Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Ni hao!

It's been a long, long time, but I've decided to blow the dust off this blog and click away the keys once more. I'm back in China with the family, and back in love with the travel. I arrived last Monday evening in Shenzhen, after another long but uneventful commute. I dozed about 20 minutes during my 26 hours in transit, so I was ready to lay my head on my pillow in my China room when I arrived. My first 8 days here have been lovely. I've visited the tailor in Luo hou, watched a few $1.50 DVD's, and made a couple trips into Hong Kong.

This past Friday, Mom and I went to Lantau Island, an outlying island from the main island of Hong Kong. We took the ferry to Hong Kong, a subway to the island, and finally a bus ride up to the Big Buddha at Po Lin Monastery of Lantau. I didn't make it to see the Big Buddha on my last trip, so I was excited for the chance to visit the 79 foot Buddha.

This bronze statue is absolutely enormous. On clear days you can see it from miles away, and it's visible as you're landing in Hong Kong's airport in the daytime too (Lantau Island is home to Hong Kong's airport)

Incense sticks burning at the Po Lin Monastery

My favorite part of any outing-culinary adventures. Adjacent to the temple at Po Lin Monastery there is a vegetarian restaurant that offers a delectable set lunch. I've had several "real" Chinese food experiences at this point, and this meal was by far my favorite. The spread was served family style, enough food for 4 people although just Mom and I were at the table. It consisted of hot tea, mushroom soup, a tofu/peppers/zucchini dish, a corn/peas/tofu dish, mushrooms and greens, rice, and perfectly freshly fried spring rolls. YUM. The interesting thing about the meal was that buying a meal ticket got you entrance to the museum located beneath/within the Buddha statue. I appreciated that they wanted you to share a meal in the monastery to gain access to the displays. We wandered through and read about the beginning of Buddhism and Chinese Buddhism. With our meal access tickets, we were able to see a relic of Siddhartha Gautama Buddha.

Beyond seeing the Big Buddha, it was really interesting to see the rest of Lantau Island, albeit from the window of a bus. While Hong Kong Island is densely populated and filled with high rises and honking cars, Lantau has green hills, hiking trails, beaches and and ancient fishing villages. The airport of course has brought some hustle and bustle to one corner of the large island, but overall it has maintained a sense of peacefulness that honestly, is hard to come by in the Hong Kong and Shenzhen I see in the day to day here.

Exhibit A...Enter Hong Kong craziness!

Yesterday Em and I ventured out to Mong Kok-a bustling, jostling, lively neighborhood of mainland Hong Kong. It is rumored to be the most densely populated place in the world, with shops and restaurants occupying the first floor or two of high rises, but pure residential space 3rd floor and up with basically no hotels. Above, you can see that not only people live here...TONS of signage is found here too...Seriously ads and store signs hang 20 feet out into the road and at places it looks like the signs hanging out from the left and right buildings on either side will meet each other in the middle. Mong Kok also has a "Ladies Market" with clothes and purses and jewelry that stretches for blocks down a wide street. "Copy watch handbag Missy ? Gucci, Prada, Missy?" There's also a Sneaker's Market, Men's Market, Pet Market, apparently even a Wedding Market, and of course a Night Market with lots of local food choices.

The line outside of Gucci. Because each customer must wait for their personal shopper to attend to them. Hong Kong, you're ridiculous.

And the grand finale! This is a burger, fries and a milkshake Emily and Erin style. This was our 3rd time sharing this meal (twice last winter break), and wow...never fails to please. This winning combo includes a Veggie falafel burger, tomato, avocado, lettuce and this delicous salsa all on a wheat bun with sweet potato fries and a milkshake. This is not just any milkshake though. This milkshake is spiked, with Kahlua and Bailey's. Yep, made with coffee ice cream, topped with delectable whipped cream. BLT Burger, I salute you.

But we split everything, so that makes it okay, right?

Well, suitcases are packed for the Philippines...I'll report back in a week :)

Monday, June 28, 2010

Lessons from La Yaya

My fellow exchange student (and host cousin) Sarah, grandmother Yaya and I at Yaya's birthday fiesta

Sometimes in life you are lucky enough to come across those rare, beautiful people, who affect your very core with their kindness and their tranquil spirit that radiates from their mere presence in a room. During my time in Chile, my life has been graced with the special aura of such a person in the form of my Chilean grandmother, la Yayita. Her name is Sonya, which I think is beautiful and fits her lovely demeanor well, but everyone and their cousin refers to her as la Yayita. La Yaya has spent the majority of her life teaching English in a British school here in Viña del Mar and at times throws in an expression or command in English (with a touch of a proper British accent) just to mix things up a bit. One of my favorite Yaya moments, for example, happened during a big family lunch one Sunday afternoon. As we all sat around the table talking and laughing, she suddenly exclaimed "Gee whiz!" in response to a funny story. My friend and I exchanged amused glances and burst out laughing. She is just that precious. So, when Sarah and I learned last week that we'd be having a big party at my house in honor of La Yaya's 76th birthday, we decided to make her a little something sweet.

