of the workers at the hostel and they easily would call up a service for us. 

That afternoon we decided to go horseback riding. A van picked us up from our hostel and we drove about 20 minutes. When we arrived we got matched up with our horses, (mine was named Canela aka Cinnamon) and then started our trek up the windy roads of rural Pucón. 

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We eventually arrived to a path in the forest and while we let the horses rest, one of our guides, Rafael, took us down this steep, slippery, path to a beautiful waterfall! Like Luis from San Pedro, Rafael has had a lot of life experience. As we were walking up from the waterfall he was telling us about his experience in 1971 when the volcano Villarica erupted. He remembers his dad waking him and his eight siblings up in the middle of the night and running as fast as he could out of the house away from the lava. Pretty intense! I love meeting and talking to new people so it was really interesting talking to him and learning a little bit about his life. 


Cascada! (waterfall) 1465187_10203134230141737_280852001_n

When we got back to the hostel we had about an hour to relax before another van picked us up and took us to the hot springs. One of the workers at the hostel told us the best time to go to the hot springs is at night so you can relax in the springs while enjoying a gorgeous view of the stars and she was totally right. There were lots of choices because each bath had a different temperature but because it was freezing outside so they all felt really warm and delicious. It’s hard to compare natural hot springs to a hot tub but this experience brought me back to my elementary and middle school days when my friend’s and I would spend hours hanging out in my friends backyard running from her pool to her hot tub or in the winter lying down in the snow and then jumping in the hot tub as fast as we could… good times. I had never been to any natural hot springs before it was really wonderful and healing, and I can definitely say I want to go back…very soon!

The next morning we took our time waking up and decided we all wanted to go whitewater rafting. It was rainy again so we were a little hesitant at first but we all agreed we didn’t want the weather to stop us.  We got picked up from our hostel and drove to a place to get wetsuits and shoes. This was my second time in a wetsuit, my first being 2 weeks ago when I went surfing for the first time with my volunteer program Adapta. Even though getting the suit on is a bit of a process it’s pretty cool being able to swim in freezing cold water. Anything that allows me to spend more time in the water I like! We then drove to the Liucura River, which is where we would start our rafting adventure, and then move into the Trancura River. Rafting was really cold but so fun! I had never gone rafting before but it did, however, remind me of the times my dad and I would take our canoe out in the spring and summer and paddle down the Potomac River. Love and miss that good old father/daughter time.

The sun wasn’t out so it was very very cold but there was something so refreshing about floating down the river and inhaling the crisp air while looking up and being surrounded by mountains whose peaks were covered in a light blanket of clouds. When there was a break in the rapids one of guides turned  to us and said “okay who wants to jump in?” At first we all looked at him like he was crazy but the next thing I knew Andrew was doing a backflip off the raft into the water. In that moment I thought “why not?” so there I was jumping off the raft too! It was freezing cold but exhilarating so definitely worth it. All in all rafting was thrilling and the fact that our guide was yelling out the different commands at us in Spanish just added a whole other level of enjoyment! 

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The next day was another day filled with firsts! We went to the Parque Nacional Villarrica, where the big volcano, Villarrica, is located.  We saw some pretty incredible views of the volcano but also of the lakes surrounding the towns of Villarica and Pucón, before meeting up with our guide, Soledad, to go caving aka spelunking. I had never done anything like this before so I had nothing to compare it to, but the fact that we went caving in a volcano made it ten times cooler. We walked along a lighted path examining the different rock formations and talking about volcanic minerals. At the end of the path, Soledad flipped a switch that turned off the lights in the cave and we were left in complete darkness. I put my hand up to my face, and I could not see absolutely anything. Even though it was a bit off-putting there was also something really relaxing. To be able to take a moment in complete darkness and just be with you and only you was a great moment of centering. 577500_10203134233901831_192425157_n




Cueva Chocolate! 

After lunch we all decided to go canopying or zip lining, yet another first for me! We arrived to the course and our guides very quickly got us suited up and explained the rules. We then proceeded through this zip lining course in this forest, crossing a beautiful river. The course itself wasn’t anything spectacular but it was still really cool to try zip lining and I was impressed by our three guides who had a fast, efficient system, unclipping and clipping each one of us as we went through the forest.  They were all really friendly and you could tell they really enjoyed their jobs so it was fun to chat and crack jokes with them.



After that we headed back to the hostel and enjoyed the rest of the beautiful day in the backyard, reading, talking, drinking tea and playing with the enormous dog, Tomas, at the hostel. I’m not kidding; he is a bear! 


