Monday, November 29, 2010

Starting the goodbyes

Last thursday was my first Thanksgiving without my family. To be honest, as far as Thanksgivings go, it was disappointing. Cold traditional Thanksgiving food, mixed with salsa and Chilean food just doesn't cut it for me. Plus, 75° does not feel like Thanksgiving, and I really just wanted to be with my family.

Okay, enough with the negative. Since we are all away from our families, we had a Thanksgiving dinner with our host families at IES. It was quite the event. We all made food and dessert to bring, and we even had turkey. I made green bean casserole (a MUST HAVE for TG), and seeing as how Chile doesn't sell French Fried Onions in the supermarket, I had to make them. The work payed off though, and it was the hit of the night. We all arrived with our various foods, and began the event. Maricarmen got up and talked, Kevin and Ruth sang, a trio of girls sang, and then Pud sang his song for Chile, which also was a hit. It was hilarious and captured the essence of our entire trip. After he sang, I played the video/slideshow that I spent a few weeks making. (See the link below) I think people enjoyed it, and I'm pretty proud of it. After the video, we ate food, dessert and listened to the last words of some of our teachers. It was a meaningful and fun evening, and a nice goodbye from IES.

Santiago from the perspective of a 20-year-old

Although I didn't think about my parents' visit the way my title describes it, after speaking to my brother (he told me my parents said this when they described the trip to him), I realized this is a perfect description of the visit. Luckily for them, they had almost nothing to plan. Marco and I planned more than enough activities to fill all 24 hours of all 9 days my parents were here. The first day they arrived, I let them relax a little bit, and then we got to know the neighborhood a bit. I showed them my house, introduced them to my host family, and we had a fantastic dinner at a restaurant called El Divertimento. It sits at the base of the Cerro San Cristóbal, and has a great vibe. We all had different "Chilean" food and drinks. I had a papaya sour (which was amazing), and we shared a delicious bottle of Carmenere (the second of the day), and enjoyed ourselves immensely. My poor parents had to be subjected to the Hattie's-infinitely-long-winded-monologue, but I think we all enjoyed ourselves.

The next day, we had once with my host family and spent a lot of time laughing at each other's stories. I would like to point out that my parents speak essentially no spanish, and my host family does not speak much english. My host mom and dad understand some english, but my host brother, sister, and grandma understand no english. The point I'm trying to make is that I translated all the conversations that we had between the eight of us. It was tiring, but fun. After once, we picked up Marco and headed to the artesian fair, Los Dominicos. It was a very hot day, but we had a nice time exploring all the little shops. Although we only walked away with fresh juice in our bellies, it was nice to show my parents a part of the city that I enjoy. After the fair, we made our way to the stadium to see a game of La Universidad Católica. Fútbol is such a huge part of the Latin American culture, that I really wanted my parents to experience a game while they were here. Plus, Marco is a huge fan of La Católica, so it was a perfect opportunity to all be together. We made signs for the birthday of a friend of my mother's, since she is a soccer fan, and got a snapshot taken at the game.

After the game, we drove down from the foothills and tried to find a place to eat, and ended up at Eladio--a fantastically cheap and tasty restaurant. It is famous for meat, and we certainly enjoyed our food. We started with carpaccio and fried provolone and then moved on to the carne. My parents experienced their first Pisco Sours at Eladio, and man were they sour. 

On sunday, we went to Yerba Loca, a nature sanctuary, and hiked around. It was a perfect day, and it was nice to get out of the city and stretch our legs. When we came back down into the smoggy city, we stopped at Caramagnola, the pizza/bicycle bar, and had a refreshing beer. 

On monday, we hopped in the car and drove to Viña del Mar to take in the sun. We got there, explored a little bit, and then headed up the cerro to find a lunch spot. We ate at La Colombina, and had delicious seafood and a beautiful view of the sea. After that, I was able to find the same streets that I walked on with my program at the very beginning of my trip. I was excited about this because the street art in that neighborhood is amazing. (See my Valparaíso post from the beginning for street art photos!). On our way down from the cerro, we found some funny pieces of art and made my dad do some cheesy poses. When we got to the bottom, we realized that the hullabaloo we had noticed earlier was because THE capsule was being displayed in Valparaíso. Yes, the actual capsule that actually rescued the 33 miners. It was a cool surprise. We finished off the day at another artesan fair, and walked on the beach a little bit. 

