Thursday, July 14, 2011

Anniversario! Eh eh eh!

Dios mio!  Where has the time gone amigos?!  At this time last year it was my first official day having arrived in Chile for my six month adventure.  My nerves were unreal but I quickly bonded with an amazing group of individuals with like minded spirits who set off on the same adventure as me.  This adventure proved to be the best decision I ever made and Chile will always be a huge part of who I am.  The amazing people I met, my special students, the adventures I had, the family that took me in and made me feel welcome into their lives all have such a special place en mi corazon.  So as a celebration of my anniversary and missing my home away from home, I wanted to post some of my favorite photos and memories from Chile and Argentina (a few photo creds to some fellow vols).  Viva Chile!!

Street Dogs in Coats

Bicentennial Celebration at my school

Fireworks for Bicentennial

Boat trip with one of my classes

Mil Tambores Festival in Valpo

Just another incredible mural in Valpo

Visit to the Capsule that Saved the 33 miners with some of my students

Memorial in Santiago for all the missing people during Chile's dictatorship

My first hostel when I arrived otherwise known as Club Ice Box.  Notice our full winter wear sleep attire.  No central heating = friooooo

Martina's just one of the girls 
This is the first time we were reunited after our placements.  Our excitement seemed to overcome oncoming traffic.

Chorillana - A french fry carrete
Dune Surfing in ConCon
At my fave Vina night club.  Homer did not speak a lick of English but as you can see he's speaking the language of love and I am not having it
Weekend Getaway in Montecillo

Mendoza post paragliding off the mountain, local kids surrounded us with curiosity of the gringas

Graffiti Hunting in Valpo - 80s Music Video?
My host family striking a pose
Sunset in Zapallar

Perito Moreno National Glacier in Argentina (and some Whiskey on the Glacier Rocks)
Canyoning in Puerto Varras and repelling down a 100 foot waterfall!
Torres Del Paine - the most beautiful place on earth

Friday, December 24, 2010

I will have the Red Curry...Gracias!

Merry Christmas Eve!  I've been back a few days and I'm slowly but surely adjusting to not being in South America.  I'm trying to switch my brain back to English.  I've had a few slip ups with flight attendants and restaurant servers where I've said something in Spanish and I just get a blank stare - like what is wrong with that girl?  The time difference hasn't been so bad (5 hours!) but I'm mostly worried I'll begin to forget my day to day life in Chile. I do feel refreshed being back, positive and most importantly relaxed.

I'm still planning on writing a post on my last week in South America including Buenos Aires (and my Antique store debacle) and my sweet, last few days in Valparaiso.  In the mean time, I'm excited to share an article I had published on a women's travel Web site, Pink Pangea.  I've written articles for clients before but I'm thrilled and nervous that it is all about moi!  Enjoy and Happy Holidays!

Stepping Outside My Comfort Zone: Canyoning in Chile

Here are a few photos from our waterfall adventures!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Travel Frenzy to The End of The Earth and Back - Greetings!

Greetings from the dazzling city of Buenos Aires!  I appologize for the lack of posts but these last weeks have been hectic bouncing from city to town with the hopes of snagging a computer for a few minutes at a hostel.  On that note, I´m on my final travel countdown right now.  I´ll return on December 19 and I have to admit leaving South America breaks my heart a little bit or a lot.  That and the reality that playtime is over and it´s time to get working (although teaching was super hard).  But I´m excited to see family and friends. 

So anyways back to business, let´s talk about some of my travels.  Buenos Aires is a beautiful city (and gigantic with 13 million people) full of fashion, food and architecture.  Most people compare it to European cities and it is - and also much more expensive than other cities in South America.  I can understand why so many people fall in love with BA. 

Unfortunately, I can´t chat for long though because I´m off to reinact the Evita scene (photos to come) in the centro.  Here´s a little recap about where I´ve been and what I´ve been up to these last three weeks.

