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Gap Year Abroad

22 posts categorized "Katerina Stephan"


Try, Try and Try again

TRIED: About a month ago when I was walking home from school, somebody on the street handed me a little flyer advertising the 10th anniversary of the Vina del Mar International Marathon. There was a 10K, a 21K and a full marathon (42K or 26 miles), and it happened to be on the exact same day that my mother in the US would be celebrating her birthday. Partially because I wanted to do something special in honor of her and partially because I’ve wanted to attempt one of these for quite some time now, I decided to sign up for the 21K, my first half marathon. The month went by, and despite the fact that I hadn’t trained as properly as I probably should have, on October 13th, at 5am in the morning, I was at the bus stop, yawning, but feeling ready to run.

Before the sun rose, about 5,000 fellow runners and I met in the town next door to Vina del Mar called Reñaca, and when the miniature cannon went off, off we went. The first part of the race was surprisingly easy because I started off at a comfortable pace, and the wave of people around me pretty much carried me right along. Plus the entire course stretched right alongside the coast of the mar, an incredible view and source of motivation. After a while, the massive block of runners started to disperse as it always does, and one of my best friends here, Dania, met up with me on her bike (she biked the entire race by my side-she’s the best, I know). I was feeling a little bit nervous, but still comfortable and confident overall, that is until I saw the course maker which read 2k. It’s one thing to think about running 13.1 miles. It’s a totally different feeling when you realize you’ve been running for 10 minutes and you still have 19 more kilometers to go...

However, thanks to an incredible amount of support from friends, my faithful biking buddy by my side, and a lot of built up emotion and thoughts to occupy my mind, I finished every single meter of that race without stopping once, and at an almost perfectly consistent pace of 8:19 per mile. My final time was 1:48 minutes which put me in third place in my category, and in addition to two verrrry exhausted legs, I left Reñaca that day with two medals (one for third place and the other for completing the 21K). Sometimes all it takes is traveling to another country to find the confidence to do the things you never would have imagined possible.


Can you find me?? 

First time on a podium! 


TRYING: I’m not going to lie, waking up before 8am for class is not something I’m always overly thrilled about. However, there’s a silver lining to everything, and thanks to the early beginning, two of my four days of classes have early endings, leaving two afternoons of freedom! Every Tuesday, my friend Dana (the girl from Seattle) and I take advantage and head out to Valparaiso. On our first trip, our mission was to encounter the Museo A Cielo Abierto, something in Valparaiso that we were learning about in our culture class. Although we failed in completing that mission, we were definitely successful in another sense. That afternoon we met a young Chilean student who had studied in France and was more than willing to help us practice our Spanish; we found Pablo Neruda’s house and took a self guided tour; we stumbled upon a small jewelry shop, and chatted with the owner, learning about his craft and also that we could make our own earrings or ring next time we stopped by; we ate some incredible ice cream at a local shop, and we talked and talked and talked.

Another time we met a man who was selling books in the street, and he helped us pick out some basic, but classic reads. We’ve wandered up and down several hills, ducked in and out of all sorts of shops, and eaten LOTs of ice cream. My favorite discovery thus far was this sketchy looking staircase with an amazing mural on the wall. Dana had the idea of finding out where it lead, and so up we went. It turned out to be a meditation and yoga center that had a strong tie to Indian culture (I’m pretty sure they even lead trips to India), and also happened to serve fairly cheap and absolutely delicious food to customers sitting on little pillows on the floor. Not long after we plopped down at the low tables, we were joined by a Chilean student who was getting his PhD in Valparaiso, and for the duration of our vegetarian deliciousness, we chatted away with a complete stranger. Every time we go, we try to do something new, go somewhere we’ve never been and talk to at least one person who we’ve never met before. Oh, and have a blast, but that usually comes naturally. During our excursions, not only have we gotten to learn a little bit more about the city, but we’ve also learned a little bit more about eachother; we have a friendship I’m really excited about and thankful for.


Dana and I on one of our many wonderful excursions. Love that girl. 
The dining room of the Indian food place. 

GOING TO TRY: One of my cousins here is part of the Chilean Navy and happens to be a big fan of sailing, off roading, surfing and so much more. One of my running buddies goes surfing often enough that he bought his own wetsuit. One of my volunteering opportunities is helping children with handicaps participate in a handful of outdoor sporting activities, like surfing. One of the beaches not too far from my house is famous for being a great place to learn to surf. One of the best surfers in the world comes to Valparaiso occasionally to work with children, teaching them how to do what he loves best. If you haven’t gotten the hint yet, SURFING is the next activity on my list of activities that tengo ganas de hacer (that I realllllly want to do).

My favorite season is autumn, and I miss the changing leaves, the crunch they make under my bike tires, the perfect sweatshirt and shorts weather, the smell of fresh pumpkin chocolate chip bread, the crisp, clean air, the growing excitement for Thanksgiving, and the million other little parts of fall that make fall fall to me. But it’s hard to be melancholy when here summer is on the way. Eventually my home state will be covered in snow, and I’ll be (hopefully!) at the beach, practicing my newly learned talent: surfing!!

This was taken at one of my volunteer session with ADAPTA (more to come on them later). Slacklining now, surfing in the future! 

This is my Chilean cousin Rodrigo (I can't say his name, and he can't say mine.. So we call eachother primo and prima) waiting for a wave on the beach where I'm hoping to go with him sometime.  



The Desert!

The driest hot desert in the entire world. Where some weather stations have NEVER received rain. Perhaps also the oldest desert on Earth as well. Used for filming Mars scenes, and often compared to the surface of the moon. Composed of mostly salt lakes, sand and felsic lava. One of the top three tourist locations in all of Chile. The Atacama Desert!!

For our prepaid excursion, the seven of us GAP students adventured to the North of Chile to a tiny, almost exclusively tourism driven town named San Pedro, located in the Atacama Desert. The week leading up to our trip, I heard countless promises that what I would see would be like nothing I’d ever seen before; I understand now why. Because we’re not allowed to miss school (technically), we were limited to a three day trip, and although we only saw a fraction of what the desert has to offer, what we did see was incredible. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves (well, with some commentary thrown in for good measure).


When I woke up from a pleasant plan ride nap, this is what I saw. On Friday, at around 4 am in the morning, a CIEE van picked us each up from our houses and shuttled us to the Santiago airport (a fun flash back moment as it was the same airport at which we arrived in Chile oh so long ago). From there we went through an extremely relaxed security process (didn’t even have to empty out the water bottles, and taking off shoes was an unheard of concept), boarded a small plane, and headed off to Calama. There, another van was awaiting us, and after checking in at our hotel, off we went to explore the desert!


From right to left: Glen. Marcia. Luis. Glen and Marcia both work for CIEE (and they’re married). We had gotten to know them a little bit throughout the semester as they are part of the teaching staff of one of our classes, but on this trip, we learned a whole lot more. They’re great. And then there’s Luis, our tour guide for the weekend. This photo was taken at our first vista stop, at Valle Luna (because in the valley, walking around, it looks an awful lot like the surface of the moon). The drive there was an adventure on its own because our van was not, in my opinion, equipped for off roading we were doing (there were several moments when we thought we were going over the edge).

Another important member of our travel group and my friend Maggie at the same valley. The little guy’s name is David. He’s the son of Marcia and Glen, bilingual, and often was the center of attention on our trip. The first day he greeted us with the biggest smile and a “hello STUdents” in his funky, mixed accent, and from that moment on, he made us all laugh on a regular basis, many times dragging one of us (usually Maggie actually), towards a hotel room saying, “You’re going to Jayy-ull!”

After sufficient photos were taken, we drove to another vista of the same valley to get a different perspective. This is Tommy modeling on the edge of the cliff (something that made Luis verrrry nervous). The white you see in on the top of the mountains is snow. The white you see below is all SALT.  

