Monday, January 16, 2012

2012: The End of the... Beginning

Goodbye 2011, the best year of my life...

As you might know, EOD has ended and most of the volunteers left in December, ready to begin the next chapter of their lives.

Most. Every so often a volunteer just isn´t ready to leave, and here I am, typing this from Antofagasta as the year has changed to 2012. Every year on NYE I wonder where I will be a year from then. Last year I imagined I would be in Ohio, having just come back from Chile and celebrating with friends and family. I never thought I would still be here!

In November I had a lot of anxiety about whether to stay or go and where life was taking me. I spent a lot of time thinking about it, as staying here was the riskier choice. But I decided to stay for several reasons, including getting more teaching experience, learning more Spanish, enjoying summer here, and spending time with people I have come to form deep relationships with.

I don´t know how long I will remain in Chile. I will probably accept a job as an elementary school teacher at a bilingual school and return home in December. More on that a different time. For now I am still figuring out my plans/job situation in Chile. This summer I am working at a language institute teaching English.

So what has happened since November? Lots...
1. School ended
This was bittersweet. I miss the kids, but by the end of the year I was ready to move on. There was less work to do and I was not teaching very much because the students had tests and projects.

2. Trip to the south
EOD had closing ceremonies and we all went to Santiago to receive our diplomas and bid farewell. Once the ceremonies ended, I travelled to Mendoza, Argentina and then to southern Chile: Pucón, Puerto Varas, and Chiloé before returning to Santiago and finally Antofagasta.

Mendoza, Argentina
I went with another volunteer friend- Laura- to Mendoza, Argentina. Mendoza is a lovely city that is tree-lined on every single street. I just adored it immensely and I wish more cities looked like that. I have been to many cities, and Mendoza might be one of my favorite. Argentina is different than Chile- the Spanish is better (sorry Chilenos), it is more sing-songy/Italian-like and they use "vos" as the tú form. I only visited Mendoza so I cannot speak for all of Argentina, but Mendoza was clean and didn´t have as many stray dogs as Chilean cities have. It is famous for its beef (best I ever had) and Mendoza has many excellent wineries. Laura and I spent one afternoon taking a bikes and wines tour- where you rent bikes and visit local wineries. That was a very... happy... afternoon. We also visited hot springs and had a fabulous buffet lunch, mud treatment, and just a wonderful day. The last thing we did was walk around a gorgeous park called San Martin. After Mendoza Laura left to go to Cordoba and I travelled by myself to southern Chile...

Laura on the rocks near the hot springs

Parque San Martin

The crazy road between Mendoza and Santiago

After living in the world´s driest desert, visiting a place carpeted in green with trees, lakes, volcanoes, and waterfalls was pure magic. Pucón is the adventure capital of southern Chile, and there are lots of outdoor activities to do, including rafting, canyoning, canopy, horse back riding, hiking, skydiving, etc. Anything you can think of is there. The first day I was there almost all the tours were booked, so I went on a free city tour and planned my trip out. The next day I signed up to go do canopy (zip-lining) and canyoning as a package deal. Canyoning is going through a canyon river with white water rapids using just your body. Basically you float through the rapids and jump off waterfalls, rapel down cliffs, etc. I was super stoked to do both activities, until the tour company lied to me. As I was about to leave for the canopy tour they told me I was the only one signed up for canyoning and they would cancel if nobody else signed up. Nobody else did, and instead of apologizing, they just smiled and asked if I wanted to go a different day. No, I just wanted my money back.

Overview of Pucón. The haziness is not normal cloudiness- it´s ash from a volcano 6 hours away

People keep peacocks as pets here!

