Monday, July 28, 2008

More on Bolivia, and onto Peru

(Editor's note: I have been working on this blog for over a week and waiting to post it until I could include pictures, so it is quite long and detailed. Not that that should be new to you if you are a regular reader! Of course, this computer now won't LET me post photos, so, sorry... it's text-heavy.)

I had an extra day to kill before meeting Matt and Robyn since they couldn't get a flight into Puno the day we wanted to meet. Rather than tacking it on to Lake Titicaca, where I'll already have plenty of time, I decided to spend another day (Wednesday) in La Paz. I really loved the city and am sad that I will probably never be there again in my life. That is something I have had to address constantly during my travels, that with so many places to see and so little time in life and so little oil left, I will probably not get to duplicate trips.

The first day in La Paz I went to five museums, four of which were included in the low price of 4 bolivianos (about 50 cents). They were housed in the same building but otherwise had pretty much nothing to do with each other: precious metals and pottery; costume masks and dioramas of Bolivian living and historical scenes; the war (of the Pacific I think?) where they lost a bunch of land to Chile; and one room dedicated to sea life of the Pacific ocean. After that I walked down the street to what is quite possibly my favorite museum of all time, dedicated to musical instruments. I don't even play any instruments and I loved it! It had a crazy variety, and each room you walked into was motion sensitive so that the lights came on with you, and music from the instruments in that room started to play. They had a whole room dedicated to random instruments people had invented which included everything you can think of (for example, a banjo made with a spam can and a five-handled guitar). They also had lots of instruments you could play yourself. At 5 bolivianos it was steep, but well worth it.

The next two days I sort of lazed around; slept in, took long walks, took naps, and ate a lot. I perused the museum of contemporary art and seriously considered buying something. Art is so cheap there! Even by Bolivia's most famous artists.

On Sunday afternoon I ran into two friends, Cameron and Debbie, which I knew was inevitable since about 20 of us are doing essentially the same trip. Ironically, they live in Seattle when not living in Chile. We had a lovely two dinners together and will also be in Puno and Cusco on overlapping days, so I look forward to seeing them again. I also just happened to IM a girl that teaches in Viña too, and three of them changed their plans so we were in La Paz at the same time. We took in a Peña show together on Tuesday night, during which I managed to leave my debit card in an ATM. Nice work, Arch. Luckily Robyn and Matt and I are meeting up on Sunday, so with shockingly minimal effort I was able to cancel the card, get a new card ordered which this amazing woman at my bank will forward to an address in Chile, and wire a large sum to Robyn's account. My hotel in La Paz agreed to overcharge my credit card and give me the cash, so that should sustain me until Sunday. I felt like an idiot but at least I was able to get it worked out pretty quickly and painlessly.

On Tuesday I went on a tour with five Brasilians, one Belgian man, two Frenchies, and a German woman that fullfilled all obnoxious German traveller stereotypes; I really thought I might say something to her before the day was out but I was able to hold my tongue. The tour included the Moon Valley (valle de la luna), which is a rather large area just outside the city that has random rock formations due to rain and wind. It looks sort of like a large-scale sand-drip castle. Quite lovely. Before that we drove on harrowing switchbacks to reach Mt Chacaltaya. I thought I had signed up for another "car tour" which was going to be relaxing after what I did the day before (Monday), but the mountain stood at 5,300 kilometers (16,000 feet!) and we had to climb the last 200 of them. I didn't think it could take so long to climb 600 feet, but there is no oxygen up there! The views were incredible and it was well worth it, for me. (Although as soon as I reached the top, panting, the German woman screamed at me, you are in my photo!! If I had more breath I would have had a few choice words for her.) During the climb I noticed that the rocks surrounding me were strange... like it was a giant rock landfill, for lack of a better description. They were all broken and the edges next to me were jagged. I asked the guide why the rocks were this way, and the answer was fascinating. He said it was because water filled the rocks during the day, and at night when the water froze and expanded, it broke the rocks into pieces. So cool!

Two Brasilian girls who only had a day's acclimatization got altitude sickness and we had to pull over a few times on the switchbacks back to let them lose their lunch. Lesson learned: acclimatization is important! I got away with a dull headache, dulled even further by chewing coca leaves and a tiny bit of this weird coal that apparently extracts the minerals from the leaves. It also turned my entire mouth numb.

Now, about Monday... I didn't write about it beforehand because I didn't want my poor Mom, who worries about everything, to have to spend the entire day thinking, "My daughter is seconds away from certain death." Yes, ladies and gentlemen, last Monday I mountainbiked down what is actually classified as the world's most dangerous road. This is akin to my older sister bringing home a videotape of her bungie jumping... the folks weren't happy about it, but at least she didn't tell them until afterward. It was entirely out of character for me and I was hesitant and nervous beforehand, but it ended up being 62 kilometers of great fun. It really isn't very dangerous for bikers, even beginners like me, and 99% of the fatalities occur because of bad (and sometimes drunk) driving. The worst was in 1983 when a truck driver went over the edge, with 100 people crammed into the back. None of them survived. Of course, there is a new highway now that most of the traffic uses, and we only passed about 3 cars during the entire trip. It was sort of eerie biking a road with so many crosses erected in memory of the many who have died on the very same road, but at the same time I was so focused on braking (which I did for the majority of the down hill trip) and avoiding any large rocks or potholes that I didn't have much time to think about anything else. The group I went with - Gravity Assisted Mountain Biking - was easily the best and I would say that anyone who wanted to do a similar trip would be a fool to go with any other company. Their standards of safety were incredibly high, and the price was almost identical to the less safe options. Also, we ended (and lunched) at an awesome animal reserve where I got to swim in a pool, eat fresh pasta, and play with monkeys. We started at about 4,500 meters and some 0 degrees and during the day dropped about 2,500 meters, ending in a sub-tropical forest; needless to say we shed a lot of layers throughout the day. You can check out the tour I did here: I also have a CD of pictures they took of us during the day which I will share at some point. Here is a link to the tour:

