Sunday, December 19, 2004

Tales from the end of the world

It may seem like cheating to be updating about a trip in Chile when I’m not in Chile anymore, but in all fairness to me, I’m not yet home either. I’m writing this from somewhere over the Caribbean Sea at 3:30 in the morning because I just woke up and mysteriously can’t sleep. Plus, I still have not posted anything about my last, and quite possibly my best, Chilean adventure.

Exam season in Chile was a bit of a nightmare for me, so as soon as it was over, I was ready to take off on my final trip. I had two free weeks after finals ended, and was originally going to be traveling for both of them. In the end, though, I decided I would rather one shorter trip and then a last week on the beach before I headed home, a good move since it also gave me some more time with my awesome host family before I left. The place I chose for my remaining one week of travels: Chilean Patagonia.

As my friend Lauren (mihijita!) said when she went, “it’s not just an outerwear company”. For this last exciting adventure, I had decided to travel alone and test my independence skills after a semester abroad. I started out in Punta Arenas, a city on the Straits of Magellan. I ended up meeting another exchange student down there and sharing a hostel room with him for two days. While he hung out in the hostel and watched TV, preparing for his hike of Torres del Paine, I went on the Pinguinos tour (translation: penguins) and did some shorter hiking in a national reserve nearby, which was complimented by some unknown flirting with the park ranger. Yeah, I didn’t realize what I was doing until my taxi had pulled up to take me back to my hostel and he was giving me his e-mail address and MSN messenger name. Oops!

After two days in Punta Arenas, I hopped a bus to Puerto Natales, 3 hours north. Puerto Natales is the touristy town on the Fjord of Last Hope and the gateway to the Torres del Paine Park, so to speak. Torres del Paine is supposed to be up there with one of the 10 best hikes in the world, and I’ll believe it. I only had time to do the one day bus trip into the park, but I desperately want to go back some day and spend at least 4 or 5 days hiking in the park. (I know what you’re wondering, but don’t worry, I haven’t completely turned nature girl while here in Chile. I’m still mostly a city-mouse.) The Park is absolutely gorgeous with lagoons and waterfalls and mountains rising up out of the water and into the clouds. The weather in Patagonia is even more changeable than Martha’s Vineyard, and I used to think that was saying something. Every day I was alternately rained on, freezing, and sweating at least once. All this creates very uncertain weather and cloud cover conditions, however, which some find disappointing because of the difficulty in planning anything, but I felt just added a lot to the almost mystical feel of the park.

The Park was definitely my favorite part of the trip, but my boat of the glaciers definitely came in a close second. I took a tour on a boat (oh, how I had missed the feel of ocean under foot, hehe) to see two large glaciers near Puerto Natales. We sailed right up next to one, and the other I was able to walk to. The second was particularly beautiful, with several pieces breaking off and floating into the lake surrounding it. There was, again, some unknowing flirting with the tour guides (I have to start realizing when this is going on), that I was this time unaware of until one of them started touching the neck of my sweater while complimenting me on my Spanish-speaking abilities. I feel like my subconscious must get lonely when I’m traveling alone, even while conscious Caitlin is having a fantastic time. Either that or I just have that nature girl vibe that really reels in the guys. Oh, how crunchy I am. Hehe.

My last night in Puerto Natales was spent in a lovely hostel that I finally got a bed in after two nights in the hostel from hell. (It was next to not one, but two discoteques. Late night karaoke, anyone?) When traveling alone it’s virtually impossible to actually be alone, since the traveling culture really does seem to be one of living together and sharing, and true to form, I met some really cool people all over my travels. Among the many things I learned from them: working papers in Chile are really not a necessity, so if I ever wanted to come back and make some money, I’d be set. (Just kidding, Mom.) In all honesty, though, I did meet amazing people doing amazing things. It made me hope that this is not, by far, my last international adventure. I ended my trip to the “end of the world” relaxing, chatting, and reading in my hostel, and flew back home the next day for a week of beach-ing and goodbyes. My Chile trip ended fantastically, and I am so excited to come home and see all the people I care about!

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Dusting the desert dust off my shoes

(Still can't get my pictures working sorry! But I'll try to get them up as soon as I'm state-side and every little thing on the computer doesn't take forever minutes!)

Grand apologies for the long break in blogging. I could make excuses, but no one wants to hear about them. Instead, here comes a quick account of my trip to the driest desert on earth…much more interesting!

San Pedro de Atacama is a small tourist town in the Atacama Desert in the north of Chile. It is a tourist town because it is the only thing close to four major tourist sites of the desert: lakes in the mountains nearby, the world’s third largest salt deposit, El Tetio Geysers, and Death and Moon Valleys. It’s small because, being the only town for miles, there is no competition to cause it to experience any drastic change. It doesn’t have an ATM in town, though a truck drives through (with a frequency I’m unsure of) with an ATM that accepts only MasterCard. The food is one thing that is really quite affected by tourism, which meant it was some of the best food I’ve had since arriving in Chile.

Most people, to get to San Pedro, fly through Calama, the unappealing mining city about an hour and a half drive away. Ashley and I like it the hard way…we found a deal flying through Antofagasta, an even less appealing mining city located 5 hours away by bus. Through the desert. Antofogasta is on the (west) coast of Chile, it’s one saving grace (yes, I learned it’s possible to have a city that is both in the desert and on the sea… it’s like endless beach). San Pedro is on the east side of Chile. Hence, we had to cross the desert to get from point A to B. But it still got us to there, so no harm done.

