a weekend trip across the mountains and the border
11.03.2010 - 11.14.2010 90 °F
Chile is having a hard time deciding what season it would like to be in. We jumped from "How nice, I don't have to wear a thick winter jacket in my house," to "Is it inappropriate to wear a swimsuit to school?" overnight, only to be followed by two days of downpours and flooded streets. Now the weather's getting really tricky because it's about 85 degrees outside but about 50 inside. That's right, Chileans don't have central heating but they do have--and love--air conditioning and feel the need to prove just how cold they can make it. Dressing myself has become a daily challenge; the Chilean solution is to simply continue wearing their winter clothes and avoid stepping into the sun, but I'm not sure I like that idea. It's strange, considering how much everyone complained during winter.
My big adventure in the past two weeks was a few days in Mendoza, Argentina. It's a pretty popular trip for people studying in Chile for multiple reasons. I mainly wanted to go to have the experience of taking a bus over the Andes (which form the border between the two countries), but wine tours and paragliding are other main attractions. We took the overnight bus on Thursday, which was uneventful except for when I woke up to the most beautiful and dreamy starry sky I have ever seen. We got through customs quickly thanks to the generosity of my fellow passengers. The bus driver was collecting tips in a cup and I pitched in without even paying attention to what it was for because I am a sucker for anyone asking for money; when the customs agent lightly tapped the top of my bag instead of actually inspecting its contents, I understood where the money was going. Forty cents well spent.
We rolled into Mendoza at about five in the morning and had luckily booked the hostel for the night before so we could go get a little more sleep before starting the day. If you're ever in Mendoza, I highly recommend Hostel Internaciónal. For eleven dollars a night, we got private rooms and bathrooms, breakfast daily, and a homemade pizza dinner one of the nights. It's also close to the bus station and the center of town.
Friday was dedicated to Mr. Hugo's Bike-and-Wine. Also for ridiculously cheap, Mr. Hugo himself sends a taxi to take you about 20 minutes outside of Mendoza and loans you a bike for the day to explore the many vineyards in the area. We started at the wine museum, which probably would have been more interesting had we coughed up the money for a guide. Next came the all-in-one alcohol, jam, chocolate, and olive oil store, complete with delicious samples of each. They had a pretty wide variety of weird drinks, but everyone in our group went for the absinth; as the store owner lit sugar on fire and mixed it into the famous green liquid, he noted "Absinth is illegal but...it doesn't matter."
Wandering a little further from the busy part of wherever we were, we found a beer garden that was the perfect spot for lunch. Homemade beer, pizza, and empanadas with an outdoor hodgepodge of things that serve as chairs and tables that would rival any Oregon hippie's backyard. The combination of food, sun, greenery, and sitting down could easily have kept us in that place all day, but some college boys that were clearly taking advantage of all the available wine showed up and drove us out.
No bother, because the next part of the bike tour was by far my favorite. Riding down a tree-lined road with vineyards on either side and the Andes in the distance to a beautiful house from the 1860s, all to reach a phenomenal glass of lemonade. We never ended up actually taking a tour of a winery (which was fine with me since they cost extra and I don't drink) because riding around the country lanes and relaxing in the sun was far too appealing.
Then came my most embarrassing moment in Chile. We had to take a bus back to Mendoza, and while I had a good-enough idea of what streets I should look for to know when to get off, the bus was completely packed and I couldn't see much of anything besides Argentineans confused to see nine gringos riding with them. Thinking we had reached the spot, three other girls and I made a huge show about pushing our way through the masses to get to the door, only to break free to the sound of the rest of our group banging on the bus windows and yelling that we weren't in Mendoza. So we quickly had to catch up with the bus (that was slowly but surely trying to leave us behind) and climb back on, red-faced with the shame of fulfilling the typical confused-and-incapable American stereotype.
Magaly had packed me a hearty lunch, so I passed on both making dinner in the hostel and going out to eat. Wandering around trying to find some new friends to speak Spanish with, I passed a boy that called out hermosa (beautiful). When I didn't respond, he turned to his friend and said "¿Oye, como se dice 'linda' en ingles?" ("Hey, how do you say 'pretty' in English?). I couldn't help but laugh and say "Te entendí en español" (I understood you in Spanish). Having found no one else to talk with, I stopped the second time I passed by the two guys; it turns out that they were on a rugby team from Buenos Aires, and within minutes about twelve other teammates appeared from all sides to join the conversation. I was holding my own with the Spanish, but the boys were speaking incredibly fast and all at once, so I was relieved when my friends showed up and joined the group. At some point in the conversation, I found out that the boys were still in high school, but we ended up hanging out with them for the rest of the night because the other option was a party in the hostel filled with creepy forty-five-year-old men; don't worry, we kept it appropriate by convincing the whole rowdy team that playing wholesome card games would be much more fun than going out. Luckily, we discovered that Argentine boys are not nearly as immature as Chilean boys, although they did insist on calling me "Amalia" because I apparently look like a South American porn star (or as they describe her, a dancer who occasionally poses for semi-nude photos). This was my first (and only) time being out of Chile, and it was a lot of fun to hear the differences in the way people speak; I figured out the accent that makes quite a few words sound Chinese, learned some new terms that are useless now that I'm back in Santiago, got the ego boost of teaching some Chilean Spanish, and got yelled at more than once for saying ya instead of sí.