Another short van ride away, we arrived at an old salt mine. This is a photo of one of the natural rock formations called, “The Three Ladies.” Anna, Elena and I did our best to imitate the rock girls, interpreting how we pleased. (The other rock formation on the left doesn’t have a name, but I think it sort of looks like a broken heart…) Also, notice the color of the sky. It was so blue, so pure blue.



With the help of Luis, we each brought back a chunk of ground salt from San Pedro. Here is Tommy demonstrating how delicious the salt was (we all licked the ground that day..). Apparently it’s some of the best salt in the world, and I’m excited to try cooking with it sometime soon!

IMG_0911 IMG_0935
The two pictures above are two different types of salt formations, the first being more ice like and the second being more stalagmite like (the salt mine had both). From what I understood, when the extremely salty ground water rises to the surface, it quickly evaporates, leaving the salt behind in little, fragile peaks. Every time we stepped, it sounded like crunching leaves, as our weight crushed the little pillars. So much salt!!

Our next stop was Valle de Muerte (Chile has a Death Valley too!). Here we went on two hikes. The first, we were careful to follow a premarked path as to preserve the perfection in the sand dunes. We followed the trail up to the top, snapping pictures of the amazing landscape the entire way. I went barefoot, at first because I didn’t want to get sand in my shoes, but then later because the sand was incredibly soft and felt amazing on my feet. Being a desert and all, you’d think the sand would be unbearably hot, but it wasn’t. While we were there at least, the mornings were sweatshirt weather, around lunch time (1-3) it was t-shirt and still sweating hot, and then by the time the sun was setting, it was back to being cold.

Our second hike was a bit more adventurous and a lot longer. I loved it. We trekked through the dunes, and because there were no other footprints in sight, and because the landscape was so new and bizarre, it felt as if we were the first people in the world to discover such a treasure. Unreal. We hiked through caves, climbed on the rocks, and ran down the sandy dunes as fast as our legs could possibly carry us, occasionally wiping out completely. It was like a gigantic playground for teenagers, and it just so happened to be picture perfect as well. We had spent the hottest part of the day eating an extremely drawn out, three course meal (fresh zucchini soup and salad, main dish of stirfry like veggies and pasta, and an jiggly flan-like dessert), so the sun was warm but not threatening, and the sky, goodness, it stretched on forever, perfectly blue. Like a mother duck, Luis lead us through the desert, occasionally having to stop, count heads, and search for the missing duckling (because more often than not, one of us was not in sight).

But he liked us enough, because as a special treat, he instructed the driver to take us to his favorite place to watch the sunset. I’m a sunset lover through and through, and this was one of the best sunsets I’ve ever seen. There’s something about the vastness of a desert, the colors of the mountains from the sun’s last rays contrasting with the consistency of the blue sky, the change in temperature to a brisk chill, and the enduring silence that makes it mysterious, melancholy, romantic, beautiful. Truly, my photos do not do the real experience justice. When we finally went back to the hotel that night, we were all exhausted and fell asleep almost instantly. It’s crazy how much you can do in one day sometimes (especially compared to how little you can do during other days..), and Friday was definitely a bussssssy day.

Flamingos! We saw three different types of flamingos in the Atacama desert Saturday: The Andeam Flamingo, Chilean Flamingo and the James Flamingo (there are only five types in the whole world-fun fact). On the bus ride to the reserve, Luis spent the entire hour drive teaching us about the birds (Glen calls him a walking encyclopedia and for a good reason). Luis has studied more than 6 different majors, ranging from biology to campo medicine, and he’s San Pedro’s longest active guide, so he knows the region better than the back of his hand.

After the reserve, we went to a town named Toconao, named so because it means both place of stone and something similar to our concept of a ghost town. It was tiny, and like San Pedro, centered around tourism. There were tons of little shops selling the traditional touristy items, and because Luis knows everybody, we were able to meet one of the artisans and talk to her about her life. We also met some llamas, which apparently are quite delicious to eat and come in the form of llama empanadas (fun to say). I did not get the chance to try one this time though.

Our exciting excursion for the afternoon was to go to Leguna Cejar, which is a sink hole in the the desert with a salt concentration ranging from 5% to 28%. Thanks to all that salt, and a little bit of physics, we were able to float with our hands and our feet above the surface, and watching Anna try to dive was an entertaining experience. As long as you didn’t lick your lips or have annnny cuts, it was a blast. The water was freezing, but like usual, once your body became numb, it was more pleasant in the water than in the wind. Elena and I stayed in extra long, and at one point, we were the only people in the entire lake like body of water! When we got out, we all had white crusty salt on our faces, and similar decorations on our legs. Anna’s hair had streaks of salt that made her sloppy bun look like that of an 80 year old. The beach too was made up of even more salt, rather than traditional sand. So much salt.

That night (and then again Sunday morning), we were invited to Luis’s house/campground in order to learn about (and then make) pottery! In addition to being a tourguide, a campground host, a father of 6 children and a volunteer organizer, helping 30 teenagers with handicaps become integrated into society, he also happens to be a pottery expert, and has his work in the prestigious art store in San Pedro. No big deal. He gathers his own clay from the desert, prepares it in a special way and then creates beautiful vases with faces. We got to work with the sparkling mud, making our own creations, and I believe he’s even going to send us our final projects after they’ve been fired. We spent a solid two hours working diligently. And right before we had to go, Luis gave a demonstration of how he makes his basic vase. In three minutes. He’s really quite the talented guy.



As we were driving to the airport Sunday afternoon, it became evident how little of the desert we actually saw. If I get the chance, I would absolutely love to go back. But if not, that's alright too, because I had an absolute blast this time :) 




The Village

The ultimate paradox of being an exchange student is that while you’re growing up, maturing faster than you ever knew was possible, and becoming independent in countless aspects, you’re simultaneously reverting back to being a child in others. For me, this is especially true in the world of communication. There’s so much I’ve learned, I’ve experienced, I’ve witnessed, that I want to share and to express, but alas I can barely speak and understand at a five year old’s level. However, fortunately for me, I am not alone here. It takes a village to raise a child as they say, and five year old me has exactly that here to help me along the road. Welcome to my village! IMG_0087
Really, I have the most attractive friends. We spend a lot of time together, relaxing, grunting, occasionally flopping into the ocean, and the best part is, we understand eachother flawlessly; there's none of this language barrier nonesense. I'm hoping when summer finally comes (because it IS coming), I'll see these guys even more. 

Up next: My family. My mother, Monica, is in every way a mother to me. For example, yesterday was a long day, a tiring day, and a day where I felt as if my level of Spanish was going nowhere (a universal experience when learning another language), and when I finally got home, I was low on energy and self confidence. She immediately noticed something was wrong, so she sat me down in the kitchen, made me some hot tea with lemon, and gave me a mother talk. At the end, she concluded with the promise that as my mother, she is here to support me in times of difficulty, to celebrate with me in times of success, to listen to me when I need to talk, and to love me throughout the entire wild ride that we call life. I love her. She's also one of the strongest women I know, and despite everything she’s been through and going through now, she still maintains a practically flawless, cheerful disposition, one like which I aspire to have one day. She works in the nearby city of Concon doing some sort of complicated paper work for the oil refinery, but she's usually home for lunch which I really like. IMG_0825Four reasons this photo is perfect: 1. It's family love, mother and daughter. 2. We're in her bed. That's something that's completely normal here that I was not used to when I first arrived. Chileans spend a lot of time in their bed rooms, particularly in the bed of their parents, and when company comes over, there's no shame in inviting them into the bedroom as well. 3. FOOD. Siempre comida. We are always eating here, and I'm super excited because it's strawberry season. My mom has promised me I'm going to be sick of them; ha, let her try! 4. I'm wearing her scarf. My mom in the US and I share scarves, and my mother and I in Chile share scarves (although I have less to offer in return here..). What's mine is yours, what's yours is mine. We really do live like a family. 

