Until next time

The littlest things about being back in the United States have made me miss Chile the most: the way that we use balsamic vinaigrette instead of just lemon juice and olive oil as salad dressing or how we don’t greet each other with a hug and a kiss on the cheek. I’ve now been back home for almost three weeks, and although they say that re-entry is one of the hardest parts of study abroad, I guess I didn’t think it would feel like this.

I left for study abroad in a pivotal time in my college career, I had had a less than perfect sophomore year and my lifelong lust for travel had finally reached its boiling point. When I think about taking off in August I remember being terrified of the unknown but excited to temporarily leave all of my trivial issues behind.

Everyone back home asks about my experience out of courtesy but I almost don’t even know how to respond. No one here can ever know what I went through, what I learned or how I’ve grown. And that is both lonely and lovely. I now have this one precious thing that’s mine and mine only, but I can’t help but feel like I wish I had someone who could relate to my experience to be with me here at home right now.

I’m going to miss Florencia, Claudia, Diego, Gabriel, Ivan, Pablo, Cata, Javier, and Ro,  the English students I tutored, and the intriguing people I met while traveling. I’m going to miss the fresh produce from the street markets, the bright green palm trees and the reggaeton music heard on practically every corner. I’m going to miss all of the new places I saw– from the arid north Chilean desert to the chic skyscrapers of Buenos Aires and the lush Peruvian jungle to the deep blue of the sea off Patagonia’s coastline.

But the thing perhaps I’ll miss more than any of that other stuff is the way I’ve changed. I’ve never been as confident in myself as I was when I was abroad, just figuring out how to communicate and travel and study in what seemed like virtually a different world completely on my own. I’ve now seen and lived through things that no one will understand but me, and although at some points in the past two and a half weeks it’s felt like I’m losing the part of myself I grew into in Chile, I know now that it’s something that will forever be a part of me. And that’s absolutely priceless.

A mi querido Chile, volveré por ti. Gracias por todo lo que me ha enseñado.

Camille  

Camille, the author

The people of Patagonia

Eight hours, over 15 miles and one slip in the mud later and I had conquered a world class hike in one of the Earth’s most stunning and remote natural landscapes.

The pier in Punta Arenas, the southernmost city in Chile
The pier in Punta Arenas, the southernmost city in Chile

Beach in Punta Arenas, city in Chile.

Patagonia’s rolling green hills, light blue lakes and random flocks of sheep, ostriches and horses attract over 100,000 tourists every year to this relatively unpopulated piece of land. The Chilean side includes iconic landmarks such as the Tierra del Fuego, the strait of Magellan and the famous Torres del Paine national park. We hiked to the base of the natural mountain towers and back down in just a day, while some others did longer five or ten day hiking and camping circuits in the park.

Torres del Paine national park
Torres del Paine national park

Although the scenery in the park was breathtakingly beautiful, the people I met on the trail and in the hostels really embellished my experience in Patagonia.

Torres del Paine national park
Torres del Paine national park

First we met Tom and Gina in the Puerto Natales hostel kitchen, recent university graduates traveling through South America to procrastinate starting their careers in England. She had blonde hair that fell mid way down her back and kind blue eyes, wore oversized “boyfriend” t-shirts with leggings, and offered to make us dinner after our hike to the towers. He stood tall and wore a backwards “Chilean Patagonia” ball cap atop his shoulder-length, flowy hair. He was both gregarious when speaking but also attentive when others were. They told us they were kind of “stuck” in Chile for longer than expected after getting their phones and passports stolen at the beach one day, but they were still laughing and taking advantage of their time in the Patagonia region.

Reading by the stove sat 18-year-old Thad, one of the keepers of the hostel. He only has three months until his high school graduation in Flagstaff, and since he’s already completed all his required credits he decided to travel in the meantime. At first he came to Patagonia to travel and then planned on going home soon after, but asked if he could stay at the hostel to work for a few more months and the owners let him. Both days we were there he wore his brown cargo shorts, beige wool sweater, black anklet and his wispy hair disheveled. He had an innocent and curious smile, and showed a lot of interest in everybody’s backgrounds and reasons for finding themselves here in Chile.

