Hills and valleys

Oh man. What a weekend.


Friday was just a great day. We originally were supposed to visit Constitución, a city on the coast that was the epicenter of the 2010 earthquake, but the fisherman there went on strike, and they’d taken the highway. Thus, we had a ton of free time before lunch to do whatever. Since it was such a beautiful day (60 degrees and sunny. They call this winter?), we went on a walk towards town. Picture this: a bunch of gringos take a stroll on the sidewalk in the middle of a really busy street. Then the gringos find manually-powered exercise machines on aforementioned sidewalk, and begin exercising and messing around really loudly for all the Chileans to see.

It was a lot of fun.

After lunch, we headed out to Purapel, a little town (if you can even call it a town) about an hour outside of Linares. Linares is a city. It is not el campo. Purapel is el campo. Our pre-program is run by a Catholic charity called Caritas, and Caritas operates a program for campesinos in the Linares region. We visited one of their families, who own a small farm and who have been taught sustainable agriculture techniques through the program.

Sustainable agriculture is really interesting to me. The methods they use to preserve water and maximize crops without destroying the land or using chemicals are incredible. They’re cheap and effective. But that wasn’t my favorite part of the visit. That would have to be the views in the country. So many hills, and so many great places to take pictures of the mountains in the distance and the fields below.

My camera had a good day.

Dusk. On a farm. In the hills. In Chile.

I think no camera could adequately capture everything we saw out there on Friday. The whole time I just couldn’t believe that I was there, seeing what I was seeing. It was overwhelming, to say the least. But also incredibly exciting.


Saturday was a day. Oh, it was a day.

After breakfast, we headed out to an artisanal vineyard to learn about the wine making process and try the goods. Truthfully, I didn’t understand or hear much of what the vintner was saying. He spoke quietly AND quickly, which is about as bad as it gets for a new language learner. All I could understand was that they use very little machinery and no chemicals. And you can tell in the wine. The alcohol content is a little higher than the wine we normally drink in the States, but there is zero burn.

$6. For a carafe of that size.

The owners also set out cheese, olives, and a special bread that the vintner made himself. Things I’ve learned about Chile #1: there’s always food.

Lots of snacks so the gringos no están borrachos.

Then our coordinators took us out to lunch for parrilla, which is basically a big pile of various grilled meats. Our plates had longaniza (a really rich and smoky sausage), braided intestines (not bad, but definitely an acquired taste), chicken, pork, and steak. We also had sopaipillas, which is a fried bread I’ve been served with pebre (a Chilean salsa) or palta (guacamole). After lunch, they served us an aperitif of manzanilla (in English, chamomile) liqueur.

Our friend really wants me to put away my camera so we can get at the meat.

None of this was really great for my stomach as we quickly approached the time we would meet our Linares host families. You see, we’ve all been in contact with our Santiago families for a few weeks now. But the Linares families are a surprise- for both the students AND the families. It was a little nerve-wracking: the whole past week we lived in a retreat house all together, spending most of our time with Chileans who knew a little bit of English or at least knew enough to slow down and enunciate. You’re not guaranteed that with host families. That’s all on top of the fact that you’ll be living in stranger’s house for 11 days.

Those are the moments where you really have to trust your school and the people they’ve chosen to get you from Point A to Point B in one piece- physically, mentally, and emotionally. I’m glad I did, because I’m really enjoying my host family so far.


Yay for Mass! I’d really been craving Mass (I know, I know) since Day 3 of this adventure. I knew there was something about sitting in a church and listening to the Word of God (well, 80% of it, since I don’t know the Mass in Spanish yet) that would keep my spirits up. It’s not that I’ve been unhappy at all, but this trip is a challenge, especially these first two weeks. Mass is familiar, because no matter the language, the order and content are the same. Even though I didn’t know what words to say, I at least knew when to be especially reverent. But now, I really need to learn the Mass in Spanish. I don’t like not being able to participate fully.

Oh. I also had to get up in front of the entire congregation and introduce our group and talk for a couple of minutes. Apparently I’m that person no matter where I go. I can’t remember the last time I was that nervous. Seriously.

It was such a beautiful day.

My neighborhood in the morning. Add reggaeton and people in the street.

So after lunch, my host family took me up to the precordillera to see Ancoa, which is a popular camping and swimming site in the summer. Holy gorgeous. It reminds me of Vermont.

The water is unbelievably clear and blue.

It’s New England, no?

We set off for Linares again around dusk, and on the way back we stopped at a shrine for Padre Pío. Padre Pío is pretty important to my host mother: I’ve seen at least four different images of him scattered around the house and in the car. Pardon the fuzzy picture, but I needed to record it. Hopefully I’ll see another one again before I leave.

My host mom brought those candles with her.

And then we went over to an aunt’s house for dinner. The uncles made parrilla. Just as good in the house as it was in the restaurant. These home visits are so generous, and indispensable for my immersion into the language.

That said: this is hard. As glad as I was to visit another house and meet more people, and as much as I truly appreciate the hospitality, it’s difficult to sit somewhere for an hour or more and understand only 80% of what people are talking about. 80% sounds like a lot, but it’s that 20% that makes up what you can’t learn in a language class. That 20% is humor, tone, intention, double meanings, communication. It makes all the difference. All I wanted was a break. But there’s no way out when you don’t have other gringos around. You basically have your computer- not an option when you’re out, of course- or your brain. But you can’t zone out in those situations either, because you have to be 100% alert if they’re going to address you. I almost didn’t want to keep going. No- I really didn’t want to keep going. And it’s only been a week.

That’s when you know you have to push on. This is what everyone goes through. This is what’s physically and mentally exhausting about going abroad. And I just need to trust that I’ve only been here a week (wow- a week already?!) and that I will break through eventually.


Families are the same everywhere.

Getting noticeably stared at is weird.

I’m kind of tall compared to your average Chilean woman.

You never miss your family at the right moments. You only miss them when you have no escape. Like during Mass, minutes before you have to get up in front of the entire congregation to represent your classmates, in another language.


Monday is the Feast of La Virgen del Carmen, who is the patrona of Chile. That means everyone has the day off, and we get to go to Mass out towards el campo.

Classes. In the morning and the afternoon, Tuesday through Friday. Oof.

More language fun!

With love,


1 Comment

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One response to “Hills and valleys

  1. Sheree Sienkiewicz

    Gaby, I love how everything you write is organized around food and meals! (Cooking/ eating is my fascination too. Are you familiar with pepperplate.com? My new addiction.)
    Thanks for sharing your experiences in Chile. Super divertido.
    BTW, your physical & mental fatigue caused by immersion should pass by end of 2nd month. Hang in there!
    -Sra. S

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