Sunday, June 13, 2010

dos mundos

Reverse culture shock: the fancy name for why the idea of leaving Chile terrifies me. Walter sent this to all us exchangers today-

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

gracias a la vida

I can't believe I haven't written since the earthquake. So much has happened since then and it has flown by faster than any other time in my life, and now I am staring my last 7 weeks in the face. I guess I'll start with a rundown of what I've done since then.

At the end of March, almost a month already after the earthquake, I went to Santiago with Emily for my United World College interview. UWC is an international organization of schools in various countries around the world that I applied to back in December when Tessa sent me the link after having met alums in her class at Princeton. After the interview, which went well despite my dire predictions to the ever-patient Emily, we met up with Jhoel and Connor, two other exchangers, to go give blood (I was the only under-18 so I was left out), and then grab some sushi with Aurelie from Belgium, an activity I happily participated in.

I was at home for my host dad's birthday (my gift was a card and a bottle of California Monkey Business, as if we need to teach Chileans about good wine), before I left for Santiago for the Rotary north trip. Words cannot describe the amazingness of that trip. 11 days in a bus full of exchange students, probably some of the most fun people in existence. We started by driving from Santiago to La Serena, from there crossed the driest desert in the world by night, visited mountain geysers at dawn, ate llama kabobs in a tiny village and climbed through a desert canyon after our bus broke down four times, visited vast salt flats filled with flamingoes while volcanoes towered on the horizon, walked through la Valle de la Luna at sunset (one of most unearthly beautiful places I have ever been), sandboarded by the light of a full moon in la Valle de la Muerte (the Valley of Death), went running at night through the desert city of Iquique and ran sprints on the beach in the dark, got our hotel room pranked by all the guys on April Fool's Day, explored Iquique's old wood theater, went to a World Heritage mining ghost town, visited the memorial of a bloody battle between Chile and Bolivia, lived it up in the coast city of Arica, took flag pictures at Lago Chungara at a suffocating altitude of 4,500 meters, played soccer on the beach in Caldera, visited more churches and plazas than even the most devout tourist would have willingly subjected themself to, and had uncountable fun times in between, little moments of shared happiness when life simply could not have gotten any better.

I didn't have too much time to miss the exchange students after the trip because soon we were returning to Santiago for the Rotary's District conference, which was fun just because of the exchange students plus slightly stressful for me because I had to run around finding a computer, camera, and internet to do my second and final interview with a man from the UWC-USA national committee. I spent the night at Jhoel's house in the comuna of Maipú (yes it is pronounced 'my-poo') where we made 'Team Gringo' signs for the next day, the Santiago Marathon! Connor, Emily, Kim, Tom, Jakob, Matthew, and I ran the 10k race, fun times. There were three categories- the 10k, the half marathon, and the full marathon, all designated different coloured shirts so that the tens of thousands of us formed the Chilean flag when we were lined up to start. The amount of participants broke all records in another show of Chilean solidarity after the earthquake. I wiped out 10 minutes into the race, lost Emily for a quarter of an hour in a see of red shirts, and had a great time.

Life did not slow down afterwards. Emily and I arrived back to Talca that same night, dead tired, and the very next day I started school. After having been on summer vacation since November, it was time. And, surprise of surprises, I love it. I love all the people at school. They are nice and funny and interesting, and I love how easy it is now to make friends and be myself. What a nice change from when I arrived when my personality was characterized almost exclusively by the novelity of my height, my Asian eyes, and the fact that I did not understand Spanish. My new colegio is a Catholic school, a new experience for me. In general everyone is very accepting, and I'm enjoying the novelity of being taught by priests and learning the Lord's Prayer in Spanish. We've debated everything from gay rights and capital punishment to the definition of atheism and that the majority of U.S. citizens are not actually war-crazy with a tendency towards indifference.

*I ran out of time because I am headed to a cabin at Lago Colbun with Chanel, Emily, Camila, and her friends, so I promise to finish after this weekend!