After some thinking, Sarah suggested we make homemade Nutella truffles! We decided on a recipe by what we knew we could find at the grocery store close to my house. Don't get me wrong, Chileans do love their sugar and desserts, but people don't make brownies or fudge pies here, and chocolate chips are about $4 or $5 for a small bag of cheap chocolate. Yes, that means they don't do chocolate chip cookies. Ever. Only if corporate America is selling them in a shiny packaged sleeve in the supermarket. So as you can imagine, the baking aisle as you know it certainly doesn't exist. They do have roasted hazelnuts, cream, nutella, butter and chocolate here though...which is basically what this recipe required! So Sarah and I had a truffle-making and movie night the day before the party :)

Although these babies required several steps and hours, there is alot of down time inbetween stirring and cooling that you can use to do other things, such as watch a good movie on your laptop, and eat a Nutella sandwich with the leftover Nutella, of course. If you're curious, the recipe is here. We used milk chocolate bars for the filling and the coating because it's the popular choice here, but I plan on repeating this soon with dark for the coating. Highly reccommended! We alternated with shredded unsweetened coconut, chopped hazelnuts and sifted cocoa powder as toppings.

Yaya's party started at 8 PM Sunday night in the usual Chilean manner, the staggered arrival of 30 or so relatives, the cheek-kissing and greeting of everyone, and the mingling and drinking of pisco and mango sours. Appetizers included cheese and crackers, peanuts and golden raisins, olives and crackers with various mayonnaises. They loooove mayonnaise here, which is unfortunate since I've never been a fan, but the mayo we eat for parties is homemade and typically garlicky or flavored nicely with cilantro, so I've become accustomed to spreading it on my crackers, tortilla chips, and lays... yep!

Eventually the main course was brought out-lots of meat, some baked potato balls, rice, salad and tomato slices. So I ate salad and rice and potatoes, accompanied with a couple glasses of Chilean wine-a Cabernet and a Carmeñere (Chile's unique grape). After much more social time, the cake came out at about midnight and we all sang Feliz Cumples. The touching toasts that Yaya's daughters did as the night went on made me smile gratefully that Yaya is my grandmother. A few people left at 1:30 AM or so after presents, but most stayed until 4 AM. We spent the wee hours of the morning singing karaoke to various Latino hits as people drank Coke and pisco and then topped off the night with Pisco cream-which after one sip I decided was better than Bailey's. I found out that singing along to karaoke with the rest of the room was an excellent way to improve my pronunciation and work on the rolling of my r's. At 4:30 when I finally went to bed I laughed at the fact that yes, that crazy party was for my 76 year old grandmother! Chile knows how to have a good time, no one can deny that!

After Yaya tried a truffle, she told Sarah and I we had the "manos de las monjas" -the hands of nuns :)

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Chile

What's a girl to do?
This is me, in my bed, dressed for the weather in the casa. If I go outside, its warmer. Not by a lot right now because it is nighttime, but during the day yes it is significantly warmer, outside, than in the house. I'm sorry that I'm talking about this again, the fact that it is cold, but it is on my mind and I have trouble concentrating and so here I am writing about it instead of doing my homework.woops! And I'm also documenting my cold weather gear for you too, apparently. Please don't judge me too harshly.

This is another outfit I like to sport in the casa. Down vest with hood with my fleece pants. And then I get in my bed, and stay there until my butt hurts from sitting in one spot, at which point I stand up and hang upside down for a few minutes and then get back in my bed with my laptop.

