Saturday, December 31, 2011

The End of 2011

I´m in a friend´s apartment in Viña del Mar now.

Christmas was a week ago, and now it´s the end of the year.  You would hardly know it here with the summer heat, but at least there´s a breeze along the coast here.

When I decided to be here for Christmas this year, I pictured myself lounging at the beach or at a pool with friends and having the time of my life.  My Christmas in Santiago ended up being much different; a coworker came over for pancakes, eggs, and bacon for brunch on Christmas Eve, and on Christmas I called home, opened my gifts (books that I had on my Amazon wishlist), and then I went to dinner at friend´s house.

It certainly wasn´t the Christmas I was anticipating, and it was very different being away from my family.  The heat as well as the lack of Christmas decorations made me realize how much I do enjoy the holidays at home.

In Chile they don´t take time off between Christmas and New Years, and so I was back to teaching classes on Monday morning at 8 AM.  I talked with my students and coworkers about their holidays throughout the week as well as our upcoming plans for New Years.

New Years is a big thing in Chile, and almost everyone goes to Valparaiso or Viña del Mar to see the fireworks there.  The celebrations are supposed to be huge, with people drinking in the streets all night and into the following morning.  My old roommate Cristian told me that it´s definitely a part of Chilean culture to experience while I¨m here, and so I decided that I wanted to go and see it.

As I talked with friends nothing seemed to work out to go, but then a friend told me he was going to Viña and that one of his friends lives there.  On Thursday he told me that he was going to try to get us bus tickets to go there, but I was doubtful becuase I heard that they had been sold out for over a week.

Then on Friday he sent me a text message asking me when was the earliest I could get to the bus terminal, and I told him 5 PM that day.  When I got out of class at 3 I gave him a call, and he got us bus tickets to go to Viña at 5:30 and to come back on Sunday at 8 at night.  So I rushed home, got a bite to eat, and packed and got back on the bus.  I called Eric at 5:00 when I was almost at the bus terminal, and he told me that he was going to stop at home and then he´d make his way to the bus terminal.

I wondered why he sounded so relaxed when the bus was leaving in half an hour.  It was 5:20 and I tried to call him and got no answer.  He called me at 5:25, telling me that he was about 5 minutes away.  He made it to the terminal with 2 minutes to spare, and it turns out his clock on his cell phone was an hour early.  He didn´t stop home and arrived with a few shopping bags for new shirts he bought, and his roommate is going to bring his overnight bag when she arrives later today.

After arriving we hung out in the apartment, got to know each other, listened to music, and had some drinks.  Around 1 in the morning everyone wanted to go out, but I was too exhausted and stayed in.  Today everyone woke up around 1 in the afternoon, and I went out for a walk with a few friends while the others woke up and others went grocery shopping.

While we were out walking, we got a call that a few of the people were at the grocery store around the corner, and so we went to help with the shopping.  When we finished we piled into the car and headed home, and some of them prepared lunch.  Now everyone´s doing their own thing before we go to the beach.

Later tonight we´re going to have a huge dinner and then watch the fireworks from the terrace of the apartment building.  Then we´re going out to celebrate the new year.

An update with pictures will have to wait until I´m back in Santiago in 2012.

So, what are my thoughts about 2011?

It was a year of returning to Santiago and being away from the United States.  It was also a year of moving into a new apartment and starting to teach private classes.  I also traveled and met some new friends along the way.  

This was also a year of personal growth.  I´ve learned to become more independent and not lean on others so much.  I´ve made the concious decision not to worry about things beyond my control and to focus my energy in a positive way.  I´ve also decided to let things from the past go and not to invest time in friendships and relationships that aren´t going to be positive.

It was also a year of professional growth.  I started organizing teaching materials that I use by theme, and now I have 3 large and somewhat organized binders that I used to teach my classes.  I´m still finding great materials and teaching ideas to use, and so I´m constantly adding to and modifying them.  I have made great strides in my understanding of English grammar and ways to effectively teach my students, yet I feel that there´s still a lot to learn. 

It was also a year of financial growth.  I worked hard with my classes, and during the year I was able to pay rent on a nice apartment living on my own, take a few vacations, and also make payments on my student loans.  I balanced working at my institute as well as private classes, and I´ve saved developed savings as well as money to pay back the Bank of Dad for my travels from the past year.  It´s a great feeling to know the growth that I´ve made and to have savings in the bank.

I´m looking forward to 2012 being a great year.  I´m going to keep teaching with my institute as well as with private classes, and I plan to stay in the same apartment.  I want to keep exploring new things to do (rock climbing, making new friends, etc) as well as keep developing my teaching skills. Oh yeah, and I want to travel too.