On the 20th of April Emily and I headed once again to Santiago for the Matisyahu concert, with exchangers Connor, Cedar, Billy, Tim, Kelly, Andrew, Eric and Benny. Matisyahu is basically his own genre, but in general a reggae-hip-hop-orthodox-Jewish-rapper. It was a fantastic concert with fantastic people. The next morning a group of us went to meet with the U.S. Ambassador to Chile, in an embassy that screamed America. It looks like a bunker from the outside and the White House on the inside, and the woman who greeted us shook our hands. Shaking hands? What? It felt so incredibly awkward to not do the kiss on the cheek. However meeting the ambassador and getting to know more about that type of position was interesting. It actually made me want to find a different way to work internationally. Being in the foreign service obviously would allow you to travel, but I was left with the distinct impression that the Americans who worked in the embassy integrate very little into real Chile. Just from talking to the embassador it felt like we had a much better feel for the country, and it was unnerving that I felt more Chilean than American in that instance, and a lot more comfortable outside in the streets of Santiago than I did inside the formality of that embassy which, technically speaking, was American soil. It was a little warning in my brain that I need to at least attempt to prepare mentally for coming back home because it is going to be hard and it's going to be a shock.

It often makes me happy just to realize how I happy I am, and I don't mean that in an exchange-student-novelty-high kind of way. I have made so many good memories, am in the processing of making new ones all the time, and have so many to look forward to. I love my friends, my family, my school, what I do, the things I see and live. I went to a football (soccer) practice with my school's team, which was fun. The typical assumption is that South Americans are amazing at soccer, but really at least my experience has been that that only applies to the guys- they are the ones always playing during class breaks, while the girls talk, which is why I ended up absurdly being better at soccer than half the team, despite the fact I've never played, just because I am bigger, faster, and a hell of a lot more competitive. The last one is what makes all the difference I think. I couldn't dribble worth crap, but by gosh if there was a race for the ball I got there first. Another new activity is choir, which I am loving after having gone so long without singing. Now I have rehearsal with the University of Talca choir every Monday and Thursday with a bunch of music majors, and Tuesday and Wednesday with the Regional Theater Choir, where we are singing the Vivaldi Gloria ,much to my happiness, with who I've been told is the best director in Chile.

Another notable event would be when Jhoel from Bermuda, Tom from Canada, Aaron from the U.S., and I decided to climb a mountain in the cordillera of Santiago the weekend before last. 8 kilometers up and 6.5 down, and when I say up and down I mean it. Ok not like literally straight up and down but it was close. It's pretty accurate to say that we went without any real idea of what we were getting ourselves into (oh let's just run up a mountain kinda thing...). A nice little race that we thought we could tackle and be back in time for lunch turned into 4+ hours of muddy uphill trekking, but the views were so spectacular it was impossible to complain too much and even the pain enrichened the experience. And of course the free burgers that were being handed out once we reached the bottom, which we then went and supplemented with more burgers (a lot less free this time) at Santiago's most upper-class mall, Alto las Condes, wearing cross country cleats and running gear and covered in mud, but boy did it taste good. By the last bite we were all fading, so we slept on the metro/bus all the way back to Jhoel's house where we showered and head out again to Curicó, a city 2 1/2 hours south of Santiago, for Breno from Brazil's going-away party. The only gliche was when Jhoel and I fell asleep on the bus, passing Curicó, and ended up in the nowhere town of Molina 45 minutes away at 11:30 at night. However after the bus driver contained his laughter when we asked if we were in Curicó, he kindly directed us to where we could take aNOTHER bus to where we wanted to go, and it was worth it. Definitely one of the crazier nights I've had in Chile, but so much fun.

This past weekend in Lago Colbun was also some of the most amazing times I've had here, and made me not want to leave even more. Chanel, Emily, my host sister Camila, and a bunch of her university friends plus their friends/boyfriends went. There is nothing like spending time with such incredible people. We had more fun than words can describe, and I had some conversations and moments that I will remember forever. Some of that fun included a costume party the second night, highlights of which were Pippi Longstocking (Emily), Mother Nature (Camila), a drunkard (Mathias), a baby (Fusa's boyfriend, complete with diaper), Beyonce (Chanel), Catwoman (me), John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John from Grease (Esteban and Maca, complete with dance moves), a cavewoman, a pig, a make-uped Turk, and much more...

This weekend is Emily's going-away party and the despedida of two exchangers in Santiago. I cannot believe we have arrived at this time already. ¡Emily no te vayas!

Love love love to all

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


So here it is, my long-overdue post-earthquake blog entry.

