Monthly Archives: December 2012

¡Feliz Navidad!

It’s La Noche Buena, or Christmas Eve. I can’t believe
we’re already here! I haven’t actually been home for that long, but
in some ways it feels like I never left. I have moments where I
think about how I was living in another country for five months.
Living there. I could kind of find my way around. I took the metro
and walked almost every day and felt like I belonged there, like it
wasn’t so strange. I had a place there. But then it was time to
leave. I really was not into the idea of a hot and summery
Christmas. We were lucky enough to get some snow and cold in
Wisconsin recently, and we are looking at a white Christmas. The
house is decorated, the cookies are baked, the presents are
wrapped. All is right with the world. This “homecoming transition”
thing they warned us about hasn’t been too bad. Sometimes I miss
being in a big city. I’ve had some crazy cravings for bread and
avocado. I made alfajores and they just didn’t come out the way
they should have. At the same time, I’m enjoying the Midwest’s
legendary friendliness. I love the lack of pollution. And I can
text my friends whenever I want again. I still felt, however, that
I was not finished in Chile. I had some stuff left to do. Thus, I
am happy to announce that 2013 will include a return to Santiago. I
was recently informed that I received an internship with a
nonprofit there, and I should be back in May and spend most of the
summer there- well, the winter, actually. Yup. I’m getting three
winters in the space of a year. I have yet to formally accept the
internship, and I know only the basics of what I will be doing
there. But, barring any major and unexpected obstacles, I’m going
back. This was a wonderful early Christmas present, and I feel a
sense of relief knowing that I do indeed have a way back there, and
in a fairly short amount of time. When I first found out about the
internship, it was a little hard to think about going back after
just having come home. Now I’m much more excited. But for the time
being, I’m glad to be here. I’m very content just to be with my
family and friends, and I’m so excited to be going back to campus
in January. It’s good to be back. And it’s great to be going back.
Friends, I hope you have a wonderful Christmas, or whatever holiday
you celebrate. And I wish you many blessings for an excellent 2013.
May it be your best year yet. Con cariño, Gaby DSCF5422

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This week has been wonderful and tiring and busy and happy and cold. First there was the whole process of getting home, which involved brief tears in the airport; moments of tears on the plane; Californian wine with the plane dinner which was incredibly disappointing; not sleeping on the plane at all; being randomly selected for the luggage search at US customs; a flight delay in Miami; hearing a lot of Spanish in Miami; and a most joyous reunion with my mom in Chicago. Within hours I was back in the glorious state of Wisconsin, basking in the comparatively weak midday sun and enjoying the delicious, not over-pasteurized, and cold milk. That comes in a plastic gallon jug. Not a cardboard box.

Reflections on departing a foreign country: saying goodbye is like ripping off a Band-Aid. You need to go through security. You need to get yourself together. Say goodbye and get your papers ready.

It does not help your switch back to English when every single person in your entry airport speaks the language you were just speaking for 5 months. Neither does speaking in that language most of the night on the plane…

Wrap your gifts up in your clothes. Nothing- not a thing!- broke. Also, say with confidence that you are 21 when the border patrol agent sees that you are carrying alcohol. Remember that you did indeed turn 21, and maybe they won’t make you haul your luggage through the second check.

If you have more than two pieces of luggage that roll, you should grab a cart to lug it through customs.

Everyone said that there’s a transition involved in going home after study abroad. I feel like it hasn’t been much of a transition, that I came home and unpacked and it’s life as usual around here. But I have my moments where I miss things/forget where I am/briefly wonder what language I should be speaking.

Things that have been wonderful:

Milk. Gosh, I missed just drinking a cold glass of milk.

Orange juice. Real orange juice!

Pretzels. Like the kind you get in a bag. I can’t even tell you if they have them in Santiago or not- I think they do?- because I swear I didn’t eat a single pretzel for 5 months.

Baking. Butter and sugar and flour like every single morning. More of that later.

Drip coffee. Ugh. Nescafé doesn’t even compare.

The sunrise off of our deck. Look at this.


Cold and bright and blue.

Mass in English and going to Mass at my childhood parish.

Driving a car. I can still do it!

I went to the dentist, and despite large amounts of tea and juice and soda and all the sugar that comes with it (and infrequent flossing…), I don’t have a single cavity.

The water is so much better on my hair. After washing and conditioning my hair just once, it looked better right out of the shower.

The niceness of Midwesterners. Seriously. I love it.

Things that have been…different:

The lack of avocado (almost typed palta) in my meals. Also, the first time I went to the store, the first thing I saw was avocado. And I immediately thought, “Oh, we probably need palta.” Because we almost always needed palta in Santiago.

It’s only recently gotten wintry cold here. It was actually pretty warm for a Wisconsin winter when I came home. But I’ve been freezing.

For the first few days, I would go to look for something and think of where it would be in my Santiago house. Also, every time I’d carry a purse anywhere I’d check for my metro card and my old house keys.

Fewer daylight hours. And did I mention the cold?

The lack of mountains was positively disorienting the first couple of days. How am I supposed to know which way is east?!

I almost always look for toilet paper before entering a public bathroom stall. And many times I almost throw it into the trash can, instead of in the toilet. I will actually do that one of these days.