Ok, onto more important things: eating. I continued to revel in street food every single day of my time in Bolivia. It actually changes as the day wears on. Early in the morning people sell coffee, tea, and something edible that I didn't really notice since it was 7 am, but possibly a breakfast-type sandwich. As the morning wears on the salteña and tucamana sellers appear. Salteñas are possibly my favorite street food. They come in a variety of flavor combinations, usually chicken or beef with potatoes or peas or both. One time as I was seeking a salteña seller I came upon what seemed like a catered parade and was handed a FREE one! Then the guy handing out free cokes came by and I definitely offended him when I said no. That was the second time I turned down a free coke and subsequently offended the offerer, the first time being on the bus to La Paz. We pulled over in the middle of what seemed like nowhere, and the bus assistant got off and then reboarded with two crates of cokes. Random south American events like this occur constantly.

Ice cream is also quite popular, and you can see men pushing ice cream carts all day long. Women also walk around with trays of fruit drinks and jello, sometimes with whipped cream on top of them. I resisted all three. What I love is that all juices and fruity offerings come in real glasses, and you either stay by their stand while you consume it, or they come back to wherever they gave you the glass, usually along a plaza. Here's to reusable resources!

As the day turns to evening, the salteña sellers disappear and in their place appear women selling not nearly as good bready, pastry items. Some of them have corn, some have meat; all are dry. This is also when my sandwich ladies appear. For 6 bolivianos (about 85 cents) I got a pork or chicken sandwich on a delicious cheese roll with pickled carrots, tomatoes, onions, spicy sauce and this addictive seasoning. As I munched on that I wandered down the street to the juice and milkshake ladies. They are out all day, and sell every type of juice or smoothie you can imagine (also in real glasses). There is one juice I ventured to try that has something rather sinister in the bottom that ended up to just be a dried peach, in peach juice; it was delicious. I usually got a pineapple, strawberry and banana smoothie, but they also sell, you are reading this right, BEER smoothies.

The nighttime food or "drunk food" as I like to call it consists of street vendors with sausages, hamburger patties, and a pile of grilled onions with rolls and buns and condiments. Not so dissimilar from what you would find in the U.S., at least in appearance; I never actually tried this brand of street food since for whatever reason I was weary of it, who knows why since nothing else makes me suspicious.

After I left La Paz I went to Copacabana, a small town on the coast of Lake Titicaca. There isn't a lot to do there but eat and rest, so I did plenty of both. I also ran into the three girls again (KaLeah, Katie, and Hillary) so we hung out. The second day I took an overnight trip to Isla del Sol, a smallish island about 2 hours away on the slowest boat ride of my life. There are lots of ruins on the island and Inka legend says that the sun was born here. It was certainly sunny! To hike from the north to the south of the island took about 4 hours (including a 45 minute detour to the "labrynth," definitely the coolest ruins there.) It was an up-and-down hike and I had my backpack on, so I struggled a bit, but it was a good precursor to the actual Inka trail where I won't have more than a daypack to shoulder. I spent the night in a fairly crappy hostel with a private room but no running water in the communal bathroom (apparently common on this island, where there was not a single car and they transported everything by donkey). The stars were incredible, though! Plus, the room only cost $3 and the bed was comfortable.

The next day I took the early boat back and caught a bus out of Bolivia and into Puno, Peru, to finally meet up with Matt and Robyn! We are all here and they are adjusting well to the altitude. We actually managed a fairly steep hike up to the top of Puno today. Tomorrow we will take an overnight trip to some local islands where apparently we are housed with a family. More updates to come! Suffice to say I am so happy to be with some familiar people.

A few other random notes and observations about my time in Bolivia before I move on to Peru in the next post:

Rubber stamps are incredibly popular in La Paz. Seemingly everywhere "sellos de goma" are advertised. I have no idea why.

Everyone wears Yankees hats, but very few people know what the symbol means or who the Yankees are. I have also seen Dodgers and Red Sox hats. Similarly, Winnie the Pooh is very popular.

The shoeshiners wear ski masks over their faces. I thought it was because they were avoiding inhaling the fumes, but then I found out it is for a much sadder and less practical purpose. Since it is considered a very base job but they do it to support their families, they cover their faces so no one can recognize them.

There is a pizza chain called Eli's, which is what my students called me.

I found out that Bolivia's newish president, Evo Morales, is the first "non-corrupt" politician they've had in power pretty much ever. He has no college degree and is a real man of the people, doing crazy things like providing electricity and education to small towns. Of course, the U.S. is anti anything that even closely resembles socialism, so they cut off the $100 million in annual aid they were previously giving. This helps explain a little better why Bolivia suddenly started charging U.S. citizens an entry fee. Now, this socialist president is also unpopular with Bolivia's elite (of course), so they've managed to arrange an impromptu election to "verify" that Bolivia actually meant to elect him. General opinion is that he will win again.

