Wednesday, December 17, 2008

I'm home!

Well, I'm back home in Gringolandia, land of the gringos. It’s good to be back, but strange to think that my time in Chile is over. I learned so many things that were fun to learn and worthwhile, but now are completely useless; such as how to use the transportation system, the money, all the chilenismos (Chilean words), and where everything is in Viña and Valparaíso. My host parents kept telling me that my time there would seem like a dream when I came back, and they’re probably right. But it was a good dream while it lasted!
Here’s a list of my favorite things about Chile, in no particular order, to end this blog. Thanks for reading!
  • My family. They are amazing people. They really love each other, which was obvious, so it was a great environment to live in. And they cared about whether I had a good time or not, and went out of their way on a regular basis to make me feel at home.
  • Chilean food! Manjar, chirimoya, helado de lucuma, panqueques, carbonada, palta, la salsa de fideos y la marmelada que mi familia hace, conitos, alfajores, frutilla, pebre, pan chileno, and of course empanadas de queso/jaiba queso, etc....and learning all those words
  • Making videos and interviewing lots of different people for projects in TV Journalism and my final project for Spanish class, where we interviewed a graffiti artist
  • The trips I took, especially to Chiloé and Machu Picchu
  • Speaking in Spanish most of the time, including with German and French exchange students
  • Using different money, buses, recognizing different brands: being in a foreign country, essentially
  • Living by the ocean and going to the beach in November, December
  • The hills and elevators and personality of Valparaíso
  • Meeting new people, especially my friend Daniela and her family (her little sisters are really cute!)
  • Bad subtitles and dubbing on TV
with my mamá chilena, Ximena

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Chiloé and Pucón

I got back yesterday from the last trip of my trip. I went to the south of Chile, just to the gateway to Patagonia, to the islands of Chiloé, and then up again to Pucón, which is the adventure capital of Chile. Chiloé was at the top of my list of places to visit in Chile for lots of reasons. First, from what I had heard, it was incredibly beautiful, with the Pacific on one side and a long bay between it and the mainland of Chile, with one large island and around 40 smaller ones, all rolling green hills. It didn’t disappoint. With a friendly and informative guide originally from New York state who now lives in Chiloé with his Peruvian wife and kids, we took a hike along the coast with gorgeous views of the ocean, lots of happy cows and sheep, and beaches where only a few people come each year, with dark pebbly sand and purple shells. During the same tour we went out in a boat to experience another of the joys of Chiloé: penguins!! We saw dozens of penguins (plus other interesting birds and some sea otters) in their natural habitat, hopping around on the rocks on several tiny islands and swimming in the glassy-clear, cold water. I decided that if I’m ever a bird I’ll come down and live on Chiloé because it seems like a big party.

Four other aspects attracted me to Chiloé, all of them to do with the unique culture. One is curanto, a typical dish of the islanders (Chilotes), which is cooked on hot rocks in a hole in the earth, covered with a species of giant leaf that we later noticed growing all over the island. Curanto has everything: lots of mussels and clams (which I admit I’m not fond of, so that part was wasted on me), chicken, ham, sausage, and finally potato pancakes that get cooked in the upper layers of leaves. To see this being made (and then eat it), we took a boat trip out to a small island called Mechuque, where there is only electricity between 8 and 10 at night, in part so that the islanders can watch the most important telenovelas. The boat trip there was beautiful because we could see the green hills of the smaller islands and also, in the distance, we could just barely make out the snowy mountains of the Andes, which looked like they came right out of the water.

The churches of Chiloé are Patrimonio de la Humanidad (World Heritage sites, like in Valparaíso). There are about 20 of them I think, of which I saw 5 or 6, all wooden and most of them with tall round spires and bright paint jobs. This blue one is right by the ocean. Inside a church in Dalcahue, we found this crazy painting of Jesus with four of the mythological creatures of Chiloé; the mythology of the islands is totally unique and quite expansive. In the upper left corner is Trauco, a short, ugly gnome who seduces virgins. Pincoya is at bottom left; she is the beautiful goddess of the fertility of the waters. At bottom right is El Caleuche, the ghost ship that haunts the waters of Chiloé, and at top right is Camahueto, a beautiful bull/unicorn. There are lots of stories about brujos (witches) and many superstitions. The whole feel of the mythology is pretty dark and spooky, helped out by the fact that Chiloé is so isolated from the mainland.