The next morning we woke up pretty early, packed up, made some lunch for the day and set out to find the bus station where we caught a local bus which took us to Parque Nacional Huerquehue….yeah I still really can’t pronounce the name. We went on a lovely, long hike up a mountain, veering off the path a couple times to go see some pretty waterfalls, until we finally arrived at “Laguna Verde”, a beautiful lake on top of a mountain. We hung out for a while, having lunch and basking in the sun before heading back down the mountain to catch the bus back to Pucón. 


Note the snow capped mountains in the distance! 





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Laguna Verde

Once we got back to our hostel, we quickly showered, gathered up our stuff and made our way to the bus station to catch our 7:30pm overnight bus back to Viña. Luckily there were no problems on this end of the transportation.

All in all, it was a trip of first which brought up memories of activities in beautiful, relaxing natural settings. 

Ciao for now! 



"If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart." Nelson Mandela

Every week my grammar teacher has us write 20 lines on a free topic. I think the idea behind the assignment is to incorporate what we have learned in a conversational, realistic way. This week I deicided to write about learning to communicate while living abroad.

Here is what I wrote in Spanish and then below translated into English!

En español:

Una gran razón por la que vine a Chile fue para aprender español. Antes de que llegue a chile estudié español en mi escuela secundaria, pero como me di cuenta muy temprano estudiar y vivir son muy diferentes! Las primeras semanas eran muy difíciles. Tratando de comunicarme con los ciudadanos, mi familia y mis profesores era mucho! Pero mi familia ha tenido otros dos estudiantes de intercambio antes de mi entonces eran muy pacientes y compresivos! Muchas semanas más tarde mi español ha mejorado mucho! Puedo entender la mayoría, si no a todos mis profesores y mi familia están hablando durante clase y cena. Mi tiempo favorito es cuando mi familia y yo hemos terminado la cena y mi hermano va a su dormitorio a hacer tarea o jugar videojuegos y mi mamá, hermana y yo nos sentamos en la mesa tomamos té y hablamos! ¡Charla de chicas! He aprendido mucho español y cosas diferentes sobre las vidas de mi mama y mi hermana.

Bueno, los chilenos hablan muy rápido! Y tienen muchos chilenismos que hacen muy difícil entender a veces. Hay veces durante cena o pasando tiempo con amigos o cuando estoy en la playa o en el metro cuando no entiendo nada y es muy frustrante.

También conocer chilenos no ha sido fácil. Solo tengo clases en el campus del centro de idiomas, que es diferente al campus principal entonces nunca veo chilenos en la escuela. Pero por hermanos de mis amigos y otros conecciones he conocido a chilenos muy simpáticos y me he divertido mucho pasando tiempo con ellos!

Un día mi amiga Anna y yo estábamos pasando en la playa con nuestros amigos chilenos y jugábamos un juego donde anna y yo decíamos una palabra en español y los chilenos tenían que decir esa palabra en inglés y los chilenos tenían que decir una palabra en ingles y Anna y yo teníamos que decir esa palabra en español. Aprendí mucho vocabulario, por ejemplo “balbucear” que significa “to mumble”!

También hay veces cuando estamos con los chilenos y comienzan a hablar muy rápido y no tenemos idea de lo que están hablando. Entonces Anna y yo decimos que “podemos hablar muy rápido también” y comenzamos a hablar muy rápido en inglés pero los chilenos son mucho mejores hablando muy rápido! Hay días que son muy frustrantes pero…vale la pena! Cuando estoy en la clase de yoga y entiendo a mi profesora, Carolina, sin mirar a la persona a mi lado. O en la piscina cuando puedo explicarles a los niños como flotar y no me miran como si estuviera loca! O durante cena cuando puedo reír con mi familia y contribuir a la conversación. Estas son las cosas que me motivan para contiuar a practicar y aprender mi español!


In English:

One of the main reasons why I came to Chile was to learn Spanish. Before coming to Chile I had studied Spanish in high school, but I realized very early on that studying Spanish and living in a Spanish speaking country are two very different things! The first few weeks were pretty difficult. Trying to communicate with the people in the city, my family and teachers was overwhelming! But my family has had two other exchange students before me, so they were very patient and understanding! A couple months have passed and my Spanish has improved a lot! I can understand most, if not all of what my teachers and family are talking about during class and dinner!

My favorite time at home is when my family has finished dinner and my brother goes off to his room to do homework or play video games and my mom, sister and I sit at the table, drink tea, and talk. Girl Talk! I can definitely say I’ve learned a lot of new Spanish vocab, some useful…. and some not so much… but during this time I also love to listen and learn about what goes on in my mom and sister’s lives.

