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Gap Year Abroad

5 posts from December 2013


una gran aventura

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” Mark Twain

Have you ever been in a foreign place but have it feel remarkably comfortable and incredibly special? That’s how my week in Cusco, Peru felt. I absolutely loved Peru- everything about it, the people, the markets, the mountains, the streets, houses, food, colors, everything. On my birthday December 13th I said a very sad goodbye to my host family and friends in Chile and headed to Cusco, Peru where I spent the next week exploring the beautiful area. I stayed in a wonderful place called the Healing House, which is a holistic healing community that offers massage, yoga classes and Reiki to the community, as well as participates in other projects around Cusco. This was a perfect place for me to stay. From the moment I arrived all the girls were so kind-hearted and welcoming, and I give a big thank you to the Healing House because it was a major contributor to my amazing trip.

A lot like Valparaíso, Cusco is a fairly hilly city; the only difference is Cusco is located a whopping 3,400 meters or 11,200 feet above sea level.  Coming from living 5 minutes from the beach, this was a major change, and from the moment I landed I could really feel it. It was also really interesting being able to compare the two South American countries. Peru is less developed than Chile, which contributes to the extremely low prices.

Due to lack of sleep and altitude adjustment my first day in Cusco was pretty relaxed. I wandered around the San Blas neighborhood for awhile going in and out of a couple of stores, went to the market and bought some delicious fruit and veggies (the produce in Peru is unreal!), and found an amazing café where I bought some delicious banana bread. 



The next day I went to the Baratillos markets in the center of town, which are only on Saturdays and are known for being overwhelming but extremely cheap. The place was a madhouse. You could find anything you could possibly imagine, from hats to blankets to computer accessories, books, toilet paper, anything you need. People were moving through the crowded market on their daily mission while mamacitas were yelling out prices to compete for customers. It was quite a production, unlike anything I’ve experienced and definitely different from the Sunday Eastern market in downtown DC. Using my much improved Spanish I bargained with a guy and bought some cute trinkets. After the markets we went to a delicious Asian restaurant where I got some miso soup and seaweed salad. Two of the girls I was with got a really great curry soup that I tried and boy did it have a kick! I quickly realized Peruvian food is a lot spicier than Chilean food, which I loved!

On Sunday, a friend, Ayana, and I decided to go see some ruins that were just up the hill from the house. We slowly trekked up to the entrance but once we got there and learned we had to pay to get in, we decided we would come back on a day when we were feeling like exploring more. We walked back down the road and ended up at a park where a guy asked if we wanted to participate in a traditional coca leaf ceremony. The coca leaf is used as a healing plant and is particularly effective with altitude sickness and therefore is highly honored in the Inca tribe. When we arrived we were each given a handful of leaves to chew while the ceremony was being set up. We were then each given three leaves to make three wishes with before presenting the leaves to one of the men who said a prayer, dipped the leaves in some liquid and placed them in the altar area. It was really unexpected but cool to participate in something like this, and I definitely gained a new appreciation for the culture. 


The next day two friends and I took our yoga mats and hiked up the hills to the moon temple. It was an area with old ruins that had a bunch of little crevices where you could enter. We found a perfect flat patch of grass where we set up our yoga mats and went through a practice among the amazing Peruvian mountains and ruins. It was magical. 

CIMG2123 CIMG2143CIMG2120

After yoga we walked back down to the fruit and veggie market and got a delicious freshly made juice followed by a huge bowl of soup and a lentil, grilled veggie, and plantain dish all for just 6 soles, which is around 2 dollars!


 The next day I woke up to head to the town near Machu Picchu called Aguas Calientes. I took a two hour taxi ride from Cusco through the rural hills of Peru, around the mountains and to the town of Ollantaytambo where I took the train to the town of Aguas Calientes. The train ride was absolutely gorgeous. The tracks followed a river surrounded by mountains and lush forests. 