1.  First stop Santiago - I wrapped up my program with a formal ceremony at the United Nations.  We had a few days in Santiago and it was surreal to be back where it all began.  My friend Ian arrived a few days later determined more than ever to try a Terremoto and eat Chorillana (that didn´t happen until his last night traveling with us in Chiloe jaja).

2. The end of the earth - A group of us girls (plus Ian) flew to Punta Arenas which is at the end of South America in Patagonia and traveled up to Puerto Natales, which is sort of like a gateway town to all of the awesomeness there.  We took a day trip to the giant, active glacier, Petito Moreno in Argentina, which was awe inspiring.  The boat was up close and personal with the giant, I mean GIANT glacier that was crackling and falling into the water.  It looked like a scene from Lord of the Rings.  Once back we plotted our journey to Torres Del Paine, an incredible national park that pretty much everyone in Chile talks up.  Lucky for us it lived up to the hype.  Giant spikes of mountains, turquoise lakes, waterfalls - everything in Torres Del Paine feels like the size and colors are heightened to a grand scale.  I´ve never scene anything so beautiful.

3.  We bounced from the South, South to a small island off of Chile called Chiloe.  It was a perfect rest after being so extreme.  The island is lovely, green and tranquilo.  The local artisans knit wool everything (look out because some lucky family members might just get some wine bottle fashionwear).  Ian set off on his way to Valpo -  my favorite city in Chile and my home for the last five months.

4.  Off to Puerto Varras, we started making our way up North.  Still considered Patagonia, Puerto Varras is a lovely mountain town with German influence.  It´s set below two giant volcanoes and a large deep blue lake.  I don´t want to say too much because I´m writing on article (fingers crossed) on this town for a Web site but let´s just say it was one of my favorite traveling memories and probably the most extreme.

5.  Valdivia was next on the list and finally we could peel off our layers as the weather was much, much warmer.  Valdivia is a larger city and although I liked it, I missed the small feel and natural beauty of our stops.  We went to a brewery, shopped and just sort of recharged.  Like the final episodes in Real World some of the group started saying their goodbyes. 

6.  Back to Santiago on a 12 hour bus, one night of rest, early morning bus to Buenos Aires, 21 hours on the bus and here I am. 

What a run but I´m still loving every moment.  Will try to update you soon.

Chao, Chao!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Why I Love My Students

Sum-sum-sum-summa-time (thank you for the song, Will Smith) is in the air down here.  I feel the restless energy building in my students as the carefree days of vacation can't come soon enough.  I on the other hand, have turned into a sentimental sap in my older years.

I have less than two weeks left with my high school and my heart drops when I think about leaving my alumnos.  They are the funniest kids - although often inappropriate - I have ever met.  Everyday they are shouting out "hello" and "How are you?" from the halls, windows and down the street.  A daughter of one of the teachers told me yesterday that my school is extremely territorial and if they decide they like someone, they look after them.  I keep thinking about that thought and I just can't say how proud I am of my rowdy, smart, incredible students.  Here are some scattered memories from that last few weeks that make me smile - 
  • Regalos Para Mi:  I am now sporting my embroidered "Jennifer" bracelet that some of my freshman girls gave me (the school is about 90 percent males). They also asked to take a photo with me and later handed me a printed copy.  They run into my classroom everyday and like to walk through the center of school with linked arms.  They are the sweetest girls...
  • Mod Squad:  This week some of my boys told me that they did not like my hot pink nail polish, Mod Squad, because it looked like Maestra Barbie and black would look much better.  
  • Sweep the Leg:  Some of my favorite students flagged me down.  They had competed in a Tae Kwon Do competition and brought the medals to school to show me.
  • Jersey Shore, corrupting kids and teaching English worldwide:  I had an extensive conversation about Jersey Shore (in English, yeah) and how Snookie, despite being Chilena, is NOT good looking or classy.  
  • Miss Anime:  I was given an anime drawing of myself - which I must admit, I've never looked better.  I'm wearing a fur coat and mini skirt.
  • John Travolta:  One boy, Jonathon, signed his name, Jonathon Travolta on a poster we created.
  • Chewy Calls:  I had to tell one of my classes, "Wookies, stop the Chewbacca calls."  Seriously, could I have more perfect students for me?  Little do they know my love for Chewy calls.
  • Musical Mosh Pit:  My recent musical chairs game turned into musical mosh pit - complete chaos.  They were participating so well umm, I let them play some death metal and just tried to embrace the chaos.  
  • Little Romeos:  I recently went on two field trips and both times the boys scaled down hills to pick me flowers.  