Then there was Gabriella, whose black hair matched her black eyeliner and hoop nose ring. She spent her first 21 years growing up in Mexico but has now been in Los Angeles for six. She was on a solo trip through South America with loose plans and an open mind toward new cultures. We met in the hostel and then ran into each other at the top of the Torres del Paine, where her slight figure seemed to almost blow away in the wind. We ate dinner together that night when we returned to our hostel, and I realized that with a group she spoke softly but when we got to talking our conversation topics were endless and her voice more firm.

The base of the torres
The base of the torres

Perhaps it was because I knew it was my last big adventure before going back home, but this time I seemed to notice the people almost more than the landscape. That’s also one thing I’ve learned about my time here and my travels: more than every new place I’ve been and every new sight I’ve seen, the people I’ve met have determined the outcome of my trips. And the people of Patagonia were a different kind of precious.

Nos vemos a la vuelta,

Camille

Chilean culture through cuisine

fruit market

https://vimeo.com/319071861 — Some of what I’ve eaten in the last six months condensed into one mouth-watering minute ]

Simple, rich and natural are three words I’d use to describe Chilean culture, but even more specifically, the food they eat.

When people ask me about Chilean culture, one of the things I think of first is the cuisine. And it’s because, perhaps unlike the capitalistic and fast-paced mindset that most North Americans are born with, Chileans express their love through food and drink. Some of the most raw and pure things I’ve learned about Chileans and their culture I’ve learned when when I was sitting around a table at an asado (barbecue), eating the famous longaniza sausage from the central valley and sipping smooth Chilean red wine.

Since I started college almost three years ago, my relationship with food has become a little estranged. That, in part, has been the drastic change in diet from the home-cooked meals I grew up on to the mass-manufactured food I’ve had to eat my first two years at school. Putting on weight, becoming self-conscious, then working out regularly and eating flavorless salad for dinner was my cycle for the past two years. Until now.

At first I was shocked by the differences in culinary practices between the United States and Chile: here we eat a modest breakfast of yogurt or cheese and bread before school or work, gather for a grand and home-cooked lunch between one and three in the afternoon, eat a snack or small dish called “once” in the late afternoon, and then eat a combination of leftovers for dinner between seven and even 10 at night.

Eating later was the first thing that took awhile to get used to, and the whole city putting itself on pause for lunch time was another. Parents, kids, grandparents, friends, aunts, uncles– virtually everybody– leave school or work to come home and share a hearty lunch. This was another thing that started out foreign to me, because at school or at home I rarely even eat lunch at all, but here it represents Chileans’ commitment to gather with their loved ones around something homemade almost every day. In the end, it demonstrates their commitment to conserving their culture.   

Another thing that caught me off guard at first is that Chilean food, by American standards, would be considered under-seasoned. Think about your favorite dishes in the US. Some of mine include sweet barbeque ribs, pasta carbonara and chicken enchiladas. All of these plates contain thick sauces and a lot of ingredients but in Chile, and although I’ve indulged in some elaborate dishes since being here, some of my favorite foods are made with only a few components.