The town of Aguas Calientes is a little tourist town with hostels, hotels, restaurants, and artisanal markets dispersed here, there and everywhere. After I checked into my hotel I walked through the markets and made my way to the natural hot springs for which the town is named! Aside from being relaxing, the hot springs were really awesome because I got to chat with a bunch of people from all around the world. I heard some amazing stories and adventures and shared my story!


The next morning I woke up at 6:00 am and headed to the bus station to take a bus to Machu Picchu! After a half- hour bus ride along a dirt road of switchbacks we finally arrived to Machu Picchu! This place is just as you hear, absolutely unreal!! The location up in the lush mountains among the clouds, along with the endless ruins, creates an absolutely unbelievable atmosphere. The surroundings make you wonder where the Incans collected all those rocks and how much work it must have been to bring them there and meticulously fit them together to form this monumental part of the Incan empire. How do they remain all this time through natural disasters and the passage of time? 

I hiked through the ruins to the entrance of Huyana Picchu, which is the mountain that overlooks Machu Picchu. They only let 400 people hike it a day so I was lucky enough to get a ticket beforehand. The hike up the mountain only takes about 45 minutes but with the altitude and very steep steps, it was difficult. When I got to the top, the clouds were still floating over the ruins but I sat down and watched them clear and after about 20 minutes it was completely clear! I walked around the top for a little before heading back down to the ruins. 




I had a tour at 11 so after walking around the ruins by myself for a little I waited for the guide to show up. We then walked for 2 hours as he explained all the classic facts. After a solid 5 hours at the ruins and a stamp in my passport I decided to head back down to the town of Aguas Calientes. I took a quick shower at my hotel, walked around the markets and then went to the train station to return to Ollantaytambo. From Ollantaytambo I took a bus back to Cusco. When I got back to the Healing House I was exhausted from the day so went to bed very early.


The next day I went out to the markets with some friends to grab some last minute gifts and just walked around the town one last time. We ended up at a Crepería right near the house which is where we had a delicious coffee and chocolate crepe! 


That night after packing and getting everything together for my long travel day back to the States, one of my friends at the Healing House gave me a massage. The massage was the perfect way to end my absolutely magical time in Cusco. 


My week in Cusco was beyond what I expected. Everything including the people, food, yoga, markets and mountains was absolutely incredible, and I could not have asked for a more wonderful time. I know I will be back very soon in the future! 


“We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.” Jawaharlal Nehru


Ciao for now! 


High Five

And the low ones as well (to keep it real).


This is an easy one. I can not emphasize enough how much I have LOVED living next to the ocean. Having never lived on any body of water really, I was not aware of what I was missing. Until now. In addition to going surfing and kayaking and swimming and boating and all those other water fun activities, I also get a priceless view every time I leave my house. I love it when the water sparkles in the bright sun. I love it when the sun’s last setting rays change everything into warm colors. And I even love the cloudy days when I can’t tell where the sky separates from the ocean. Always beautiful. Captura de pantalla 2013-12-18 a la(s) 12.12.36 PM

I do not like looking at the garbage piles in the streets of Valparaiso. Despite the fact that the city a World Heritage Sight because it’s so special, and there are trash cans all over the place, and there’s a public trash service, there are enormous piles of garbage all over the place. It’s disgusting and sad. I also don’t like sick street dogs, mangled street dogs, starving street dogs, deformed street dogs, or dead street dogs and I hate seeing them chase cars in the street (it always looks like they're going to get hit), attacking (and sometimes killing) eachother or cats, and being threatening towards people.   IMG_1491Note: Not all the garbage piles are bagged so "nicely," nor are they piled quite as well, but this photo serves as an idea at least. 


The best smell hands down is outside of any Panaderia, especially right after they’ve just finished baking bread (it never smells quite as good inside). Luckily for me, there is no shortage of Panaderias or bread or this heavenly smell, and sometimes when I’m walking home, I’ll stop and just enjoy.   IMG_2125This street corner is really close to my house. There's the OK Market and the Cruz Verde that you find everywhere, as well as the delicious smelling Panaderia. 