I like to talk about Chile. A lot.

I miss speaking in Spanish. And I’m afraid I’m going to lose it. And then when I do speak it, de vez en cuando, it sounds so weird to me!

I’ve noticed that I smile a lot and make a bigger effort to be warm to people. Is that a Midwestern thing?

When a table shakes, because someone’s kicked it or whatever, I immediately think, “Tremor!” In Wisconsin, folks.

My dad made chicken cacciatore, which is an Italian chicken stew. It was delicious, but then it reminded me of the Chilean pollo al jugo and my heart hurt a little bit.

But that’s about as “rough” as it’s been, if you can even call it that. I miss people, but that’s why we’ve got the Internet! And I’ve been keeping busy.

This is mostly what I’ve been doing:

Soft gingersnaps. Yummy ginger and spice, not a lot of snap.

Soft gingersnaps. Yummy ginger and spice, not a lot of snap.

These chewy gingersnaps were surprisingly delicious. That is to say, I didn’t think I would like them as much as I did. It’s nice to have a spicy cookie in the midst of pounds of chocolate and buttery goodness. The recipe can be found here, at Two Peas and Their Pod. If you need a cookie recipe, go there! They are known for their creative and reliable cookie ideas.

I also made peanut butter blossoms.

I got a cup and a half of peanut butter out of these single-serving peanut butter cups. It's resourceful. Judge not.

I got a cup and a half of peanut butter out of these single-serving peanut butter cups. It’s resourceful. Judge not.

These are so good. So so good.

These are so good. So so good.

I like peanut butter blossoms because it’s a heavy cookie. The peanut butter is rich and dense, the chocolate is perfect (you can never go wrong with a Hershey’s Kiss!), and they’re freaking rolled in sugar. I like making these because they last me a while. Which means that the people in my house do not eat them all in a couple of days. It’s just too difficult to eat a bunch in one sitting. They’re tricky in their deliciousness. I got this recipe from How Sweet It Is, which is a blog I absolutely adore, but you can also get the recipe off of a bag of Hershey’s Kisses. Really. I even checked. It’s still there.

I also made these. And will probably make them again, because unlike the peanut butter blossoms, they are dangerously easy to eat.

Chocolate chip cookies. You cannot go wrong with a classic, "normal" cookie on your holiday cookie plate!

Chocolate chip cookies. You cannot go wrong with a classic, “normal” cookie on your holiday cookie plate!

These are so soft and delicious. Why? Instant pudding mix. Cook and serve pudding is NOT the same! Make sure you get the right kind! Or you’ll end up like us with two little sad boxes of cook and serve vanilla pudding who get yelled at every time you go to make cookies and think you already have the right kind of pudding. This is the recipe I use. Yup. A whole pound of butter. 4 1/2 cups of flour. But it really does yield around 6 or even 7 dozen cookies. You’ll need that many. They won’t last you.

And then I had my friend E. over and guess what we did?

Look at how Christmas-y they are!

Look at how Christmas-y they are!

I love these. E.’s family requested another batch. They’re a pretty easy cookie and you might have all the ingredients in your house already, except the Candy Cane Hugs (which are delicious by themselves) and unsweetened cocoa powder. They were a favorite last year, and I think my family forgot how much they liked them until they ate them again. Find the recipe here.

Believe it or not, I still have a lot left to do. I’ve got two apple pies to make. I still have lemon raspberry thumbprints, German cinnamon stars, sugar cookies round 2, and- wait for it- Chilean alfajores to make. There’s also pretzel treats and peppermint bark. But those are so easy I barely even count them.

Oh, but did I mention I’m making my own manjar for the alfajores? Yup. Just gonna casually stir a quart of milk with a bunch of sugar over heat until it turns into caramel. You know. Hey, go big or go home.

All in all, it’s been a great first week back in the greatest country in the world. Do we have plenty of problems? Absolutely. I will never deny that, especially in the light of what happened last Friday in Connecticut, which left me with a knot in my stomach all weekend. We are not perfect. But between the outpouring of sympathy and empathy and goodwill in the days since and the chance I’ve had to compare life here to life elsewhere, I can tell you that I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.

Well, maybe I’d go back to Chile for a while. But I’ll talk more about that later.

With love,


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En fin

And here we are.

I leave tomorrow night. At about 10 PM Santiago time, we should be taxi-ing/in the air on our way to Miami. We did the same thing 5 months ago: we took off in summer and landed in winter.

I remember that first morning surprisingly well considering how sleep-deprived and disoriented I was. I remember being rushed through customs and the impatience of the officer. I remember coming through customs, being approached by a man who I thought said something that sounded like my university’s name, and then his taking my bags and leading me out to my group. I remember buying a water and paying for it in pesos for the first time. I remember that it really was colder than we thought it was going to be. I remember we had two lunches that day and we were so unbelievably full. I remember a scalding hot stream of water in the shower, contrasted by the chill of my room in the retreat house.

There was Linares, which I wrote about extensively. And then, after what felt like a long two weeks, we came to Santiago. I remember how quiet I was during my first couple weeks in my house as I tried to figure out my family and my place there; trying not to fall over on my first metro ride; getting back into a school routine, but in another language; and learning some of the in’s and out’s of Chilean night life.

