Sunday, November 28, 2010

Valpo, Oprah, Thanksgiving, and The Largest Pool in the World

So I now find myself at the end of November, and on the edge of my last month in Santiago before returning home.  I have 22 days left, with my flight leaving December 20th.

I have been taking full advantage of the summer weather here.  This has included hanging out at the pool with friends, a trip to Valpo, and an overnight trip to the world's largest pool, San Alfonso del Mar.

My last trip to Valpo was when I was sandsledding in May, and I didn't realize that that much time had gone by so quickly. I also forgot how much I enjoy taking a daytrip there.  It's nice just exploring the area, walking up new hills, and seeing the city from different perspectives.  It's also a good workout and didn't make me feel guilty for not making it to the gym that weekend.

I didn't do anything special on Thanksgiving Day.  It isn't a holiday here, and so I had all of my classes, and it was a normal workday.  But then there was a Thanksgiving Dinner on Friday night, hosted by a fellow teacher and her boyfriend at their apartment.  When making the plans, someone said that it was an Orphan Thanksgiving since we weren't with our families, but it was misunderstood by most people as an Oprah Thanksgiving, and so she became the unofficial sponsor of the dinner.  It was complete with pictures of her hanging around the apartment and a gift of a metro ticket under each of our chairs, just like what she does for her audience members.

As you can see, we had many of the staples for a Thanksgiving dinner: turkey, stuffing, gravy, mac and cheese, mashed potatoes, and apple pie.  Sharing a meal with my coworkers was something I am truly grateful for, as I feel like I got to know them better than I have while socializing at the office.

The day after the Opah Thanksgiving I was on a bus to the town of Algarrobo, which is home to San Alfonso del Mar.  There is a hotel resort with the largest pool in the world.  Here is the website if you want to check it out for yourself:

I got in around 1:00 in the afternoon, and since it was reserved in somoene else's name (There were 18 of us between 2 rooms) I relaxed on the beach while I waited for everyone else to arrive.  After that we hung out at the beach, then prepared another Thanksgiving feast.  Thanks to Julie and her amazing baking skills we not only had a pumpkin pie but also a delicious cheesecake. 

A few months ago I saw a friend had visited here, and I wanted to go.  But when I saw the price (about $260 a night) I thought I would never be able to make it there.  It turns out that the rooms have enough beds and space to sleep 10 people, and so one of my friends organized the entire trip.  It only ended up costing us about $28 per person, and it was such a nice time with everyone.  It was another night that made me grateful for the friends that I have here, and I think I'm going to make a trip there a Thanksgiving tradition.

My first year here is slowly coming to an end.  I'm now buying my Christmas gifts to bring back with me, and I'm cleaning through my closet and making all of the necessary plans for my return trip.  Yes, I'm sad to be leaving the warm weather and what is familiar to me in Santiago.  At the same time, I am looking forward to the modern comforts  from home that I will not have had in over 10 months.  5 weeks will be a long time at home, especially in the winter.  Luckily I will be close enough to visit friends from Santiago that are also returning home for the holidays, and I think that will help pass the time more quickly.

Until next post...

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

TeachingChile Reunion, American Music, and Linkin Park in January

Saturday was the biannual meeting for TeachingChile participants and alums.  There was delicious Mexican food, beautiful weather, and great company.  I can't fathom that it was May when we were last on Bruce's rooftop, listening to a group of alums playing the guitar and singing classics for us.  They got everyone involved with the singing and even did improv songs about people.  I feel like they're going to be a fixture at the parties from now on.

I've had a log of iconic American music in my head after doing lessons with particular songs with my students, and so I thought I'd share them here so we could all take a stroll down memory lane.

First up is Summer Nights from Grease.  My students told me they had to beg their parents to let them see the movie here in Chile when they were teenagers.  I remember playing the music for Grease in my high school orchestra.

Then we have Help by The Beatles.  The song is universal, and I think everyone can relate to the theme of the song.  My students have all had interesting interpretations of the reason for needing help, ranging from being in the hospital to being an unexpected father.

Another song we've done together was the Do Re Mi song from The Sound of Music.  The lyrics are very simple and catchy (and very easily get annoying), but it's interesting to see that people here don't understand what they mean.  Listen at your own risk.

Another great song is What a Wonderful World by Louie Armstrong.  I actually sang this (badly) with my school chorus when I lived in Germany, and I've liked the song ever since then.

Today I listened to The Voice Within by Cristina Aguilera with one of my students.  This isn't normally the genre of music I listen to, but the lyrics and music was a part of the textbook, so we did it.  It was a really beautiful song, and I'm glad I gave it a try.

