So, I’ll start this first post from South America off by saying, I’m going to like this place. A lot.
In the 6 days and 5 nights I’ve spent here in Chile, I’ve: swam in a rooftop pool overlooking the entire city; been abruptly thrust into an enormous, incredibly tight-nit family; nearly started a riot playing basketball; swam in the chilled Pacific Ocean water; swindled a particularly shady deal with a bus driver; picked up a new set of relevant Chilean vocabulary; ran along a river in 80 degree weather; rode across the entire city in the trunk of a “newly made” friend’s car at 4am; rode a bike around the city until I was completely lost; helped a Swedish girl who showed up at my doorstep looking for a place to live; napped with stray dogs; hiked a mountain; had beers in some incredibly cool bars; and met some truly great people – American and Chilean. And all of this, mind you, in the shadow of these gorgeous mountains:
But here comes the harder part of the post – knowing what to tell you all and how to tell it. I referred to my fellow bloggers’ posts for inspiration (shouts to you guys for setting a high standard of prose), but couldn’t find any one uniform way to get these thoughts and stories I have from my time here across to you guys. So, I came up with the following system: I’m going to tell a couple stories, numbering each as I go, and if at any point you get bored with one of the stories or are for whatever reason pressed for time or even just realize you’re really only here for the pictures, feel free to scroll on down to the next little story. Obviously there’s been much more to my travel so far than what will get across in this blog post, but I think some of these little tales will give you an idea of what it is I’m working with down here.
#1. The flight down – I left my American family (it’s important that I label them as such, seeing as how now people assume my “family” is in reference to my Chilean family) at 5:20pm on Sunday, 2/24/13. We hugged and kissed and said goodbye, and when I looked back to the airport hallway again after putting on my shoes on the other side of security, there the three of them still were, all waving in unison, watching me go through the riveting process of TSA security. A gorgeous display of dedication. The flight to Miami was fairly unexceptional: I sat next to a fulbright scholar who was going to Brazil to study music therapy for affected or underdeveloped youth and who had quite stinky breath. The layover was pleasurable: I caught a little of the Oscars during the two hours. And then it was back on the plane again, this time for 8 1/2 hours. My seat mate this time was either narcoleptic or had popped one-too-many ambien, because he was asleep before he even got his bag in the overhead, and didn’t wake up until the plane touched down.
Getting off the plane in Chile and getting through customs was a little overwhelming. First, I had forgotten that there was a piece of paper accompanying my student visa that I needed to hand over to the guards upon arrival. And it wasn’t until I was in the back room of the airport with about three other, higher-level border patrollies that I thought to check the pocket of my bag where I had been keeping all of my important documents for what it is they were asking for. After sighing with frustration at me, the guards let me pass. Then, after I got through customs, I was confronted with the dogs. Literally, about two dozen dogs patrolling the bag carousels, sniffing out unwanted items in Chile. Kinda cute, but probably not the time or place to get cute with them, I thought. And then there was the heat.
When I got on the plane in Boston, it was snowing; when I got off it in Santiago, it was about 78 degrees. Sweating in my winter coat, I met the other 45 kids on my trip (42 of whom are chicas, interestingly), and climbed the stairs to the bus that would take me to my new city.
After a night in a swanky lil’ hotel and a delicious dinner in a restaurant on the 16th floor of a high-rise corporate building to butter us up, my host mother picked me up and brought me two blocks down the road to my new apartment. She, Isabel, and my host father, Patricio (“Pato”), are celebrating their 48th anniversary this year and want nothing more than to tell me about their kids who now are scattered about Santiago with families of their own. They’re all very close, as is Latin-American culture, and they’ve adopted me as one of their own. Not to mention I have my own bathroom – never in my life have I had my own bathroom! We live in a great area of the city, close to everything. From my host family alone, I knew luck would be in my favor during this time in South America.
#2. A testy gringo in a riot-ready country – I’m not really much of a runner, but this summer weather down here’s got me thinking I could be the next Geoffrey Mutai. Plus, running’s proven to be a good way to see the city so far. So, on the Wednesday after moving in to my apartment, I made plans with a friend of mine to run along the river to a public work-out area in the park (kinda like a muscle beach along the venice beach boardwalk). The city put in all of these public parks and recreation areas for Santiago’s bicentennial three years ago and they’ve really been a boost to the city’s general health and fitness.