These are just a few things that have made me LOVE my school and students.  They are special kids and as I mentioned to some, I sometimes wonder if I have learned more from them than vice versa.  So on that note, here is a little musical enjoyment for your day courtesy of Journey and my very hilarious English workshop:

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Ale-ale-jandro and The Snack Stand Lady: Making Extreme Dreams Come True in Mendoza

We arrived at our hostel in Mendoza in a daze after an unexpected and monstrous 20 hour bus ride.  Normally, Valparaiso to Mendoza, Argentina should take around 8 hours.  Imagine my disappointment after falling asleep at night and thinking we were almost there when I awoke in the morning.  Hardly, the bus was stopped the entire time at the base of the Andes because of a snow storm.  Aaaacckk. 

My dreams of riding through the vineyards on a wine tasting, bike tour were crushed as they were closed by the time we arrived and like most towns in South America, Mendoza turns into a ghost town on Sundays.  So there we were talking to our cute, hipster hostel owner asking what we could do and trying to stay positive.  Horse back riding?  Nah, already did that.  That's when Maureen pointed to a parachute on a wall and said "maybe this?"  My first was response was NO WAY JOSE.  I'm not paragliding off a mountain in South America.  I've never been interested in bungee jumping or sky diving.  Well, after some convincing and the other girls were in, I realized why not?  It's once in a lifetime experience.  This brought me to my second problem, I didn't bring tennis shoes.  For once in my life, I tried to embrace the backpacker's mantra and pack super light.  Big mistake, big big mistake.  I'll never do that again.  After testing out the girls' shoes, I settled on sharing boots with Kristy since only three could jump off the mountain at a time.  Crisis averted (at least I thought).

The tour company picked us up in two cars - one which required us to sit in the back of a pick-up truck.  Well, at least it had seats.  That same car would later take us up the rocky, dirt trail to the top of the mountain.  While waiting at the base, I quickly realized the timing wouldn't work to share shoes.  We all brainstormed my options - A.  put my socks over my flip flops  B. Tape my flip flops to my feet and perhaps put my socks over my flip flops C. Not go.  That's when I noticed the woman working at the snack stand and my eyes focused on her tennis shoes.  I innocently asked her if I could borrow tape for my feet and explained my situation trying to give her the saddest look possible.  My trick worked and she offered to trade shoes.  I know, I know, it sounds gross but really I had no options.  So there I was wearing the snack stand lady's tennis shoes that were 3 sizes too big for me, skinny leg jeans and my J. Crew cardigan ready to propel myself off of a steep cliff.  EXTREMA!

Three of us set off up the steep mountain with our guides bouncing around in the back of the dusty truck.  The jokester of the group told us it was his first time and that he was just a little drunk.  Well, guess who got stuck with the drunk beginner?  We were up first and the wind was whipping around.  I was instructed to essentially run off the mountain with him and the parachute would take flight.  After two very unsuccessful attempts that dragged me across the dirt and bruised both of my arms, my nerves were at an all time high.  Then the wind stopped and we stood for a good 10 minutes just waiting.  Were these all signs that I wasn't supposed to go?  I was second guessing my extreme decision.  Just then he said run and the wind quickly caught us and before I knew it we were floating high above the mountains.  It was breathtaking as the sun was slowly making its way down. 