Choripan: longaniza sausage in a toasted ciabatta bun

Choripan
Choripan

Empanadas vegetarianas: cheese, tomato and basil baked in a bread pocket

Empanadas
Empanadas

Tortilla: carrots, green beans or tuna sauteed and then pan seared with eggs to turn it into a frittata

Carrot tortilla (from the internet)
Carrot tortilla (from the internet)

Sandia con harina tostada: Watermelon under a toasted flour sprinkle

Watermelon with toasted flour
Watermelon with toasted flour

Humitas: Fresh corn mixed with onion and basil, wrapped in a corn husk and cooked in boiled water

Chilean humita, similar to a Mexican tamale
Chilean humita, similar to a Mexican tamale

Chileans eat simply, and they eat well, and part of that is because they buy the majority of their food at traditional open-air markets. When I think of Farmers’ Markets in the U.S., I think of them as a rarity or a mirage that we see once or twice a week before we consume our GMO-laced food from a corporate grocery store. But here, people sell their all-natural home-grown fruits and vegetables on the street, and they are simply delicious. The phenomenon of the South American mercado complex is yet another reflection of Chilean culture in the sense that most don’t worry about trivial formalities like permits to sell products, obsessive sterilization or digital record-keeping. They grow (or butcher) their products and sell them after a few minutes of haggling with customers, and that’s it. There’s only really one step in between the countryside and the consumer, and that is something so unique and unfamiliar from most people’s experiences in North America.

I’m going to miss the food at Chilean asados: the array of fresh and fermented cheese appetizers and the cuts of steak so rich with flavor that they only need a pinch of salt before touching the grill, the fluffy eggs cooked in hollowed out peppers and the sliced tomatoes seasoned only with salt and olive oil. But more than all my favorite Chilean foods, I’m going to miss watching my host parents prepare it mindlessly, my host brothers making fun of the way I cut vegetables, and all the laughs we’ve shared around the table.

Camille

A New Semester in Chile

I’ve been back in Chile for about a month now, and to my pleasant surprise, it has been mostly like nothing’s changed. I moved houses, which has been a little bit of an adjustment; I’ve traded the wild energy of having three teen and 20-something brothers in the house everyday for a more tranquil environment with a couple and my French friend/roommate Augustin, but other than that it has been like I haven’t skipped a beat. The two families still gather to dine, and my brothers very kindly ask me to hang out with them and their friends pretty regularly.

One of the best changes about this semester so far was that I got to spend time with the Linfield group that came through Chillán for a couple weeks, and now the students from Oregon State who are studying abroad here until the middle of March. It’s been one of the greatest things to have both of my lives collide like that, because I’m always telling my friends and family back home how much I’m in love with Chile and its people, but for my friends at Linfield and now my friends at OSU to experience it first hand for themselves, for them to meet my host families and eat at my favorite restaurants and dance at my favorite clubs, has been almost like a personal validation that this all isn’t just a dream.

The Jan Term Linfield group Photo credits: Macy Tamura
The Jan Term Linfield group Photo credits: Macy Tamura
The Oregon State group
The Oregon State group

One weekend I went to the “woods” outside the city called las Trancas. We found a waterfall and didn’t hesitate to jump into the icy water after a climbing down withered stairs and through plush bushes. Another weekend I went to the surfing capital of the world, Pichilemu, and swam in the salt water before eating some of the best, freshest sea bass I’ve ever had.  

Las Trancas
Las Trancas
Pichilemu market
Pichilemu market
Pichilemu market
Pichilemu market
Punta de Lobos, Pichilemu
Punta de Lobos, Pichilemu

After about six months here in Chile, I have been to a few more places, have gotten close to a few more people, and have fully established this as my second home.  

Camille

The end- of the first chapter

In early November my advisor and our program coordinator Florencia Casanova were sharing some bread and queso fresco at her house when she lightly squeezed my arm and said “I think you should stay in Chile.” We both laughed, but when I went home that night I couldn’t sleep. Credits and classes and major requirements were running through my head. My heart wanted to stay, and I wondered if picking up Spanish as a second major and staying in Chile was even feasible for me.

On November 7th I emailed my Spanish and Journalism advisors and asked them if there was even a possibility of making this a reality, and on December 5th IPO bought me a return round trip flight to Chile. So now I write to you not as a Spanish minor who is leaving Chile indefinitely in two days, but a Spanish major who gets to come back here to study for the spring semester.