This is a little bit of what a normal morning looked like here in Santiago:

What the mountains looked like on a late winter morning.

What the mountains looked like on a late winter morning.

I love these egg pans. I had scrambled eggs most mornings for about three months. Also, it took me until October to light the stove by myself. Please don't judge.

I love these egg pans. I had scrambled eggs most mornings for about three months. Also, it took me until October to light the stove by myself. Please don’t judge.

My metro stop. The farthest east the metro goes.

My metro stop. The farthest east the metro goes.

Campus. Not a very descriptive photo, but then again, I never found campus all that pretty nor interesting. But I thought the way the trees lined the sidewalks was nice.

Campus. Not a very descriptive photo, but then again, I never found campus all that pretty nor interesting. But I thought the way the trees lined the sidewalks was nice.

And here’s what the end of the day looked like on one of my last days here:

Heading west on the carretera. This is the daylight at about 8:15 PM. Coming home to darkness at 5 will be hard.

Heading west on the carretera. This is the daylight at about 8:15 PM. Coming home to darkness at 5 will be hard.

End of the day sun over el Río Mapocho.

End of the day sun over el Río Mapocho.

Here’s a quick photo recap of the different places I visited over these 5 months:

Outside of Linares.

Outside of Linares.

Embalse Ancoa, Linares.

Embalse Ancoa, Linares.





A view of Santiago from Cerro Santa Lucía.

A view of Santiago from Cerro Santa Lucía.

View of the sea from La Isla Negra.

View of the sea from La Isla Negra.

Late winter sunset, Santiago.

Late winter sunset, Santiago.

Viña Concha y Toro, Santiago.

Viña Concha y Toro, Santiago.



A very rainy Valparaíso.

A very rainy Valparaíso.



Cajón de Maipo.

Cajón de Maipo.

La Ermita, on horseback.

La Ermita, on horseback.





And that, my friends, was a little bit of what I saw on study abroad, Fall 2012.

I’ve taken it easy my last few days. Some people like to blow it out. I, however, considering how close I feel to my family and that I am just now getting over that darn cold, have kept close to home. I went out with a few people I hadn’t been able to get together with yet. I went to Mass for the last time with my family. I made pancakes and muffins. I said goodbye to my program directors on campus. I packed. And I cried about five times in the process. (Thank you, F., for coming by and helping out! I would not be as close to done as I am now if you had not been there.)

I think I’m going through a lot of the same emotions I felt when I left the States. That I was leaving home, that it was going to be a long time until I saw my family, that I had so much left still to do. I’m glad I have all of these mixed emotions, though. I think it’s a good sign. I should be this excited to go home, and this sad to leave. Obviously, there’d be something wrong if I weren’t happy to go home and see my family after- again- 5 months. And I think it points to how great an experience I’ve had that I’m so sad to go, when it feels like things could just be getting started.

But that’s a little how life is, isn’t it? I will write more about this around New Year’s (more about that in a later post), but I had a long conversation with my host mom the other night, and she gave me some very good advice, which comes down to this: say yes more. You really do only get so much time in one place. Make the most of it. I wouldn’t change my experience and the relationships I’ve formed for anything. But the way the time has flown has reminded me, in a very hard way, how you’ve gotta take your chances when you have them. I think that’s going to be a kind of mantra for me in the next year.

Before I get too sappy, I want to let you know that the blog will continue. The transition back home is indeed a part of the study abroad experience. And we all know how I love transitions. I also love (probably too much) baking and cooking things and then talking about it and posting pictures of it. I have up to 15 cookie recipes I’d like to try for Christmas, plus other things. So that’ll be happening here as well. Beyond that, we’ll just see how it goes!

I went to theater camp almost every summer of my life from when I was 5 until I was 18. We ended every summer by saying thank you to the people who had supported us throughout the summer. It was very emotional and sometimes a little cheesy, but I always loved it. Doing that kind of thing remains very important to me, and I would like to do that right here, right now.

Thank you to all of my readers! Thank you for letting me share my adventures and everyday life with you. I hope you’ll stick around once I’m back stateside doing less interesting things like baking and being a college student.

Thank you to the blogs that I follow for being such a big inspiration and brightening my day when I needed a distraction or a pick-me-up. (My top three favorites are on the blogroll sidebar.)

Thank you to my friends and groupmates. We were very lucky to be together and get along the way we did. Thanks for being you.

Thank you, F. Something bigger put us here together. We were made friends for a reason. I will miss you like crazy when you are back here next semester and I…am not.

Thank you to our program directors. Not everybody gets someone on-site who handles problems with classes, finds them a family, organizes field trips, and so on. Thanks for all of your hard work!

Thank you to my Chilean friends and acquaintances. Thanks for your patience with my Spanish when it doesn’t always come out the way it should, and thanks for bringing around places gringos don’t usually get to see. I hope to come back as soon as I can so I can spend more time with you!