Tuesday, we went on a bicycling wine tour. We got picked up in Santiago and driven out of the city a ways, and then hopped on some bikes and rode down a very pleasant, eucalyptus-tree-lined road, listening to our very happy, very chatty guide. I swear he knew everyone and everyplace to meet or go to in Santiago. We stopped at a larger vineyard first, had a tour and tasting, and then went up to a hill in the fields to eat a picnic lunch. It was windy, but very pleasant and the view was beautiful. After the picnic, we rode out of the vineyard, and started on the road again to the next one. I, unfortunately, gave up and rode in the van the last leg of the trip to the organic vineyard, but my parents pushed through and made it to the end. 

It was a great opportunity to get to know a different part of Chile, and to get some exercise! After we got back to the city, we had dinner with some long lost friends, and enjoyed catching up immensely. 

Wednesday, I had class but made my parents come to IES to meet and chat with my friends. It was so fun for my parents to finally meet all the people I've been telling them about for the last 3 months. I think my friends also really enjoyed chatting with my parents. I got lots of comments like, "You're parents are so funny!" "Your parents are so cool!" And I replied, "I know!!" I had to go on a field trip to the cemetery, so I sent my parents to the Plaza de Armas and the Precolumbian Museum. From what they said, it was quite the afternoon. My people-watching parents got to experience what it's like to be people-watched. I think mostly my mom got to experience this, since my dad can semi-blend in with his dark hair and eyes. I know exactly how my mom felt, since I felt like that the first 2 months in Santiago. We had dinner with my host family and once again, we laughed a lot, told a lot of stories, and I translated a lot. I feel like my families had so much fun meeting each other and getting to know each other (through my broken translations). I know it meant a lot to my parents to be able to spend time with my host family.

Thursday was a big treat for my whole family. We have been trying, for I don't know how many months, to get back in touch with a Chilean family that were very close to my grandparents in Illinois. We finally got ahold of them the monday that my parents were in Santiago, and arranged to meet up with them on thursday. We went to their very elegant apartment for lunch and I know they and my dad especially were overjoyed to reconnect and it was a funny and emotional afternoon. I had a great time finally meeting the people that I've heard about my entire life. 

Thursday night, we went to Marco's house so that my parents could meet his mother and grandparents. Once again, I spent the evening translating, (with minimal help from Marco) and we passed the evening very amiably. I think that we spent most of the trip talking with people, and more specifically people who mean a lot to me and/or my family. This is the best way to live, in my opinion, because it is a lot more meaningful to get to know a person rather than spend all your time traveling from place to place. 

Friday, we went to the Santa Lucía artesan fair, and then had a great last dinner with Marco at a restaurant called Tierra Noble. We once again ate carpaccio and fried provolone. I had kobe beef, Marco had duck, my dad had lamb, and my mom had tuna. We all had delicious desserts, and once again passed a very enjoyable evening. 

Saturday, we went back to Los Dominicos, relaxed a bit, and then took my parents to the airport. It was a sad goodbye, but I had such a fun time showing my parents around my new city, and I think they had fun experiencing it too. (Even if it was from the perspective of a 20-year-old!)

Monday, October 4, 2010

Amigos Chilenos

One thing that I am super excited about is making Chilean friends. It was really hard to do this for a while because I don't have very many classes with Chileans, I don't know where to go to meet Chileans that are my age that aren't creepy, and I don't know what the culture is like in regards to meeting new people. One night during spring break, some of us went to a Peruvian restaurant, suitably named Machu Picchu, to share our stories from the first half of the break. Some went to the Atacama Desert (featured in the Deserts portion of Planet Earth if any of you are interested), one went to work on an organic farm, and we told them about our adventures in San Alfonso. The food was amazing. I can't wait to go back and to take my parents when the visit. I had a shrimp dish that was delicious. I couldn't tell you what was in it but I loved it. My friend had this amazing beef dish, and the beef just melted in your mouth. Here are some pictures of the food. 