Thank you Florencia for encouraging me to do this and for taking me in as your own “niña preciosa,” and thank you mom and dad and Anna for handling the slight shock of my decision with nothing but grace. Thank you professors Sivek, Terra and Ticas for working out my classes and credit load details, and thank you Marie, Michele and the IPO staff for not hesitating to book me a return trip. Thank you Courtney for supporting me even though we were supposed to live together next spring, and thank you Angel, Jordan, Carson, Aengy, Joel, Naomi, Grace and all of my friends for understanding that this is something I need to do. And most of all, thank you Chile and the people I’ve met here for truly making this the best time in my whole life. I have nothing but love in my heart.

And now, an open letter to the family I’ll be leaving and the friends who will be leaving me // Y ahora, una carta abierta a la familia a la que dejaré y a los amigos los que me dejarán:

Yo sé que no he dicho tanto en los últimos cuatro meses, entonces ahora estoy aprovechando la oportunidad para hacer algo lo que me siento más cómoda: les voy a escribir.

En esta época el año pasado, yo estaba en un lugar un poco oscuro, sintiéndome perdida e insegura sobre lo que quería hacer con esta vida. Necesité un cambio drástico para dejar todas mis preocupaciones atrás– necesité encontrar nueva gente y, también en realidad, a sí misma.

Hasta Mayo, yo iba a estudiar en Ecuador. Cuando mi profesora me invitó a participar en nuestro primer programa acá en Chile, yo dije que sí porque me sentí halagada porque ella pensó en mí nomás, y todos los días digo gracias a Dios por mi respuesta. No podía imaginar si yo hubiera ido a otro lugar.

A mi familia, quiero decir gracias por no solo estar compartiendo su casa, sino además sus vidas conmigo. Voy a extrañar tanto estar viviendo acá con ustedes. Claudia, usted ha sido mi recurso a todo, desde transportación pública hasta consejos sobre mi futuro, y siempre se está sacrificando por su familia, lo que me inspira. Y Pablo, gracias por siempre ser aire fresco y por mostrarme cómo trabajar diligentemente y al mismo tiempo divertirse sin arrepentimiento.    

A mis hermanos– Diego, mi mellizo, eras mi primera impresión de Chile. Gracias por tu amabilidad mis primeros días en la casa cuando no caché nada, y por sentir empatía por mi como una estudiante de intercambio. Contigo siempre me he sentido cómoda porque yo sé que entiendes esta experiencia. Pedro, será raro no tenerte afuera de mi pieza gritando a la computadora, y de una manera rara creo que voy a extrañarlo. Y a mi hermano mayor, Gabriel, te agradezco por siempre invitar a tu hermana chica para pasar un rato contigo y tus amigos, incluso cuando probablemente no querías– me has hecho sentir acogida en tu grupo, lo cual es algo que nunca pensé que sucedería. Voy a extrañar el sonido ligero cuando tocas la guitarra en la terraza y el sonido alto de tu risa contagiosa cuando veas un meme tonto.

Yo sé que los veré cuando vuelvo, pero no será lo mismo. Todos ustedes me han hecho un hogar en Chile, y por eso no tienen idea como agradezco yo estoy.

A Iñake, Leire, Maddi, Maider, Oihane, y Victor: con ustedes siempre lo paso bien, pese a la barrera del idioma y nuestros orígenes diferentes, y ojalá que sepan que siempre serán bienvenidos a cualquier lado donde me encuentre en los Estados Unidos; y les mando la misma invitación a los grupos de México, Colombia y Francia, y sus tutores, de la UBB Concepción. Nunca imaginé que habría tenido tanta suerte para conocer tan buena gente.      

Hablando claro, los amo a todos.

Con cariño,

Camille                        

Thanksgiving

We’ve been here in Chile for nearly four months now and I know everyone says this, but this last semester has passed more quickly than I imagined it could. To be honest, in the couple weeks leading up to my departure to Chile when I was nervous about going, I would tell myself it’s only four and a half months. I could do four and a half months, and I would be home before I knew it. And now that my time is here and that we only have two weeks left in Chile I wish I could go back to the beginning.