Dying mariscos. There are certain places along the beach where it just reeks to the point where I choke if I inhale too deeply. One of my chilean friends said the smell comes from the mariscos that are left behind by the fishermen, rotting in the sun. I have no idea if that’s true or not or if it’s a combination of smells, but whatever it is, it’s horrible.


I love the feeling of laying in hot sand or crawling into my warm bed after a long day (or into my host mom’s bed with my cup of tea and a book), but I think my favorite touch is petting our kittens. Living with cats and dogs is something that is new for me, and I’ve come to really enjoy it when one of the kittens or Blancito (the big, white cat) jumps up into my lap while I’m working on homework or this blog or whatever else. The tiny furballs that arrived about a month ago have grown into quite the playful and curious (and occasionally destructive) bunch, and their fur is incredibly silky. Last night, two of the kittens slept in my bed throughout the night for the first time; this place really is my home. IMG_2154

The worst touch is probably any sort of physical contact with anything in the bathroom of certain bars or clubs. The level of bathroom dirtiness isn’t even on the same scale of anything that I’ve seen in the United States, and I’ve learned to avoid even entering particular bar bathrooms at all costs. 


This is a hard one because certain foods are better than others depending on the company, the temperature, the time of day, the location, etc and foods vary immensely depending on who cooked them. However, my favorite savors here are sopaipillas, choripan, pebre, homemade bread, arroz con leche and ice cream. Below is a photo of pebre which is a hugely popular salsa like food which is put on rice, choripan, sopaipillas, meat, bread, and pretty much anything else. It's made of tomatoes, onions, cilantro, aji sauce, olive oil and a little salt, and it's delicious! (it's also probably the spiciest Chilean food even though it's normally not spicy at allllllll.)IMG_1547

Although I am not really a fan of saltwater, a big bowl of unfrozen lentil mush that has been left out all day is less appealing. Let me explain. Lentils are hugely popular here (like eat on at least a once a week basis), and because Dana and I always ate lunch at her house on Mondays, and her family is really superstitious (more so than the average Chilean family), and once upon a time somebody started the idea that eating lentils on Monday is good luck, between her house and my house, I’ve eaten more than my fair share of lentils. Plus, although there are hundreds of recipes with lentils (I checked), we always eat them in the same form-a soupish mix of lentils, a little rice, a little squash and on the rare occasion a little meat). And, if you freeze and then thaw lentils, they become even more oddly textured and lose whatever flavor they had to start, making lunch a little too similar to cardboard. I think lentils and I will take a short break... On the left is gormet lentils (the same mix with a bit more rice, some cheese on top and a beautiful side salad. On the what the lentil dish normally looks like.)  Captura de pantalla 2013-12-19 a la(s) 12.04.22 PM


Honestly, my favorite sound is probably the sound of the waves, but since I’ve already expressed my love for the mar, I’ll talk about my second favorite sound here: live music. I hear live music every single day, and I love it. In addition to all the concerts (if somebody good is coming to Chile, they either come to my city or Santiago which is a short bus ride away..), there are people in the micros or the metro who sing, play guitar or another instrument, or rap every day. And usually they’re talented too. My personal favorite is a woman who sings Violeta Parra songs while somebody else plays the guitar; her voice is amazing, and I like the folkloric feel (Violeta Parra is an important Chilean-listen to one of her songs here:)


Sometimes voice overs are painful to listen to, and I’m not particularly a fan of the Simpsons’ voices in Spanish (an unfortunate situation because my host sister really enjoys them), but the worst sound here is this cat call. There’s of course the typical whistling, which I’m not a fan of by any means, but it alone doesn’t bother me all that much. However, some guys will make an almost clicking, almost ‘phhschh’ noise that I’ve only ever heard when my host family is, well, calling their cats to come in for the night. It’s hugely disrespectful and just plain creepy (especially at night or when you’re walking by yourself). Old guys (and even young ones too sometimes) whispering their snide little comments, cars honking, and just the looks in general, not going to miss any of those either.  



How to go to CHILOÉ!

And other possibly helpful travel tips.