Ok, I mentioned we are all in Puno, which we are, but I very nearly wasn't able to make it. If you remember my last blog, I was able to enter Bolivia as a Chilean because the immigration official did not want to deal with converting Chilean pesos to U.S. dollars. This wasn't a problem until I left Bolivia and tried to enter Peru, where the Peruvian official noticed I had no stamp from Bolivia in my passport. I explained why and he said, ok, go back to Bolivia and get a copy of your exit paper to prove it. So... I walked the short distance back to Bolivia, where the two men became infuriated that I had entered the country illegitimately. I explained that I had only done what the Bolivian immigration officer told me to do, and he called me a liar. I explained that I could not pay the fee that I tried to pay in pesos because I had no money and no way of getting money until I reached Puno. He again called me a liar, and started ignoring me, helping others. I explained, helplessly, that I could not be a prisioner in Bolivia and I had only done what they, Bolivians customs officials, had told me to do. He got angry at this and told me if I didn't change my tone he would send me to La Paz where they would deport me to the U.S. Now, being a level-headed person, I booked it back to Peru and the Peruvian agent, hoping I could use the country rivalry/dislike as leverage for him to help me. I explained that they refused to make a copy of my exit paper. He sort of shrugged his shoulders, at which point I, not meaning to but literally unable to help it, starting crying. Yes, I was THAT girl. A girl crying is normally something to glance at, but a girl crying at the border is JUICY. Everyone stopped and stared. He asked me to please calm down and said he would stamp me in as Chilean. I said, ok, but will I have problems trying to leave? He again shrugged his shoulders, which made me lose it even more and I started ranting about how I didn't like being called a liar and I had only done what I was told and blah blah blah. Eventually he stamped me in as a U.S. citizen but instead of giving me the full 90 days he limited me to 30... not sure what exactly that mattered, but since I will only be here for two weeks I wasn't sweating it. I was just so grateful for the stamp, and then embarrassed and ashamed at having been called a liar when I really had done what their cohorts told me to do. Several people tried to stop and talk to me but I was not in the mood to stoke their international gossip, so I fled to the bus which I was terrified would have left me by now. Luckily they were waiting, and after finally calming down I napped my way into Puno. And, that brings you up to speed!

After our two-day trip we are off to Cusco on the 31st, so stay tuned! I will try to blog again before we leave for the Inka trail on August 3. I understand I have some new readers, so I invite you to post comments! I hope all is well in Gringolandia.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Arica, Chile to La Paz, Bolivia

Since I couldn´t find a regular bus to the tiny town of Putre, I took a tour from Arica to Lauca national park in Chile. It´s supposed to be one of the most incredible national parks they have, and although it was beautiful and full of four of the five types of Camelidae- alpacas, llamas, vicuñas, and guanacos (no camels) - as well as an incredible variety of birds including flamingoes, I wouldn´t say it was the most incredible park I´ve ever seen. What it WAS was high. We reached 4,500 meters, which is about 13,000 feet, yikes! It was by far the highest I´ve ever been other than in an airplane. I think I was letting it get to me mentally since I had a headache before we even passed 2,000 meters, but I drank lots of water and it was what I like to call a "car tour", i.e. drive, stop and get out for five minutes to take pictures of hieroglyphs or an old church or a scenic vista, get back in the car, drive until the next 5 minute stop, etc. Suffice to say it was not very demanding, physically. Still, at our last and highest stop I was embarrassed how out of breath I became after climbing an indiscernable slope.

The tour stopped in Putre for a late lunch, where they deposited me before heading back to Arica. I was told I´d be able to book another day tour to Reserva las Vicuñas from here, which also has a salt flat and supposedly a ton more flamingoes. Alas, this one-horse town was almost tourist-free and there were no tours leaving the next day. Did I want to pay for a private guide? No I did not. Nor could I, it turned out: I figured I would just head to Bolivia a day early since Putre has nothing to offer, but it was a holiday and the bank in Putre (the only one for about 100 kilometers) would be closed the next day. Bolivia recently started charging U.S. citizens a $135 reciprocity fee, and I did not have that kind of cash on me. I didn´t fancy risking it and getting stuck at the border in the Andes, so I essentially became a prisoner of Putre for a day and a half. I slept about 12 hours that night, partly from exhaustion from the altitude, partly from boredom. There was actually a happening town-wide holiday party, but my head was pounding and I was already in bed by the time I heard the drums and pipes a-playing. I do regret missing out on what was probably a unique cultural experience, but it was freakin´ COLD up there at 3,500 meters and I was already so cozy under my five, count ém five wool blankets.

The next day (yesterday) I went to some fantastic hot springs that were quite relaxing. I exfoliated with this dark red clay/mud and as a result my skin is now super soft. That only killed about 3 hours, though, so after I ate lunch I napped. When I woke up I ate dinner with two other gringos and a Frenchie that were staying at the same hostel, and went back to bed for another 10 hours. This morning when I woke up the bank was blessedly open and I had no problems taking out money. I had bought my bus ticket to La Paz in Arica since the bus doesn´t actually STOP in Putre. I had to get a ride to the freeway and wait... and wait.... and wait for the bus to finally arrive two hours late. Luckily there was a bus shelter and I wasn´t the only one waiting. I chatted up two Mapuche Indians and, when they left, two Spaniards. The bus came and before I knew it we were at the Bolivian border.