In general Chileans speak very fast and they have many Chilenismos (slang expressions that only Chileans use) that sometimes make it very difficult to understand. Of course there are times during dinner or hanging out with Chilean friends or when I’m in public at the beach or on the subway when I just do not understand anything because it’s too fast or there are a bunch of words I don’t know and that can get frustrating.

Meeting Chileans also hasn’t been that easy. I only have classes at the language center campus, which is different from the main campus and so I never really see any Chileans at school. But through siblings of my friends and other connections I’ve met some really nice, fun friends who I love hanging out with!

One day when we were all just hanging out at the beach we played this game where Anna and I would saying a word in Spanish and the Chileans had to say that word in English and then the Chileans had to say a word in English and Anna and I had to say that word in Spanish. Sounds more complicated then it is but it was a lot of fun and I learned a lot of vocab. For example the word "balbucear" means "to mumble"!

There are also times when we are all hanging out and the Chileans start talking really fast and we have no idea what they are talking about. When this happens Anna and I usually turn to the Chileans and say "we can talk very fast too" and start talking really fast in English but it just isn’t really the same. The Chileans are for sure much better at talking really really fast!

I do have those days when I get really frustrated because I don’t think my Spanish is improving and I feel like I don’t understand anyone. But I know the frustration is worth it when I’m in yoga class and can understand my teacher, Carolina, is saying without looking at the person next to me. Or when I’m at the pool and I explain to the kids how to float and they don’t look at me like I’m some crazy foreigner! Or for dinner when I can laugh along with my family and actually contribute to the conversation and not just sit there awkwardly smiling. These are the things that motivate me to continue to practice and learn Spanish!

Ciao for now! 


Vamos a La Playa !

Playa Uno: Casa de Primo.

In Spanish, the verb “esperar” means both to hope and to wait and a couple of weeks ago, that’s exactly what I was doing, waiting and hoping for the chance to surf. The weather here has been extremely unusual this spring according to everybody I’ve asked, and unfortunately not in a too sunny, too warm sort of way (there have been a couple of beach days, but they’re few and far between). Tomorrow, I kept telling myself. Tomorrow the sun will come out, and there will be waves, and I’ll go surfing. But this “tomorrow” didn’t seem like it was coming anytime soon, and of course the handful of sunny days were already full of other activities, leaving me esperando. There’s a point though, where you’re done waiting, and even if the conditions are not what you were imagining, no importa, it’s time to give whatever you want to do a shot. That’s what happened to me at least.

And so on a cloudy Saturday morning, mamá, Cata, my abuela and I piled into my family’s little car, and off we went. We drove along the coast for almost two hours (beautiful with all of the fog, but not so beautiful for my easily carsick sister), until we reached la casa de primo. Rodrigo is one of my second cousins here. He’s incredibly outdoorsy and adventurous (loves to surf, four wheel, sail etc), he’s an amazing cueca dancer, and he’s part of the Chilean Navy (which means he passes through Vina almost every week and spends a night on our couch). His family close to the shore, right next to several enormous summer houses of some VERY rich families, and they have access to the same private beach area. It was there I tried out my surf skills for the first time.

Rodrigo y yo heading back in after my first surfing lesson. 

The water was freezing and there weren’t too many waves, but none the less, I had a blast. The first couple times, instead of trying to stand up, I’d just lay on the board as it rushed forwards with the wave (even more fun than it sounds/looks). Then after a while, I made it to my knees, and then to my feet! Professional surfing is not in my future, and based off all the shared laughing, I’m not even at a proficient level, but I at least got to throw on a wet suit, dip my toes in the water, and swallow my fair share of salt.

To and From Beach transportation method. Notice the size of her smile (it's either because she's a happy person in general or because the rest of us had to walk, you choose). Also, don't worry, I got my first four-wheeling experience in too, both on the dirt paths and on the beach sand :) 

This, friends, is what surfers eat before surfing, aka a real Chilean barbeque (un asado). So incredibly delicious. 

Playa DOS: Zapallar

This weekend was a long weekend here because Thursday and Friday were holidays (Thursday being Dia de las Iglesias Evangelicas and Friday being the Dia de Todos los Santos). Halloween happened, but just barely; it’s a baby holiday still, only a couple years old. I saw maybe 10 tricker treaters, a little bit of candy in the store, and a few costumes being sold on the streets, but it’s really nothing in comparison to the normal Halloween festivities (and they don’t have the same pumpkins here, so there isn’t any carving to be done). None the less, I celebrated a little bit with a costume party at one of my friends apartments, and to help the holiday spirit, we made some finger cookies.