My friends here always ask me what I’ve liked most about Chile, and they always expect me to tell them a type of food or a trip I’ve taken but every time I say it’s been the people. The people I’ve met here in Chillán- my tutors, my classmates, my teachers, my host family(ies)- have given me a second home. I never thought it was possible to feel so at home so far away from everything I know.

My host family roasting lamb for dinner
My host family roasting lamb for dinner

The little things I’ve experienced here have been my favorites. Today after class a couple of us sat on old bleachers under the trees and just talked for two hours. My cheeks quite literally hurt from smiling and laughing so much, which I didn’t think was actually possible.

My parents and sister flew out to visit me for Thanksgiving week to bring a little U.S. tradition to my host family and a lot of joy to me. We traveled, feasted, spend some unanticipated time in the hospital, drank Chilean wine and spoke as much Spanish as we could.

My little sister Anna in Santiago de Chile
My little sister Anna in Santiago de Chile

My mom Alex, my dad Anthony, and my sister Anna in Valparaíso, Chile
My mom Alex, my dad Anthony, and my sister Anna in Valparaíso, Chile

My parents in Cobquecura, Chile
My parents in Cobquecura, Chile

Having my family and my new family around the same table for Thanksgiving dinner was a feeling I’ll never forget. I heard what everyone was grateful for in English, Spanish or a mix of the two, watched my sister Anna joke around with my host brother Gabriel, saw my Mom sitting next to Florencia and Claudia, and laughed at my dad trying to teach my host dad Pablo how to “bro hug.”

My dad and sister hard at work in the kitchen on Thanksgiving day
My dad and sister hard at work in the kitchen on Thanksgiving day

My mom, Florencia, my sister and I
My mom, Florencia, my sister and I

Thanksgiving dinner
Thanksgiving dinner

My host dad Pablo with his kids Mateo and Laura, and I
My host dad Pablo with his kids Mateo and Laura, and I

Loving my sister time
Loving my sister time

 

These little moments are some of the most profound and unique I have experienced in my life and I know they’ll always reside close to my heart. This Thanksgiving I’m thankful for my ever-growing family and everything they have done for me.

So here I still am, with a heart more full than I ever imagined. I’m about to start saying a lot of goodbyes, but I have no doubt in my mind they’ll be temporary. I’ll be back to Chile, and I’ll visit my international friends in Basque Country, Spain and France. My last two weeks of the semester aren’t going to be spent traveling to see a new part of Chile. I’m going to spend them laughing with my family and friends as much as I can because in the end, that’s what’s brought me the most bliss this semester.

 

Peru

Up until now my blog posts have consisted of the wave of emotions and the unexpected epiphanies that studying abroad in Chile have induced, but I just got back from Peru and it deserves a story of its own.

Before I even knew where in South America I was going to be studying, I knew I had to see the ancient Incan pueblo and ruinas of Machu Picchu while I was here.

Preparation—

The month leading up to the trip, I’m not going to lie, was stressful. Nothing but our plane tickets were in order, and those who know me know I’m a compulsive planner. I don’t usually opt to ‘figure things out when we get there’ or leave things up to chance, and this has especially been the case traveling throughout South America with my less than perfect Spanish.

Booking plane tickets and making hostel reservations was the easy part. Buying the entrance passes to Machu Picchu, however, took a couple of tries. Luckily my host brothers, Gabriel and Diego, had gone at the beginning of August, and directed me to the official Ministerio de Perú website, where tickets are much cheaper than the ones many tourists purchase through travel agencies. We bought our tickets only five days in advance because we kept having problems with our cards getting declined and the site malfunctioning. I obviously recommend buying tickets much earlier in advance than we did.