Thank you to everyone who reads this blog.  Hearing from you gives me the motivation to keep updating on a regular basis.  I wish you all the best for a happy and prosperous New Year!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Rock climbing, Bouldering, A Christmas Concert, and Baking Cookies

So it's Christmas Eve, and it's about 80 degrees and sunny.  There are some decorations in stores and businesses, but it's nothing like things back home.

A few weekends ago I decided to take up a friend on his suggestion to go rock climbing at a gym that I've passed by a few times.  I went rock climbing for the first time as a freshman in high school for a field trip and loved it.  Last year I went in Mendoza, so it was exciting to get to try it again.

To save money and enjoy the weather I decided to ride my bike there.  I was anticipating a 25 minute ride, but due to the incline it was almost 45 minutes.

After getting the harness and shoes I went up for the first time.  It was more difficult than I remember, and I was a bit nervous as I got higher and higher.  After making it up most of the way I dropped and it was Eric's turn.  He gave me a quick refresher on how to belay (hold the ropes tight so the person climbing stays secure in case they fall), and up he went.  He scaled to the top easily and then made his way down.

Once he was safely down, an instructor from the gym came over and warned me that I wasn't securing the rope safely.  I felt pretty embarrassed and really bad that I put someone in danger.  The instructor showed me the correct moves, and then he watched me while I belayed the next time.  I felt much better after that.

After going up a few more times Eric asked me, "So, do you want to try some bouldering?"

"What's that?" I asked.

"You climb on an incline and upside down but with no rope."

"Sure, why not?"

I really wish I had brought my camera to take pictures, because it's not as nearly as dangerous as it sounds.  You climb walls that are maybe 7 or 8 feet tall, but they also protrude from the walls and are connected to parts of the ceiling that have areas for you to hold onto.  The entire area is covered in thick mats to cushion any fall that you might have.

Since I didn't need my harness for bouldering I proceeded to take it off and tripped on it and fell, much to the amusment of 2 11 year olds that were there bouldering too.  Since I'm not in as good shape as I used to be I wasn't able to do too much, but it was cool watching others climbing all over the place, up, and around the gym.  You really need strong upper body strength and a strong core to be able to excel at bouldering, both of which I'm unfortunately lacking right now.

After a few hours we headed out, and I went back home.  The ride back was much easier since it was downhill.  Then it was off to a Christmas concert.

I met up with a coworker, and we hung out for a bit before going to the concert.  It was free and in Plaza de Armas, the main square of Santiago.  I was impressed by how organized it was.  There were barricades up and chairs set up, We walked around the area and settled on some seats.

The concert was divided into two parts.  The first part was excerpts from operas and included Mozart's Overture to Figaro, Verdi's Nabucco, and Rossini's Barber of Seville.  In addition to the music there were dancers in festive costumes doing acrobats and entertaining the crowd.

The second half was Christmas carols.  It was a really nice concert, but I still couldn't get used to hearing Christmas carols in such warm weather.

The concert of course had its own influence of Chilean culture.  There was no mention of not smoking during the concert and it was outdoors, so people around us were lighting up during the actual concert.  There was a family in front of us who had a son who was jumping around, being loud, and playing with a balloon for most of the concert, and the parents didn't make much of an effort to calm him down.  The balloon popped around halfway through the concert, and after that he calmed down.

Even though it hasn't felt like Christmas, I decided to bake chocolate chip cookies to get into the spirit of things.  I never used my oven here much, as it gets expensive pretty quickly.  The thought of going out to buy cookie sheets and figure out all of the ingredients in Spanish almost persuaded me against it. 

Once I realized I could just use the pan that came with the oven and aluminum foil and with the help of some friends figuring out the ingredients, I was ready to go.  I had to go to a special store to get the chocolate chips, and they only sell them in 1 kilo (about 2 pound) bags.  They sell baking powder in much smaller containers here, and baking soda is actually sold in small plastic bags and is with the spices in the grocery store.  Here are the ingredients:

 And here's my substitue for a cookie sheet:

The cookie batter:

And the final product!

I spent the last half of this week bringing cookies to students and secretaries, into the office, and a few for myself as well.  In the end it wasn't as difficult as I thought it would be, and listening to Christmas carols while I baked made it that much more enjoyable.

My Christmas celebration will include a pancake brunch today, meeting up with friends later tonight, calling family and friends tomorrow, and a Christmas dinner tomorrow night.

Since I didn't mail out Christmas cards, I'd like to post this for everyone reading:

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Pichilemu Part 2

I'm back in Santiago after a much needed mini vacation.

