And so it begins

Trip Start Jan 23, 2010
1
38
Trip End May 31, 2011


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Where I stayed
La Chimba Hostel, Maggie´s House

Flag of Chile  , Región Metropolitana,
Sunday, January 17, 2010


Life here in Chile has been
keeping me busy busy busy! As you know, I arrived around two weeks ago
and stayed at the La Chimba Hostel, which was a BLAST!  My seatmate on
the plane was this really nice girl, 28yrs and a vet, and she gave me
her number so I had my first Chilean friend before I even arrived!
Although, just my style, I've yet to call her.



Anyway, my first two days in Santaigo were spent more or less roaming
around, exploring the city and the public transport, and hanging out
with backpackers/staff from the hostel.  I had a wonderful time and met
some great people- couple a germans, brits, aussies, and of course
chilenos. It was here that I got my first peek into chilean culture:
Chileans are night owls! You can't even find a place to eat dinner
before nine (and I'm yet to eat dinner at my house with my host mom
before 10) and my first two nights here (which were mid-week, mind you)
I didn't make it to bed before 5 am.  In fact, I'm writing this email
after a night out that lasted until 6 am (and the streets were still
full of people)!!



On my third day in Chile I was scheduled to meet my host family at La
Catolica Campus Oriente, which is where I would return the following
day for Spanish classes.  As I was leaving the hostel I met another
girl from my program, Mary, and so we shared a cab to campus.  After
arriving we were introduced to our host families.  Mine is a widower
named Maggie, and so it is just she and I in the house. She has a car
(and is a crazy, but apparently effective, driver) and we gave her
friend and her exchange student, Alma, a ride home.  Ironically, both
Alma and Mary turned out to be some of my favorite people in the
program.



My house is in barrio La Reina, a neighborhood that rests in the
shadow of the Andes, and has everything I need nearby- metro, cine,
supermercado, banco, paradas para la micro, a place to cut my hair,
chinese food para llevar, corner stores. you name it.  The house is
quiete large but still has that latin american feel with a brown
appliances, a center patio where one can wash and dry laundry, front
gates that are always locked and bars on the windows.

Just down the street lives Maggie's good friend Melissa (family
includes Pepe, Lueefer, Laura,  and una guagua [baby] ), who is
substantially more wealthy than my host mom, has a swimming pool, and
is also hosting a student, Noah. 



 We went there for a swim on the first day, chatted, drank piscolas,
and just generally got to know eachother....swimming and drinks by the
pool? I can't complain!  Pisco, and more specifically, pisco sour, is
sort of the national beverage here. As you know, Chile is famous for
its wine but pisco, made from fermented grapes, is the "alcohol" of
choice.  Its sort of sweet, quite strong, and normally mixed with
either  sugar, lemon, and egg white= pisco sour, or with cola= piscola.




After chatting through the afternoon, we went to buy our BIP
(pronounced Beep) for the metro and the bus.  The transportation system
here has been recently revamped, so people can ride a combination of
the metro and the micro and not have to pay more than once (within two
hours of first using it).  But you can't even get on a bus without the
BIP, as cash is never exchanged.  This system seems great to me, with
the exception that you can more or less only charge your card at metro, so if you
run out of cash before that you're basically shit of luck (though this
has happened to me twice already and both times the driver let me on). 
Otherwise, it seems really convenient and I'm slowly getting to know
the bus routes.  La micro and the metro have no timed stops, but you
can generally count on one coming every ten minutes.  The busses are
broken down by a number and a color that correspond to their respective
barrios (for example, La Reina is D and Yellow), with the addition of
green and white busses that run throughout the city.    The busses are
slightly more difficult to use than the metro (and you often HAVE to use
them) and the drivers, true to the south american stereotype, are wild
as hell..as are the pedestrians...as are the cab drivers...basically
everyone around here drives like crazy people! The metro on the
other hand could not be much easier to use, and because I have a station
six blocks from my house, its practically impossible for me to get too
lost.