Get a Great Group. Regardless of where you are going, the people with whom you are traveling with will make or break the journey. Chiloe is incredible on its own, don’t get me wrong, but I think the reason I had such a wonderful time during the last week was because Olivia, Diego and Nicolas are truly a Great Group. There was enough seriousness and planning to get us where we needed to be at all times, and there was enough humor and silliness to keep us all smiling, if not full on belly laughing, throughout the trip. They’re amazing. And as an additional bonus, Diego is a patient Chilean who is considering becoming an English teacher, which means we were all able to practice a foreign language. He’d help me translate songs during a bus ride (one of the best ways to practice/learn new vocabulary), we all spoke spanglish, and he’d correct us when needed or explain the grammar behind verb conjugations. In return, Diego was able to practice his English with us, and during the trip we helped him learn several key English phrases like “sucks to suck” or “you had one job.” These are people I’d like to stay in touch with long after we all leave Chile. IMG_1941From left to right. OLIVIA-always a blast spending time with her. DIEGO-trustworthy, and ready to lend a hand whenever there's need. NICOLAS-talented and insightful, and a valuable friend to have. 


From Here to There: Chiloe is located in the South of Chile, so south that I’ve now been closer to Antarctica than anybody in South Africa or Australia. There are buses that will take you there, but we opted for an airplane ride because thanks to LAN, it was about the same price and a whole lot faster (Plus it was Diego’s first plane ride experience!). We flew from Santiago to Puerto Montt which is about a 2 hour flight, and we got free airplane food (that was actually tasty) as well as an incredible view. Definitely worth it. Those tickets we obviously bought ahead of time, but for all the bus rides between cities and such we bought on the spot at the bus station (highly recommended). 1476160_10151533750392706_566993712_nThis photo was not edited, nor was the view distorted by the camera; from the plane window, this is what the sunset looked like as we were leaving the south. Incredible, right? 


Hostel it UP! Always stay in Hostels; they’re the best. All of our hostels were booked before we even got to the airport, which means we had beds guaranteed for every night. Also, always print out the name of the hostel, the address, and if possible, directions from the local bus station BEFORE going on the trip because it makes the getting to each one a whole lot easier, and after a long bus ride, it’s great to not have to worry about where you’re going or how to get there with all of your stuff (Shout out to Olivia and Nicolas for that one). Olivia and I decided to play it safe and stay in Santiago the night before our flight (because as you’ll find out, buses are not always flawless), and due to its proximity to the airport and our genuine curiosity, we booked two beds in the Princesa Insolente. It was all pink. But the staff and other travelers were friendly, the hostel was cozy and had a great central location to hang out and meet people, and the rooms were clean (I give it 8 stars). In Puerto Varas we stayed in Margouya Patagonia (a perfect hostel), in Ancud we stayed in Hostal Mundo Nuevo which felt very much like a hotel for better or for worse, and to conclude our trip, we stayed in Palafito Sur in Castro which was a newly opened hostel on stilts over the water (amazing except for the loud construction work that began bright and early in the morning). In each hostel, we met people from the around the world who shared their adventure stories and insight into what to do in each city, and if you happen to speak another language (like Swedish perhaps), hostels can be a great place to encounter native speakers. IMG_2044This is the view from our deck at the Hostel in Castro. 

Plan Less: This depends on where you’re going and what type of trip you’d like to have of course, but for us it worked out best to just go with the flow. Thanks to an organized Olivia, we had a Google doc laying out where we’d be each night and a couple of options of activities in each city, but without any concrete plans, we were able to decide what we wanted to do each day based off the weather and how we were feeling. Also hostels usually have suggestions of what you can do, and that doesn’t require much advanced planning (yet another reason they rock). 883246_10152058526731602_18905668_oOlivia on one of our spontaneous adventures. The day was absolutely gorgeous so we went to see some water falls. 


