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Allá al fondo

The title doesn’t really have anything to do with this post. I don’t think. It is, however, one of my favorite phrases, because it is so typically Chilean. Ask a Chilean where something is, and they will likely point you in that direction by saying “allá al fondo,” which means “over there and a little further down.” It is probably the least helpful direction, but I love it anyways.

Language reacquisition continues. My team at work consists of two Spaniards and two French girls. I have more trouble understanding their Spanish sometimes than Chilean Spanish- that’s not a joke! I realized that I became so used to Chilean Spanish that it’s actually the accent I understand the most easily. Which is funny, considering that anyone who has traveled anywhere else in the Spanish speaking world will tell you that Chilean Spanish is possibly the worst pronounced and most slang-filled of all of the dialects. I’m also learning a lot of new vocabulary, and various Chilean phrases are coming back to me in bits and pieces.

Most of the people working in my office are from other countries in Latin America- Argentina, El Salvador, Ecuador, and Mexico, for example. It’s been interesting listening to all of the different accents and realizing just how particular the Chilean accent is. I have never traveled anywhere else in Latin America, so I have a very narrow and specific language experience. The other Latin Americans all think it’s hilarious that I say things like, “¿Cómo estai?” instead of “¿Cómo estás?”, or “¿Cachai?” or “bakán.” And I try to explain to them that this is where I learned to speak Spanish! This is the Spanish I know!

Working life is fun. My dad asked me the other day which I like more, work or class…and I think I like work more. Granted, rush hour on the metro and bus is not my favorite thing. Going to work isn’t too crowded. Going home from work is absolutely packed until about the last ten minutes on the metro. It really helps to have people riding with you, at least part way. But the nice thing about work is that I can leave it at the office, and I can do whatever I’d like and go to bed early when I get home. Not like at school, where I have class all day, and then homework all night. There’s something freeing about letting home just be home and not a workspace. But like my dad said, work is for the rest of your life. So I should be careful before I get too excited about it.

As I’ve said before, winter is for real. Last week was especially rough. We had very heavy rain for two days solid last week, and the city flooded. All of the schools in Santiago were closed for a day. For rain. They had a rain day, guys. You would think that in a mountainous area the streets would run off water, but nope. For whatever reason, maybe poor engineering, it rains heavily for about an hour and the streets flood. You inevitably get wet. Combine that with temperatures around 50 and no central heating, and that means you get cold. Very cold. Have I felt colder in my life? I guess in absolute terms, yes. But this is a kind of cold you can’t shake off. One day I drank about five or six cups of tea- regular, caffeinated black tea- just to keep myself warm. I have now taken to bringing my own herbal teas with me to substitute for normal tea, since I just can’t consume that much caffeine and sugar every day. I’m also getting pretty good at layering, and I even brought a small blanket with me to work. I bought a poncho this weekend, and maybe with a couple more turtlenecks, I’ll be set!

This was my bus stop for two days last week.

This was my bus stop for two days last week.

It was so cold outside that our windows steamed up.

It was so cold outside that our windows steamed up.

As a side note: you know you’ve been spoiled with central heat when the revelation that people actually use hot water bottles to keep themselves warm is a huge deal.

I have been enjoying my weekend days with my family, hanging around, relaxing, going to the mall. And I have been living up my weekend nights with my friends, going out dancing and enjoying the fact that I never have homework to look forward to on Sundays. The first weekend, my friend N. invited me out with another girl from our school and a Chilean classmate of theirs from their salsa class. We ended up at a small club separated from all of the extranjero craziness of Bellavista, packed with just Chileans and playing only cumbia (the second national dance of Chile, after la cueca). It was an excellent time. We were lucky to have the Chilean with us, because otherwise we never would have gone to this place. Having a Chilean guy with you also decreases the likelihood that men will jotear you- jotear basically means “to creep on” or “to hit on” in English. Going to a place that has a dearth of foreigners also decreases the number of jotes (literally, buzzard…colloquially, creep) present. Why? Because the jotes want the gringas! Jotes know not to go to places like this cumbia club, because their “prey” isn’t there. All in all, it was a good choice.

A mural inside the cumbia club.

A mural inside the cumbia club.

