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Gap Year Abroad

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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.


Captura de pantalla 2013-11-23 a la(s) 12.42.58 PM
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.


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