We left on a Thursday bright and early and arrived in San Pedro just too late to take any tours. We checked into a great hostel with llamas in the yard and headed for the Native American ruins located just a kilometer outside of town.

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playing in Atacamian ruins

The next day we took a full day tour that went to the salar (salt deposit) and the lakes. Both were amazing, and we also got to meet some cool Brazilians in the process (and some unfortunately boring Slovaks). The group also stopped in a couple of very small towns, and we were able to momentarily and superficially glimpse into rural desert life. Cool (and a little frightening)!

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lots of salt and flamencos

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in front of one of the two lakes

That night we got to go on one of the cooler “tours” I’ve done in Chile: a tour of the night sky. A French man came to the Atacama because of its incredibly clear skies and started giving tours in English, French, and Spanish. He has several high-powered telescopes and plenty of knowledge, so two hours were quickly filled with interesting facts and beautiful sights. It was especially nice to finally have someone point out for me exactly what I am seeing for the first time in the Southern Hemisphere sky (aka, the whole part of the sky we miss out on up North). Yay for Magellanic Clouds!

The next day, Saturday, we checked out the museum and got to see some Native American mummies. That night we went on the tour of Death and Moon Valleys. I walked through Death Valley, apparently where many early explorers died because they greatly underestimated the distance between one oasis and another due to the ability to see so much further in the desert than in most places. We watched the sunset over Moon Valley, more impressive sounding than it was, I assure you, but beautiful nonetheless.

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standing above moon valley

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getting ready for sunset

The next morning Ashley and I woke up at the late great hour of 3:30 am to catch our 4 am tour to see the “near-by” El Tatio Geysers. I suppose 4 hours away is near-by in the desert, and it was certainly worth the trip. The geysers are best seen in the morning when the difference in temperature between the water and the outside air is enough to cause them to spout, obviously an important part of the event. (The Atacama Desert, I should mention, is quite cold at night since the lack of cloud cover keeps in no heat, and, obviously, very warm during the day. The coldness of the night, however, explains why one has to leave very early to get to the geysers when it’s still cold enough outside.)

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The geysers was a great end to our fantastic trip. We gently urged our tour guide, the same one we had for every tour, to please hurry up so we could make our bus to Antofogasta. (Our guide’s name was German, but we decided his nickname should be “puro chile” since he was a Chilean bumpkin to the core, complete with traditional Chilean dance music as the soundtrack in our desert van trips.) Our bus ride to Antofogasta, through the desert, was almost unbearable since it didn’t have air conditioning, but we arrived all in one piece, if a little lighter from the sweating. We spent a rather dreadful night in Antofogasta (but really, who likes industrial desert towns anyway?), and headed home the next morning.

All in all, it was one of my favorite trips of the semester. I had never been to the desert before, and it was fascinating. I don’t think I could ever live there; the lack of water was constantly felt and was, I have to admit, a bit scary, but it was absolutely gorgeous and completely different from anything I had ever seen before. A truly amazing trip!

Monday, November 08, 2004

Chilean teenyboppers and tea with Pinochet

Thursday night I went to Santiago with Ashley and our friend Kendra to catch a concert in the Estadio Victor Jarra. We went to see Alex Ubago who, for those of you not up on your Spanish music, is like the equivalent of Clay Aiken from Spain, and a couple years older. He’s young, dorky-cute, and appeals to teenage girls and their mothers. He has an adorably nerdy way of dancing and performed in jeans and a blazer which may not have the appeal of a shoeless Ryan Miller (reference to my last concert in the States), but that can be a hard act to beat.

We spent the night in a hostel close to the center of town and headed to the ritzy outskirts the next morning for some American indulgence. In the expensive Las Condes neighborhood there is both a New York Bagels and a Starbucks, providing us with the big American chain versions of two things we had missed terribly: bagels and real coffee.

Kendra stayed on in Starbucks to work for a bit and then return to Valpo while Ashley and I took off for the Chilean countryside. So we didn’t have tea with Pinochet, but we did plan a relaxing weekend in the same place he had a vacation house, the Cajón de Maipo, or the Maipo (River) Canyon. And the title is a reference to the movie, Tea with Mussolini, but probably didn’t make that much sense as few people that I know have seen it.

Getting to the country was a bit more of a chore than we had planned. It turns out someone decided to change the bus route since the last time LP or Let’s Go checked, and so we found ourselves at the wrong place, receiving advice from a toothless older gentleman. He told us he was going that way and also had been tricked by the change of bus lines (at least it wasn’t just the silly foreigners), and had us follow him on multiple busses through most of Santiago. Before he got off a few stops before us, he gave me his number and insisted that we call him or he would get worried and come looking for us in the country. Ah, relying on the kindness of strangers.

After initial difficulties, we made it into the small town of San José in the Cajón de Maipo. Since the office of tourism had closed for what could only have been a siesta at that time of day, we decided to ask a woman selling jam in the square for hostel recommendations, and she pointed us in the way of the Hostel Tío Valentín. Keeping with our tradition of slightly decrepit but character rich dwellings, the Hostel was owned by a sweet woman who was trying to convert her deceased parents house into a countryside stop for Chilean tourists. For less than 10 USD a night, breakfast included, it was fine by us.