This past weekend I had to actually stay in the house the entire weekend to write an 8 page research paper for my social psych class. This was less than desirable. I missed out on some good international kids fun and sunset on the beach time. The result is that now it is monday, but I feel like surely it should be thursday night already!
Let me tell you about my day today. First I woke up and got ready, quickly, so that I could put all my clothes on and my jacket of course. I made my usual breakfast-banana, yogurt, and quaker instant oats. I bought myself some flax seed too so me being me always puts a healthy scoop of that on my cereal, followed by a liberal sprinkle of cinnamon. When I have walnuts in my room, I crush a few of those up and throw them in. In Spanish, walnuts are called "mariposas," which also means butterflies. The butterfly nut! Fun Spanish fact of the day.
Anyways, after I got ready and ate breakfast I called Peru to make some train ticket reservations for my sister and I in July. We're going to Machu Picchu and the website wasn't working so I called and had a nice chat with Jorge at Perurail. Then it was time for film class! It is one of my favorites because it is actually entertaining. The professor is really nice too, and my friend Sarah and I refer to him as the silver fox, so yes, I enjoy that class. From the beginning of the semester the class was set up as such: 6 movies, 6 discussion classes, which would alternate as one movie followed by one discussion, etc. with three tests, each one over two movies. Well, recently this has become a problem, so we didn't watch a movie today. The discussion went something like this: "Okay students we have a problem with our schedule. It appears we will have to wrap up earlier than I originally thought. The situation is that we got behind a class when I was out of town, and the last Monday of the semester is a public holiday (Latin America LOVES their public holidays), and the Monday before that is the Chile-Honduras world cup game...and the university has officially suspended classes during that hour of course so looks like we'll have to cut out a movie and a test. And today we don't have time to watch a movie as planned because we're going to get kicked out of the room early since today is the celebration of the inauguration of this building and the faculty is screening The Wave in this classroom. So we'll do our discussion on the movie today and then watch it next week."
Hahaha so we casually cut out 20-30% of the material of the class. And the discussion he presented this morning was stopped mid-thought by celebration set-up. But the profe seemed pretty cool with it, really.
What made the class even more interesting today was that a Chilean classmate had found me and sent me a message on facebook asking if he could have a copy of my notes from a class he had missed. He sent me the message in English, which was slightly insulting, but thoughtful I suppose. After I stopped giggling about the fact that he would choose one of three foreign students to ask for notes when he had about 20 Chileans to choose from...I responded in Spanish! haha and told him he could have a copy of my notes but they were far from perfect. Ironic that he thought it best to ask me in English for notes that I had to take in class in Spanish from a professor talking a million miles an hour about High Noon and "old westerns" filming techniques. So after class I did the cheek kiss meet and greet with my new film friend and his friend and awkwardly exchanged notes and padded on my merry way home.
I arrived home to the vacuuming of our new nana, Maria Jesus, nana number four. Number three, who made amazing lentil soup and I miss dearly, just stopped showing up last week. I'm starting to detect a trend. Is it possible my family here is a bit difficult to keep up with for the dear nanas?
Next I victoriously emailed my 8 page paper and my partner paper to my social psych professor. check! Then it was time to down my lunch at the very early lunching hour of 1:00 (this weekend we ate lunch at 3:45 saturday and sunday...why do they even have a word for hurry in the spanish language?). Lunch, by the way, was surprisingly delicious. When the nana asked me how she should make a soy burger out of the soy meat my mom had left soaking, I was a little concerned. She threw it together beautifully though and served it on white rice with some leftover stir fried veggies. I had salad(which comes after the main course-iceberg and peeled tomatoes, as always, and ran to catch a bus to class.
I showed up to psychology as I had been told I should, to talk to my profe about my essay. The Chileans in the class were taking an exam but us exchange students write the essays in place of exams. So, he told us to write our names on the list and then we could leave. Wow, glad I took a 30 minute bus ride for that...
So I got back on the bus and went home. It was cool out but nice and sunny so I got off the bus a stop early (the public health freak in me does this often) and walked a while. I ate the Reese's cup my friend Julie from psych gave me (she had received a package from her US mom, and the chocolate-pb lover in me was in heaven). I arrived back to the house and started working on emails and various things and haven't left my room too much since. Heaven knows what I've been doing, because I honestly haven't accomplished much. My only explanation for all this is the Chile. I have the Chile. The symptoms are cold-like, but are accompanied with difficulty concentrating, desire to dance, tendency to stay out all night and sleep all day(culturally, you really are viewed as depressed or something if you don't "salir" aka go out on thursday, friday and saturday. This weekend when I didn't, my mom was offering me wine and pisco as I was trying to do my homework. social time is sacred!) and occassionally eat cake for breakfast. I'm kind of kidding, but then again I'm kind of not. The good news is, I think my Spanish is reallly improving, and I have learned so many general culture and life and people lessons here I can't even begin to explain, so I'm feeling like the objectives are being met! Happy June everyone :)

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Peanut butter in Patagonia

Where do I begin? I went to Torres del Paine National Park (see map below!) last week with three other exchange students from the US. I have never been so surrounded by natural beauty in my entire life, and I was left speechless so many times by the sights in front of me, behind me and above me. It is one thing to enjoy the sheer loveliness of something with a city close by or other tourists in tow, but to feel completely alone with 3 friends in the wilderness...that is an entirely unique experience. The quiet we experienced at times is undescribable. No purring of motors or humming of lights or chatter of voices-just you and the wind and, every once in a while, maybe a bird. Coming to the park in late autumn (southern hemisphere) as we did, we avoided the droves of backpackers that come in the summer. We were certainly taking a risk with the weather, but I'd say we were more than lucky. It rained only a little our first morning and the cold was certainly present but bearable. We trekked 45 miles in 4 days, and I've maybe never been so proud of myself and my friends in my whole life.

To the right of the word here, that is where the park is. We went to the end of the earth, almost. And it was nothing short of breathtaking.

We flew into Punta Arenas, took a 3 hour bus north to Puerto Natales, and after spending the night in an awesome hostel there, we took an early morning 2.5 hour bus ride into the the Torres del Paine National Park.

The first day when we hiked in, we all had on our large packs in the back and then our day packs in the front-basically a bunch of pack mules. So we walked over 10 miles like that through golden pastures and alongside hills and up and down craggly rock, rejoicing at the thought of eating the food that was weighing down our packs!

The blisters are intense folks. I took pictures of my actual feet, but decided not to gross you out with that. You can see from the uneveness of the inside of my left foot that I have a monstrous blister there that is currently hindering my ability to wear shoes. Not to mention my heels, which remain a raw mess. Last night my host mom walked in my room and looked down at my feet-"Still so swollen??" she said. I looked down and realized she was right, so I've relocated to my bed to work on homework and emails with my feet nicely elevated.

I think mountain scenes photographed in antique mode are really beautiful. When I look at this picture I hear John Denver songs begin to play in my head. That may be categorized as a dorky association, and I'll thank my mother for that :)

As nice as the antique effect is though, color is better! The contrast of the golden grasses and the green hills, tinged with oranges and reds of leaves in their autumn glory, backed by sharply chiseled snowy mountains...can't be beat.

Water boiling on our little stove for the highly anticipated dinner #1! This is a little misleading since I took it with the flash on, but it was pitch dark outside. The sun rose at about 8 each morning and set at about 5:30, so breakfast and dinner were made in the dark. We ate pasta and tomato sauce the first night, with boxed white beans and boxed mixed vegetables mixed in, in two batches of course, due to the size of our pot. We used our headlamps to light the rickety picnic table, enjoying every bite of our dinner eaten out of our plastic Disney princess bowls. Later we drank hot chocolate and looked at the stars with a fellow camper, literally in jaw-dropping awe of the beauty of the night sky in the Park. We could see the Milky Way...clear as anything!