Now, I had pipe dreams of using my Chilean ID to avoid the hefty entrance fee, but after hearing how strict they had been with other tourists I had given up hope and was ready with about $75,000 Chilean pesos. I also had my all-important yellow fever vaccine, which turned out to be not so important as I spent a total of 60 seconds at the customs window. I told him I was a Chilean resident with a US passport. Did I have $135 in American dollars? No, I told him I hadn´t been in the states in months but I had Chilean pesos. He pushed my passport back at me, said the equivalent of "I´m going to pretend I didn´t see this" and stamped me into Bolivia as a Chilean. SCORE! Although I am a tiny bit sad about not having a Bolivian stamp in my passport, I´m much more happy to have an extra $135 to spend, which I will dutifully spend in Bolivia.

The bus ride went through a Bolivian national park with some awesome rock formations and canyons that would have reminded me of Utah if I´d ever been, as well as some very random little farms and brick towns that seemed to be either half-completed or half-destroyed, it was hard to tell which. I´m amazed people live in these barren landscapes, but I loved seeing all the camelidaes grazing and being herded by women in colorful skirts and men with wide-brimmed hats. Also, every town, no matter how small, had a dusty soccer field.

The bus being late turned out to be sort of a good thing since we pulled into La Paz as the sun was going down, which turned the whole brick-filled valley a glowing red, as well as the snow-capped volcano behind it. Quite an introduction to the city. My hotel/hostel is sweet, a bit expensive, but in a good location and WARM which is nice. I´m happy to have a full 6 days here as I can already tell I will love this city. Dinner was a bit of a disappointment, I spotted an Indian place and immediately missed the hell out of Taste of India. I should have known better... the rest of the food I´ve tried here has all been great, however, and, not surprisingly, from the street. My travel book told me not to eat street food; was it kidding me?? Street cuisine is quite possibly my favorite aspect of going to a new place, and literally the first thing I did in Bolivia, while still AT the border, was buy baby potatoes and alpaca jerky from an indigineous woman in a bowler hat with a baby on her back. Once here I bought a savory, bready item and then a sweet pastry from two other indigineous women. Sorry, Fodors. My stomach is clearly more adapated than your normal readership´s. (I also brush my teeth with tapwater and order drinks with ice...)

About the altitude... I think I am adjusting pretty well. I´m still tired but that could easily be from traveling and, frankly, sleeping too much. As long as I´m not exerting any effort, I feel fine. Even walking on a flat plane is no problem. The instant I introduce any sort of a hill, however, forget about it. (The Inka Trail will be the death of us, Robyn and Matt, but I´m still really excited!!) They do have a few things to help combat altitude sickness, and so far the best (other than drinking lots of water and taking deep breaths) is mate de coca, which is a completely legal tea made from coca leaves. Randomly, CHEWING the leaves is allegedly illegal, but drinking them is no problem... anyway I´ve been taking good care at altitude, constantly using sunscreen, not drinking anything alcoholic, and getting my fill of mate de coca. Tomorrow I´m going to try to do a good walking tour of part of La Paz, which will be the first real test.

It´s 9;30 pm and clearly time for bed, so that´s more than enough for now, I think. I´ll update again soon, maybe? I never can tell when travelling but I seem to always find my way to the Internet, so keep your eyes peeled. I hope all are well!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Best and Worst of Chile


After two days of packing, cleaning, meeting with my landlady who did ultimately screw me out of most of my deposit, getting to Santiago and then dealing with the madhouse of an airport since we are now in ¨winter vacation,¨ here I am on my first day of vacation in Arica, Chile. Hooray!

Unfortunately I had to check my backpack and, being a first-time backpacker, neglected to consider the complications of so many loose straps. When I retrieved it at the other end of my flight, one of the straps was ripped loose and one half of the part that clips around the waist was ripped entirely off. Fortunately I found a sweet old man who is repairing it as we speak.

Arica is small but cute, not too much going on although Eiffel built 3 buildings here, no idea where they got that money since he built them after he was already quite famous. I spent the night in a cheap hotel and sadly already have travel bowels, no idea how that happened so fast.

Since I´m still technically in Chile I thought I´d finally post this bit that I´ve been working on for a while, which I like to call Elizabeth´s Best and Worst of Chile.

Best: Kissing on the cheek
I love this form of greeting people. Although my friend Renée recently pointed out that the mouth and nose are the most infectuous areas of the body and by constantly putting ourselves next to other people's faces we increase our chances of getting sick, I find shaking hands really unpleasant. In fact, I try to avoid it at all costs. I just can't help think about where people's hands have been or what they have touched. Also, a limp handshake may tell me a lot about a person, but I'd rather not have to find it out by squeezing their hand to death with my firm grip, taught to me by my father when I was five years old. Perhaps the most sanitary way to greet one another is with a bow, but the kiss on the cheek - one, not two, like they do in Spain, which gets really old if the group to greet is 3 or more people - is friendly and easy and sweet.

Worst: Kissing everywhere else
I know I've complained about this before, but seriously, what is up with Chileans making out everywhere?? There is no sacred space. I've been near Chileans making out in the streets, in parks or plazas, on the bus, in collective taxis, on campus and even in my classroom, on the dance floor or in line to get a drink at a bar, in the elevator, and even in restaurants with food in their mouths. Perhaps my least favorite sound in the world is the insincere smack of a kiss. I will admit that, ONCE, I made out with someone in public, at happy hour in an otherwise empty bar. As I recall, the relationship was short-lived because we had nothing in common, and we kissed because we didn't have anything to talk about. The national pasttime here is dating (and the jealousy that goes along with it), and I genuinely think that the majority of relationships are based on nothing more than not wanting to be single.