Friday afternoon we hopped a bus and took it to the end of the Cajón line to see what there was to see. It’s an interesting place in that all of the surrounding Chilean area seems to vacation there at some point or another, be they wicked rich or scrape-by poor. Okay, perhaps not quite the latter, but it does yield a wide variety of visitors. We decided to walk a good 9 km of the way back to enjoy the views, take some pictures, and stop for dinner at a cabin resort. Afterwards, we hopped a bus the rest of the way back (about another 11 km), and took turns listening for each other in the shower since the bathroom was the “old-fashioned” type in Chile – a calefont, a gas powered mechanism for heating water that pretty much every house in Chile has somewhere, in the bathroom instead of the safer/better ventilated kitchen or porch. Because who really wants to die of gas inhalation while on vacation?

The next day we hired a van and took the hour and a half ride to the very end of the Cajón, close to the Argentinean border. To start this story, one must be reminded of the facts that 1. I burn easily, and 2. I’m stupid. That being said, it should come as no surprise that I sit here with one of the worst sunburns I’ve ever had. It turns out people aren’t lying when they talk about the whole in the ozone layer being above Chile.

To backtrack a bit, Ashley and I, apparently not having learned much from our previous mountain climbing experiment, decided to climb an Andean hill: the National Monument (which seams to mean just a small national park) Morado. It’s a 16 km hike, 75% of which is rather gradual. We saw a lagoon and a glacier, we didn’t get lost, and I came back with a really bad burn despite my sunscreening efforts. Well, two out of three isn’t bad.

To relax a bit and perhaps soothe my burn, we headed to the “thermal springs”. When the guidebooks say “rustic”, they aren’t kidding. It turns out that these thermal springs were, as the owner described them, “tibia, not hot”. And orange. Well, for 3 USD, Ashley and I will try anything once. How many people can say they bathed in 22 degree Celsius orange waters under both the Andes and the vigilant watch of not one, not two, but three Virgins!? That’s what I thought. The owner insisted that the waters were orange, not because they were dirty, but because of the abundant minerals that were present. And that we shouldn’t shower afterward but let the minerals work their “medicinal effects”. Needless to say, we did not heed his advice.

We slept a good 11 hours that night, sleep that was much needed by this work-hard play-hard study abroader. Unfortunately, it’s not a luxury I will have tonight, so it’s back to work for me. Currently reading (due Wednesday): Mapocho, a book about an incestuous and dead brother and sister, wandering the streets of Santiago. Ah, Chilean postmodernism! Weeks left of such craziness (in other words, classes): 3. Weeks left in Chile: 5. Next up: the Atacama Desert, the driest place on earth, on Thursday!

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Catching my z's on buses...

I feel it's actually a skill worth perfecting, espeically when living in Chile. This weekend, I once again hopped an overnight bus to go south for a few days. This time it was with my whole program, so we had the bus to ourselves. It was the night of the World Series, so there was a little mini-party/morning at around 1 when we received the call from home. I made a call home to congratulate Tim and talk to Sam, and then konked out as a result of very little sleep of late.

We arrived in Púcon, a touristy-outdoorsy town 10 hours south of here, at around 8 in the morning on Thursday. There are tons of tourists (which means English-speaking actually doesn't atract weird looks) a beautiful lake, a volcano complete with smoking top, and a cute log-cabin town. Plus, being south of here, it's actually quite chilly at night. Combine that with the great smell of the lake and the surrounding forests, it actually felt a little like fall in Northeastern Pennsylvania. Ah, happy memories of Thanksgiving in Moscow, PA, how I miss them.

Thursday we went on a tour of the saltos in the area - literally jumps of water, or waterfalls - which were really quite beautiful. When I'm on my computer (because right now I'm making use of computer lab priviledges at a Santiago hostal where I'm staying) I'll post great pictures. We also went to the thermal springs - bathing in hot waters by the side of a raging river under the mountains...what could be better?!

My program was staying in cabañas - cabins - for the weekend, which at first made me think of 6th grade summer camp style or Georgetown ESCAPE retreat-esque cabins with three tiered bunk beds and little else. Wow was I wrong. I'm never going back to another hostal if I can help it. Staying in a cabin here is like renting out a luxourious house for the night, only much cheaper. Granted, there were bunk beds, but there were four sets of them, plus a double bed, two bathrooms, a living room, and a fantastic kitchen. The grounds also had a pool and a jacuzzi. While it was too cold to actually swim, we decided it would be a good idea to go for a midnight jump-in-the-pool-run-to-the-jakuzzi dip. I believe I tied for the top number of pool to jacuzzi jumps: 3.

Because there were only 8 of us signed from the program signed up to be staying in this 10 person cabaña, and because Ashley and our friend Lauren were coming to visit us down there the next night, we called them up and said, don't stay in a hostal, come stay in our awesome cabin on our program's bill!

They arrived the next day and did just that. We tried to hide the fact that they were staying there, although not very well. Oops. Guess my dreams of joining the CIA and making out with Michael Vartan (ALIAS reference, for those of you who aren't as cool and in touch as I am with pop culture) won't quite pan out.

Friday was our program's trip to a Mapuche center nearbye. We learned about the Mapuche people (I love how we all introduced ourselves, all 32 of us, following traditions), ate food with them, learned some dances, and - Dad, you'll love this after reading My Invented Country by Isabel Allende - shared mate around a fire. (Mate is a type of tea which is made by filling a specific type of cup with the leaves, pouring in boiling water, and using a special straw with very small holes in the bottom so you don't drink any of the leaves. It is often shared in groups. Germaphobes beware.)