Speaking of extranjeros (foreigners), I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on being a foreigner since I’ve come here. As I mentioned, my office is mostly made up of non-Chilean Latin Americans, and a couple of Europeans. I am the only gringa. What we all have in common is that we are foreigners here. We are different. We’re all making the same language adjustments- yes, even those who are native Spanish speakers! We are all living in a culture that is not our own. And the thing is, Chileans notice. They do. Chileans can spot a foreigner like that, with wicked accuracy. You don’t even have to be blonde. I confuse the heck out of them once I start talking, but it only takes a look to know that I’m not from here. My Spanish coworker says it’s because of the way the rest of us dress. It’s not that there’s anything particular strange or different about our clothes, or even about their clothes, but they just know it. It’s little things, like your backpack or your shoes or if you carry a water bottle (a reusable water bottle in the side of a backpack is a dead ringer for Americans!). It’s probably in the way we react to staring. We’re highly aware of our differentness, and therefore extra-sensitive to when people recognize it. Staring back at them gives you away. The Chileans don’t look back. Even the blonde ones.

One last quirk about being blonde and foreign: if you’re blonde, and you catch yourself and another blonde on the metro staring at each other, trying to figure out who’s Chilean and who’s not, trust me. Neither of you are. Chilean blondes don’t stare at other blondes trying to figure out their nationality. Only the foreigners do.

This is what life looks like lately:

This is the reward for two days of rain: beautiful, snowy, powerful mountains.

This is the reward for two days of rain: beautiful, snowy, powerful mountains.

"It's not enough to get mad. You have to mobilize."

“It’s not enough to get mad. You have to mobilize.”

I went back to Pomaire for a day. Pretty spectacular for winter, and a 180 from a few days before.

I went to Pomaire for a day. Pretty spectacular for winter, and a 180 from a few days before.

That’s all I’ve got, friends! Hope you are enjoying good weather, whatever season you’re in.

With love,

Gaby

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Volando

Has anyone figured out how to make time stop yet? Or at least slow down? I’ve been in Santiago for 3 months. Which means I’ve been in Chile for about 3.5 months. Which leaves me about a month and half left.

I don’t want to talk about it. We dropped someone off at the airport last week, and I started crying. It got me thinking about how I’ll be leaving soon enough and then I’ll be one dragging my bags through the airport again and saying goodbye. My host mom just brought up how quickly the time has flown by, and I literally could not look at her because I started tearing up. I’ve had a bunch of moments like that this week, and mixed in with seeing people’s fall pictures from the States, plus a very full academic workload, it’s been emotional. I’m mostly blaming it on being tired and hormonal (you didn’t need to know that, but whatever, it’s the truth!), but we all know that that’s not the whole reason.

My real parents and my host parents have both told me that they know I will be coming back one day. And maybe it will be soon. I’ve decided to apply for an internship which would put me back here for 10 weeks next summer (or winter, in the Southern hemisphere). It would be a very valuable experience for me besides just getting some more time here, I promise. But it’s a competitive program, so who knows my chances of actually being accepted? Which means I don’t know when I’ll be able to come back. And that’s hard for me to deal with. I’ve done exactly what I wanted to do here. I didn’t really want to come here to travel every other weekend or go out three nights a week or anything. I cam here to live here. I came here in the hope that I could lay down some roots and that I would have a life here. And I do. Which means it’s going to be hard to leave.

I’ll be incredibly excited to go home and see my family and celebrate the holidays, of course. It’s gonna be an awesome Christmas. That doesn’t mean I’ll be any less sad or teary in that airport come December.

Several weeks ago, I was discussing how I don’t want to be seen as a tourist here. Then a Chilean asked me, “So what are you doing here?” And I didn’t really have a good answer for him. I am not a tourist. Do I occasionally do tourist-y things? Yes. Occasionally. Infrequently. I’m not an expatriate, because I’m not here for good. Am I just a foreigner? Just a student? Is that the easiest way to describe what I’m doing here? I wish there were a word that aptly described my temporarily-settled state. I know that, no matter how hard I try, no matter how many gringo students are overly impressed by my Spanish, I am not Chilean. Not by a long shot. So what do we think I am?

Oh hey! I finally went to a club!

Tip #1: if you want to drink, previa- or as American college students call it, pre-game. Drinks in the clubs are generally expensive, and you don’t want to fight the crowd at the bar, then have to sit at the bar with your drink while you’d rather be out dancing.

Tip #2: nothing really gets going until after 12, and a lot of people stay out until at least 4. So get yourself ready for a long night.

Tip #3: wear clothing with pockets. Try to avoid bringing a purse, because it’s hard to dance with your purse hanging off of you. It’s also easier to keep track of your stuff when it’s very close to your person.

Tip #4: take cab money to get home. Try not to ride the buses, especially alone, especially if you haven’t planned out multiple bus routes before you leave. Just take the cab.