Best: Chilenismos
Chileans really have some great phrases they've incorporated into their language. I have an entire book called "Chilenismos" and have learned a great deal of Chilean Spanish that I am sad won't make sense in other Spanish-speaking cultures. Some favorites: a la suerte de la olla (at the luck of the pot, for when you ask what's for dinner); estar arriba de la pelota (to be above the ball, for when you're drunk and wavering back and forth like you're standing on a soccer ball); el eterno (the eternity; used for when you're preparing for a party or other event and have to go to a million stores, wait in line, and it seems to take forever); cachai? (means 'get it?' and comes from the English word "catch" as in "did you catch that? They love Anglicisms. Some people use this to punctuate just about every sentence); altiro (literally means 'at the shot' and means 'right away'); pucha (sort of like 'darn' or 'sheesh' or possibly a bit stronger, pronounced poocha); and a ton of others.

Worst: Chilean Spanish
As I've said again and again, the Spanish here is a challenge. I would not recommend anyone come to Chile to learn Spanish, because it will be a frustrating experience and, again, it will mostly only serve that person while in Chile. The accent is so tough that even other Latinamericans can't understand them, and I've come to the conclusion that they deliberately say things in a more complicated manner than they need to be. Also, unlike a lot of cultures, they do not account for non-Chilean speakers. Even after asking a person to repeat him or herself multiple times, they will still use the exact same words, rapid-fire pace, and low tone. I have stopped feeling bad about this; if they don't care enough to adjust their speech so I can understand them, I certainly don't care enough to know what they are saying to me.

Best: Street performers
I love both the quantity and quality of street performers here. Every busy street corner has at least one young performer juggling, doing gymnastics, dancing with scarves, or, at night, playing with fire. The best are the clowns, normally a terrifying sort but on the street, in groups, they're hilarious: they stop cars, get in the back seat or bed of a truck, lay down in front of stopped vehicles, and even mess with the police. This is all more than tolerated and most cars will pay the performers, which I find uniquely generous. Also, though not exactly in the same category, I like that here, instead of paying for parking via a meter, you tip whatever person happens to be working that street; he´ll flag you down if he has a space open, help you park, and for an extra fee, will even detail your car while you´re out and about.

Worst: Beggars
The beggars here are a different breed. I think it comes from the national ego - as far as I can tell, Chileans are abundantly proud of being Chilean, and want nothing more than for you to tell them what you love about their culture, their food, and even Chileans themselves. (Seriously, the intense nationalism here is akin to second world war USA.) They also have an overinflated sense of entitlement, which extends to beggars: when you don't give them a coin, they act incredibly offended, like they deserved whatever was in your wallet despite the fact that you were the one that worked for it.

Best: Living Abroad
Let's face it, living in another country is an incredible experience. No matter how many things go wrong, no matter how much I miss being home, no matter how unwelcome I feel in Chile, I have never once regretted my decision to come. I feel so lucky to get to know other cultures, and I know it has made me a more informed and accepting person. I´m going to travel as much as I can while the getting´s good, and once we run out of oil, I can say I did as much as I could while the resources allowed.

Worst: Teaching Abroad
Although I did, for the most part, really enjoy my students and even made good friends out a few of them, being paid to teach is an experience I hope not to repeat, and certainly not in Chile. English is a required program so a lot of my students couldn't care less about class; give me a volunteer position with immigrants who are hungry to learn any day! Also, the English program at DUOC schools is geared more toward prestige and marketing and less toward actual student learning; all students are required to take the TOEIC test at the end of their studies, which usually amount to 2.5 years, despite the fact that this test is incredibly difficult and should not be taken without at least 5-6 years (or more) of studying. This, of course, leaves the 'advanced' students frustrated and scared, since the TOEIC counts for 40% of their final grade. Additionally, student expectations are completely different in this country, student performance leaves a lot to be desired, and student accountability is even worse. Toward the end I got very exasperated with the many and varied excuses they came up with for why they couldn't do one thing or another. It's amazing how many relatives die and students need hospitalization during finals week...

There is a lot more I could say but I think I´ve said most of it in one form or another in various blogs, so I´ll leave you with this hilarious and defining moment of my time in Chile:

One time, I ordered a churrasco (thinly sliced beef) sandwich and they brought me a hamburger instead. When I finally flagged a waiter down, many minutes later, and pointed out the mistake, he took the sandwich without saying a word. Several minutes later he returned the EXACT SAME ONE, bite out of it and all, only with the hamburger scraped off and some churrasco thrown on. That, for me, sums up a lot about Chile.

Keep your eyes peeled for more vacation updates! This afternoon I´m headed to Putre where I´ll hopefully catch a one or two day tour through the northern parks of Chile, Lauca and Las Vicuñas, before heading into Bolivia.

I hope you are all well! Also, one of you is about to be my 1,000th visitor. Special prize to anyone who claims this honor.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

De Vacaciones

(Parts of) South America, here I come! (Thanks to Meagan for the book-shredding tip.)

I swore I'd never be a backpacker...

More from the road!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Funny student e-mails in English

The title should say it all about this post. I've been accumulating these all semester and I now present you with a few of my favorites. Bear in mind that these students should get mad props, since most of them just e-mailed me in Spanish. Anyway, I have no idea if anyone else will find these amusing, but the great thing about a blog is you don't have to read it!

(Side note: It's midnight the night before my trip. My landlady is coming at 9 am. I'm doing laundry, I haven't finished packing or cleaning, and I still need to eat dinner. I'm in denial and blogging instead...)

