Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Christmas in Chile!

When I got back from my Buenos Aires trip, I was in for a surprise. The apartment had been transformed in a Chistmas wonderland. Here are some pictures, and she still has decorations missing that she wants to put up, especially for the Christmas Tree.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Pictures from Argentina!

Part 1:

Part 2:

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Pictures from the Independence Week Trip

There could be more pictures added to the album sometime this week, so I'd check back next Sunday to see if anything new has been added.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Chilean Public Transportation (written by Daniel Kasbohm, but true for all)

"Micros" (ME-crows)

One of the most interesting things to me about my study abroad experience in Valpo/Viña is the bus system here. The ‘micros,’ as they are called, are your best friend and worst enemy in the world of transportation. They are everywhere, they go everywhere, and everyone uses them, but determining which ones go where is a feat that no one seems to have mastered. There is apparently no large map that has all of the routes, and all the routes are operated by different companies. The fares are different, and most of the tickets and signage are wrong, so when you get on a bus that says it is 400 pesos in between Viña and Valpo, it might actually be 410, and then the driver may give you a ticket that says 360.

One of the most annoying things was having to wait for our student passes at the beginning of the semester. While we waited for them to come from some office in Santiago, we got these pieces of paper that were proof we attended the university and could use the student rate of 130 pesos no matter where we were going. Unfortunately, many bus drivers refused to accept the paper because they lose out on money when students pay the lower rate. So then every time I used the micro it was like a battle – I show the paper, the driver says its not valid, or sometimes just stares blankly at me, or sometimes doesn’t even look at me, I say it works, he shakes his head or may still refuse to show any response whatsoever, and I get off the bus and look for another one that will accept me. The ones that do accept the paper sometimes refuse to give change, as if they can only accept the reduced fare with a perk of 70 pesos going directly to their pocket. Or they just point to the back of the bus and refuse to give a ticket, which is kind of dangerous because when they get in a huge accident and you have a spinal injury from a bus that flipped over and caused a 30 car pile-up, you won’t have proof that you were on the bus and won’t receive a single cent for your exorbitant hospital fees.

Finally we received a “pase escolar,” the real-live student ID that let us pay a reduced fare. But even this is more complicated than it looks. Some student IDs are for private schools and they pay 150 pesos so if you pay 150 the driver wont immediately give you change unless you stick out your hand or grunt or roll your eyes or make nasty comments or something. And 130 is not the price for every trip, as I discovered when I tried to take a bus from my house to the mall, where all the buses that come from that direction charge 140 for students. The student fare cannot be used on Sundays and only for limited hours on Saturday, and it says that you pay the local fare on holidays but I have seen students use it for the student fare on these days as well.

What about the culture of the micros? Most micros have anywhere from 20-30 seats, but this is by no means the limit of the people that can be on a micro at any given time. At peak times (especially evening rush hour, I have noticed) the bus can double in capacity because everyone stands in the aisle. Even when people are getting squished by the door, falling out at every stop and no one can really move, the driver continues stopping to let new people on and simply screams “move to the back!” as if the back didn’t already have 15 people in the aisle. When I am sitting down and these kind of conditions exist on a micro, I have to start the getting off process much earlier than normal, and sometimes I barely touch the ground as I make my way to the door; I simply swing from the overhead bars like a monkey, wading my way through the crowd until I can get to the door. These conditions are also unpleasant when you are sitting in an aisle seat and there is a giant ass in your face, or worse, some guy’s frontside keeps touching you as the micro turns a corner.

The speeds of the micros are highly variable. Some micros wait for 5 minutes at every stop, in order to get all the passengers possible, and then they drive at like 10km per hour, as if they are purposely making you late for class. Then other ones drive like crazy, swerving around traffic, sometimes not even stopping at certain stops, and when you try to get off, they just kind of slow down to a trot and never really stop, so you kind of have to jump. I have felt like Indiana Jones several times outside my house, flinging myself from a micro that refuses to stop, and doing a little run on the ground before I can really stop moving. My favorite fast buses are the ones I like to call the “speed of light” micros, where, on Avenida España, in the no-man’s land between Viña and Valpo, they continue accelerating because there aren’t many stops. It is a rather curvy road, and if you are standing, it is almost impossible to maintain balance.