Suddenly I realized how my life was in the amateur hands of my drunk guide and I should probably know his name.  Alejandro!  The rest of the time, I couldn't get Lady Gaga's Ale-ale-jandro, Ale-ale-jandro, Alejandro, Alejandro out of my head as we soared around like a bird.  It was incredible and calming as we floated around the sky past the tall mountains.  Just then he began doing spiral tricks and after yelling "NO ME GUSTA, NO ME GUSTA" he quickly stopped.  Of all things, I felt slightly sea sick but tried to ignore it.

Now it was time for landing and I was fearful after the rough take off.  Luckily, it was easy breezy.  My feet gently touched the ground and I was reunited with land.  I made it.  Pheewwww.

What an incredible experience.  Although, I don't think I'll be signing up for sky diving lessons anytime soon.   Here are a few photos (photo cred to Lauren since my camera wasn't working).

My extreme gear - my purse went with me too

I think that's Maureen but that's what it looked like while in the air
The mountains near sunset

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Headin' Norte

After a minor blogging hiatus, I've returned.  So my loyal fans can relax, because this traveling chica's back.  These last few weeks I've been under the weather.  It was bound to happen at some point and ended up knocking me on my butt and caused La Miss (a recent nickname by students) to miss school. 

But it all came about after a glorious trip seven hours north of Valpo to the magical land of Valle Elqui.  A group of us wrapped up classes and hopped on a bus late on Thursday night.  Now when you hear seven hours on a bus north I know many would automatically think, "sick" but quite the opposite.  I rode in a fully reclined seat that gives flying first class a run for its money but not really because it's way cheaper.  Chile totally has a handle on luxury bus travel. 

We arrived at La Serena, a coastal town, at 6 a.m. and knocked on the door of a groggy hostel owner.  Just an example of how hospitable people are here, the sleepy hostel owner did not have a room but proceeded to call other hotels and even walked us down the street to another accommodation.  La Serena is known for its many churches and is the second oldest city in Chile.  Despite all of the build-up, I wasn't blown away.  To me it just seemed like another touristy, commercial coastal town but the people were incredibly nice which definitely gives it bonus points.  The next morning we met up with other friends and took another few hour bus ride inland to Valle Elqui. 

My first thought was THE ANDES ARE INCREDIBLE.  The mountain range practically touches the sky and is baren - with little to no trees.  Nestled between the ranges is a lush, green valley that harvests Chile's famous alcohol, Pisco.  Each morning the valley collects a layer of clouds and the day quickly becomes toasty as the sun breaks through. 

When we arrived at Pisco Elqui all stresses seemed to melt away and I felt super tranquila.  Pisco Elqui is a tiny town - like one road and the church is the center of town tiny - but attracts bohemians and tourists alike with unique restaurants and artisans.  Our hotel was perfect, complete with fluffy white comforters, high ceilings, rustic furniture, fruit trees and a beautiful pool.  The only down part were the spiders the size of golf balls.  I especially loved when a woman from the hotel tried to capture one beast spider with a plastic bag.  The spider was not having it and jumped on the woman's hand and was then flung into my bed.  Awesome right?  Luckily that sucker couldn't hide forever but I think he called his friends for back-up.

A trip to Valle Elqui wouldn't be complete with some star gazing since it's one of the best spots in the world for it, as well as being known for magnetic powers and UFO sightings.  Although we couldn't make it to the observatory, we went on a tour in an astronomist's backyard where we viewed the Milky Way, star clusters and Jupiter all the while sipping homemade pisco sours.  Did you know about Light Pollution?  I didn't but not looking so good Cali. 

Star gazing and all, we were fully emersed in our bohemian weekend (sans UFOs).  We also went pisco tasting at a 100 year old vineyard thanks to our new friends, Martin and Kayla, who used to live in Jersey and were willing to cram six girls into their Jetta to take us to an authentic Pisco tasting.  At night we went to our favorite night spot with live music and fire pits (also owned by Martin's familia) and sipped on terremotos (strong wine and pineapple ice cream) and snacked on alfajaros (cookies and manjar dipped in chocolate). 