After we ate Peruvian food, we decided to walk up Manuel Montt and find a bar or club to dance in. While we were walking and chatting, I accidentally bumped into a girl, and after telling her I was sorry, she exclaimed "SON GRINGOS!" which means, "They are from the US!" I've never seen someone so excited to meet gringos, and she was very nice. We walked along talking to her and her friends, one of whom was essentially the Chilean Borat. He could hardly speak English, but insisted on it and asked me all about my travels in Chile. He inquired about a few places, none of which I had been to. When I told him that I had been to La Serena, he yelled at the top of his lungs "LAAAAA SERENAAAAA I LOOOOOVE THIS PLAAAACE!!!!!!!" I couldn't handle it. I was laughing so hard the entire time we were talking. Once we saw a place that looked fun, we told our new friends that we were going to head in there. They looked very sad, and so I said that they should come with us. They reacted, unsurprisingly, with extreme excitement. It was our lucky night. The girl got us all into the club for free by repeating to the door man, "These are my special friends" in English until he let us all in. And when one of our friends showed up late, she went to the door and again got him in for free by saying "This is my best friend" and smiling with here extremely red, glossed lips. She was the nicest girl ever, and we had a blast with her and her friends. I think Borat was a bit much for everyone, but it was an extremely entertaining evening. 
Amiga Chilena

The next day was friday, the day before Independence Day. My family had an asado (grillout, super typical for this holiday), and we feasted on beef, pork, and sausage accompanied with a coal-roasted onion and red pepper. At the time I didn't think I could ever eat meat again, but it was very very tasty. My friends and I didn't really know what to do that night, but after talking with numerous friends on the phone, we decided to meet up with one kid in our group because he was with his host brother's friends at Parque O'Higgins (O'Higgins Park). During the holiday, there are fondas there, which are basically like state fairs. Lots of food, lots of drinks, and a few people there to entertain us. When we arrived and met up with our friend, we were greeted by a series of swears from a mulleted Chilean. Most of us didn't really know what to think, but as the night wore on, we realized that he just likes to swear in English. We had a blast with the four Chileans, Marco, Andrés, Tiare, and Nagel, at the fonda, teaching each other swear words, eating empanadas and kabobs, drinking chicha (a sweet drink made with grapes, supposedly very alcoholic but I disagree) and terremotos. At one point we found a patch of grass and just sat around chatting. They were all so nice and funny. I was really excited to meet them, as you can see.  After the fonda, we headed to one of the Chilean's apartments, hung out there for a while and then went out searching for a dance club. Although we weren't successful at finding one, I had a lot of fun with my new Amigos Chilenos. 
Andrés, Vartan, and Marco 
The next day I got up "early" (aka about 10am) and met up with a friend who had been in Buenos Aires all week. She and I decided to climb the Cerro San Cristobal to start the Chilean Independence Day right. We exchanged stories from the week, discovered a little japanese garden, and then headed back to my house to partake in the food festivities of the holiday. We ate the most amazing empanadas I've ever had, and got ready for the party that night. We met up with some more friends and headed to the national stadium to see what was going on there. Unfortunately we missed the festivities there, but there was a big event going on inside and we watched for a while on a giant tv outside the stadium. While we were sitting here, some Chilean cops came up to us and started harassing us, accusing us of drinking in public (which, for the record, we had not been doing). I was pretty upset that they were doing this, since Chilean cops are reputedly very trustworthy, but I didn't let it ruin my night. After a while, our Amigos Chilenos came and picked us up to go back to Parque O'Higgins and spend another night at the fonda. Again, more eating, drinking, laughing, and talking. We ended the night at another of their apartments, talking and getting to know eachother around the dinner table. 