What is amazing is that not everyone on the micros is a strapping young lad like me. I have seen old, like I mean ANCIENT women get on the micros and they hold on just like anyone else. Sometimes it is just too much for them and I have seen quite a few people actually almost topple over because of the reckless driving of the choferes. But even in these cases, other passengers will help the less fortunate; one time a woman would have cracked her head open on the floor if it weren’t for two other people grabbing her by the shirt sleeves and propping her back up again. And normally, younger passengers will cede their seats to the elderly and handicapped, which is nice.

The micros can also be used as little rumbling marketplaces. At certain stops, men with candy and other cool stuff will get on and try to sell it to you. Some will go to every passenger and place a chocolate bar on your knee, then go back to the front about how its healthy chocolate and has the flavor of almonds and stuff, and then go back and recollect all of the chocolate (or money if you want to pay for it). Some will ask for donations for charities or just for themselves. And people coming on the bus to sell isn’t the only exchange that happens on the micro. One time my driver pulled over and shouted to a store owner that he needed cigarettes. The store owner brought them on the bus and the driver paid him and off we went.

What about the crazy bus rides after you have been out dancing and you come home at like 4 am? Everyone on the bus is young and drunk, and people are still drinking out of boxes and bottles and cups while on the bus, and people are smoking all over the place, and sometimes random songs break out, and you just have to sit there and hope you don’t die. Or like the time when Tanya and I tried to get on this bus and this drunk guy was shouting something about his money, and he tried to fight the driver, and then the driver’s friend whipped out a nightstick and beat the drunk guy to a pulp and then shoved him off the bus as we all drove away.

The nightstick man is just one example of the support system that the drivers employ in their quest to get the maximum money possible. At certain places (the main plaza in Viña, for example) a bunch of guys will heckle you as you come out of a restaurant or store, trying to get you on their micro. These promoters are friends of the drivers and the more people they get on their micro, the more money they receive. Also, sometimes you will get on, and instead of giving your money to the driver, you hand it to some kid in the front seat who counts your change and gives you your ticket. Friends, family, anyone and everyone appears to be able to help out the driver.

The quest for more passengers and money can be quite dangerous, however. One time I was on a rather aggressive micro, and we cut in front of this other micro to get a stash of passengers. The other driver got mad and tried to escape to the next stop, but my driver wouldn’t let him out, and kept getting closer and closer. I made eye contact with several of the passengers in the other bus, just centimeters away from where I was sitting, and they looked scared too. Finally, my bus driver rammed the other bus and broke his side-view mirror and then drove away in search of more passengers.

The quality of the micros varies to a great degree as well. Some have missing seats, some seem like they wont be able to climb the hill, and ALL are stickshift, naturally. Some drivers have like pimped their ride or something, with blacklights and gory pictures of dying jesus alongside the tazmanian devil and stuff, other ones only play jazz or judy garland, but most like to blast reggeaton from huge speakers. The method to open the door is different on the micros too. Most have a little button by both doors that lets the driver know you want to get off. Some micros instead have a little string hooked to the ceiling that you have to pull. Some have nothing at all, so if you are at the back of a crowded micro and want to get off, you have to scream “LA PUERTA!” over all the screaming babies and pounding bass.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Iquique and San Pedro de Atacama, Chile; Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

Wednesday, September 12th:

I had everything packed and was ready to leave about an hour and a half too soon. Luckily, though, the extra time allowed me to pack more things that I forgot, like my coat and a pair of sunglasses. We had found a booked a pretty cheap from Santiago, the capital of Chile, but it didn’t leave until 6:50 in the morning. And, the buses from Viña del Mar to Santiago don’t start in the morning until 5am, which would have put us at the airport at 7. So, we got the late bus and planned to sleep in the airport until our flight. Vicky, my home-stay mom, drove me to the bus terminal as a surprise and took the time to tell me I had too much stuff packed in my little duffle bag. However, it turned out that I had the 2nd lightest bag of the group!

The buses in Chile are first class quality. It’s the most used means of public transportation, and the companies always try to be on time and have the comfiest seating. Our bus to the airport generally followed those lines, but it arrived late and then left no more than 3 minutes after getting to the terminal. The bus stop in Santiago for transfers to the airport was closed, so we got off at a place I still can’t remember the name of and ended up waiting an hour for another bus until we decided to pay for a taxi to the airport. Back at the bus stop, we had to jump into on-coming traffic to get our luggage off the bus, and then run across the highway to the other side where we thought another bus would be coming to bring us to the airport. While waiting, we met a shaggy homeless dog that looked like a wolf, and we got to see tons of people running sprints to catch buses.