Thank you to my host family. You were pretty much just what I needed you to be this semester. Thank you for replacing the down key on my computer; for taking me to Mass; for rejoicing in the deliciousness that is s’mores; for teasing me; for dragging me into your room when I clearly needed to talk but was too scared to bother to you; for letting me borrow your nail polish and hair products; for making my lunch every day; for being entirely too worried by my colds; for bringing me breakfast in bed; for making me café con leche exactly the way I like it; for giving me an iPhone, for my safety, of course; for showing me how the metro works; for eating chocolate and talking forever after dinner; for reviewing my papers; for letting me study with you; for making me feel like a real part of your family. The tears you will see in the airport tomorrow will hopefully show you how much I love the three of you and how much I will miss you.

Thank you, most of all, to my real family. I can’t even attempt to list all the things you do for me. You support me in more ways that I even know, and without that, I could not have gone away and had this experience. I cannot wait to see you and make you more cookies than you will want to eat.

Santiago. Chile. South America: I’m coming back for you. And that’s a promise.

My cup overflows. Time to get off the internet and drink up what’s left.

With love,


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Dulce y amargo

Bittersweet. That’s what this is. I’ve got four days left until I go home. Or, until I go back to my home in the States.

This house has become another home. I am at home here. I am at home in the language, in the culture (minus the machismo, but I think if I were brunette, it’d be better), in the city. Do I know my way around? Meh, not that well. Is my Spanish perfect? Ni cerca (or is it ni lejos?). By which I mean, not even close. And there’s still so much more exploring to do of this place that I already love so much and am going to hate to leave.

But it’s about time. I’ve been gone about 5 months now. 5 whole months that I haven’t seen my real blood family, the family that raised me. It’s been just about 5 months since my host sister had her parents really and truly to herself. 5 months since I ate my dad’s cooking. 5 months since I have slept in my own room, the one I had painted the color I wanted for my 13th birthday. 5 months since I have been inside of a Target or a Culver’s or Old Navy. 5 months since I’ve been able to pick up the phone and call my mom just to say hi. 5 months since I got on a plane and thought that December 11th was going to take forever to get here.

Well, it didn’t. And there are good things about that, and sad things too. Here’s what I’m looking forward to when I come home:

Celebrating the holidays in the winter. This is proof that I cannot celebrate Christmas in a warm climate. With the lights off, at night when it’s cooler, and with Christmas music playing, it kind of feels like the holidays. Just a little. During the day? When it’s 80 and brilliantly sunny? HA.

Text messaging. It’s expensive here. Not to mention I miss just texting people to say hi.

Public bathrooms with toilet paper, soap, and paper towels/functioning hand dryers. Oh, and public bathrooms you don’t have to pay for to enter.

Not using hours of public transportation daily. For real, I miss being able to get anywhere and everywhere in 20 minutes.

Feeling safer walking around, especially at night. Which goes along with another thing: I’m looking forward to not standing out for being blonde.

The TV. Oh, I miss American TV. Not that there’s any shortage of it here. But really, I miss my local network news! And not having to use sketchy sites to watch my TV shows.

Baking. I’ll talk more about this later, but I’m keeping the blog going after I return. And oh, will there be cookies. And bread. And cookies. And so many cookies.

My own city. Maybe eventually I’ll reveal where I live (to the 5 of you who don’t know me personally). But for real, it’s a great place. And I miss it. I miss knowing where I’m going and being able to give directions and knowing landmarks.

Real orange juice. No more of this nectar stuff. Watt’s Nectar de Durazno, how I love you, but please, someone give me some Minute Maid or Florida’s Own no-pulp real orange juice to eat with my breakfast right now.

Good gum. Even the American brands that I’ve found here aren’t as good somehow.

The Mass in English. I’ve been  to some great Masses here, but still. I don’t know all the prayers and responses here, and I don’t always feel like I’m participating 100% then.

Now here are the things I’m going to miss:

My host family. I could not have gotten luckier. I’m not going to go into details quite yet, but yeah. They’re pretty fantastic.

Having a sister. Sisters are different from brothers, obviously. And while there are lots things I really love about having brothers, having a girly little sister has generally been a blast.

A slower pace of life. I’ve become accustomed to having lots of time to relax and just hang out. Next semester could be pretty rough in terms of work and activities. I’ll be incredibly busy. Which sometimes I love, when I feel like I’m really getting stuff done and doing a lot, but other times I hate, when I need four cups of coffee to get through the day and I can barely get 6 hours of sleep per night.

Spanish. I love this language. ¡Me encanta el idioma! And I know that now that I’ve become fluent, in Chile of all places, I can speak it pretty much wherever I want, except for the slang. I’d better be Skyping my host family often- not just because I will miss them, but because I worked hard to learn this language and no way am I just going to let it go.

The convenience of public transportation. Granted, I had to take very few buses this semester. But still. It’s kind of nice just being able to walk to the metro and get on and go. No relying on anybody for a ride.

The religiosity or spirituality here, especially en el campo. It’s more open, more reverent. I’m not saying that they’re doing it “right,” or the US is doing it “wrong,” but the day-to-day practice of Catholicism here, in general, seems a little more meaningful.

Watt’s Nectar de Durazno. Tea and agua de hierbas all over the place. Bread. Avocado (palta). Bread and palta together. Manjar. So many delicious foods.

