Thursday, June 26, 2008


Hello again! I'm not as disconnected as one may think all the way down here in the corner of the world, and I'd like to spend this blog focusing on the many people in my life doing wonderful things. I am surrounded by incredible people, even if it is currently a virtual circle.

First and foremost, family:

My mom: For gathering a fantastic care package, including a prescription that was a pain in her butt to get, FOUR BOXES of CheezIts, real salad dressing (ranch AND bleu cheese), chocolate chips, red pepper flakes, and other marvels. Two boxes of CheezIts have already met their match, and no, I did not share.
Anne, my older sister: For including in said care package the most delicious cookies ever, whose crumbs my friends and I ate with milk and a spoon once the larger pieces were gone. I am guarding three in the freezer.
Tessa, my younger sister: For recently getting a job as Belle at Disneyland Hong Kong! I never thought I'd visit China but now I just might have to.

Impressive accomplishments:

Jeremy Sharp: For recently completing the largest scale project of his life after years of planning and work, and resulting in what I can only assume (since he has as yet not sent me pictures, ahem) is a magnificent - and mammoth - art installation at the new Harborview hospital in Seattle.
Jacob Stone: For his ten-year anniversary with Punch Drunk Productions. He is my only and longest-running self-employed friend, and his company does great things.
John Salvo: For being the first of my friends to get promoted to a job with "senior" in the title.
Nathan Fowler: For being one step closer to getting his fantastic young adult novel published.

Friends going to graduate school in the fall:

Elizabeth Ruzzo: Duke in Durham, North Carolina to study Genetics and Genomics.
Mark Wehrenberg: University of Wisconsin in Madison, Wisconsin (his second UW, I love it) to study Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences (and Sarah for going with him!)
Sean Schneider: University of Washington in Seattle to study Genome Science.
Evan Morrisey: Georgetown in Washington, D.C. for Security Studies (look for him on the presidential ballot in 2028).
Clare Brown: Evergreen in Olympia, Washington to study Environmental Studies, and specifically migratory birds of Patagonia.
Jacob Gaboury: who will be getting his PhD at NYU in NY, NY in Media Culture and Communication (ahhh, the arts).
(I have really smart friends, okay?? Don't ask me how a liberal arts girl got so many science-oriented friends. Even my liberal arts friends do annoyingly smart things like get their phDs. Let me say this now: I am just fine with my measly BA and have no plans of going back to school any time soon, but I do plan to live vicariously and visit all you crazies scattered around the country.)


Nick Crimp: For staying in the best e-mail contact with me since I left, for starting the most recent interesting blog I read instead of doing work, and for staying sober (huzzah).
Amber Casali: For staying in amazing e-mail contact despite the fact that she lives in an electricity-free yurt on Orcas Island, which deserves a shout-out in and of itself.
Casey Sagisi: For staying in best IM contact, for making brave and bold decisions with his life, and for being "in my head."
Adam Munson: For trying to quit smoking! I hope it sticks, dude.
Meagan Demitz: For tirelessly helping me plan my vacation, and for making me laugh a lot. (She is also already in grad school, and will be living abroad next year. w00t.)
Robyn and Matt: For coming to South America to take a vacation with me, and for also tirelessly planning parts of the trip. I can't wait!

Last but not least:

Janet Eaton: This is a sadder shout-out, as a fellow teacher and friend of ours here, Lucas, had to leave early to go back to the Pacific Northwest (his parents live in Mukilteo) to be with his mother, Janet, who was recently diagnosed with colon cancer. Janet gets a shout-out for being one of the few to post a comment on my blog, and for keeping such an interesting and honest blog herself. I ask you all to send as much positive energy her way as possible.