Our tents-two two-persons for the 4 of us. We did have a tarp underneath them although you can't see it here. We slept in mummy sleeping bags on top of thin sleeping mats and huddled close for body warmth. The question of the week was whether or not you should sleep naked in your mummy bag to get the maximum benefit of the rated-for-cold bag. After hearing various campers' responses I think the answer to that question is yes, although I wasn't about to try it in a rented sleeping bag after the many bed bug discussions we also had with trekkers. The logic is when you wear little to no layers, you're body heat can do play its part and heat up the sleeping bag which is made to retain the heat and in turn heat you. It was 0 degrees C in the coldest hours of the night, however, so I slept in fleece pants and a thermal top with my hat on, fully zipped up in my bag. In the tall grass behind the tent, that's where the mice live! Yep, not kidding. We could hear them outside the tent as were falling asleep and one chewed into Rebecca and Sarah's tent during the day and went after Rebecca's socks. Ahhh, nature. Ohh and just behind the grasses, that's where the mountains live! Sooo beautiful.

Our second day we hiked from our camping spot into the French Valley, taking advantage of the glorious sun that lit our way up and down hills and past enormous lakes reflecting the snowy mountains.

Sun sparkling on a frost covered boardwalk on the hike into the French Valley

It’s not everyday that a girl gets to eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with this view. This picture was taken from a rocky spot in the French Valley where we stopped to have lunch. To get here, we literally hiked up a stream, hopping from rock to rock. The slippery uphill journey was well worth the effort, however. We could hear the thunder of avalanches in the distance as we shivered through our lunch!

Glacier Grey

I wish my camera could capture the characteristic blue color of this glacier better, but you'll just have to take my word for how magnificent it was. We hiked here day three, and the wind came with us! On the way back from the glacier, the uphill trek was made easier by the sheer force of the wind that pushed us from behind.

You don't find that color blue just anywhere in nature.

We hiked down to a rocky beach alongside the lake that leads up to the glacier. While we were there, we witnessed big iceberg chunks that had broken away from the glacier and were floating down the shore past us. The water is super clean here and the park rangers and guide books tell you you can fill your waterbottles in the streams. So, we all had some glacier ice!

We had bought some brandy in Puerto Natales to take a swig of at night-warming effect of course. (We regrettably couldn't find whiskey). Anyways, we carried some glacier ice from the shore back in bags and had brandy on the glacier that evening. I apparently don't like brandy outside of sangria, but it was a fun idea nonetheless. Notice the Disney Princess cup once again :) In hindsight, the princess cups and bowls did make us look a little less, hmm, hard core. We may have been made fun of by fellow campers, most of which were 25 year old European men on treks of the globe. Oh well, I am who I am!

Rebecca, Tatiana and Sarah relax by Lake Pehoe in the Paine Grande Camping Area where we stayed after returning from our long trek towards Glacier Grey.

The blue of the lake here is nice, but not quite the same as in real life. The wind was whipping when I took this picture, literally gusts that could knock you over if you didn't have your feet planted firmly. Tati had a glove half sticking out of her pocket that blew out and into the water, long gone by the time we reached the shore.

So deserted, so peaceful, for miles and miles and miles.

"Do we have to leave??"

When we arrived back to the park administration building from our last day of hiking, this is the gift of a view that awaited us as we planted ourselves in the grass and enjoyed...take a more peanut butter sandwich! Although we were tired of our camp food, smelled horrible, and winced with a combination of pain and exhaustion with each step, we all wished we had more time in the park. We did get a little more time though, in the form of 45 minute late van service out of the park. This turned out to be a perfect bonding opportunity, however, with a friendly young French couple that we had met on the van ride in and seen a few times over the course of our trekking. We talked about their studies and our majors and their travels, speaking in English to each other as they opted for French between the two of them and we all switched to Spanish when the park ranger approached. They shared that they had brushed up on their Spanish by working in a vineyard in Mendoza for a month; it was obvious that they enjoyed their time in Argentina and the opportunity to know the people and learn their language. Hmmm I may have to add something to my life list...

This is what rewarding yourself looks like! Unfortunately, good beer made in Chile is fairly difficult to come by in the central part of the country where I live. Austral, however, is made in Patagonia and you can taste the heavy German influence in southern Chile with every delightful sip. We enjoyed the 50th anniversary edition at the Punta Arenas airport before heading home. I may not be able to choke down meat and potatoes much to the dismay of my relatives and in opposition to my German roots, but I have no problem enjoying a good beer :)