Summer weather and long daylight hours.

My service site.

The view of the mountains I had every day, almost everywhere I went.

Living in a big city.

Pisco and very good wine on the cheap.

Living something different from what I’d ever lived before.

Dulce y amargo. Bittersweet. So happy to go home, and yet so sad and tearful to leave. How am I coping? With baking and family time, of course:

Christmas cut-out cookies, round 1, with the help of my host sister.

Christmas cut-out cookies, round 1, with the help of my host sister.

With love,


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What I’ve Learned about Chileans Thus Far

First off: this post was inspired by this blog, which was such a huge inspiration and comfort during this journey. The inspiration specifically comes from this post. My list will not be nearly as comprehensive, considering that I have lived here barely 5 months, and I’m in Santiago- it’s not exactly a bastion of traditional Chilean culture. But I figured I’d just give it a shot.

Chileans are typically more spontaneous than Americans. Americans like email and plans and planning to meet up to plan things and iCal reminders, and things of that nature. Chileans? Not so much. I was invited to various things- a day trip to the beach, going around el centro and sleeping over- that I had to turn down because I had already made plans, and it seemed like the Chileans who invited me had a little trouble dealing with that. You mean, you knew that you were doing something this far in advance? Yes, I did. It’s a gringo thing.

Along with that, Chileans tend to be a little late. Not very late- I’ve heard they’re pretty good in comparison with other Latin American countries. But unless someone has specifically told me that I must absolutely be on time to something, I know that I always have a leeway of about 15 minutes. This was even truer in Linares. We never left on time for anything. I think we departed for Santiago an hour later than we said we would. So the next morning at breakfast when my host dad suggested we leave, 15 minutes earlier than he said we would leave, I was stunned and not ready.

Chileans are a little fatalistic. This whole American dream thing we have in the States? There’s really not a sense of that here, probably because for 99% of the population, it doesn’t exist. The class division here is astounding. It affects every part of life: where you go to school, where you live, what kind of job you can get, what you eat, where you shop, how you practice your religion, even where you will end up in the cemetery. It’s incredibly difficult to move upward, and Chileans know that. They also don’t trust the success of their economy. Chile is currently in a great situation: lots of consistent growth, major reductions in poverty (although there’s even higher income inequality), and solid trade relationships. But most of this is based on the exportation of natural resources, like copper, wood, fish, and fruit. That kind of economy is unsustainable, and I think Chileans worry about when the other shoe will drop.

Family is very, very important to Chileans. My host mom in Linares told me that she doesn’t have many friends and doesn’t need them, because she has her family. My host grandfather stops by the house several times a week. My host grandmother stayed with us during my first few days while my host mom was in the States. I think I’ve met most of the family that lives nearby. The importance of the family is probably one of my favorite things about being here. Both of my host families took that title seriously: they took me in like their own daughter, and I was never treated otherwise. Which is exactly what I wanted.

There’s a big divide between the culture in the country/the south (el campo y el Sur). Santiago is a big, modern city. The people, especially in the professional world, run all day long. They wouldn’t be out of place in New York. But in the country, kids still come home for lunch. As I’ve said before, life is just slower. Another thing related to this: everybody wants to be south, except santiaguinos. The city folk (generally) look at the country as boring and too quiet. In Linares, however, they tried their darnedest to instill this fear in me that life in Santiago was too crazy, that crime was rampant and that they were going to steal the shoes off my feet in the metro (not even kidding. That was actually something we were warned about.). And even in Linares, they didn’t want to be there. They wanted to be even further south, Puerto Montt and beyond into Chiloé. With the exception of the various leers and catcalls my blonde friend and I received while south, which happens in Santiago too, the people in the south were noticeably warmer and friendlier. They took more time to be with you. They were interested. They were very willing to offer whatever kind of help they could. Muy buena onda- good people.

Particularly in the city, people (especially young people) are friendly, but fairly closed-off. This goes back to the class division thing. Everybody goes to school together their whole lives and maintain very tight social circles. My Chilean classmates were very nice and interested in what I was doing here, but not enough to want to hang out, establish a friendship, etc. It takes a special Chilean (and a special extranjero) to make the effort to take you out, introduce you to people, and keep hanging out. That’s another Chilean thing: they’ll make you offers, say they’ll take you to this and that, but a lot of times there’s no follow-through. It’s not mean or purposeful at all. It’s just the way it is.

They drink a lot of juice, a lot of tea, a lot of agua de hierbas, and a lot of Coke (so. much. Coca-Cola.). And do they love their bread. And French fries. Oh, and chocolate. I have never seen king-size chocolate bars sold as the standard size. They don’t do the little normal Hershey’s bar. They do the huge bar, or a little single-serving. No in-between. I don’t know how my clothes still fit. But they do and I’m not going to ask why.

They’re more likely to go the doctor for little things. I’ve had two colds this semester- about two weeks after I arrived in Santiago, and one right now. After two days, my host dad has suggested, once again, that I go to the doctor. I leave in 5 days. No way am I going to the doctor. Besides, I just have a stuffy nose and a cough. I feel just fine. Just give me some agua de hierbas and confort (Kleenex). (All right, I cracked and asked for cough medicine. And it was the nastiest medicine I have ever taken.) (On the other hand, the agua de hierbas we have for colds is like drinking a tree. I think it has actual pine needles in it.)