The next day, I got a call around 7pm asking me if I wanted to go to Viña del Mar with my friend from my program and some of our new friends. Of course I decided to go. We had a fun drive there, listening to reggaeton and laughing, as usual. We got to Viña, hung out in Andrés' apartment while waiting for his girlfriend and her friend to meet up with us. We all went out dancing at a club called Scratch, and had a great time.  
Mateo, Vartan, Dani, Andrés, and Marco

The Crew at Scratch
The next morning, we woke up to Andrés making us cheese sandwiches. We all got ourselves ready, and headed out to see the naval/air show. Viña del Mar is on the coast, and for the Independence Day, the navy and air force put on a big show. My camera died before I could get pictures of the show, but here I am with my new friends.
Me, Varti, Andrés, and Marco
Since this weekend, I have spent a lot more time with these guys and their other friends. I can't even express to you all how welcoming they are. Even though Andrés lives in Viña, he still calls me ever few days to see how everything is going. Vartan and I skype, practicing our English and Spanish and having very deep conversations. I refer to him as "mi mejor amigo" (my best friend) because he is so awesome. We actually met Varti a while ago at our friend's house since he's the friend of my friend's host brother. We talked to him for about 2 hours about how we need to travel and enjoy Chile. He's a very genuine person. And Marco is one of the nicest people I've ever met. My friends all agree that he's the nicest of them all. He seems pretty quiet at first, but once he gets talking, he's hilarious. They are all so funny and close with eachother. It's obvious that friendship here in Chile, at least with these people, means a lot more than what we think of as friendship in the states. I'm so happy and feel very lucky to have these guys as my friends. I know it's going to be hard to leave them all in a few months.

Spring break in September

Cajon del Maipo!
Hello my loving friends and family. I know it has been an INSANELY long time since I last posted, and so much has happened! I've just been so busy! I'm sorry, and here come some epic updates.

Me with our new dog-friend at the waterfall
Spring break was a blast, to say the least. The week leading up to the Chilean independence day, September 18th, we all had off and most people traveled. I organized a small trip with three other friends to a relaxing locale, Cajon del Maipo. We rented a big cabin from a preserve called Cascada de las Animas, or Waterfall of the Spirits. The cabin was a great size, and could probably have fit 6 people very comfortably. It had a fully equipped kitchen, towels, sheets, furniture. I wanted to move in. It was so peaceful and relaxing. We spent most of our time cooking and making up games. We didn't have any music, computers, internet, or any other forms of technology to distract us. We filled up our woodstove with crackling logs and relaxed in our cabin. The group of people I went with was perfect. The two girls and one guy that I went with made very good travel companions, and we created a nice little family for the three days we spent in San Alfonso. This tiny town was actually pretty sufficient for our needs. We bought almost all of our groceries in Santiago and carried them on our 1.5 hour bus ride (which by the way cost about $1.50), but we could have bought most things in San Alfonso. The town was full of amiable people, and the man who worked at the Mini-Mart became our friend, seeing as how we stopped in every time we passed to augment our food supplies. There did seem to be a rather large population of alcoholics, which while providing us with funny encounters, was pretty sad. Two days in a row we saw a pair of men (different) drunkenly buying beer from the equally drunk liquor store owner. One pair tried to give us directions in an indecipherable Spanish before driving off at an alarming speed. But back to the fun parts of the story!

View of the town. This is about the entire town.

Getting ready for Triolesa
The place that we rented the cabin from provided the opportunity for lots of activities. We elected a self-guided hike to the waterfall, during which we were accompanied by a dog pretty much the whole way. It was a refreshing hike that we did in the morning. Later that day we did Triolesa, or zip-lining. It was a blast, but I about peed my pants beforehand. I was terrified once I realized where exactly we would be triolesa-ing to. It was totally worth it though. I also decided to take a horseback ride in the Andes. I felt like this was a possible once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I couldn't miss. It was just me and a guide and his dog. Luckily he spoke English very well, and we had fun speaking in both languages. He was a tiny old man who didn't seem to understand my alarm at how small and sharp the trails were. At one point on the ascent, we had to stop so that he could remove painful stones from his horse's hoof. I was situated at a hairpin turn on a steep (obviously) hill. When we started up again my horse started to slip and fall back and I yelled out "OH _______" very loud. I thought I was about to have my leg crushed, but luckily that didn't happen. After that one little mishap, the trip was great. We rode up to a plateau that offered an amazing view of the mountains. I felt like I was nestled in a little bowl of the Andes, with alternating tree and snow covered peaks filling up my view. The guide pointed out and named all the peaks for me (of course I couldn't tell you any name now), picked eucalyptus leaves for me to smell, and showed me one mountain-line that looked like the profile of a face looking up to the heavens. It was an awe-inspiring ride. 

