– It’s my second night in Chile. My first day was a bit of a wash. My flight arrived before 6am, and after exchanging some money, I took two separate busses to Vina Del Mar, about two hours to the northwest. The bus driver woke me up when we arrived in Vina. Everyone else had already gotten off the bus. I slept most of the day, then awoke and went to the grocery store and fixed myself a spaghetti dinner.
I spent much of today getting errands done and knocking some things off the to do list. My hostel hosted an “asado” (a barbecue) this evening. I recently gave up beef, but I even more recently took it back up…when in Rome…
I finally had some lengthy Spanish conversations. I met my first Paraguayan. Such an interesting accent. Very breathy, a lot like the Portuguese of Brazil, at least that was my impression. It would make sense since the two countries share a long border. But it could just be a coincidence. He told me he has met two classes of Americans: those who know geography, and those who don’t. I told him that I had most recently lived in Virginia but I grew up in Connecticut. He said he had never met anyone from the southern part of the US. I discovered at the grocery store that “Virginia” is the name of a cleaning product here, mainly for car seats.
I met folks from Italy and Buenos Aires, but there was a large contingency from Mendoza, Argentina, which is the closest Argentinian city from here. Many folks are on vacation and Argentinians often come to Chile because it’s cheaper. It’s also about 100 degrees in Mendoza right now and the mild summer days here on the Chilean coast are a welcomed respite from the heat.
I spent a good deal of time chatting with a woman from Mendoza who has a PHD in geology. The accent is rough, and combined with my poor hearing, I found it hard sometimes to understand everything. We didn’t start eating till about twenty of eleven, but it was worth the wait.
I’m itching to start classes tomorrow and take part in some of the afternoon activities through the school. It was overcast and cool for most of the day, but became sunny late in the day and was probably the hottest after 7pm. Chile’s time zone is two hours ahead of the East Coast of the United States despite the fact that Chile has the same longitude as Providence and Boston. If you ever look up the time zones in South America you’ll find that they make very little sense, at least to an outsider like me.
I expected my anxiety to come back full force since it’s been three days since my flight and I usually experience some withdrawal from the medication that I take to fly. But I’m feeling pretty good. I started taking the natural substances of Kava and tryptophan in addition to the CBD so perhaps they are all having a positive effect.
I walked along the coast just a few blocks from here. It’s not as nice as I thought it would be. Chile is the most prosperous country in South America but many of the high rises here in Vina Del Mar have a less attractive 1970s feel to them. Compared to other Latin American countries the streets are clean, but I still wouldn’t walk in my bare feet, as I saw one man doing. There are lots dogs, many with owners, but a good deal of strays too – not nearly as many as in Mexico or Guatemala though. There are a number of nice restaurants to choose from, but as I’m getting close to the end of my two year travel budget, I’m penny-pinching.
First day of classes. They went well. The school is really organized and everyone couldn’t be nicer. I was appropriately placed and we worked on exactly what I was hoping to work on first in my grammar class. I felt confident speaking and my Spanish is coming back fast.
This evening the school offered a tour of Valparaiso which is only twenty minutes away. We got to go up the iconic funiculars (that I remember seeing in the movie Motorcycle Diaries) and explore Cerro Alegre (Not a flattering picture of me) or “Happy Hill.” The city has a plethora of grandiose hills packed to the brim with residencies, churches, and gastronomic establishments. I suppose the hills and the ocean views remind me some of San Francisco, as do the bright colors of the buildings. Beautiful works of graffiti can be found on many of the walls up and down the undulating vias.
After our tour we went for a beer and I got to talking to one of our guides who graduated from university last year. She lived in Edmonton for a year and a half and speaks good English. We delved into Chilean history, something many Chileans seem keen on talking about. She brought up the brutal dictator Pinochet who came to power after a military coup in the 1970s. She expressed a certain sort of relief when I recognized that the CIA, as part of the Cold War agenda, was at the very least partly responsible for the coup and the overthrow of a democratically elected socialist.
Pinochet ruled Chile for years with a heavy hand and is most famous for rounding up dissenters in the soccer stadium and killing them there. I sympathized that it must be difficult teaching American students who, for the most part, have no idea how much our government influenced their history. She says the country still hasn’t fully healed decades later.