I have to say I feel like I learned alot on this trip, so much more than I thought I would. The physical challenge itself was incredibly difficult yet rewarding, but what really struck me was the kindness and the stories of all the people we met. From the two Chileans working at the incredibly eco-friendly, homey backpackers hostel to the French couple to random Germans and a funny Canadian girl, a kid from Denmark and one from Tokyo, and the concerned young Chilean that rented us our tents. We were welcomed with the southern hospitality I know in the US, but taken to the Latin extreme in which literally no one is in a hurry, everyone has time to chat and even as foreign exchange students from the US, people found some way to relate to us and make us feel at home. We met so many Europeans on global treks too, with Round-the-world airline tickets, who were six months into a loop around the world, with tales of Asia and Australia and New Zealand, Northern Chile, Argentina, Bolivia. When I came back from Buenos Aires, I was relieved to be back in Valparaiso. When I came back from this trip, not so content. I have a travel bug! I have a little over a month left of classes, and then possibly a couple finals. After that, I'm itching to hit the South American roads, or lack thereof. My latest idea? Bolivian salt flats! Google them, seriously soooo insane. My sister Emily is planning to join me in late July for a grand finale in Cusco, Peru...Machu Picchu here we come?!?! Can I travel forever, porfa?
"Experience, travel, these are as education in themselves." -Euripides

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

A little bit of everything

Yeah this was in Europe, not Chile, but lately I've been trying to think about times when I was cold and I was happy, to have a more positive association with cold. It's kind of working? A girl just gets kind of glum after having fall/start of winter in Knoxville, deathly cold winter in Europe, winter in China(although it felt like fall honestly) and now fall entering into winter here, and then knowing when I get back in August fall/winter will be coming. I mean, is that bad for my Vitamin D production? Perhaps my mood too? Hehe, anyways, I'm a dork. And I'm spoiled rotten I just realized as I read back over that paragraph! I haven't shared many Europe pics though, so perhaps I'll work some of those in over the next few months. This picture is from Dec. 09-me and my best friend Haley in Salzburg, Austria. Honestly, this was one of my favorite parts of the trip. We were staying in a hostel in Munich, Germany and got up early to make a day trip to Salzburg. We did the Sound of Music guided tour-with lots of happy Australians, Asians, and a highly entertaining tour guide who looked perfectly Austrian with his little hat. We stopped the bus (and paused the Sound of Music soundtrack!) here long enough to take some pictures of the snowy valley as we went towards the little suburb outside of Salzburg that houses the church where Maria and Captain Von Trapp were married in the movie. Needless to say, it was freezing! But we were both happy as clams.
I love this picture. It was the background on my laptop for quite a while, and I think the lovely inescapable ambiance of Paris really shines through as dusk settles in on the Seine River with Pont Neuf (the bridge) and the Île de la Cité (island that houses the Notre Dame Cathedral) in the background. I took this shot on our first day in Paris, lagging behind the group for a moment after we came up the stairs from walking under the Pont Neuf and along the Seine, taking a moment to soak up the city. We did a 3 hour walking tour that first late afternoon, strolling from the Latin Quarter and along the Seine, over to the grounds of the Louvre and finishing off at the top of the Champs Elysees, which was all decked out with lights and stalls selling crepes and chocolate and giant waffles doused in powdered sugar. I'm feeling happy just thinking about it.

And this is where I live now! Valparaiso is in the first plane, Vina in the second, and Renaca in the far distance. I feel like it's difficult sometimes to take pictures of cities that aren't woefully understated, you know, like how do I capture what I am looking at for you?? But I think this one's not too bad.
Now I need to share a little about my weekend. On Sunday I was in my room doing some reading, waiting patiently for almuerzo (lunch). About 3 o'clock rolled around and I went and ate some fruit since my host mom still was not home from El Lider-aka Chilean Walmart (literally, Walmart owns about 50% of it, and they have great value brand in few things). Finally, she and my sister get home at 3:30 or so with a car full of groceries. I rejoice, because we tend to run out of groceries in a house of 6 and you have to buy a lot of paper products and cereal to last the whole week. On Saturday, we were down to one roll of toilet paper to be used for paper towels and napkins and in the bathroom-so my mom had to break out the emergency roll from upstairs! hehe So hoooray we did at least have a delicious lunch by the time we ate it at 3:45. My host dad is an awesome cook, and he made a homemade eggplant lasagna, using eggplant in place of noodles. Mine was made especially for me, with soy meat rather than real, which was very nice :) Afterwards my host brother walks in with a bag of marshmallows, and then these little kabob sticks, and then I realized-we're gonna roast marshmallows in the fireplace!!! That isn't even the best part-Disney music was involved! My host sisters began to sing Hakuna Matata, and I got ready to join in as they continued, but promptly stopped when they continued in Spanish rather than English...Disney songs en espanol? That's what I call fun vocabulary building. So my sister broke out her laptop and the whole family sat around in the living room eating marshmallows and listening to Disney songs in Spanish on youtube. We laughed as I inquired the translation of various Disney titles for the Latin-American world. Peter Pan was Pedro Pan, so I'd say we can all appreciate the humor in that. :) Joy and contentment with my family on a chilly sunday evening in the living room-yes I felt it! And of course we were drinking tea too, because we always drink tea after almuerzo. Usually I have "aguacita" which is what they call hot water with herbs or herbal tea. We grow mint in the backyard, and the nice back to nature process of picking the mint and washing it and drinking it has made "aguacita de mente"my favorite for quite some time. My mom bought some herbal tea at the store though in all sorts of fun flavors, so I was excited to give that a try. I chose plantain on Sunday-amazing!!! It had this nice spicyness that felt really familiar and comforting, although I knew I'd never had it before. I drank it again tonight, holding it up close to let the aroma really surround me. All of a sudden I found myself back in the presence of Trish Mitchell-one of the most amazing ladies I have had the privilege to know, whom my family and I miss so much. I don't think she drank plantain tea, but the uniquely Trish combination of essential oils lingered in the house and always accompanied her presence, and I promise plantain tea is an incredibly close match to her signature scent. Who would have thought such a special gift and reminder would come in the form of plantain tea...I wish you all happy weeks wherever this little update finds you!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Location: under the covers, Length of stay: as long as possible

This is not me complaining, this is me explaining. Wherever you are in the world, if you are warm, please take a moment to be thankful. Not everyone is warm, because not everyone has heat-like all the residents of central Chile, apparently. That was dramatic but the point is, I'm coooold!

