My Chilean exploits, documented.
Now that I’m at the end of my time in Chile, I’ve tried my best to reflect. What I’ve written here is pretty much just word vomit, me writing things as they came to mind. The reality is, I don’t feel like I’ve changed all that much after being here, in comparison to my time in Cuba. Those two months last year seemed much longer and eye-opening. I’ve unfortunately never been able to avoid making comparisons between the two countries, despite them being practically incomparable. That said, I’ve enjoyed my time in Chile tremendously and have learned so much about its culture and history.
The final 5 days! A synopsis:
Saturday, David, Caroline, Noah, Anna, and I went to Temple Baha’i, very close to Parque Aguas de Ramón. Though the temple has mostly eastern Asian roots (supposedly Buddhist), it has been declared a sacred place in which all religions are welcome. It was absolutely gorgeous; it has this incredible architecture to make it look like a lotus flower about to bloom. Pictures aren’t allowed inside, unfortunately, but I can say that the space is very open and bright and simple – just long pews facing forward, quotes carved into the walls along the perimeter. We stayed for about an hour, exploring all the gardens and reflecting pools surrounding it. Great idea, Caroline.
I’ve been asked by several people whether Cuban Spanish or Chilean Spanish is harder. The answer is they’re equally challenging. In Cuba, no one enunciates. In Chile, there are countless slang words, los chilenismos. Despite the challenge of the chilenismos, however, learning them has arguably been my favorite way to get to know Chilean culture. In fact, the chilenismos do a great job summing up some of my experiences – so here’s a brief vocab lesson.
Arriba de la pelota: “Above the ball”; you’re a little drunk, but not drunk drunk.
After an incredibly indulgent weekend, we were thrust back into reality when we had a four and half hour class Monday morning, 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. We were mentally wrecked. Austin and I stayed at the office until nearly 5:00 doing homework, before we lost our minds. To sweat out our stress, we went for a run to the statue of the Virgin Mary with David, and we saw one of the most beautiful sunsets of our lives! Then we all went home to do more homework.
Tuesday, we had a guest speaker come to class, Víctor Hugo Robles. Robles is a gay journalist, activist, and feminist, but he likes to think of himself as a worker. After all, he does not earn much money and lives modestly. He explained the difficulty of growing up homosexual during the dictatorship, as both the right and left generally rejected homosexuals (the right just more often and obviously). His family, moreover, was very conservative and Catholic, and his brother was your hyper-masculine star soccer player.
This weekend was so luxurious that we’re still a little in disbelief. I mean, the fact that we just popped over to Argentina, and its wine country at that, is just nuts. We feel so privileged and grateful.
We had another early flight, meeting at the airport at 7 a.m. Isa picked my professor, Andreea, and me up. It wasn’t clear to me who was driving; it wasn’t a taxi or an Uber, so I think it might have been her son driving the family car? It was a guy probably mid-20s, and at 6:15 a.m., he was blasting Spanish death metal full of expletives in the car. Isa seemed to be oblivious, calling Andreea and my classmates to make sure everyone was up and ready. It was definitely not a relaxing drive to the airport.
A full weekend just relaxing in Santiago was just what the doctor ordered. We’ve been running around every weekend thus far on some excursion, so we haven’t gotten to really take advantage of exploring the city on our own.
On Saturday, David, Caroline and I went to Parque Aguas de Ramón, a park on the western periphery of Barrio las Condes. The whole park is very official. You enter and pay a fee of about $3, then are directed to a table with guides there to greet you. You look at the hike options. There are four hikes, ranging in length from only a couple kilometers to nearly 18. Once you’ve chosen your route, a guide explains to you the features of the route. “The first 15 minutes are pretty steep. After that, the ridge levels off. You’ll make your way along some small rolling hills until you reach the waterfall. On return, you’ll cross a bridge, gain some elevation, then come back down. Make sure you don’t smoke or start a fire. Pack out all garbage.” It was so orderly; we wrote down our names, our cell numbers, genders, country of origin, even our passport numbers. I personally felt a little miffed – we’re from Colorado, OK? We know how to hike.
We’ve had a mentally exhausting week, as our new course is very thought-provoking and requires lots of close, critical reading.