Finally, we got to the airport. It was heated! No place in Chile is heated, so that was a nice find seeing as we were gonna be sleeping there. We walked around a bit to find a good sleeping place, which turned out to be right in front of a Dunkin’ Donuts. It didn’t end up opening until we left to get on our flight, though. I played chess with the other guy in our group, Daniel, and then we decided to sleep. I wrapped my duffel bag around my arms and my backpack around my legs to be sure nothing got stolen, and I got about 4 and a half hours of sleep in all that night.

Thursday, September 13th:

Most of us woke up at 4:50 am, just in time to avoid the guard doing his rounds at 5, which included waking up anyone still asleep. Another group of 6 people showed up during the night to sleep next to us, and they got the special wake-up call. I went to the 24 hour bar with Meghan so she could eat, and we verified that our flight was on time when we came back. So, we checked our bags and went through security, where they only checked our I.D.s in the metal detector lines. Our flight took about 2 and a half hours and we landed in Iquique, Chile, in the smallest commercial airport I’ve ever seen. It only had 2 terminals, one for domestic and the other for international flights. The airport is actually 40 minutes from the city, so we had to pay $8 for a taxi ride.

The place turned out to be cloudy and foggy, but it was warmer than Viña. Iquique is supposed to be the #1 vacation destination in Chile, with its beaches and surfing, but the weather really only allowed for surfing in full body suits. The taxi brought us to our hostel, where we put our bags in a closet to wait for the rooms to be cleaned and went on a walk around the town. It was the weekend before the Chilean Independence Day, so there was a celebration going on in the plaza. A class of preschoolers was putting on a show of the national dance and songs. They were pretty well choreographed, and one girl even had a solo with hand motions and all. After the show we ate lunch at an Italian restaurant [Hawaiian pizza], and decided that eating out was too expensive. So, we bought groceries on the way back for dinner. $1 per person compared to $6 at lunch.

After that, we had to book our bus to get into Bolivia for our trip through the Salt Flats there. As it turned out, there wasn’t a direct line to the city, Uyuni, Bolivia, where the tours start off at. We had to book an overnight trip to a city that pretty much makes a triangle with Iquique and Uyuni. Additionally, the trip included a 5 hour rest stop at the border because it closes from 8pm until 8 am. Afterwards we spent about 2 or 3 hours going through customs with all the other buses doing the same thing. After finding out about the night we would have the next day, we decided to go the duty-free zone in Iquique, where I bought a table Christmas tree for my home-stay mom’s birthday. She really likes Christmas-She went to New York in 2000 for a month just to be there for all the Christmas festivities. When we got back to the hostel, I took a shower and watched Leon the Professional with the other hostellers and went to bed sometime before midnight.

Friday, September 14th:

I ended up sleeping on the bottom bunk. It was a room with 2 3-story bunks in the uppermost corner of the hostel, but you could hear the ocean all night long. Sadly, one of the other people staying in our room was a snorer, so constant and loud that it kept waking me up. I decided to get up at 8, and wait til our paragliding started at 10:30. We had an instructor that grew up in Germany, and he brought us up to a mountain where we could see the ocean and dunes of Iquique below us. The wind was crazy! The lighter girls had to wait a long time before they went up because the force of the wind would have been uncontrollable for their instructors. I had to wait to go until after the first 3 of us were done because I was the heaviest, and the winds get stronger as the day goes along. I drove down with an instructor to pick the other 3 up and then we returned for my flight.

It was amazing! We went up almost right away. My instructor told me a little about how he’s been flying since he was 14 and it never gets old for him. We did “wing-overs” and our touch-down was on a beach. All throughout the flight I just got to sit and let the instructor do all the work. I’d definitely do it again. We cooked our lunch when we got back to the hostel [quesadillas], and afterwards, Meghan, Daniel and I went swimming in the Pacific Ocean. It would’ve probably been ice if it hadn’t been for all the waves and strong currents, but the experience was worth it.

The hostel made us wait outside on their patio until we were dry before we could come back in. It was relatively warm outside, so the wait wasn’t that bad. We just watched them play ping-pong for a while. Before dinner [fajitas] we watched a movie called Step-Off, or something close to that, with the other hostellers. Dinner was home-made, too, and it was really good. We only had an hour our two until our bus to Bolivia left, so we just sat around and drink a little bit of wine to calm our nerves. The guide book said it was gonna be freezing and too uncomfortable to sleep during our trip to Bolivia.