For those of you who for some bizarre reason never watch television or read a newspaper or otherwise have contact with the world, or for posterity if they ever read this (which is kind of cool to think about), on February 27 at 3:34 a.m. Saturday morning, an 8.8-magnitude earthquake hit central Chile. A few of the numerous affected cities are Concepción, Constitución, Iloca, and Talca, my city. I was in Santiago outside of a disco with a bunch of exchange friends when the earthquake actually hit. We hadn't gone in yet because they wanted to charge us 5,000 pesos and so a couple people in our group were trying to get them to give us a discount for being foreign. Ha! So when it started to quake we all thought jee the music is really strong... well that assumption lasted about 5 seconds until the ground started rumbling, tiles started falling from the wall of the building behind us, and people started to run screaming through the door of the disco. Before the lights cut out I remember seeing the umbrellas of the patio tables across the courtyard whipping back and forth and the glass of the balcony railing rippling like it was going to shatter. I grabbed Andrew's and Billy's hands, who were standing on either side of me, and we just stood there until it was over. All of our group stayed where they were except Emily and Connor, who ran down to the ground floor. It was chaos for a couple minutes until we managed to get our whole group together and meet up with Emily and Connor. Everything closed right away and everyone else left. It was just our group sitting on the sidewalk. Public transportation shut down of course so we had no way to get back home, which didn't really bother us much- exchange students always find a way to entertain themselves. Now it is so strange to think that we were goofing off on the sidewalk at the same moment that the tsunami was hitting the coast.

We waited until sunrise, then went looking for a way to get back home. A few buses were running so our group dispersed and Emily, Andrew, and I were able to hitch a ride back to his house as per the original plan. I managed to talk with my host mom on the phone long enough to know that my family in Talca was ok though in general communication was a mess. But what really grabs my attention when looking back at those first hours after the earthquake is my overwhelming ignorance. I had never been in anything close to an earthquake before- I'm from Ohio, by God. I didn't know to worry that some people might not be ok, I didn't know to wonder about an epicenter somewhere else in Chile, and I certainly didn't know to think about the possibility of a tsunami.

As dramatic as it sounds the earthquake wasn't really that scary for me. In the moment, yeah of course, but I never thought I was going to die and afterwards we calmed down, saw that nothing really happened where we were, and therefore most of us just assumed that the rest of Chile must be fine too. It was a different story in Talca, being a lot closer to the epicenter. I believe in Santiago the earthquake was a magnitude 8. In Talca it was 8.5 and at the epicenter near Concepción it was 8.8. My host sister Camila woke up first and ran into her parent's bedroom- she had to scream at them to get out over the noise of the quake. They could see the pavement moving up and down like ocean waves and the ground was moving so much they couldn't get a firm footing outside.

There wasn't running water at Andrew's house but they had electricity so we could watch the news, the first idea we had of how serious things actually were. They were showing footage of the airport with the connecting walkways all collapsed and a video of Obama pledging the U.S.'s support in the crisis. We spent the day sleeping (Emily and I squashed into Andrew's bed haha), watching the news, and running outside whenever there was a particularly strong aftershock. Jorge, Marisa, and Fran (my first host family and now Emily's family) had been on vacation in Pichidangui, north of Santiago, so they drove down to take us all back to Talca. The closer we got to Talca, the more destroyed everything looked. A lot of the pedestrian bridges over the highway collapsed and the actual highway was damaged in a lot of places, so the normally 3-hour trip to Talca from Santiago took more than 5 hours. At one point it took us an hour and a half to detour a 10-kilometer stretch of damaged highway. We stopped in Rancagua to buy bread because from what Marisa and Jorge had heard, Talca was bad enough that we didn't know if we would be able to buy food.

We got into the city as it was getting dark and drove directly to my house to drop me off, so I couldn't really see what kind of shape the city was in. I live on a culdesac and as we entered you could see all the cars in the middle of the rotunda- no one wanted to sleep in their houses because of the aftershocks. Camila and Simon slept in the back of one of the cars, and Soledad (my host mom) and I in the other. Patricio said to hell with it, he wanted a good nights sleep, and slept in the house haha. I think he was probably the only one in the whole neighborhood. I tried to sleep and ended up outside the car listening to music and staring at the sky until 1 o'clock. I woke up when Soledad went inside around 7:30 in the morning. My cell phone rang a minute after- it was a representative of the U.S. embassy in Santiago calling to see if I was ok so they could inform my parents. They also asked for Emily, Chanel, and Matthew's numbers to try and reach them. Well color me impressed! Chilean Rotary hadn't even tried to contact me yet.

After we ate breakfast I was upstairs in my room picking up everything that had fallen over in the earthquake when a really big aftershock hit. Pato yelled ¨¡baja baja baja!¨ (¨get down get down get down¨) and we all ran for the door. There is a set of rickety wooden spiral stairs going up to my room and I swear that is the fastest I have ever gotten down them! I must have set some kind of record. But to be serious, that aftershock freaked me out a lot more than the initial earthquake. They feel so much worse inside- the noise! With all the nicknacks on tables shaking and the hats falling from the coatrack..aaah. I tried to run outside but Soledad grabbed me because supposedly it was safer under the front doorway than it would have been outside because of falling electrical wires.