As far as the Spanish goes, it’s just not a good place to go if you want an easy immersion. They speak so quickly. They drop letters and slur things together. They use the diminutive (-ito or -ita at the end of words), but it never actually makes anything “little.” If they say “tecito” or “pancito,” they’re gonna give you a whole cup of tea or a whole piece of bread. If they say “rapidito,” they mean really fast, like right now fast. They use an absurd amount of idioms and slang (especially outside of the city). Who knows how much I missed during my first couple of weeks in Linares. My host uncle down there was making a lot of jokes, and probably about me. It’s probably just better that I don’t know what he said, considering the one thing I understood was that he loved my hair.

They love the Simpsons. And The Big Bang Theory. And Phineas and Ferb, apparently- I saw Perry the Platypus t-shirts everywhere I went. They love American music maybe too much. I probably heard more music in English than in Spanish this semester. And a couple extremely popular songs in Brazilian Portuguese. Lady Gaga came and it was front-page news. Oh, and they call LMFAO “Limfow,” because saying out the letters in Spanish takes way too much effort.

I know that I felt fairly at home in this culture. They do appreciate meaningful relationships: family time is serious. Dating someone isn’t a casual thing; it’s a big commitment. They’re very “de piel”: literally, “of skin;” better translated, they’re a lot more touchy-feely. They smother their children with hugs and kisses far later than we usually do in the States. You greet everyone with a kiss on the cheek (all women), or with a handshake (between men, although some very good man-friends will kiss on the cheek and hug). There’s no just waving or head nodding. You get up close and personal with la gente. I was talking with a friend of mine recently. She studied here last year. We were talking in Spanish, but then she said in English, “Well, I’ll let you go now,” because she couldn’t figure out the phrase in Spanish. You know why? In Chile, at least, it doesn’t exist. I have never heard any Chilean say that. They don’t worry if they’re taking up too much of your time. And I hope that as the Internet and smart phones and social networking continue to sweep Chile, that that closeness and personal interaction and effort doesn’t disappear.

Coming soon: how I am and am not Chilean. What I am excited for at home. What I will miss about being here.

With love,



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Al Sur

They say if you really want to experience Chile, you need to go south.

And so we did.

It was pretty whirlwind to be honest. My travel companion, my dear friend F., and I bought bus tickets and made hostel reservations on Tuesday morning. I spent the rest of the day packing. We went to see my host sister’s play that night, ran home to grab our bags and eat a sandwich, and just barely got off the metro in time to catch the bus.

We started off by taking an overnight bus to Puerto Montt. Listen, kids: ask the locals and get recommendations. We asked our Chilean families and friends where we should go and what we should see. The consensus on Puerto Montt was that we only needed half a day there. And were they right. We arrived, bought our next set of bus tickets for Chiloé, and then wandered around the city for a while to have lunch.

Puerto Montt is a major transportation hub. It’s a great place to start your trip south, but beyond that, there’s not much to see. The only thing we did “miss” was Angelmó, a major fish and artisan craft market, but those kinds of places are found in pretty much every city in the south. Puerto Varas is just a half an hour away, and from there you can get some great outdoor excursions to the lakes and the volcanoes. However, I think that there is ample lodging available in Puerto Varas, meaning that you don’t even need to make a stop in Puerto Montt unless you really need a more urban base.

The first of many bay pictures in this post.

The first of many bay pictures in this post.


The island across the way.

Things we learned in Puerto Montt: the major bus stations here are more like airports, with lots of clear signage, clean(ish) bathrooms, and sufficient dining options. Also, they were ready for the holidays in that bus terminal:

Merry Christmas from Puerto Montt! Was definitely not ready to see this.

Merry Christmas from Puerto Montt! Was definitely not ready to see this.

Also, we were reminded that in general, Chile looks nicer in the sunlight. I suppose you could say that about a lot of places, but I do believe that there are cities in the world which still hold their charm if it is cloudy and gray. I have yet to experience that in Chile. Without the sunlight, you can’t obscure the characteristic dirt and grime of Chile’s cities (this includes parts of Santiago). But in the sunlight, everything is much more vibrant and cheerier.

After a nice lunch in a German-inspired café recommended by my guidebook, we got on another bus and headed three hours south across the Chacao channel and down Ruta 5 to Castro, the largest city on the island of Chiloé. Chiloé is known for harboring a more traditional way of life. Things move more slowly down there. The communities are smaller, people are friendlier (although less polite? That was our experience, anyways.), and life in general is just quieter. Even the weather was different- we were further south enough that the daylight hours were longer, but the weather was still substantially cooler and wetter. But more on that later.

To get to Castro, we had to cross a channel, and to do that, our bus got on a boat. Yup, we were on a bus on a boat. I didn’t know that they made ferries large enough to carry semi-trucks and buses with full cargo. We didn’t even have to get off the bus! They just turned it off as we made our way across the water.

My view from the window as we were on the boat.

My view from the window as we were on the boat.

