Monday, December 28, 2009

El Sur y Más

My trip to the south with Rotary was incredible. Really incredible. On top of seeing some of the most amazing places in the world, I spent the week with a whole bunch of other exchange students which was really cool. It's hard to have a bad time with a busload of kids with whom you have something significant in common.
Day 1- After a sleepless night on the plane from Santiago to Punto Arenas (the 2nd southernmost city in the world), our first day was pretty laid back. We took a tour of Punto Arenas, which unto itself isn't that remarkable of a city, then went off to see PENGUINS! Real live wild penguins! It wasn't a huge colony or anything, but still there were a good many of them and it was cool to see them so close just doing their thing. It was kinda weird seeing them just chilling on the dirt and grass-- there was no snow. That night, a group of us went running then swam in the Straights of Magellan. It was cold, but it was totally worthwhile.
Day 2- Took a bus to an old old fort, then to some little beaches with nice scenery, then off to Puerto Natales, the city closest to Torres del Paine National Park.

Day 3- We went into Torres del Paine. Words can't do it justice. We ate lunch in Hostería Pehoe, an absolutely gorgeous restaurant/hotel on an island in the middle of a lake surrounded by mountains (check the link for photos), then took an excessively brief hike before heading off to our hotel. The hotel was luxurious to the max-- the dinner there was incredible and the view from every room was to die for. If we were bored, we could just go outside, take a little walk, and enjoy the vista.
Day 4-We had a free morning, so most of us took the opportunity to go horseback riding. It was a definite highlight of the week. In the afternoon, we went out on a boat on Lake Gray to Gray Glacier. I somehow ended up in a pact with a couple of other kids to stay out on the front of the boat until we reached the glacier, which made for good memories and bonding, but also a very wet and cold Benny. That night, we went for another run/dip, this time into a glacial river.
Day 5- Another free morning, then to a tourist-trap cave where the body of a milodon (extinct giant sloth the size of a bear) was found, then back to Puerto Natales, where we just walked around town and did our souvenier/present shopping.

Day 6- Slight digression: I woke up in the morning and couldn't find my camera. It's still missing, and all of these pictures are stolen from facebook. I guess I should buy a new camera soon, but you know, I still have a tiny bit of hope, and it's hard to make myself spend the money...
Anyway, The day started with a boat ride on a fjord to a different glacier, then back to Punta Arenas where we got to see the palace/mansion built there by the super-rich lady who must have basically run the city back when it began. After that, it was off to the airport, arriving in Santiago at 6 AM thoroughly exhausted.

Since I got back things have been pretty relaxed. Some kids from Santiago came down for a night to check out Curicó and visit, which was fun. Other than that, just hanging out around the house and with friends in other parts.

I had my first Christmas here, but the Chilean Christmas seems to be less of a big-- not that it's not important but it's not a huge gathering and it's not the center of life for weeks. Christmas eve, I went to mass with my family(which was very cool to see), then came home, ate a midnight Christmas dinner, then gave presents, helped my brother set-up the Wii that was the family gift, then passed out well-exhausted. Christmas day was just relaxing, then that night we went to Talca to be with the extended family.

I celebrated Channukah too-- the first night I lit candles along with the Beckers and Goldwassers through Skype, then most of the rest of the nights I lit candles with the exchange students I was travelling with in Patagonia. Most of them (if not all of them) had never seen Channukah or any type of Jewish ceremony before, so I felt good being able to share that.

Monday, I went in to town to hang out with Liz and Emily (exchange students) and a few of their friends. When I got there, it turned out that they were heading to take part in the Curicó leg of The World March for Peace and Nonviolence. A photographer from the news paper was there, and we made the front page as well as another another photo in which I'm more featured. We were a small march, but it was fun nonetheless.

I'm looking forward to the next week right now as it includes New Year's Eve (tonight) which should be very sweet and the goodbye parties of two friends. After that, I don't really know what's on the horizon, but with time I suppose I'll find out.

3 things that are different here

1. Road lines are all white. There is yellow for parking and such, but there's no yellow to indicate that the road is two way. This is especially confusing to me on straight stretches of roads with one lane each way because theres just a single dotted white line.

2. Beverages-- there are no free refills, there is no free glass of ice water, and people don't drink a whole lot of water in general. They drink a ton of soda, which comes in a variety of sizes and containers : 350 cc can, or 350 cc glass bottle, 1000 cc plastic bottle, 1 liter plastic bottle, liter plastic bottle, 2 liter returnable (hard) plastic bottle, 2 liter normal/non-returnable plastic bottle, 2.5 liter plastic bottle, and 3 liter plastic bottle.

3. Counting works differently when you get to the high numbers. In Spanish it doesnt go millón, billón, trillón. Instead, they go million, thousand million, billion, thousand billion; or rather; millón, mil millones, billón, mil billones.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Vacaciones Empiezan

So I'm now on summer vacation and on a small break in the middle of a travelling binge. It's been a little while since I blogged, so I'm sure I'm forgetting a lot, but maybe that's not so bad since it keeps me from writing about lots of tedious little things.