The bus left on time, and we got to watch and American teen movie dubbed in Spanish with the volume set too high. I fell asleep about halfway through it, and woke up one time when we got to the border at 2 am and not again until 7 in the morning.

Saturday, September 15th:

After I woke up, and got off the bus to walk around and work out some the stiffs from sleeping in a bus. There were some nice mountains and the skies were blue with wispy white clouds. There was a little village where the only job was probably selling food and drinks to the buses waiting overnight. We left the border by 10 and I tried to do some homework for the remaining few hours, but I ended up looking out the window the entire time. It wasn’t too extraordinary, just more entertaining than doing homework.

We finally got into Oruro, Bolivia around 1 in the afternoon and started finding our bus to Uyuni. We had some time to spare, so we walked around a huge street market. All the woman vendors wore the same outfits and expressions, it was almost creepy. I didn’t buy anything, though, until sometime during our actual tour through the Salt Flats. Our bus had a single bathroom stop for 8 hours of travel time, with a lot of other stops to pick up random travelers. We were all afraid for luggage, but when we finally got to our stop in Uyuni, we all had our stuff. Although, they were covered in dust from the road.

At the last stop, this British girl came up to us to try to get a room in whatever hostel we were staying in. Along the way she told us she was studying with a Peruvian shaman and was travelling on vacation for a bit. We only saw her that night, and left the hostel early enough to not see her ever again. We finally were in bed at 5, to wake up at 7:30 in order to find our tour for the next 3 days.

Sunday, September 16th:

We had warm showers, but we were on our own for breakfast. We walked to the plaza were all the tour offices were, and this one lady roped up into her office. She turned out to have probably the best offer and quality of any of the tours, and our breakfast was included with the fee. We got to sit outside on a sunny day on the plaza for our breakfast. I walked around a small market and bought a few souvenirs while waiting for the breakfast to be cooked. Our tour started at 11, and there was a Japanese guy, called Izumi, that filled our group out at 6 people.

The guides were a man, Teo, and his wife, the cook. We went to a train graveyard, a salt-selling town, some salt farms, Isla de Pescado [an old rock formation with the most vegetation in the Salt Flats], and ended at a Salt Hotel. Our lunch was probably the most complete meal I’ve had in Chile, and throughout the entire trip we kept taking pictures of an endless white land. At the Salt hotel, where almost everything is made out of salt, we spent the time playing cards and stargazing.

Monday, September 17th:

I ended up getting stuck with the rickety wooden bed. The other beds were on salt bricks, so I don’t know, really, who go the worse deal. None of us really ever got a good night’s sleep during the trip because someone would be snoring, or your sinuses would be clogged, or something else to that extent every night. We had toast and pancakes for breakfast! For this day, we drove past quinoa rice fields, a Bolivian Army training post, Lago Colorado [a ton of pink flamingos in a sulfur lake]. For lunch, we ate next to a weird chimney/oven structure outside the ground of some company. After that, we went to the Arboles de Piedra [Stone trees], where it started to snow! We stopped along the way so our driver could relieve himself, but during that we got to see some Salt Flat bunnies that came almost right up to our hands-there must not be many predators there. There were also plants spread out in a field that reminded me of the poppy field scene of The Wizard of Oz, and this really cool mountain that looked metallic because of the melting snow on it.

Then tragedy struck. I was messing with the options of my camera, and I guess I reformatted it. All my pictures up to this point were lost. But! Pretty much all of them I’m just gonna borrow from my friends on the trip because we all took more than enough repeat pictures. The first thing I started taking pictures of again were huge flamingo poop mounds next to another sulfur lake-classy, I know. We ended the day at a stone building turned into residential quarters, playing cards and eating delicious foods. Luckily, we had rented sleeping bags, because it definitely got down to below freezing that night. I had to run back and forth from the bathroom the next morning to jump back into the bag to maintain some level of warmness before setting off in the jeep again.

Tuesday, September 18th: [Chilean Independence Day]

We woke up at 5am to go see some cool geysers. The sun came up just about as we were leaving them, so I got some good pictures though all the steam and bubbling hot mud splashing over the geysers’ rims. A little bit after we started driving away from the geysers, we reached the highest point on our trip, at 4900 meters, which is a little over 16000 ft. [3 miles above sea level]. I didn’t suffer from altitude sickness, but the 3 girls definitely did. We didn’t have breakfast until 8am, but at around 7 we arrived at a natural hot spring where we allowed to swim until they prepared our final meal on the tour. There were a ton of other tourists there from around the world, so Izumi found some other Japanese people to talk with, too. He could speak English and Spanish, but neither at a conversational level, so I’m sure that he liked that.