Back to day three.  Maggie.  She's freaking wonderful!  I felt
extremely comfortable with her from the first minute and she really
goes out of her way to keep me fed, informed, and happy.  She's been
hosting students for like 15 years, and because she has no children of
her own, I think she likes taking us under her wing.  I really feel
pretty lucky as many of the other students are having communication
problems, feel uncomfortable, aren't being provided the food that they
technically already payed for (for example, Maggie ALWAYS packs me a
lunch, but many of the students don't even see their host families
before they go to school), etc etc.  Even better, she can tell me what
bus to take to get anywhere, and if it seems to dangerous or difficult
(like last night for example, I wanted to meet up with Mary in the
barrio Nuñoa and then go to Barrio Bellavista to carretear y bailar
salsa but it was it was already 12:30 am- we had just finished dinner)
Maggie will just gave me a lift!  Anyways, she is really nice and I'm
starting to question whether or not I will want to move out! 



Days 4 and 5 pretty much consisted of getting oriented, taking care of
paperwork etc.  The program seems to be pretty well organized and I
feel very clear on what is required of me and what to expect overall.  Although, strangely enough, I arrived not having a clue as to what my
schedule was.  Thus, it was a pleasant suprise when I found out that we
were all being whisked away for a weekend retreat/orientation at a four
star hotel with a huge pool in the middle of nowhere!  We literally had
the entire hotel to ourselves (there are 63 of us in the program, plus
Mariecarmen, Verónica, and Issac, our program
directors/coordinaters/go-to people) and it was basically a weekend
filled with LOTS of free food, music, a 5 hours daily of orientaiton,
hiking, and fun.  I also made friends with most of the staff (this
apparently seems to be my style here)  and now have a place to stay if
I ever want to return to Curacaví!



On Sunday we returned to Santiago and on Monday we began our intensive
Spanish classes from 2 pm to 6 pm (this week only, next week will be 
from 9-1).  Classes are fine, relatively boring, and only moderately
useful, as I find myself much to busy exploring the city and meeting
people to actually do any studying!  But don't worry padres,  I'm
turning over a new leaf next week and will focus focus focus!  In
truth, my Spanish is definitely getting better every day.  The way they
speak the language here is UNBELIEVABLE and seemingly impossible to
understand. Its laden with slang, spoken rapid-fire style, and only
half of every word is actually verbalized.  During my first few days
everyone might as well have been speaking German. But, poco a poco, I
am understanding more.  I still run into the occasional person that is
simply just beyond understanding, but I think I'll be okay in the long
run.  I definitely speak more spanish than alot of people in my
program, but not because I know more, rather it seems I simply have
less fear of sounding like a jackass :) .  In fact, I know way less in
terms of vocab and grammar, as most people here have at least six years
of spanish under their belts.



As far as what I've be up to, I guess that's really about it.  Some
observations:



* Santiago is by far the safest, most clean and beautiful latin
american capital I have ever been to (Granted I only have 6 or 7 under
my belt...and with the possible exception of Havana in terms of
beauty).    While there are definitely the normal dangers of a big
city, I overalll feel very safe.  The streets are all treelined, the
transporation is excellent, there are tons of green spaces, markets,
musuems, etc, the smog is not that bad (yet), and I'm surrounded by
mountains. I definitely feel like I've a picked a great city to live in.



* I can drink the water here...and its really not that bad!  shocking. 
As most of you know, the culture is generally to buy big five gallon
jugs of water for one's home, but as far as I can tell, noone here does
that.



* The days here are long long long. During the summer (now), it doesn't
get dark until almost 10 pm, and then we eat dinner...and then stay up
until AT LEAST 2 am and then I get up around 9.  Not to mention I am
always doing something, something something



* People here love to eat, but in an odd way.  Breakfast consists of
fresh white bread, butter and jam, maybe some fruit, and some
wonderfully horrible instant coffee.  NOBODY drinks real coffee (thus,
neither do I).  Lunch is the main meal of the day and I usually have to
take it to go as school starts at two and lunch time is really around 4
or 5.  This is the biggest meal of the day, and if eaten at home, is
always accompanied by wine, dessert, and a little appetizer.  Dinner is
at 9, 10, or 11 and though Maggie cooks a substantial dinner for me,
she almost always just has a little bread and butter, a little meat, or
something like this, which I think is more common.  Many people in my
program tell me they rarely get dinner at home.  The meals last forever
(in a positive way) and more times than I can count, Maggie and I get
up from the table after breakfast just in time to start making lunch.