The last week of school was fairly unremarkable, but there was a really nice ceremony when the Seniors left. Each senior got a gift from each class, and every student in the school wrote a note to a Senior. Everyone lined the hallways so the Seniors walked past and said goodbye to everyone on their way out. There was also a random costume fashion show of little kids, but I have no idea what that was for....

As for me and my class, I came to school less because there were a lot of tests, and when I did come, mostly kids were just chilling and studying. I played a good bit of ping-pong on the miniature table a classmate made for an art project a few weeks back.

I just got back from a 5 day trip to Chillán with my counselor, Ernesto. The first day we travelled to the city Chillán, which is a good bit bigger than Curicó, bought food, then took an hour long bus to Valle las Trancas, where Ernesto has a cabaña (cabin).

The second day, Ernesto and I took a good long walk up to a lava hill named Shangri La.

When we got back, he took a nap and I went on a solo adventure trying to find a way to the base of the huge waterfall.

Day 3 and day 4 the real adventure took place. The reason for the whole trip was to climb Volcán Chillán, a very tall volcano which has skiing in the winter. Ernesto has a friend who, if I understood correctly, had a son loved climbing and recently passed away, and this trip was for the family and the son's college friends, who were all climbing enthusiasts. We were just lucky to be invited and tagging along. On the first day, we climbed for 3 or 4 hours, through rocks and sand and snow drifts, before making camp on a little island of rocks in the middle of all of the iced-over snow.

The second day, we put on our ice spikes and climbed to the new and old peaks of the volcano--(3,122 meters/10,243 feet) and (3,089 meters/10,135 feet), respectively.

Going up was difficult and slow, but gratifying, Going down however, was easy and a lot of fun. I did a lot of the descent boot-skiing and butt-sledding. After the descent, we had a nice asado (BBQ), then Ernesto and I headed back to his cabaña, quite exhausted. We'd had plans to stay two more nights, but we were both too worn out to want to do another walk, so we decided to head home the next day.

Last couple of wednesdays "Curicó International Club", as I like to call the gatherings of all of the exchange students from all of the programs, met. We went once for Mexican food (quite different than Mexican food in the US but still good), and hot dogs, breaking our run of international foods. Their a lot of fun. There aren't any other Americans from other programs, but theres a healthy mix of English and Spanish because there are 4 South Africans and some Europeans who learned English in school. I speak more Spanish than English when I'm with them, and I don't feel like it holds me back. I think a big part of it is that we're on a similar level so no one is impatient, which makes me more comfortable. I've realized that my level of comfort with the (person/people) I'm talking to has a big impact on my ability to communicate.

The first couple of days of summer, I was bored, which was very scary since I knew that there were still 3 months to go... however, the rest of that first week I found myself with plenty of opportunities to be sociable. Hopefully that will stay the norm, though I won't really know for a couple of weeks because right now my classmates are all on their class trip to Cancún and most of my exchange student friends are in Barriloche, Argentina. I leave for Punta Arenas (2nd most southern city in the world) and Torres Del Paine (big national park way down south in Patagonia) the day before they get back, which will be immediately followed by a 3 day hiking trip (or "trekking" as they say here) with the other Curicó Rotary kids. Anyway, this week (is going to be/has been) be quite laid back. Mostly just chilling around the house, getting some exercise, catching some rays, swimming in the pool, and trying to track down all of the stuff I need for the upcoming trips.

things that are different here:

1. Instead of using the alphabet from A to G to name music notes, people here use Do-Re-Mi-Fa-So-La-Ti. Do is C, and you go on from there. It's confusing to have to convert as you go-- to figure out what it means to be playing in Ti bemol menor (B flat minor), or something like that.

2. Palta (Avocado) is an absolute staple here. I can't think what an American equivalent would be, but seriously, I've been eating a lot of it. The most common way to eat it is to mash it with a fork on a piece of bread (like an undoctored guacamole). That's actually really good with ketchup (speaking of ketchup I was wrong in my last post--Heinz is available here, if not as widely spread). Palta is also put on lots of other things, like...

3. Chilean hot dogs, or "completos", are something else. The hot dog itself isn't fundamentally that different, but it's less than a third of the sandwhich. Instead of being served in a bun, it is served in marraqueta, AKA French bread. What's more, on top of the hot dog, there's usually a huge amount of mayo (Chileans LOVE mayonnaise and put it on everything), a lot of palta, some and diced tomato. This combo is referred to as the Italiano, because it's the colors of the Italian flag. These hot dogs are freaking impossible to eat normally. You have to come in from all angles, which means you can rarely manage a bite that has all of the ingredients in it, and even taking great care, the gooey toppings tend to ooze their way out of the bun and disasterously splatter whatever lies below. Completos Gigantes are also common, and really are gigantic.