Wooden flowers- not a single one is real

Climbing Volcán Villarica
Ahh such a terrifying, awesome experience. We left at 7am to climb this snow-capped, active volcano. The guides warned us we might not make it up the top if we didn´t take the ski left, so took it we did (the ones that didn´t did not make it to the crater... how terrible). It was exhausting climbing a volcano and every time I looked sideways I felt dizzy. The quality of the company was OK for the price, but it wasn´t very personal and it was hard to keep climbing at times. One girl left the volcano after the first break! However after a straight incline for 3-4 hours we reached the top. Totally worth it. Beautiful, dangerous, rewarding, and unique. I peered into the crater and could smell the sulfur and hear the bubbling magma. During summer you can even see it sometimes, but not when we went. We were up there for about 40 minutes and then started sliding down the volcano.

I had a childhood fantasy about sledding ridiculously fast and forever down a huge mountain. It seemed to be a popular activity with most tourists, but it was the scariest part of the experience for me. You start going fast and it is hard to stop. They give you an ICE PICK to brake. A couple of times I lost control and flipped around with the ice pick. Uh yeah, not the epitome of safety. Regardless, I still recommend this as a fantastic adventure for the brave at heart.

After my volcano day, my legs were surprisingly not sore at all. But my arms, from the damn ice pick, were sore for days, even my wrists! I saw some pretty waterfalls in a forest, then headed to Puerto Varas.

The volcano

View from the top

Next to the crater

Sliding down with an ice pick 

30 second video of Volcán Villarrica

Puerto Varas
Puerto Varas is a city known for German influences, roses, and the beautiful scenery. The city has a bay with a volcano on the other side. In Puerto Varas I saw waterfalls, rainforests (not tropical ones), went to Frutillar for a morning, and finally went canyoning. I almost canceled canyoning, but I am so glad I did not. It was tied with the volcano in terms of pure awesomeness. Expensive of course, but one of the best things I have ever done in my life. I have videos, but they are on a disk somewhere. I jumped off of cliffs and rapelled down a waterfall. The craziest thing was I jumped 14-15 meters off a cliff next to a waterfall with another girl. It was the highest jump offered, and the tour company said we were the only girls to ever have done it!

Saltos de Petrohué

Lago Todos los Santos


Isla de Chiloé
I was told Chiloé is a place you either love or hate. I turned out to be a lover. Chiloé is an island off the southern coast of Chile that has its own culture. It has been plagued with earthquakes and tsunamis, and somewhere along the way developed lots of mythology. The most popular myth is ¨El Trauco,¨ an ugly dwarf that lives in the woods and impregnates women who encounter him. Luckily I met no such creature! However, I did meet a professional photographer on my bus who took photos for me using his camera my first day there.

Chiloé is famous for wooden churches and palafitos, wooden houses held up by sticks (palos are sticks in Spanish) in the water. Unfortunately I did not see too many churches because of lack of time, but I did see the wooden cathedral, the palafitos, and a penguin colony. I visited Chiloé National Park, but that ended up not being the greatest idea. It was so complicated to get there and took forever. It ended up being a waste of time, but I did visit the beach there and it was probably the best beach I have ever seen. I wish I had more time in Chiloé, and would definitely go back. It was one of the few places in Chile that has not been (completely) invaded by US culture. The myths didn´t even feel like myths, they felt real. The wooden houses, rolling hillsides, and locals made the entire island actually FEEL like a fairytale. I could have sworn I would see Pinocchio around every corner.

Palafitos Uno

Palafitos 2

Inside the all-wood cathedral

Curanto, the famous dish from Chiloé


Mythology everywhere

Rolling countryside

Before returning to Antofagasta, I made a short trip to Santiago to rest between buses, visit friends, and buy some things. Overall it was a great trip, minus some bumps along the way. It was also the first time I had travelled by myself, which proved to be more rewarding than scary.

Drive back to Antofa...

Por fin! I finally get a picture of the hand in the desert.

To see all pictures from Santiago/Mendoza/Pucón/Puerto Varas/Chiloé, click here- Santiago and Mendoza and here- South 2.

