Sunday, January 31, 2010

Half packed and getting ready to go....

The trip is drawing near, yet I don't think it has hit me that I'm leaving yet.

The day after my last post I got my currency to travel to Brazil and Chile. I was able to get Brazilian reales and Chilean pesos for the exact exchange rate at AAA, and I didn't have to pay any fees. It's interesting looking at the colors and figures featured on the currencies of different countries as well as the conversion rate. US $200 is the equivalent of about 88,000 Chilean pesos, for example.

I decided to stop just putting my things to pack into piles in the other room and to actually try packing it. I was dreading this since the weight restrictions have dropped from about 72 lbs per bag from my year in Germany ten years ago to 50 lbs per bag now, but it looks like I will actually be ok. After vacuum bagging a bunch of my clothes and packing some other stuff into one of my luggage pieces, it didn't even weigh 19 pounds. When I saw that, I added in some of my books. My other luggage piece will have heavier items like shoes, toiletries, and some books, so hopefully it will be under the 50 lb limit as well.

Friday night I went to Barnes and Noble and decided to do some more reading up for Brazil. I found out that in addition to the samba schools and parade (I tried to get a ticket but wasn't successful), there are also bandas (which appear to be groups of people that dress up, sing, and dance) that also celebrate Carneval. From what I understand the bandas are free-roaming and will anyone join as long as you are wearing their colors. What's even better is that some of them sell t-shirts on the spot for $15 reales (about US$8) and you can join in with them in the revelry. This seems like a lot more fun for me as opposed to having to pay a few hundred dollars to simply watch the samba schools.

I am slowly having to start to say my farewells. In order to celebrate the 4 February birthdays in our family, (including mine) my dad is throwing a big party at a local restaurant. I'll get to see some extended family I haven't seen in a while, and it will be my last time seeing them before I leave. Tuesday night a friend and I are having dinner with some friends, and there I will get to say some more farewells. One farewell, however, that I will not miss: this damn cold weather and the snow.

Countdown to departure: 11 days

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Getting ready for Brazilian taxis and Hang-gliding and my hostel in Chile

My last posts have been very text heavy, so I'm trying to add in some pictures and links for this post. Unfortunately adding in pics from the web isn't working with me right now, so you'll just have to see the pics at the links I provide.

After realizing that I only booked my hostel in Rio until the morning of February 17th and that I am leaving for Santiago on the 18th, I was luckily able to go online and just book a room at the same hostel for an additional night.

I then realized that I don't have any arranged transportation from the airport to the hostel. I did some online research about this.

The first site I came to was this one:

It looks like a nice site and great service, but they wanted 94 bucks for a round trip taxi. It seemed a bit expensive, so I dug a bit further and came across this site:

This has traveler suggestions and posts about their experiences. From this I was able to figure out that I should pay somewhere between 40 and 80 reales (about 22 and 45 dollars) for a taxi. I also found out that apparently red lights are ignored at night, not only by taxi drivers but also by the police. Sounds like an adventure.

After all that I was able to book a taxi to pick me up from the airport through my hostel. The hostel has a good reputation, and it will cost me 65 reales. This sounds more reasonable, and hopefully I will be able to get the same rate on my taxi ride back to the aiport.

After reading about it in my travel guide, I looked up a website about hang gliding in Rio.

So this will be me in a few weeks:

I am a true adventure seeker, and this will be an awesome experience.

Last but not least, I found out where I will be spending my first month in Santiago! I will be staying at the Hostal Providencia. The accomodations seem very nice for a hostel, and their website is very impressive:

The last details of my trip include adding my brother to my bank account, getting Brazilan reales and Chilean pesos, cancelling my car insurance and cell phone, and oh yeah, packing.

Countdown to departure: 15 days

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Adventures in New York and my Chilean Visa!

After a few months of stress, multiple phone calls to the FBI, and four visits to New York, I now officially have my visa to legally go to Chile.

I took the train up from Trenton and arrived with plenty of time to take my time walking from Penn Station at 7th and 34th to the Consulate at 1st and 48th. I stopped in at a Chase bank to close my old account since there are none in South Jersey, and it was just my luck that the gentleman helping me was originally from Germany. We chatted about life in the States and there and made other small talk.

Then I asked him the question I need to ask every native German I meet: der, die, oder das Nutella? (For those of you that may not be familiar, German has three words for "the". Nutella is an incredibly delicious chocolate spread in Germany, and it does not exist in any German dictionary. Therefore its article is up for debate.) His answer was das. I should really keep a tally of what each native German tells me just for fun.

I then made my way to the consulate. I arrived about half an hour early, but I figured it wouldn't hurt. After about 15 minutes I was called back to go over my paperwork and get a thumbprint taken. Then I sat for about half an hour, feeling anxious about not having my FBI Clearance and if they would grant me the visa or not. I then heard a woman calling me from the back: "Mr. Gum! Mr. Gum!" I walked back, and she handed me my passport with the visa inside and my copies of the paperwork I signed.

I was so relieved that I didn't know what to say. I could tell that I was beaming though, and I just thanked her and shook her hand.

I'm now at a Starbucks near 7th and 54th, and will shortly be making my way towards Hell's Kitchen to meet up with a friend I haven't seen in about 10 years.