The buses that go around Chiloé serve as long-distance and short-distance or intercomunal buses. What this means is that our bus driver had all of us on board who had already paid for tickets and got on at the bus terminal, but on the way, we stopped at various bus stops on the side of the highway and picked up more passengers, dropping them off pretty much wherever they asked. This echoes other things we’ve learned about Chile, like their disinterest in forming lines. Someone will pick you up. You’ll get where you need to go. No problem. Just take it easy; someone will help you out! Although it was a little annoying when suddenly the bus filled up like a Santiago micro during rush hour, it was another demonstration of the buena onda (good will) of Chileans: it’s just no big deal for a big bus to stop on the side of the road and pick up more passengers, and drop them off wherever.

And another thing about the buses: it seems like there are always three people in the front. One is the driver, the other is the steward, and the third seems to be a friend, the steward’s kid, someone who does not work for the bus company. Again, no big deal. Everybody’s welcome!

We finally arrived in Castro late in the afternoon. We went to our hostel to drop off our bags and get a recommendation for dinner. Once again: trust the locals. Ask the locals. Especially trust your hostel owners and staff! Their business is to give you a nice place to stay and to help you enjoy the city. The girl who checked us in- and really, she was in a school uniform and hanging out with friends. Couldn’t have been older than 16.- gave us a very nice tourist map and recommended a place for dinner. Although we were a little skeptical of her suggestions, given that she was 16 and had the keys to our room mixed up with the keys to the house, we decided to give it a shot, since we had nothing else really to go off of. And boy, was it a good deal! For about $5 each, my friend and I got an appetizer, salad, an entree, a beverage, and dessert. These were high quality meals as well- fresh tomato soup; smoked salmon with ricotta and herbs; braised beef with sautéed garbanzo beans; sautéed mussels with potatoes and onions; and fresh peaches with honey and cinnamon. For $5 each. You couldn’t get that for $10 in the States, nor in Santiago.



And this is what the sunset looks like from the streets of Castro.

After this picture, we hustled our way home with pepper spray at the ready, because it seemed like all the women of Castro disappeared from the streets, and the only people left were men who were fascinated by our blonde hair.

After this picture, we hustled our way home with pepper spray at the ready, because it seemed like all the women of Castro disappeared from the streets, and the only people left were men who were fascinated by our blonde hair.

We woke up early the next morning and chatted for a few minutes with our hostel owner- the real owner, not the 16-year-old girl. He served us a great breakfast that included smoothies and Colombian coffee (not Nescafé!), and suggested that we take a minibus over to  the village of Dalcahue, where we could see a prettier, more typical side of Chiloé. It was a great recommendation. We saw a nice, small artisanal market, selling mostly woollen goods, and got another cheap but delicious lunch.


Across the way was another island, where we could have seen an even smaller and more typical village.

Across the way was another island, where we could have seen an even smaller and more typical village.

So many boats! This was a picture I took pretty much everywhere in Chiloé.

So many boats! This was a picture I took pretty much everywhere in Chiloé.



Fresh salmon. This was so buttery and tender and delicious.

Fresh salmon. This was so buttery and tender and delicious.

We also went to a wooden church, which is typical of Chiloé. These churches are found in every village and have been around for years. Many of them are UNESCO World Heritage sites, including this one in Dalcahue, Nuestra Señora de los Dolores (Our Lady of Sorrows).

How these places have survived the rain and the earthquakes, I have no idea.

Later that day we explored downtown Castro, and visited their own church, San Francisco, which I believe is the largest of the Chilote churches. This was a truly impressive and beautiful building. It felt like we were inside a big old ship.

The church is currently going under reservation. We're pretty sure these aren't the original colors.

The church is currently going under reservation. We’re pretty sure these aren’t the original colors.

Interior San Francisco

Ventanas de San Francisco

There are various shrines inside the church, and all around the shrines, the faithful leave petitions and memorials. It is very powerful to read other people’s prayers. Many of them asked for healing or the safety of a loved one. Many others gave thanks for petitions granted. I feel that in the States, Catholics are a little more private about their prayer. You don’t necessarily see prayers written and displayed for everyone to see lining the walls of the church. But in many places here, everyone can see, which also means that people can join you in your prayers.

All around the outside of the construction were these posters protesting violence against women. I found the church to be a very interesting and powerful location for the ads.


“All of Chile mobilizes against violence towards women.”

"A rapist is not sick. He is a healthy son of patriarchy."

“A rapist is not sick. He is a healthy son of patriarchy.”

Castro is also known for its palafitos, houses which are built up on stilts over the water. There are actually a couple of hostels housed in palafitos, but they were pretty expensive. Castro has several good lookout points to photograph the palafitos.



We also stopped into a quiet little coffee shop for onces. I had kuchen, a German kind of cheesecake. Kuchen can be found in pretty much every bakery and coffee shop in the south. That reflects the strong German influence on the culture. At times, it felt like my hometown, where the majority of the population claims German heritage, and the city reflects that.

It's like a cross between cheesecake and a tart.

It’s like a cross between cheesecake and a tart.