Like I said, we spent a lot of time cooking, which was great. I miss cooking so much and was happy to spend most of the days as the chef. We made chiliquilis (a Mexican dish with meat, eggs, cheese, sauce, and tortillas), burritos, a big breakfast scramble/omelet, grilled ham and cheese sandwiches, and pasta with red sauce. Pretty much every dish had chorizo incorporated into it somehow, along with tomato, green pepper, onion, and lemon. All very tasty! All in all it was a fun relaxing trip, and it was great to get out of the city into the fresh air. 
Our dog-guide on the hike to the waterfall

Friday, September 10, 2010

Dancing disaster

Seeing as how I am living in Chile, I feel that Salsa lessons are almost a must. Last week one of my friends surprised me with a call to see if I or anybody else would be interested in taking some dance lessons for pretty cheap, and I agreed. It only ended up being myself and two of my guy friends who signed up. So yesterday at about 4pm, we met up to grab a quick beer before our first class. I actually had a fanschop which is orange Fanta and beer. While this sounds terrible, it's actually a delicious, semi-sweet afternoon drink. It was sunny and warm out, so it was a perfect day to sit outside sipping cool brews. The men who worked at the little diner we decided upon were incredibly nice. They were the epitome of good service and made sure we new all of our options for eating and drinking.

After we finished our schop's, we headed over to the metro where we were to meet up for the lessons. We only found two other gringos, but after waiting for a while we called the organizer, and made our way to the studio(?). I'm not sure one could actually call it a studio, it was more of a huge run down house filled with artsy, poetic looking people and walls covered in posters, bright peeling paint, and sheets instead of window panes. Anyways, more people finally show up, and we get to dancing. We all practiced the basic steps, and got ourselves ready to dance with partners. There were more guys than girls, so we all lined up so that we could switch partners easily, and everyone would have a chance to dance with everyone else. Most of the guys could dance pretty well, and those who couldn't had a good sense of humor about the awkwardness of the situation. There was one (isn't there always?), however, that was the absolute worst. He could not dance, was sweating profusely, I mean absolutely dripping, and refused to get pointers. I tried nicely explaining to him what the right steps were, and the teacher came up to him multiple times to point out his not so minor errors. He just kept doing what he was doing wrong, periodically wiping the sweat off of his forehead, then replacing his sweaty hand in mine to continue our disastrous attempt at salsa. Any time I said anything, he would semi-shout, "JUST STOP, OKAY? I'M THE GUY!!! I'M SUPPOSED TO LEAD! JUST STOP!" For those of you who don't know me too well, I do not react well when men try to dominate or control me like this. I do understand that in salsa, the male traditionally leads. This, however was over the line. I kept my peace, however, until the end of the lesson when I blatantly explained to my friends that if Mr. I Can't Dance To Save My Life told me what to do again, he would not leave until I gave him a piece of my mind.

Even with my failed dance partner, I had a great time at the lesson, and am looking forward to the next one!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Getting out of the city

Getting off the plane

So here we are! Arriving in La Serena, about an hour's flight northwest of Santiago. We had a whole trip planned and mostly paid for by IES, which was great. All the students from our program went on the trip, along with one of the directors of IES and the student advisor. We got up early early and arrived at IES at 7:30 am, headed to the airport, and went through security to the gate. By the way, security consisted of throwing one's bag on the belt, walking through, and going to the gate, handing them one's ticket, no ID, and getting on the plane. We then flew to the smallest airport I've ever been to. As you can see, we exited right on to the tarmac. It was like being a movie star! The weather was fine, and we were ready for an adventure. We hopped on the bus, well we really crowded ourselves onto the bus and prepared for a bit of a drive. The scenery was absolutely beautiful, and as we drove the clouds cleared and we were able to see more and more of the countryside. This general area is famous for how beautiful it is. It's right between the Andes and the Pacific, but also pretty close to the desert to the north. This makes for a great mix of vegetation. Lots of green in some areas, more cactus-y in others, along with blue sky and mountains wherever you are. Even though we were all tired, the warm sea air was rejuvenating, and I think we all felt the change of scenery start working on us immediately. 