Pack: This is a complicated one. Before we left, the mothers all suggested bringing really warm clothing, like a jacket and boots, because normally winter clothing is necessary for trips down south. However, we struck gold; apart from a couple of rainy hours, the sun shone and shone, and sometimes it was warm enough to wear shorts and still be hot.. If you go during the Chile summer, with a good warm hat, a raincoat, a sweater, and comfortable shoes, you should be fine. Also a backpacking backpack is worth the investment (or borrow one), because it makes all the bus rides and walking to hostels much more pleasant and comfortable. IMG_1988Gringos in a BOAT! Nicolas is modeling the rain coat (well a windbreaker that multitasks), I've got the cozy hat, and Olivia's rocking the all purpose sweater with a cute scarf combination. 


Food: Our food experiences can be divided into four groups: restaurants, picnics, street food and romantic starlit dinners. Because culture and food are so intimately intertwined, it’s worth the little bit of extra money to eat out at a local restaurant a couple of times. Curanto is the most famous dish in Chiloe, so one afternoon we splurged and bought the plate that’s filled with all sorts of shellfish, fish, potatoes, chicken, other meats and some sort of bread/potato plops. It was enormous and delicious! During the trip, we also bought salmon (fresh!) and empanadas de loco. For the rest of our meals, we each contributed $20 to a food fund. This was great because then we didn’t have to divide up every purchase every day, and we were able to buy foods to make picnic lunches to take on our adventures (like chicken/chorizo sandwiches), ingredients for Nicolas’ famous tomato sauce, and the necessary snacks. We also invested in the street food economy, trying the zapallo-less sopaipillas, another traditional Chiloe food called Milcao (which is like a potato/bread pancake stuffed with meat and then fried), apple empanadas, completos, and street popcorn. Our last night, we celebrated. Olivia and I made crepe/pancakes with homemade hot apple sauce, manjar and granola, and with some smooth jazz seeping out from the hostel and a fresh ocean breeze in the air, we ate our meal and drank our cola de mono on the dock outside, with candle light, under the stars, in Castro, Chiloe, just us four. Try and beat that.

IMG_1965This is Kuranto where we ate Curanto. Recommended for sure. 


1502163_10152058528021602_594845637_o Nicolas cooking tomato sauce (for the first time...). 1501311_10152058555406602_565097622_oOur romantic dinner. 

And now.... WHAT TO DO:

-Take advantage of Government funded exercise equipment. Every city I’ve been to in Chile has been equipped with these brightly colored playground/exercise structures, but not all of them have views like this.  IMG_1975

-Always bring your swimsuit. Or at least wear your favorite (non-white) undergarments. Chile is basically one long beach, and when there's not access to the ocean, there's usually a lake or a river or water falls that are oh so inviting. Although none of us brought our swimsuits, we went swimming twice, once in the ocean, and once in the waterfalls. 1487701_10152058555071602_1577001971_o

-Run up at least one hill. Chile is full of them.  One afternoon Nicolas and I went exploring in Puerto Varas, and we were curious as to what was at the top of one of the hills. However, instead of walking up the road like normal people, we ran straight up this little path, arriving at the top completely out of breath. But like always, the view was worth it, and it was good to get a few endorphins going. 1476227_10151533751052706_63896412_n

-Always enter the museum, especially if it’s free. We went into numerous churches (because there are no shortage of those in Chiloe), and we stumbled upon a neat art museum full of paintings of old houses as well as notecards made by people who had visited before. Some had pretty sketches or deep messages or fun play on words that make you think. One example is "no midas tu riqueza por las coasa que posees, sino por aquellas que no cambiarias por dinero." (Don't measure your wealth by what you own, but instead by what you have that you wouldn't change for money). IMG_1858

-Eat ice cream. Or chocolate cake when it’s available. There's a city in the south that's supposedly very German (although that depends on who you ask really). We spent an afternoon there looking for the last German speakers (there are two but we didn't find either) and eating delicious desserts. 1495411_10152058527946602_1412221623_o

-Be a good person. The world is small, especially for a traveler, and you will see people you know. I offered my seat to a man on the bus to the National Park, and before the trip was up, I saw him three more times. We also ran into two students who had been studying at the same university as Olivia and Nicolas. Here's a photo of them hitchhiking with a friendly family.   1421188_10152058553081602_983187090_o