Countdown to departure: 21 days

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Brazilian Visa Success and Shopping

So yesterday I made the journey up to New York to pick up my Brazilian visa. I could only pick it up between 2:30 and 4:00, but I headed up early to be on the safe side.

I have never really been up to New York before a month or so ago. It's interesting walking through the streets, seeing the people, and all of the sights and sounds around me. I stopped for lunch at a place called Corner Cafe, which had some really delicious pasta. Afterwards I realized I walked ten blocks in the wrong direction, which gave me some good exercise and lifted weight from my conscience for not eating as healthy as I could have.

I arrived at the Brazilian Consulate around 2:00 anticipating a long wait in line. I was right, but they ended up going through the line and giving everyone picking up a visa a number and we were able to go inside and sit down. Nothing was happening at the windows, and it seems like they simply did not serve anyone until 2:30. I brought a book to pass the time, and glanced at my watch. 2:32, and no sign of movement from the employees there. 2:33, 2:34, 2:35, nothing.

Finally at 2:41 the signs lit up, and they took their postions at the windows. A woman carried out two huge tubs filled with passports, and the first person went up. She handed him his passport, and I was pleasantly surprised to see that I was the next person. (The ticket I was given V717 made me realize how many people come through there on a daily basis)

I went up to the window, and the woman located my passport quickly and passed it under the window to me. I checked to be sure my visa was inside, and it was. My face glowed as I told the woman "Thank you!" as a wave of relief came over me. As I walked away, then I remembered the phrase in Portuguese "Muito obrigado".

I took a picture of me holding my visa and put it on Facebook. I called my dad to tell him the good news. I called up my program and they were ecstatic. I was just feeling awesome.

Today I did some obligatory shopping for the trip. Since I've been losing weight (20 pounds since November so far) my pants have been getting loose, so I got some new pants at Sears. I also got a Dreamie (a soft sleeping bag type thing) as well as space saver bags that I can use with a vacuum cleaner to save space in my luggage.

I've started packing a bit, and it doesn't look like it will be as bad this time around. When I was going to Germany I had to leave a good amount of space for gifts for my host families, but this time around I only need gifts for the program directors and maybe a few teachers at the school. I have a better idea of what and how much clothing I'll need and what things I'll want to bring with me.

Countdown to departure: 28 days

Friday, January 8, 2010

First Post

So right now I'm sitting in Panera Bread in Vorhees, New Jersey. It's hard for me to believe that in exactly 34 days (February 10th) I will be leaving for South America. This is a trip that I have been planning on taking since April, and I was determined that it would happen this time. (I had tried to travel to South America for an extended period through a Fulbright, then through an alum from Occidental that runs a preschool in Chile, and then through a teaching program. Each of those opportunities did not work out for one reason or another.)

Before I go any further, I should be sure that everyone reading is on the same page about what I am doing: I have been accepted into the TeachingChile program to teach English to kids K-12 at a private school in Santiago. I will be doing so from March 1st until December 15th or so. When I was looking at the orientation that starts on February 19th, I realized that it was shortly before Carneval. Seeing that this is right before Carneval, I did a bit of research and was able to arrange my travel plans to be in Rio de Janiero for Carneval. Apparently it is one of the biggest parties on the planet, and seeing that I had already been to it in Cadiz, Spain and Cologne, Germany I figured going to it somewhere else would be pretty awesome.

I have to say that I have already had a roller coaster ride of an experience getting my visas for Chile and Brazil. It mostly had to do with submitting my FBI Criminal Background Check in early November and basically hearing nothing for close to two months. I then find out that they could not guarantee when I would receive my FBI clearance, which is required to get my visa for Chile, and my visa for Chile was supposed to be required to get my tourist visa for Brazil. After contacing the Consulate of Chile about this, they sent me an email telling me they would process my visa without the FBI clearance and to just forward it to them once it did get processed. When I went up to the Consulate in New York, however, they told me that they would apply for my visa without the clearance, but they would not grant it to me until they receive my clearance. After some explanation of the situation (and a very helpful email from my program) they agreed to grant me the visa without the clearance but forwarding it on upon receipt. My appointment to get my visa is January 20th.

So the next step was taking care of my tourist visa for Brazil. I took the trip up to New York fully expecting them to not to grant me the tourist visa since I didn't have my visa for Chile yet, but they took one look at my application and put it in with the rest of their applications to get processed. I am going up this coming week to pick it up. I practically owe my life to the program director for talking me through the experience and providing me with all of the paperwork and requirements a countless number of times over the phone.

My checklist of "to do" items is growing smaller. I ordered some travel guides and am anxiously awaiting them in the mail. I've pulled out my luggage to get ready to pack again. It's hard to believe that I will once again be away for close to an entire year. The excitement is building, and part of me wishes that I could wake up and it would be February 10th so I could just skip all of the anticipation. Despite that, it still does not seem real to me that I am actually doing this.

I would be lying if I didn't admit that I feel a bit scared and apprehensive. But I know that my language skills are solid, I am a seasoned traveler and skilled teacher, and that I will be with a program that is there to help us with anything we need. Once I arrive in Santiago I am sure that my fears will be put to rest.

Countdown to departure: 34 days