Another thing about Chiloé is its houses, called palafitos, which are built on stilts over the beaches. Most of the time you can see the structure below them, but when the tide comes in the boats can float up close to the back doors—which I didn’t get to see, but I love the idea. From the street side, the houses look like any other. We saw these in the town of Castro, where we also some men building by hand three of the wooden boats like the ones we saw all over the islands painted bright colors. That is the other thing that attracts me to Chiloé: it’s stuck in time, and the people do many jobs the way they have been done for generations. And to top off this part of the trip, we saw two giant waterfalls on the way back from Mechuque.

Then, after an 11-hour bus ride that should only have taken 8, we got to Pucón. Pucón is a very touristy town, but one of the most beautiful little cities I’ve ever been to. On one side you can see the snowy, perfectly shaped Volcán Villarica (It is always active and smoking, but has not erupted since 1984; there is a green-yellow-red warning system in town in case of another eruption). On the other side is a blue lake with a volcanic sand beach, surrounded by green hills. The style of the buildings is like alpine/Camp Snoopy/Paul Bunyan, everything made out of wood—and there’s lots of good food.

The first day we went white-water rafting, which was new for me and lots of fun. The hardest part of the whole thing was getting the wetsuit on; after that, even though I fell out of the raft a few times (sometimes because the guides in other boats would sneak up on us and pull us out during the calm parts), or because of that, it was great. The next day, we got up at 4:30 AM to attempt something I had plenty of doubts about at the time: climbing Volcán Villarica. I made it to the top, but it was absolutely grueling—almost impossible to believe that our guide did it every single day. It took about 6 hours of straight climbing to reach the smoking, sulfurous crater. When we started, we were already above the clouds, and when we got to the top more than 1 kilometer up, it was like the top of the world. All along the way I was more than a little nervous, because we had to step in the snow-footprints of the person in front of us, because slipping outside of them could mean sliding all the way down the volcano on the steep sheet of ice.

But it was worth it, because coming down was incredibly fun. We got to slide down on our butts the whole way, sort of in a bobsled chute carved out by other people’s butts. We got going REALLY fast, and it was as if we were shooting into the mountains and clouds in the distance, because it was so steep we couldn’t see the bottom of the volcano from the top. It was ridiculous…and I took a nap at the hostel when we finally got back down.

Now…I’m back in Viña and I only have until Sunday afternoon in Chile! I finished my last test yesterday and now it’s time to pack and say goodbye. What makes me really happy (in a bittersweet way, because why does this only happen when I have to leave??) is that my Chilean friend Daniela invited me to her house for almuerzo (lunch) on Saturday, so I get to meet her family.

Teletón (a little late)

This is from Nov. 29:

Today is the Teletón, a massive fundraising effort by what must be the largest charitable organization in Chile (also called Teletón), which helps disabled children. It’s a 27-hour TV special where people call in to donate money, but it’s also street fairs and an enormous publicity campaign. For the past month there have been posters practically everywhere advertising the Teletón and the companies that endorse it. Plus commercials. It’s like every single company in Chile has jumped on the Teletón bandwagon. The tagline is “Teletón 2008, 28 y 29 de noviembre…gracias a ti, podemos seguir” (thanks to you, we can continue) which is now burned into my memory because I’ve heard it or read it at least 200 times. The other funny thing about it is that there’s this guy who was been hosting it for 30 years, a famous TV personality: Don Francisco. He’s in every single one of the commercials, holding up anything from diapers to dog food and saying “Teletón 2008, 28 y 29 de noviembre…gracias a ti, podemos seguir”. I think it’s interesting that all of Chile really comes together for this. It’s almost like a national holiday; not something I can ever see happening in the U.S. It could only happen in a small country where the people put up with a lot of annoying advertising (October was the municipal elections, with a month of cheesy posters with smiling candidates covering basically every surface), and also have a strong sense of solidarity.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

La Serena

This weekend all the gringos went up to La Serena, a town with lots of beaches and churches with interesting architecture. It was a trip already paid for with our program fees, so even more fun! I swam in the very cold ocean, made a huge nacho feast with friends because we miss Mexican food, went to a pretty Japanese garden, and briefly experienced the strangest internet café ever—“Infernet”, which was Hell-themed and had a grim reaper in the doorway and homemade devils and flames on the ceilings.