-Just keep walking, just keep walking. When you're not really sure what else you want to do in a city, pick a road and just keep walking. See where it takes you. It's a great way to see more of the city/countryside and pass time enjoying eachothers company. Plus you may end up somewhere cool like at a famous beach a couple kilometers away from Ancud called Lechagua for example.  IMG_1976

-Sing like nobody else is listening. Throughout the trip, we had several great moments where we just beleted songs like there was no tomorrow. Now Nicolas is actually a singer (has his own songs and everything), and Olivia can successfully carry a tune, but as for me...well it was fun let's just say. We brought out our Louis Armstrong voices, practiced our spanish (by singing spanish songs), and challenged our memories (trying to remember Christmas songs). Here is one that I really only know the chorus to but it has been stuck in my head for way too long anyways. Enjoy!  

-Meet kind French men with Cars who will drive you to see PENGUINS! Over homemade bread and jam one morning, we struck up a conversation with a friendly man who was in Chile working on a forrestry project. He was interested in going to see the penguins and happend to have a little car, and he invited us to go along with him. So we took him up on his offer.  We got to see two different types of penguins (Humboldts and Magallanes), lots of native birds (whose names I don't remember unfortunately), and an otter! IMG_2021

-Befriend street dogs. I've seen them in the north of Chile all the way down to the south; there's really no escaping these creatures. During a normal day, street dogs don't bother me. They let me be, and I let them be, and sometimes they even accompany me as I'm walking down the street. However there have been cases of violence here where a person gets bit or a cat gets killed, so you have to be careful. This dog (named Stitches) was quite friendly though and became our pal when we were admiring the volcano.175235_10152058523506602_1347988326_o

-Watch the sunset. I asked one of the people working at the hostel where the best place to watch the sunset was, and he directed me to this little park up the hill in the center of Castro. From there Nicolas and I watched the sun set behind the clouds (shooting out magical looking rays) and then again behind the hills. This photo is also a great representation of Chiloe as it has the hills, the greenery that you don't find in the north/central,  and you can even see some of the palafitas (which are the wooden stilt like structures the houses along the shore are built upon). IMG_2093

-Be a good Catholic (if you’re Catholic). And even if you're not Catholic, going to a church service in a cathedral that was originally built in 1567 is pretty freaking cool! Because of an impressive list of fires, the building has been rebuilt quite a few times, but the exact structure that we went to an hour of service in on Sunday morning was still over 100 years old. Going to service in Spanish was another worthwhile experience. There were parts where I didn't understand anything, but overall I caught I lot more than I thought I would. Plus I really enjoy hearing common expresssions directly translated into other languages, for example the Lords Prayer.  Ah and the colors. The south in general is brightly painted, but when I first saw this church, not only was I shocked, I also didn't really like it. But it was located in the center plaza, and we walked past it numerous times, and eventually the children's castle like color scheme grew on me. I can appreciate it now. IMG_2051

-Cave in and just take the tourist picture. It’s worth it. Here's me playing the piano (that's hollow..) on the shores of Frutillar, Chile with one of the volcanos (Osorno) in the background. The view looked photoshopped in real life.. IMG_1947

-Buy at least one souvenir. There are little artisian markets all over Chile, but Castro, Chiloe has a particularly good one that's definitely worth a visit. We went twice and along with several goodbye gifts, I got a pair of super cozy llama socks! Even Diego bought a comfortable, stylish and hand made wool hat. Unfortunately I failed, and somehow I managed to go the whole time without taking a single picture of the market. And neither did any of my companions. And so, for the first time yet, here is a photo brought to you by a google search!  You can see the wooden crafts (Chiloe is famous for those), as well as the selection of wool/llama knitted appearal and other trinkets. The fairs aren't cheap per say but they're not too outrageously expensive either. Castro35

-Dont be afraid to put your technology away. One of the notecards in the Art Museum said "Naci para vivir en una epoca donde la tegnologia me permite hacer todo menos vivir" or "I was born in a period where technology allows me to do everything except for to live." The majority of my gringo friends gave up the use of their smart phones (except for when there is wifi) while in Chile and instead bought a really cheap, really basic, indestructable Nokia phone to communicate. I think that's made a huge difference in my experience here and especially on trips like this one. Don't get me wrong, I appreciate technology; I just think it has its time and place (that's not everywhere and always). We spent more time goofing off with eachother on bus rides and long walks and while we were hanging out at the hostel than we would have had we been in the US. IMG_1855


And that concludes my trip to Puerto Montt, Puerto Varas, Frutillar, and Chiloe (Ancud and Castro). At first I wasn't sure if I was going to take any trips to the south of Chile, but now having gone, I absolutely recommend the adventure. It's STUNNING, and there is a slight difference in the language, the food, the way the people look and the culture in general that's worth getting to know a little bit. Throughout the trip, it was entertaining hearing everybody's opinions on what the countryside looked like (everything from Finland to New Jersey to Austria to California depending on who you asked). However, what it definitely doesn't look like is the rest of Chile.

Now I have a couple of days back in Vina and Valparaiso before my worlds collide and my family in the United States comes!!!!!!!!!!!! 



"You must be the change you wish to see in the world." Mahatma Gandhi

Here it is again, that scary sometimes unsettling, inevitable feeling. Change.

I have exactly 7 days left here in Chile and I am definitely feeling the change that’s about to occur. Last Friday my program had a goodbye lunch with all the CIEE kids and some host family members. I had my final week of classes this past week, and next week exams start. I had a really delicious goodbye lunch with my family and some of my mom’s friends on Wednesday. And I have to figure out a time to head to the money exchange to convert some money into Soles because I am going to Peru!! No, I haven’t started packing yet, but that is next on my list. I have a lot of mixed feelings. As much as I love it here, after hearing about all the Thanksgiving adventures I really miss home and the people I’ve been away from for so long. At the same time I’ve developed a comfortable rhythm and some wonderful relationships and don’t want to leave this beautiful country that I’ve been exploring, growing, and learning in these past four and a half months. From the concert in Santiago I’m going to this weekend to the wine tour next week as well as exams, I know this next week is going to fly by, and I will be on the plane before I know it. I am trying to balance my desire for time to freeze so I can enjoy every last moment I have left with my excitement for future adventures, and it’s a tough balance to achieve. I have learned so much over the past four and a half months I’ve spent in Chile, and I am going to dearly miss so much.

Just to rattle off a few things:

  • My yoga teacher
  • My yoga studio
  • Anita, my nanny
  • My walk to school
  • Living 7 minutes from the beach
  • Gatitos
  • The live music in the street and on the metro
  • The feeling of successfully riding an incredibly crowded micro
  • Tea talk with my mom and sister
  • Laughing to myself as I hear my brother yell at his videogames
  • The kids at Paul Harris Elementary School  
  • Anita’s lentil and garbanzo soups
  • My culture and communications teacher
  • Bogarín juice café  
  • My Chilean amigos
  • My gringo amigos
  • The palm trees
  • Muelle Vergara Park
  • My mom calling me Elenita
  • The beautiful Chilean mountains
  • Speaking in Spanish
  • 8 dollar bus tickets to Santiago
  • 10 dollar 3 course meals 

Ciao for now! 




“We are visitors on this planet. We are here for ninety or one hundred years at the very most. During that period, we must try to do something good, something useful, with our lives. If you contribute to other people’s happiness, you will find the true goal, the true meaning of life.” Dalai Lama XIV

A major part of my program here in Chile has involved volunteering. During my time here I volunteered at three different places. On Mondays and Thursdays, I taught English at a public elementary school. On Wednesdays, I taught swimming to 6-8-year-old kids.  And on weekends I volunteered with an organization called Adapta where I helped chilren with different kinds of disabilities participate in outdoor activities such as hiking, slacklining and surfing!