I apologize if I left anyone out of the shout-out list. Please post comments with your own shout-outs! I hope all is well. Stay tuned for up-to-the-minute vacation details, and a final "best and worst of Chile" blog. Also, I promise to update Flickr, one of these days.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Solstice Weekend

While you were all busy celebrating summer solstice in the northern hemisphere (I can't tell you how I missed being in Fremont with the naked bikers and all of my friends having the party of the summer), those here in the south paid very little attention to the winter solstice. Although it should have been June 20, apparently they consider the first day of winter June 21 here, so I just counted my entire weekend as one long solstice event. It started Friday, which this incredible sunset:
On Saturday I woke up to sunshine and decided not to lose the day. Well, okay, I woke up at noon so I guess I decided not to lose the rest of the day. I had never ventured past Viña del Mar but I kept hearing about Con Con and Reñaca, two beach towns north of there, and I knew I had to see them before I left. So, I caught a micro (local bus) to Con Con and figured I'd make my way back south from there. It cost $1, like all transportation here. Here is a self-portrait taken on the micro:

The ride ended up taking an hour, and when I got off the bus, I was sort of like, is this it? I did buy a first-of-its-kind (for me) wheat and vegetable empanada which was fantastic (allegedly Con Con and Reñaca are famous for their empanadas). Seeing that there was nothing going on in this tiny, sleepy town, however, I made my way down to the beach:

Of course, it being the first day of winter (albeit a beautiful one) there was also not a lot going on shoreside, so I started walking back south toward Valparaíso, about 30 kilometers away (no, I did not walk the full way). I knew Reñaca was about 10 kilometers away (roughly 5 miles), but there were also micros running on this ocean road, so I figured I'd walk until something compelled me to stop or I didn't feel like being on foot anymore. The walk ended up being beautiful and fraught with sights, tourist-related and otherwise. It sort of felt like Malibu meets Maui. For those of you who have been to both places, observe:

There was a small pedestrian path between the road and what was at times a cliff plummeting to the ocean, but I felt surprisingly safe despite the fact that at times the path was washed or landslided away and I had to walk closer to the road with cars whizzing by at top speed, despite it being relatively curvy and narrow. I definitely felt safer than the bikers who had no choice but to ride on the road (the path was way too small and trecherous for bikes to risk the cliff) and many of whom - I'm assuming tourists on rented bikes - looked miserable.

I should note that condos here are skyrocketing (pun intended). There must be at least 100 buildings under construction in the Viña-to-Con Con region (Valpo is gloriously void, except of course for the one I live in.) Everywhere you look there are cranes, half-finished buildings with rebar sticking out, and signs proclaiming the sale of thousands of condos I doubt will ever be filled. I did my best to keep my eyes on the ocean to the right and not on the construction sites to my left.

After about an hour I arrived in a small strip of land filled with trendy restaurants and a large, posh Saturday crowd. It's worth mentioning that Chileans aren't very good at anticipating other people. In a crowd, no one moves out of the way for you, and no one waits for you to move out of their way, either. There is a lot of shouldering, bumping, foot-stepping, and generally inconsiderate behavior. It drives me mad. The same is true on sidewalks: groups walking four abreast do not seem to notice that they leave no room for anyone else, and maybe, imperceptibly move a fraction of a hair out of the way as you flatten yourself against whatever structure you are now up against in order to pass. I have taken to shouldering with glee, especially once I figured out that if they size you up for a gringo, they expect you to move. I mention this because I know this particular instance will always stick out in my head: in this crowded, bustling, high-falooting strip of beach, an oldish-trying-to-be-youngish woman wearing the ugliest, gaudiest fur I have ever seen was sauntering toward me and actually moved to be IN MY WAY, assuming, of course, I would move for her. Instead, I gave her a great gringo body check, and when she said something I will not translate due to my varied readership, I turned, smiled sweetly, and said, "hay que dejar que otras pasan, señora." (You have to let people pass, lady.) It was a particular burn to use "señora," I think, since it's generally reserved for older women. I bet she'll remember it for a while too, as yet another example of why foreigners should be shot at the border rather than let cross, or at least that seems to be a prevailing mentality. (A recent poll showed that more than 70% of Chileans do not approve of foreigners living in Chile. Ouch.)

Anyway, I continued on my walk and soon found myself admiring a lot of pelicans, which was cool. There were great rock formations all over the coast, and, as you can imagine, some incredible houses. Here's an example of one such house built into one such rock formation:

Here it is from the other side:

I think it might be famous and will have to ask my tourism students when I see them on Tuesday.

Further south, there was a random area dedicated to Pablo Neruda, which means I have now been to all three of his houses and a fourth special park just for him. It was lovely, but my legs were starting to protest so I didn't stay long. Since the whole area sits on a bay, it had a nice view of Valparaíso, so it was fun to see my own city from a distance since I've so long had these towns as my distant view. Here's Valparaíso from Pablo Neruda's park:

Next up on the walk was what I'm assuming is North Reñaca for lack of another posted name, but it was literally just a collection of brand-new condos an a few open-air restaurants. Did I mention that a lot of rich Chileans live in this area?

I finally made it to Reñaca about 2 hours after I started walking. Things were really bustling and apparently they know how to enjoy a sunny day, regardless of the season. I sat down at an outdoor restaurant since so far I had only eaten a vegetable empanada, and ordered a strawberry milkshake, seafood empanadas (since they're famous there, too!) and seafood stew.

My view was this hilarious set of trampolines rigged with body harnesses that let kids jump really high and do flips and the like. It was actually fun to watch. The sun set just as I finished my soup, and I noticed that a couple sitting in front of me didn't bother to turn around and look even once at the glowing landscape. I'm often surprised by how little people appreciate their natural environment.

When I got back on foot I was surprised how much my heels in particular were aching, so I hobbled to the closest bus stop and hopped on the first micro heading to Valparaíso. When I got home, I watched a dubbed version of Jaws on TV, napped, and then went to meet two of my favorite students, Ivan and Elizabeth, at a crazy party held at the old Italian embassy. (Eli is well connected due to her fashion-designer sister and puts me on the list for all sorts of fun events. Thursday I went to an opening of a club, complete with a fashion show with none other than Miss Chile herself. More importantly, there was free booze and food, including a full sushi bar. Wicked.) Anyway, at Casa Italia there were three different rooms boasting a variety of music and I danced for several hours with Ivan (who is blessedly gay), while he encouraged me to dance with this other guy, who also turned out to be gay. Not my night for straight men. I made my way home at 4 a.m., and I have to say, I do love the transport system here, with 24 hour busses and shared taxis that literally drop me off at my door, come frequently even in the middle of the night, and cost $1.

Today I woke up at 2 p.m., and was happy to be greeted by a gray sky, since clearly it was going to be an "indoor" kind of Sunday. I tried to stand up and promptly doubled back onto the bed from the pain in my calves. Apparently my legs don't take well to long walks and dancing in heels on the same day. So, naturally, I stayed in bed and watched a movie (The Fifth Element) until hunger forced me to hobble onto the streets in search of pasta (since they don't believe in greasy breakfasts here at any time of the day and let alone at 5 p.m.).

And, that pretty much brings us up to speed. It's now 7:00, I haven't planned my review session for class tomorrow, and I'm behind on my work for Apex. The first of many finals (both oral and written) start this week and I know this will be a long few days, but at least I had a fantastic weekend to lead into it!

I hope summer solstice treated you all equally as well. Please post comments - ahem - telling me how you celebrated the longest day of the year. (p.s. while the days are now getting shorter for y'all, they are getting longer down here. Suckahs!)

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

The Wanderlust Strikes Again

I know I haven't made good on the guest-filled blog yet; the truth is I started writing it a week ago and just haven't finished it. I've been pretty busy with school - the end of the semester is nearing - working for Apex, and also doing lots of other, more fun things, so blogging has taken a back seat. I will post it soon!

In other news - this may come as a surprise to some of you - I recently decided not to return for the second semester here in Valparaíso and (most likely) move to Buenos Aires for the rest of my time here. Phew!

It's no secret that haven't been totally enamored of the Chilean culture. Honestly, I've been somewhat bored here. The language barrier is extremely frustrating and even after 3 months I still don't understand most of what comes out of Chileans' mouths. I mean, other Latin Americans have a hard time understanding them, so I was doomed from the beginning. And, the Spanish I have picked up are modismos - that is, words or phrases that will serve me in Chile and nowhere else in the world.

I do enjoy teaching and, after recently conducting class in a bar, I've connected with some of my students who could be theoretical friends once the semester ends. However, the though of teaching for a second semester isn't entirely appealing; English is sort of the ugly stepsister requirement at my school and as such I am a low priority for most of my students. Also, my schedule this semester was amazing because it was originally intended for a teacher with seniority who took extended maternity leave. I have gotten used to waking up at 10 and having three day weekends, and I know my schedule next semester would not be so appealing: most gringo teachers at my campus have class until almost midnight and then again at 8 a.m. on Saturdays! Not that this was really a deciding factor, just one more drop in the bucket.

Although Valparaíso is amazing and I have had a lot of fun here - admittedly I will miss this city and the few friends I've made - I want to take advantage of this time while I have it to do as much as is humanly possible. This will also allow me to travel a great deal more , so by the time I get back I will have done much more than if I stayed put.

So, timeline: I'll finish the semester here, of course, which ends on July 11. Then I'll travel for a month from July 13ish to August 11ish to northern Chile, Bolivia, and Peru, and come back here to Santiago in August to collect my giant suitcases and head to Buenos Aires, probably around August 15. (Speaking of, I'm so excited for this long vacation and can't wait to see Robyn and Matt at Lake Titicaca and then head to Cusco! Inca Trail, high altitude and coca leaves to treat us for it, here we come.) I should note that if I fall in love with anywhere in Bolivia or Peru, I will consider moving there instead. But when I visited Buenos Aires, it was love at first sight, so it will be hard to top.

Buenos Aires is a very happening city, I understand Argentinians when they speak, and I already have a friend and therefore a social network there; all good things. I can support myself working for Apex from there since it's a much cheaper country than Chile (also a good thing). All in all I'm really excited about this chance to do something totally different.

I still plan on coming back to Seattle on or near December 19 unless anything else changes. And... that's my news! Everyone I've told here has been really supportive, especially our incredible TeachingChile director, Bruce. This is us at an amazing wine tasting he and co-coordinator Andrea organized for us a few weeks ago:

Did I mention he's great?? He calls me Arch. I love it.

Also, today I finally sucked it up and told my "buddy" (i.e. it is a constant struggle to convince him that he is NOT my boyfriend, or pololo as they say here, but he's such a fun guy it's worth the effort to keep him as a friend, especially having so few of them here) that I'm leaving in a month. He sulked, left, and called me 30 seconds later to ask me how I was, which is not entirely uncommon among Chileans and drives me insane. I mean, you just saw me less than one minute ago. I'm exactly the same as I was then. They also have a habit of constantly asking if you are having a good time, which to me is an obvious 'fun-killer' question, especially when asked a dozen times in the span of a night out. But, I digress...

Now the only person left to tell is my landlady, who I am meeting tomorrow so I can hand over the majority of my paycheck. (This is a picture of one month's pay. Guess which stack I get to keep?)

I hope she is understanding and refunds me the security deposit (equivalent to what you see in the big stack here, or about $500) since that cash would go a long way in Argentina. She's a great, sweet woman, so I don't think it will be a problem.

So, in the next month I just have to finish the semester, pack my stuff (which I will store in Santiago at friends' houses while I travel), get rid of the equivalent weight of what I've bought here, and be on my merry way. I'm trying to do everything once or one more time before I go, and I suddenly feel quite busy since I only have one month left to do what I originally thought I'd have five more for. I definitely haven't had many lazy nights on the couch lately, that's for sure.

I promise to post again soon and update my Flickr photos. One final note, after I wrote the last blog about the drought, it POURED RAIN for five straight days and has rained on and off since then. To wit, it is raining as I type. I heard a news report that Chile got 1/3 of its annual rainfall in three of those days. I can now add 'flood victims' to the list of national crises, but the urine and its corresponding smell are gone!