Saturday the majority of the group headed off for paragliding over the mountains, but my friends Emily, Ashley, and I decided to bum around Mendoza. We took a tour of the five major plazas, one of which was really impressive. The biggest one wasn't that pretty, but it had a lane of artisan tents with some pretty interesting things for sale and some very friendly vendors. After a nice lunch on a pedestrian street that reminded me of 16th Street Mall in Denver and incredible gelato served by a beautiful Argentine boy (men are significantly much more attractive this side of the Andes), we headed to Mendoza's huge park. We tried to rent bikes from our hostel but some big group had taken all of them, so we didn't have time to see most of the park, but it was still a great walk. Mendoza didn't strike me as a very large city, but the park was completely swarmed with athletic people like Wash Park on a weekend; this was also strange to see because back in Santiago there is very little outdoor activity.
That night was pizza night in the hostel, and while the pizza was only mediocre, the conversation was extraordinary. We were sitting with a woman from Uruguay, a man from Venezuela, and a couple from Spain; I've never felt quite so cosmopolitan. I had an early night because my bus left the next morning at 8:45 and I wanted to run beforehand.
The bus ride was just as unbelievable as I had imagined for the past four months; for about three hours, I felt like a little kid in a toy store, with every new sight causing a surge of excitement and awe. The Andes are noticeably different from the Rockies, with a weird mix of formations and a slightly more intimidating appearance. Right before the international tunnel (which took seven breaths to get through, to give you a sense of how long it is) and customs, the scenery suddenly changed drastically as the air frosted over, the road became wet, and the mountains turned white. Following customs was a long and slow series of switchbacks that would be terrifying in winter. Based on my second customs experience, I'm going to guess that a lot more drugs come into Chile than go out. There was no getting around bag checks, drug dogs were hard at work, and there were signs with pictures showing all the unsuccessful smuggling attempts.
After arriving to rain and swimming my way back home (Santiago's streets were not constructed with large amounts of water in mind), I came home to my whole extended family finishing up lunch and got to receive a chastisement from each and every one of them for wearing shorts in the rain (it had been really hot just a few hours before and I hadn't checked the weather back in Chile). Unfortunately, my lovely and relaxing weekend came to an abrupt end as I found out the other members of my group had failed to do anything for our twenty-page paper due the next day. I don't have many complaints about Chile, but I have been generally unsatisfied with the academic experience. Classes are trivial and unchallenging and while group projects are a great way to make friends they have been awful for my stress and frustration levels. Somehow all of my projects have come together, but usually about five minutes before they are due and after way more effort than was necessary. I'm hoping that being back in Trinity classes will be so exciting and stimulating that I won't notice the huge change in workload size I know is coming.
Last Wednesday (before Mendoza) I met up with Clare and Beppo (family friends, if you don't know) for a delicious steak dinner. Beppo's old company had a lot of business in South America, so he decided to stop by to see old friends as he and Clare made their way to Antarctica for a twenty-three day boat trip. I had never actually been to a steak restaurant before, so I felt a little silly because I had no idea how to choose. It was great to have friends in Santiago, but a little strange since my world here is so separate from my normal life in the US. The best part of the night was that, before I could order dessert, the waiter placed a massive plate of pink cotton candy on the table. Carnival food and fancy steak don't really go together in my head; the restaurant was catered to gringos, so I guess South America has somehow received a distorted image of the importance of spun sugar in the US diet.
The rest of my days have been pretty mundane. I don't have very much homework anymore, but I'm still a little worn out from all the work and travel I was doing, so I've been spending most afternoons relaxing around the house or hanging out with friends. I saw a movie for the first time in Santiago and luckily got home even though I had failed to refill the minutes on my phone, take any money out of the ATM, or check what buses would get me home in the middle of the night. Don't worry, I took care of those problems before leaving the next night to go dancing.
Magaly has pointed out three things that I do that automatically give me away as a gringa (assuming you have yet to notice my blonde hair, light eyes, and más o menos accent). I use accent marks when I write, I type with all of my fingers, and I use a razor. So if I really want to immerse myself, I'm going to have to start disrespecting punctuation, typing with only my pointer (or, oddly enough, middle) fingers, and getting my legs waxed every three weeks.
My host parents left me an orphan this week; they're off to Easter Island. While I'm sure I will be a little lonely, I can always appreciate some alone time and I have two finals to study for this week. Magaly spent all day Friday worrying about how I was possibly going to survive without her for five days; leaving me money for groceries or just ingredients was completely out of the question, so she had her daughter's maid come over to help cook way more food than I am going to be able to eat by Wednesday. I'm pretty sure the daughter is coming over tomorrow to make more food, too. I guess I'll spend my free time and full fridge feeding all the stray dogs.