*  Santiago and Chile (from what I know of it) is an odd mix of
developing and developed countries.  It is not uncommon to see a horse
drawn cart on the same streets that are packed with modern cars and
busses.  Supermarkets are widely available and generally the most
popular place to shop, though there are still some markets and lots of
funky small corner stores that sell a little bit of everything, from
fruit to wine to cheese to minutes for your phone.  Prices for
"services" (like a haircut for example) are relatively inexpensive, but
everything else is priced more or less like home.  Utilities are
expensive, and one must pay even for a call from one landline to
another.  I'm paying about 12 cents a minute for my cellphone and its
free to recieve calls, but not to dial out.  Thus, there really isn't
this cell phone culture that we're used to where everyone is always
yapping, because almost all calls are very short, sweet, and to the
point.  rent is around 3-4 hundred a month, but people have to pay
community fees, and these are quite high.  Everyone is super
conservative with their water, electricity, and gas usuage, and most
people generally turn their gas off at night. The city is incredibly
clean, yet has few trash cans (thus people are employed to clean the
streets and the average person just drops their trash on the ground. 
Its amazing how much trash accumulates during the night, when there are
no street cleaners).



There is a huge mall culture here, and odd little mini-malls are
EVERYWHERE.  I've been to one of the nicest ones to help Alma pick out
a traje de baño but most are a little funkier and seem to specialize in
one thing.  For example,  one might be filled with hair and nail
salons, another with clothes, and others with odd trinkets (which are
also sold all over the place on the streets).  Roving vendors selling
cigarrettes, gum, candy and other random things (dental floss anyone?)
abound.  You generally have to pay anywhere from 20-50 cents to use a
public bathroom and this almost always gets you some toilet paper as
well, a commody which is only intermitently available in restrooms.



On the outskirts of town there are run down shanty homes mixed in with
highrise apartment buildings.  Brand new sidewalks intermingle with
paths that are more akin to someting one might see in Guatemala, and my
house, which is in fact in only fair condition, intermingles with homes
that have landscaping, swimming pools, and formal dining rooms. 
Everyone has a wall surrounding there home with, at the very least, a
spiked fence.  The gates are always locked, some with automatic buzzers
(to open them) and some which are operated manually (like mine) and many are
often reinforced with barbedwire and broken glass.  Graffiti is
indiscrimately plastered all over the place and holy shit, there are
more stray dogs  on my block alone than I've ever seen in my whole life.



*  The stray dogs here are incredible.  They're all superfriendly,
relatively clean, and can range from purebred to puremutt.They are very
streetwise and cars pay no attention to them.  They spend alot of time
hanging out together, in a circle making low howls and short woofs,
almost as if they are chatting like old friends.  And people love
them!  Pedestrians don't hesitate to pet them, feed them, and frequently,
woof at them.  Its really quite a sight



*Everyone here is very helping and accomodating (with the exception of the
occasional bus driver) though I find that I generally have to be the
initiator of things.  However, once I get the ball rolling its like
we're family.



* Slang.  Holy shit they love it, they use it, and once you know it,
you can discard some of it and desipher what the hell is going on!

The Most commonly used are Cachai, which is supposed to be
pronounced cachas , but that's just how they roll (same goes for estas
as in como estas.  instead they say como estai). 
It more or less means do you understand, but they use it more along the
lines of "ya know", and they use it alot, like every third word,
especially las jovenes.



They also use Huevon, which comes from huevos which
litteraly means eggs but is actually referring to testicles.
Only the don't actually pronounce it the way it reads, instead its
pronounced weigh-on or for a woman weigh-own-ah
I know what you must be thinking, women don't have testicles, and yes
you are in fact correct.  However this is basically the equivallant of
dude only EVERYONE says it (though I wouldn't say it to , for example,
a professor).



Pololo/a refers to one's girlfriend or boyfriend but finds it's
origins in the word for chicken, Pollo. What
is up with food and sex!?  I don't know if you all recall, but it was
the same in central america- Cuchara= vagina, bonbon or mango= a good
looking guy, etc



Sipo  is short for Si pues which basically means well
yeah
. The do a similar thing with Para and just cut it short
to Pa (these to are particularrly noticable because of the need to
frequently use them).




And last but not least, Guagua, pronounced Whah-whah,  means
baby.
I find this particularlly hilarious because because its as though
the baby is referred to by the sound it makes.  Its like calling a cow
a moo moo.  Anyways, there you have it!

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