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
Monthly Archives: December 2012
It’s La Noche Buena, or Christmas Eve. I can’t believe
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:
And here’s what the end of the day looked like on one of my last days here:
Here’s a quick photo recap of the different places I visited over these 5 months:
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.
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:
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!