  1403626_10152330975298761_147703552_oThe team dressed up. Everything from a Captain America to a Captain Jack, and from an angel to a devil.  


Anyways, back to the beach! On Friday, my mother and I drove to a different beach town (because Chile is long and thin, there are a LOT of beach towns…) where the family of my sister’s friend Karla (the same girl who makes the KILLER lemon pie) has a second house. Although there are other beaches much closer to Vina, the advantages of this one are that there are less people and the shore is splattered with incredible rock formations to scramble up and climb. When Karla’s grandparents first moved to Zappalla, there was only one street. The pueblo isn’t that big now, but it’s expanded quite a bit since then and is now a popular summerhouse town (empty for most of the year, bustling during the summer vacations).

We arrived at around 2:30, ate some lunch, chatted for a solid chunk of time, and then my mother left and drove back to Vina. And thus began my weekend living with a different Chilean family in a different Chilean town.

The first day, Karla and I went for a multi-hour hike along the shore (image above). She's a wise one and fun to talk to, and one day she'd like to trek through New Zealand. When we returned, Karla, her sister, one of their friends, and I flopped onto their couch and made something very similar to a human weave, and although we started off watching television, the end result was much more like a slumber party. After our nap, we had a little once (some bread and cheese), and then, just before midnight, we headed out to a party. It was a very relaxed party, but fun none the less, and I met somebody named Javiar who's really good at making movies and has invited me to see penguins sometime soon!  

The next day was filled with beach bumming, strolls through the city, meeting up with friends, ice cream, family cooking parties, snooze sessions, annnnd...  IMG_0823horseback riding along the beach! It was awfully kind of Karla and her family to welcome me into their house for the weekend. They're one of those families that just works, and I felt honored to be a part of it, even for only a short time.  

In addition to being a wonderful weekend all around, this trip was monumental to me in two other aspects. First of all, remember when I arrived here, I spoke next to nothing. It didn’t take me long to become comfortable blubbering some sort of mix of languages to communicate with my family, but talking with other people was a bit terrifying and really embarrassing. Now jump ahead to this weekend. My mother drove with me, and stayed for lunch yes, but then she left! I spent the entire weekend with a family that I had met maybe two or three times before, and while I didn’t talk as much as I would have had we been speaking English, I was part of the conversation and I was almost always able to communicate what I wanted to say. And I felt comfortable. Confident.

The second is while I was on the micro, watching the trees, the dunes, the little pueblos wiz by the window, I was not thinking, “Time to go back to Vina,” or “I’m ready to be with my host family again.” Instead I was thinking, “I can’t wait to be home.”

Playa Tres: Mi Playa

Just so my beach doesn't feel left out, here's a picture of its shore one sunny afternoon (pre-lunch it's not too crowded, but only because summer hasn't started. After school's out, it's packed!). All our grumbling about the cold must have paid off, because recently it's been much sunnier and much hotter. One afternoon Dana and I threw around a frisbee, cooling off in the cold cold water after. Another day a group of us went to the beach to play in the waves, listen to Nicolas sing and play guitar, and meet an Argentinian (the last part wasn't planned; it just happens sometimes). I've even been to the beach a couple times by myself to read in the sun or "do homework."   IMG_0703

Now you've met the most important beaches in my life these days. This week is busy week, but after that, I'm hoping to spend even more time getting to know my new friend: the mar! 

Two Little Updates...I have now gone surfing a total of TWO times, and the second was ridiculously more successful. There was sunshine. There were waves. I probably ate more salt, and wiped out more, but I also made it onto my feet, into a pretty decent surfing position more times than I can count on my fingers. Not too bad, eh? :)

Also. We still have our five cats (two old ones, two kittens and one itty bitty tiny one who is adorable and orange and eating in the photo below). Plus there's still Uri. And the brand new addition: BIRDIES!



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




La Serena

"I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list." - Susan Sontag

Thursday was a feriado (holiday) so Anna and I decided to take a trip to La Serena, about 6 hours by bus north of Viña.

