domingo, 24 de febrero de 2008

Las Vacaciones: half-time show

Our two weeks of freedom before the start of school got off to a rocky start after we missed our bus, but some bus drivers from Pullman going to Temuco, almost to Villarrica, took pity on us and ushered us on. We watched the sun rise in Temuco as we waited fifteen minutes for the bus to Villarrica, and smalling town in la Región de Los Lagos on the shore of lake Villarrica and in the shadow of the still-active-and-smoking Volcán Villarrica (notice the trend, anyone?). The smaller, more touristy town of Pucón is more central for various activities in the area, but Villarrica felt less artificial (and had the reputation of costing less), and Pucón was a gorgeous, half-hour busride away along the side of the lake.
The hostel was a charming little place owned by some Swiss bicyclists that retired from cycling around the world and settled in the Andes (home-made bread every morning!), and we met some fellow travelers there, including a girl from Washington that had gotten some scholarship that paid for her to travel around the world for 8 months, and a Belgian cycling through the country (hard-core!). We walked around the lake some, all blackish volcanic sand and rock, but picturesque, went rafting for the first time (well, my first time) and managed not to maim ourselves, hiked around Parque Nacional Huerquehue to see some more lakes and massive waterfalls, then said goodbye to good bread and headed to Valdivia.
Unfortunately for Valdivia, Villarrica was a difficult act to follow, and in retrospect we would have spent fewer days there. It´s known as a former German colony-type city on the river near the ocean, but there wasn´t much of a "cute historical German town" atmosphere. It was also flooded with other Chilean/extranjero tourists, which meant the housing was a hassle: the first place lost our reservations and chided us for not calling several times to confirm, and while the place she found for us, a little cabaña in the backyard of a strange old lady with obnoxious dogs, was relatively cheap, the old woman argued that we hadn´t been clear we were staying for two nights (this after about a fifteen minute conversation of clarification of that fact) and tried double the price on us. We did hang out with some Chileans, though...I know a little more about rugby and Chilean rock. Plus there were sea lions in the river. Could have watched them all day.
We´re all sick of Chilean food, which is either expensive restaurant-fare or various types of meat sandwiches, and started cooking for ourselves. Apparently Chilean per capita consumption of bread is second only to Germany, and it gets old fast. Green beans never tasted so good.
Then to the mystical island of Chiloe, which, despite some changed plans, is my favorite stop so far...much less crowded, and supposedly there are at least 400 varieties of potato, of which I want to try at least 150. We made plans to stay in the tiny campo town of Tenaún with a family, but a missed buss in Valdivia meant we missed the last rural bus there from Castro. Our staying in Castro, however, worked out for the best when one girl, who´d had a sore throat the day before, went downhill in the morning. We spent the morning at the emergency room, the only place open in a small town on a Sunday and literally the slowest entity ever, then let her rest as we wandered around the town and along the coast.
Next Ancud (a penguin colony), then back to Santiago by my birthday...I´m looking forward to a washing machine.


sábado, 16 de febrero de 2008

Just a song before I go...

Chilean food is not spicy. If someone warns you that a dish is picante, feel free to completely disregard the warning. The California students are starting to feel it, so when we were at the supermercado getting grill stuff for the end-of-intensive-learning-program carete (party), we bought a massive bag of potato chips, what looked to be the spiciest mexican salsa available (no tapatio...), poured the entire bottle on the chips, and had one of the best experiences of our trip so far.

I´m takin´the midnight bus to Villarrica Chilean madre bought me enough fruit to give the three of us the runs for a week.


miércoles, 13 de febrero de 2008

Settling in.

Classes start in like three weeks and I don´t know how I´m going to get back in the swing of things, but with the semester system I´ll have slightly more adjustment time, I guess.

My intensive Spanish class (which hasn´t felt that intensive) is only four hours a day, but the last two weeks have been hectic (in a good way), and I´m seeing more and more of Santiago. I ride the buses and metro (subway) like a pro now, and can successfully give directions to my apartment to taxi drivers, hopefully convincingly enough that they don´t drive in circles trying to milk a few extra km out of me. Our Chilean tutors take us on field trips with funds from the study center, so we toured one of Santiago´s oldest vineyard/wineries, Concha y Toro, and got to try a few of their popular ones. I saw my first Araucania tree, a tall árbol that dates back to prehistoric times and is sacred to the Mapuche in the south (well at least I was excited). On a different day we toured el Palacio Cousiño, kind of the Hearst Castle of Santiago, and the Salvador Allende Museum of Solidarity (it sounds less odd in Spanish). The Palacio was pretty, in an extravagent, European sort of way, black Belgium marble, curtains hand-embroidered by French nuns, the first elevator and electric generator in South America, etc. Absolutely nothing of Chilean origin, the tour guide emphasized, which seems kind of sad. Europeanness is big here among the upper classes, and Chilean culture, arte folclorico and the like, is considered weak, especially in comparison to other Latin American countries´respective cultures.