We started late on Monday morning (11 a.m.) to recover from our flight the night before. Our professor Andreea introduced the course: “Chile and its Others,” all about how we define “others,” or marginalized people. We’ll be discussing the experience of indigenous peoples, people of newly emerging sexual orientations, and immigrants, with respect to Chile and also the U.S./world. We started the week by watching a documentary by Patricio Gúzman, a famous Chilean filmmaker exiled during the dictatorship, called “Nostalgia de la Luz.” The documentary related the astronomical studies in the deserts of Chile to the recuperation of the disappeared prisoners of the dictatorship. The largest concentration camp from that period is in the desert, and to this day, the mothers and wives of many disappeared men search for their remains. The connection Gúzman made between these women and astronomy was shaky at times; yes, both the women and astronomers are searching for answers, but their struggles are incomparable. In any case, it sparked lively conversation.
San Pedro de Atacama was incredible. Absolutely beautiful views, an excellent guide, and so much activity. We could not have asked for a better block break.
Isa had a bunch of us stay at each other’s houses to make our ride to the airport easier, since we left at 4 a.m. Austin, Monique, and Katie came over the night before at 10, and it was fun for them to meet the family. We spent a lot of time talking in the kitchen with Paula, who may have roasted me for the first time: “You know, you said that you had a huge lunch and weren’t that hungry, yet you ate ALL that food at dinner…”
It’s incredible that this time in a month, I’ll already be back in the states. The time has really flown here.
This is just a short post before we leave as a class tomorrow at 6 a.m. for San Pedro de Atacama, the driest desert in the world, as Pamela told us. There, we’ll be trekking, swimming at a lake, rising at 3 a.m. to see a glacier erupt…cultural “things.” We didn’t get information about this trip until literally today, because our airline, LAM, is on strike. Our original flight got cancelled, so Isa was freaking out trying to get everything straight. All is well, though.
An eventful weekend!
Thursday night was the concert for my host sister’s band, Daniela Amaya (follow her on Instagram, @damayamusica)! Dani (Daniela) is a kinesiologist by day, musician by night. She works her day job really only to make money to fuel her real passion, music – she works for an insurance company, taking calls from people looking to qualify for physical rehabilitation benefits. Honestly, she’s almost never home. She goes straight to recording, practicing, meeting with her band, etc. after work. When she is home, she’ll occasionally play piano in her room and it’s wonderful.
Much has happened in just half a week! Where to begin…
Tuesday we had our first “temblor”! Around 7:25 a.m., I woke up to my bed shaking and realized I was experiencing an earthquake. I didn’t feel scared honestly. I think David put it best when he said, “It kinda felt like I was being rocked to sleep like a baby…I kinda liked it.” Turns out it was a 4 on the Richter scale, so noticeable, but not life-threatening.
Normally, David, Austin, and I would be running at that time in the morning, but we had decided to do a long run in the afternoon to ascend “Cerro el Carbón.” The initial intent was to trail run up this thing, but it was just too steep. It took an hour to reach the top, and I think only around 12 minutes of that were actually running, the rest swiftly hiking. But the view was incredible! We were higher than the Costanera Center and had probably the best view of Santiago we’ve gotten so far (and we’ve had some pretty sweet views).
All is well down here in Santiago! Paula recently bought Roberto and I our next round of ice cream. This time it’s half “chocolate almendrado” (chocolate with nuts), half “frutas del bosque” (fruits of the forest…I asked Paula what that even means and she was just like, “You know…berries.”) Our new family pastime is watching “Caso Cerrado,” a hilarious Latin version of Judge Judy that takes place in Miami, all in Spanish. Paula was dying the other night at two cases in which men came in saying that their wives were physically abusing them (“Mira, él dice que ella le pega!”). We also tonight watched a Latin version of Catfish. Priceless.
Today we visited the Palacio de la Moneda, also known as the official center for the Chilean government. La Moneda has taken different forms over the years, has been destroyed and rebuilt various times, and has slowly but surely opened its doors wider and wider to the public. With our excellent guide, Paulo (who looked like was a secret agent…he never took off his sunglasses, even indoors), we got to see several rooms and patios and learn their different functions.
We arrived at La Moneda and were escorted in by several guards in very official green uniforms and squeaky black boots. The building is a large off-white building, not unlike the White House, with north and south entrances marked by huge Chilean flags. Paulo would later tell us that when the flag is raised with a particular emblem, that indicates that the President is somewhere within Chile. If the emblem is removed, he/she is traveling outside of Chile. The guards took our passports and pointed us through the metal detectors before we met Paulo, a young and enthusiastic Chilean guy. He gave the tour in Spanish, but as he knew we were students, explained everything very clearly, elaborating and acting out words. It was pretty entertaining for all of us.