Wednesday evening I went to the pool and worked with the exuberant 6-8 year olds on backstroke! Each week volunteering is getting easier because each week my Spanish is getting better, so communicating and keeping the kids engaged in the pool is not as much of a struggle as when I first started. After that I had a challenging workout with the team running through a pyramid of different sprints. During one of our breaks I was talking with some of the guys in Spanish, asking basicquestions like what theirfavorite strokes are or when they started swimming, when one guy, Max, turned to me and in English asked “So what state in the US do you live in?” Kind of shocked, I responded “Washington DC”, to which he then replied “Oh I lived in Georgia for 4 years.” I laughed and replied, “That’s really cool but how come you are just telling me this now!? I had no idea you spoke English!” We continued talking in Spanglish, and he told me that he actually started swimming in the States and how it is a lot more intense there and that here there are a lot fewer options as far as teams. It was really interesting talking with him and hearing about his comparison between his swimming experience in the two countries. Of course I still cannot believe that he didn’t tell me before that he knew English, but maybe I should just take that as proof my Spanish communication skills are improving! I left the pool as I always do feeling tired yet refreshed.  As I walked down the hill of army base I sneakily snapped a picture of one of the prettiest sunsets I have seen in Viña so far! It was a delightful day in Viña and I looked forward to exploring a new area of the country the next day.


When I got home I had a yummy dinner and then finished up packing. At 11 pm Anna’s dad picked me up from my apartment and drove us to the bus station. We decided to take an overnight bus ride which is pretty typical and pretty easy to book anywhere in Chile. Our bus was a little late which was fine because when we got on the bus we were able to fall asleep right away. We arrived in La Serena at about 6 am on Thursday. In our groggy state we were still able to find a taxi to take us to our hostel. Once we got to our hostel we checked in and slept for a couple hours before going out to explore the town of La Serena! We walked around exploring the different artisanal markets and various shops even though a lot of shops and restaurants were closed because of the holiday. It was an overcast day so we were both craving some soup. We found a restaurant and Anna ordered the cazuela, the traditional Chilean soup with chunks of corn, potato, squash and meat, and I had the sopa de mariscos (seafood soup) which was fabulous, filled with an amazing amount of clams, shrimp, mussels and more! After that we walked around a little more before heading back to the hostel for an early night. 

That evening we were just hanging out when some strong shaking started. Before coming to Chile I was aware that it was an especially susceptible place for earthquakes and so far I have definitely felt around 5-6 small shakes here and there but nothing compared to the one on Thursday. Apparently the 6.6 earthquake was only about 40 miles from La Serena! Everyone was fine but it definitely fit right in with the scary theme of Halloween.

The next day we woke up and took a bus ride to Pisco Elqui, a town located in the Elqui Valley. The bus ride was about two hours passing by various towns including Vincuña and swerving through gorgeous mountains surrounding the valley.


When we arrived at Pisco Elqui, we walked around exploring the small town before picking a restaurant for lunch.  We both enjoyed the menu del día (menu of the day) which was salad, cazuela soup, and bananas with a honey molasses sauce. Throughout our lunch two different musical performances came in and did a quick show for the people eating, which was really wonderful especially because the restaurant was crowded so it took an extra long time for our food to come out. 


A girl at our hostel told us about this little known pisco distillery, 4 kilometers from the town. Pisco is the Chileans’ strong liquor made with the grapes grown in the Valle de Elqui. To make the pisco, the grapes are put through a double distillation process in order to get the strong alcoholic taste.  She told us it was very safe and easy to hitchhike from the main road to Los Nichos, the name of the pisco distillery. So after lunch we started walking along the road towards Los Nichos and sadly nobody stopped to offer us a ride, but it was really for the best because we enjoyed a lovely walk along the valley. 


Unfortunately the last pisco tour was at 4:30 pm, and because we didn’t catch a ride we missed it by about half an hour. We hung around and explored a little and got to listen to the last part of the pisco tour before heading back to the main town. 


Luckily as we were walking back two women were nice enough to pick us up and drive us back to the town, so hitchhiking wasn’t a complete failure. From there we hopped on a bus back to La Serena and enjoyed the bus ride back through the valley as the sun set between the mountains. 


That night we bought some rice and veggies and made ourselves a yummy fried rice dish at the hostel. Unfortunately it was a cloudy night but we still enjoyed the few stars that were out before heading to bed early, exhausted from the day.

The next day we packed up and checked out of our hostel before heading to the bus station and taking the 6 hour bus home to Viña.

Living in a country with such geographic diversity and being able to travel to the desert, campos, the big city of Santiago and now to the valley has been really amazing. And don't forget, I live five minutes from the beach!  Up next I head south to the city of Pucón for some fun volcano hiking, white water rafting, canopying and more!

Ciao for now! 

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