Since I arrived to Chile in March, people in my family had been making references to how cold it gets in the winter here. I shrugged them off because I had looked at the weather channel averages for this area and sure, it may get down to the 40's but that didn't sound too bad, right?? I may be from the south but it gets down into the teens in Knoxville winters, so 40's sounds more than manageable. Wrong!

For the past week and a half or so, the nights and morning have been rather chilly, some much more so than others. I'm not sure what the precise temperature is because it varies so much depending on where in Vina del Mar or Valparaiso one finds themselves. Right by the shore it is windy, immediately inland its warmer, and as you creep closer to the hills the wind picks up and the temperatures drop. I live at the bottom of the hills in a residential area called Miraflores. Then of course, the temperature also depends on the time of day. Nights and mornings are freezing lately, days can be too, but if you're in the sun pants and short-sleeves and a sweater feel fine in the afternoon.

I've realized however, that I arrived here rather unprepared for the cold weather. People had told me Chileans dress really warm in the winter even though it doesn't get to cold in this area. Well, now I understand!!! Maybe they too live in a house where it is colder inside than it is outside and there is no heat! We do have a floor heater, but just one, for a house with a large downstairs and a large loft-space upstairs. The heater gets planted in the hallway and there it stays.

My host brother's bedroom is located the farthest from the heater that we have in the hallway, so sometimes he sleeps in the floor of one of my host sisters' bedrooms. When I go to bed I wait until the last minute to take off my sweatshirt and slippers, throw an extra blanket or two on top of the sheets, wool blanket, and comforter that are already on my bed, and slide all the way under the covers. Last night the air felt kind of cold on my throat as I was going to sleep, so I fear the "real cold" that is due to come in May and peak in late June...

So, here I sit under my covers, hoodie on, hood up. A couple fellow international students told me they had been warned of this "just as cold inside as it is outside" situation that happens here. "Yeah, my friend who studied here last year told me us international kids just lay under the covers and do homework all winter." Statements to that effect. This is news to me though!

Okay, enough "explaining" aka complaining though. I think this morning is particularly cold because our housekeeper has all the doors open in the back of the house, cleaning up the mess from last night's "asado," which is a meat and pisco (grape liquor) party, basically. I didn't participate in this particular asado because it was for my host dad's work friends, basically a bunch of 40-60 year old men smoking, talking, drinking and eating meat until some ridiculous hour (Happy Tuesday!?) So I fell asleep to chuckles and 1960's American hits and woke up to a wind-tunnel. Apologies for the pity all in the norhern hemisphere enjoy the coming of spring as I embrace my fall/winter #2 now here in the southern hemisphere! What doesn't kill you makes you stronger!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Turn off the TV, Live your life.

" Turn off the TV, live your life."
I'm not going to lie, I love this picture. I guess I took it to heart a little, because I tried to spend less time on my computer this past week and more time joining in with random family events. I took pic this last Friday afternoon when I was out walking in Valparaiso with a couple friends. We had an excellent walk in the two most famous hills, Cerros Concepcion and Alegre. We ate a delicious lunch of vegetable lasagna and shared raspberry chocolate cake for dessert. We ducked in and out of art galleries and paused to soak up our city on a sunny afternoon. At one popular lookout, we saw a man with a camera and the next day my host mom said we had been on the news. A construction worker even sang to me that I had beautiful eyes and promptly tripped over himself, initiating the laughter of the whole crew. I must say it was nice to be able to laugh at that kind of attention, because some days I have to look at the ground or give people death stares...

See the man in the corner painting?

Well, I walked by a few hours later and the painter had finished! Somebody loves Salvador Allende... They were playing music and somebody was announcing the completion of a new mural, which was fun to catch. The amazing thing about Valpo is that the art in the city continually changes, so each trip into the cerros you notice something different. Was it there before and you just didn't notice? Or did some artist just paint it the day before?

Brightly colored buildings, blue sky, blooming flowers, charming antique signs and a view of the coast. What more could a girl ask for?
Okay I know I talk about the city of Valparaiso alot, but I do much more than walk around and take pictures, on Mondays and Tuesdays at least. I am taking 6 classes here: Evolution and History of Film, Social Psychology, Traditional Dances of Chile, Geography of Latin America, Biodiversity and Sustainable Development, and Urban and Regional History of Valparaiso. Last week I had to do my first presentation in Geography, which was slightly mortifying. Standing up and talking for a few minutes to a class of 45 students, with about 30 Chileans and 15 exchange students, is no small event in one's day. I did my best, said a thank you prayer when it was done, and moved on with my life. I also had my first history test last week, which was two essay questions over a bunch of reading we had to do-overall, not too bad! The hard thing about my classes here is really just sitting through them. Most are an hour and a half, but Geography and Psychology are each 3 hours long...but all of them are only once a week so I suppose I can't complain too much.