Note that all e-mails are presented as they were sent, with no edits to formatting or text, although I did remove their last names.

E-mail 1: I got this this morning (after my going-away party last night, which was great fun).
Subject: Thanks for everything Elizabeth from your ex-student

Hello Elizabeth, first, let me apologize because i couldn`t go to your dismissal party (fiesta de despedida), i planned to go, to say "good bye, have a nice flight" and give my appreciation for all your help on class, but at last minute i have to do a big school job.

I couldn`t go because i`m with some classmates doing a "heavy" school job for this monday, it`s a final exam, so it`s dificult. But i want to thank you for all your help on class, for been so nice with me and the others student, and for tryed ("tratar de..." cuak!!!!) to teach to us.

I must say that you are great, very kind, nice, a beautiful woman and a great teacher. I learn a lot, so thank you very much!!

I wish you the best luck there, in US, wherever you do, good luck!!!!!

If i go to US or Seattle i`ll tried to found you, jajaja.

Seriously, thank you very much for teach me and for been so nice.

I hope you have enjoy our little, but nice country Chile (or "Chilito", like many say it) and Viña, i hope you come back sometimes,... if you do, let me know! jajaj

So, that`s all.

Good luck Elizabeth, it was a pleasure to meet you, thank for all your help.

Have a nice flight, and i hope to see you again!

Take care and a big kiss!

Your ex - student
Bye bye!
P.S.: First, sorry, again, for my english, i know i know, it suck! jajaja
P.S.: And second, Felix give me your e-mail, i hope you don`t mind??

Take care!
Bye Elizabeth!!!!

E-mail 2: Sent the last day of class
Subject: see you someday noo good bay!!

Is a pleasure to meet people like uu!!!
was really great to meet youuu!!!
you was a really good teacher for us!! you deserve the best!!!
tanks a lot for you patience !!! i won�t forget you
if i go to eeuu...
i will call you


tankss !!! for been sush a good person!!!

we are going to miss you !!!!



E-mails 3-8: Sent as a requirement for an oral presentation

Subject: about the oral

Points that I take to realize the presentation:

1- Specific phobia .

2- Examples of phobia.

3- Different types of phobias.

4- How do the phobias treat each other?

On the base of this the presentasion was exposed where there was announced that it is the phobia

I order the presentation
By, greets for you

No subject

miss this is my presentation look that
Hello my name is felipe herrera today i will tell you about harry potter.
Potter is a teenage wizard .
he was two best friends ron weasley and hermione granger .
They study in hogwarts and in this place they live differents adventures.

>Harry was created by J.k rowling one day she traveled in a train when she looked a boy and imagine to harry potter.
Rowling wrote seven books about this wizard.

Today we can see five movie`s of harry potter and are the first five books

This is my presentation thanks you for comming

No subject

Hi Elizabeth ,

Fisrt , i�m sorry by the hour , but i`m so busy with in the agency and others examens . I know that you are tired by many excuses of all students , but i�m sorry!

I�m wiil talk about the movie and best selling book " The Secret " of Rhonda Byrne.

The theme of the book/movie is the "law atraction". The people guide thier life acording to they toughts and feelings. Positive toughts bring about positive manifestations while negative thogouts bring about negative manifestatons.

The notes are :

First i�m will ask everybody if someone know the book/movie;
Second i�m will introduce and explain what is " The Secret "
After i�m will explain the Law of atraction ;
and then i�will put a video or trailer of the movie ( i,m hope , i�m treating to do a dowloald ) ;
I�m think that will are fun , i�m hope !

See you in the class ,

One more time,i�m sorry by the hour!

bye bye

Subject: Presentation (This is not the other)

Hi Elizabeth, i do the work about the movemment call "Patagonia Sin Represas" and i have some problems with the ortography and gramatic, please help me with that if you can. I puto in black the letters taht i think are incorrect or doesnt have sence in the text.

and sory for ask you that, but i had problems for do the test that i own you the last class because i had a test of french after the presentations. Can i do the test tomorrow, after or before the exam?, if you can help me i will apreciate that very much.

A lot of thanks and good luck bye Pedro

No subject


Sorry !!! But I cant send this email before!!!!

the three topics that i choose are:
1. Harry Potter
2. Cake
3. The euro

please!!!! I lov harry Potter!!!! I hope that I can talk about him...but if i cant, dont worry because I know that, this time, i was a irresponsable person!!!

See you later!!!










E-mails 9-11: Sent as responses to an announcement that we were going to have class in a bar to watch a big soccer game one day

hello teacher, i�m sorry and i really want to go!!!, but i can�t !!i have to work today, my family has a business, we have a bakery :-)
i know isn�t a excuse, but they asked me to help them.
i can�t say no!!!....
well don�t expect nothing , i�m just justifying my absence, is not becouse i�m lazy!!!!!

i hope you have a great time watching futbol game with my clasemates

thank!!!!! see youuu.

hi eli i don�t undertand this idea. we can drink beer in the journal???? this activity is obligatory????

ELIZABETH then is a class informal ???
sorry I am little slow to understand :):):)
sorry for my cuestion but you are referring to speak in English during a game of fotbol .... you want to comment on what in English?????
sorry for the hours time :):):):):)

Trip Itinerary

As promised various times in past blogs, here's my itinerary in case you want to follow the vacation trail! Pretty much everyone I know down here is doing a similar trip, so I fully expect to have random run-ins on the way.

July 13 (tomorrow!): Fly from Santiago to Arica, the northernmost city in Chile.
July 14-15/16: 2 or 3 day trip through the northern parks in Chile, Reserva Lauca and Las Vacuñas, where I will hopefully enjoy hot springs and see flamingoes. Depending on when I can get a tour (based on weather and demand), I'll either spend another day in Arica or go straight to La Paz.
July 17-23: La Paz, Bolivia, staying here:
July 24-26: Lake Titicaca on the Bolivian side, staying here: as well as spending a day on Isla del Sol.
July 27-28: Meet Robyn and Matt in Puno, Peru (HOORAY!) We are staying here, which is a hostel with apartment-like accomodations for $10 each a night:
July 29-30: Going to Taquile, a tiny island in Lake Titicaca which doesn't have hotels; instead, each family does its part to support tourism, and take turns lodging guests in their houses. Sounds authentic... we're probably also going to do a fishing trip. Apparently there are great trout in the lake!
July 31-August 2: Puno to Cusco. Staying here, also $10 a night (I love South America):
August 3-6: Doing a four-day hike on the Inca Trail ending at Machu Picchu. I hope the altitude doesn't kill us, but I'm really looking forward to seeing the ruins, especially since they're going to be shut down soon due to degredation from over-use. This is the tour we booked:
August 7-9: Back to Cusco, with Matt leaving for a wedding in Brazil on the 8th and Robyn heading back to the states on the 9th. The Olympics start on August 8, will be interesting to watch from abroad.
August 9-12: Cusco to Arequipa (all by my lonesome), the second biggest city in Peru and my friend John's favorite spot in South America.
August 12 or 13: Arequipa to Arica, to fly back to Santiago on the 13th

August 18: Santiago to Buenos Aires, where I will be until December 19, with plenty of other mini trips during those four months.

And that's my pending vacation! I'll try to blog from afar but we'll see how that goes. New post pending about my going-away party (last night, very fun) and a 'best and worst of Chile' good-bye.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Bathroom Woes

This post pretty much has nothing to do with anything, other than a little slice of typical Chilean coastal living (and me venting).

If you have looked at my photos, you know I live in a lovely, brand new condominium. Of course, as we all know, brand-new condos tend to be made, shall we say, hastily? The phrase "they don't make them like they used to" certainly applies.

So, sometime during the first or second week of May in my lovely, brand new condo, what sounded like a river woke me up at 8 a.m. It ended up being more like a waterfall gushing from one of my recessed light fixtures in the bathroom. I immediately called consierge and eventually went back to bed once the water stopped and no one from the building showed up. This happened every day - at 8 a.m. - for a week, and then several more times after that, just for good measure I suppose. Sopping up what was questionably clean water was not my idea of a good time.

After the fourth day I managed to get a building plumber to begrudgingly look at it, who basically pulled the light from the ceiling, said the equivalent of "you have problems" and left, fixture dangling and all, mumbling something that I assumed had to do with when he would return but I couldn't be sure since Chileans often sound they talk with rocks in their mouth. I went to the building manager's office several times, but she was never there (every time having "just stepped out") and then she went on vacation and didn't leave anyone else in charge.

Eventually June 1 came and I had to pay rent, so I decided to employ a force stronger than myself - my dictatorship-hardened landlady, Maria. Of course she was appalled and swept me at once to consierge where she put up an impressive stink. This earned us not one but TWO plumbers, both of whom assured us they had been solving the problem "from the top down" as it was a multi-floor issue, and wouldn't you know it, I'm as bottom as it goes. When might they get to my level? Next week, for sure. That was June 2. Starting on June 19, I heard suspicious construction noises coming from the apartment above me. It lasted for a week, which was also concerning since they assured me it would take "no more than a day" when they finally did get around to me. Right... one day to rip out my entire bathroom, fix the plumbing, re-plaster and paint. At this point I sort of hoped they didn't get around to fixing it until I had already left, and was at least happy that they had re-installed the lighting fixture.

Of course, time went on and, after a few very infrequent plumber inspections to reassure me that "I had problems" plus a few more random water dumpings, mold started to appear, and get worse, and worse, and worse. There's no use "cleaning" it since it just spreads it around and doesn't kill it, so I learned to live in harmony with my new roommate: toxic black mold. I keep the door shut and am thankful I am an infrequent showerer.

On June 20, I noticed the bathroom had given me a little Solstice present: a flower! (I know it's really a mold mushroom, but it looks like a flower). I actually laughed when I saw it. It's hard to tell in the picture, but there is a little spider above and to the right that inhabits it:

Here is another picture, taken about a week later:

And, finally, this one was taken last night:

It's hard to tell, but my ceiling is actually COLLAPSING. Every day, pieces of plaster fall into my shower. I tried to get someone to at least remove the falling part so the whole ceiling doesn't cave in, but wouldn't you know it? Both the building repairmen are on vacation until Monday, July 14. I leave on the 13th. Here is the most visible crack:

Normally something like this wouldn't bother me too much - like when it took them 3 months to fix one of my sliding doors, since hey, I have two - but I pay a lot of money for this condo. My landlady was at first vague about whether or not I'd get my security deposit back since I am breaking my lease. I figured having 1) given her plenty of notice and 2) lived with a defective bathroom for going on 2 months was a pretty good argument for why I deserved every last cent back. She seemed to disagree, and reluctantly agreed to return half of my deposit. I was inclined to accept this deal, until the day when I removed my suitcase from the closet, only to find my roommate was extending his territory:

I wanted to cry. Luckily - ahem - my suitcase had stopped the spread of mold to my clothes:

Of course, I am now short my one and only clothes closet and my suitcase - despite what so far seem to be positive results after brushing/scrubbing off the mold as one Web site advised me to do - may have some hidden residents yet.

So, that is my bathroom saga. I plan on confronting my sweet, old yet peso-grubbing landlady with this new evidence of my reduced quality of condo-living. Wish me (and my respiratory system) luck... if the ceiling does collapse before Sunday, I promise to document and post pictures. Speaking of which, there are finally some new pictures posted to Flickr!

Fourth of July Weekend

My Fourth of July was quite enjoyable, if not firework-free. The daytime included a variety of quehaceres or 'to-dos'. I got a yellow fever vaccine and afterward, went to sit in the park and drink a cup of tea. While sitting on a bench reading my book (Donde Van a Morir los Elefantes by José Donoso, a Chilean author), I was approached by a gitana woman, or gypsy, or (if you're going for PC) Roma. Normally I avoid the gitanos because they run scams and in general are mean, bitter sorts that spit at your feet if you decline them money, but I was in the mood for a bit of entertainment so I consented to let her give me "a gift that she gives to very few people" (this was all in Spanish, of course).

She sat on the bench next to me and began to read my palm, telling me a lot of things I forgot right away. Of course, no palm reading would be complete without a threat, and she warned me about two people who wished to cause me harm. I laughed and said, only two? She then told me to take a coin out of my purse - she wasn't asking me for money, she assured me, this was a gift and for my benefit only - and squeeze it in my hand. I took a quarter out of my pocket and she said a blessing over it. Then she told me to take out my wallet. I laughed and politely declined, saying my wallet was empty. She claimed to be deeply offended that I didn't trust her, that she knew I had money in my wallet, and that she wasn't asking me for any of it. I replied, no offense, but you can't expect me to trust you and I really don't have any money. She then pointed to my 3-carat garnet ring and said, fine, squeeze that in your hand. I did, smiling inwardly and knowing where this was going, and she said several blessings over it. When I opened my hand she snatched it out of my palm, which scared me for a moment, but she was older and a bit fat and I knew I could run her down if necessary. She then said, do you want these two people to cause harm to you, or do you want this ring to sacrifice itself for your safety? Let me take the ring and bury it in the cemetery for you, and you will be free from harm. I started laughing, which clearly "offended" her even more, at which point another gitana walked up and got in my face about how this woman was their teacher, their leader, the most powerful palm-reader and I better listen to her. I took two hundred pesos out of my coin purse (about 50 cents), asked for my ring back, and handed her the coins. It took several (increasingly forceful) requests but I finally got her to return the ring and leave me in peace.

An old man had been watching me, and walked up immediately after to ask what she had told me. I repeated it, smiling, and he asked if I believed it. I said no, of course not. Then he asked me who I wanted to win for president, and I said Obama. He replied, "aunque sea moreno?" (Even though he's brown?) I tried to account for his approximately 80 years and reminded myself that my own beloved grandfather referred to Asian people collectively as "Orientals," but replied firmly, "Aun mejor que si" (Even better that he is). He chuckled, shook his head, and shuffled off. I decided I'd had enough of the park by then, and went to get myself a punk haircut. For telling the hair stylist that I was pro-Obama, he gave me a discount. I've since washed the straight out, and it's much cuter curly, but here it is right after the cut:

It's way shorter in the back!

Although my day was filled with American president references, my night was decidedly more festive. I have made friends out of several students here, and two of them - Ivan and Elizabeth - threw me an asado, or barbecue, in honor of our independence day. They even made an invitation, and chose this one because it looked like me! They colored her hair red, too (not that my hair color isn't completely natural...) What they didn't realize was it's in front of one of my favorite spots in Philadelphia.

Although there were no fireworks, the food was excellent: choripan (sausage and bread, literally), shish kabobs, and I introduced them to the wonderful world of grilled, salted pineapple - they were hooked! Here is Ivan starting the barby:

This is Elizabeth or Eli (they call me Eli too, which I've taken a liking to!) and her niece Matilda. Those of you who know me well will be surprised to learn I actually played and subsequently snuggled with Matilda for quite some time.

The next day I headed to Santiago for Renée's birthday (another gringa profesora), which was a lot of fun. Here is Carol with the delicious cake she made:

Here I am with the birthday girl:

After the potluck at Renée's we went to a bigger party where I saw just about everyone in our teaching group, many of whom I will likely never see again. I wasn't drinking due to the vaccine since I'm not trying to aggravate my system any further, but I probably had more fun sober and even played beer pong, with my partner consuming for the both of us. The next day I lazed around with Carol, who made us a deliciously American breakfast - french toast, fried eggs, and mimosas. We then walked to Blockbuster and rented movies, and I finally saw No Country for Old Men. Weird movie, very relaxing day.

Unfortunately, Santiago is one of the world's most polluted cities, and it's especially bad in the winter; currently, air pollution levels are three times the acceptable "healthy" rate by U.S. standards - yikes! I was coughing within minutes of arriving, and it's sort of gross how you can barely see fifty feet in front of you. Needless to say I was happy to arrive back in fresh Valparaíso last night, which is surprisingly clear of fog for the moment.

I leave in a mere 6 days for my month-long vacation and am SO EXCITED. It's taken a lot of planning, especially coordinating with Matt and Robyn and trying to find them the cheapest possible airfare within Peru (which would have been easier a few years ago before Peru's government shut down two of the national airlines), but I think we finally have it all squared away. Keep your eyes peeled for my itinerary!