We drove through the Valle de Elqui, which is known for its pisco vineyards. Part of it was dammed up to create a beautiful lake with blue-green water. In this area we went to a restaurant that cooks everything with solar ovens. The birthplace of Nobel Prize-winning poet Gabriela Mistral is in a nearby town, so we went to a museum honoring her. We also took a trip to an observatory called Mamalluca (great name), and I got to see the craters on the moon and four moons of Jupiter with a telescope! Plus the guys who explained the astronomical stuff to us played us a concert at the end (for some reason?) with Andean flutes, etc.

On the way back to Viña del Mar, we stopped at Parque Nacional Fray Jorge, which is the desert but right by the ocean. There is a perpetual fog on top of the mountains closest to the shore, and this creates a microclimate similar to the climate of the south of Chile, which I guess would be like a temperate rainforest; except it doesn’t actually rain soooo I don’t know what you would call it. It was beautiful and really interesting because all the plants get their water from the cloud, so they’ve adapted to that. Plus it was bizarre because the rest of the park was sunny and dry!

Now I’m back and this week I have two news reports to film and edit for Television Journalism. One is with two Chilean students, about the financial and general problems that public hospitals are having in Chile, so we’re going to a hospital to interview a doctor (hopefully) and patients. The other is my final project that I’m doing by myself, about what the international students think about Chileans. I finished all the interviewing and now have to edit it. Unbelievably, I only have two more weeks of classes after this one, so it’s time to wrap up school!

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Sand Dunes in Con Con

I have been here for over 3 months, and just last week I finally went to Con Con and Reñaca, which are the beach towns north of Viña del Mar. There are some amazing sand dunes that we climbed, with views of all of Valparaíso and Viña del Mar and even the rural country north of the cities. It was a cloudy day but the view was still incredible. Running down the sand dunes was also fun! Climbing back up was a lot harder.

Right below the dunes were some large rocks on the shoreline, so we climbed around them, too (we were in a climbing mood). There was black volcanic rock and a lighter-colored rock, and you could see where the volcanic rock had oozed into the cracks in the other rock and hardened. I had never seen anything like it before! The waves were crashing in all around us. We also saw a rock with about 40 sea lions on it. The last thing we did in Con Con was get an empanada because the best empanadas are supposed to be there—and yes, my crab and cheese one was muy rica.

Yesterday…I was a bunch of grapes (un racimo de uvas) for Halloween. My little sister Victoria and my mom Ximena helped me out a lot. Ximena sewed the balloons to a shirt and Victoria helped me paint the leaves for my head and also painted my face—which I thought was a little bit much but I went along with it. I went to a party thrown by the Chilean host brother of a friend…I was one of 3 finalists in a very informal costume contest, so I guess it turned out pretty well!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Mendoza, Argentina

This weekend I tried to pack all of Argentina into two days, which obviously was not enough time—but we did do a lot in 48 hours. I went with 5 friends to Mendoza, which is about 7 hours by bus from Viña, over the Andes. It’s different from Valparaíso in that it’s very flat, in a desert, bigger and more cosmopolitan. I liked it a lot because there were big trees lining every street, beautiful plazas and lots of people out all the time.

The Mendoza region is known for its wine, so one thing we did was take a bus (probably the hardest part of the trip was figuring out how to catch this bus) to Maipu, a town surrounded by vineyards. We went to a bodega/museum and had a short tour of the vineyard and museum, then got to taste a wine they make there—amazingly this was all free; Argentina in general was really cheap!

Another typically Argentinean thing we did was see some tango at a dinner and performance place. It was really intense! Also there was singing and at the end the singer called up one person from each table to sing karaoke with him…so my friend Alysha impressed everyone with her Spanish and singing skills. We learned a song of which afterwards we could only remember the first line: “Por una cabeza!” Other Argentinean experience: had a tasty steak. It was good but I was more impressed by the large amounts of delicious bread we got at restaurants and the hostel. Argentines definitely love their meat, though; there were lots of outdoor restaurants, so walking down the street we could see people devouring steaks all around us. That was a difference from Chile. Also I think Mendoza has the most dangerous sidewalks of any city I know: there are 3-foot deep trenches running along between the sidewalks and the streets in most places (for water, although there was no water in them), plus random deep holes in other places. A friend of one of my friends, who’s studying in Mendoza, said she had seen at least 3 people fall in. South America is different...

