Hello everyone! Apologies for the delayed update, I am simply having too much fun in Santiago! Since I last wrote, I have spent more time with my family, enjoyed lots of delicious food, started classes, and seen more of this incredible country.
As far as classes go, I am having a great time! I’m taking three classes taught in Spanish and two taught in English. The topics range from history, language, and culture, to politics. All of my teachers are incredible and very patient with communicating across the language barrier. However, (knock on wood) so far, I’ve fully understood the content of the Spanish lectures. It’s a great feeling when you can nod along to a lecture about mining communities in the 19th century all in Spanish! I can already tell that my courses are going to benefit my Spanish just as much as my time at home. My “Contemporary Chile” teacher is 65, and he speaks English with a British accent because he was exiled to London for 10 years because of his opposition to the Pinochet dictatorship. His life is more exciting than you could even imagine. All I want to do is sit on a porch in a rocking chair with him and listen to him tell stories all day. In one of my Spanish classes, the goal is to familiarize us with Chile and Santiago while developing a better grasp on the language. We already have a field trip planned to Vega, which is a huge market open in the mornings where we will see vendors from many different cultures including Peru, Colombia, and the Dominican Republic. We’ll have the opportunity to purchase foods and bargain prices, and then later in the semester, we will cook a traditional Chilean dish. Learning here isn’t a chore; it’s an exciting adventure. I’m writing essays in Spanish and analyzing Chilean literature and learning about the resources and governments in Latin America as a whole. And while this has been a blast so far, I’m also knocking out a good chunk of my International Studies major. It’s terrific! For now I am just pretending that I’m not a Biology major as well! I’ll just pick that back up once I’ve returned to Charleston!
Quick history lesson: September 11th is a heavy day for Chile as well as for America, but not for the same reasons. In 1973, September 11th marked the start of the military coup in which President Allende was killed and Pinochet’s dictatorship began. Pinochet was one nasty dude. Anyone who opposed him was asking for a death sentence. Many people were taken away, tortured, and many were killed. To this day, Chile remembers and honors “Los Desconocidos”, the people who disappeared during the Pinochet regime and were never seen again. It was a nasty time for the Chilean people. Pinochet ruled from 1974-1990. But now, much has changed. Chile has a female President (Michelle Bachelet) and the people, in general, are very politically active. I have already seen several demonstrations on campus and around town advocating for a range of topics. Chile is home to a people who lost their voice for a time but who are determined never to lose it again.
I am still so in love with my home and my family! Alejandra makes my bed, cleans my room, and washes my laundry every day!! I am so spoiled. Also, our program fee includes two meals a day provided by our host families, but she insists on packing my lunch and feeding me three times on the weekend. She truly goes above and beyond. When I wake up each morning the table is set with breakfast. It’s always a huge spread with tea, yogurt, fresh fruit, and toast with avocado, lunchmeat or eggs. Breakfast time is one of my favorite times of day, because my mom and I always have lengthy conversations. Now I’m in the habit of waking up around 2 hours before my classes start just so I can enjoy my morning time with her. Sometimes she will play music and sing along while she cleans. Often times, we watch the news and comment on what’s going on in Chile and beyond. She worries about the mistreatment and difficulties that face homosexuals, while she also confidently states that the previous dictator, Pinochet, is in Hell. She is spirited and big hearted. She shares her joys and concerns about Gabi and her friends. Gabi is such a typical teenager – I love it! She buzzed the sides of her hair and my mom was not shy about telling her she didn’t like it! They joke around with each other a lot. Every time we turn around, Gabi is taking a selfie or talking on the phone with her friends. One morning Gabi was leaving to hang out with her friends, we said goodbye to her and she casually and disinterestedly replied. But then Happy came around the corner and her face lit up! She waved at him and shouted “chao Happy!” Once she had left I giggled about how the dog gets more attention than we do, to which Alejandra replied “Aye, adolescencia!” Which is essentially the equivalent of my parents rolling their eyes and saying “teenagers”. I’ve certainly found one thing that’s the same across cultures. (:
Speaking of Happy, he is still lovely! Although, I did catch him eating out of the trash and had to clean it up. It appears the honeymoon period is over! Actually though, he was so guilty, and it was precious. He immediately ran and hid under my bed. It didn’t keep me from telling on him when mom got home, though! Happy always sleeps with either mom or Gabi, but he’s all mine when it comes to naps and we’ve been doing lots of that!
I still have zero complaints about my food! I’ve tried a lot of new foods from Peruvian Ceviche to something called a Belgian waffle and pineapple ice cream. I love empanadas. I’ve had some from street vendors and some at home. Alejandra buys them from a little shop around the corner and then heats them up. Today she was so pleased with how they looked that she insisted I take a picture! It was probably my second week her when mom did something adorable (again). She made fried chicken, but it wasn’t the taste that was so memorable (although it was fantastic), it was what she called it. At breakfast she was so excited to tell me what she had planned for that evening’s dinner. “Pollo crispy!” she said. I wish you could have heard her say it. Apparently there’s not a word for crispy and she pronounces it creespee. I came home to find her in the kitchen in her apron, showing her friend Faviola how to fry the chicken. We don’t have much in our little apartment, but Alejandra is always eager to share it. She knows about the two meals a day rule, yet every day she sends me out with a little baggie filled with leftovers from the night before. She has said over and over to me that she will always choose a small house that is warm and full of love than a mansion that is cold on the inside. It’s so clear that she and Gabi love each other and she delights in giving what she has whenever she can. She takes pride in the cleanliness of our home and the whiteness of Happy’s coat. There is always laughter or music or the smell of fresh food. What more do you really need?