My sister’s name is Catalina, but we all call her Cata. She’s fifteen, and in many ways reminds me of my brother back home: wise beyond her years, smarter than most her age, passionate about reading, introverted, and my best friend in Chile. If it wasn’t for her...gosh I can’t even imagine. Especially in the first couple of days, and even now, her infinite patience with me is incredible, and I can always count on her to help me with everything from the daily language struggles to my lack of suitable footwear. We watch movies, cook unusual foods together, wander around the city, have really slow but wonderful conversations, and basically live the sibling life. There have been multiple nights where Cata, some tea, the cookie jar and I have our own little party. Also, she LOVES cats. Today we had a snow fight with those fascinatingly horrible packaging peanuts; I haven’t cleaned my room since so every time I enter, squuiiiish. 

Currently her hair is what we've described as sandwhich purple, because the top of her head is quite purple as are the tips, but the middle section is lacking sufficient dye. She's a confident one (normal is boring she once explained), and I love her smile and style. 

For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted an older brother. Here in Chile, I have just that. His name is Christian, and he is 24 years old, studying to become a veterinarian, living at home (which is the normal here for many college students), used to have crazy hair, and is definitely is brother like. There’s this game we have in which one person makes the okay hand symbol and if the other person sees it, they get punched. There are a couple other rules, but they’re not worth explaining. I’ve spent several nights hanging out with him and his friends, and when we go out, he’s an excellent protective brother. He, like Cata, knows a solid amount of english and is helpful when I’m searching for a word, but unlike Cata, he prefers to not slow down his rapid spew of Spanish or enunciate his words more than necessary, which is both annoying and helpful at the same time (although probably more helpful in the long run).

This photo was taken during our make shift band concert. It's very, very Christian, especially the look he was giving me when I snapped the photo. 

Beyond my immediate family, there’s my extended family. I’ve made empanadas with my abuela, discussed Chilean politics with one of my uncles, ate ice cream with my twin cousins, gone out with my second cousin, and just this past week, I met the ENTIRE extended family. They’re all incredibly welcoming people, and despite my low level of spanish, they were excited to talk with me and interact with me. They also have officially all invited me back to their houses whenever I want, which is something I hope to take advantage of in the future, as I would love to get to know them more and perhaps go surfing! Really, they’re great.

These are ALL my cousins here (and me!)

This is one of my casi primos (literal translate almost cousin, aka second cousin). He stopped by one afternoon for a scrumptious salmon meal and a little bit of live music. (He's studying theater and works as a chef)

Another relationship in which language barriers don't exist. We got along wonderfully! Although playing with him reminded me of my little cousins back in the states who are probably growing up awfully fast while I'm here.. 

Then there’s my running family, mi equipo. Through a series of connections and emails, I found a group of runners, most of which are university age, that meet several times a week to train. It’s an extremely relaxed atmosphere which I like, and I enjoy being the gringa of the team. Plus, they are wonderful, WONDERFUL people. They’ve welcomed me into their community, and helped me along step by step, occasionally explaining the workout four or five times or coming to pick me up from the metro station so I don’t get lost. We’ve ran one race together, and I got to wear a Nike Chile Run jersey! They also were the first to introduce me to terremotos (the drink named after earthquakes and for a good reason), completos (low quality hot dogs with tons of tomatoes, onions, avocado, mayo and ketchup), and drinking jenga. Joining the team is definitely the best decision I’ve made here thus far.

1238027_10201140179960606_1320356314_nThose who run together...


PARTY together :) 

One of the benefits about going abroad through a program like CIEE is the connection and support that comes along with it. There are seven of us GAP kids, and I think that although we all have different personalities and backgrounds, we all have something bigger in common; it takes a certain type of person to partake in an adventure like this. It’s comforting to have friends who are going through similar situations, and we all have eachother when we need a cheering up or a second opinion on culture bizarreness. Then there are the 40+ CIEE college kids who, although are studying at a different university here, are still very much part of my village. In addition to being friendly people, they are more than willing to share their insight on both living independently and traveling independently that they’ve gained in their years of college. And of course, the organization CIEE itself has its own assets. We have group excursions (like the Campana hike or photography studio), cookies and coffee in a comforting and always inviting office/study/library/computer room/balcony space, and a web support from the people who work there.

IMG_0339Some GAP friends in La Serena! Hazel (one of the sweetest people you'll ever meet). Tommy (hilarious and guaranteed to tell you exactly what he is thinking). Maggie (always willing to share her amazing adventures and down for everything)IMG_0618Other GAP friends at La Campana! Elena (definitely the mother of the group, responsible, caring, and prepared for whatever comes her way). Anna (our friendly, giggling friend who almost always has her mate drink). And me.  


More GAP! (photo credit-Maggie) Simon (a true lover of adventure and everything climbing) And the boy climbing, Andrew, is a gap year student as well, just not through CIEE. 

This is Nicolas, one of the college CIEE kids who also happens to practically be my neighbor. He took my backpack on it's first adventure in South America last week when he went to Machu Picchu, and this weekend, I'll be wearing his hat. It's nice to have someone who's got your back (and a converter) when you need it. 

Gloria! One of the people who works at the CIEE office. We've spent a lot of time together recently trying to set up one of my volunteer projects, and throughout the process, I've learned a couple of fun spanish phrases. Saca la mochila de tu cabeza (get rid of the backpack in your head) means more or less, don't worry, throw away your troubles! 

So if I’m not only studying with other gap students, and I’m obviously not in basic spanish classes with Chileans, who then are my classmates? Even more intercambios! (exchange students). In my class, there are six Americans and four students from Germany, but at UVM, there are also students from France, Austria, Mexico, and Spain. I definitely have not met them all, but everybody who I have talked to has been great, and I've made some very close friends.  620736_10151511023361486_1963112601_oThis is from when we went to Santiago, and it was on this trip that Maggie and I met two Spanish boys who we later cooked scones with. 

(photo credit-Hannah) This is Dana, one of my best friends in Chile. We spend every Tuesday together, usually exploring Valparaiso. She has an incredible sense of curiosity that has gotten us into some cool situations and places. We're on opposite ends of the college spectrum (she having just graduated, and me having yet to start), but we get along really well, and I'm excited to see where else our adventures will take us!

Edvin and I in Santiago. He is from Finland, studying medicine there, really enjoying surfing here, and is my Tuesday morning hill concuring buddy. We speak in English together, and through our conversations, I've learned a lot about Finnish culture. Moose burgers are a thing. 

The best thing about Chile, in my opinion, are the Chileans. Every day, on my way to school, the metro man smiles and waves to me (he works in the booth where you can charge more money onto your card). The friendly elderly couple who owns the used book store on the main street in Vina know me by name and always have suggestions for what should be my next piece of classic literature (for those under the age of 10...). Dana and I discovered one of the only libraries within miles after the woman sitting next to us at a concert started up a conversation with us, and another time we met a student from Santiago who was working on his PhD here when we joined us for a casual (and delicious) Indian style lunch. I met two students at a bar the first week I was here, and they’ve taken me out a couple of times since, introducing my friend and I to the best local bars and their friends as well. People here know how to make you feel welcome, and these are only a few of the examples of how Chileans have gone out of their way to introduce me to their culture, help me with the foreign language, and even just make me smile.


Angelo, Sebastian and I on one of our bar excursions. Amen for their patience in conversation... 

And then of course there’s everybody back home in the United States. I may be the furthest I’ve even been from home, but that doesn’t stop the incredible amount of love and support I’ve received. I love getting updates about how the college experience is treating my friends, and the occasional hi, hope you’re doing well letter makes my day every time. Because speaking English is not something I should be doing all that often, I don’t get to talk to family and friends as much as I would like, but I treasure every opportunity I get. There are little things here that remind me of people and places back in the US, and I love that. Words like gunwale, places like sand dunes, activites like push ups, drinks like mate. To me, one of the most essential parts of traveling is having a home to eventually return to; it's what separates a viaje, an adventure, from just wandering.  IMG_2680My family in the US. Oh how I love them. It's hard sometimes, especially to not be there for your brother's first day of high school, or your mother's birthday, and I miss our family dinner time when we shared our day to day experiences, but they have been amazingly supportive nonetheless. We get to skype every Sunday, and for that, I am hugely greatful. 


