A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: marykate.morr

El Fin

my last days in Chile

85 °F
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(There are two new entries before this about my mom's visit. Yes, it would have made more sense to finish the Chile blog before leaving Chile.)

My last days in Chile were far less exciting than they should have been. I was exhausted, and my friends were off on their own Patagonia adventure. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday were a mix of sleep, being lazy (which is different from sleep), and desperately trying to fulfill my promise to bring back Chilean Christmas and birthday presents.

Sunday's shopping trip was a little more exciting. As I left one market with the intention of heading to another, I found myself surrounded by thousands of Santiaguinos all staring into an open street. Nobody felt like explaining what was going to happen, but I finally coaxed it out of someone that there was going to be a parade. Even though I couldn't see the street, there were rumors of globos gigantes (they call balloon floats "giant balloons") so I decided to stick around. Based on what I saw, I was pretty certain that Chile had purchased ten-year-old balloons from the US and that this was the first time balloons had ever been used in a Chilean parade. I later found out that both of those conclusions were correct. Half of the balloons were of characters that Chileans don't know, so I became the expert in my section of the crowd and tried my best to explain why their was a giant turkey wearing a pilgrim hat and how a potato can be a toy. After about thirty minutes, the parade came to a complete standstill. After forty-five minutes of zero movement, I decided I didn't want to wait around more, but the metro had shut down because there wasn't enough security. Not sure how much of the two-hour walk home I was going to have to make before I would find an open metro or a running bus, I started pushing my way through the crowds, and along the way I found the source of the problem. The parade route included a turn, but the police had not done a good enough job of clearing the roads, so all directions were completely full of people and there was nowhere to move. Three floats had somehow popped and were bundled up in heaps on the ground. I felt kind of bad for Chile and it's little parade; it was a good first attempt. (In case you were worried, I ended up only having to walk for thirty minutes, not two hours.)

I said my goodbyes to my extended host family on Monday during lunch. I didn't see very much of them in the second half of the semester because I was traveling so much, but it was still sad to say goodbye. My friends had gotten back that morning, so we got together to compare stories and do some more shopping. Abby was sick in bed for the day, so that night I went to her house for dinner and ended up accompanying her to meet Chile's champion male gymnast. I think he is her host cousin, but he's been training in Europe all this time so they had yet to meet.

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My flight wasn't until late on Tuesday, so during the day my friends and I went to say goodbye to the study abroad program directors (and to turn in our carbon monoxide detectors), visit the market one last time, and enjoy Santiago's finest ice cream. At eight o'clock, it was time to head to the airport; I cried all the way there. Magaly stayed with me as long as she could (which was a long time because the airport was a madhouse), and we said our goodbyes right before immigration. It was impossible to fully express my gratitude in Spanish, but I think Magaly knows how much I loved my time with her. I left her some flowers and a nice note in case she didn't. I continued crying through the immigration line, up until the agent told me that if I was sad to leave than I should just stay. I had somehow found a fast track through all the lines and ended up through security before everyone else, which worked out nicely because I got to say goodbye to Madeline who was on the earlier flight to Georgia instead of Dallas. My other friends were on my flight, so the rest of the goodbyes came in the Dallas airport.

As the plane touched down in Denver, I started to cry again. I was so happy to be home and so excited to see my family and friends, but I was also heartbroken to have left Chile behind. I had an incredible five months, filled with beautiful places and wonderful people, and it's hard to just give that up. Most of all, I think I'm going to miss the opportunity to speak Spanish every day. My life truly has been bilingual, and it feels like part of my personality is now tied to Spanish, so losing that feels very strange. I'm really happy that I chose the fall semester, because coming home to Christmas has made everything a lot easier. I have yet to experience "reverse culture shock," but Denver did look awfully small flying in and the amount of open space between buildings and houses still looks weird to me. I'm completely broke, but every peso spent was worth it. I can't say yet what I "learned" or how I've "changed" from the experience, but I promise it was more than just an excuse to travel.

Posted by marykate.morr 15:21 Archived in Chile Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

Viajes con mi Madre: Chiloé y Patagonia

covering 2500 miles of Chile with mom

50 °F
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Most of Wednesday ended up devoted to travel. The flight down to Puerto Montt was only two hours, but we then had to take a bus from the airport to the bus station, wait in the station for two hours, take a two-hour bus/ferry ride to Ancud on Chiloé, and then walk about half an hour to the hostel. We stayed at Hostal Mundo Nuevo again, which had failed to write down our reservation but luckily had one room left. Feeling exhausted and not having eaten more than Nuts5Nuts (a "clever" rip off of Nuts4Nuts) all day, we headed to La Pincoya for dinner. The dining room had a beautiful view, with big windows overlooking the bay. My mom had king crab with mayonnaise, which was less flavorful than it should have been considering where we were. I had sausage. With a little more energy, we spent the evening following our walking tour map of Ancud; we saw the docks, the market, some wooden churches, the underground polvorín used for storing weapons back in the day, and Fuerte San Antonio. The walking tour told us that the fort was he best place to watch the sunset, but it ended up just being slow and cold.