After a bit of a bus ride, we stopped in the municipality of Coquimbo and learned a little bit about the area from some people who work there. It was pretty interesting and it was cool to get a local perspective on education, healthcare, and what it's like to live in the Elqui province in general. After this we went to a lookout point on some dam. It was gorgeous! By this time the day was getting hot and we were all happy to be walking around outside. Although it was a man-made lake, it was still beautiful and the mountains were so peaceful. One of my friends and I were a little slow compared to the rest of the group. We walked around and chatted, taking pictures and taking in the scenery, while the others were waiting to get a group shot. Whoops! After we took the group photo, we headed back to the bus. There were a few cheesy souvenir shops along the way, and while I had no interest in buying stuff from them, I stumbled upon a beverage stand that had papaya nectar. I bought one since it was so dry out, and my throat was parched. I took a drink and the liquid truly reflected its name: Mágico del Sol (magic of the sun). It was delicious, refreshing, and sweet. It had aloe in it too which had a very slight cooling effect and made for a tasty treat on a hot day. 

Next we drove around for a bit longer, but stopped at a little shop on the side of the road that sold papaya products. They had papaya marmalade, syrup, nectar, juice, along with dried and cooked papaya. It was like stepping into heaven! I got some dried papaya, some marmalade, and another nectar for the road. We were all feeling pretty happy after trying the dried fruit, and some of my friends played outside on a playset. It was great seeing everyone act like kids again. Being able to let go of responsibilities and stress and just play is rare, but wonderful when it happens. There was a little field of beautiful flowers and some of us picked them to put in our hair. 

Even though some people made fun of us and called us hippies, we felt good about our new adornments. When we got back on the bus, one of my groupmates asked me, "Hattie, what are you going to give back to the earth?" reminding me that I can't just take from the land without returning something to it. I plan on planting many more times the flowers that I pick, and it was good to have that little reminder.

After we were satiated with papaya, we headed to our lunch destination. I believe it was at one of the Mistral vineyards, but wherever it was, it was delicious and beautiful. We had little rolls and salsa to start with, then a salad made of lettuce, carrot, tomato, and avocado. Our main course was either pork or steak with mashed potatoes. I went with the steak and it was great. Pink, juicy, and tender. For dessert we could choose between papaya or almond-crusted chocolate cake, and since I had my fill of papaya earlier I opted for the chocolate cake. It was cool and creamy, and the strawberry sauce was a perfect addition to the cake. Since we had some time to kill and it was such a beautiful day, we played outside around the restaurant for a while before getting back on the bus.

After the lunch, we made our way to the pisquera named Los Nichos. They make completely organic Pisco, the liquor that Chile is famous for. We took a tour and tried the piscos, which were great, and heard lots of stories from the tour guide. Supposedly, the guy who owned and revolutionized the pisco-making process around the turn of the century had a rule: if you came to drink with him, you had to enter standing up but leave on your back. Sounds like he was quite the rowdy guy! Needless to say, it was pretty cool to tour the only organic pisquera in Chile. 