That night we were free to get our own dinner. Luckily, because Pucón is such a touristy town, the food there is the best I've had yet in Chile. That means it has flavor. We went to an "Arab" restaurant for Palestinian food that was quite good, although I'm pretty sure what I had wasn't shish kabab as I've ever seen it before. My motto for traveling though is, "when in doubt, eat!" and it hasn't failed me yet.

Another attempt at jacuzzi debauchery failed miserably as the owners were changing the water that night and it wouldn't be warm until the next day. The friendly night guard reminded us, however, that we had a jacuzzi whirlpool tub in our cabins. No need to tell us twice. Sara, Jeff, and I headed back to the "matrimonial baño" in our cabin and took a bath...leading to some weird quotes, probably dangerous pictures, and memories of certain other bathroom experiences involving Chambers, champagne, and an ironing board. I dare not say more.

Saturday was our free day to take advantage of the wonder that is Pucón`s outdoors-y toorism. I went white water rafting for the first time, which is fun because, in Chile, they don't really care if the guides have been drinking. Luckily, my guide was sober, and it was the crazy guide in the other boat that smelled a bit of alcohol, so in the end it was just amusing for us to watch him dance around in the other raft and enjoy our sane leadership.

That afternoon we did something called "canopy", which we quickly nicknamed "monkey flying". It involved ten ziplines from tree to tree over rivers and forest bed in harnesses. And fast speeds. It was crazy fun. The scariest part wasn't hurling yourself over the river but rather climbing up the tree branch assembled ladders to get to seemingly unsturdy platforms in the trees and then waiting to hurl yourself. But of course, our guides just shimmied up the trees like monkeys without a care in the world. Ah, life without lawsuits.

My program took off that night after our crazy fun activities, but Ashley, Lauren, and I decided to hang around one more night since we didn't have school on Monday because of the national holiday of (wait for it) All Saints Day. And they claim separation of church and state. (By the way, Chile is still just trying out a divorce law. Sometimes I'm amazed at where I am.) We stayed at an adorable vegitarian friendly hostal called école, which called to mind certain hair salons in DC due to it's "e. coli" like similarity. It was very hippy-esque, complete with "ANYBODY BUT BUSH IN 2004" sign on the door. Woohoo.

Sunday we had high hopes of hiking the national park Huerquehue (we nicknamed it Panqueque - pancake in Spanish - with good reason) but woke up to pouring rain. It was also election day in Chile, and, since no alcohol can be sold on election day here, we couldn't find much in the way of restaurants. So we stayed by the fire in our hostal, talked to backpackers from literally all over the world, found out quickly they all hated Bush (I don't care what you think of him, we're in deep trouble with international relations - it's the first thing people tell you here), and ate more good vegetarian food. Quite the relaxing day that I needed.

Our bus left that night around 9 and we were taking... EJECUTIVO! While this may have no significance for any of you, after several all night bus trips, I was thrilled to pay a few extra bucks for a bit more leg room and a seat that reclined back to like 45 degrees! I got into Valpo at like 9 in the morning, to find that my sheets had been changed! I get excited by the strangest things since being in Chile.

In the immortal words of Porky, that's all folks. To all my friends in ye ole United States, anyone wanna join me in, as Meaghan calls it, the "rest of the world"?

Chilean Phenomenon #3: Nescafe

As part of my Queer-Eye-For-the-Straight-Guy-esque attempt to spiffy up my room, I now have a wall of beautiful people cut from the magazines my lifesaving parents have sent me. Among my Matthew Perry’s and Jennifer Aniston’s I happen to also have an add for coffee which shows several couples drinking coffee together in someone’s house and sports the commentary: 3658 miles from the coffee fields of the Colombian Andes. But still the perfect climate for Colombian Coffee.

I’m not exactly sure how many miles I am from the Colombian Andes, but I can assure you it’s closer than 3658. And I’m still stuck drinking dark powder and water that people here keep insisting is coffee.

That’s because, in Chile, one does not drink coffee, one drinks Nescafé. My host family even has a coffee maker, but they never use it. Their logic? Why bother to take the time with the coffee maker if it’s so easy to make Nescafé and it tastes pretty much the same. But let’s not fault Chileans for their complete lack of taste buds.

Instead, let’s fault them for the way they drink their Nescafé. Because one would figure that if forced to drink powdered coffee, it would be best to add cream and sugar in the normal manner and do one’s best to pretend the stuff was real. But that’s not the way it works in Chile. If you ask for coffee in a café, you have the option of getting Nescafé made with water or with milk. As in powder, plus all water or all milk. And then you can add sugar to either one of them. Just try asking them to make the Nescafé with water, allowing room for a little bit of milk at the end, and they look at you like you’re from Mars. And by the way, I did mean actual milk. Because there doesn’t seem to be such a thing as putting cream in your coffee here. It’s usually about 2% milk, and it comes out of a box. Refrigerating is, like so many things, optional.

The truth is, for a long time I held off. I was happy drinking my cheap tea ever night with “onces”, the tea time that replaces dinner here, instead of subjecting myself to the sludge that results when mixing powdered coffee with hot water. And then I got back from a wonderful weekend in Buenos Aires and discovered I had to read a book in very colloquial Spanish. In 2 days. So, in the not quite immortal words of “Love Potion #9”, I held my nose, I closed my eyes, I took a drink.

