It is almost January. I mean basically it is January, can you believe tomorrow is New Year´s Eve?! I remember Tessa telling me before I left that January is when you start to feel really adjusted and the best part of the exchange begins. I also remember thinking I would never make it to January, well who woulduh thunk. Forgive my absence from my blog, but really it is a good sign when I don´t have time to write for more than a month...it means I´m keeping busy doing lots of cool stuff. Like traveling! I´ve been in and out of Talca so much lately, and missing lots of school, which I didn´t mind. But now that school´s out for the summer, so I don´t have that to worry about. However it does make it harder to keep in touch with my school friends. I haven´t talked to most of them since the beginning of December...
On the 26th Alexis came with her mom and sister to visit! It was so nice to see Alexis. At the same time it was so strange, like my two worlds had come together suddenly and I didn´t know what to make of it- it was bizarre. That night we went to see Luna Nueva (New Moon) with some of my school friends. The subtitles here have errors in them- I think Chile should demand better quality in their movies because some of the things I read on the screen were completely not what the actors were saying. The next day I went with Alexis and her family to Constitución, a city on the coast about an hour and a half from Talca. I was all ready to organize everything, but of course I should have know that Chilean hospitality ended up making it so that I didn´t have to do anything. I was half irked because I had been excited about proving I could manage by myself, but half relieved too. My host mom´s colleague took us to the bus station, helped us buy tickets, and saw us off. Another colleague in Constitución picked us up from the station and missed work just to show us around the city! We met his younger brother as well, who was very nice, and invited us back to ride horse on the beach and go ATVing on the sand dunes. I´ll definitely have to take him up on that! It was a beautiful city- the coast is spectacular with huge rocks and black sand beaches. We had seafood for lunch, of course. It was enormous, we barely got through half of it.
At the end of November/first week of December I went with my host grandma and Chanel to stay with my grandma´s sister and husband in La Serena, a city nine hours north of us by bus. It is a beautiful city sitting on a huge stretch of beach. I think Teresa and Jaime (my host-great aunt and uncle) technically live in the sister city of Coquimbo, but we spent time in both. Their apartment was a delightful 100 meters from the beach, so we went a lot. Hanging out with a bunch of Chilean old people sound boring? Not quite. As far as my experience has been, the old people in Chile are the coolest. Maybe the fun-loving gene skips every other generation, because the parents can be kinda lame but the grandparents are just as much partiers as the teens, which I find amusing. By any means it was a fun 10 days. We went to see a huge statue of a pirate that they say hid his ship and his pirate-mateys in the cove once upon a time. He may have been a handsome pirate, I don´t know, because his face was covered in that substance birds like to make, but the view was spectacular. One of the days we went with Tia Tere and Adriana, my grandma, to La Valle de Elqui, which is a gorgeous valley famous for pisco. So of course we had to tour one of the factories that makes the best. It was just Chanel and I with a huge group of French tourists plus their French guide, which was fun. It was exciting that I understood some of what he said just from hearing the similarities to Spanish. We also stopped at a huge dam that blocks the Elqui River. I was wearing a skirt. Bad choice. Marilyn Monroe would have been proud, the wind was insane- hence the huge metal sculpture built by schoolkids that makes an eerie whistling noise when the wind is strong, which is basically nonstop. On our way back home we stopped by the road where the river is close and Chanel and I went swimming! It was so much fun. Especially trying to get changed into dry clothes next to the highway with truckers driving by... One day Chanel and I went and saw Luna Nueva again, another day we all went along with Pady, Tia Tere´s nephew who´s our age, to see 2012. That movie scared the crap out of me. It´s pretty different seeing a movie about the end of the world when you´re in a country where the climate´s going beserk. Every single night we were there, we played kareoka until about 2 in the morning. Kareoka (know I´m spelling that wrong) is a Chilean card game a little like rummy which I´ve become addicted to. Tia Tere almost always won, but I got some good games in there as well. Hard to beat the natives at their own game. We met some Canadians! They were staying with friends in the same apartment building. I bet for the exchange students living in Santiago it´s not such a big deal to see foreignors, but for me at least, it is a novelty. Talca does not have foreignors. It is not a tourist attraction- it is not on the coast, it is not the mountains, it doesn´t have skiing, or museums, or shopping, and even its own residents regard it as generally an ugly city. I don´t actually think it´s ugly, but the point being that apart from the three other exchange students, I sometimes feel like the only non-Chilean in all of Talca. I still haven´t gotten used to the staring, whistling, and calls of ¨chica! chica!.¨ I am not the shiest person, but I like to blend in, so staring makes me really uncomfortable. On top of that I brought my American mindset that guys whistling at girls is not flattering (as it is viewed here), but rude and degrading. On the other hand, some guys make idiots of themselves trying to get my attention, and I just pretend I don´t understand and then laugh and laugh and laugh. So there is a plus side to everything.
But ANYWAY I´ve digressed considerably. When we got back to Talca life was calm. My host sister´s whole grade, plus their families, came over for an asado for the end of the school year. Chanel and I hid in my host mom´s room for a while until everything that Sandy and Walter pounded into my head about being a good, sociable exchange student guilted me into going out to face the masses of people I didn´t know who I had to kiss.
I went back to school for the last week of classes. It was a completely useless week, which was fun. Grades had already been handed in, so why we even had class was a mystery to me. But it was fun. For instance during one math class we built towers out of blocks for an hour, one of which was taller than I am.
