It's difficult to believe that I'll be back in California (in the middle of summer) in less than two months. Before I got here the word "month" inspired visions of an eternity, but people buying plane tickets and devising schemes to get out of a last month of rent makes it seem right around the corner. Another paper, a few finals, and fin. My friend's host mom was assuring us, however, that a lot happens in a month or two, and our having gotten into the groove of things here does not mean the rest of our time will be less exciting. Classes also don't have that hasty sense of things ending yet (though they should...it's been ten weeks. I'm not a fan of the semester system).
And I've been busy, with the occassional lull. The family came to visit, so I got to play experienced ex-pat tourguide for a little more than a week and eat at restaurants with actual menus. I also got a few of the touristy things that were still on my "things to do" list out of the way...wine tasting, climbing cerro San Cristobal (a huge, hikeable hill with a massive statue of the Virgen on top and a hazy but impressive view of the city), a trip to Valparaíso, a colorful port city a short busride away. They also got to see some of the Andes in Cajón del Maipu (while I prepared for a class presentation back at home) and agreed they're pretty tall mountains. Dad got more German practice in than Spanish (the bed 'n breakfast owner was Swiss), but got a definite feel for the Chilean culture, or at least the public transportation system.
I got out of the big city for a day myself with a hiking trip with some friends to La Campana National Park, an area a little Northwest of Santiago known for its concentration of Chilean palms and a visit there by Charles Darwin. The weather was gorgeous and the flora something out of Jurassic park: the trees, many of which are several hundred years old, are protected throughout the country since the coco (they produce tiny, tasty coconuts) and miel de palma (palm honey) industries took a little more than they should have (I'd seen cans of miel de palma next to the bananas in the supermarket and had put it on my list of things to try, but now that I know that extraction involves cutting the thing down, I just can't do it).
I've learned how to insert pictures!
It's been difficult getting to know classmates, if only because all of my classes only happen once a week and everyone already knows everyone else really well, but I've gotten to know a few Chileans, all of whom are extremely helpful and friendly, especially when I have no idea what we're supposed to turn in. The foreign students are really cut out of the loop, especially when it comes to information about "paros", or strikes. Another California girl and I pulled an all-nighter finishing a research paper for our rural development class (I think the TA put us together so we wouldn't depress anyone else's grade) only to come to class the next day and find out the geography department was on strike that morning (though no one knew why), and that in fact the due date had been changed anyway. Right now there's a "toma" at the main building of the university (meaning students have taken the building and sit out front menacingly) to protest privatization of schools or private investment in public universities or something, but because each department votes on whether to join a strike or not, the only real way of knowing if we have class is to show up and see if anyone's there. My campus is just a fifteen minute walk away, but for some of my friends who take the metro and a few buses, the confusion is a hassle.
This last week was like one long holiday: Wednesday was a national holiday in honor of the defining battle of the War of the Pacific (where Chile basically stole a bunch of copper/saltlitre rich land from Peru and Bolivia). Valparaíso hosts a massive reinactment/parade and la presidenta's equivalent to the State of the Union. My friend's host mom Bernie took my friend and I to La Vega, this massive fruit and vegetable market, to prepare for Gracias poh' (see below) and get the ingredients for Caldillo de Congrio, a fish soup she made us in honor of the day (Neruda wrote an ode to it!). The market was empty enough and we gringa enough to attract some attention, which Nicole's host mom found hilarious (Are they German? Are you their grandmother?), and we watched part of President Bachelet's speech at a stall while buying oranges.
One of the Californian students calculated that Thursday is at the opposite end of the year from Thanksgiving in the Northern hemisphere, so it would only be appropriate to bring the tradition south. Bernie got excited about the idea and agreed to host it, offering to bake a turkey and provide some wine. My friend Nicole and I spent the afternoon in the kitchen, taking stabs at stuffing and sweet potatoes. I found a can of imported Ocean Spray cranberry sauce at a Jumbo, a supermarket that would compete with superWalmart in sheer area, and, lacking pumpkins, we made pie out of zapallo, a Chilean pumpkin-like squash. A bunch of Californians showed up and made construction-paper hand-outline turkeys to decorate the table and explained the significance of the day to Bernie and some friends she'd invited. It was a success.
Today was "Día del Patrimonio Cultural de Chile", where all sorts of museums and government buildings offer free entrance and tours and stickers to whoever's interested, so I got some culture in. Greenpeace, which has been pretty active in a save the blue whales campaign, had an enormous blue whale blown up in front of the museum of natural history
Soon I'll have to plan the week and a half I have between finals and my plane ticket home...I definitely want to see the northern desert, which is barren but full of all sorts of natural wonders, ghost mining towns and a few Incan ruins. A girl in one of my classes also told me that the last week of June and the first week of July and ship leaves Valparaíso for the Juan Fernandez Archipelago, a little-known trip, so I'll look at the details for that at least.
Enjoy the heat! The cold is definitely setting in here, though apparently it only gets worse from here on out. This whole smog-trapping-cold-weather-inversion-layer is not to my tastes.