Thursday, March 29, 2012

Day of the Youth Combatant

Today marks an important (and usually destructive) day in Chilean history.  In Spanish it is called Día del Joven Combatiente.

It all came about during the military dictatorship that lasted from 1973 to 1990.  There was a protest against the Pinochet dictatorship on March 29th, 1985 in which 2 brothers were killed by police.  As a result, there has been violence on this day ever since then as a way of striking back against the police and military and also remembering the brothers who lost their lives that day.

Sure enough, in class today some of my students told me about disturbances earlier today.  In the Estacion Central area of Santiago there were Molotov cocktails being thrown in the street during the morning rush hour.  (Molotov cocktails became the English vocabulary word of the day.)  Estacion Central is also the neighborhood where the 2 brothers were killed, so most Chileans expect things to happen in that area.

Everyone is advised to be careful and to get home early this day, and so I am relaxing at home and beat the rush hour traffic.  Apparently buses and taxis will stop running because they become worried about getting broken into or attacked, and it´s common to expect to see protesting, tear gas, and water cannons throughout the city.  Many Chileans leave work early and it´s common for businesses to close early too.

Much like the earthquake on Sunday, this is something that is completely normal for Chileans.  They have become used to protests and striking back against authority, and one can see the roots of this in the Chilean classroom.  (It´s common for elementary to high school students to do whatever they want in class and have no respect for the authority of teachers).  While it is something that probably horrifies those of you reading this, it is part of Chile and part of the culture.  Protests and the resulting violence and chaos have strangely become normal for me, and I´ve accepted it as a part of the culture and experience of living in Chile.

I came across a new article with a description of what happened on this day in 2007.  It has some pictures of the destruction and conflict in it to give you a real idea of what it gets to be like.  Rest assured that I do not live anywhere near where this happens, and I am sure to stay clear of the chaos.

So, would you like a Molotov cocktail with your dinner tonight?

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Starting slow, Being social, and earthquakes

The month of March tends to be a low key one for English teachers.  Most return from some type of vacation home or trip when classes are not in session in February.  Chileans tend to have their vacations in February and then are slow to start up English classes again at work, so class schedules tend to be light for the month of March.

Last year this left me struggling financially, but this year is fortunately different.  I was able to anticipate the situation and find private classes with people that are reliable, and so I've started up with most of them already.  In the meantime, my mornings are free.  While I am not making money during that time by not having classes, it is a nice luxury of being able to sleep in a bit, take my time making breakfast, and run errands that would be more time consuming at other times of the day.  It's also a nice way of getting to settle in again, do some spring (or in this case fall) cleaning, and get myself prepared for teaching a full schedule again.

Another nice thing about March is that it's a time when a lot of new English teachers come to Santiago.  I was able to get in contact with some of them before they came over, and we have gotten to meet up.  It's nice getting to meet a new group of people and hear their stories of traveling and what brought them to Chile.  I even met two people who spent a semester in Granada, Spain! (as I did)

It's also a good time to reconnect with old friends.  The past few weekends have been spent celebrating birthdays and going to barbecues, and it's nice seeing people again after the summer.  Our lives have had twists and turns along the way and we've had distinct paths (despite being in Santiago), but it's nice when we can meet up and share what's been happening.

And what would Santiago be without some good old earthquakes?  We've had two within the past 4 days.  The first one was at about 4:30 in the morning on Friday.  I was asleep in bed, and it woke me up.  My bed was shaking, but not too strongly.  I decided that I would only get out of bed or start to freak out if I heard things starting to fall, and luckily that didn't happen.  It lasted about 20 seconds or so (by my best guess).

The second one happened at about 6:30 this evening.  Ironically about an hour beforehand my clock fell off the wall and broke when a friend was over.  The adhesive sticking it to the wall had worn off, and she suggested that perhaps the earthquake from earlier loosened it from the wall.  So no clock in my apartment for now.

I was sitting on my bed using my computer when everything started to shake.  It was much stronger than the one a few days before, and I started to get scared.  I stood in the doorway and heard my kitchen cabinets rattling.  There 30 to 40 seconds seemed to last an eternity, but once it was over I breathed a short sigh of relief.  Then I began to prepare an emergency bag.  I´m getting nervous with having had 2 earthquakes within such a short time, and they get pretty strong with me living on the 20th floor.

There are already news reports about this recent earthquake.  There are no injuries or major damage reported, and luckily there was no threat of a tsunami.