Anywho, after doing an exhausting four pull-ups each or so, my friend Evan and I found a neighboring basketball court that was (obviously) substituting as a soccer field for a couple of local teens, a couple of older homies, and some stray dogs – I’m not sure if the stray dog problem is unique to Chile, but this country is laden with them; it’s actually a real problem and one of the hardest things for me to get over as of yet. So, we watched the guys play for a little, and during which started talking to another guy with a basketball in his hands, waiting to play. It turns out in Chile you can rent out courts for particular hours, and his turn at the concrete hardwood was coming up. So we decided to stick around and play with him.
Well, when his time for the court came, the futbolistas were not ready to end their game. And in a country accustomed to protest and vocal expression, they had no problem vocalizing their opposition to our taking over the hoops. Luckily, a lot of what they were saying went right over my head, so I really had no basis to be offended. Like, is “puto flaite” even insulting if you don’t understand what it means?
When the yelling got louder and the dogs started barking, some police intervention was required. I’m leaving this intervention ambiguous so you guys can embellish the story as you’d like, but I’ll give you a little hint – it wasn’t as aggressive as you may want to imagine. In any event, however, it was exciting to say the least, and it ended in a compromise of a court divided in half between basketball players and soccer fiends.
#3. Shady deals – This is my favorite story to date (and, please, just remember it’s been less than a week, so I’m sure better stories are still to come). Yesterday, to escape the Santiago heat and to enjoy the waning days of summer, 8 friends and I hopped on a bus to the coastal city of Viña del Mar. Probably the best day I’ve spent in Chile so far. Between burgers the size of frisbees, lying in the sun while listening to Marvin Gaye, getting brain freeze in the antarctic water brought north by the Humboldt Current, and playing kings in a local bar, I was finding my own little slice of heaven.
But then came my fall from grace.
I had purchased a ticket earlier in the day to return at 7:40pm as was the entire group’s original plan. The rest of the gringos I was with, however, decided to (appropriately) buy their tickets together (unlike me) so as to assure they got on the same bus. Because they couldn’t get on the 7:40 one, they all took seats on the 8:30 bus to Santiago. No big deal, just meant that I was heading back by myself. So, accordingly, I left the bar at around 7:20 and got to the bus station around 7:35 or so – just enough time to catch my bus.
I asked a nearby conductor where I would find my bus, and he responded “entre la nueve y la quince”. But after a long day in the sun and a couple beers, all I understood was that my bus would be arriving at the 15th platform. So there I waited, and worried, and waited. And when 7:50 came around and three buses had come and gone from the fifteenth platform, not one of which was headed towards Santiago, I went back to that same conductor and realized my fatal mistake. In fact, I saw my bus pull out from the station at the last minute, uncatchable and unstoppable. The officer suggested I go back to the ticket office to exchange what I had purchased.
And so of course, what makes this a story, is that there were no tickets available back to Santiago for that night. Not a single one. Not even after I explained my situation, tried to pull the ignorant foreigner card, and offered to barter. No ticket.
Confused and frustrated and upset, I stepped back from the ticket window and began planning where and how I would stay that night. Spring for a hostile? Try my luck in the streets with the dogs? Get back to the beach and make shelter in the sand?
As I was letting these thoughts stir, a bus driver dressed in all green approached me. He said he had heard my situation as I was talking to the ticket window officer and that he could get me on his bus if I paid him “en la sombra” (in the shadows); $3.000, less than what my other ticket had been, but he would only take it where nobody else could see. Definitely shady, but what else was I gonna do? So, I met him outside, near the back of the bus, paid him his money, and hopped on his bus. I even got a seat! I had been expecting to stand the entire ride.
I got back to Santiago and life went on as usual. But now I know: you have to constantly ask which bus is really yours and know that the buses or the people who drive them don’t wait for you. Unless, I guess, you have $3.000 pesos to hand them “in the shadows”.
I know it wasn’t much, but I may have to end my post here. There are a couple more stories I could toss around, but I hope these three have wet your pallet enough to come back the next time for a couple more tales and a couple more pictures. If you really can’t wait to hear all that I have to say, Skype me. Really been trying to boost my Skype contacts recently. Or whatsapp – I’m getting good at that too.
But for now, readers, I hope you have somewhat of an image of where I will be living for the next five months. It’s a beautiful city in a gorgeous country, with interesting, caring, and adventurous people. I can’t wait to see what’s around the corner, and with classes starting this week, I’m sure to have a whole new perspective on Chilean life. Or at least funny stories about trying to make new friends.
Keep following, you guys. I miss a lot of you, but I’m doing really well. Come se dicen acá: ¡hasta muy temprano, huevones!