It was hot today, quite a contrast from yesterday. Our other tour guide said the variance in weather is normal and you have to be prepared for anything. The sun was strong and she told me the sun will be even stronger in Patagonia where the ozone layer has grown thin.
My impressions of Chile are different than what I expected. I had expected a more European feel. The country is currently the most prosperous in South America, but this is still South America. The infrastructure is old, the bus ride into the city was on a bumpier road than a Pennsylvania highway (just checking to see if you’re reading Pennsylvanians.) Our guides lamented how the middle class can not afford to go on vacation as Americans do.
Not much going on today. It seems that everyone’s brains in class were tired from the first day. I dropped off laundry after school, bought some groceries, and made lunch and dinner. I walked up the beach a short ways in the evening.
A group of us students from the school took the bus up the coast to a place this afternoon where we sandboarded from the top of a huge dune a couple hundred feet above the ocean. It sounds and looks more fun than it actually is. You spend most of the time climbing steeply up through sand to get to the top again. Exhausting! – I am so out of shape just three months after completing my thru-hike.
Our group consisted of students from England, Reunion (a historically colonial French Island located in the Indian Ocean), Israel, Switzerland, Australia, and the US. Some of my fellow student companions were a bit disturbed by a somewhat blusterous group to our left whose participants were taking pictures with their flag. It was black and had a skull and cross bones on it. However, the cross bones were replaced with semi-automatic rifles. The flag said, “If you mess with the best, you die with the rest.” They were US Marines, perhaps stationed here.
When I came back I went to out to meet a social group called “Poliglota” where Chileans practiced their English, and I suppose foreigners were supposed to practice their Spanish, but I was the only foreigner present. It was fun to help folks with their English.
Not much going on today – the school hosted “la once” which is like a late afternoon tea time/light early dinner. There are a lot of people at the hostel tonight, pretty much all of them are about half my age. Kinda wish I had done a home stay instead. Oh well. Next time.
Another low key day. The school put on a lunch after classes and recognized those who had finished up their classes with certificates. I hung out at the hostel drinking a couple of beers with a guy name Martin who arrived today from Holland. This is his first trip out of a Europe and the first extended trip by himself. He’s 26 years old and sounds like he has a sweet deal where he only works six months for tax purposes. He wants to buy a motorcycle and travel around Chile.
Today was the first day of our trip to Pichilemu. I slept the majority of the bus ride and we arrived in Pelchugia around 12:30 and waited around the pool at the hostel as our hosts cooked up a barbeque “asado.” I napped hard afterwards.
When I awoke I took a two hour walk on the beach. The wind was chilly, no pun intended. I walked all the way to the end and back. I passed lots of happy Chilean families and their dogs. When I returned, the group had left to go the center for food. I tried to find them but couldn’t. I did find empanadas, cookies, and Gatorade. The sun set over the Pacific Ocean at 9:05. It must be only in the fifties this evening. Brr…the rest of the group has gone out to the discotec. Our hostel is comfortable and despite the cold, I’ve decided to keep the sliding door cracked so I can hear the soothing sound of constant waves crashing on the beach.
We had a nice breakfast at the hostel. Afterwards some of us walked down to the center of town to go surfing there. I didn’t really want to surf but I thought that I had to do it, if nothing more than to ad it to a list of things that sound cool to have done. Tried surfing in Chile – check.
When I left Blue Ridge School a year ago and was recognized at the final dinner for my four years of service, I recall someone from the crowd jeering, “he’s going off to become a hippy!” … Well my transformation might just be near complete after my surfing venture today. It’s something I could get more into.
Putting on the wet suit felt a bit claustrophobic. We got a bit of a lesson on the shore and when we entered the water it was very cold; my feet and hands hurt. But It turned out to be a ton of fun and a great bonding experience with some of the other guys. I managed to get up on my board three or four times. I can see the appeal of surfing. It’s very zen becoming one with a wave, then working against the current to get out far enough to catch another one then waiting there vigilantly peering for the shape of a wave that might be the one.”
We had lunch at a restaurant in town afterwards and then took a tour of Wolf Point, an outcrop of rocks at the end of the beach. I had actually walked to just underneath them yesterday where the beach meets the rocks.
Now we are headed back on the bus to Vina Del Mar, my head red with sun, but with good memories of Pichilemu.