In the end, I can’t say that I’ve quite “embraced” Nescafé, but I’ve accepted it, and I’m definitely a better person for it. There’s just not really nothing else to take me through those godlessly early classes.

A visit from the 'rents

(note: can't get the pictures up for some reason (what else is new), and too tired to figure it out tonight. soon to come.)

While in BBAA (like my cool South American know how in abbreviating Buenos Aires? and then my defeating abbreviation’s point with long explanation/commentary?), I received an e-mail (and proceeded to share said e-mail with the whole hotel from my squeals in the second floor computer room – two computers, three screens, and one working internet hookup…and until I just wrote it out, I had considered it incredibly luxurious) informing me that I had T minus four days to plan a familial visit. After relentlessly sending my mother e-mails of plane prices in an effort to convince her to visit in her short vacation between switching jobs (way to go on the U Penn hookup, Mom!), somehow my whole family decided to visit Chile. For the weekend.

Four days is actually more like it. They left Friday night from Philly, arriving in the Santiago International Airport Saturday morning. I hired a van (I felt like such a snob passing up my student fair on a packed bus to ride in a personally hired vehicle with the rest of my family, it was fantastic!) to take us directly to the…beachfront apartment I had picked out for the weekend! I felt so proud of myself, signing contracts in Spanish and the like. We were on the 21st floor of very US-esque apartment buildings which I had admired on many a run by the beach. And it came out to half the price of what a comparable quality hotel would be since Chile hasn’t yet gotten the memo on families of 6 traveling through South America and we would have needed multiple rooms spread throughout a hotel. Perhaps the McAndrews family ought to have some sort of fanfare arranged to announce their arrival to any continent. Because the fam certainly isn’t about to get accustomed to hostel dwelling any time soon.

Saturday afternoon we spent with the host family and, luckily, Ashley as an extra translator. It’s amazing how much one’s language abilities improve when 5 American-as-Uncle-Sam family members require it. Or at least one’s abilities to fake language abilities. Either way. After a long nap for the family, we went to the Cocoloco, a restaurant atop one of the highest buildings in Valparaíso that spins (like the one I took pictures from in Santiago at the very beginning of my trip). And, lucky for my parents, is supposed to be the best place to go for good Chilean food. One might consider it an oxymoron. I don’t mean to ditch on my adopted country, and I did eat rather well that night, but Americans coming into Chile tend to be a bit disappointed by the complete lack of seasoning or inventiveness in the cuisine.

Despite everyone being exhausted after our late dinner, Jackie and I still met up with some friends and headed out clubbing. My goal was to show her a semi-Chilean night – we would go to a Chilean club and dance among Chileans and she would have a Chilean drink, but under no circumstances was she 1. getting drunk, 2. dancing with random Chilean men, or 3. staying out past two (the last bit for just as much of my own sanity as I has awaken at a mere 5 a.m. to get to Santiago and meet the plane that turned out to be 2 hours late). I was mostly successful in my plans for the evening. We went to Stocolmo, a popular club with the marinos, one of whom has remained close with Sara and came with us dancing. Just my luck, it was my marino date (from way back when in August) Cristian’s birthday, and he was at the club drunk. In case it wasn’t mentioned in previous blogs, said Chilean navy man was miserable for the last half an hour I was with him at the naval ball after telling him we couldn’t go out…except for when I mentioned that I had a sister blonder than me (Jackie), at which point he brightened immediately and asked how old she was. I was, obviously, less than thrilled at the thought of him and my fifteen-year-old sister in the same Chilean night club. Luckily, all turned out well though, Jackie got away from me long enough to share a dance with a drunk marino (with me right next to her, ignoring the come-on attempts of my own drunk marino for the night, whose name I promptly forgot/never cared to remember).

(It should also be mentioned, in passing, that Jackie held her Chilean alcohol very well, and wasn’t even remotely tipsy all night. Chilean drinks tend to be especially strong and can make even the best of us find themselves running up the hill to their houses at 4 in the morning, only to awaken the next day and decide it had been a very poor idea.)

Sunday consisted of my dad fumbling through his first attempt at ordering coffee on his own at a Chilean café (see soon-to-come entry on the phenomenon that is Nescafé®), a trip to the Viña del Mar church for the second half of a mass in (duh) Spanish (somehow it all seems a bit demonic when in a foreign language, but at least Catholic mass means it’s all, in essence, the same), ate at cafés in Valparaíso, and had a birthday party for Brianna in a Valpo bar since her b-day had been the Thursday before. Because really, how many fourth-graders can say they went to Chile for the weekend and celebrated their 10-th birthday in a bar?

From our apartment balcony

The McAndrews family together again

Monday was our last day in Viña, and we ate at the Cap Ducal, a restaurant in the shape of a boat with a beautiful view of the Viña ocean. We hired the same driver to take us back to Santiago, where I had, with the permission, nay encouragement, of Mom, made a reservation in the Mariott Santiago, a five (count them!) five star hotel!

The view from our hotel room.

Needless to say, Monday night in Santiago was amazing. As I would say among fellow study abroad-ers here in Chile, it was lujo and cuico – luxurious and snob-ish. In other words, perfect. We went to a ritzy Italian restaurant, we watched baseball on TV, I showered in the cleanest shower I’ve seen in a while. I’ll spare you the pictures I took of the bathroom, but suffice it to say, I was in heaven.