Is another earthquake going to happen?  This last one was a 7.2 at the epicenter, which was in Talca (about 4 hours south of Santiago).  To give some perspective, the big one in 2010 was an 8.8 with the epicenter in about the same area.  I don't know if another one is going to happen, and I can't spend my time worrying about it.  All I can do is have an emergency bag ready and be prepared.

We'll see what the rest of March holds.  Hopefully April will be more stable, both financially and geographically.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Back in Santiago

I arrived back in Santiago last Friday, and it feels good to be back.

My time back has been spent unpacking, settling back in, and starting up my classes again.  I went to a barbecue where I got to meet some new arrivals in Chile including a woman who has been reading my blog for over a year now, and it was cool getting to connect with her.

And what would Santiago be without a protest?  On Thursday morning I was taking the bus into downtown when it didn't make its usual turn up one of the main streets.  At first I didn't think anything of it, and it went parallel up one of the side streets.  But after a few blocks instead of going straight it made a right turn and then another right turn.  So now we were heading back in the direction from which we came.  I asked the guy sitting next to me what was going on and he said one word to me: Protestas. 

So I got off the bus and called the office to let them know what was happening, and then I began the trek to the office on foot.  Luckily I didn't have any classes until 2:00 and it was about 10:45 at the time, so I wasn't in a rush.  It's supposed to be spring now, but temperatures have been above 90 for the past week.  Fortunately I was able to walk in the shade for most of the half hour walk to the office.

Later in the day I heard from one of my bosses that she was teargassed while eating her lunch outside.  I didn't see any signs of protesters or police when I went to classes, but they must have popped up afterwards.

Here's a new article in English that I found about the most recent protest:

That's all for now.  Have a Happy Saint Patty's Day everyone!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Colombia Part Deux (Do not read while eating)

I'm writing this from the Bogota airport, waiting for my flight back to Santiago.

When I last posted, I was about to head off to northern Colombia to Cartagena.  So, how was it?

I split the 4 days between Cartagena and Santa Marta (a fishing town about 4 hours away by bus), but it didn't really matter where I would have spent my time.  The sickness came back with a vengeance, so most of my time was spent in each of the hostels I stayed at.  Luckily one of the hostels was really good about taking care of me. It also had a pool on site and everyone was friendly, so at least I could lounge by the pool a bit each day.

For me I wasn't sick enough to visit the emergency room or go to a hospital, and so resting up actually worked out well.  Once I was back in Bogota, Marcial took me to a pharmacy, and I was able to get some medication.  (Before this my voice was almost nonexistent due to congestion in my throat.  Pretty I know).

So my last few days in Bogota I drank lots of tea, enjoyed a cough syrup affectionately called Muxol, and watched lots of TV.  Oh, and I forgot to mention something:  My stomach apparently didn't want me eating food or taking aspirin, as it would come right back up.  So for about 5 days it was mostly tea, water, and a gatorade here and there.  Well, at least I was able to drop a few kilos after the foodfest in Gringolandia.

When I woke up this morning I was pleasantly surprised to find out my voice and throat felt completely back to normal.  This was definitely good news, but I was still very low on energy since I hadn't been eating.  I decided to stay on the safe side and stay in.  My stomach accepted my offering of bran cereal with some milk for breakfast without too much of a fuss.

The trip to the airport wasn't too eventful.  After calling a taxi service and waiting on hold for over 5 minutes, I had the bright idea of hailing a taxi from the street.  It turns out that that's not easy to do as rush hour begins in Bogota.  The doormen helped me out, and luckily after about 10 minutes I was able to flag one down.

Where the good health during vacation gods weren't looking favorably on me for this trip, the baggage limit gods sure did.  Once I put my first bag on the scale, the woman at the counter asked me what the weight limits were.  I confidently told her it was 23 kg (about 50 lbs) per bag.  She told me that it was actually a combined weight of 32 kg (about 70 lbs).  She asked how long I was planning on being in Santiago, and I told her about living there and how with my trip to the States and then here I didn't keep good track of the change in baggage allowances once I got into South America.  Her colleague went to talk to a supervisor, and they decided not to charge me for my baggage.  I thanked them graciously and made my way through security and to my gate.

So, what in the end causes my sickness?

Marcial suggested at first that it was altitude sickness.  But my symptoms weren't anything like those I had before, and they persisted even when I wasn't at a high altitude in Cartagena and Santa Marta.