This is what I did in Psychology Monday. Come on, 3 hours? Right after lunch too. UGHHHH
I think my doodles are getting better every week.
I have to be honest; part of the reason I have such a hard time staying awake in Psychology is that I just can't understand my professor half the time. His voice fades at the end of his sentences so I catch the first half of everything, but without the second half a lot of information gets lost. He writes on the board sometimes which is helpful, except for that his handwriting is unbelievably chicken-scratch-ish. Ohh and just to illustrate for you what it is like to be a "gringa" (foreigner) in a class of Chileans, let me tell a little story. So I'm sitting in Psychology and my professor refers to some story and everyone says they are familiar with it. I am, not surprisingly, clueless. He makes a lot of popular culture type allusions that I don't know because, well, I'm not Chilean. Anyways he throws up a powerpoint slide with a diagram of a family. I recognized mother, father, step-sister, etc...actual family vocab words. The center of this diagram, however, said "cenicienta"...I had no idea what that meant, so I broke out my little translator. "cenicienta" =ashen. Ashen?? Okay think Erin, ...AHHH He is talking about CINDERella, I realized. It was an epiphany moment, and I might have said OHH too myself a little too loudly. Luckily, I've learned to laugh at myself and these moments, so I rarely get frustrated or embarassed with myself or anyone else these days. :)

All last week, there was a Bicentennial Regatta going on in Valparaiso. This event culminated on Sunday, with all of the sailboats leaving the port together. There were 10 boats in all, Latin-American countries plus Spain. I went to see the big finale with my host parents.

Tons of people were packed on the beach and seaside cafes.

Even the policemen were out on their horses! I don't see policemen to often here. There doesn't seem to be very many, and I've heard that it is still largely a "volunteer" position here. This makes for me not feeling so safe at times, but then again crime is relatively low in the area, especially violent crime. So no worries, I think I'm usually pretty safe!

La Esmerelda of Chile. This is a copy of Spain's boat, which looks exactly the same except it is 1 meter longer.

My host parents, Horacio and Sandra. It was really nice to spend a couple hours sitting on the beach with them. Afterwards, we had a family lunch, and later I went to my host sister's boyfriend's basketball game. Basically I accomplished nothing that day, except for spending time with the fam, which I guess is what I should be doing on a Sunday. At times I think Chile is teaching me some important lessons...

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Buenos Aires, Uruguay, and Bus Rides!

Sunny day in Recoleta neighborhood, Buenos Aires

For Easter break, myself and 6 other international students decided to go to Buenos Aires. We looked at plane tickets at first, but eventually the spontaneity and adventurous side of us won over, and we bought one-way tickets for a double decker bus ride through the Andes instead. Because sometimes the journey is half the fun, right?

Home, for 24 hours there, and 24 hours back.

I wish I was kidding, but this is DEFINITELY the road we were on. For the bus ride towards Buenos Aires, my friend Sarah and I had seats on the top level, very front of the bus. In other words, pure windshield. The view was nothing short of incredible at times. At other moments, going around these turns made my heart race and my stomach flop.

Our bus stopped at the immigrations post in the Andes.

We were lucky that our bus arrived to customs at about 1:30 in the afternoon, so it was sunny and beautiful and we were all awake. The buses to Mendoza, Argentina (home of the Malbec, next destination on my list) usually arrive to customs in the middle of the night, which will be a pain. Everyone and all of their stuff have to get off the bus and exit Chile and enter Argentina and screen luggage. When we entered Argentina, customs was pretty lax, and left us all feeling like one could bring whatever one wanted across the Chile/Argentina border. On the way back, however, we learned that was not true! Somebody might have had almonds with her that she didn't declare? (woops) and therefore held up the line, had to redo the form and forfeit the almonds. Sad but true.

Bus rides can be breathtaking.

So what does Buenos Aires look like?? Hmm, Paris, New York, a big city. I suppose I don't mean that in a bad way or a good way, just that's how it is. The people are really friendly and look much more diverse than the mostly darker-haired and skinned Chileans. The Argentinian Spanish accent is undoubtedly the sexiest I've heard, and I also found Argentinians to be much easier to understand than many Chileans I know. The empanadas are smaller and baked in Argentina vs. huge and fried in Chile (so for me Argentina wins that one!) The wine I've had here in Chile easily beats the Argentinian wines I tried, though that contest warrants further exploration. All that being said, I am so glad I am spending the semester in Chile vs. Buenos Aires. At times Buenos Aires felt so much like a European city that I forgot I was in South America. The main difference is that Buenos Aires is much, much cheaper than Europe, which was fabulous!

I passed this building 25 times during the week. I loved it! I think the European architecture with the colorful grafitti demonstrates nicely the feel of Buenos Aires-80% exciting big city and 20% Latin American.

Recoleta Saturday Fair.

We came to the Recoleta neighborhood our first day in Buenos Aires. We arrived at our hostel at about 8 AM after our 24 hour bus ride, threw down our bags, ate breakfast, and headed out for our first adventure. We tried to go immediately to Recoleta via the bus that our hostel suggested, but encountered a bit of a roadblock. When I got on the bus and tried to use a $2 Argentinian peso note (equivalent to 55 cents-ish USD), the bus driver shook his head-coins only! I found this rather frustrating because the fare was $1.10 Argentinian pesos so I wasn't being unreasonable, but the machine only took coins so all 7 of us got off the bus in search of change. We went from one stand to mini mart to the next, everyone struggling to break their paper money for coins. After much frustration we stopped at a cafe for a snack. What was going on?? Well, turns out there is a shortage of coins in Argentina. People apparently hoard them in their house. So people literally give you dirty looks when you pay with a combination of bills that result in them having to give you change. I'm actually not kidding. We eventually made it to Recoleta on the bus and perused the fair for a few hours-lots of leather, jewelry and other nifty items.