After breakfast, we got to see another lake, but this time made of arsenic! It was called Laguna Verde because it was extremely green. Then we passed by the Salvador Dali Desert, so called because it was an inspiration to the world-renowned surrealist. It really, though, nothing more than some stone pillars spread amongst sand. That’s where our tour ended, and we were dropped off at the border to wait for buses to take us to the nearest town in Chile, San Pedro de Atacama. It turned out that the service was slow because of all the festivities of the Chilean Independence Day, so we waited about an hour and a half until we finally got onto a bus. A huge group of Chileans got on the same bus we did, and they chanted and cheered a lot for Chile when we crossed the actual border, it was a good trip.

San Pedro de Atacama is a pretty small town, but it’s packed full of tourists because it’s located in the world’s driest desert, the Atacama. We met up with some other people from our study abroad group, and found our hostel for the night, which was lucky seeing as it was the Independence Day of Chile and the town was packed. We then walked to our friend’s hostel where they were having a cookout, but we decided to go ahead and find an empanada store because all they had at the cookout was chicken. We walked around a little more, and eventually bought some beer and played cards until we all went to sleep. The hostel we were staying at had a little party for the Independence Day, but it was only for the family and friends of the owners.

Wednesday, September 19th:

We woke up in our hostel room to find a French guy in the last remaining bed, but we didn’t really have a chance to talk with him because we went to find another hostel with a kitchen before check-out time at 11am. We found one for the same price as our other one! We went to breakfast before shopping for the hostel, and it was at a cool little restaurant, but I had eaten granola bars before else got up, so ended up finding the hostel while everyone else ate. The first one I found overbooked, but another couple brought us to their hostel, which was perfect for what we wanted. And it had hammocks. We bought our bus tickets to get back to Iquique on Thursday, but we ended up having to wait in a city along the route until a night bus to Iquique that got us there at 5am on Friday.

After getting that purchase done, we decided to rent bikes and go to the Valle de la Luna to see the multi-colored sunset that all the guidebooks suggested we see. It was an hour or so there and back on bikes, which was, to say the least, pretty demanding. I used my hoodie to cushion the seat about halfway through. We walked through some caves while waiting for the sunset, but it was getting dark so we decided to leave a little bit for the actual time to avoid being run over by cars in the dark on the way back to San Pedro. We had empanadas again for dinner, and met a group of exchange students from our University waiting to get started on their 26 hour return journey to Viña del Mar. We felt sorry for them. After that, we pretty much just went to bed.

Thursday, September 20th:

We went to store to by fruits and yogurt for breakfast to be healthy. Afterwards, we went to the archeology museum for an educational visit and ate at a hole-in-the-wall restaurant for lunch. The story is getting quicker because there’s really not anything else exciting that happened to us on the trip. I finished a homework assignment while waiting for the bus! We almost missed our bus, though, but the sign on it said it was going to Santiago, where we wanted to go to Calama. However, it turned out that the bus was making a stop in Calama, our stop, and we got in with 2 minutes to spare.

In Calama, we had to walk a mile to the other bus stations to find tickets to Iquique. Then we walked 7 blocks to the mall where our bus pick-up was for that night. Meghan and I bought a liter of ice cream between the 2 of us and ate about half of it before deciding to throw the rest of it away. We spent about 5 hours in the mall playing cards and watching a movie, but they did have KFC in their food court. I ate a cheaper restaurant, but one of us definitely took up the chance to have KFC in Chile! The overnight bus was probably the most comfortable one we had during our trip, and they gave us coffee and a snack for breakfast.

Friday, September 21st:

We woke up the front desk guy at 5:30 in the morning, but he was nice and let us sleep in rooms for half off that night! We didn’t do anything during the day except go to the grocery store to buy our food for the day. We ended up cooking so much rice that an entire Tupperware bin was used up and eventually thrown away because of the huge amount of left-overs in it. A few movies were watched, and a lot of card games were played. We had pizza for dinner and went to bed content.

Saturday, September 22nd:

It’s our final day of vacation. We took a really fast cab to airport, where we ended up finding our flight had been delayed almost 2 hours, a bomb threat went off, and we were called into the waiting lines about 20 minutes before our plane even showed up. The actual flight had an unannounced lay-over that wasn’t on the flight schedule when we bought the tickets in a city about halfway down the coastline. So, with all of that, we got into Santiago around 7 instead of 4, but we were home in Viña by 9:30. Overall, the trip was relaxing and worth whatever the cost it turns out to be. My bank merged with Huntington, so I can’t view my statements online anymore until I sign-up with them. Until that, I can enjoy my trip guiltlessly.

The next excursion I have planned is for Buenos Aires, Argentina. It’ll be from Halloween until Nov. 2nd, so the blog entry won’t be as long, but I think it will definitely be packed because we’ll be in a huge city with lots of things to see and do. There’ll be a blog entry of pictures to fill the void between this and that vacation, so check back. Chau!

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

La Serena, Vicuna y Coquimbo

Ok, so I had a very busy vacation weekend.

On Thursday, the bus didn’t leave until 5 pm, but I had to have my bag packed before I left for classes. The reason was because I began my volunteer after my classes ended, and the volunteering would go until I had to be at the bus stop. The volunteer coordinator and I travelled into a hill about 2O minutes east of where I live to a very poor part of Viña del Mar. We met a nurse at a consultorio, or cheap neighborhood clinic, and I helped her on her rounds through the surrounding neighborhoods. One lady needed to have an ulcer on her leg cleaned and rebandaged, so I helped hold the leg up while the nurse did all the work. After that, a doctor met up with us and we went to see a woman who has had polio and been paralyzed waist down since she was eleven months old. Another lady we just talked to for a while, because, as the nurse said afterwards, just talking is what some of the people need to feel better.

After the volunteer work, I got into a micro that was going so fast down a hill that when we hit a bump all the passengers were airborne for a bit. I’d say we were going about 5O mph too fast. I got to the bus stop and got settled for a 6 hour ride to La Serena in the north. We watched the new Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with Spanish subtitles and listened to drunken kids in the back of the bus doing sing-a-longs for the rest of the trip.

La Serena turned out to be overcast and cold the entire weekend. We stayed there on Friday and had a sight-seeing tour around it and its sister-city, Coquimbo. The tour guide was extremely easy to understand and nice, so the tour was enjoyable. I’ll have the pictures up by, hopefully, tomorrow. After the tour we had a little free-time and then it was off to the cabana’s restaurant, which was really good. I had some very tender chicken, good bread, and a papaya desert. Papaya is the staple crop grown in La Serena and the surrounding countryside. The night was cloudy, windy, and cold, so we all stayed in and hung out.

The next day, Saturday, we went to a town about an hour away from La Serena called Vicuña. The alcohol company, Capel, has a mixing plant close to there, so we toured the factory. We only got about a mouthwash cap-size amount of alcohol to test, so it turn out the way we were all hoping for, but I tried a baileys-type alcohol, but with an alcohol called pisco instead of whiskey-it was pretty good. Back in Vicuña, we hung out at a hostel where llamas we tied up in the back, but it was a classy place none-the-less. The night, we went to the observatory there for an amazing night of star-gazing.

On the way to the town and alcohol factory, we drove along a highway that took us past a beautiful dam. The lake behind it was really blue, huge, and the wind was so strong that the waves were going against the flow of the water. The banks along most of it were steep cliffs speckled with cacti, but the best part was the shore at the very end on the lake. It was one of the milky light green shorelines, and horses were drinking there. It was pretty cool.

They showed us a slide show of the tribal history of the stars, and then took us onto the rooftop to look at the night sky and use telescopes to see some stars close-up. It was amazing. The moon wasn’t out, so that allowed a lot of stars to be seen. Plus, we were pretty much in the middle of nowhere, so there wasn’t a lot of light pollution. My camera couldn’t capture it, but the Milky Way and Jupiter and 2 other galaxies, among hundreds of stars, were all very easily seen. I got to see 3 shooting stars, too. We used the telescope to see Jupiter and 3 of its moons, all in a line, plus a red giant, white dwarf, a very bright star, and the cloudiness of another galaxy. After the stargazing we had a short concert with a really good folk band. We ended up driving back to La Serena that night, during which most of us slept.

The next day was just for driving back. We were in the bus and travelling by 11 am, which was too early… The day was still cloudy and cold, though. The drive back was uneventful and pretty boring. We watched The Reaping and a Chilean movie which I forget the name of. It was about a school that was being desegregated and the shaky friendship of an inner-city kid and one of the rich ones. It was pretty risky, being Chilean and all, but I ended up falling asleep during most of it. We also watched the VH1 Divas concert for Saving the Music, the one hosted by Celine Dion about 6 months after Titanic came out.