Perhaps my favorite is a classic by Bobby McFerrin, Don't Worry, Be Happy.  Chileans love the phrase "Don't worry" in English, and if something ever goes wrong or they are unsure of something, I like to tell them in English, "Don't worry, be happy."  It almost always gets a smile.
All of these songs have words and messages in them, but there is something deeper to teaching with music.  It also shows the target culture (if you are using a video).  You can also learn about slang that you wouldn't typically use in a textbook.  Perhaps the most important part, in my opinion, is that music is memorable and a personal experience for every person that listens to a song.  Not everyone will interpret a song in the same way, and it will not evoke the same emotions or response from the same person.  And the indvidual experience is what I love about it.

In other music news, I found out from a fellow Linkin Park fan from the Las Vegas concert in 2008 that Linkin Park announced their US tour dates.  They'll be in Philadelphia on January 31st, and coincidentally I'll be back home in Jersey during that same time.  I totally want to see them in concert again (I know that I just saw them last month), but the ticket is $80.  I'm contemplating saving the money for traveling, but at this point I'm really on the fence.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

9 months and random pictures

As I type this, a repairman is working in our kitchen repairing the gas lines.  As I was in there putting away my groceries, he did not hesitate to use power tools to sand down pipes without any protective goggles or gloves.  I stood about 2 feet away from him while he was doing this, and we made small talk since I was going to be in there for about 20 minutes prepaing my lunch for the next day.  He also heated up the pipes in the wall using a mini blow torch (no protective covering around the area), and he didn't bat an eyelash as the flames reached up and almost caught the blinds on fire.

9 months being here makes me feel like a true resident of Santiago.  I can have telephone conversations in Spanish.  I can manage to take care of daily business here easily.  I can give people directions if they are lost.  I can navigate the city and know of multiple routes to get myself from one place to another, depending on the time of day and traffic situation.  And it's a good feeling.

At the same time, this also means that I have 40 days until I return home for the holidays.  I will be happy to see family and friends again, to eat American food, and celebrate the holidays in an area familiar to me.  While I know that I will enjoy this time, I am beginning to think that being home for 5 weeks (December 21st to February 3rd) is going to be quite a long stretch.  I'm hoping to be able to substitute teach or find some odd jobs to do to keep myself occupied (and also to earn some money).

How do I feel all in all at this point?  I came into my experience here telling myself I was going to make it an awesome experience and that it would all work out in the end.  And luckily, that is how it worked out.  I am very grateful to have met my friends here, as they have helped me in small and large ways.  I've learned about my personality, working with people, and how I view the world.  It's also an empowring feeling becoming aware of this and growing, both personally and professionally.

I feel sad that there have been and will be friends of mine returning to the States, as we don't know when we will see each other again.  At the same time, with the technology of Facebook and Skype, it is relatively easy to keep in contact.  And I also know that it may take a year, 5 years, or 10 years, but I will get to see my true friends again at one point or another in the future.

I have some pictures that I've taken over my time here, but I haven't found an appropriate post for them, so here they are:

fruitcake, sold in masses at the grocery store

Pan de pascua, literally Easter bread.  As we know it, fruitcake.

The 3 steps to suvive an attack of zombies (located on the door of the store where I go to play Magic)

pantyhose on sale in a vending machine inside the Salvador metro

Perfect for when you get that pesky rip in your stockings and need a pair for on the go.

The old school elevators inside the Banco de Chile building in downtown Santiago
My roomate knocked on my door, telling me that the repairman was leaving and wanted to say goodbye.  It was a bit surprising to me, but I went out and shook his hand and thanked him for his work.  After he left, my roommate told me that the guy had an interesting name: Placer.  For those of you that don't speak Spanish, that means pleasure.

Yup, I'm in Chile.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Botanical Gardens and El Cajon de Maipo

The time has been flying by here, and it is hard for me to believe that I will be flying home in about 6 weeks. Making Chilean friends and having more of social life than I ever had back home makes the time go by that much quicker.

Some of my Chilean friends invited me to go with them to the botanical gardens near Cerro San Cristobal, and it was a really nice afternoon. The gardens were organized based on geographic location, with another area decidated to plants organized based on natural remedies used to cure common maladies. Families wandered around with their young children, and others sat and enjoyed the warm sunny weather, while others played soccer and kicked a soccer ball from one area up a hill to another area much higher.

Here are some pictures of the gardens and the view we had:

I particularly like the view in the last picture.  Looking at it with my friends, I was able to locate us and see various parts of the city.  The tall building with yellow at the top is currently under construction, and I pass it on my way to one of my classes each Tuesday and Thursday morning.

Near the end of our time there we rested and came across a dog that I could not resist taking a picture of while he was sleeping:

Then this weekend I went with a friend to El Cajon de Maipo. We packed sandwiches, a liter package of juice, and some chocolate before setting out on our adventure. I knew that it was outside of Santiago, but I had no idea how far out of Santiago we would go that day. In the end, we traveled 78 km outside of Santiago. How do I know this? It is thanks to the technology of GPS and internet capabilities on cell phones.