Thursday, October 25—

We left our home city of Chillán at 3:15 am on bus and arrived in Santiago at 9 am, early for our 2:15 pm flight to Lima, Peru. The four hour flight was long, especially because none of us had really slept in over a day. We finally landed in Cusco at 8 pm. We found a taxi that doubled as a Machu Picchu transport service at the airport, and after haggling for a little with Pedro, the friendly driver, we decided to book our trip with him.

Augustin & Mel on the way to the airport
Augustin & Mel on the way to the airport

The thing about Machu Picchu is that it’s about 46 miles from Cusco. So travelers still have to find their way to the Machu Picchu pueblo of Aguas Calientes from Cusco, either by train, bus or van.

Friday, October 26—

We woke up at 6:30 am to catch our van to a little pit stop along the way to Machu Picchu called Hidroeléctrica. From there it’s about seven miles to Aguas Calientes, but it’s only accessible by train or on foot. So we walked along the train tracks.

Augustin, Mel & I at the beginning of the train tracks
Augustin, Mel & I at the beginning of the train tracks

The views of the Peruvian jungle from the tracks were unlike anything I’d ever seen before. I thought I was accustomed to the mountains being from central Idaho, but I was absolutely in awe of the deep green, plush landscape that felt like it was completely engulfing me.

In the Peruvian jungle
In the Peruvian jungle

After almost three hours of walking along the tracks in the on-again-off-again rain, we finally reached Aguas Calientes. That night we ate traditional Peruvian lomo saltado and headed to our hostel early to prepare for the next day.

Lomo Saltado
Lomo Saltado

Saturday, October 27—

We started hiking to Machu Picchu at 4:30 am. Because our tickets were in the first circuit, from 6am to noon, we wanted to take as much advantage of our time slot as we could. The hike to the entrance point took an hour and a half, and it was all stairs at a steep incline. You know how in basketball or volleyball or softball when your coach makes you do stairs, your legs burn after like three minutes? At some points I thought I wouldn’t make it to the top.

Once we were actually there, I stood with my jaw dropped at my vantage point and marveled at the Incan ruins. I remember thinking about the people who once lived there, how strong and innovative they must have been. How is it possible that something this grandiose even exists in the world?

Machu Picchu, one of the seven wonders of the world
Machu Picchu, one of the seven wonders of the world

Machu Picchu ruins
Machu Picchu ruins

Machu Picchu ruins
Machu Picchu ruins

Mel entering the Machu Picchu ruins
Mel entering the Machu Picchu ruins

After we descended through the ruins and got pretty friendly with some lamas, we made our way up the grand montaña Machu Picchu. This was probably the hardest trek I’ve ever done in my life, especially after the already strenuous hike earlier that morning. We climbed the over 2,000 stairs in an hour and 45 minutes, reaching an altitude of 10,111 feet.

Just a little bit prior we were here in the ruins

and then a few hours later we climbed so high we could barely even see the them.

In total that day we walked 15.5 miles, took 35,631 steps and climbed 265 flights of stairs.

Sunday, October 28—

On Sunday morning we shopped around the little vendors in Aguas Calientes, before heading southeast again for seven miles along those train tracks. At 3 pm our van came to pick us up in Hidroeléctrica, and when we finally got back to Cusco at 10 pm. My legs felt like they might not even last me the rest of the night.

Augustin and I in Hidroeléctrica
Augustin and I in Hidroeléctrica

Monday, October 29—

We left our Cusco hostel early to catch our 8:45 am flight to Lima, and didn’t land in Santiago until 6:00 that evening.

Now it’s Tuesday and I’m writing this at a friend’s house in Santiago (who studied abroad in my home state almost four years ago) reflecting on my journey while he’s in class. My ankles are swollen, my muscles burn, and my legs and arms are adorned with mosquito bites, but I have never felt so alive. Peru is the best thing I’ve ever done, even through all the rain and rigor.

Nos vemos pronto,

Camille

 

At the midpoint

We fly back home to the U.S. in less than two months and coming to that realization in the last week has made me feel more internally conflicted than I ever thought was possible. Last spring when I sat in my study abroad orientation class and listened to my tutors tell me to cherish every second of the semester because if flies by in an instant, I didn’t understand the gravity of their sentiment. I can’t believe my experience here is over half way over.

On one hand, the thought of going back to the familiarity of home right in time for Christmas fills me with glee. I do miss my family and my friends and my house and Linfield and my dog a lot, after all.

The one thing about this new Chile study abroad program is that, since it’s Linfield’s first one, none of us really knew what to expect. Mel and I were told to pick up our visas in San Francisco and to wait for someone named Florencia to pick us up at the Santiago international airport upon our arrival. Other than that, we had no plans and no expectations.

Since then we’ve obviously figured a lot of stuff out, like our class schedules and how to maneuver around the city, but I can’t help but feel one step behind most of the time. This is probably mostly due to the language barrier, but nonetheless, I am excited to be back in a place where I, like, have a general idea of what’s going on most of the time. 

But leaving this beautiful place and the loving people in it is something I’m absolutely dreading. Everyone I’ve met here- my host parents, my physical education major friends, my tutors, my Basque and French extranjeros, my host brothers and their friends, my advisor Florencia and her family- have made this place home. A year ago I never thought I’d have a home in central Chile.

So how can I leave my home in seven and a half short weeks, just as my Spanish is starting to improve more rapidly and just as I’m becoming closer with my Chilean friends and family? I know I can’t avoid the inevitable, and I know I can’t up and leave everything I have and everything I’ve worked for in the U.S. But part of me doesn’t ever want to leave, so the fact that I have to scares me.

I am not even close to seeing all that this country and this continent have to offer, but I suppose the traveling I have done and the home that Chile’s created for me are invaluable, and something that will be a part of me for the rest of my life.

In my last two months I’ve decided to stress less and live more, because this journey is already half way behind me.

Nos vemos pronto,

Camille  

P.S. We have also still been traveling a bit. 🙂

 

Valparíso, Chile
Valparíso, Chile

Me on the classic piano steps in Valparíso, Chile
Me on the classic piano steps in Valparíso, Chile

Mel, happy in Valparaíso, Chile
Mel, happy in Valparaíso, Chile

Florencia, her daughter Catalina, and my host mom Claudia inside of the beautiful Vińamar
Florencia, her daughter Catalina, and my host mom Claudia inside of the beautiful Vińamar

Florencia, Mel and I at the Viñamar

One of the many fancy meals we ate that weekend
One of the many fancy meals we ate that weekend

 

The unexpected

Up until recently I have been on a high throughout this entire experience, taking everything in and becoming infatuated with the culture I’m trying to assimilate to. But now, I’m starting to see more of the authenticity of what living and traveling in South America is like. I’ve learned that not everything works out the way I’ve planned.

We flew to Buenos Aires for a long weekend in late September. The San Francisco-Italian influenced city had me awestruck, with its various barrios each illustrating their own unique story, but I also found myself coping with stress for the first time since I’ve studied abroad.

We tried to get an Uber that never showed up, we were on foot for an average of nine miles every day, we had to walk back to our hostel in the pouring rain, and we almost couldn’t get back to the airport on the last day because we didn’t have enough cash on us. While all these small mishaps were never a part of my plan, neither was coming across an Argentinian couple painting a vibrant mural on their building and chatting with them for half an hour, or having a friendly police officer ask me about my stay in the city and wishing me safe travels while I waited for our Uber on the street outside of our hostel. But these moments are parts of my exchange that have impacted me the most.

At El Museo de Bellas Artes, Buenos Aires
At El Museo de Bellas Artes, Buenos Aires

Mel soaking it all up, Buenos Aires
Mel soaking it all up, Buenos Aires

Admiring the street art, Buenos Aires
Admiring the street art, Buenos Aires

The vibrant community of La Boca, Buenos Aires
The vibrant community of La Boca, Buenos Aires

Tango dancers outside of a restaurant, Buenos Aires
Tango dancers outside of a restaurant, Buenos Aires

Last week after aiding English classes at La Escuela Virgen del Carmen, some of the teachers and I went to eat. I made sure to leave early so I could catch my bus home, but after waiting at the stop for over thirty minutes I came to the conclusion that I was stranded in el centro. A little surge of panic that shot through my body. I was standing there alone, in the dark, in a foreign country, without the ability to send texts. Eventually I got an Uber, although I’m not keen on riding in a car alone with a man in a foreign country either. But this ride was different. When I got in the car the driver actually talked to me about my day, where I was from, and how I’m adapting to Chilean culture. It was one of the best conversations I have had with anyone since moving here two months ago, and I remember going home and feeling thankful that my bus never showed up.

I’m starting to realize that traveling is not always a vacation, and that I’m definitely not always relaxed. Traveling and living in a different culture, I think like anything else, takes practice and it takes work. Even though I’m a compulsive planner and seldom elect to leave things up to chance, some of the best moments I’ve had here have blindsided me. After the worry, there has always been beauty in the unexpected.

Cuídense,

Camille Botello

 

   

 

From English aiding to the driest desert in the world

September started in celebration. It’s Chile’s national pride month, with the actual independence day being the 18th. But here, it’s not only about the day; Chilean independence is present for the entire month and it is shown by hanging flags in front of every house and business, going out with friends on the weekends and eating an incredible amount of asado.

Aside from el dieciocho, Mel and I have started aiding English classes at both the Universidad del Bío-Bío and La Virgen del Carmen elementary school in a neighboring community. Both age groups have been so eager to learn more about the United States and our lives back home, but some of the questions they’ve posed have made me think more about where I come from.

Mel and I at recess with the 6th grade class
Mel and I at recess with the 6th grade class

With the 3rd graders
With the 3rd graders

One student at the university said he feels like the US is more advanced than Latin America when it comes to things like security, education and healthcare. But has he not seen any news about school shootings, or social policy rollbacks? Some elementary school students asked me about my feelings about the Trump administration. Are all 3rd graders this aware of international politics? My host brother and his friends have asked me if I consider Chile to be a third world country, but do they think poverty is nonexistent in the US?

What I’ve gathered from these conversations is that many people here seem to be under the impression that the United States is not only the land of the free but also the land of the rich and the ingenuitive. Comparing the way I perceive my own home country with the way other people of the world do is something I’ve never been able to do before, and it has made me think more about the global reputation the US has established for itself.

Interacting with people from different walks of life has been unlike anything I’ve ever done. You guys have to remember, I’m from a 3,000-person town in central Idaho, so before this experience I hadn’t been exposed to this many people from other countries.

Mel and I traveled north to the driest desert in the world the first weekend of September: San Pedro de Atacama, Chile. There we perused the streets of the little pueblo, hiked to the peak of La Valle de la Luna (which rivals the Grand Canyon, by the way), and swam in the saltwater in Las Lagunas Escondidas. We met people from Brazil, Argentina, France, Germany, Belgium, England, Ireland and Scotland. We ate empanadas and listened to reggaetón by the campfire at our hostel. Although we were only there for the weekend, I saw so many things I never thought I’d get the opportunity to see.

San Pedro de Atacama town center
San Pedro de Atacama town center

Mel and I overlooking the valley
Mel and I overlooking the valley

Mel photographing the salt lagoons
Mel photographing the salt lagoons

The bluest water I have ever seen!
The bluest water I have ever seen!

September has started with adventure and altering perspective, and I can’t wait to continue exploring this continent and meeting its people. Next stop– Buenos Aires, Argentina!

Hasta luego,

Camille