We got home around 5pm, and throughout the entire weekend I was able to read 1 chapter of Don Quixote. I unpacked my stuff, relaxed, and got caught up on the internet.

Tonight, I’m watching Stardust with my home stay sister, in English with Spanish subtitles. I’ll be posting this tomorrow.


Tuesday, August 28, 2007


Ok, I’ve decided that the blog will really just be used to update about things that are pretty big, like trips. I don’t think writing about how the bus ride home was or how much homework I’m doing is too interesting. So, the dates for my trips that are planned as of now are the:

3Oth of August-3rd of September in La Serena [Chile],

Sept. 13th-Sept. 22nd in Iquique [Chile] and the Salt Pan of Bolivia and San Pedro [Chile],

Oct. 3Oth-Nov. 4th in Buenos Aires [Argentina] and possible Montevido [Uruguay],

and Nov. 29th-Dec. 3rd in Pucón [Chile].

Those will be the times around which I’ll definitely be posting. However, if something unique comes up, it’ll end up here.

The Culture Shock has waned off, and I’m loving Chile. I’m gonna be volunteering with a English teacher in grade school to high school classes to help her/him with assignments and readings. Also, I’ll be helping a nurse that does home-calls a few times throughout the semester. Getting involved is definitely required to experience Chile.

That’s all for now, Chau!

Friday, August 17, 2007

Pictures of Rabuco

Here are more pictures!

You have to double-click on the url text so it's all highlighted, then copy that and paste the text in the internet bar.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

It’s been a lot better for me here in Chile since the last time I wrote. The initial shock of a different world, and the sounds and news faces are all becoming familiar. Anyways, I can always watch American movies on the about 6 English movie stations basic cable has around here; I’m watching The Chronicles of Narnia while writing this.

Unlike the movie it’s definitely not getting any warmer. There is no comfort zone to hope for when you’re walking anywhere in Viña because no place has heating. The cold is still affecting all of the CIEE students. Almost all of us have a cold, cough, headache, or a combination of any. Me, I have a cold and minor cough, so my home stay mom took me to a store and bought me a scarf. She called it her superstitious belief, but she says having the neck and feet warm will ward of any cold.

The past week has been mostly more orientation classes, which get pretty old, especially when they’re about the history of Chile. They serve a purpose, but most of us won’t be talking politics and history while we’re studying and hanging out. In addition to the orientation classes, we also signed up for our classes that start this Wednesday. I don’t have any classes on Friday! Vicky, my home stay mom, said that most of the exchange students use the 3 day weekends to travel, and a lot of us don’t have Friday classes, so people have already started planning trips throughout the semester.

Choosing my classes was a mess because of a time change for one of them, so I had to go back in for another day to fix that up. Here’s the final line-up: The history of the 2Oth century through movies, Spanish communication and culture of Chile, Globalization of Chile-which has a lot of excursions to the surrounding countryside, Literature of Spain, and 2Oth century Latin American History. The only reservation I have for these classes is whether or not I will get credits transferred to IU for taking them. The class periods here go for 1:3O hours with a 1O-15 minute break in the middle. I have 3 periods on Monday, 2 on Tuesday, 1 on Wednesday, and 4 on Thursday. It won’t be horrible because the school schedules a 45min for lunch starting at 2 o’clock.

Yesterday, or Saturday, the previous CIEE student that stayed in my house visited with her boyfriend. He had come down after her semester here and paid for them to travel around Argentina and Bolivia, and some other places for about 3 weeks. They’re leaving for the States tomorrow afternoon. After the family and chatted and looked at all of Abigail’s pictures, she took my and her boyfriend to a stand that sold Completos-a huge hotdog with tons of cheese, avocado dressing, and tomatoes spread all over. I liked it-the bun was really fresh, as is all the bread down here. However, avocado isn’t my forte. The also have empanadas here everywhere-it’s like pizza down here. Some of them even have Manjar, a really sugary spread, with cheese in them. I’ll bring a few jars of Manjar back to the States for everyone to try.

Today, Vicky took me on a tour to the north of Viña, to another two towns called Reñaca and Con Cón. Both of them lie on hills that go straight into the ocean-pretty amazing. We stopped for lunch at an empanada restaurant that the locals around the coastal cities all drive to. I tried one with crab, and it was actually pretty good [No, the restaurant wasn’t heated either]. She then took me to the more well-off neighborhoods in Con Cón and Reñaca to show me housing developments and where she would have liked to live when she had all her kids still growing up… It was nice, though.

Tonight we’re having a big send-off dinner for Abigail and her boyfriend, which should be a really good time and meal.

Also, I’ve started watching the Lost series off of the family computer here. It’s turning out to be a good investment.

¡Hasta Luego!

Sunday, July 22, 2007


If you want to see some pictures, go to these links:

I'll be editing this post sometime soon to put up another link; wasn't letting me upload the last set of pictures. They're from a tour of the two cities given to me by my host mom, Virginia.

The new photo links:

Friday, July 20, 2007

First Post in Chile

My parents and I met at the Indianapolis Airport to send me off to Chile. After we said our goodbyes and I had already gone through the security lines, I learned that storms in Atlanta had caused a ground-stop at their airport. It turned out to be just 40 minutes of waiting time, so I still had more than enough time to eat and get to my connecting flight once I landed in Atlanta.

On the plane I met two other exchange students going to Valparaíso. Daniel was in the seat next to mine, and Kali was just one row behind us. We talked until dinner, but by then it was already close to midnight, so everyone on the plane tried to sleep before the flight attendants began to serve us breakfast about an hour’s time outside of Santiago, Chile, our destination.

The line to get checked into the Chile were pretty long, but the line for the residents of Chile was even longer, and it didn’t move as fast as the foreigners’ either. Our luggage was already going around at the baggage claim when we got to it, and nothing happened at the checkout point where the government of Chile checked our luggage to make sure we weren’t bringing produce or something that would disrupt their fauna.

CIEE met us outside the customs, and we each got a calling card to call our families, but I only got the answering machines for my mom and brother and it would only ring for both my dad’s cell and home number. Once everyone had called their families, we left on a really nice tour bus to our hotel. It was pretty cold and raining all day.

I shared a room with Ben, which was lucky because the first few pairs were able to get a room when we arrived and take showers. The rest had to wait for about 3 hours to start getting rooms.

We stayed in Santiago for two days, and it was mostly filled with tours and CIEE information sessions about what to expect for our semester abroad. It turned out the husband of the director of the Valparaíso program was from Arizona, so he explained some of the finer details about safety and other things to make sure we got the message.

The day we left for Valparaíso was the complete opposite of our first day in that it was sunny not too cloudy, but it was still pretty cold. We road on another tour bus, a little less comfy than the first one, for about 1 and a half hours, passing through tunnels and small towns along the way. It was overcast by the time we arrived at Valparaiso, and there were huge ships docked in its harbor. Both towns, Valparaíso and Viña del Mar, are situated in little coves surrounded by hills. The place looks beautiful on a sunny day.

My home stay family turned out to be a very nice family. It’s a 61 year old mom, Virginia, and her 28 year daughter, Vinka. The mom was a Phys. Ed. Teacher for a while, but now she works as a designer, so the apartment has a lot of furniture and knickknacks everywhere. Vinka told me that normal homes in Chile also don’t have the walls painted in colors like there are in my home stay. They’re both extremely laid back and want me to be comfortable. The mom keeps quizzing me about what foods I like and don’t like. They don’t care when I wake up, how long I stay out, when I eat, nothing.

When we’re not at our home stays, CIEE has us at orientation classes. Some of them are about what to expect from the University in terms of teacher sympathy, classroom dynamics, homework, and others are about the culture and history of Chile and Valparaíso/Viña del Mar. After our last meeting on Friday, Virginia picked me up and we walked to a shop where I could exchange some of money for bus fare/calling card/general spending. She then took me to her job to switch out some of the bills for coins and I got to walk home from there.

The city reminded me of an older Bloomington with wider streets. There a few other gringos [just a term to refer to white people instead of just calling them white people] in Viña because it’s a tourist attraction and there a good amount of exchange programs at the local universities. My home stay family doesn’t like how many tourists they get here, which they say will be a lot when it starts to get warmer around September; however, the crowds don’t bother me. You just have to walk fast and be aware of who’s around you to make sure you’re not about to have something snatched out of your backpack or pockets.

Now, some of us are deciding about a trip to the Teatro Municipal to see a piano concert and another one in the planning stages about skiing in the Andes. The bookstores here sell Harry Potter in English, so I plan to go to one with some of the other students and start reading it along with the rest of the world this weekend.

Until next time,