It started out with the metro ride to plaza puente alto, and then we had an hour long ride on the metrobus to the base of El Cajon de Maipo. Once we got to the base, he told me could hike for a while. We started at an area with a tunnel rising up into the side of the mountain, and here are some pictures of our view at that time:

After about half an hour of walking, we grabbed a colectivo, and we took it for about a 15 minute ride further into the area. After that, we hiked a bit more. We got to an area where a sign told us we were 25 kms from the embalde de yeso, which is the heart of the area.

Javier told me that we could walk it in about an hour, but after only making it 2 kms in the first 10 minutes, I started to have my doubts. After telling him that, he told me not to worry becuase we could hitchhike to get there. The area that we were walking along was set up for cars and wasn't designed for people walking, so I started to give the idea some thought.

Before I could consider it any further, a grey pickup truck passed by, and Javier stuck out his thumb. It stopped about 20 feet in front of us, and Javier went around to the driver to talk to him. Apparently they agreed to let us hitch a ride, and I looked forward to sitting in the comfiortable seat for a bit.

But I was wrong. We weren't sitting in the back of the truck. Well, we were, but not in the back seat. We were riding in the cargo area of the truck. As I sat down, I noticed cigarette butts and dirt in the crevices of the cargo area. The ride was a bit bumpy due to the uneven road along the way, but it was well worth the 25 minutes of discomfort for the distance it took us.

The truck stopped, and I realized that it was our stop. We hopped out and thanked them, and they continued on their way. This was the view:

We then went a bit further around the corner, and we found this view of the Andes mountains:

I know it sounds cliche, but I remember reading a quote that said, "It doesn´t matter how many breaths you take in life. It matters how many times your breath is taken away." This definitely qualifies as one of those times.

After walking around and snapping pictures, we decided to head back. There was three problems with this:

1. We were 25 kilometers (or about a 3 hour walk) from the base of the montain where we started.
2. There wasn´t any public transportation back.
3. There weren´t any cars going back at the time.

Javier didn´t seemed worried at all about this. I had a bit of a different feeling about the situation seeing that I´m a person who is very much fixed on schedules, planning things in advanced, and certainty. I took a deep breath as we started the walk back. Javier assured me that we would find someone to catch a ride back with eventually.

As we walked, I turned around everyone once in a while, in hopes of seeing a car coming down the road towards us. My eyes were greeted by a lonely road, and I began to miss the dust that kicked up as cars passed us at the top that I had ironically scorned at that time. We reached a group of men relaxing by a small waterfall, and after sitting down on a rock I noticed that they were packing their things up and were getting ready to go in their van.

Javier asked them if we could catch a ride, and it turns out that they were working in an area filming a movie only about 10 minutes down the road, but they would take us that far. So we hopped in for the short ride.

After that we were on the road once again. We walked for about another half hour, and after several unsucessful attempts we got lucky: a grey truck stopped for us. At first I thought it was the same truck that took us up, but this one had bars up behind the rear view window. I ended up being very grateful for them, as the ride down was way too bumpy to sit, and Javier advised me to stand for the entire ride. We were going between 30 and 40 mph down the hills, so I held on and kept my knees bent so that I could maintain my balance. The wind was blowing past us so quickly that I almost lost my hat, but the view was amazing.

After about a half hour ride, the truck pulled into a parking spot on the side of the road next to a small stop we passed on our way there. We thanked them for the ride and decided this was a good time to stop for something small to eat, as it was almost 5:00 and we had not eaten since we had the sandwiches we packed at 11:00 or so. We got fresh empanadas, and they were delicious.

After that, we continued our journey by walking. Luckily, a colectivo passed by, and rather than taking it and then switching to the bus for the hour long ride to the metro we paid a bit more and got to the metro in about 50 minutes. When we got in there was an old couple there already, and it turns out they were church missionaries from Wyoming.
We got to the metro and made our way back to Santiago. The round trip came to around 160 kilometers (Javier checked this on his phone´s GPS). 2 ham and cheese sandwiches later, 2 empanada napolitanas later, 3 liters of bottled water later, about $17 in colectivo and bus fares later, and with dirt caked onto our legs, arms, and clothing, we arrived in Santiago about 12 hours after we left.

If I had gone on my own, I probably would have done a lot of research to see what the bus routes were and how to arrive there. I probably also would have only stuck to what they would show and would not go off the beaten path. But this experience was so much more meaningful due to the spontaneity that still makes me a bit nervous and anxious at times.

I´m glad I accepted these invitations.  As I think about it, my time is winding down before I go home for the holidays.  I only really have about 6 more weeks until I fly back, so I want to make the most of that time before I have to endure what will be my third winter in 12 months.  Rather than think about that, I´ll go out and enjoy the summer weather for now.