That Saturday we (Emily, Matt, and I) drove with our RYE counselor Eduardo and his wife Susanna to Santiago to meet the other exchange students from all over District 4340 to start the craziness of the south trip. It was an incredible trip. We went to Puerto Mont (some exchange students swam in the Strait of Magellan), Puerto Natales (I kissed the bronze toe just like Samantha Brown on the Travel Channel), and then three days in Torres del Paine National Park. The next time y´all have a little extra money and a little extra time, don´t even think about it. Just go to Torres del Paine National Park. I promise to post pictures soon if you haven´t seen them already on facebook. I went running with a bunch of other exchange students, after which we swam in a glacial river (you read right, I, the coldest person to ever have been born in a northern state, swam in a glacial river). It was the kind of water that left you gasping. The cold mountain wind felt warm in comparison after we got out... but the run back to the hotel warmed us up nicely. There are only about two hotels in the middle of a huge flat area completely ringed by mountains, and the ¨Cuernos¨ directly in view from the hotel room window. The wildness and beauty of this place was indescribable. We went horseback-riding (I went twice), biking, swam in the river again, and we had a dance party where I learned German ghetto dancing. Of course we Americans had to break out Crank That just to show the Europeans what cultural sophistication really is. Ehem...joking aside I´ve noticed that Americans have a substantial inferiority complex when it comes to people from other countries, especially Europe. It´s hard not to when you realize that the language stererotype about Americans is totally true. Almost all of the Europeans had great English, on top of learning Spanish. For some of them it was actually easier to speak in English than in Spanish, so we just spoke English with them a lot, which made me feel guilty as hell. I want to learn at least three languages; I feel like my self-respect as an American would raise considerably.
We went on two boat rides to see glaciers. The second one was eight hours on the boat, so we passed the time playing cards and inflicting pain on Jakob through this seriously violent game that I didn´t completely understand that it had to do with either smashing, pinching, or knuckling the hand of the loser depending on the card that came up. During that ride we got to drink coca cola with ice from the glaciar, yumm. We were all severely sleep-deprived by the time it came to fly back to Santiago, but I didn´t want it to be over. I felt so close to all these people after just a week, and had so many interesting conversations. I´m glad I went on this trip because now I have a bunch of friends in the Santiago area to visit over the summer.
I guess the news of the moment for me is that I´m switching houses really soon- next Wednesday. I´m really divided about it, which is what most exchange students say. I´m actually a lot sadder about leaving than I thought I would be. Like my tearducts are more active than normal... my host mom and grandma have already come dangerously close to crying in front of me, so I´m kind of dreading the actual day I leave, I´m going to be a wreck. It´s ironic because I had a period where I liked my family, but I kind of wanted to switch- I was envious of Emily and Matt with their families in the city who let them go to discos, etc., but then I got used to the idea of being out here in the country and realized that I didn´t actually care about missing out on all that, that´s not what this year is about. So now when I´m perfectly happy being here, I´m moving into the city! Funny how life works. My new family consists of my host parents and two host sisters and a host brother. All my siblings are in college or older, but one of my host sisters still lives at home (woo-hoo, college parties haha). She is taking me to Easter Island in January and my new host mom tells me we´re also going to Iquique in the North and to a lake region in the south. Sounds good to me! I had actually had a bunch of ideas for things to do this summer because I didn´t want to be bored. Looks like I don´t have that problem anymore! I have a bad feeling that this experience is just going to start going faster and faster than it already has been and before I know it I´ll be on the plane back. I used to measure the time in months (wow, one whole month, two months, three) but now a month is so short and goes by so fast. Now a month feels like nothing! It scares me. Anyway some of these great plans are volunteering at the theater here in Talca (they actually had the Harlem Gospel Choir here in October, how random is that??), joining Chilean Scouts, visiting tons of people, throwing an American party for my class, going to the Beyonce concert in Santiago with Chanel and other exchangers, going to Fantisilandia with school friends (roller coaster park in Santiago), and planning a trip to Peru, among other things. I actually did go to a Scouts meeting with Emily and Chanel. It was a lot of fun, and had many comical moments in which we had no idea what was going on. We stood with them while they did their scout salute and raised the flags, then talked and I taught them the heads, shoulders, knees, and toes song in Spanish that I learned in school (never got why), we played a game with a hankerchief, then we had to leave.
Christmas here was extremely uneventful. Here they open presents at midnight on Christmas instead of in the morning but we were all so tired that we ended up opening presents at 10:45 and going to bed before it was even actually Christmas. It felt distinctly un-festive. But it was nice to exchange gifts with my family- they seemed to like theirs. And the Christmas Eve dinner was nice. They eat turkey for Christmas so I guess it made up for me missing Thanksgiving. But the next day, actual Christmas day, was like any other day. I spent a good bit of it cleaning my bathroom and room.
My family´s coming to visit soon! I´m super excited, and in natural Chilean fashion have nothing planned yet for what to do with them when they get here. Actually I´m kind of nervous for Tessa to hear my spanish. Aaaaa. Then again even some Mexicans reportedly have trouble understanding Chilean spanish, so maybe she´ll actually need my help translating, but I kinda doubt it. Though the other day I was in the car with Chanel and her host mom and a guy from Spain came on the radio and said a little blurb. After he was done I was thinking, wow that was so much easier to understand than the people here, I understood everything he said, it was so clear! Do you know what Chanel´s host mom said? ¨Jeez I didn´t understand anything that guy said.¨ I don´t know if you know, but CHILEAN SPANISH IS FREAKIN HARD!
So all´s swell here, the normal mix of everything fun and crazy and difficult. I´ve been going to bed way too late and sleeping til noon, be proud of my Chileanness. I do feel really Chilean though. Using the micro doesn´t phase me anymore, I don´t get lost anymore and I know which micro to take for how long and in which direction. It´s a good feeling. My host parents are actually letting me go to Santiago alone for a going away party for the southern-hemisphere exchange students who are leaving soon. This is monumental people.
Happy holidays to all and Happy New Year! Que lo pasen bien, cuidense mucho y besos para todos! Les quiero mucho!