Tuesday we spent doing the Santiago-tourist thing. National library, national cathedral, la Moneda (Chile’s equivalent of the White House), etc. The whole day was a bit melancholy for me because it was like I was losing my family and my old lifestyle that night. Countdown all day until when their flight took off and I returned once again to my practical life from US-style dreamland.

The McAndrews sisters do la Moneda

The light through the cloud on my (I admit it) teary bus ride home from Santiago after sending off my family to the international gate of the airport was that I realized I was going back to someplace familiar. Unlike the beginning of this semester when I had said goodbye to my family and was driving into a completely foreign place that, admittedly, freaked me out a little bit, this time as the bus drove down Agua Santa between the cities of Valpo and Viña and I saw the lights twinkling all over my hilly South American home, I had the comfort of a familiar bed and host family waiting for me. And, if that failed, I also had Love Actually, recently delivered by very nice parents. When all else fails, there’s nothing like Hollywood to get me through things.

A packed four days, but packed with wonderful times. You just can’t write home about Chile; it needs to be lived to be understood. On that note, any other visitors (or repeat customers, ahem, family members!) are welcome to visit whenever. Paying for a night in a five star is optional, I’m sure I could pick out something around 3 or 4 USD for us. And haven’t you always wanted to say, “See you in South America!”

Monday, October 25, 2004

Buenos Aires, the Cliffnotes Version

Must do's and see's in BBAA

- A tango show. It's supposed to be the best place in the world for it, and I believe it. Plus, it's supposed to be one of the best places in the world for beef, so spring for the show with dinner. And then finish your whole huge plate of steak, like I did. (Nothing's changed here.) While at said tango show, it is highly recommended that you not admit you don't know the words to the songs that everyone in the audience is singing along with, and just join in at the top of your lungs. They'll be too drunk to know the difference.
- People tangoing in the streets. For no other reason than I think it's spectacularly romantic. That's right, not only do I still eat tons, but I'm also still a sap. All hopes that South America would rid me of my vices are being dashed teh more I write.

- The architecture. Which isn't hard to miss, and is spectacular. No wonder they call it the Paris of South America.
- A "Tenador Libre" restaurant. Translated "Free Fork", it's an all-you-can-eat-buffet. And because, I will remind those who have forgotten, Argentines have strong Italian descendence, the food is usually quite splendid. I personally went to two: one for 7 USD and one for 3.
- Because, that's right, the other great thing about Argentina is the prices. All the prices look normal, and then you remember that you get to divide by three! Not that I'm one to take advantage of a country in economic crisis, except that... okay, maybe I am. My wardrobe is happier for it, and someone had to buy those adorable black leather ballet flats.
- Evita Peron's grave, adorned with flowers. I would not, however, recommend going when there's about to be a funeral in a neighboring mausoleum, but that, as Britney would say, is your perogative.
- The cemetary in which Eva Peron's grave is located. A given from the above recommendation, but I've now discovered that walking around a cemetary can tell a person a lot about place, interestingly enough. Slightly morbid, but interesting.
- the Aurolineas Argentina stewardesses. Really though, it's their amazingly stylish jackets that must be seen. I wonder how irresponsible it would be to run off and be a stewardess for a year, just for the cute jacket...
- And finally, the amazing view flying over the Andes, coming home from Argentina. Buenos Aires might have awesome food and shopping and tango and buildings, etc, but there's nothing like being like max two hours from beautiful mountains at all times. Or going to school on the beach for that matter. Here's to hoping I finish my work in time to get some sun soon! Sometimes it's just so good to be in Chile :)


So I'm thinking blogs will never get put up unless I return to the old Georgetown way of Caitlin-blogging: procrastination tactics. And in little chunks. Whenever I can get myself to take a break from oppressive Chilean work. So here it goes, in my marathon of the next couple days, I promise to update on 1. the amazingly beautiful city of Buenos Aires, 2. my visitors from fa' fa' away, and 3. a brand new Chilean phenomenon: Nescafe. Of course, all will be posted in choppy highlight style, but I doubt any of the nice people that are still actually reading this care about what I seemed to think was funny after a bottle of wine in an Argentinian all-you-can-eat buffet, so I'll try to cut the extras ;). Without further ado, a few minutes from now, you should be seeing: Buenos Aires, the Cliffnotes version.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

La Campana

”Parque La Campana…contains the highest mountains in the coastal cordillera, including Cerro La Campana (1880m), climbed by Charles Darwin in 1834.”

“Thousands of Chileans and increasing numbers of foreign visitors reach the summit of La Campana every year. On a clear day, the view from La Campana, stretching from the ships at anchor in the Pacific harbor to the Andean summit of Aconcagua, is spectacular.

“It’s possible to hitchhike or drive to the abandoned mine site at the end of the road leading into the park from the Granizo entrance, considerably shortening the hike to the summit, but it’s much more interesting and rewarding to hike the trail all the way from the park entrance. Figure at least four hours to the top and three hours back down.

“From Granizo, 373m above sea level, the abruptly steep trail to the summit climbs 1455m in only 7km – an average grade of nearly 21%. Fortunately, most of the hike is in shade, and there are three water sources en route: Primera Aguada, at an elevation of 580m; Segunda Aguada; and the abandoned mine site, where the trail continues to the summit.

