In reality, it’s probably the latter. Part of my new role as a bumbling traveler has slowly evolved by submerging myself step by step into American culture
. My last couple weeks of research passed in a soothingly rhythmic pattern in Arica sans host families, grazing herd animals, and volcanoes. I would wake up at 7, meditate and enjoy my small yoga class with Chilean mothers, write my paper in the stuffy library of the university or overlooking the ocean from Casa SIT, return to my apartment shared with my two close friends (Meredith and Laura) to cook something delicious, and continue writing until midnight. We added a bit more international flavor to our repetitive work schedules; my first night back in society, I thought "mmmm, I’m showered. I’m clean. I’m warm. AND there’s a beautiful French man cooking, (no, birthing (that sounds gross), hmm, creating? Mastering? Manifesting? I cannot define a verb descriptive enough for the pasta Cyrille made) for my flatmates and I." A week or so later in la fiesta de la pizza gringa (Gringa pizza party), I found myself in déjà vu thinking “oh my goodness. I’m still clean. I’m still warm. AND here’s my amazing German friend creating an acoustic guitar heaven in our apartment.” So what can describe the last few weeks of my program? International. Food. Spontaneous dance study breaks to the worst American music (Lady GaGa and Justin Timberlake). Yoga. And 43 pages about contraceptive use in rural indigenous adolescents.
June 7 rolled around and our band of fifteen gringas, finished with their projects, disbanded to Peru, Chile, and a few returned to the US
. I spent my first thirty hours of independence on a bus to Santiago eagerly planning a week of events for Bri and I. Reunited with my sister, we blitzed for Valparaiso for the culture and high class life. We intended to visit Pablo Neruda’s most famous beach front house, La Isla Negra, and tour world class wine vineyards. We abandoned our aristocratic plans and enjoyed Valparaiso’s colorful buildings, winding roads, steep hills, and flavorful energetic life by simply walking the streets.
With an urge to see penguins and the starry skies of the deserts, Bri and I headed to La Serena. I’m struggling to maintain optimism about La Serena, but we really only met failure after failure. The penguin reserve was too dangerous to go to. Access to the quartz mines wasn’t allowed. The skies clouded over all the beautiful space observatories. Tours to the secluded Valdivian forests were too expensive. We even lacked people in our hostel to compare complaining stories. Our closest relationship was formed with one of the hostel workers who I had to beg to switch to a safer room (someone “walked” into the hostel during the night and the police had to come) and she took our tooth paste. Quite clearly, we’re walking to a far different beat of Chile than the one of hospitality and easy going spontaneity that I heard in my travels in the south and far north.
So maybe our first few days haven’t been the “Chile” that I’m used to, but I’m reminding myself we’re both exploring. We find ourselves (Hey I can say we now!) in the tranquil pitter pattering of rain (RAIN!! No more desert!) in Santiago. We just met up with Adrien, a mutual Valdez friend who has lived in Chile for six years, for amazing Thai food and Valdez gossip catch up. We’ll take this rainy night in Santiago to wash away our disappointment in La Serena, cozy up just enough with Valdez memories, and revive ourselves to explore the south of Chile...in the winter!
Coconut milk and red curry bathe my stomach that craved the rich spicy flavors of tom kha gai. Dark (85%!!!) chocolate from Switzerland is so deliciously bitter that it absorbs all my spit and makes my mind spin. Green ginger tea trudged over from Canada by Bri warms us both up in our hostel room as we listen to a podcast about hostages saved on my computer. Where is my familiar friend Chile I made in the past few months? I've made the transition from student/daughter/sister/researcher/friend/local gringa to bumbling generic traveler since I last wrote. I can remind myself that I haven’t left that same country with the shepherd and his llamas, but at the same time there’s a constant internal debate that can’t decide if my changing perspective of Chile’s culture is a result of new places or new roles.