Tip #5: try to get in for free! This is much easier for the ladies, especially the foreign ladies (sorry, guys). Covers can be ridiculous. Sometimes all it takes is getting there a little early or say you’re attending a club’s event on Facebook. But you’ll appreciate saving those 3.000 pesos or whatever it is.

Tip #6: just dance! Get in there and get going. That’s what you’re there for anyways, right?

Let’s talk about fashion! Santiago, like any other big city, exhibits a wide range of styles. You can get a good sense of it just by riding the metro. Let’s discuss some trends, shall we?

You can find every kind of sweater, or chaleco, in Chile. Like, every kind of style, knit, wool, size, shape, color you could possibly imagine. Chilean women wear sweaters in every kind of weather. It’s almost the only thing you’ll see them wearing on colder days, and I’ve even seen them when the temperature goes above 70.

Boots are also an essential part of the wardrobe, and they usually come with some kind of heel. I actually found it a little difficult to find flat boots at the beginning of the semester. Wedge boots, with laces, seem to have been the hot thing this season. Boots are still in full force now that spring has come to stay. I wonder if it’s an all-season thing.

Chilean women wear scrunchies. Not even kidding. We’ve been making fun of them for years, and they’re selling them new, in all kinds of prints and fabrics, in higher-end accessory stores. And the women make them work too! There’s nothing ridiculous about them! I might actually give one a try. Maybe we can bring it back?

There’s also a lot of acid-wash or very light denim around. Just another trend that I thought was gone with the 90’s until I got down here.

Scarves are everywhere, and with the wide range in temperatures you can experience in a day, they’re a must-have item. There are two words for scarves here. You’ve got the bufanda, which is usually a larger scarf made of thicker or heavier materials. There’s also the pañuelo, which appears to be more common and certainly so in the springtime. Pañuelos- also the word for handkerchief- are smaller and made of lighter materials.

I’ve seen a lot of ponchos. Mostly in the rural areas, but I’ve seen many a little bitty Chilean wrapped up in a poncho in Santiago when it gets cold. Side note: when it gets cooler here- and I mean, in the 40’s and 50’s, so not freezing- they wrap their babies up. Multiple blankets, poncho, ski jacket, boots, hats, gloves, the whole shebang. Chilean babies do not get cold.

Last thing, and probably the most unusual: printed parachute or harem pants. You know, the pants made out of some kind of jersey-like material that are tight at the ankles but baggy everywhere else? I’ve seen them all over the place. It’s a very specific Chilean woman who wears them- young, artsy, and hip. But really. Printed parachute pants! Are common!

One thing you don’t see: a lot of athletic wear. I’ve left my house in yoga pants just once this semester. Once. I have never gone to class in anything less than jeans. I also have yet to see many shorts, particularly on women. I’ll update you soon on that front now that the weather is regularly getting above 70-75. Because I don’t know how I’ll be able to wear full-length when it gets to be 80 and brilliantly sunny every day and I have to ride a crowded metro that hits 90 degrees during rush hour.

Oh, there was another temblor! I was sound asleep and felt nothing, but apparently it was stronger than the last one. It really makes me believe what the Chileans say about weird weather (which we had again recently: a full week of sun and 70’s followed by two days of under 60 with pouring rain) meaning more seismic activity. The scientists say no, but I’m inclined to side with the locals on this one.

We’ll see what adventures or thoughts I have in store for you next time! Until then, chao chao y cuídate mucho!

With love,

Gaby

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Valley of Paradise?

It rained a lot last weekend. As in, this was the heaviest rain this part of Chile had seen in a long time. Naturally, this was the weekend we went to Valparaíso.

Valparaíso is one of Chile’s larger cities and sits nestled between the Pacific Coast and the precordillera. The city is mostly built on rather steep hills. The appeal of Valpo is that you can basically just walk around everywhere and find things to do- they have an amazing bar scene and nightlife, lots of outdoor art, and just general exploring. Which involve walking, up and down hills, outdoors. Historic rain is not conducive to that kind of activity.

So, I will preface my Valpo experience by saying that I am sure I would have enjoyed myself much more if the weather had been nicer. In the sun, I bet things would have looked brighter, cleaner, and less sad. The energy was very low, and I think I picked up on that and thus did not experience as much of Valparaíso as I should have.

After dropping our things off at the hostel, my friends and I walked over to La Sebastiana, one of Pablo Neruda’s three houses in Chile (remember that I went to La Isla Negra during my first weekend in Santiago). Once again, they would not let you take pictures of the interior of the house itself, but I was able to get pictures of the ocean view from the inside:

Pablo Neruda looked out this window. Think about that.

La Sebastiana, like La Isla Negra, demonstrates Neruda’s love for the sea and his unique and eccentric style. Once again, every piece in the house was selected and located where it was for a specific reason. He even named a lot of the bigger furniture and artwork. It was a short and easy visit, and we got a student discount too. Walking there was a nice way to look around Valpo a little bit more. From what I did get to see, I think Valpo is best seen on the street.

After that we met up with some other friends and walked around the Museo Cielo Abierto, or the Open Sky Museum. Valparaíso is also known for its murals (or graffiti), and the Museo Cielo Abierto is a network of streets demonstrating specific murals. It was a little difficult to follow the streets, since everything winds around and goes up and down precarious stairways, and some murals were covered, but it was another cool way to experience art. Here are a few examples:

Like peeking into windows.

Trying to get an artistic shot.

Not a mural. But I’m obsessed with these houses.

Love the colors in this. Also, I wish I knew who the man was.

After that, I was getting bored of the rain and the hills, so I went back to the hostel with friends and there we rested and laughed for a while. We went out again around 9 to get dinner and party for the night. Our hostel was excellent and recommended El Pimentón for dinner. The maximum capacity of this restaurant is 29 people- that’s how small and packed in it is. I highly recommend this restaurant! The staff was very friendly and the prices were cheap. I paid about US$6 in total for two or three glasses of raspberry-blended wine (probably one of the best things I’ve ever had to drink) and a giant (but really, giant) corn and cheese empanada.

After El Pimentón we wandered over to an artsy bar that our hostel had also recommended, but it was packed (around 10:15- very early for Chileans!) and there were no seats. Since our next potential event (a concert) was not scheduled to start until at least 1 AM, we wandered over to another bar. It looked like a new place- you could tell that the design of the bar was not really figured out yet, and there wasn’t even a sign over the door. It also seemed like it might be a secret spot, since when we walked literally every single person there turned at stared at us until we sat down. On the bright side, they had drink specials until midnight, which meant the drinks were dirt cheap, and we hung out there until close.

We walked back over to the concert to see if things had started yet, and while there was certainly a crowd, they were only playing recorded music. We were later told that the concert wouldn’t have really started until about 3 AM. So off we went to a disco! This was my first disco in Chile, folks. I know I know I know, I’ve been here for 3 months, how the heck have I not been to a disco yet?! I’m debating whether or not to call this my first real disco experience. Apparently it’s the low season in Valpo, especially with the rain, so the disco was fairly empty. We danced to a few songs, a band came in and played a short set, and then more dance music until about 3:30. Then we decided that things probably weren’t going to pick up and figured we should just get back to the hostel.

We were up bright and early (okay, 10 AM. But really, we got home around 4 and the neighbors were playing incredibly loud music until probably 6) for the official field trip with our study abroad program. It was raining once again, and even harder than it had rained the night before. Of course we went out on a boat ride in the bay.

The boat ride gave us some cool views of Valparaíso and also taught us a little bit of history. Fishing and shipping are big industries in Valpo. The city was the most important port in Chile for a long time (now it’s San Antonio). We also learned that the word for sea lion in Castellano is “lobos del mar”- sea wolves!

Shipping Containers. You know what they call them in Spanish? Containers.

Fishing boats! Don’t you love their colors and the fact that they’re all named after women?

Sea wolves! Although I still think their furry collars resemble a lion’s mane.

The view of Valpo from the bay. Thank the “Enhance” option in iPhoto that these photos aren’t entirely gray. Because that’s what it looked like that day.

After that we went up to a mirador, or a viewpoint, to look down at the city and the sea. My photos aren’t very interesting. After about fifteen minutes we went back to the bus and got ready for lunch.

Empanada photo time!

Empanada de mariscos- seafood. This thing was packed with shellfish. So delicious.

Reineta a la plancha- grilled reineta, the standard fish in Chile.

My vegetarian friend S.’s salad. Vegetarians can survive in Chile!

After that we had another brief walking tour of Valpo. Very brief- it was getting colder and wetter the more we did. We went up an ascensor, one of the old escalator cars that transported people up and down the hills of Valpo. We saw parts of the old English/German neighborhood and visited a newly opened art museum. Here are a few photos to take you the rest of the way.

This is the seat of the commander-in-chief of the Navy in Chile. There were also naval ships all over the bay.

Up the ascensor! It gets scary at the top and you think you’re going to fall all the way back down. Okay, that might be just me…

More graffiti! I really like this mural.

Requisite shot of the colorful houses nestled into the hills. Imagine this in the sunshine!

Chao chao, Valparaíso! I can see how it’d be the valley of paradise. It just wasn’t on the days that we went.

With love,

Gaby

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