“At the point where the trail skirts a granite wall, prior to the final vertiginous ascent, is a plaque commemorating the 101st anniversary of Darwin’s climb. At another rpoint slightly beyond this, the Club Montañés de Valparaíso has placed another plaque, honoring climbers who died in 1968 when an earthquake unleashed a landslide.

“Sturdy, sensible footwear is essential, as parts of the trail are slippery even when dry; sneakers can be awkward.”

~Lonely Planet: Chile & Easter Island, 6th edition, May 2003

‘Stoga still rules the hills!

For those of you who don’t know, Conestoga is the name of my high school, and “’stoga rules the hills” was a cross country mantra we used to write all over spirit shirts in a diluted attempt to convince ourselves we actually enjoyed the insane hill workouts we put ourselves through to prepare for races. Well, after Saturday’s excursion on the “hill” La Campana, whose LP description is written above, I can say it’s definitely still true.

I woke up at 6:15 on Saturday to catch a train to the countryside and go hiking. My friends had hiked La Campana about a month and a half ago when there was snow on top and suggested it might be better in spring, so here we were, the first weekend in October, taking off for a pleasant hike. Well I’m glad I hadn’t read the above description beforehand, because, not knowing anything about hiking, I think I may have been a bit intimidated. Not to mention the fact that Chile has been expecting an earthquake for a few weeks now. Things I perhaps should have thought about before going on an intense hike.

La Campana

The climbing started out great. It turns out that my 5-mile runs have left me in better shape than I thought I was in, because I felt fine and was having a wonderful time. The hike was definitely rigorous but enjoyable and possible, and had several convenient resting points. We stopped at one such point to rest and fill up our water bottles from the clean natural spring (how outdoorsy am I?!) and eat lunch, including some awesome trail mix that Ashley made.

After our resting point, which was the half-way mark time wise, was when our hike got a bit interesting. Around that point was where the climb stopped being so much of a trail and was more of straight up and down rock climbing. But hey, whatever, it was something different and fun. The climbing was a bit difficult, and we were getting close to the time when we had to turn around to make it back down before sunset, but with a final push, we made it to the top!

me climbing

on top of the world!

the view from the summit

And then we started down. Now, it must be noted that two whole “Chilean phenomenon” blog entries could be devoted to 1) the seeming disregard for the value of life in Chile and 2) the lack of markings…anywhere. The lawsuit is certainly not an institution here as it is in Chile. You show up at a national park to walk around a bit, they say, follow the arrows, and make no effort to get one to sign any sort of waiver or warn a person that perhaps such an endeavor could be extremely risky. That being explained, it should not have surprised us that 1) climbing down a steep mountain of unstable rocks is difficult and 2) the “path” of unstable rocks is not clearly marked.

So we got lost.

Right about when I took this picture.

With every step, a mini-avalanche was unleashed, making mobility, and therefore getting un-lost, very difficult. But what is there to do but keep going down and keep looking for something resembling a path. Of course, during all this, we were also thinking about the fast approaching sunset. There was actually a point where we were thinking we were going to have to spend the night on the mountain, because once it got dark, it would not have been safe to move on the unstable stones. You know when you’re cheering yourself up with thoughts like “You can see the town, so if you just keep walking in that direction, you’ll probably reach it in a few days,” you’re at a low point.

But we kept cool, and kept walking toward what we thought would be a path, and eventually did make it back to the halfway point. At that point we had about an hour and a half more of walking to do and only an hour of light. So we booked it. And after that, we used the two small flashlights I had with me: one on my keychain and one on my cell phone. So take that all of you who make fun of me for being afraid.

And now, four days later, I learn that two days ago a boy died there on a school filed trip. So I have to ask myself, what the heck did I do this weekend? And I thought this weekend in Buenos Aires was what I had to be worried about when it came to safety. I feel like going to Tango shows and shoe shopping will be a walk in the park (no pun intended, I swear) after mountain climbing. Yep, I’m a city girl to the core. No more mountain adventures for me for a while!

My weekends in Europe

So, although is a long-overdue entry, I still want to briefly post about my travels to Valdivia, Chile and Mendoza, Argentina. Two weekends in a row, Ashley and I packed our nice big backpacks and jumped on busses to various parts of South America. Because really, when else in your life are you going to say “13 hours by bus? That’s not bad!” and then head to random South American towns for the weekend. Yeah.

So that’s what we did. Wednesday night, several weeks ago, we hopped a bus at 8:00 at night (sadly, missing our Pilates class, but sacrifices are made for the sake of travel) and arrived the next morning at 9 in Valdivia. Valdivia is a “city” in Chile that has the feel of a homey New England town. Which we didn’t realize until we got there. All we really knew was that a lot of Germans had settled there and that, as a result, there was a lot of good kuchen (a desert). Cool, we were headed to Switzerland for the weekend. (Which I say having never been anywhere near Switzerland or the continent on which it is located.)

Valdivia is where three rivers meet, and is surrounded by the volcano region. Mountains, water, and it’s only 20 minutes from the beach – it’s gorgeous. There were actually people rowing on the rivers too, as in crew. It was so familiar and happy. So the first day we did the normal tourist thing – take a boat tour of the rivers. Ashley and I had our own private tour from a salty old man with several teeth missing and a dog that didn’t bug the heck out of me. The rivers are beautiful and, because Ashley and I are somehow charmed, the day was gorgeous without a cloud in the sky…usually Valdivia has rain every single day, and we didn’t see a drop our whole weekend there.

