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...