The museum was excellent, though of course a downer. One photographer (argh...I need to write things down) managed to thoroughly document Allende before the coup and government action post-coup, and the two rooms of his photos were superfuerte. Especially trippy was a picture of Allende, Pinochet, and Fidel Castro (Pinochet having been big army guy at the time) walking past a color-guard, looking all buddy-buddy. Art by others inspired by post-coup repression in Chile and in the age in general filled other, equally moving rooms, and it was unfortunate that we were all exhausted at that point. One of the tutors told me that the Pinochet years are still avoided even in University classes (se toque...touched upon), and that Chileans, even youth, are relatively apolitical. He goes to la Católica, though, so it might not hold true for classes at la Chile, whose students tend to be radical even by non-Chilean standards. Apparently at la Chile it´s not a question of if some kind of student strike or sit-in is going to happen and disrupt classes, but whether the inevitable strike(s) will last long enough to force los estudiantes extranjeros to change their return flight dates. We´ll see what I´ve gotten myself into. :)

Some of us went to a Salsateque later that night and one of the tutors showed me the basics of Salsa and Merengue. I still have serious problems, especially twirling, but at least there´s a pattern now.

For a project for class we all went on trips for the weekend. Yo y three other girls took the train to San Fernando, an agricultural town in the valle south of Santiago (no seats initally, no air-conditioning, weather in the nineties, lots o fun) and walked around the artisan fair, talking to artisans, eating empanadas, and watching some jovenes from Arica dance the Cueca, to Chile as the Tango is to Argentina (though less dramatic...I heard it´s supposed to be reminiscent of roosters courting hens). We had to stay in for the night though, after the front-desk lady started catching on that there were more than two people staying in the double room. We only spoke in Spanish the entire weekend, though it´s much more helpful when there´s a native speaker in the group.

We also went to SAnta Cruz (tiny pueblo with a massive museum owned by an arms-dealer) and Pichilemu, which was on the beach but altogether too crowded and touristy to really enjoy. Bus ride back, half-hour traffic jam (taco) literally a block from the bus station, finishing homework. It was an excellent weekend.

I´ve also found housing...I´m sharing a room with my friend Oralia, who´s from UCSB but is Mexican and has promised to only speak to me in Spanish, in a house with other students (some Chileans but also some Mexicans and Germans) near a metro station in the same area I live in now. Everything´s included, and it´s a month-to-month lease, so if it doesn´t work out I can turn to the study center for advice.

Hope all is well with everyone!

miércoles, 6 de febrero de 2008

Trámites y such

Weaning myself off computer use hasn´t been that difficult (though it makes homework for my Spanish class a hassle...lo que sea), but it also means I suck badly at getting back to people/updating this. I was never a good journaler. Thus, I turn to the bullet point, which makes everything more digestible
  • My house: Sonia´s supersimpatica (super is the adjective of choice here, though saying "hiper" is way more fun, and my living situation is comfortable, but I still kinda feel like a guest. I´m not used to being waited on for meals and room cleaning and that type of thing, but I´m pretty sure I caught Sonia winceing when I convinced her to let me wash the dishes. I try to be as little hassle as possible, but she joked (endearingly) to her friend Cristina, whose weekend farm in Curacaví I was invited to for a Sunday almuerzo (I missed a superbowl party, but honestly I didn´t even know who was playing), that I never get any of the wrinkles out when I make my bed. She mentioned that after the end of February (when our contract ends), she´s looking for a place closer to her sons (or at least I´m pretty sure that´s what she was saying...I figure I get about 60% of what she tells me, 80% after I ask ¿Cómo?), so I´m looking at boarding houses near metro stations, preferably with other Chilean students. Or another home stay. Moving is stressful.
  • Chilean food. Avocados (paltas) EVERYwhere, and fresh fruit coming out my ears. I´m going diabetic because peaches and yogurt are really the only portable thing in Sonia´s refrigerator. Unfortunately, Chileans are kind of gringo-of-tongue, so there isn´t anything spicy or superflavorful, per se, but there´s plenty of good stuff around. NOTE OF WARNING:¨"Italiano" as an adjective for a food item does not denote it´s cultural origin, but instead warns you that whatever it is will be buried under mountains of avocado, tomato and mayonnaise (the colors of the Italian flag, obviously). Usually on a hot dog. Everyone who´s tried it admits that the initial satisfaction is not worth the next four hours of digestion.
  • The Night Life. Chileans don´t get plastered, luckily (American students in Chile, on the other hand...) but there´s drinking and dancing and staying out late. I danced Salsa with a Chilean for the first time, but some combination of my own notcoordination and his being a kind of lousy leader made it not-so-memorable. I need to take a class. Dancing to Reguetón (spelling) with some other UCers was better. We have Chilean tutors that take us on cultural excursions and out at night to introduce us to the city and the night scene, but the last few times we´ve gone out with obscene numbers of students, making any kind of decision-making impossible. Still, all the tutors are supernice/concerned about our safety, and really are so far our only avenue to meeting other Chilean students, seeing as everyone´s vacation started like a week ago.