Finally, there’s Uri (remember him?). We’re still pals. Yes I’ve had to drag myself out of my cozy bed to let him inside or outside and other times we’ve fought over who gets the best spot on the couch, but I must admit, I love being greeted by his ecstatic bouncing when I’m coming home. Also, a little update on that metaphor I mentioned oh so long ago about the dog circling around before laying down. IMG_0823

Today is the start of month number three (I can’t believe it either...!). Although there are still new surprises every day, I am much more familiar with my surroundings than when I first arrived (duh), and I’ve started to establish a bit of a routine. However, I definitely don’t feel ready to lay down. I’m too stubborn to admit that I’m experiencing culture shock (and in all honesty I don’t think it’s quite that level), but this week was a bit more rough. It was week three of this annoying, and seemingly endless cold, and because it gets worse before it gets better, I’ve spent several nights coughing instead of sleeping (trust me, sleep is essential when you’re living somewhere where you don’t speak the language). I also was forced to learn an important lesson this week. One of the reasons I took this gap year was to learn how to disfruitar (relax), but fun fact, no matter where you go in the world, time is the same, and it’s just as elusive. But I survived of course (much thanks to my village :) ), and although there will still be times of trouble in my future, at least I’m this much stronger and more prepared. So, I’m still sniffing my newish home out, loving almost every minute of it, and looking forward to my trip this weekend to the DRIEST DESERT in the world!

And there you have it, my village. I've learned you should never underestimate the influence you have in other people's lives, and I owe much of my happiness to these people. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. And thanks for reading!  


Obvious or Curious?


The image above (brought to you by an HSBC advertisement) was the hot topic in my CIEE class last week, as it demonstrated how the same object (or value) can be viewed in extremely different ways depending on culture, background, personality, and whatever else makes you, you and me, me. Part of living happily in a new culture is being able to identify your own culture and then recognize and accept the differences in your new environment. Almost always, like in the example above, there is no right or wrong way; it’s only a matter of personal opinion. Our homework assignment for the week was to take 10 photos in Valparaiso, five of which struck us as “Obvious” (things we immediately recognize and understand), and five of which were more “Curious” (things that puzzle us or made us wonder) and then discuss the photos with a Chilean.  Here is my collection of photos along with a little bit of what my host mother and I talked about. Feel free to quiz yourself as well along the way; what do you think of each photo? Obvious or curious? 


Obvious. There’s of course the houses, the street art (which is something that has become normal for me), the cars, the winding, narrow road, the electrical wires, but what my host mother and I talked about most was the mother and daughter walking. Even though we're from different cultures and even have different perspectives (her being a mother and a daughter while I've only experienced the second), we both can relate to this relationship and understand what's going on. 


Curious. We agreed that this photo was curious because neither of us are “acostumbrada” to seeing houses  like this one. Based off its old, and run down appearance, one could guess that it has been abandoned, and it doesn't look particularly livable (at least based of what we are both used to). But then again, there’s a flag in the window...


Obvious and Curious. To me, this photo is obvious; it’s something I immediately recognize and understand. There are parts of supermarkets here that are wildly different (like jam and ketchup and mayonnaise in a bag and the cheese selection), but this particular produce section is practically identical to what I'm used to seeing in stores back home. However, my host mom found this photo curious. She explained that because the grocery store is so common, so normal, so habitual, when she sees this photo, it makes her stop and think; it’s so ordinary that it's curious, if that makes any sense.


Obvious and Curious. To my host mother, of course this image is obvious; she recognizes the street, she knows the stores, and the stop sign is something that has been a part of her life for as long as she can remember. I still find this image curious though, because of the stop sign. It makes sense for it to be in Spanish, as Chile is a Spanish speaking country, but the stop signs in every other country I’ve been to say “STOP” regardless of what language is spoken. Germany, France and the Netherlands have stop signs identical to those in the US, but here, although the shape is the same, the wording isn’t, and I find that curious.

Obvious. My mother found this image of a mural obvious because she is familiar this exact location, and I found it obvious because of its strong connection to Van Gogh’s work, both in content and style (I love how art can be so universal). Different reasonings but same conclusion.


Curious. Here is another picture of street art in Valparaiso, but one that we both found curious. Although the central image has the body and hair of a usually beautiful creature, its face is one of a monster. We discussed whether or not the painting is supposed to have a deeper significance or message (what is true beauty for instance), what was the artist’s inspiration, and what the surrounding graffiti could possibly symbolize.


Obvious. Clothes hanging up to dry is something that wasn’t obvious to me when I first arrived, but now that I’ve seen almost the exact same drying system in all the houses here and have dried my clothes the same way for the past two months, this image is as obvious to me as it is to my mother. Plus red doors are special to me because they are something that reminds me of my family back home; my aunt always says they’re the most inviting.

Obvious and Curious. Having lived next door to a port for practically all her life, the unloading process of new cars is something that is normal and obvious to my mother. However, for me, watching a worm like stream of cars drive off the boat and into perfectly aligned rows was new and intriguing. I learned during our conversation that the cars weren’t coming to Chile permanently like I had assumed. Soon another ship would arrive, and they would all be driven right back on board and sent off to a different country, most likely the US.


Obvious. My host mother and I agreed that this image is obvious. I took the picture, not because of the flutist, although the mural is familiar as well, but because of the smaller painting on top. It’s the symbol of Valparaiso, and I’ve seen it all around the city, on buildings, on fliers, in the classroom, and on menus. There are even large statues of it along the roads leading into Valparaiso. 


Curious. A street market stand selling paintings of different musicians is not something that’s unusual on its own, but my mother and I both found this particular grouping to be curious. Violeta Parra, Marilyn Monroe and Violetta together mixes cultures, decades and types of music, and of all the people, why them?





There are some images that less than 2 months ago would have been completely foreign and different to me that I would now classify as obvious, and there are other images that will always remain curious regardless of how long I stay here. I think the same holds true with values and ideas. Although I came here to learn about Chilean culture, I've found that along the way, I'm learning more about my own culture as well, and while I can morph certain aspects of it and add to it as I learn, ultimately it's who I am, and I'll never be able to change that. How about that for obvious or curious?












"I think I see a Mountain!"

Last week I was talking with my host mother when I mentioned that I wanted to go skiing sometime in Chile. She warned me that the season was nearing its end, especially for most of the ski resorts close to where we live, and she explained that if I wanted good snow, I should probably go sooner rather than later. Five days later, on Friday morning, my new friend Evert and I paid the equivalent of five dollars each and hopped onto a coach bus, destination Santiago. We arrived in the capital city about two hours later, dropped our stuff off at a hostel near the center of the city (and smack dab in the center of all the nightlife, the reviews promised), and began to explore the area. After some aimless wandering around the dead quiet neighborhood (apparently there aren't many people out before noon on a Friday of vacation..), we decided to hit up some of the places suggested by a traveler's best friend, Lonely Planet. We took a tour in Spanish of Pablo Neruda's house in Santiago, ate lunch at the restaurant across the street from a famous seafood palace (because the prices were one third the price), walked through the central park, admiring the statues and the graffiti on the statues, went to the Plaza de Armas, but didn't go into the museums because they were all still closed due to the holidays, and ate ice cream at a Chilean chain ice cream shop that claims to be one of the top 25 ice cream parlors in all of the world. We also visited Cerro St. Cristo. I had been before, but Evert hadn't and the view is a must. This time though, instead of taking the ascensor, we hiked up to the top; it wasn't Campana level by any means, but it was a lovely walk. 

A taste of the different street art found in Santiago in the Bellavista neighborhood.

Evert reading one of Pablo Neruda's poems outside his house in Santiago (more on Pablo to come another day) 

Fairly typical dining atmosphere in the Capital city-one man band included. 

Cerro Cristo a second time. 

Packing our tuna and avocado lunch for the next day. Points for resourcefulness!

Friday night was a night of relaxation (in anticipation for a crazy Saturday), and instead of going out, we hung out in the hostel and met our 10 other roommates, listened to their adventure stories and learned all the cool things people are doing in Chile these days. For example, one boy from the US was about to go on a three month trip to Patagonia, backpacking for half the time and sea kayaking the other half. Cool, huh? I love hostels!

Saturday morning, we woke up before the sun and headed off to Ski Total, a sketchy looking store about a 45min bus ride away from the hostel. After gathering all the equipment we were going to need, we boarded a large white van with some other eager future mountain skiers, and off we went. It practically never rains in Chile, at least where I live (it's rained once since I've arrived), but of course Saturday was the second time, and as we began our ascent, the rain began to fall. It was not looking promising.

  IMG_0515Photo taken from the bus ride up-notice the cactus covered in snow!! 

But I shouldn't have worried. Once we passed the tree line, the cactus line, and the pretty much everything that's not snow or rock line, it became quite obvious that a lack of snow was not going to be a problem we were going to encounter. In fact, it was almost the opposite. I wish I could show you an incredible view, of me standing on top of a snow covered mountain with the most amazing Andes view stretched out behind me, perhaps the small ski village off in the distance, and the sun sparkling on freshly groomed snow. But I can't. Here is the closest I have…



As you can see, everything was WHITE! We could barely see one chair ahead of us on the chairlift, and despite the fact that we were at the LARGEST SKI RESORT in all of South America, we probably saw less than 200 people total on all of the slopes. In the middle of one of the less frequented runs, I stopped. All around me was pure white. I couldn't see anything in front of me, behind me, on either side of me or even above me: only whiteness. And silence too. It was one of the most impressionate moments I've ever experienced, because it felt as if I was completely and utterly alone in nowhere. Incredible.


I'm sure some would argue that the ski conditions themselves were less than ideal, but for me, skiing in the Andes in almost two feet of fresh powder (not even groomed), was more than I could have asked for. Quite often, I was blazing my own ski trail, and when I would look down at my feet there would be no evidence of skies; they were completely buried under the blanket of rapidly moving snow. I wipped out, full on face first, rolling dives, probably 7 or 8 times, but none of them hurt even the least because there was so much fluffy snow. On the more popular runs, the trails of all the skiers formed almost powder moguls which were a wonderful adventure for me. In their trails, the conditions were perfect for carving and speeding down the hill with control, but as soon as I'd hit a powdered section, the momentum of my lower body would slow much faster than my upper body could register, and BOOM down I'd fly. Snow eating time! It was fantastic.

Skiing on one of the main slopes after the sky cleared up enough to take pictures.

Yo me caí !

About an hour before we had to leave, the sky started to clear up. We were able to make out the sun, the chair lift wires and poles, the occasional other skier, and I think, I´m not 100% sure, but I think I saw a mountain!

On the drive back, when we stopped to take off the snow chains, then there was a stunning view, and despite the fact that we were all drained of energy, everybody hoped out of the van to take pictures.  Funny how we spent the entire day skiing in the Andes, and it wasn't until the way down that we could distinguish a moutain from white.    


Evert and I napped on the bus ride back to the base and then concluded our day with some live music at a local bar (a mix of spanish pop and 80s classics) and some drinks. By 4am, we had reached maximum fatigue and headed back to our home for the night. The word asco in Spanish means gross or disgusting, and my grammar teacher once explained that some people have nicknamed the capital city as Santiasco, because it is a big city, full of big city characteristics, like pollution, graffiti (but not the beautiful Valparaiso kind), busy people, noisy traffic, etc. My first experience in the city was more Santiasco like; I was not impressed. However, after this weekend, I have a much greater appreciation for the city. The beauty perhaps is not a clear as it is in other cities, but it does exist, and it has successfully captivated me;  I am already planning my next trip.

Sunset on the mountains in Santiago (photo credit-Evert)


When we returned to Valparaiso, we had one last mission. Because the weather is acting slightly unusual here (like it is in many other parts of the world..), it was not quite as hot as we were hoping, but none the less, we did the Chile thing; within 24 hours, I went skiing in the Andes and swimming (well almost swimming) in the ocean. Not too bad, eh?

  IMG_0565One of the beaches near my house. 


La Campana

Last week I told my host mother that I was going to La Campaña on Sunday with a group of students in CIEE. Every day after that, she’d ask me, “Donde vas domingo?” and I’d patiently respond with the same answer: La Campaña. Only when we were both home late on Sunday night did I learn that there is a difference between la Campaña and la Campana. The first is just a campground in general, and the second is where I actually went. La Campana, a cerro in the Andes. 

Standing on top of a 6,168 foot tall mountain, overlooking miles upon miles of mountains, forests, cities, and even the ocean. Friends? Check. Endorphins? Check. Homemade bread and spinach tortilla for lunch? Check. Fresh mountain water? Check. Favorite running shoes? Check. Chilean flag? Courtesy of two friendly Spanish hikers who were enjoying the view as well. I couldn't have asked for anything more really.

On Sunday, a group of CIEE students and I climbed Campana, my first mountain climbing experience. The first three hours of the climb were hike-like; the trail was a skinny, dirt and rock path, shaded by trees and interrupted only by the occasional large boulder, and although it was steep, the trekking was straight forward. We stopped a few times to fill up our water bottles in the fresh water stream, and thanks to a plaque on a rock, the only male student on the hike, and a little bit of imagination, we were able to hear the words of Darwin himself, describing his thoughts when he traversed the same mountain we were struggling up. 


Then came the real climbing. For the last two hours of our journey, we looked less and less like hikers, and more and more like bears, scrambling up the field of rocks on all fours, sweating, stomachs growling. (below is Caterina-one of my hiking comarades with a beautiful name) 


But of course, it was all worth it, for when we arrived at the summit, the view was stunning. 



Coming down was, in my opinion, much more difficult, and despite my arm flapping balance strategy, I fell 6 times. Also on the way down, yo toque una tarantula! Toque does not mean stomped on, or crushed, or ran away from, or screamed at, or pushed off the cliff; rather, it means touched. When we were about half an hour from base camp, somebody spotted this little guy (later named Carlos), and after much convincing on Ceasar’s part, the tarantula was passed around several pairs of hands. It’s hard to say who was more scared, us or Carlos. Here’s a photo of Ceasar and Carlos when they were first getting acquainted. 


Here are my hiking companions!! IMG_0640

And here's what La Campana looks like from the base camp. 


The bus ride back was quite, as most us were either eating fruit and cookies or sleeping. When I returned home, the house was empty, and my dinner was waiting patiently for me on the table. Turns out my family had gone out for “once” at a nearby cafe, and so instead of eating alone, I had a skype dinner date with my mother and brother in the United States. Over my chicken, rice and salad, I got to listen to my brother’s first week of high school experiences and hear about my mother’s week of work; it was almost like I was back in my living room, eating dinner with them in Wisconsin. I always miss them most after our weekly skype session, but it’s an experience I’m extremely grateful for. Needless to say, I slept well that night. Yet another great day in Chile :) 



Universidad Vina del Mar

In honor of my brother’s first day of high school, this blog post will be centered around classes, classes, classes. (Good luck Karl!) 

 My first class starts at 8:20am sharp every Monday morning. Well, maybe not sharp, as punctuality is not of great importance here, but nonetheless it is an early beginning to a full week. And it’s Gramatica. Fortunately my teacher is a young Chilean woman with a glowing energy and a genuine interest in teaching us what we need to know to survive here grammatically wise, so it’s not hard to stay awake and focused. We’ve reviewed (and in some cases learned) the basics of Spanish grammar such as present conjugations, agreement, ser vs estar, and other similar topics thus far, but we’ve also learned some Chilean grammar “rules.” For instance, a Spanish student in the US would say, “Cuantos anos tienes?” but here, you hear, “Cuantos anos teni?” There’s even a Chilean author who, in his books, writes the tu form verbs like teni, quieri, vivi etc, because it’s so Chilean. This class meets three times each week, and there are 7 students in it, five from the US and two from Germany. 

 My next class is Cultura, which meets four times a week. Just like our grammar teacher, our Cultura teacher speaks to us only in Spanish unless we’re specifically asking for a word translation. The first week we learned different adjectives to describe people, and then we used them to describe the differences between Chileans and people from the US (you don’t say Americans here because Chileans are Americans too). One day we had a debate over whether the street art in Valparaiso should be considered art or if it’s actually graffiti and vandalism, and all of us students have given a ten minute presentation on a city somewhere in the country. I gave my presentation on Pucon, which is a tiny, tourism centered, adventure town about 10 hours south of here. It’s on my list of places to go, the main attractions being an active volcano you can trek up, more hotsprings than there are colleges in Boston (although I’m not sure if I believe that or not..), horseback riding, and white water rafting. 

 Ortofonia just started up this week (and today was my first day!). My teacher, Pedro,(yep, that’s his name-I can’t say it properly..yet..) is hilarious, and he studied in France for a semester, so he understands personally our struggle with pronunciation. Today we repeated words after him, individually and as a group, and there was already plenty of laughter among us. One girl is from Texas, so imagine her accent! Plus, over half the class is German, so there were a couple of times when I found myself repeating the words with their accent rather than the correct Chilean way. Oops! Phonetics is something we use everyday, but never think about (or at least I hadn’t until today), and I can already tell that this class is going to make a world of a difference for me. For a taste of our class, put your hand flat upon the top of your head. Then say “eeeeee” and then “eehhhhh.” You’ll probably notice that during the first noise, you can feel a sort of vibration. Interesting, huh?

 Once a week, I have another culture class that’s taught through CIEE. We meet at their office rather than the university (which isn’t too bad considering there’s always free coffee, tea and cookies available), and only the GAP students are part of it. Sometimes we speak english, sometimes we speak Spanish, but most often we use both, mixing the two even within sentences; that’s my favorite. This class is all over the place, but not in a bad way. We have three different teachers and tons of different topics that are all being taught at the same time, but it means we get quite the variety. We’ve talked about names, cultural differences, traditions, learning styles, and yesterday we went on a field trip to a dark room studio in Valparaiso. We got to develop a photo, and afterwards we went out for a delicious (and free) meal. Yum! 

 I have another class that’s only for us Gap kids that is taught on Thursdays by a psychologist. Throughout the semester, we’re going to be talking about the education system, what life is like for children and adults with disabilities here, and the orphanage system. It’s a really long class, but I think once we get more into the information, it’ll be interesting and worth the time. Here there is a law that allows families to choose where they send their children to school (instead of school districts). However, because there are certain schools that receive more applications that they can accept, the reality is that the schools get to pick their students too. Public education is free; private is not, and schools can see how much money families make. Thus what tends to happen is those who can pay go to the best schools in the area, and the rest usually go to the school that’s closest. There’s a lot of unrest about education in Chile right now, and I’m interested in learning more about what individual students and parents think. 

 So there you have the basics of my education here in Chile. It’s more work than I was expecting coming into the program, but usually there’s less homework than an average college class would give. I’ve also signed up for two things called tallers, which are similar to classes but less intense. One is about general politics and the other is a book binding class. These specific tallers last for one month, meet in a community park in Valparaiso, and instead of straight up paying for them, each student brings some sort of nonperishable food to exchange. I’m excited and nervous, as they will be my first and only classes with Chileans thus far. I hope I can understand enough to get by! 

Also: Today one of my host cats, the one that helped me eat breakfast in the morning, enjoyed the comforts of my clothing drawer, and never ceased to find the smallest things in life entertaining, was hit by a car outside our house. She died on the spot. Rest in peace little Mancha, mi manchita. However, with today’s sorrow came joy as well, as we welcomed a new baby into the world, the daughter of my host brother’s friend. Welcome to Chile, Ailenen. I hope you love it here as well. 


It's as easy as ABC

APRENDER- The verb for “to learn.” 

I’ve been in Chile for 28 days now, and still there is no shortage of this happening. One day while I was walking home from school, I saw an adorable little bookstore. Knowing that reading is a wonderful way to improve communication skills in a foreign language and also that libraries and book stores are practically nonexistent here, I was eager to stop in. I was even more excited when I noticed that the sign mentioned the word “cambiar” or to change (one of my new vocabulary words). From what I understood, this was a place books came to change lives-a used book store! But my Spanish abilities failed me yet again, and instead of finding a collection of used books, I found myself surrounded in a store completely filled with books about Jesus and God. Oops! I ended up satisfying my craving for literature later on that week at a market stand in Valparaiso.  I’m proud to say my first spanish book is La Principito (The Little Prince. Le Petit Prince).  

 On Saturday, a large group of exchange students from my university went to Santiago for the day. We stopped by the Palacio de La Moneda (where the president Sebastian Pinera works), we toured a couple of museums (with exhibits ranging from Africa to Antarctica to dead bodies), we visited one of the many famous churches (this one was called Catedral Metropolitana), we wandered through el Parque Forestal, and to end the day, we rode in an ascensor to the top of Cerro San Cristobal to watch the sun set. The city is enormous and busy busy busy. My culture teacher described my feelings best when she said she loves Santiago but only because she’s not living there; it’s definitely a place to visit. My favorite part of the day was either seeing the city from on top of the hill...


Or hugging a llama in the middle of a downtown market..


 Another day, I had one of those conversations that can change the course of life. Dramatic, I know. It was with another American, a young woman named Ahzha. She had stayed with the same family several years ago (I’m their 10th gringa!), and she and one other chico were the first gap year students to come to Chile through CIEE. It was inspiring to hear how good her spanish was, and we chatted about the family, the city, and our experiences (well at least mine thus far). She also shared her insight on what’s best to do on a Thursday night (an old salsa club that I might have to check out), what to do when the infamous culture shock attacks (like perhaps go for a stroll on the beach), which cities I should definitely travel to (Pucon!!), and how to make the @ on a spanish keyboard (trust me, it’s a lot harder than you’d think). She also introduced me to something called a TESL certificate (Teaching English as a Second Language). Considering how my plans for second semester are very much in the air, perhaps I’ll follow her footsteps yet again and become a teacher somewhere in South America. Could be cool, don’t you think? 


BAILAR- The verb for “to dance.” 

 After fourteen years of tights, leotards, mirrors, barres, first positions, releves and pas de chats, I’m finding I really miss dance class. This hole in my life has forced me to find new, inventive ways to get my fix of musical movement. A couple of times, when nobody else is home, I’ve used the living room as a stage and jammed out by myself for a little bit. It’s not quite the same, but I’m surviving. I also went to my first discotec with my host brother, one of his friends and my host cousin. It was an interesting experience with out a doubt, but a fun one too. We ran into some of my friends from the university and one of the guys who has connections with probably half the city by now got us into a select, list only club. “Ooooh” It was loud, crowded, and crazy! 

 On a bit more classy of a note, I’ve been learning the cueca here and there too. The cueca is the national dance of Chile, and apparently, in about two weeks I’m going to be very thankful I know it. (Chile’s independence day is September 18, and they celebrate hard). My sister Cata claims it looks like the mating dance between two chickens. Depending on who’s dancing, sometimes she’s spot on. I’ve seen a two couples who take cueca classes dance it, and they make it look graceful, and extremely flirty. Me? The chicken description, if I’m lucky. 

My first cueca class was on Friday with all the CIEE students. We had a culture day at this farm that was way out in the country, surrounded by mountains and green green green! It was probably the most serene scene I’ve seen thus far in Chile, and I’m hoping I’ll be able to adventure back sometime later this semester. Anyways, back to the dance. We all lined up, and for about an hour, tried to mimic our young teacher’s side step, or stomping rhythm pattern, or delicate twirling hand. There was a competition afterwards, and my dear friend Maggie and I did not win. What a surprise. But it was definitely a giggling worthy experience, and I had a lovely time. 

The second time was with students from the university. Since the class was outside in the chilly evening air, we warmed up with a traditional Mapuche dance. The girls part required a lot of hips moving in figure eights, and the guys part...well it had a lot of hip movement too, but I have no idea how to describe it. My years of dance did not prepare me enough for the Mapuche War Dance I guess. After we were warmed up and humbled, we learned the very basic movements. Much of it was repetition for me, but I didn’t mind learning again. I have a better understanding of the dance overall, but I don’t know if you could call my movements dancing yet. Guy meets girl. Walk arm and arm for a bit. Leaves girl and they both clap for a while, a syncopated beat. When the singing starts, make two s shape movements, make some half moons, stomp some feet, switch places, do a little jig, make another s, and end arm and arm again. In total, the dance lasts about 1.5 minutes. I’m optimistic about the cueca, because I’m pretty sure I could not be any worse at it. Can’t wait to learn more! (below you can see us doing the Mapuche War Dance) 


COCINAR- The verb for “to cook.” 

Cooking here is bonding in food form. How perfect! At the same culture day activity (the one on Friday with CIEE kids) I learned how to make sopaipillas. They’re that delicious, orange, deep fried pastry that’s popular on rainy days, and now that I have a basic understanding of the recipe, I’m going to be eating a lot more of them. This time we ate some of them with pevre, which is the Chilean salsa, and some of them with a dusting of powder sugar. I think I ate 6. It’s impressive really that nobody here uses recipes. When I help my host mother make lunch, she just throws whatever she thinks looks good into a pot and lets it simmer. One day, the stew looked a bit too watery to her, and to my surprise and initial horror, she grabbed some bread, soaked it in water, drained it a little bit and then stuck it in the soup. I was hesitant to try the bready, gooey, mixture, but of course, she knew what she was doing, and it was delicious. I’m hoping I’ll be able to have a collection of Chilean recipes by the time I return home, or at least an idea of what the ingredients are. 

One of Cata’s friends, came over with her mother one evening. Her mother loves to sew, and so she adjusted the waist of some pants I found at a thrift store (the green ones in the dancing picture above), while Karla (the friend), Cata, and I made lemon meringue pie. Amazing! Karla is a fantastic cook and an all around cheery person. I like her already. 


(Oh, also, my hair is purple! It was Cata's idea, and why not?)

My most recent cooking adventure could be described as book a success and a failure. Maggie (a CIEE gap friend), and two chicos from Spain came over to my house one evening to make scones. For whatever reason, the batter ended up being really liquidy, much more like brownie batter’s consistency than the stiff scone one, and so our “scones” resembled muffin tops, kind of purple-ish blobs. One of the guys, Daniel (they’re both named Daniel actually), and I both cut ourselves on the flour jar in that perfect way that doesn’t hurt but involves a lot of blood. That was the failure part. However, we all had a lovely time, and the final products ended up being quite tasty. Success :) 






Que es una corrida?

Today I learned a new word. Last week, one of the student mentors posted something about a running club and inquired if anybody was interested in joining. We emailed back and forth a couple of times (all in Spanish), and from what I understood, there was a group that was meeting on Sunday at Puerto. Perfect right? 

 So I woke up, threw on some running clothes under my make-shift pajamas, (it was too cold for just the t-shirt and shorts combination), grabbed some bread to go, and jogged down to the metro. Apparently the metro doesn’t like mornings (8:30 isn’t even that early..), and although I couldn’t read the pealing sign, the gates were locked and there was no metro in sight. No worries though; I decided I’d try my hand out on taking the micro (the little city buses). I’ve never gone on one alone before, and I didn’t really have the best idea as to where I was going (I only knew the metro stop), but I flagged down a micro anyways, paid the fee, and hopped on (thankfully it was the right micro!). There are no planned stops here, nor are there time schedules. I got off when the micro started to turn away from the Mar (the majority of my sense of direction is based off the mar), and I wandered around for a bit until I found some people wearing running attire. I followed them to the main plaza in Valparaiso, and much to my surprise, I found myself not at a meeting spot for a running club, but at a race! 

At first I was completely overwhelmed and wanted nothing more than to turn around and go right home. Races are always chaotic, and this one was even more so, especially since I had no idea what was going on or what I should do. 'I can’t race. I didn’t register earlier and I only have a the equivalent of two dollars. Plus I probably can't even find the registration tent. Bummmmmer.' Except as I was walking back towards where I had come from, I saw people writing, the typical last minute registration process. I causally watched for a while and learned that not only was the process was incredibly easy, but almost nobody pre-registered, and it was completely free. There went that excuse. A woman handed me a registration form, and having no other choice really, I began to fill it out, looking over other people’s shoulders when I didn’t know what the questions were asking. I don’t currently have a Chilean ID here, and when I saw that we needed to have one, once again I was greattttttly disappointed. 'Darn. Guess I’ll just have to go back to my warm house'. But it turns out they don’t even look at the registration forms, for the moment I stopped writing, the same woman whisked away the uncompleted form and handed me a couple of pins and a racing bib. According to my bib, I had about 45 minutes before the start and....I was running a 10K. Now just to clarify, I’ve run a total of TWO times since I left the United States and neither of them were serious, and I’ve run a total of ONE 10K race ever in my life. So here I am, standing in a plaza crowded with other runners, most of which are speaking Spanish with their running friends and wearing actual running or racing attire, and I am all by myself, about to run 6 miles. Also, it’s chilly, foggy and misty. Cool. 

No time for self pity though as this scrawny Chilean man came up to me and began speaking to me in rapid Spanish. I explained that I'd only been here for two weeks and that I have no clue what’s going on. “No problema!” he promised. “Tu peudes correr con migo!” I met the rest of his family, and together we all warmed up, stretched and then just ran around and around and around. Right before the start of the 10K, he wished me luck and disappeared up into the front of the pack. “Adios chica!!”

Again, I was alone, but here is what I love about running (and music, and biking, and soccer, and braiding hair etc). After the Spanish count down finished, and the gun went off, it didn’t matter that I was dressed differently (I left my pjs-“warm-ups”-at a tent specifically for things like that, but I still was wearing shorts and a t-shirt). It didn’t matter that I couldn’t speak/understand Spanish perfectly. It didn’t even matter that I was the only gringa in the entire crowd. When the gun went off, I was part of the group. I love the beginning of races (especially when I'm not actually racing-just running), and this time was even better because it was clear at that moment that we were all there for the same reason: our common love for running. I was no longer an outsider. 

 My time was not anything impressive, and I didn’t place in my age group (18-35 years), but I had a wonderful, wonderful run. I adore the Wisconsin countryside for running, but if anything were to compete with that, it would be the scenery here, the city line along the coast, the ships, the port, the hills. Early on in my run, I found somebody with a similar stride and a pace I liked, and I latched on. We didn’t exchange a single word, but when I sped up or slowed down, he matched my pace once again. He was only doing the 5K though, so eventually I was on my own. Near the end, I ran behind a boy cheering on his girlfriend, and I enjoyed listening to his encouragement, taking notes on good phrases to use for when I start volunteering. About 1K from the end, the man who warmed up with me met me along the course. He had finished 4th in his age group and was on a cool down! Anyways, he ran along side me a bit, pushing me to push myself. I definitely appreciated his kindness. 

A couple of differences I noticed during my run. Here, I was in the minority, being a girl and wearing shorts and not only because it was chilly. However, there’s no need to worry cross country boys; the guys here wear short shorts, and because girls here usually wear leggings while they’re exercising (or they just don’t exercise at all), the male shorts were the shortest. Less people were listening to music during the race, but everybody was wearing sport specific clothing. T-shirt material did not exist. There was a surprising lack of cheering from bystanders (I didn’t see anybody actually), and my guess is that that supports the idea that Chileans are shy until they know somebody-something the tourguide told us a while ago. There was no real timing system, except for the first couple of finishers. I only have an estimate of my time from when I glanced up at the clock before crossing the finish line. The race was put on by a Universidad, and I learned that that’s the normal (the free part is normal too-cool, right?!). Since there are street dogs here (and lots of them too), sometimes I had a friendly, four legged running buddy.   

After I finished, I grabbed a water and a banana, said goodbye to my new running friend, and headed home. I had left a note for my host mom that I would be home around 11:30, but because the race started later, I thought I should let her know that I was okay and coming home late. (This is for you mother and grandmother) I know enough Spanish to talk to a carabinero (Chilean police officer), explain my situation, and talk to my host mom on the phone in Spanish. There is no need to worry about me here :) When I got home, I was greeted with an huge, sweaty (on my part) hug and an even bigger meal. Yum! 

My casual run turned out to be quite the surprise, experience and adventure, but I'm glad it happened. Hopefully I’ll be able to run in another Chilean race soon, for now I know a “corrida” is more than just a training run; it’s a race! 

IMG_0395 - Version 2

La Serena and Beyond

One backpack stuffed with clothes, shoes, and my toothbrush and toothpaste. One bus ticket that cost 12.000 (or the equivalent of about $24). One small bag with my papers and folders from the Spanish classes I’d just finished. Three of new best friends: Hazel, Maggie and Tommy. All together we boarded a coach bus (the main means of city to city transportation here), and off we went. For just over eight hours (a bit longer than expected due to traffic), we chatted, listened to music, and watched the countryside fly past on the right and the vast, sparkling blue ocean stretch on forever on the left. At one point, while the sun was setting, and we were passing through a small but brightly painted town, with blue mountains as a backdrop and a forest of greenery lining the sides, a Coldplay song came on. Chris Martin’s voice sang loud and clear, “And we live in a beautiful world (Yeah we do, yeah we do). We live in a beautiful world.” I couldn’t have agreed more. 


It was Wednesday afternoon, and the four of us were leaving Vina del Mar for our first student run adventure. Classes had finished for the day, and Thursday was something wonderful called a Feriado celebrating the Asunción de la Virgen. Because Chile is a Catholic country, most businesses, stores, and schools were closed for the day including our universidad, which translated to a long weekend for us. Our planning would best be described as last minute and not thorough, but nevertheless, we were on our way. Destination: LA SERENA! 

La Serena is located north of Vina. It’s the second oldest city in Chile, and the entire western side of the city is beach. However, because it’s still winter here, the weather was not as beach like as I was secretly hoping, and there wasn’t the usual tourist crowd.  We, courtesy of one of my travel comrades, stayed in a resort hotel, right on the beach, with a pool, a trampoline (may or may not have tried it out..), free (or already paid for) breakfast buffet, free drinks, and a suite. It was classy.  (Here is the view from our balcony.)


La Serena is best known for its observatories and a valley called Valle de Elqui. Unfortunately, because we weren’t able to decipher the local bus system before, and because we didn’t have much time in the city, we didn’t make the 60k journey to see either. (Guess I’ll just have to go again..!) Our trip was by no means a failure though, and we had much to do, much to see, and much fun in general. We went to a museum both days. The first one was a well known archeological museum where we read tons of signs in Spanish, saw an incredible amount of tribal art work and pots and everyday items, learned about shrinking heads (and saw some too!), befriended the museum puppy, and found the only other Moai that’s not on Easter Island. (Some of you may remember from earlier, I mentioned that there were only two Moai not on the island. Apparently this one didn’t like the weather in Europe, and so it returned to Chile. By accident, we found both!) The other museum we went to was in the house of one of Chile’s presidents. The first floor covered Gabriel Gonzalez Videla’s life and his legacy in office. He was president from 1946 until 1952, and he helped to draft the Chilean constitution that is still used today. The rest of the house (it was huge) was full of art work. I learned a decent amount from reading (or attempting to in most cases), and I discovered something new about myself too; I really like paintings of onions. (Here is...a picture of a painting of onions!) 


We ate lunch at local restaurants, and we participated in the traditional Chilean meal called onces which is similar to tea time plus a light meal. One afternoon we walked around the downtown of the city which was adorable and full of local shops. We explored stands of homemade crafts, checked out what kind of store Ripleys was (the store where there are massive protests in Vina del Mar), listened to some live street jazz, and enjoyed the atmosphere of a bustling Chilean city. The other day we went for a long walk, up a long hill, out of the downtown area. There, the houses were all one story and small, and they reminded me of my initial preconception of where I’d be living. From what I’ve seen in Vina, Leguna Verde, and La Serena and on the long drives I’ve been on, Chile is definitely first world and third world at the same time. There is an incredible amount of contrast in income levels and lifestyles, and it’s interesting to see because they are right next door to eachother. I definitely want to see and learn more, especially in relation to how this impacts Chilean life and culture. Anyways, back to the walk. At the top of the hill, we found a park and had a delicious picnic lunch. The view was beautiful! And at least in my opinion, it was completely worth the walk.  We probably covered 6 miles that afternoon which warranted, we decided, a night of relaxation and Spanish TV. (Below is a photo of where we had lunch-with my friend Maggie sitting on the fence. And below that is the light house near our hotel)




Communication usually wasn’t difficult, and between the four of us, our Spanish was enough. There was one time when the waitress really struggled, but we’re pretty sure it wasn’t our fault, especially since when Hazel ordered a coffee, she brought out a can of instant powder and a class of hot water. That restaurant was interesting to say the least, but it introduced us to Chilean soap operas, so there’s the silver lining (if you’re into waaaay to much drama). On our way to La Serena, we got off at the wrong stop, but thanks to Tommy, we made it back on the bus before it left us 88k from where we wanted to be. On the way back, it turned out that our tickets were for Sunday, not Friday like we thought we bought, but again we were lucky, and we were able to exchange them easily. Other than that, everything went smoothly. We all agreed when we returned to Vina at 6am on Saturday, that it was a wonderful trip :) 


I took a nap when I got home, and when I woke up around 9, I was surprised to hear the voices of young children. Surprise! My host Uncle and two of his children were staying with us for the weekend. The girls are twins, 7 years old, and I’m pretty sure they never stop talking. Everything worked out though, because although I understood very little of their rapid spew of Spanish, (especially when they were both talking at the same time!) it didn’t matter; they never paused or asked to see if I was understanding. On the rare occasion when they did ask me a question, it was basic and much slower, and I could answer. Score. It was also nice to spend the afternoon with them at the beach, because children are the same everywhere. We played with the waves, chasing them and getting soaked when we didn’t run fast enough. We went for a mini hike and rock scramble along the shore to find enough sea shells to fill both my coat pockets. We ate Chilean cheese puffs with a garnish of sand. And we giggled. None of that needs more than the basic Spanish I have, so I was set. That night dinner conversation happened. My mother often had to re-explain things at a much slower pace, and Cata translated a word here and there, but I was part of the family and part of the talk. And that’s more than I could ever ask for. (Here is a photo of me and the twins at the beach near our house)  IMG_0391

So there you have it, my first long weekend in Chile up until Saturday night. We just finished Letters to Iwo Jima (in Japanese of course with Spanish subtitles), and I’m finishing up writing before bedtime. I've had a couple of moments where I've been frustrated because I can't understand, but as a whole, I'm still so new to the language and culture that I love it all, even the struggles of speaking. Also, if you ever have any questions, or if there’s anything you want to know more about, please don’t hesitate to ask :) 



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