The next day we packed up and headed off to Ancud. I don’t think we really missed out on anything happening in Castro. The only other thing we could have down in Castro would have been to make a trek out to Parque Nacional Chiloé, but since neither F. nor I wanted a particularly exerting trip requiring gear, we decided to pass.

Ancud is an hour and a half north of Castro. It’s quite a bit smaller population-wise and seems less urban, although, as we learned, it’s more spread out. We arrived before noon, with plenty of time to talk with the hostel owner, who recommended us a very cheap lunch ($3 for salad, soup, entree, side, juice, bread, and dessert) and drew up a walking tour of Ancud. Ancud is very quiet and quaint, prettier than Castro in my opinion, but definitely with less to do.

Here are some of the photos I got on our walking tour:



One of the stops on the walking tour was Fuerte San Antonio, the remnants of one of the Spanish forts.




The walking tour turned out to be longer than our hostel owner told us, so we found ourselves half running across Ancud to make it back in time to pick up the last penguin tour of the day. For about $30 we got picked up directly from the hostel and went to Las Pingueras, where several tour companies have founded an ecotourism collective which takes tourists out onto the water to visit four penguin colonies. After seeing the penguins, we had time to walk on the beach, and then we were taken up to a mirador (lookout) to take pictures of the beach below.

The first photo you see is actually of the landscape around us on the way out to the beach. This is South America, folks. It’s not all jungle or desert or beaches. A lot of it is very forest-y, with country familiar to us in the States. You just never know what you’ll find down here.



In the corner, you can see a little furry creature floating on its back. That's a nutria- in English, a sea otter!

In the corner, you can see a little furry creature floating on its back. That’s a nutria- in English, a sea otter!

They have two kinds of penguins in the colonies, Humboldt and Magellanic. One of them has a white collar, the other doesn't.

They have two kinds of penguins in the colonies, Humboldt and Magellanic. One of them has a white collar, the other doesn’t.



Look closely- the penguins are there!





When we got back into town, we set off to try curanto. Curanto is a meat and seafood stew typical of Chiloé. If you go to Chiloé, you have to try curanto. We did so against my host dad’s recommendations. His worry was that we would pick any old place and they would just heat up a stew that they had made days ago, and we would get sick. Instead, we found a restaurant that came highly recommended in the guidebook, paid a little more and assured ourselves of the quality and safety of the dish.

Some places still serve the stew in its broth. Our meat and seafood, however, were taken out of the broth, and the broth was served separately. We ordered one plate, which the two of us couldn’t finish. Once again, it was a great deal.


The next day, we headed out in the morning for Valdivia, our last stop on this whirlwind adventure. Valdivia was a solid six hours from Ancud, including ferry time and various other stops along the way, so most of that day was spent traveling in the rain. The rain pretty much wouldn’t stop those last two days of the trip. It did make it a little difficult to take it easy and just enjoy walking around and exploring the city, but it was another Chile lesson: sometimes it rains, you’re gonna get wet, and you just have to deal with it.

The evening we arrived we went to a chocolate shop and had fancy coffee and ice cream. Then we proceeded to buy large amounts of chocolate which made repacking our bags difficult. We pretty much hung around the same street corner those couple of days, since we happened to spend our last day in Valdivia on a Sunday, when there really wasn’t much open. And again, it poured.

One of the things we did manage to do was walk around the Mercado Fluvial, their outdoor market on the river. If we had been staying a longer time, or if I lived there, I would buy fish and shellfish there all the time. I might just buy all of my food there all the time. Just look at all this freshness!




They were still alive.

They were still alive.

We killed time at lunch and in the indoor market, looking at more artisanal goods. While I acknowledge that these handicrafts take a lot of work and really are very beautiful, I can only look at so many wooden spoons, clay bowls, and wool sweaters before I start to get bored. However, it was dry and quiet in there, and I bought copper earrings, so it was a nice time.

Later in the afternoon, we went out on the river for a three hour tour (Gilligan’s Island? Anyone? Anyone?). Part of the tour took us to a nature reserve/sanctuary, where there were the remains of an old German estate. After that we visited the oldest church in Valdivia. Lesson: churches are history, people!

Here’s my last set of photos from this trip. Take it in. And maybe it will redefine your image of South America:












In spite of rain and not being able to sleep on buses, and men being excessively enthralled by blonde hair, it was a wonderful trip. Thank you, F., for being such a good travel buddy! I can be slightly neurotic and paranoid when I travel. I’m afraid to get lost. I’m afraid I’ll lose stuff. I’m afraid something bad will happen. But I want to take risks and have (small) adventures, which pushes me out into the world dealing with all those fears and contradictions. And you put up with all of that oh so well.

I have just about a week left. A week. I’ll be writing another post, maybe two, before I go. But still. About a week or so ago I was getting really really excited to go home and not thinking about leaving here yet. Going home and leaving here are two different things. And now that I’m back, I’m trying to listen to Christmas music and get in the holiday spirit, prepping myself for the return, and…it’s tough. A solid week is a lot of time to get a lot of stuff done if I do it right. I’ve had the semester I wanted to have. I’ve done what I wanted to do. Now it’s just time to wrap it up and put a big red bow on it.

Ya po, ¡vamos!

With love,


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