Tengo que completar una página sobre una película que miramos, so more later, probably. This weekend a group of us are going to San Fernando for a class project, then Santa Cruz (!!!!) and some surfing town on the coast. Now just to figure out tickets...



viernes, 1 de febrero de 2008

Entrada nùmero uno

It`s only been a little over a week, but as I`m adapting to things it feels mucho màs longer (Apologies for weird punctuation: these keyboards are exasperating. How am I supposed to write with only one shift key?). I guess a quick recap of the life-of-Sarah-since-arrival in general is appropriate...

Flight to Atlanta was fine. 8-hour layover in Atlanta...estaba bien. I walked up and down escalators a lot and spent too much time in the Zimbabwan art exhibit between terminals A and T. My last taste of Sbarro´s for a while, I reckon. I ran into three other Santa Cruz students on the same flight (Yay wearing my UCSC sweatshirt!). The 10-hour flight would have been less terrible if I´d practiced sleeping upright near crying children, but I my seat-mate was a pediatric surgeon from Santiago who was good company and a good giver-of-advice on Santiago and Santiaguinos.

The four of us (me and Santa Cruzians) slowly figured out the logistics of exiting the airport. One of the customs golden retrievers pointed out my bag, but apparently the agriculture administration, not drug law enforcement, employs the puppies at the airport. Who knew accidentally leaving an orange peel in my backpack would be so stressful. We got to the hostel (We´d all made reservations at the place recommended by the University), put stuff down, drank beer on the patio, and then left in search of lunch en el Centro, where there´s kind of a pedestrian-mall-type-thing composed mostly of bank buildings, Dunkin´ Donuts, pharmacies and ice cream stands. Word of warning: NesCafe is big here, as we figured out after about five minutes of confusion while a waiter holding a teapot of hot water stood waiting for us to spoon out our own coffee crystals, which we mistook for cinnamon. More wandering, me being kind of cranky for being dehydratedish and not having slept or showered much during the last 48 hours, then chilling at hostel.

MAn that wasn´t particularly interesting at all. I´ll get to the good stuff, I swear.

Next day, family matching, where we stood around, hoping that we wouldn´t be left, familyless, on the steps of la Católica´s Campus Oriente. My host mother, Sonia, didn´t recognize me from my six-month-old, photocopied black and white picture, but she finally drove me home in her Toyota to her small, classy apartment in La Providencia (the neighborhood). I have my own room that opens out to a terraza, my own bathroom, and a guard at the door of the building who finds me amusing. Luckily she eats really healthily (low-sodium salt? What?), but I had to eat my first banana with a fork and knife...Meals have become less proper, but they´re still more European than I´m used too. Too many unnecessary plates.

They stuffed all the students in living situations near Campus Oriente, where the UC study center is, and they´re all super classy neighborhoods. To get a feel for La Providencia, think East Sac. Lots of trees, dog-walking, lawn-watering, signs for Pilates. In el centro de Providencia, above the metro station is a massive mall with a Starbucks. So much for the foreign experience. On clear days, though, the Andes to the East (house prices go up the closer you get to the mountains) take up like a third of the sky, and while the cordillera closest to Santiago isn´t snow-capped yet, it´s still pretty incredible.

Except for sheer size of the mountains, I could honestly mistake this for Sacramentoish area in the summer: kinda scrubby hills/mountains, dry weather in the 90s, flat. That and the pizza huts and burger kings all over the place.

I´ll write more later, and hopefully it gets more exciting...I´ll plan on doing something illegal and/or dangerous.