In the process...
After the tour, we made our way to another town which I don't remember the name of, and had dinner at a quaint restaurant. We had a great salad, similar to the one at lunch but with ham in the avocado halves. The main course was a chicken thigh/leg with rice. Simple, but the service made the night. The people there were incredibly nice (I referred to them in my previous post), and were the definition of helpful. For dessert, we had a traditional Chilean dish which was two dried then soaked peaches in a peachy, cinnamon liquid with barley at the bottom. It was sweet and refreshing. After this, we drove to La Serena, picked up two guides and began our trip up to the observatory. The stargazing in this part of Chile is supposed to be some of the best in the world, and the drive alone proved this to be true. Looking out the bus window, I could see the Milky Way, which was a first for me. I've never seen so many stars. I wanted to cry it was so beautiful. The night was cool and dry, and the sky was breath-taking. After a short presentation, we went to the telescopes. Our guide pointed out different stars, planets, and novas and we all got a chance to look through two different telescopes. I preferred to lay down on the ground and just look at the sky rather than listen to a lecture about who discovered what, and did so. As the moon was rising I ran a little ways up the mountain and watched it finnish its ascent. It was an amazing night. We drove back to our hotel (this was our first arrival there....) and arrived at about 12:45am. Knowing full well that we had to get up early, my roomies for the weekend and I went to bed immediately.

Saturday we got up, well I got up early to shower and get ready for breakfast. We headed down to eat what ended up being a breakfast consisting of endless baskets of toast and plates of ham and cheese. Don't forget the instant coffee! It was a satisfying breakfast, and as usual the people were super nice. We all stocked up on fresh fruit and headed to the bus. We rode for about 2 hours to reach Punta de Choro, where the Humboldt Penguin preserve is. On the way we got to see LLAMAS! So awesome. Supposedly these kinds of llamas don't come down to that part of the land often. They are usually higher up. Either way, I'm glad I got to see them.

We arrived at Punta de Choro and the day was shaping up to be pretty gloomy, but we had fun exploring anyways. We had a little bit of a surprise, however. When we tried to drive into the town, there was an inordinate amount of policemen who stopped us to ask why we were entering the town. After explaining that we were visiting the preserve, they let us go through and explained that President Piñera (the president of Chile) was coming to the town in a few hours. For those of you who don't know (which is probably most since Chilean news doesn't seem to reach the rest of the world very fast), there has been a big debate about installing a thermal energy plant at Punta de Choro. The problem with this is that the plant would pump hot water into the ocean, which would essentially wipe out the wildlife there. The only reason why so much wildlife exists is because of the Humboldt current, which brings very cold water to this area. Obviously, a thermal energy plant would affect this. 

Anyways! We get to the town after hearing the news, and walk around on the beach, chat, find snacks, and wait for the President to arrive. One of my friends had a little accident...he was walking around on the rocks in the ocean and managed to fall in, completely soaking everything he was wearing. He and our program director went on an adventure to find him dry clothes. They walked about a mile outside of the town before they found anyone. A store that sold pretty much whatever you need, plus empanadas and beer, that also functioned as a restaurant was kind enough to help out my friend. The guy who owned it lent him dry clothes and offered to dry the wet ones. Funnily enough, the t-shirt my friend borrowed said what translates to "My first father's day," which we all thought was hilarious. He had a great sense of humor about it, and was pretty happy because the store told us to come back later for empanadas, which we all agreed sounded like a great idea. On top of that, the day turned out to be gorgeous and warm, once again. 

After waiting for a LONG time, the President finally arrived. We all waited as he approached the dock, and when he arrived with his group of people I (being the Hattie that I am) put myself right in the front and met Piñera. I hugged him and kissed his cheek in the traditional Chilean style, and he did the same for me. Although he is conservative, and I do not agree with a lot of his actions, I met him and listened to his speech. 

After his speech (full of lies), we had a little lunch and waited for our turn to go out to the reserve, which is on an island. The president was there for a while, so we weren't sure when we would be able to take boats out there. Then we got the worst news of the whole trip: we couldn't go see the penguins. The waves had gotten too big and since we had to wait until the president got back, we wouldn't be able to go. This was a pretty huge bummer since most of us went on the trip to see penguins in the first place, and I admit I threw a bit of a fit (and apologized for it later). Thankfully we had empanadas and beer to cheer us all up. And they did! I personally had shrimp and cheese, and tomato ham and cheese empanadas. They were homemade and tasted like it. We also met some nice policemen who agreed to take a picture with us ladies. After all the food and beer, we were very sleepy and enjoyed the opportunity to nap that the bus ride afforded us. 