And the other thing we did, which I had always wanted to do: paragliding! I got to fly over the precordillera, the foothills of the Andes. I was surprised that I wasn’t afraid at all once I was actually up in the air: only the running off the cliff part was a little scary (I didn’t have to do any work: my guide was sitting behind me and controlled everything). It was beautiful and peaceful.

Returning yesterday, we crossed the border again on top of the Andes surrounded by snow. The road was really twisty in parts! There were lots of pretty, skinny waterfalls coming down through the mountains because of melting snow. So…the little slice of Argentina that I saw was great and I wish I could easily have spent a whole week just in Mendoza.

Monday, October 6, 2008

10 Unrelated, Odd Things

1) On Wednesday nights, I walk to my poetry class in the Art school at the end of a short street in Viña. This week I noticed a life-size pickup truck made entirely of cardboard parallel parked in a row of normal cars on the street. I assume it’s an art project.
2) My host dad and the food he aquires: the family and I are currently working on finishing a wheel of artesan goat cheese that he drove an hour or more into the country to get, and which I estimate weighs at least 10 lbs. He also got a giant bag of at least 100 avocados for really cheap somewhere (I just found out that half an avocado has 22% of your DV of fat, oops!! That’s a lot for a fruit!! That also must be why they’re so delicious).
3) I saw my television journalism professor on UCV channel 18 one night this week, and I didn’t even realize he actually did reporting. My favorite was hearing the report about the vice presidential debate because of the way he pronounced “Sarah Palin” and “Joe Biden.”
4) The spanish translation of the title of the movie “Lost in Translation” is “Perdidos en Tokio”.
5) For our Spanish class, which is all people from our program, we have to make a video using Chilean spanish. Ours is like the Frog Prince, but with a dog instead of a frog, because we’re using the cultural fact that there are lots of dogs in streets. So we found a friendly dog and taped some interactions with him that we’re going to edit into a coherent movie, hopefully. We got some weird looks from Chileans when we were taping each other talking to a stray dog!
6) In my poetry class with Chileans, our readings so far have included Ezra Pound, Italo Calvino, Charles Baudelaire, and T.S. Eliot, all in Spanish. It’s difficult and kind of strange, but probably my favorite class—especially because the professor gets REALLY excited about what he’s saying.
7) When my host parents explain something to me, they like to use whatever may be on the table as props, like tonight they were telling me how when they were little they would buy watermelons at fruit stands in the countryside, and the people selling them would cut a triangle out of it and let you taste it to see if it was good before you bought it. My host mom used a tub of margarine to stand in for the watermelon and then my host dad explained it to me again using a roll of paper towels—they do a good job making sure I understand what they’re talking about :)
8) Often, when I tell a Chilean that my name is Hannah, they’ll look confused for a second and then say, “Ah, Hannah Montana.” This happens more frequently with the 10 to 13-year-olds at my school placement, but not infrequently with people my age and older!
9) In my TV journalism class, there are three exchange students: me, a girls from France and a girl from Germany. One week we had to make a short video with a plot, and the three of us were in a group with four Chileans. Our storyline was that these three foreign students are wandering around looking for the journalism school. We ask three Chilean students in French, German and English, “Where’s the journalism university?” Two of them look confused, but one guy understands the word “University” which is similar in all 4 languages, and he leads there (and gets the gringas). It was ridiculous and fun. The plaza is called Miraflores, which literally means Lookflowers, so we called it “Lost in Miraflowers.”
10) The only thing I can think of for a 10th is that on Saturday I went with American friends to a tapas restaurant for our friend’s birthday, and one thing we got was called Chorrillana: a huge plate of french fries topped with slices of beef and scrambled quail eggs. I don’t know if this is Chilean but it is certainly delicious.

The picture is of a fountain in Viña by the ocean.