Then he suggested that I got some type of tropical fever.  I find that also doubtful, as I didn't spend any time going to luaus, drinking fruity drinks from pineapples, hanging out under a cabana on the beach, or any other tropical-like activities.

I'm not quite sure what it was, but I'm glad it has passed.  I'm just very grateful that I am able to return to Santiago and can continue my life there.

Well, we are going to board in a few minutes.  Signing off!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Bogotá (no pictures yet)

Bogotá is the capital of Colombia, and after Mexico City and New York it is the 3rd largest city in North and South America.  It doesn´t have a subway, so the 8 million inhabitants travel either by car, bus, or taxi, causing major traffic each morning and evening.

With so many people moving from one place to another, the streets, sidewalks, and bus stops are chaotic masses of people, cars, taxis, buses, and motorcycles that can be very confusing and disorienting to the foreign visitor.  I´ve found myself pushing my way through crowds, getting bumped into by people as they pass through (ironically even if there was enough space to move around me), and being jammed onto the buses.  One thing that I notice is the same as in Chile is the lack of a concept of personal space and that it´s not polite to push people onto a bus so that you can fit on yourself.

Despite the challenges of navigating such a sprawling city, it´s a nice place to visit.  The city in general isn´t as modern as Santiago, but you can still find everything that you need.  People are friendly and helpful, and it´s common for everyone to talk to taxi drivers, their doormen, maids, and other people that we would probably consider a more formal or less close relationship in the States.

I´ve also heard from people to be careful in Colombia.  While there are news reports of horrible things happening here, those instances are mostly in remote areas and are not the norm.  I do tend to get a bit nervous when I am out walking, but I always keep my hand in my pocket covering my wallet and my bag with my camera in front of me.  But I haven´t had any problems, and I don´t go out at night alone.  As with traveling anywhere, it seems like a good dose of common sense goes a long way.

So, what have I done so far here?

I arrived bright and early Wednesday morning and got a taxi to my friend Marcial´s apartment in the northern neighborhood of Chico.  We had some breakfast, and I napped to catch up on the sleep I didn´t get on the red eye flight.  We got some amazing burgers at a place called El Corral, and then I explored the La Candelaria area.  I got some hot chocolate and browsed an arts and crafts market, and I bought some artwork by Fernando Botero.  (He´s an artist from Colombia that is well-known for his depictions of very round and overweight people in most of his art)

At night Marcial and I went out to get some drinks in the T zone.  It´s an area with bars and restaurants with terraces, and they have become very popular in the past few years.  The area is in the shape of a T, hence its name.

Today I woke up with a bit of a sore throat, but I didn´t think much of it.  After a yummy breakfast of arepas, I headed out to catch a bike tour at 10:30.  By the time I got on the bus, however, I realized I wasn´t going to make it in time.  It turns out that there was a protest blocking traffic to where I had to go to, and so I had to get off the bus a few stops early.  Luckily a girl was going to the same area as me, and so we talked while we made our way there.

Since I didn´t make the bus tour, I decided to check out a few museums.  The Museo de Oro (Gold Museum) was pretty amazing, and it documented the role of gold in cultures dating back to thousands of years BC.  The artifacts they had on display were amazing.  After that, I went to the Fernando Botero Museum.  It displayed a lot of his artwork from over the years, and it was really cool seeing his work up close.  Unfortunately they didn´t have my favorite pieces of Los músicos or Tres músicos, but I still enjoyed seeing what they did have on display.

Remember that sore throat I mentioned that I woke up with?  Well, it didn´t get better as the day went on.  As I was going into the first museum, I started feeling warm and had body aches.  I had just spent about an hour getting to the area, so I decided to take it easy and at least check out the two museums.  Afterwards I got on the bus and made my way back to the apartment to rest.

After resting for most of the afternoon into the evening, I´m now feeling much better.  I took aspirin and got a sandwich for dinner, even though I wasn´t that hungry.  (I had gotten a few snacks in town with some hot tea, but they weren´t really much of a meal.)  Marcial thought it was good old altitude sickness, but I didn´t have any of the usual symptoms.

In any case, tomorrow I am off to Cartagena, a beach town in northern Colombia.  The beaches are supposed to be amazing, and there´s supposed to be lots to do there.  I actually haven´t done too much research about it, so I´ll see what they suggest when I get to the hostel.