The next day, Friday, we were going to go to the coast, but that morning, the Spanish-speaking, German owner of our hostel knocked on our door and asked if we wanted to go on a “tour” – his personally assembled off-road trip to a mini-mountain and the beach for hiking and rock climbing. Why not? So we put on our Merrels – definitely the best thing I brought with me to Chile, and squeezed with two other gringas into his truck. We drove off-road to a national park where we climbed mentioned mini-mountain, took lots of pictures of the thirteen volcanoes we could see from the top, drove down to the coast and climbed on the rocky shores looking at local wildlife, and then took off on a terrifying trip along the coast to watch the sunset on the Pacific. Mario, our guide, told us how terrible the bus drivers are as I prayed I wouldn’t meet each telephone pole we passed head on. Because really, would you have a random Chilean tour along the Pacific any other way?

Saturday we hopped a bus to the beach, where we checked out an old Spanish fort, met up with a very odd Swiss man who seemed only to want to talk about himself, and then proceeded to walk a mile or two up the beach (again, climbing over plenty of rocks to do so), accompanied the whole time by aforementioned Swiss dude. Trying not to be too embarrassed of his very poor Spanish-speaking ability whenever he tried to talk to locals. After hanging out there for a while, we hopped a bus back to Valdivia, reclaimed our items from our hostel, bid farewell to Mario, and hopped the 8 pm bus back to Valparaíso. Just in time for the Sunday procrastination payback…in which I work like a maniac to finish everything for the coming week.

The next weekend was my girly relaxing weekend. Which worked out well since I happened to get a really bad cold that weekend. (If anyone was wondering, it turns out “flem” is the same word in Spanish too…I was informed that my cough had it. Cool.) That weekend, Ashley and I only had to be on the bus for 7 hours. We were headed to Argentina (that’s right, I have more stamps in my passport!) for the weekend, to a town called Mendoza. Mendoza has a lot of Italians (and therefore really good food) like much of Argentina, but is best known for its shopping. So basically, this was our weekend in Italy. We arrived on a Thursday and decided to take the weekend slow. Thursday night we walked around all the stores and looked. Friday we entered some stores, tried some things on, and thought about buying. And finally, Saturday, I bought myself two new pairs of shoes (because really, who doesn’t need cute shoes when they’re sick?) for less than $20 total together (yay countries in financial crisis with big leather markets and without sales tax), gifts for friends and familiy, and two skirts to keep me going through the eternal spring that seems to be the Chilean climate. Which trust me, I’m not complaining about at all.

Of course, we also based much of the weekend on what we were going to eat, when. Because really, what else is more important than food when traveling? Especially when you haven’t chosen your own food in months due to living with host families. Italian food it was, and lots of it. We went to two Italian restaurants, an Italian pizzeria, and two “tenedor libre” (all-you-can-eat buffet) restaurants, the last category being the most interesting. The first we went to for a huge lunch with every possible type of food you could imagine. I even had some stir fry for the first time since arriving in South America. And a salad with all the vegetables mixed together; for whatever reason, they’re very big on piles here. Then, the next night, Ashley and I found ourselves in a vegetarian restaurant (quite a rarity in the beef capital of the universe that is Argentina) owned by a little Argentinean woman who had lived in New York City for several years and seemed determined to practice her English with us. I’m not completely sure she spoke either English or Spanish completely fluently. She also informed us that all Chileans are liars, that if you’re a liar you’re a thief, and that jealous neighbors had cut off her gas lines and so all the food we were eating had been cooked in her house and then reheated in the microwave in the restaurant. “Colorful” would charitably describe our new friend. It was incredibly amusing.

Also amusing, was the laundry list of things that we had to pick up for Ashley's host mom in Argentina. Because facial cream is apparently much too expensive in Chile. But it wasn't just skin products that we left with. One of the items on the list was more of a treasure hunt, and one that we're hoping was within all boundries of the law. Ashley's host mom gave us the address of a leather store in the town, where we were instructed to go and ask for Maurio (or some similar name). He was, of course, there, and we gave him a letter from Ashley's mom requesting several prescription drugs along with a wad of cash. And then we stopped by the next day and picked them up. All looking totally legitimate except for the lack of the pharmacy receipt on the outside. Hmmm... smile and nod. And maybe run. Drug deals in Argentina is one way to spend your South American weekends.

The last night, Ashley and I decided to ditch our fun little hostel and treat ourselves to a one star hotel. Because if we were going to be able to afford someplace with a private bathroom and towels, Argentina would be the place to do it. Besides, we weren’t exactly cool enough for our hostel where there was pizza and beer every night…and we were going to bed at 10 pm. It came out to about $20 for the night (split two ways). Not too bad. And the next morning we hopped a bus back to Chile, over the Andes again (where someone told me my cough was surely a result in changing temperatures from crossing the mountain range, something I somehow doubt) and were back in Valpo by 3-ish on Sunday, again in time for me to freak out about the fact that I hadn’t finished enough work (mostly a result of the fact that I was sleeping 12 hours a night trying to overcome my cold).

Well, I did my best to make the recap short but interesting, and it looks as if I haven’t succeeded in either. Kudos if you’ve made it to the end, if you haven’t, I don’t blame you. Hope you at least enjoyed the pictures!