The second half of my time in Pichilemu was just as relaxing as the first.  It turns out most of the people left the hostel on Friday, so there were only 4 of us and Oliver (the hostel owner) there that night.  After my last update I went back and relaxed at the hostel, and we got the idea to play Jenga and cards.

I have to confess that I'm not the best with my hands, but this turned out to be one of the most epic games of Jenga I've ever played.  It was a girl from Germany, Zack, and me.  As you can tell from the pictures, the tower got pretty high.  Zack and I fist pumped our way to victory.  (Hey, we're both from Jersey and people at the hostel couldn't resist bringing up Jersey Shore, especially since Zack surfs).

The rest of the night was spent playing Rummy and me cracking bad jokes.  Actually some of them were pretty funny, and we had some good laughs.

On Saturday the plan was to be out the door by 8:30 to get to Punta de Lobos (a nearby beach with good surfing) in order to enjoy the early waves and beat the crowds of surfers.  I was up early, but no one else was.  After making some breakfast I went back to sleep.  We ended up leaving the hostel around 11 and got a taxi there.  It was cloudy and overcast for a while, but then the sun came out.  Zack surfed while I explored the area and then listened to music on the beach, and then we got a colectivo back around 4 or so.

The afternoon was spent wandering around the town, enjoying some fresh fruit juice, and then relaxing back at the hostel.  Zack and Stefani (a girl from Denmark) made an amazing dish of rice, beef, and vegetables for dinner, and we sat around and talked the night away.  Of course I was making bad jokes all along the way, but they were actually laughing.

I got the bus back this morning, and I was really grateful for the trip.  While the hostel didn't have common amenities like an included breakfast or towels or a computer for internet, it was a cozy place to stay with a friendly and helpful hostel owner.  Its small size of only 12 beds really contributes to the feeling of community.  I hadn't played cards or Jenga like that in a long time, and sitting around talking with people and smiling and laughing so much was such an enjoyable experience.  I didn't spend a lot of money on the trip (and I did eat out a few nights), and I'm so glad that I gave myself this mini vacation.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Pichilemu Part One

I´m typing this from an internet cafe in Pichilemu now.

Pichilemu is a small beach town about 3 and a half hours away from Santiago by bus.  Its streeets are tranquil but a bit run down.  The people are welcoming and tranquil.  They have parks that resemble a Japanese garden, and there are basketball courts with skate parks next to them.  Empanadas are everywhere, as is the seafood.  The beaches have black sand, and the dogs lay about just as they do in Santiago.  American influence has even reached this beach town.  Although there are no signs of McDonald´s or Burger King that seem ubiquitous wherever I´ve traveled, as I walked past a go kart racing track they were blasting The Kids Aren´t Alright and Pretty Fly for a White Guy by The Offspring.

Pichilemu is not as close to Santiago as Valpo or Viña, but it gives you the sense that you´ve escaped from the hustle and bustle (and pollution) of the city.  You can get around most places walking, and the community feel of a hostel is always a nice feeling about traveling.

My trip started out with the bus from Santiago at 7 AM Thursday morning.  It was a holiday and I was concerned about being able to get to the bus station with buses running less frequently, but I made it without a problem.  The ride was uneventful, and when I got in my hostel told me to call them and they´d pick me up from the bus station.

I was greeted by a blond haired, blue eyed guy that was about my age.  His name is Oliver, and he´s the owner of the Sleep Eat Surf hostel that I was staying at.  He´s from Switzerland, so me and him have spent a good amount of time speaking in German.

After chatting with the people at the hostel, I was off to the beach for a few hours.  I really enjoyed sitting along the beach and taking in the sun while listening to my Ipod.  After a few hours I got an ice cream and walked down the length of the beach and made my way back into town.  There are small restaurants throughout Pichilemu, mostly serving either fast food, empanadas, or seafood.  There are also small shops selling buckets and beach toys, and other typical beach items.  I settled on getting some empanadas from a stand near the beach before heading back.

In the evening I relaxed at the hostel and chatted with the other guests.  Most of them were German, so it was nice getting to talk to them.  Zack arrived a few hours later, and so it was cool having someone around that I knew too.  Then Oliver decided to have an asado for everyone, and it was really good food.

Today has been just as relaxing.  After breakfast Zack and I headed out to the beach.  It was cloudy and cool, and I watched him surf for about an hour.  Then we walked along the beach and set up a mini canvas with his surfboard and my towel and talked for a while.  After a while the sun came out and Zack decided to do some more surfing, and I made my way back into town.

I had a late lunch of a kebab plate with french fries, and here I am at the internet cafe.  I´m really glad to have this opportunity to get out of Santiago for a few days, and it´s a way of recharging my batteries to stay motivated to work throughout the summer here.