Sunday was Easter! Paula and Roberto don’t really attend mass, though they are Catholic, so I ended up going to a service with my classmates David and Caroline in Parque Metropolitano. We took a steep tram, el funicular, up to the statue of the Virgin. There’s a small church up there, with lots of long benches and a stage for big shows outside. We made it just in time to grab seats in the church. Others were stuck in the doorway or outside of the church altogether, but fortunately there was a loud speaker projecting all the sound to the outdoors pretty clearly.
We’ve been here a full week! It seems like longer, though, since we’ve fallen into a routine.
Friday was a day of great views and delicious food. I woke up early to meet David at Parque Metropolitano to run and also hike to the top of the park, where there’s a huge statue of the Virgen Mary overlooking the city. Since the sun rises at practically 8:00, setting out to run at 7:15 meant running by street lamp, with almost no one around. This Easter holiday weekend leaves Santiago “empty,” as many make their way to Viña del Mar or Valparaíso for a mini vacation. For the first time all week, I wasn’t surrounded by commuters – office workers, nurses in their scrubs, bikers, etc. We reached the trail to the statue and David set off running, I half-running (if you could even call it running), half-walking, as I nearly died of cardiac arrest trying to run the trail the day before. But we reached the statue at sunrise and she was incredible! The panoramic view of Santiago at dawn, coupled by such a holy figure during holy week, was truly special. We will return often.
Finally, a chance to talk about what I really want to talk about: Violeta Parra.
I knew nothing of this woman prior to yesterday. Nothing. But we visited the museum dedicated to her, and I quickly began to view this Chilean badass as an inspiration. Learning about her was a thoroughly enjoyable experience.
Born in rural Chile in 1917, Violeta Parra was one of 10 children of a music professor father and a seamstress mother. Though she never finished school, she would eventually become a successful singer-songwriter, poet, musician, artist, and activist. Though composing and even playing instruments was traditionally a male’s job, she fearlessly taught herself guittarón (a complex guitar with 25 strings, some so small you can’t even see them, called “diablitos”) and wrote her own lyrics. She would later pioneer the genre “Nueva Canción,” which combined traditional folkloric music with political and social themes. Her most famous and recognized song is “Gracias a la Vida.”
Paula’s roasts continue and Roberto eats lots of ice cream with me, so you could say things are going swimmingly here.
Since I had very poor WiFi in Cuba, being here in Santiago with a better connection than that of Colorado College – though it’s not hard to beat WiOftheTiger at all – is a blessing. Rather than wait a week or two to collect a bunch of thoughts on one subject, I think I’ll just keep updating as the days go by. After all, I learn a ton just from eating meals with my mom and dad every day.
A peaceful end to the weekend before the start of Block 7.
I went running in Parque Bustamante just west of my house. Paula had told me that many streets are closed off on Sundays to traffic, so running is ideal on those days. One of the streets parallel to the highway (the Alameda) was closed off, for example. I saw so many rollerskaters, runners, and bikers happily spending their Sundays. Plus kickboxing dancers and a woman doing tai chi in the park. It seems that Chileans are all moderately active and healthy. I have yet to see really any extremely heavy or thin people, no terribly weak or body builder people either. Practically everyone falls in the middle of the bell curve; take a note, America.
Learning so much about Chilean culture and stoked about it!
I went running with my dear friend Austin Martin first thing yesterday morning, after having to adjust our 7:30 meeting time – the sun doesn’t rise until 7:50 here! But the streets were lovely and quiet at dawn, and we were both impressed by how clean Santiago is. Really. People were starting up their days in a leisurely fashion. Two things I’ve noticed about Chileans while exploring the streets: first, most dress in jeans and casual shirts, and second, they all obey traffic signals. Jay walking doesn’t happen.
Today was both incredibly eventful and not eventful at all. I got on my connecting flight in Atlanta at 11:30 p.m. yesterday and wound up in Santiago de Chile the following morning at 9:35.
The pure exhaustion I was feeling kept me from really processing everything around me – you know, the fact that I was beginning an entirely new life in a new country with a new family. I guess that’s for the best. I mostly wanted to die standing in line for immigration and customs, just feeling hot and bothered and thirsty. However, as long as everything took, it all went seamlessly and I met the Institute for Study Abroad (IFSA) coordinators as well as three other CC girls who had morning flight arrivals. The only “culture shock” – if it could even be called one – that I encountered was genuine confusion about how to use the hand dryer in the bathroom.