It was hard to feel safe inside the house for a long time. In the first 48 hours, there were over 90 aftershocks. Sunday night almost everyone had gone back to sleeping inside. Camila and I were planning on sleeping together downstairs until we started saying things like ¨hm...well if we sleep in this room and there's an earthquake all those books are going to crush us...but if we sleep in this room this is going to happen¨ get the picture. Probably not a good idea, we just fed off each other's anxiety, but the point being that we ended sleeping outside in the car again haha. However the fact that it was so dang uncomfortable and that Camila's cat peed on us effectively cured me of my fear of sleeping in the house.

Over the next few days we went around Talca to see the damage, which was shocking. The center of the city is the worst. 90% of the old buildings in Talca collapsed or have to be demolished, and to give you some idea, a whole lot of the city is old buildings. The Universidad de Talca where my host dad works got hit really hard, and my host mom's private practice was really damaged. The top three floors collapsed completely and there's a huge piece of concrete hanging by a few metal enforcements. One of the upper offices was a dentist's, so when we went there were plaster casts of teeth scattered all over the sidewalk haha. The market looks like it was bombed, same thing with all the shops on the main street, and all the old churches in Talca have to be demolished. A lot of the church towers ended up crooked or hanging off. It's strange to see an undamaged building. 90% of Talca's commerce was destroyed, which means that a lot of businesses are closed still and won't open for a long time. For the first week it was just the supermarket Jumbo open, guarded by Army dudes with machine guns because of looting. A lot of people bought in massive amounts out of panic so batteries and candles went fast since the electricity still wasn't back, and there were huge lines at all the gas stations because people were afraid the gasoline would run out.

The Saturday after the earthquake I went to Constitución with my friend Gabby and a group that had organized to collect aid for the coast. Constitución was one of the hardest-hit cities because it is pretty close to the epicenter and it got smashed by the three tsunami waves after the earthquake. The destruction was hard to take in even though I knew I was seeing it with my own eyes. I saw a house where the waves ripped almost all the exterior walls away and wedged a boat into one of the ground floor rooms. We drove over the main bridge while they were looking for bodies in the river below. There was a ship sitting in the train station. The benches by the bus station where Alexis and her mom and I sat to eat ice cream were washed away- it was incredible. But it felt really good to help. The organizers of the group had had some contacts already but mostly we just drove around and passed out food and blankets and toiletry items wherever they were needed, which was basically everywhere. The idea was to go to the smaller little communities outside of Constitución where help hadn't arrived yet. We passed out absolutely everything right down to the packs of crackers we had brought for our own snacks and got back to Talca well after the emergency military curfew. I was going to go again with Emily the next Saturday but our host parents said no because Thursday there was a huge aftershock and they worried about us being on the coast in case of another tsunami alert or if the lines of communication went down again, which happens after every big aftershock. That Thursday Chanel and I had slept over at Emily's house and the aftershock woke us up. We ran upstairs to get Fran, our host sister, but it ended up she had gone with her dad to work so we just ran outside in our pijamas. It was kind of scary because we couldn't get the door open at first. :( But honestly by now I feel like the Mary Poppins movie in the part where the whole house shakes but everyone just keeps on drinking their tea and reading the newspaper. People have calmed down a lot because a conference of international scientists confirmed that the big aftershock that was expected was the one from that Thursday, so they should get smaller from here on out. Even so, it's surreal to realize that all of a sudden you are living in the middle of a natural disaster- it's been a month, but rubble still fills the streets. Even with going to Constitución right after the quake, it took me a long time to grasp.

Life in Chile continues to be amazing. I love my host family more than ever, am making new Chilean friends, and this weekend we will leave on the Rotary trip to the north. 11 days in a bus with 20 other exchange students! I cannot think of anything more fun. I'm also looking forward to starting school when I get back. We would all have started the first of March, but because of the quake it was postponed until April 5. I honestly feel like I woke up one morning and had hardly any time left here. Little more than 3 months! When did that happen? I have this strange mix of feeling like I never want my exchange to be over and being really excited to see my friends and family. Every day is a new adventure and I can't wait to see what else my exchange has in store. See you all this summer!

Saturday, January 30, 2010

fotos, fotos....