After the fair we walked to the Recoleta Cemetery-famous worldwide because it is the resting place of Evita Peron. We didn't actually find Evita's grave on this first visit. The place is huge and we didn't pay for a map at the door and with 7 people it is kind of hard to do anything efficiently. I was in awe of the size of this place though and fascinated by the variety and size of the various tombs.

Recoleta Cemetery

After a looong walk back to the hostel (we couldn't find enough change for 7 people to take the bus back), we headed out in search of dinner. Once again, everything is a bit of a challenge with 7 opinions, budgets and pickyness scales, but we finally landed on this place-Guayana Restaurante. When we entered, the lights were on and only a couple other tables were occupied. Men drinking beer, a table of teenagers doing the same. It seemed a bit greasy to me. I ordered gnocchi first and they didn't have it-what? so I wasn't overly impressed. Then, all of a sudden as we were eating our food, the lights went down, the place filled up, and a tango show began. It was all very local and authentic feeling, and I felt pleasantly surprised by our discovery.

Sunday morning we headed towards the San Telmo neighborhood of Buenos Aires for its famed Sunday antique fair. San Telmo is the oldest part of Buenos Aires, known for an authentic tango culture, street entertainment and its fair share of restaurants and cafes.

Antique jewelry display at San Telmo Antique Fair

I really enjoyed walking around this place, and could have spent much longer here than we did. The plaza was packed with people from all over the world. Touristy, yes, but interesting all the same.

Tango show in the street in San Telmo that we stumbled upon.

San Telmo Tango dancer, classic Buenos Aires

After a delightful Easter lunch in San Telmo (I had salmon ravioli with mushroom sauce), we headed back to the hostel to leave our belongings and take a bus to La Boca neighborhood, home of the Boca Jrs., best of the South American futbol clubs. We had been instructed to leave our cameras at home and take of our jewelry, basically draw as little attention to ourselves as possible in order to avoid being robbed or getting in a fight. This made me a bit nervous but when you're with 6 people watching out for you, you don't worry too much about these things. Anyways, we got to the stadium and heard the roars and felt the ground rumble with the cheers...and then learned that the official ticket sale period had passed. There were plenty of people to buy tickets of off the street, but we had also been warned to stay away from these people, so we passed. I was sad, but my friend Corbin, the solo boy in our group of 7, was much sadder. Luckily there is club futbol here in Valparaiso as well as Santiago, so I plan to hit up a match soon.

Monday night we planned ahead better and scored tickets to a tango show at Cafe Tortoni, which brags to be the oldest cafe in South America. The show was fabulous, although much racier and a bit cheesier at times than I expected. Tango dancers are in incredible shape, that is for sure! My The music was enchanting too and I have added "buy tango music on itunes" to my to-do list.


We ended up going back to Recoleta Cemetery to seek out Evita's grave. You can't go to Buenos Aires and not see Evita's grave...and we found it! The people still love her :)

Steel flower in the United Nations Park in Recoleta.

This flower closes at dusk and opens at dawn for the day. Pretty sweet.

For the most part, the graffiti in Buenos Aires paled in comparison to the awesome street art of Valparaiso in Chile, but this corner of the hip Palermo neighborhood of Buenos Aires was photography-worthy.

Our first day in Buenos Aires, we went out for drinks with a Chilean friend who studies at our university in Valparaiso. He had spent the day before on a day-trip to Colonia, Uruguay, a beautiful, historic town that is situated just across the Rio de la Plata from Buenos Aires. We looked into the trip and decided a day tour sounded perfect, so we bought a little ferry/lunch/tour package to Colonia.

The ferry ride was 3 hours, but the seats reclined more comfortably than those of our coach bus, so within a few minutes the soft chairs and lull of the motor left us sleeping like babies. Soon we were at the port in Colonia and on a bus for buffet lunch and the Spanish-speaking tour :) of the old town. I met some nice Puerto Ricans who live in Charlotte, and enjoyed the ease of the guided tour thing.

Italy? Nope, Colonia, Uruguay. I can't being to describe how picturesque historic Colonia is, but I think this photo does a pretty nice job.

My friends and I spent most of our 45 minutes of free-time between the guided tour and the ferry ride back frolicking on the sunny Colonia coast as the sun began to dip into the Rio de la Plata-sometimes its just lovely be 21, acting like you're 7 :)

I like this.

View from the ferry as we left Uruguay.

So that was basically the trip! Being the city girl I am, Buenos Aires was at the top of my list of places I wanted to see this semester, and I did love it, but honestly this trip left me wanting to soak up more nature on my next South American adventure. Southern Chile is supposed to be nothing short of breathtaking, as well as the deserts and mountains in the north. As we made the last leg of our journey along the sparkling coast from the Valparaiso bus stop to the terminal in Vina del Mar (a trip I make almost every day), I couldn't help but be glad I call central Chile home for this semester. So once again I find myself appreciating where I'm at. What a nice sentiment to have...