3. Christmas and NYE
Wow! First Christmas away from my family, let alone in a foreign country. I can never feel too much ¨Christmas spirit¨ until I see snow. This year the only snow I saw was fake and came in a spray can. It was 70 degrees and sunny, but a Christmas I will never forget. The little boy I tutor invited me to spend Christmas eve with his family, and on Christmas I had lunch with Felipe´s family and watched the latest Twilight movie. There were some Christmas events in the city, like a free concert a few weeks before Christmas. NYE was really neat... we spent it on the beach watching fireworks!

4. Coquimbo English Summer Camp
I am officially done with English Opens Doors, but last week I did one week of summer camp for them in Coquimbo. Coquimbo is a city right next to my beloved La Serena. I met great people and enjoyed the change of scenery (yay trees) for one week. Not going to lie, there were some problems, such as a potential case of food poisoning the last day, but I am still glad I went. It is always nice to make new friends and refresh yourself with a trip. The theme of camp was ¨Go Green, Rock On!¨ I have always wanted to be part of a flash mob, and now I can say I have! We went to the main plaza and threw a plastic bottle on the ground. When someone picked it up, the entire camp appeared out of the woodwork and ran after this guy congratulating him. It was hilarious, because he was eating ice cream and completely chill about it... he didn´t even realize 50 kids were behind him screaming and applauding.

Plaza de Armas in Coquimbo

The kids, post-flash mob

Two sweet girls

The giant cross in Coquimbo

View from the cross

The only mosque I have seen in Chile

5. Chilean Wedding
Saturday night after returning from camp I went to a wedding with Felipe. It was similar to a wedding in the states, but more simple and relaxed. There was still a reception with all of the traditions we have in the states, but nothing super elaborate. Chileans don´t have bridesmaids and wedding showers or all of these expenses. But it was fun- during the dancing they were spraying silly string, foam, confetti was everywhere, and we each got glowsticks.

Summer in Winter
I know in the states everyone is suffering through winter, but here it is hot and sunny every single day. There is no rain, just summer summer summer. You might think I am crazy but... I am sick of it. I would pay money to see rain and have leaves changing or snow falling or something besides sunny days all the time. That being said, I am enjoying the eternal sunshine of this desert city, and you can go swimming at night at the beach.

Readjusting to Chile, Again.
It has been so strange being back because all the volunteers are gone and so is my time with EOD. Now I am more accepting the reality of the Chilean lifestyle and all enchantment is gone. That is not to say I am not enjoying my time here, but I am so past culture shock and the extreme highs and lows of living in a new country. I have almost completed one year here, and life is stable.

It was odd to me in Coquimbo when I met new EOD volunteers who had only been in the country for a week. They were so excited to be there and doe-eyed about everything.

¨Oh my god- a completo! What is that? I have to try one!¨

¨Look at these different colored houses!¨

¨What a cute stray dog! Oh my god it´s following us!¨

¨...What does ¨weon¨ mean?¨

I remember being like that. I videotaped eating the first completo I tried and the reactions of my friends. I took a picture with the first stray dog I saw. I couldn´t stop staring at the colored houses for a solid month when I got here. Yeah, I know.

Now its just... eh, been there, done that. I have decided to stay in Chile for a while longer, but one day I will definitely return to the US. One reason is because I am really grateful for the salaries and opportunities I have there. I interviewed for real-life Chilean teaching jobs (not EOD´s volunteer job), and I learned the average salary was $10000-$12000 a year after taxes. That is for a full-time job with the same amount of work as the US. The job I might take pays a lot more, but it is because I am a native speaker of English and it is a private school.

Anyway to be here without EOD makes the city feel like a different place. As all of the volunteers are gone so is the rah-rah of arriving in a new country. I am trying to find real work here and coming to terms with my decision to stay. It has been stressful, but I will be fine after I find stable work again. This ¨summer in winter¨ should be a lot of fun, and next month we are celebrating Antofagasta´s anniversary (the 14th- Valentine´s Day!) and Felipe´s birthday (the 15th). There definitely won´t be any trips in my upcoming future, but if everything works out at the school I should have a steady cash flow once the school year starts in March.

Saludos a 2012, el fin del comienzo.