Adapta was always a great way to get outside on the weekends and working with the kids always put a smile on my face. It reminded me of Best Buddies, a program I participated in during high school, and I loved being able to make that connection. At first it was hard to communicate because of the language barrier, and at times I felt almost useless as a volunteer. Of course, that changed as my Spanish improved. But I also realized that the language wasn’t the most important aspect. We were there to put a smile on, laugh, and have fun with the kids; in general we were there be a positive support during these fun activities.

Here are some pictures from one of the surf sessions. 



I learned to swim when I was four and have had a lot of experience teaching kids how to swim, so when I found out that this was a volunteer option in Chile, I couldn’t pass it up. This opportunity really pushed me. Unlike my other volunteer work, here I was the only American volunteer, so I was speaking in Spanish 100% of the time. Also, often there wasn’t a set plan as far as what I was suppose to do thus it was up to me to determine each kids’ skill levels, (which ended up being nothing more than staying above water and floating on their back,) and then to come up with various swimming drills and exercises during the hour we had together. Oh yes, and of course, this was all in Spanish. This volunteer opportunity was challenging, but the kids were really cute and always energetic so it was really rewarding and a lot of fun!   

Because I was constantly in the water trying to juggle 5 or 6 little seven- year olds, there was really no time to take pictures, but here is one I snapped of one of the other volunteers in between sessions. 


My friend Anna and I volunteered at the elementary school, Paul Harris. The kids always got really excited when we arrived because it was a change of pace from their regular day. Aside from working on different English listening and comprehension activities, as well as a little bit of grammar we were constantly being asked if we knew the band One Direction, who our favorite band member was, and other fun stuff like that. We really tried to have fun with the kids and I really felt like we left a positive light in these kids’ lives. At the end of class, all of the kids would line up to give Anna and me kiss on the cheek goodbye. It took about 10 minutes just to get out of the classroom but was so cute and is something I will always remember.

Here is a picture of the classroom, as well as Anna and one of our students Kevin as twins! 

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Another volunteer activity was through the school’s extracurricular English club where students come to improve and practice their English. Each volunteer was paired up with a student who had to create a presentation about his or her partner or volunteer’s home state in the United States. I was paired up with an extremely bright 13-year-old boy named Fernando. As we were working on our poster he was constantly asking me questions about the States and just practicing his English non-stop; I could tell he really has a passion for English. Together we created a poster with pictures of Washington, D.C.’s monuments, museum, sports teams and famous people native to the District. Fun fact: The actor Samuel L. Jackson from the movie “Avengers” was born in D.C.! We wrote a script that Fernando read from that described the various D.C. landmarks. I remember one day after he read through it and I corrected his English, he asked me to read it and translate it into Spanish. As I read through he corrected my Spanish; we were laughing and it was a total bonding moment for us. November 13th was the International Culture Day where all the students presented their projects to the whole school and honored guests including people from the Embassy of the United States. Fernando did a flawless job, as I expected, and I think it was really successful day in general! I really loved working with Fernando. This is super cliché, but it was a great feeling to know I was making a difference in this one kid’s life because I know I will remember the difference he made in mine.

Here are a few pictures from the International Culture day!



Fernando presenting to a group of 4th graders CIMG1800

Fernando's friend, Fernando and me in front of our D.C. poster! 

The last part of my volunteer work was through my Service Learning class. Our class, which was really just the 7 gap students, wanted to give back to the school where we had been volunteering. The school has a gray fence around it, and from the outside it really didn’t look like a place where happy, cheerful, elementary students studied, so we decided to add some color to the outside and paint a mural!  

Here is a picture of the mural we painted; it is a picture of the school’s mascot “Super Paul” with some mountains and the ocean in the background to loosely play off of Chile’s geography. 



Maggie and I putting some finishing touches on the mural! 


Gap group with our wonderful mural! 

With only an hour and a half to paint and no real artist amongst us, I think we were all really pleased with how it turned out.

It always feels good to give back but with each different experience I also gained new insight into the language, culture and myself. Each of these volunteering opportunities has made a significant impact on my experience here as well as on the person I am, and I will remember each of them, and what they taught me throughout the rest of my life.

Ciao for now! 

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