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In the morning, we took a bus to Castro to visit Iglesia San Francisco, the most famous wooden church in Chiloé, and of course the artesian market. We found a great view of the palafitos (stilt houses, in case you've forgotten) and then headed back to Ancud for some penguin viewing. I mainly wanted my mom to do this so that she could see the incredible landscape that surrounds the road to the ocean, but it was also fun because there was a significantly larger number of penguins than there had been in September. The taxi man drove us up the rocks again to get empanadas; I made my mom try the loco empanada because it's a local fish, and apparently it tasted really good. Before catching a bus back to Puerto Montt, we got dropped off at this house that is supposed to have great dessert. My friends and I had tried to go there in September but they wouldn't let us in; this time we made it through the door, but it was a pretty weird place and the pie certainly wasn't the best I've ever had.

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Hostal Rocco provided us with just as delicious a breakfast as I remembered from September, and was conveniently located five minutes from the Navimag port where my mom and I would embark on our big boat adventure. Neither of us had ever been on a boat trip before, and Navimag isn't exactly a cruise, so I was pretty excited to find out what the next three and a half days would be like. It was a pretty slow start, but by three or four in the afternoon we were finally moving. The boat certainly wasn't glamorous (it used to just be for cargo), but it was still nice. My mom and I shared a room no bigger than the four bunk beds it contained with a couple from Germany; there were also cheaper bunks lining the hallways and fancy pants suites. The boat had a big deck that was nice when it wasn't raining, a cafeteria, and a pub. Food wasn't great, but it tasted fine, especially after I figured out how to sneak the butter that only appeared at breakfast.

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The trip was three days south through the Chilean fjords to Patagonia, from Puerto Montt to Puerto Natales. There are no roads connecting Patagonia to the rest of Chile, so the only options for getting there are by boat or by plane. Planes are easy enough for tourists, but they also have to get things like cows down there so boat travel is still important. Friday we floated along the entire island of Chiloé, and the evening entertainment was a screening of Angles and Demons. Saturday afternoon we headed out into the open ocean for twelve hours through Bahía Anna Pink (Anna Pink Bay) and the Golfo de Penas (Gulf of Sadness). I have never had problems with motion sickness, and the water was relatively calm, but a couple of hours of watching the front of the boat rise and then crash down was about all my stomach could handle. I rested in the pub for a while trying to take in the huge expanse around me, but at about eight o'clock I headed to bed for the night. Sadly that meant missing watching the sea lions play by the side of the boat.

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My mom really loved the open ocean, but Sunday was my favorite day of the trip. We started out passing through the Angostura Inglesa (English Narrow), which was less than four hundred feet across. In one section, there is only a single rock that boats have to worry about. A long time ago, the English boat Cotopaxi crashed there, so that's how other travelers knew about the rock. More recently, a Brazilian boat tried to pull a fast one by selling all of their goods in Uruguay instead of Chile and then "accidentally" crashing into the rock. They were hoping the boat would sink and they would collect the insurance money on all the goods they supposedly lost. Unfortunately for them, the rock is pointy, the boat just got stuck, and they got caught in the middle of their scam.

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We were supposed to disembark at Puerto Edén, an extremely isolated town that apparently has some beautiful scenery, but whoever was in charge decided it was too windy to get into the tiny boats that would have taken us to shore. So we turned and headed up to the Pío XI (Pious Eleven) Glacier, which is the third largest in the world and unlike most advancing instead of receding. The water leading up to the glacier was a beautiful icy green, but then it started to rain and the water turned a frigid-looking grey. It felt like we were right at the base of the glacier, but we didn't get any closer than a kilometer; something that massive really screws up your depth perception. It was also apparently six kilometers across, which was also really hard to fathom considering I could fit the whole thing in just two pictures. It's between 250 and 300 feet high, but we weren't close enough to capture that. One of my favorite things is when nature reminds me of how small I am, so I really enjoyed this part of the boat ride. Pure ice, without any air bubbles, is blue--not white--so there were some really beautiful colors. We also saw dolphins headed to and from the glacier, which was fun for all of the three seconds that they stay above the water.

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Since we would be disembarking the next day, the staff through us a bingo/dance party Sunday night. Besides my mom and I, there was only one other family from the United States (the majority of the passengers were German and Australian), so bingo actually had to be explained. I didn't win anything. The dance party took a while to get going, mainly because the DJ insisted on playing the only Latin music that is hard to dance to. When the other girl that was living in Chile and I helped with a cueca demonstration, things finally got going. There weren't any South Americans actually taking the trip, so I spent the evening dancing with crew members.

We reached Puerto Natales at lunchtime on Monday. To get there, we passed through the Canal Wide (Wide Channel), which was the narrowest passage the boat went through, about 250 feet wide. The bridge was open to everyone, and watching the little boat navigate the rocks on the radar screen felt like playing a video game. The port in Puerto Natales was stunning, with blue blue water and a beautiful mountain backdrop. Getting off the boat wasn't too sad because my mom and I had failed to make many friends. We were the only mother-daughter group, and my mom thinks that threw off the dynamic. Plus, I thought everyone would think I was really interesting for having lived in Chile for a semester, but our boat was a concentration of all the people in the world who can afford to quit their jobs and travel the world for a year, so my stories weren't the ones people wanted to hear.

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I was really surprised at how quickly the days on the boat passed. It was always beautiful, but we never were really doing much so I had expected it to sort of drag along. If I get the chance to go back to Patagonia, I will fly, but it was a great decision to take the Navimag this time.

Against all my instincts, I had planned nothing for Patagonia. Every time I asked anyone or googled anything, the response was to wait and see. Luckily, my mom is a creative thinker and came up with the idea to rent a car and meander our way through Torres del Paine National Park. I had been expecting to have to visit the park with tour groups, but this new plan was much better. After renting the car, getting some lunch, reserving camp sites and beds, and buying all our groceries for the next two and a half days (it's two hours from Puerto Natales to Torres del Paine and there are no stores in the park), we were on our way. The man in the information center gave us the really great advice to take the longer way to the park because it gives better views; before even entering, we could see the entire Paine Massif (paine means blue) with the beautifully blue Lago Saramiento in front.

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It of course took about an hour to find someone to give us the tent we had rented once we got to the campground, but it wasn't too cold since the sun doesn't set until after eleven. A perk of being almost as far south as you can go before you start heading north. I guess it got pretty cold during the night because I woke up covered in my mother's clothes; apparently I had been whimpering but I don't remember any of it. Most people visiting Torres del Paine hike what is called "The W;" it takes about five days, so there are refugios and campsites set up along the trail.

Since we didn't have enough time for the whole trek, we decided to hike one section on Tuesday and drive around the rest of the park on Wednesday. The hike took between seven and eight hours in total, and it was pretty challenging but very very worth it. The one place I knew I wanted to see in Patagonia was the lake at the base of the Torres (Towers) section of the massif; I had seen so many postcards of it and they all took my breath away. Our guide on the boat had warned us that you have to walk every meter of the hike or else you won't see anything, and he was completely right. The towers were hidden the whole hike up, and the massif looked completely blanketed by clouds up until the very last step. After about three hours of very steep incline (but an incredibly beautiful incline), we came around the last rocky hill and there was my postcard. There are three granite towers with an unbelievably green lake at the base; the mix of colors is stunning and gave me just as much of a thrill as I had expected.

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Feeling pretty exhausted, we just hung around the refugio for the rest of the night, which is somewhere in between camping and a hotel. You can rent a bed, but you have to pay extra for sheets because most hikers just put their sleeping bags on top of the mattress. We decided to do one night camping and one night in a bed; I was really happy that we had camped the first night, before the grueling hike.

Wednesday we hopped back in the car and meandered our way through the rest of the park. We picked up a hitchhiker early on. He worked for National Geographic and was attempting to be the first person to capture a puma hunting a guanaco. Earlier that morning, he and his partner had ran off chasing a puma and had lost their car keys in the process, so they needed to get to the ranger station to call for a replacement set. The guy seemed friendly enough to me, but I forgot that I had to translate so my mom was probably a little surprised when he climbed into the backseat.

The most known parts of the Paine Massif are the Towers and the Cuernos (Horns); most of Wednesday was spent attempting to see the latter. We stopped at various lookouts and took a short hike to the lake at the base, but the weather was not cooperating and we could barely see anything. They eventually came out later in the day, and the hike was worth it anyway for the gorgeous combinations of mint green shrubs and icy blue water. My mom also had a favorite post card, which included a view of the Horns, and we accidentally stumbled upon that sight as well.

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We stopped at two waterfalls, Salto Grande and Salto Chico, and ended the day with another short hike to see Lago and Glacier Grey. The weather was pretty crappy at this point, but we were inspired to keep going by more incredibly green water and the bluest icebergs you can imagine. Most of the colors I saw in Patagonia were ones I would not have believed could exist in nature. I think we actually got lucky with weather, considering where we were, but the wind was extremely intense and huge knock-you-over blasts would come out of nowhere. Moving through the park was fun because we kept running into people we had met on the boat. I also came across a girl from my study abroad program on a hike. It was also nice because every time we stopped somewhere, it was completely deserted; the second we turned around to leave, hundreds of people poured off of tour buses. We beat the crowds every time.

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I fell asleep on the ride out of the park, but luckily woke up right as my mom drove past the Cueva del Milodón and made her turn around. I had seen pictures of a cheesy statue of the milodón, or giant ground sloth, and kept making jokes about how it was a must-see. We ended up getting discounted tickets and a wonderful surprise. The statue was cheesy, but the cave itself was really big, really creepy, and really cool.

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We ended up in Punta Arenas, even further south, and got dinner at literally the only restaurant open. It was the Chilean version of a diner, with more delicious churrasco. Before our flight back to Santiago Thursday morning, we fed some stray dogs our leftover groceries and found a great view of the Estrecho de Magallanes (Straight of Magellan). It felt pretty cool to be both so far south and at such a historically important place. We also got to see Coca Cola's southernmost plant, which I think gives me a lot of bragging rights.

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With the little time we had left Thursday afternoon, my mom and I ate some empanadas and headed to Los Dominicos market by my house for some last-minute shopping. The transfer that was supposed to take her to the airport never showed (it claimed it came and we weren't there but that was most definitely a lie), so I put her in a taxi with about forty dollars and hoped for the best. She says there was some confusion when she tried to pay, but she got there and got home so I guess it doesn't matter.

Besides the fact that I was seeing some of the most incredible parts of Chile, these two weeks were wonderful because I got to share this incredible experience. I was really impressed with how much Spanish my mom understood and spit out, and it was fun to get to show off what I've learned. The only downside is that the end of my mom's trip also meant the end of my semester, which I was not ready for.

Posted by marykate.morr 15:21 Archived in Chile Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

Viajes con mi Madre: San Pedro y Buín

covering 2500 miles of Chile with mom


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Despite one final hitch involving transportation to the airport, my mom made it home safely after my dragging her around for two weeks. It's always strange to me how quickly our minds adapt to new circumstances, like how one hug with my mom was all it took to make it feel like she had always lived in Santiago with me. My mind's eagerness to normalize is a good thing seeing I now have lives in three cities, all very far apart.

My mom arrived on a Friday morning to Magaly's new Christmas decorations and a peak into how much food guests consume in this house. Even though it was way too hot outside for soup, I asked Magaly to make cazuela because it seems like the most Chilean dish I know. For the rest of the afternoon, I showed my mom the major sights of Santiago, which by chance included the funeral of Commissioner Valech. Valech wrote one of the reports that helped bring Pinochet's human rights crimes to light, and having learned about him in class I found it pretty cool to have accidentally gotten the chance to hear people clapping and see them running to touch the car as the casket passed.

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Friday night was the Cena de Despedida (Goodbye Dinner) for my program, and it turned out making me a lot sadder than I had expected. For one thing, it was the last time me and my closest friends would all be together. But more than that, it's just strange to think about never seeing the whole group of thirty-four people again, and I'm starting to feel not quite ready to leave Chile. Although Christmas and a new pup will make it a lot easier to get on the plane.

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Without letting my mom catch up on sleep, we headed right back to the airport Saturday morning to fly up north to the Atacama Desert. We flew into Calama, where an adorable little boy in a soccer uniform offered to walk us to the bus station after I helped him practice some English. From there, we took what should have been an hour-and-a-half bus into San Pedro, the heart of tourism in the desert. Unfortunately, our bus broke down and the travel time doubled. We missed the tour to a salt lake where it's impossible not to float because of it, but we were then directed on a short walk to the Pukara ruins that were cheaper and just as interesting. Pukara was an indigenous fortress used to defend against the Spanish; now it's a hill covered with one-room rock houses in various states of preservation with a beautiful view of the valley. Dinner that night was churrasco, more or less a steak sandwich with various toppings.

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Our hostel in San Pedro, Hostal Iquisa, was great. As you can imagine, there's not a whole lot to do in the desert, so the owner likes to fill his day by driving people too and from the center. My cellphone was low on minutes so we opted for the ten-minute walk most of the time, but the general helpfulness was appreciated. When we got home Saturday night, we had just missed a little hostel party with everyone participating a traditional northern dance (which I immediately recognized like the local that I am).

Sleep was pretty uncommon on this trip. Sunday morning had a four o'clock wake-up call to visit El Tatio geyser field. Unlike what happens in Yellowstone, the thermal activity at this site is based upon rock heated by magma coming into contact with icy cold water flowing down from the Andes; when the sun rises and temperatures move away from the extremes, the effect is lost. Meaning you have to beat the sun or you'll see nothing. Even though we were in the desert, we were at a high altitude, so it was pretty cold, but it certainly wasn't unbearable. Most of the geysers don't erupt in grand shows like in Yellowstone, but I still thought the massive field of steam was pretty interesting.

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While our tour guides made breakfast, my mom and I took a swim in the hot springs. Which, like the other desert hot springs I've visited in Chile, was not hot. We spent most of the time trying to change out of--and then back into--layers and layers of thermals and coats into swim suits in front of everyone without being seen. Breakfast was delicious: crepes with manjar (pankekes, as they are called) and grilled ham and cheese sandwiches. As you can see in the picture, we were the unique tour group that got to drive around in a tank. For whatever reason, a massive truck designed for overlanding in Africa is the only vehicle Grado 10 owns. (I highly recommend Grado 10 tours for anyone visiting San Pedro.)

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Heading back to San Pedro, we made stops at a lagoon filled with different birds, a canyon covered in very old cactus, and a town named Machuca that thrives on selling llama meet and pictures with live llamas to tourists. Llamas and alpacas in Chile are all domesticated, but their camelid brethren vicuñas (seen here) and guanacos (to be seen in Patagonia) are still wild.

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Before tour number two, we grabbed a quick bite at a local food stand. We thought we were ordering bruschetta and ended up with beef-pork-and-chicken skewers that were delicious nonetheless; the problem with my never eating out here is that I haven't learned a lot of restaurant vocabulary. We then climbed back into the tank and headed into the sand. Starting at the Salt Mountain Range, we took a hike above and along the Valle de la Muerte. Not really sure where we were going, we were all a little shocked when our guide took off his shoes and ran down the sand dune. A much cooler exit than all the people sandboarding nearby. Everyone was feeling pretty brave and accomplished upon reaching the bottom, only to realize we weren't at the bottom at all and that the second half of the hill was so steep we couldn't see where it ended. I almost went crashing down on this second leg when my foot sunk too deep into the sand, but I didn't fall and even if I had it would have been a soft landing. At the end of the Valley of Death (which is where any movie about Moses' forty days in the desert should be filmed), the tank was waiting with drinks for everyone. We then drove into Valle de la Luna for sunset. I was slightly disappointed in Moon Valley; apparently astronauts trained here before the moon landing, but I never felt like I had left Earth. We were also told the colors transform at sunset, but that didn't really happen either. It was still beautiful in a desert kind of way, and the rock formations--though not out of this world--were impressive.

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We got to sleep in until six Monday morning, when we headed up into the Andes for some flamingo viewing and and high-altitude lakes. The National Flamingo Reserve consists of small lakes in the middle of a massive salt field, which I think should switch names with Moon Valley. There are three types of flamingos in Chile, but we only saw the Andean and Chilean; James stays at higher altitudes. We were lucky to be the first to arrive because the flamingos gradually moved further and further away as more people showed up. I was really surprised at how pink the flamingoes' wings were, almost hot pink and definitely a color I would have assumed did not exist in nature. The pink color comes from carotene in the brine shrimp and algae they eat, and the process is cumulative so you can tell relative age by how much coloring the bird has consumed. The surrounding salt fields exist because the Andes are volcanic and water can get underground through porous rock, but the mountains to the west are not and without rocks with holes the water gets trapped. With nothing to do but evaporate, it leaves behind the minerals it brought down, and little salt towers form. Even the paths around the place are made of salt, probably to keep the flamingos from slipping when it snows.

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For our tour of the high-altitude lakes, we got to ride on the top of the tank. We visited two lakes--Miscanti and Miñiques--each with their own volcano, and each beautifully blue. For lunch, we stopped in a tiny town called Socaire and were served pastel de choclo, which I didn't hate this time. This is also a very Chilean dish, but I usually don't like it so I didn't ask Magaly to make it. But I was happy my mom still got to try it. It was at this meal that I finally solved the mystery of Colorado Canyon. Almost every Chilean that has learned I am from Colorado has asked me if I love Colorado Canyon, and has then made me feel bad for not knowing what such a beautiful place in my own state is. I overheard a Spanish man on our tour saying how he'd like to visit Colorado Canyon at lunch, so I decided it was time to figure out what hidden wonder every Spanish-speaker in the world seems to know about. It was a struggle, but my mom finally pieced everything together: the Grand Canyon was formed by the Colorado River, and foreigners have merged the two names and now think the Grand Canyon is in Colorado. I cannot tell you how big of a revelation this was for me. The last stop was Tocanoa, a town famous for it's very old monument and doors, roofs, and staircases made of cactus wood.

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Rather than risk another bus break down, we headed early to the bustling Calama airport. And by bustling airport, I mean the single room that overlooks the single plane; Calama's a mining town so traffic isn't too heavy. The sun was setting right as we were boarding, and for the next two hours our in-flight entertainment was a sky becoming more and more of a blazing, fiery orange.

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Tuesday's big adventure was Buín, which is just as fun as it sounds. There is a Chilean restaurant in Denver called Red Tango that my parents go to enough to be friends with the owner, José. When my mom told him she would be going to Chile, he helped me set up a visit with his family a little outside of Santiago. My friend Erica came with us because it was the last day I would see her; she left for home while I was still traveling around with my mom. Some member of the family was supposed to pick us up from the train station; there weren't too many other gringas hanging around Buín, so all it took was "¿Hola?" "Sí." to establish which car we should get in. Buín is a part of the absolutely gorgeous Chilean wine country, and José's family have part of what used to be an estate right in the middle.

Except for one brother who refused to even acknowledge us, José's family was very warm and kind. His mother is 89 years old, adorable, and surprisingly agile considering she has spinal cord problems and uses a cane. Pati, whose role in the family we never quite figured out, was extremely animated, and two-year-old Javiera was a troublemaker in a way that is cute to outsiders who don't have to clean up her messes. We spent the afternoon getting to know the family, repeating ourselves multiple times for the hard-of-hearing mother, sharing pictures that José had sent with us, and watching the chickens get fed. Pati made us an incredible lunch, with hand-picked fruit for dessert; the number of times people I barely know have fed me in this country is proof of Chileans' generosity.

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That night, my mom and I went to church with Magaly. I had meant to see a mass in Chile for a while, but never got around to it until my mom made a special request. Sometimes the Regis choir sings in Spanish, so my mom actually knew one of the songs and sang along; Magaly was thrilled. We then headed to the famous Mesón de la Patagonia, the restaurant my host dad manages. I had been waiting all semester for this meal; Magaly liked to talk it up and I was excited to see where my host dad spends twenty hours of every day. Dining with the manager meant lots of food, lots of work-related interruptions, and a sample of every dessert on the menu. Both of my mothers convinced me to try the rosemary lamb, and I'm glad they did. Lamb is the star of Patagonia cuisine, and it was a lot tastier than I was expecting (my host dad claimed it tasted more like pork--a meat I generally avoid--than beef); really it just tasted like steak.

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Wednesday morning was another airplane, this time headed south!

Posted by marykate.morr 15:20 Archived in Chile Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

Día de la Acción de Gracias

a South American Thanksgiving


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I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving! In case you were worried about me missing out on all the delicious food, worry no more; we brought the holiday to Chile. Yesterday, my friends Madeline, Erica, and I went to Abby's house to prepare all the fixings for her family. None of us had actually cooked a Thanksgiving meal before, and Chile is lacking in a few essential ingredients, but with a little ingenuity we came up with a pretty delicious spread. The prep took a lot less time than I had expected, especially considering we only had one tiny oven; it was helped along by Christmas music streaming on Kansas City online radio. Along with a lemon-and-cognac soaked turkey, we made an apple and blueberry cobbler, sweet potato casserole, broccoli-rice-cheese casserole, and of course pumpkin pie. I also made an attempt at my mom's pie cookie, which turned into an empanada but was still delicious. It all came out wonderful, but not without a few hiccups:

  • Abby's mom, Rosie, didn't have anything to inject the turkey with, so we had to pick up a needle from the pharmacy.
  • Ovens here are just fire, without specific temperatures, so cooking was pretty much guess-and-check.
  • Rosie had to be convinced multiple times that we weren't ruining the meal by not dumping pounds of salt on everything. "Oh...I see you bought butter without salt. Hmm."
  • We read the instructions wrong and cooked the broccoli and the rice before making the casserole even though we were supposed to bake it all together.
  • Brown sugar is non-existent so anything that called for it go brown sugar flavored oatmeal.
  • We had to use something even more artificial than Cheese Wiz for the broccoli and rice to fill in for cheddar.
  • Chileans love of desserts does not include pie, so we had to go with a quiche crust that made the pumpkin pie a little flakier and saltier than is normally desired.

Still, things went pretty smoothly and after just four hours we were sitting at the table with Abby's mom, dad, and sister, each sharing what we were thankful for. Needless to say, it was a strange Thanksgiving, what with conversation in Spanish, everyone dressed in summer clothes, and the lack of any actual relatives, but it was really a wonderful day with great friends and definitely a holiday that will stick out. I hadn't really thought about doing anything to celebrate Thanksgiving here, but I'm really glad something came together and I didn't have to wait another year for that warm fuzzy feeling that comes with.

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After filling our hearts even more with a viewing of Love Actually, things took a bit of a frightening turn. Waiting for the first of two buses home, we kept joking about how we wished someone would be nice and stop to give us a ride, especially because a bus was broken down nearby and the driver was just sitting staring at us. Careful what you wish for: some random man stopped to offer to take us home and was pretty insistent. After getting him to drive away, we hop on bus number two excited that it had come at all (the 427 is a pretty unreliable friend) only to find ourselves seated close to a swaggering kid with hood up and bloody arms. Yep, cuts and blood all over his arms. There was one other man close to us, but when he got off we made a dash past the kid hoping to not get stabbed on the way. He stumbled towards another person and had something silver in his hand; it was probably his keys but at the time my imagination was running wild and I was sure it was a knife, so we darted all the way up to the bus driver's side. Terrified of the man getting off with one of us, we decided to get off early and wait for the next bus together, even though it was almost one and we weren't sure if the bus we were on was the last one for the night. The boy was probably not dangerous (Madeline's parents were mainly concerned that we weren't trying to help the boy get medical attention), but we were both really scared and decided that it was the perfect opportunity to use the better-safe-than-sorry strategy.

We got lucky and another bus came right before one. I entered my apartment, shaken up and full of adrenaline, only to find exactly the surprise I needed to keep the nightmares away: Magaly had decorated the entire place for Christmas. There's a tree in the middle of the room, the walls and tables are covered with Santas, and two new Christmas stuffed animals have been found a home in my room. So, aside from the scariest moment of my life in Santiago, yesterday was really really great.

Thursday was also my last day of class. My final presentation consisted of a puppet show, so no complaints there. True to Chilean style, I won't receive my grades until March.

Tuesday night my friends Allison, Erica, Abby, and Madeline and I dressed up for a fancy pizza dinner to celebrate our last night together as a group. I got really lucky meeting those girls, and it's sad and strange to think about returning to completely different lives in the United States. The silver lining is that now I have new reasons to visit Michigan, Tennessee, Kansas, Pennsylvania, and Georgia.

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Erica and I have been meaning to climb Cerro San Cristobal for months now. It's one of the most famous things in the city, but we somehow managed to avoid it until Wednesday. You can take a funicular up to the top, but we decided to hike it instead (and also were unable to find said funicular). At the top of the hill is a giant statue of the Virgin Mary (that glows at night) and a view of the entire city. It's best to go following rain because the smog is all cleared up, but we are running out of time so we had to settle for a less-than-clear view of dear Santiago. I personally prefer Cerro Santa Lucia (which I climbed my first week here), but I couldn't have left satisfied without conquering San Cristobal.

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And in case you didn't know, my mother has arrived safe and sound! She was originally going to fly through Dallas, but that flight was delayed so she got rerouted through Atlanta and arrived at 7:50 this morning instead of 6:20. My host mom and I picked her up from the airport, whisked her home for a breakfast of ham, bread, and cake, and tucked her in for a nap before lunch. I'll show her the city today, with my program's final dinner tonight, and then tomorrow we start our travels! She'll be home on the morning of Friday the 10th, which is also probably the next time I'll be able to blog. So expect a long one!

Posted by marykate.morr 06:01 Archived in Chile Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

Fin del Semestre

end of classes and the start of my three-week summer break

85 °F
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Although I technically have to attend two hours and forty minutes of class this week, my presence is basically all that is required so I am considering myself on break. Woo hoo! I have three weeks of carefree enjoyment left in Chile, and then a six-week Christmas break back home, so I am feeling pretty great right now. My end of semester was actually much easier than October because I somehow picked four classes that all had their work concentrated around midterms. I did have to take two tests last week, but one of them ended up being a three-minute chat about Lewis and Clark instead of the fifteen-minute terrifyingly difficult oral exam I was expecting. I don't mind that I put in all the time studying because I like reminding myself of everything I learned at one point, but I am a little bitter about the professor tricking us because I skipped the Harry Potter premier. Which, by the way, came out a day earlier here than it did in the US (doesn't make sense, right?).

To the surprise of my Chilean family, I somehow managed to survive until my host parents came back from Easter Island Wednesday night. I had a little sleepover Tuesday night to keep me from getting too lonely, and to pawn off all the food that was still left in the fridge. That second part led to a nasty revelation. Two of my friends working as a team had a difficult time finishing the plate of vegetable mash--the plate that constitutes my normal portion, minus the salad and dessert I am also given daily. All this time, I had been assuming that everyone was being fed the same massive amounts of food, giving myself a little peace of mind as my weight gradually started going up. Turns out I was very very wrong. In Chile, we call that a truco (trick).

Along with classes, my volunteering also came to an end this week. I got a little overwhelmed studying and decided to skip the last meeting, but I did go at the beginning to say goodbye to everyone. I didn't do much to help out in that group, but I'm really glad I was a part of it. The adults I worked with took me in like I was their host student, asking me questions, bringing me gifts, and wanting to take lots of pictures with me. When I said goodbye, they all seemed genuinely sad to see me go and shared lots of kind words and life advice. I know there was an element of intrigue at play, but I think the main reason everyone took such an interest in me was excitement at the chance to share their country with a foreigner. Chile gets so little attention in the world so any exposure is a big deal. During the miner rescue, instead of saying how great it was that the men were being saved, many people were talking about how great it was that Chile had made international news; a phrase from Obama's speech after the rescue, "Do it the Chilean way," has become just short of the national motto and is quoted all the time to remind everyone of the country's fifteen minutes of fame. Whatever their motive, the people I volunteered with succeeded in making Chile feel like home, if only a temporary one.

While most of my friends still have finals in the next two weeks, Thursday marked the last day of actual classes. To celebrate, my friend Allison threw an asado at her house, complete with my favorites, choripan (sausage links in rolls) and avocado-rice. Friday night we decided to do the oh-so-cultural activity of bowling. Bowling alleys here are all in malls, so I finally made it to Alto Las Condes; my host mom walks there almost every day and asks me almost as often why I haven't gone yet, so I'm glad that now she can stop worrying about my getting the full Santiago experience. Christmas decorations have started to spring up, but even with a giant Christmas tree in the mall and Santa's sleigh, I can't embrace the coming of the holidays when I am sweating in a tank top and skirt. The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band Christmas album has also mysteriously disappeared from my iTunes, so I don't even have Colorado Christmas to help me get into the spirit. Bowling, as you might have guessed, doesn't really vary between countries. We did have to figure out our shoe sizes (I'm a size 38) and convince the worker that our feet really were that big (most shoe stores here don't even carry above a size seven).

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Saturday I participated in Santiago's big 10k race. You might think that would mean an early morning, because sane race planners try and beat the heat. Not the case here in Chile. Nope, even though we've been having eighty-degree days, somebody thought it would be best to set the race for five o'clock in the afternoon. Just as I had expected, the race was extremely unpleasant. After the first five kilometers, I was completely spent and had to talk a walking-breathing break every kilometer after that. I was pretty concentrated on not dying so I stopped paying attention to pacing, and accidentally cut a minute off of each of my splits; while I'm sure that didn't help the crappy feeling throughout my body, it did make up for the walking and I crossed the finish line with a time of 50 minutes, 58 seconds. I was pretty shocked and confused. My only other 10k time was 51:14 and I was expecting to be coming in far far behind that; they kept advertising a surprise for after the race, and I was convinced for a while that it was going to be an announcement that the route was actually shorter than it was supposed to be. Before and after the race was fun, especially since all 12,000 runners had to wear the highlighter yellow race shirt and because I love the feeling of being a part of something that big (40 countries represented!), but the run itself was the most unpleasant I've ever had. On top of the heat, there was no music along the route and not too many people cheering us on, and it was hard to keep spirits up with everyone around me cussing about how miserable we all were. I'm still really glad I did it, though, mainly because the shirt is sweet. And two friends came to cheer me on so that was great.

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I never actually found out what the surprise was because I had to be at my host cousin's confirmation by seven and I was about a thirty minute walk away. My host mother was supposed to bring a bag of nice clothes for me to change into before the mass, but she forgot them, so I had the great pleasure of walking into a fancy ceremony sweaty in a highlighter yellow top. Because being the only blonde wouldn't have drawn enough stares. In true Chilean fashion, the ceremony started forty minutes late and was incredibly disorganized. After the sun set it got pretty cold (it was an outdoor ceremony) and the microphones weren't loud enough to hear anything, so my host mom decided we were going to leave early. I felt kind of bad because my host cousin hadn't even walked across the stage yet, but I don't have much say in these things. We all met up at my host aunt's house for a big dinner; I was exhausted by this point but also extremely content because I felt like such a part of the family, loved and all.

I almost missed the chance to go to a Chilean soccer game. It was something I had wanted to do while down here, but since I'm not exactly a fan of the sport it was never on the top of my list. But with time running out, my friends and I have started to make lists of all things Chilean we still need to do or see, and a soccer game was on everyone's to-do. We even got lucky; the Sunday game we could all make it to was between two of the three major teams, La Chile and La Catolica. Colo Colo is probably the most famous, and I think the best, followed by the two we saw. It's kind of an interesting system, because the two teams are named after Santiago's two main universities, they aren't actually associated with the schools anymore and allegiances have nothing to do with alma maters. The day started out pretty intense and overwhelming, but we all left happy and without wounds. At the confirmation party the night before, I had asked my cousin if I could borrow a jersey from him; while he happily obliged, the rest of my family started lecturing me that wearing a jersey would result in my getting stabbed. Even though I would be sitting in the La Chile section, before and after the game I would be fair game to any La Catolica fan. Since I was going to be in a large group, my family gave in, but I was given strict instruction to take the jersey off before leaving the stadium after the game, especially if my team won. So I was already a little nervous going into it. Tensions rose on the short walk from my friends house to the stadium; we received about ten times the normal amount of gringa attention and the police presence was pretty intimidating as they tried to keep fans from the two teams separated and people without tickets at least two blocks away. We had to wait outside for the whole group to show up, which basically made us sitting ducks for the masses of rowdy soccer fans passing by; it also made us targets for a nasty thief who snatched a ticket from my friend's hand and ran off. Since we were clearly out of our element, the caribineros (police) did their best to watch over us (at one point we had a guard and his muzzled German Shepherd standing in front of us telling the crowd to keep walking); that is, when they weren't chasing a man down with sticks raised and rabid dogs released. Luckily, we managed to find an illegal but legitimate ticket in our section to replace the stolen one, so after maybe seven layers of security screening we finally made it into the stadium and things calmed down. Like I said, I don't really watch soccer, so I wasn't too interested in the game, but there was plenty to distract me. The fans literally sang the entire time, a number of people managed to sneak flares into the game, toilet paper rolls were thrown onto the field at various points, and when my side scored the main section unrolled a giant jersey over their heads. La Chile ended up losing the game, which meant my side was more likely to start fights, so after the game we had to stay seated--enforced by lines of heavily padded police officers--until the other half of the stadium had been cleared off the grounds and about five blocks away. Without the distraction of the game, the attention turned back to us, but since I walked away without a knife wound I was satisfied.

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I have plenty of free time now, but my friends are mostly busy studying and I should be busy figuring out plans for my mom's arrival on Friday. I am obviously more than excited for her to come, but it's a little bittersweet since I know when she leaves I will have only a few days left. Recently I've been getting a little emotional thinking about leaving this place. But I guess it's silly to think about that before I have to.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!!

Posted by marykate.morr 18:26 Archived in Chile Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

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