Okay, I’ll stop bragging on my host mom now (: We’ve had some pretty crazy weather here. Earlier this week I would wake up and check the weather to find that it was 32 degrees outside! Midday it would get hotter and we would have to shed our layers. But later in the week we had a whole day in the 70s! It’s tough to dress for and get used to. There is also pollen everywhere. The sidewalks are covered in the yellow dust. Most of us are battling some sort of illness (mostly coughs) from the fact that we’ve experienced nearly three extreme seasons in a matter of weeks. Personally, I have lost my voice, and my sense of smell and taste. Luckily my body feels healthy, I just sound like a disaster. I’m trying to pretend that I’m like Phoebe from FRIENDS and that my cold voice is really my “sexy singing voice”, but I have yet to master it quite as well as she did! For now, I’m living day to day on a careful regimen of tea with honey, decongestants, tissues, and a little prayer.
However, the fact that we’re all a tad bit under the weather is not keeping us from getting out there and seeing and experiencing Chile! Last Friday a group of us climbed another Cerro. (Remember Cerro Santa Lucia from the last post?) This time we summited Cerro San Cristobal, which is at 2890 feet in altitude at the top. There were parts of the climb that were a bit steep, but the view at the top was so worth it! There is a huge statue of the Virgin Mary with outstretched arms at the top. The day was a bit cloudy but we still had a fantastic view! There are a ton of stray dogs here, but they are all well taken care of. I have seen many strays in sweaters or with a pile of dog food poured out next to them. My favorite stray was atop the Cerro. He was a German Shepherd all sprawled out on his back with his feet in the air. He seemed to be soaking in the sun and the feeling of peace surrounding us at the top. There were other statues besides the Virgin, and I also found what appeared to be a burial site containing the ashes of many people. I wonder what it takes for your remains to be housed atop such a significant Cerro? Next to the statue of Mary we found votive candles in front of a wall with little notes thanking the Virgin for watching over their family, for providing, and for comforting them in their times of need. In addition to the notes and photos of loved ones, there were candles available to light in memoriam of a person. I lit one for the people I love who aren’t here anymore and for the people I love who are hurting or struggling. It was really beautiful walking away from my little candle flickering in the wind atop Cerro San Cristobal *Cue the Elton John song*. After that we stepped into the chapel, only to be struck by the beauty and serenity of this space once again. Everything about Cerro San Cristobal was religiously powerful and moving.
The next day Alyssa, Ally and I went to Costanera, which is essentially a mecca for shopping. It’s six stories tall and makes you feel like you’re in America again with all the hustle bustle and big brand names. At the top of Costanera is a movie theater and we saw “Neruda”, a film about the Nobel Prize winning Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda. Comprehension was a challenge in itself, as it was in Spanish but I’m pretty sure I got the gist of it. Regardless, I’m still waiting for Wikipedia to release a plot summary so I can check myself! (:
Our latest adventure was this past weekend to Cajón del Maipo, about an hour and a half outside of Santiago. We trekked up about 750 meters of rocks and snow. I won’t disclose how many times I nearly fell on the way up. But who wants to look down at their feet when there is stunning and abundant natural beauty all around you?! My pictures don’t even capture how amazing it was! We had about 2 hours at the top to eat lunch, play in the snow, and gawk at the snowy mountains. I’m telling you; I could spend days upon days up there! But I’m glad we came down because another treat awaited us. Our final stop on the excursion was to a waterfall with the most perfect rainbow in the mist at the foot of the falls. So very incredible! Some strong wind gusts ended up soaking me in icy mist, but our pit stop afterward for some empanadas and cervezas was a perfect refresher. After my exhausting day I was so excited to come home and show mom my pictures. She greeted me with a plateful of mac and cheese and a side of cucumbers (: Gabi is vegetarian so we eat a lot of cheese and soy meat – but Alejandra works her magic in the kitchen and I love it. Plus there’s nothing like finishing off you day of hiking with a carb rich dinner and then a good night sleep!
My next adventure is currently underway, I’m in a plane about 45 minutes from touching down in Isla de Pascua (Easter Island)!! I’ll be here until Friday at which point I’ll hopefully post again to show off my moai pictures(: It’s been about three weeks and I have had the chance to see so much beauty and interact with some incredible people. I’ve FaceTimed with friends studying abroad in Florence, Italy. And now I’m about to go see some ancient stone heads. What even is life right now?! I don’t know, but I love it! Brace yourself for an abundance of stone head emojis (:
Till next time!