Even though we were all extremely tired, we still managed to go out and hit the bars. We had Terremotos (which means earthquakes). These are made with white wine, sometimes pisco, and a couple scoops of pineapple ice cream. This bar put in different flavors to make them pretty colors too. We had a lot of fun turning one place into a dance club, even though it really wasn't supposed to be. We ended the night in my room with pizza and hung out watching TV for a while. I was the first to fall asleep, and did so feeling less bitter about the penguins than I expected. 

Sunday was a pretty easy day. We got up, had a similar breakfast and got ready to head to the beach. On the way we stopped at an artesian fair/fish market and browsed for about an hour. After that we went to the beach, played in the water for a bit, and then headed to the most gaudy casino/hotel for lunch. It was a tasty buffet with lots of options, but the atmosphere was pretty snobby. Even though we ended the weekend here, it was still a blast and I am so glad we had the opportunity to go to La Serena. I might even go back to see the penguins!  

We ended our sunday driving along the beach back to the airport, and it was a great view to top off a relaxing weekend. 

My universe is so big right now!

One of my new favorite activities is striking up conversations with interesting people wherever I go. One day my friend and I were bored at the IES center, and everyone else was in class so we decided to go on an adventure. After sitting around on our computers for a bit, we decided to go to Plaza de Armas and walk around. Coincidentally, there is a photography mini-museum in the metro station at the Plaza, so we explored that for a bit and the went up to the actual plaza. We walked around for a while, passed an incredible amount of thrift shops, found a part of town we had never been to before, and then worked our way back to the Plaza. It was refreshing to get kind of lost and not worry where we were going. Just to go! Once we got back to Plaza de Armas, we meandered around the art stands. For some reason, a lot of painters always gather in this locale and try to sell their art. Also, there seems to be a lot of african-inspired art. I'm not sure if this is because there are very few black people in Chile, or what. Whatever the reason, it is very interesting.

We came across a man in a camouflage hoodie, dirty jeans, with one of the most content, smiling faces I've ever seen. He was a bearded man and was working on a very abstract painting at the time, but what caught our attention was one particular printed painting thing that was a woman sitting at a table, holding a glass of milk and resting her head on her other hand. Her head, though, was the head of a cow, and her breasts were the teats of a cows udder. It also seemed like there was an explosion of blood coming from behind her head. It was pretty strange and I didn't really get the message. We asked the artist what the painting was saying, and at first he just tried to explain to us the material upon which it was printed, but I made it clear that I really wanted to know the message of the piece and then he enthusiastically explained to us that it had to do with consumption: the cow is holding a glass of her own milk, and this reflective of society; it also had to do with eating meat, as the artist is a vegetarian and has been for about 15 years. He also showed us other pieces that were essentially landscapes, but everything was made of garbage. There was one with a bird standing on top of a hill and the bird is formed from a bunch of garbage all compressed together, and the hills, the river, etc. are all made of garbage. The best thing about this guy was how much he smiled. He asked us about ourselves, where we are from, why we are in Chile. And we asked him about his life. The entire time he was smiling. It was a great interaction and I enjoyed it a lot.

This weekend our entire group went to La Serena and Valle del Elqui. It was beautiful, and I had lots of beautiful interactions with people. It seemed like all the people from this area were super-amable (super nice). The women who worked at the restaurants and at the hotel were so nice, called us all "mi amor" or "mi niño" (my love, my child) and made us feel very at home. We went to Punto Chorro and I noticed these two men were taking pictures of me and filming me. I felt pretty creeped out until I noticed they also filmed and photographed my friends as well. I went up to the photographer and struck up a conversation with him, asking him if they were reporters. He said yes, and we proceeded to have a great conversation about Chile, the upcoming independence day, and politics. He also was super-amable and seemed genuinely interested in my experiences. It's kind of funny, whenever I speak with Chileans, they ask my why I would choose to come to Chile. When I explain to them, they then ask me what I think of people here. I tell them that people in general are nice and helpful.

As my mother put it so well, my universe is so big right now. And I love it!