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.
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