The photo-adding option on is irritatingly slow, so I am only posting a few photos, but the rest will make their way onto facebook eventually, I promise.

My U.S.A. family in Santiago

Two of my mothers

Street art in Valparaíso

Salto de la Leona, where we swam

first host sister Fran at my going-away meal- the cake says 'Hijitas Lindas'

I traveled all this travel some more.

January has been a very happening month. New Year's seems so long ago what with all the things I've gotten to do since then. After a quiet week at my new host family's house, I left with Camila, my host sister, and Juan Enrique for Isla de Pascua (Easter Island) or Rapa Nui as it is called in the actual native language. Juan Enrique is a friend of Camila's from university and it is his aunt and uncle who are living on Easter Island right now who we stayed with. We met him at the train station and traveled to Santiago where we spent the night at his cousin's very nice apartment in Bellavista, one of the neighborhoods of Santiago. Easter Island is super expensive, seeing as it is the remostest inhabited island in the world and everything has to be flown in or arrives on boat. Hence the need to bring all food with you, which we did in three huge suitcases. We broke out some canned ravioli for dinner in Santiago, which was very normal for me and a bit of a curiosity for Camila and Juan Enrique because there is much less of a culture of prepared foods- Chile's food is fresh- and therefore, in my opinion, infinitely superior. Canned? So not as tasty. I have not eaten one single microwaved meal since I got here, nothing canned except maybe hearts of palm, not one single frozen pizza or mac n' cheese in a box. It is fresh meat, freshly baked bread, fresh fruits and veggies picked this morning, fresh-caught fish, you name it. That really caught my American parent's attention when they were here, which is why they have commented that they are distinctly discontented with the food in the States after a week in Chile. It just does not compare. ANYWAY sidetracked is the term to cover it.

So we took our flight to Easter Island in the morning from the Santiago airport- 5 hours of nothing but the Pacific Ocean skimming by beneath us until suddenly a green island with sloping hills pops out of nowhere. I definitely want to go back someday for more time. It was amazing and I strongly recommend that everyone out there not only visit mainland Chile, which is a must, but Isla de Pascua too. We were very fortunate to be staying with people who lived there on the island instead of in a hotel because we got a whole other viewpoint. At Anakena beach we made friends with Moa, a Rapa Nui who invited us to his house for a curanto. Rapa Nui is the name of the island and also of the native people who arrived in boat from Polynesia thousands of years ago and constructed the Moai, the huge stone statues that Easter Island is famous for. Anyway he invited us to a curanto which is a traditional cookout where they dig a hole in the sand and put the meat with hot rocks and bury it, delicious. I can't quite describe what it felt like to be standing under the stars in the middle of the Pacific Ocean with real authentic Rapa Nui music being played by Moa and his friends, enjoying food and drink with Camila, Simon (her boyfriend), Juan Enrique, and a bunch of other Chileans who Moa had made friends with, and knowing that things like this only happen once. The generosity of the Rapa Nui was amazing. For instance one day Camila and I wanted to go horse-back riding while the guys went fishing, so Rubiecito (Juan Enrique's uncle who we were staying with) asked his neighbor, a Rapa Nui, about prices. We could have spent 100 dollars each for a few hours on a horse, but instead the neighbor got us horses for free and got his nephew to take us around the island, which is how we met John. He took us to caves that came out in the middle of huge cliffs on the ocean, and a the Cave of the Banana Trees where we walked in 5 inches of water underground to a hole in the cave ceiling where a single tree grows, poking out the top, and which John climbed up like he was walking up the front steps of his house even though it was huge, slippery, had only one branch to grab on to, and was covered with ants. We rode to one of the many Ahu, the name for the platforms that the Moai stand on and tried a fruit that we picked from the side of the road while riding which I did not like, but honestly tried to. A pretty funny thing happened at the beginning of the ride- we were riding down a random dirt road and a jeep passed us and I glance at the guy in the passenger seat and it's Connor! (exchange student from the States living in Santiago) So we stopped and exchanged numbers and chatted a bit about the pure coincidence of us being on Easter Island at the same time and on top of that being in the exact same place on the island, which really isn't that small. He was with his host brother who, it turns out in another coincidence, went to Ohio on exchange, so knew Columbus. Small world.

The next day, as promised, John took Juan Enrique and I out to surf...or attempt to. To justify my failure, it was a really small, fast board, the waves were freaky, and I have never surfed before. It was a blast nontheless. Juan Enrique got tired and gave up after the first 20 minutes so for almost the whole time it was just me and John, the former falling and getting cut up on the rocks and pounded by waves and swallowing seawater, the latter cruising along like something out of a Billabong catalog. My conclusion: surfing on Easter Island is a very violent, exhilarating pastime, and I was addicted much more quickly than is beneficial for my well-being. Many moments it was tempting to just lay my head on my board and rest, but that meant getting smashed by the next wave, so I was obliged to swim, and swim, and then wait until another big wave could smash me. It was a lot different than I had imagined it, but a lot more of an adrenaline rush as well. A wave would come and John would tell me where to be and I would hear and feel it charging at me from behind and all of a sudden my board was shooting forward like a bullet with me desperately trying to keep it in balance. The many times that I failed at the whole balancing thing, the result was being caught in the wave below the water and being flopped around like a ragdoll, all the while praying I don't hit a rock and mentally repeating to myself John's warning to not panic but just wait until the wave lets you go so you can surface for air. I did get to my knees on the board a couple of times before toppling, which I am actually pretty proud of, just as I was proud of my 'battle wounds' including a nice bump on my forehead (which I can still feel) from where a wave slammed the board into my head. Easter Island in general definitely left me with a more informed and considerably increased respect for the power of the ocean. John and I ended up having to get out because he cut his hand pretty deep on a rock (see, it wasn't just me), but all was better after some tuna empanadas after we met up again with Juan Enrique, Rubiocito, and Camila and Simon, who had been snorkeling. Without a doubt, a magical trip. I don't want to take all the magic out by telling you guys everything, so just take my word for it and go. Suffice it to say that I wasn't happy about having to leave early (Camila and Simon and Juan Enrique stayed for two weeks), though I was happy about seeing Tessa and my parents. I flew back on a Tuesday, getting in that night where the lovely Kim picked me up from the airport with her host family. I had dinner with them, then Kim, her host sister, and I went out with a couple of her amigos who contributed substantially to my ever-expanding vocabulary of Chilean swear words, much to their amusement. The next day, at the glorious hour of 6 o'clock, Kim and I got up to navigate the Santiago public transport system to the airport which included many metrostops and a bus. It was so great to see Tessa. She, Kim, and I hung around for about an hour and a half until the time when our parent's plane arrived, which is when the mild panic started because it took them an hour to get through customs which left us with the frightening idea that they had somehow missed their plane and we had no way to communicate with them. But it all worked out in the end, as it always does here, and the Maurer-Zia family was reunited once more. We all found it funny that they had to travel all the way to South America to get us all together, what with Mom still in Ohio, Dad in Mississippi with his new job, Tessa at Princeton, and me in Chile. Kim stayed at the airport to wait for the New Zealand exchangers who were arriving that day, and we took a cab to the hotel. It was neat that even though the hotel personnel supposedly spoke English, it was a lot easier to talk to them in Spanish, so I ended up doing all the arrangements.
We went to Parque Santa Lucia and walked up to the top for the view of Santiago, lost Dad for about 20 minutes, found Dad, and went to eat more delicious food. We also went to La Moneda (where the President works), and had dinner in Barrio Bellavista the first night with drinks in the Patio Bellavista, which is one of my favorite places in all of Santiago. It is basically a huge patio area filled with restaurants that have tables spread all over outside and it is packed with people and humming with energy at night.
On Thursday we took the bus back to Talca so that two of my families could meet each other. Pato and Soledad took us to a restaurant on the coast near Curicó, which was indescribably delicious. Seriously. I'm not going to try and describe it, I'm just going to say 'go there, eat the food, and you will want to move to Chile,' which is what happened to my parents. After lunch we went crossed the coastel mountains again to two lakes, one so populated by rich people that it is almost completely private, and another that is filled with swans, which was gorgeous. On Friday we went to Siete Tazas, which is a national reserve about an hour and a half from Talca that is breathtakingly beautiful. We climbed down to the Falls of the Lioness (El Salto de la Leona) and went swimming in crystal-clear water, the kind that is so cold it shocks your brain when you first get in, but also the kind that I was uncharacteristically tolerant of after having swum in the glacier river in Torres del Paine.
On Sunday we all went to my first host family's house for an asado. Sergio and Eva (Chanel's first host parents) were also there with their sons Nico and Diego, which was great because it was really like having all my families there together. Even though I never lived with Sergio and Eva officially I feel like they were my host family too since I spent so much time at their house and got to know them so well. Everyone had a great time at the asado. We had an epic water polo war, Dads versus kids, which was unsurprisingly violent for so many competitive people in one place. It was actually the first time I had seen my first host family since I left, so it was great. I had missed them.
On Monday just my parents and Tessa and I took a bus to Valparaíso, a gorgeous city on the coast that is most similar to San Francisco, but very unique too. We took one of the many old elevators the city is famous for up to a hill overlooking the whole city and the port. Valparaíso has the funkiest artsy vibe of any city in Chile, and every available surface is covered with graffity- not the ugly kind, the beautiful artsy kind. The whole city is a blaze of color. There is a section of houses in Valparaíso that is designated the 'Open Air Museum' because a lot of the artwork done on the streets and the walls there was done by Chilean artists in their youth who went on to become well-respected and famous. We also went to the house of Pablo Neruda, a Chilean poet who won the Nobel Prize in literature, is considered one of the greatest poets of the 20th century, and who's death in the early days of the Pinochet dictatorship turned into the first public protest of Pinochet's regime when grieving citizens flooded the streets against curfew. Unfortunately his house in Valparaíso is closed on Mondays (wank) but it was neat to walk around the area and read the poetry that is quoted on the walls of the nearby homes. That night we had another delicious meal overlooking the Valaparaíso harbor, and the next morning we were off back to Santiago so Tessa could catch her flight to Argentina. I spent the rest of the day with Mom and Dad going around Santiago- to the Artesan fair in from of Santa Lucia, where Dad bought a cuatro, a Chilean guitar, and then to the Precolumbian Art Museum. We had the 'Last Supper' at Patio Bellavista again, and the next day went to Parque Forestal and had lunch in Barrio Bellavista before I caught the bus back to Talca for Chanel's birthday party. Mom and Dad left Chile at 11 oclock at night back to cold, cold Ohio.
So that's been my life recently. It's nice being back in Talca, just hanging out with my host family and swimming in the pool and enjoying vacation. I have truly gotten lucky with my host families, I love them both so much. It is fun just to do normal stuff with them, like how I went grocery shopping with my host dad today and helped him pick out tshirts and gave him my honest opinion about a truly atrocious hat that he tried on that had us laughing the whole way home. It has been nice with my second family to be able to skip the awkward I-don't-know-what-to-do-no-entiendo phase, since I am so much more comfortable with the language and the culture than I was in August when I arrived. This week we are going to Chillan, a lake in the mountains with some friends of the family, and in a couple weeks Camila and I will go to the south where Pato and Soledad will join us later when they get back from their trip to Guatemala. It's going to be a shock when I have to go back to school. Though the way it looks right now I won't be in school much! March is when we go back, but that is also the month of the North trip with Rotary, and the month that Chanel's sister from the States comes so hopefully they will let me miss to hang out with her. May is when we want to take the trip to Macchu Picchu, and then June and July is winter and I have an invitation from the family friends I just met yesterday who want me to come to their winter house in Chillan to go skiing. Then I have to leave, which I refuse to think about. Emily might come over tomorrow to hang out and spend the night. Tonight we are going for dinner at a family friend's house. I bought 'The Kite Runner' in Spanish today, am reading Crepúsculo (Twilight) in Spanish (thanks Sarah!!!!!!!) and having my taste in music educated by Simon and Camila. Life is good. Life is incredible. Which is why the thought of leaving something that I know is so good isn't too pleasant. Anyway, I intend to enjoy it while I can.

Love to all. COMMENT.

Cuidense, les quiero. Esta experiencia nunca habria sido realizado sin ustedes.

Friday, January 8, 2010

well the times, they have a´changed.

Marisa, Jorge, and Fran came with me and all my luggage to my second host family`s house last night, where they had invited them to have dinner. When we pulled up to the house and got out I felt a bit like I was being abandoned. We went in, me dragging my mammoth suitcase with difficulty, and I met the family. Camila, my host sister who I`m going to Easter Island with, parents Pato and Soledad, brother Diego (couple years older than me, going on exchange to Australia soon), Nanita (Patos mother) and the wife of Rodrigo, who´s my other host brother who I haven´t met who lives in Santiago. They have an absolutely adorable baby boy of 8 months, he is precioso. It made me miss babysitting.
The house is amazing. It is all artsy twists and turns and angles, which is almost spooky because I had a dream last week that I had switched families and my new room was all angly and cool, which is how it actually is! I´m in Diego´s old room (they already kicked him out) which has its own spiral staircase and it´s a funky triangle-ish shape with stained glass and a wall mural and lots of windows and basically awesome. Oh and I have a balcony overlooking the patio and pool, which I swam in today. Right now Camila is setting up my new computer for me and showing me how to put illegally downloaded music on my ipod. Tomorrow we´ll hang out in the house while the padres go to Santiago to buy Chilean presents for Diego to take to Australia. Next week Camila and I will leave for Easter Island, on the 19th I´ll fly back alone, stay the night in Santiago with someone, hopefully Kim, an exchange friend, and then pick my parents and Tessa up at the airport! It´s so weird to think that they are already coming.

Hope everyone is enjoying the snow. Snow! I can barely remember it...

Love to all. COMMENT! Por favor.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

well the times, they are a´changin

It is 5:58 p.m. according to my clock, which means that in exactly two and a half hours I will be in my new host family´s house eating dinner with the family that will then be my old host family, and in approximately six hours I will be sleeping in the bed that will be mine for the next 7 months. It is so weird to see my room (which I really think of as MY room) all empty, ready for Emily to come. Well maybe not THAT empty, my packing skills are rather lacking, so I still have a few things pending...
I can´t believe I´m switching houses already! At first thought it seems that just a few weeks ago I was arriving, but when I think again I realize just how much I have done in Chile and how much I have learned and it does seem pretty long ago.

New Year´s was a blast. First we went to a family friend´s house and had dinner at about 11, then went outside and counted down with the radio and they popped streamer things and then everybody hugged everybody. Then we all ate 12 grapes each so we would have food every month of the year, and then we all got a piece of crystal wrapped in a bay leaf that we are supposed to keep the whole year for luck. Then we danced- everybody; young, not as young, and old! At about 2 Chanel and I went with Coti, the daughter of the family who we know from school, to ¨Elevate¨ which was a big New Year´s party/disco in Talca. Here, the quality of the New Year´s Party depends on the price of admission. Elevate was 13 luca or about 26 dollars, so that meant that better people went to it, meaning no nutters, or at least less of them. It still seemed pretty nuts to me! It was held in a stadium, to give you some idea of the size and the amount of people, considering it was jam-pack by 2 o´clock. Anyone could buy a ticket: you didn´t have to be over 18 (Chile´s drinking age) and yet there was an open bar. The only thing stopping underage people from drinking was a sign over the bar that said ¨drinks for over-18s only¨. How very effective. I danced to insanely loud music with an insane amount of people for an insanely long time. We left at 6:30, though the party wasn´t over until 7:30. It was an interesting experience to walk out to see the sun come up, and then go back to Coti´s house and sleep until 12 with my cigarette-smelling hair and my feet that probably smelled no better from all the booze that had been spilled on them. And the most bizarre thing of all? My host mom suggested I go! This is not normal behavior for her. I hadn´t even thought to ask if I could go. But she heard Coti was going and thought I would have fun, which was actually really touching. I know it worries her a lot to let me go to discos, which is why she normally doesn´t. Also it made me happy that she trusted me enough to go.

On Monday I went over to Chanel´s and hung out with her and Matt, who had already switched into her house on Sunday night. We played some epic basketball in the pool with Nico and Diego, Chanel´s host brothers.
On Tuesday Chanel and I took the bus to Santiago for the going-away party for the five exchangers leaving in January. Since they are all from the southern hemisphere (Brazil, Australia, and New Zealand), their exchange follows the calendar year. It was at one of the many parks in Santiago and it was just a blast. We talked and danced and then when the policemen on horses kicked us out after our time slot was up, we all took the bus into the city a restaurant. Chanel and I stayed the night and the next day at her host-aunt and cousin´s apartment. We went swimming with Fernanda (the cousin) at 1 in the morning when we got there. The next day, in a truly admirable display of good behavior, we went to two museums. After lunch at the apartment we went with Fernanda and her boyfriend to this train thing that goes diagonally up to where the statue of the Virgin Mary overlooks Santiago, which has an incredible view of the city. On the way back to the apartment I stopped for sushi to go, because it would be a crime to be in Santiago and not take advantage of the opportunity. Fernanda and her boyfriend sent us off from the bus terminal at quarter to seven. I ate my sushi on the bus while the attendant dude laughed at me and the little girl sitting behind us stared from over the top of the seat at me using chopsticks and talking to Chanel in English. But it was delicious even with all that and the fact that it actually wasn´t even good sushi, I am just severely deprived.
So today I´ve just been packing mostly. Matt and Chanel came over for a while and went swimming with Fran and me, and now I am looking at the clock and thinking wow I think time has something against me. We´ll see how it goes!

Love to all,
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