As I rode back to Valpo, I reflected on my perfect weekend feeling calm and happy.  Sitting next to me was my doppleganger (if I was a Chilean male) - a PR student who loved the same music and movies as me.  We also were wearing matching outfits and happily reclined in our seats to watch "Just Like Heaven" en Espanol.  It was weird but still a funny way to bring a great weekend to a close. 

Views of Valle Elqui

Fresh Pisco Mangos at our Fave Pizza Place

The streets of Pisco Elqui

Incredible Mural in the Center of Town

The Girls Pisco Tasting

Allegedly Haunted?

Pisco Vineyard Art


Sunday, October 3, 2010

The 1,000 Drums That Brought Tears to My Eyes

It has been awhile since my last post and I've definitely been out and about.  Last weekend I took a trip to Maintencillo, a sleepy beach town about 2 hours north of Valpo, with some volunteer amigas and stayed at the highly recommended, Cabanas Hermansen.  We ate fresh seafood, drank wine and went horseback riding on the beach.  It was the perfect getaway to relax and check out the beautiful coastline.  I also took my English Taller (English elective class with Sophmores) on a boat tour around the Valpo Harbor this week - a highlight of my teaching experiences here.  I really got the chance to talk with my students and with only a few months left of my trip, I'm already feeling sad about having to say goodbye.  My favorite quote of the field trip was, "I don't like you (long pause).  I love you!"  Life has been moving along at a fun pace and there's so  much to share but I wanted to focus my post on a cultural event this weekend in Valpo, Mil Tambores.

Mil Tambores or 1,000 drums is annual event that kicked off with a parade in the hills on Friday.  Performers from all walks of life march through the hills of Cerro Allegre.   My friend Lauren and I hiked up the artsy hill of Cerro Allegre, grabbed a delish scoop of homemade cherry ice cream, and went to check out what all of the buzz or drums were about.  I have to say that the hippies were out in full force and there was a happy mood among the mucho gente.  The crowd ranged from dreadlocked drum circles, naked girls painted with murals on their bodies, children on stilts, giant puppets and of course a giant parachute.  It was completely bizarre but fully charged with creativity and free-spirited fun.  The drums were soothing and music filled the air.  It was a wild parade but I wouldn't expect anything less from Valpo. 

Afterward I went home to relax and decided to meet up with some friends in town later for a drink.  The streets were bustling, since many people came into town for the weekend-long event.  Of course one drink turned into a long night of dancing fun and we left at the wee hours of the morning.  Us Valpo girls stuck together since theft can be problem here and planned on getting to the area were we could take collectivos (shared taxis) to our homes.  As the lights cast a orange glow on the streets it started to look hazy and before we knew it people were running quickly at us.  In an instant my eyes and throat started burning and somehow I quickly yelled "Tear gas.  Run!"  It felt like it was out of a movie where we were running down the street in slow motion not sure what to do.  This is when a kind soul stepped into to help us.  His name was Mauricio and I clearly remember his green, Peruvian sweater that I imagine was a big hit among his peace loving amigos.  He quickly said "I speak English.  Go this way," and guided us to another street.  Unfortunately, this street also had rioters as bottles were being thrown and garbage was being lit on fire.  Throughout this experience we were more afraid of the police who were freely spraying tear gas.  We made it to a safe street and Mauricio negotiated with a cab driver to give us a ride to the hills, since none of them wanted to drive through the rowdy streets.  I ended up staying at Steph's house since I couldn't get a ride to my house in the centro. 

Perhaps it was because of the Ron and Cokes but throughout the experience, I knew we would be ok.  It was a good reminder to not get too comfortable in my new surroundings.  I was also touched at the kindness from a stranger who went way out of his way to help us out of a dangerous situation. 

And knowing now that everything turned out ok, it will make for a great story for years to come.  The day when 1,000 drums brought me to tears from tear gas.  Here are a few photos from the vivid parade: