A little day trip to Santiago – Viva Michael Jackson at the Museum of Fashion!

I know that I just posted a few days ago, but as I have new photos that I HAVE to upload and share with my host sister on Facebook, I figured I might as well write about it, too (while I drink red wine and eat oreos on a chill Saturday night)! I also uploaded a picture of Hillary, Julian and I – the amazingly gringo trio here in Quilpue and a photo of a little whiteboard writing that one of my students did for me – so cute! Oh yeah, and also a few of the cute little fire in our chimenea my host dad lit for me last night as it was freezing cold and I drank tea and read Spanish news articles by the fire while I waited for Hillary to come over!

So, the other photos… Ayun, my host sister, had been wanting to check out the Michael Jackson exhibit at the Museum of Fashion for a few weeks and being the nice gringa that I am, I agreed to take the mini trek to Santiago with her(okay fine, I was excited to go, too), with my awesome friend Hillary in tow. Hillary and I first had a little slumber party last night and we drank wine and ate oreos and oregano crackers until we were sleepy and needed to go to bed to wake up early enough to head to Santiago…

We woke up too early for a Saturday, at about 8:00 am and headed out around 9:00 am on our little 10 minute walk to the bus station. We managed to land some cheap student tickets thanks to Ayun and were on our way to Santiago! If I haven’t mentioned it before, Santiago is only about 1 1/2 to 2 hours from where I live (depending on traffic/time of day), so we all napped and looked at the window as we trekked the 2 short hours to Santiago. I obviously have not been traveling enough as of late, as I felt a bit motion sick by the time we got to Santiago(forgot my motion sickness wristbands!!!) Need to change that soon! Anyway…

We arrived in Santiago at about 11:30 am and had to then head by metro to meet up with Ayun’s god mother, Carrola. As I usually never know the exact details of what is going on at any given moment (many things get lost in translation) I just went with it. We hopped in the car with Carrola and were then on our way to the Museum of Fashion! The museum is in an old, beautiful house(a giant house that they converted into a museum) in Santiago and as it is fall here, it was surrounded with big trees that were changing colors and shedding their leaves.

In conjunction with the Michael Jackson exhibit, there was also a “Fashion in the 80’s” exhibition going on, complete with every ridiculous outfit you could have imagined from the 80’s, videos from that crazy era and loud neon and shiny prints all over the walls. We saved the Michael Jackson exhibit for last, at Ayun’s request and were pleasantly surprised at all the amazing outfits, sunglasses, shoes, belts and weird accessories that we found in the exhibit. He was definitely a weird dude, but also a trendsetter and they had so many fun jackets and pieces of his wardrobe to see! A lot of the outfits, jackets, etc. were alongside the videos or pictures that Michael wore them for(events, music videos, etc). It was very cool to see his actual “Smooth Criminal” suit next to the video of Smooth Criminal! I took quite a few pics and will have more to post once Hillary uploads her photos.

After the exhibit we headed to the mall(yes, they have a lot of those here), where we ate lunch and then Hillary and I shopped for a few hours while Ayun and Carrola went to see a movie. After that, we headed back to the metro, and then to the bus terminal, while we ate blueberry muffins and empanadas and waited for our bus . Ayun and I then came home to once and now I have an exhausting night of drinking wine, writing blogs and staying warm under my blanket ahead of me! 🙂 Have a great rest of your weekend, everyone!

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Tranquila en Chile…

Yet again, it’s probably about time for another blog post! I finally was able to order a new camera through Amazon(Amazon to my parent’s house, my parent’s house to me in Chile – just a tad complicated), so I have a new camera – yay!!! I don’t have too, too many new pictures to post as I’ve only had it a week or two, but have a few words and pics to show you to keep you updated on the happenings in my so-called life. 🙂

Since my sister came, I’m been living a pretty laid back life, going between Quilpue, Viña del Mar, and Valparaiso depending on what’s going on. I’m still getting used to the fact that Chileans don’t usually start their night until about 10/10:30 pm, so when I go out, I rarely get home earlier than 3:00 am! If you go to a bar at say, 8/9:00 pm, you will likely be the only person in the bar… quite a bit different than in the U.S. Also, the bars here don’t close until about 5:00 am… needless to say, I sleep in a tad on the weekends! I am, though, starting to feel really comfortable with my new little life here in Chile. My Spanish continues to get better and I find it easier to say things that I never thought I would be able to say in another language. Although I still have days where I mess up really simple things and get mad at myself… but I suppose we all do that in our native language, as well!

I recently started running about 2 to 3 times a week and am starting to look for a 5K or 10K to do in Valpo or Santiago, you know, just to pass the time. 🙂 I don’t think I’ve ever eaten so healthy(so many veggies!!!) and between running, walking about 3-5 miles a day to and from school, and eating healthy, I’m feeling pretty marvelous!

Ah, for those who don’t know, it’s actually fall here in Chile, and it’s getting close to winter! This means that in the mornings and evenings I’m wearing my one heavy coat pretty much all the time, as they don’t have heating here. It actually hasn’t been too bad – I think my days in Flagstaff(so long ago) and San Francisco prepared me well. However, during the day it actually gets pretty warm – sometimes up to about 80 degrees Fahrenheit! So, I am cold in the morning, hot in the afternoon and then cold again in the evening. It’s sometimes hard to dress appropriately…

I have about another month of school left before we’re off for winter break – 2 weeks off – sweet!!! I’m still figuring out my plans but I’m leaning towards heading to Montevideo, Uruguay and Buenos Aires, Argentina for about 2 weeks. Time seems to be passing by so quickly – I really can’t believe that it’s June 2012! For the first time since I’ve been here, it’s been slowly creeping into the back of my head that after Chile I don’t have plans, but I have to remind myself that that’s about 6 months away! Depending on how things go here, I may stay in Chile a bit longer, or look for more international opportunities, but honestly I have absolutely no idea what I’ll want to do come December! And luckily I don’t have to think about that quite yet, but I’m open to any and all ideas that might be thrown at me. 🙂

School has overall been going well, but I have definitely had my days of wanting to run out of the classroom at full speed to find the closest bar. On Monday, for example, I had 2 different classes of 8th graders pretty much solo (with an “inspector”/disciplinarian sometimes watching over the class) and there were a few of them that I wanted to throw out of the classroom. Being a teacher is hard… being a teacher speaking a different language to 35 unruly, hormonal 8th graders is a whole different story! My Spanish is getting better, but try sternly talking to teenagers in a not perfect, broken second language and see if they take you seriously! But again, overall it’s still an amazing experience. Today, for example, I worked with the song, “We’re Going to be Friends” by the White Stripes(and Jack Johnson) with my 7th graders and we went over vocabulary, sang the song and they behaved very well(thank goodness) and even told my co-teacher that they learned a lot(precious)! I don’t know if I could ever be a full time teacher, but just as with my days of waitressing, this has definitely given me respect for those that do it all year, every year!

Some highlights/funny happenings in the last few weeks have been(in no particular order):

  • The day the metro wasn’t really working because of a bit of rain but I decided to take it anyway and spent about 2 1/2 hours going on 2 rides that normally take 20 minutes each. Also, the train completely stopped and all the lights went out while we were in a tunnel. Twice. It was quite an experience!
  • Going out to a 4-level dance club in Valparaiso when a few other volunteers came into town. We sat on a rooftop overlooking Valpo while a DJ spun some tunes, danced to reggaeton, danced a little salsa, and watched a few minutes of a drag show – random, but fun!
  • Making “American once” with Julian and Hillary, the two other volunteers and sharing it with Julian’s host family. We made hamburgers, french fries, mushrooms and cheese, and had vanilla ice cream with manjar(dulce de leche, carmelly goodness) and bananas on top… and wine, of course. Although I did feel a bit ill the next day as my stomach wasn’t used to that much grease and oil! What will I do when/if I go back to the U.S.?!
  • Finding a favorite bar close by (in Viña del Mar) – El Juglar – which is a red-painted little dive bar complete with Chilean hipsters, terremotos(a super sweet, kind of nauseating drink that the college kids here love) and great, mostly American indie and alternative tunes playing loudly. I try to make it there once a week, to, you know, keep up appearances. 🙂
  • Getting my Chilean visa and Chilean ID card!!! They are both valid until May 2013! They were a bit of a process to obtain as I had to go to 3 different places in town and talk in Spanish about things I didn’t quite understand in English to get them, but hey, they are now in my hands and pics are below!
  • Finding out that there is a random picture of me singing with my old band up in a coffee shop in San Francisco… I’m kind of a big deal.
  • Spending pretty much a whole weekend indoors because it was pouring rain and Chileans don’t really go out in the rain… but still managed to have the gringos over for wine, along with my host bro and his friends.
  • Running around Viña a few times with Hillary(the other gringa volunteer) – while in Viña, we like going to Zara in the Viña mall, eating ice cream, drinking Kuntsmann(a delicious beer here) and having photo shoots – she’s rad! There is a series of pics, a.k.a. – a faux photo shoot on the beach in Viña del Mar that you’ll see below!

That’s about it for now… I’m headed to Santiago on Saturday for the day with my host sister and Hillary to check out the Museum of Fashion’s Michael Jackson exhibit! That’s right… I’ll be checking out Michael’s actual rhinestone gloves – haha!

Below you’ll find a mix of photos, but the majority towards the end are around my little city of Quilpue – enjoy and will post another blog soon with photos of my weekend in Santiago and Quilpue…! Sending lots of love and besos!

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Kate and Ross visit + an extension of happiness in Chile!!!

Hey blog readers! Sorry it’s been a while, but my camera unfortunately broke about 2 weeks ago, so it wasn’t until my sister came to visit that I was able to snap some new pictures using her cam! And what is a blog without visuals?!

Anyway… the last few weeks have been pretty chill. I do my weekly routine of going to school, hanging out with kids all day while teaching them a little something in English, coming home at night and talking jive in Spanish with my host family, then going out on the weekends with the two other volunteers in the region(and of course spending time with my host family, too).

Needless to say(or maybe I need to say it), I have been ecstatically happy. There are definitely days at school when I have a rough class or a naughty student say or do something inappropriate, but all it takes is one smile and a “Hello Miss Ashley, how are you?” from one of my students, and all is right with the world again. I also am so fortunate to have been placed with such an amazing host family. I think I said it in my last blog, but my biggest hesitation in being a part of the program I’m in was that I had to live with a Chilean host family. To me, initially this meant no independence, awkwardness, communication problems and so on… while occasionally I have tiny bits of those issues, I seriously feel like I have a second family here. They are patient, warm, welcoming and are quickly warming their way into my little cold American heart – haha.

My Spanish is still getting better by the day and every conversation I understand(and contribute to) with them and others is a tiny personal reward. I am also totally in love with all this country has to offer – the people are so friendly and warm, my region has so much to offer – Valparaiso, Viña del Mar, Quilpué (my tiny little town where the streets often smell of fresh bread, as it’s a staple of the evening meal here) and I have so much of Chile left to explore!

With all that said, I looked at my initial end date of July 27th and decided that Chile deserved a bit more of my time… so I sent some emails and talked with some people, and now I will officially be living/working in Chile until November 30th, 2012 (the end of the school year)!

To add to all this glory, my sister and her boyfriend, Ross, came to visit this past week, which you will see below in my many photos. Kate and Ross first traveled to Peru and hiked Machu Picchu, then went to Lake Titicaca, onwards to La Paz, Bolivia, then flew into Santiago and came to visit me! They were here for about a week and we managed to squeeze in a few days in Valparaiso, some time in Viña del Mar, a day in Isla Negra, countless meals and good times with my host family here in Quilpué, and they even came to hang out with my 6th graders at my school!

The highlights( and random pictures that may need explanations) included:

  • Ross and Kate coming to my school and playing a game with my 6th graders (after eating lunch at a Rasta vegetarian restaurant in Quilpué – delish!!!)
  • Checking out a random Sustainable Practices fair in the middle of Quilpué , where a few of my students had projects/posters to show
  • Wandering around Valpo taking pictures of all the beautiful murals and sights to see there(with my host bro in tow)
  • Going to the house of Pablo Neruda(Chilean poet) in Valparaiso – awesome views of the whole city!
  • Going to the other house of Pablo Neruda at Isla Negra – a beautiful beach town where he had a giant house with a fricken amazing view of a gorgeous beach
  •  Eating way too many completos (giant smothered hot dogs – yes, they make them veggie, too)
  • Going to the music practice space of my host brother
  • Wandering along and napping on the beach in Viña
  • Going to the abuelo’s house(grandma and grandpa of the fam)
  • Spending some serious quality time with my awesome sis and Ross, alongside my lovely host family

My host dad was very excited that they were here because as most of you know, I’m a vegetarian and as you likely don’t know my host dad loves cooking meat, specifically in outside barbeques called asados here in Chile. So… both Kate and Ross ate more meat than they probably are used to, but succeeded in making my host dad very happy. The hardest part in them visiting was saying goodbye to them at the bus station… I can’t believe I won’t be back in the U.S. for another 7ish months! I seriously had an amazing time with them, though, and it was great to be able to show my sister my little life here in Chile! Also, I welcome any other visitors – come visit me!!!

That’s all for now… but hope you enjoy the pics and will write more soon! There are a lot of pics of my house(and the huge yard, garden, flowers, etc around the house!) and full host family this time(Charo – mom, Norman – dad, Ayun – sister, Amaury – brother, & Lika – dog)! XOXO

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Mendoza, Argentina and Buena Onda in Chile!

So, as I had mentioned in my last blog, I did indeed make it to the beautiful and tranquil Mendoza, Argentina and can’t stress enough how lovely it was! Hillary and Julian (the two other Quilpue volunteers) and I ended up buying tickets last minute, as we weren’t sure if we were going and headed out on a night bus last Thursday night. The trek took about 7 hours or so, including a fairly long border crossing stop in the middle of the Andes(the longest continental mountain range in the world), but even in the night time, the mountains looked amazing. We ended up meeting a random, but awesome German traveler on the bus who quickly joined our little posse.

We arrived at the bus terminal bright and early on Friday, so we grabbed some coffee and then set out to find a hostel. Being that it was Semana Santa(Holy week/Easter) and everyone and their mom travels during the long weekend for Semana Santa, we were a bit scared that all the hostels would be full(as we didn’t have a reservation). As we walked around inquiring in hostels, alas we discovered that they were indeed all full… After checking about 3 with no luck, we were walking through a park and a woman walking her 2 cute dogs asked us(of course, in Spanish) if we needed a place to stay. She directed us to her friend’s house, who apparently rented a room out of her house. We followed her slighty sketchy directions and rang the bell of the house she recommended(yes, just a random house, not a hostel). A smiley woman in her 60’s came out and immediately let us in and offered us all coffee.

She showed us around their adorable two-story house and we were very pleased with the little patio terrace, a room with 4 dorm beds just for us, and a great overall feel. After meeting her husband(who totally looked like the Argentinian Morgan Freeman) and talking and laughing in Spanish, we definitely agreed to stay and pay the $15/each a night. We then relaxed at our little Argentinian house for a bit, then headed out to explore the town and to meet up with another of our volunteer  friends, Rachel, who was also in town with her mom and a few friends. After exploring a bit, I came to the conclusion that Mendoza is a pretty, fairly chill little town that caters to tourists but not in an in-your-face kind of way.

After wandering around for a while, we headed back “home” and sat and chatted with our little Argentinian family in Spanish and sipped mate(a strong tea very popular in Argentina) and ate bread and cake. They also had 2 Chilean women staying with them, so we had a great time comparing Chilean Spanish to Argentinian Spanish to normal Spanish and so on… As the Argentinians do, we then headed out for dinner at about 11:00 pm to a little local place down the street. Everyone else ate steaks, which were supposedly really good, while little veggie me had some mediocre pasta. If the meat would have looked appetizing at all, I may have indulged(eh, probably not), as they do say the meat in Argentina is phenomenal. We then went out on the town with Rachel and a few more of her friends, going to a touristy bar and then another posh one, where the ladies got to drink free champagne. At about 3:30 in the morning, we headed to an Argentinian dance club of sorts where we drank fernet and sleepily danced until about 5:00 am!

The next morning, we woke up a bit later, ate breakfast and had tea(courtesy of our lovely Argentinian host fam) and headed out on a few bus rides to Maipú, a little town outside of Mendoza known for it’s many amazing vineyards and delicious wine. When we got to Maipú, we rented bikes from what was literally a local family and started on our little bike trek through the vineyards to a museum/vineyard, then to a chocolate factory, then finally to a beer garden. The landscape was beautiful and green, with vineyards all around us and the warm sun shining down on our faces as we rode was a sweaty pleasantry. The wine was amazing, the chocolate was delicious and we had killer dark beers and caprese empanadas at the beer garden – a spectacular day all around! When we returned our bikes, we ended up playing foosball against the kids of the family that lived in the house that owned the bike shop(that’s a mouthful) and ate snacks and drank free wine with some other nice tourists. Sa-weet!

We headed back that night and got to check out the awesome and cheap artesan fair in Mendoza where I bought a little trinket for my real host family back in Chile. We then spent the evening with our Argentinian family eating once(again pronounced own-say), drinking wine and chatting, until we were too sleepy to sit up! The next morning we woke up bright and early to catch the bus back to Chile, during the day, as the views going through the Andes are absolutely amazing. We passed Aconcagua, the highest mountain in the America’s and saw some truly spectacular scenery. After returning to Quilpue from Mendoza, my host family and I said goodbye to their former volunteer, a super sweet person named Heather, who is heading back to the U.S. after 2 years in Chile.

The rest of the week has been pretty phenomenal. I’ve been playing lots of games with my students(educational, of course), I started my English Club at the school, and even sang for the music teacher while he played “Killing Me Softly” on the piano. The volunteers and I also headed to Valpo yesterday for some walking and some drinks – a lovely little Wednesday afternoon trip. All in all, I am pretty much high on life right now, with the exception of still struggling with the Spanish language… however, I, of course, learn a little bit every day!

P.S. Buena onda literally means “good wave” but it’s an expression here in Chile(and in other Latin American countries) that means “cool” or “good vibes”, more or less!

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Teaching English, learning Spanish, getting my domestic on, and Lollapalooza!

Well, hello again! It’s now hard to decide when to do a new blog post, as I’m staying for the most part in my little Quilpué (population approx. 150,000), but of course, a lot is still going on! After 5 + months of traveling around Central America and staying in countless different hostel beds, I must say, it’s really nice to have one spot to set up shop for a little while. I could definitely continue traveling for a while(especially if my funds were unlimited… which they’re not) IF I was able to spend a little more time in each place. Moving every one or two nights is definitely something you can only do for a time.

Anyway, back to life in Chile… The last few weeks I’ve been working on upping my teaching skills and now feel pretty comfortable in front of a classroom. I have to admit that I was a bit petrified at first, because those of you who know me well can attest to the fact that I find children a bit puzzling and new, like little foreign creatures. Up until recently, I hadn’t spent much time around them at all. But alas, all of that has changed, because five days a week, I am helping to shape their little minds!

I work about 25 hours a week in front of a class(or half of a giant class of 35-40 as we split most of the classes in 2 groups) and plan for another approximately 10 hours a week. Most days I have to be at school at 8:00 am, which hurts me a little every day, but after a strong cup of coffee and a 20 minute walk to the school, I’m half-awake by the time I have to teach Spanish-speaking students English using mostly English. After about a month, I still find most of my students adorable with the exception of a few trouble makers. There are days, however, that I feel a bit like Michelle Pfeiffer in the movie, “Dangerous Minds“, trying to get my tough public school kids to pay attention and motivate them to learn something instead of playing on their phones or asking me if I smoke or know Katy Perry… sigh. I am definitely enjoying it though, and constantly find myself smiling at things they say or ways they try to impress me. Hopefully, I will be able to teach them some English in the meantime…

I’ve still been spending a lot of time with my lovely host family, and I’m usually the one that prepares the family meal together every night(cutting up tomatoes and avocadoes and making tea – not too complicated). I also try to help around the house whenever possible and feel a bit domestic these days(hopefully that won’t last). I wash dishes, feed the dog(yes, we have a big German shepherd named Lika), take out the trash, and wash and hang my clothes out to dry(we don’t have a dryer). My Spanish, if I do say so myself, is definitely improving! I can’t believe how quickly the brain can learn a language when you’re in an environment where you’re immersed in said new language. I am still FAR from fluent, but my vocabulary and conjugation skills grow by the day. I am resolving to not get on a plane back to the U.S. until I am fluent in Spanish(or close to it, at least)!

Other than settling into my life here in the lovely city of Quilpué, I’ve been going about once or twice a week to either Valparaiso or Viña del Mar. The weekend before last, the other gringos and I went out with a few Chilean friends to Viña del Mar and spoke Spanish the whole night while we drank pisco sours, danced and ate completos(very unhealthy Chilean hot dogs – of course, I managed to find a veggie one). I took a solo trip to Valparaiso last week and took some photos of the crazy stairs, hills, and beautiful vistas all over town.

This past weekend was beyond epic. A good chunk of the volunteers in my program decided to buy tickets to the giant music festival, Lollapalooza that just happened to be in Santiago, 2 hours away from where I live! The volunteers in my city and I headed out Saturday morning from Quilpué and spent the day and night in Santiago walking around, eating, drinking and meeting up with other volunteers that we hadn’t seen since orientation. Sunday morning, we headed out to Parque O’Higgins(a big park in Santiago) by metro and saw countless amazing bands from all over the world play. I managed to see songs by Band of Horses, Peaches, Systema Solar, TV on the Radio, Foster the People, Crystal Method, MGMT(terrible performance, though), Skrillex, the Foo Fighters… and others I can’t even remember. It was a HOT day in Santiago, though, and I spent the day literally running from stage to stage, so when I returned to Quilpué at midnight on a bus, I was exhausted!

This weekend there is a definite chance that I will head to Mendoza, Argentina with some of the other volunteers, as it’s a long weekend and only a 6 hour bus ride! If not, hopefully something else fun will come up… Then, at the end of this month, my amazing sister and her pololo(Chilean Spanish for boyfriend) are coming to visit – yes!!!

Oh, also, it’s fall right now and it’s starting to get cold… a bit weird as it will apparently be freezing in July! Am I in San Francisco?? 🙂

Things I miss about the U.S (as some of you have asked):

* Tofu

* Black beans (they have them here, but they are super $$$)

* People with blonde hair(sounds weird, but when I see one I get excited and a bit nostalgic)

* Pandora.com (doesn’t work down here due to licensing restraints outside of the U.S.)

* All of you amazing people!!! Come visit!

Oher than these things… I could stay here for a long while… Besos!

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Life in Chile – love, love, loving it!!!

Oh, how time flies… it’s seriously a bit frightening how fast a week (or 2 or 3) goes by. I’ve now been in Chile for 3 weeks and couldn’t be more stoked to be here. I fall more in love with this country every day! The people in my town and the surrounding towns are super warm and friendly and although I probably don’t, I feel as if I blend in fairly well (at least until I open my mouth and start trying to speak Spanish).

I’ve already been at the school, (a public school, where I teach 5th through 8th grade students) for 2 weeks now. The first week I spent observing the classes of my main co-teacher and another co-teacher that I have one class with. Then, this past week, I dove in and started helping to teach the English classes, which usually involves separating the class and teaching half of the students(in another classroom), while the co-teacher teaches the other half(as Chilean classes have anywhere from 25-40 students in any class).

I work mostly on the students listening and speaking abilities and have to think of fun and creative ways to teach them English. Most of my students are pretty well-behaved and adorable, with English levels varying from not understanding “how are you” to other students that can speak in full sentences about various topics (don’t have too many of these students). This is going to be a challenging but fun and rewarding experience. I don’t know if I ever would have guessed that I would be teaching 5th through 8th graders (let alone in Chile), but am nonetheless stoked to give it a go!

My host family continues to be awesome and patient with my developing Spanish and I can’t wait until the day that I can converse with them openly about every topic under the sun. They’re very interested in politics and love baked goods, so we’ve been trying to communicate as much as possible on both topics (and a few others, of course). Both the son and the daughter actually speak English pretty well, although they usually don’t speak it to me (which is a good thing, as I want to better my Spanish), so they help when I get stuck on an idea or word in Spanish. I still feel like I have a really long way to go with my Spanish, but am starting to understand them pretty well and I feel like I’m learning at least a few new words/mistakes I’m making in the language every day! I seriously couldn’t have asked for a more perfect fit with a host family – they let me go out when I want, always have fresh fruits and vegetables and are more kind to me than I can put into words.

Last Saturday, we had a party for the daughter, Ayun, who turned 14. My contribution was 2 cakes – one that I made from scratch (a white vanilla cake) and the other that was store bought, because the other one wasn’t big enough. But to both cakes I added layers of blueberries, raspberries, dulce de leche and creamy frosting – they were sooo good! I try to spend time with the family every day, mostly during the meal we all eat together(as we’re all gone during the day at work or school during the week) once (pronounced own-say). We eat once between about 8:00 to 11:00 pm at night and it consists of bread, tomatoes, cheese, tea and sometimes eggs or avocadoes. This meal is in place of dinner, as Chileans eat giant lunches… still hard for me to get used to as I eat small meals all day long.

There are 2 other volunteers from my program also stationed in my same city – and they are both fantastic! Last Sunday, I went to Valparaiso with Julian, one of the volunteers and we walked around the city all day, taking pictures of the beautiful buildings, the street murals, some gorgeous views of the city, etc. Valparaiso is seriously one of the prettiest cities I’ve ever visited – it has beaches, beautiful old buildings, adorable restaurants and cafes and a plethora of musicians and artsy folks to go along with it! I may have to move there someday… The other volunteers and I also made it to Viña del Mar for a regional meeting the first week of school and for fun randomly one day after school this week to walk around and hang out by the beach. I also was able to go after school on Wednesday to soak up some rays on a beach in Valpo, as it is still about 80+ Fahrenheit here during the day(although winter will be here in a few weeks).

There is also some great music to be found in the region of Valparaiso. Last Sunday, I went with my host brother and a few others to see a jazz fusion (I think it’s called) trio play in the Botanical Gardens. Then, last night, I went with a few friends to see a traditional Chilean band(complete with flutes, guitars and some instruments I can’t yet name) combined with a German orchestra and opera singers – very random but amazing! After that, we went to Café del Libro(a bar here in Quilpue) and saw a Celtic Chilean band, playing Irish diddies in honor of St. Patrick’s Day(which is not actually celebrated in Chile.

Today, I went with the other gringos(as we volunteers call ourselves) to the towns of Limache and Olmue and to the La Campana National Park. At the park, we hiked up part of a mountain, admiring the beautiful scenery and the great views of Olmue below. After the hike, we walked into town and ate some delicious Chilean empanadas, then headed to a local brewery where we sipped delicious cervezas!

I can’t wait to get to know all that is Chile and to get a firm grasp on my Spanish! I may have to stay longer than 5 months…

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Chillin’ in Chile – Santiago and Quilpué!

What a crazy week it’s been! After an overnight flight, I landed in Santiago, Chile at about 6:00 am last Saturday. Groggily, I made my way through customs and found the pre-booked shuttle outside(courtesy of my program) and made my way to Hostelling International. I was luckily able to check in early and take about a 4 hour nap, as I was exhausted. When I woke up, my 6-bed dorm had completely filled up with other female volunteers so we all began exchanging life stories fairly quickly! I headed to Central Station that afternoon to shop for some assorted teacher items that I needed and although still sleepy, went to see a Chilean band with a giant group of volunteers(they’re really into Funk here, so I wasn’t a huge fan of the band, but it was a great time nonetheless).

Sunday, I set out to explore the city solo, taking the Metro, visiting the Plaza de Armas, going shopping, checking out the Market, and seeing some amazing views of Santiago. I also realized that day how difficult the Chilean accent/language(it is seriously almost a different language than Spanish) is as they speak very, very fast and have Chilean slang for a lot of things – the word for avocado, for example is completely different in Chilean Spanish than in “regular” Spanish(palta vs. aguacate). So, I had some frustrating moments trying to buy things and ask questions. I also killed my blow dryer as I haven’t had to use a 220 converter since I went to Europe when I was 19! RIP little blow dryer.

Monday through Friday, I was in the English Opens Doors Program‘s(the program I’m in) orientation sessions. It was weird being in a classroom again and having to be somewhere from 9 to 5, as I’ve been free-wheeling it since September! We learned about the program, Chilean culture and a bunch of strategies for teaching English to non-native speakers. At night, all of the volunteers went out and explored the city and got our bond on, as we discovered that we are all very like-minded people that like to travel! We went to get pisco sours, drank beers at the hostel bar, went to a Chilean after work dance party on a rooftop overlooking the whole city, went to parks and museums, had arm wrestling competitions, and just explored the city of Santiago as much as we could. I seriously can’t believe how many great people are in the program and I am stoked to get to know all of the people more, even though we are all going to different cities all over Chile. I luckily got placed with 2 awesome volunteers in my same city, Quilpue, so we are definitely going to try to meet up and get our English fix once a week or so.

After a week of orientation + fun in Santiago, we all went our separate ways today and set out for our new homes for the next 5+ months. I hopped on a 2 hour bus ride from Santiago to the town of Quilpué (a suburbany commuter town that has a population of about 150,000) and was immediately greeted with hugs and the Chilean kiss by every member in my host family(minus the youngest daughter as she was with friends). I was surprised to see that the last volunteer that lived with them was also there and is staying with them for the weekend, because she is still living in Chile and loves them that much(and they wanted her here to help greet me)! It has been great to ask her questions(in English) about the family and her experience, as it seems like it’s been a great one.

The family consists of a mom and a dad(both absolutely adorable and so amazingly kind), a 19-year old musician son, and a 14-year-old teenage daughter. They have(and now I have for 5 months) an adorable, centrally located house, complete with a garden, an above ground pool, trinkets from all over the world, and Wifi. I can’t even describe how welcome and happy I feel after being here for one day! I went with Heather(the former volunteer from the States) and the son, Amaury, to Valparaiso(or Valpo as the locals call it) for some amazing ice cream this afternoon. Valpo is only a 30 minute metro ride from my new home – aaahhh!!! We only spent an hour or so there, as we were just grabbing some ice cream, but I can’t wait to check it out again(maybe this upcoming weekend) as it is a beautiful beach/port town with colorful buildings and musicians galore! This evening, I exchanged music with Amaury, hung with the parents, and ate once(Chilean dinner-snack) with the fam and a few of their friends(including the mayor of the entire town) and spoke Spanish pretty much the whole night! I am so stoked to get to know this family and to start teaching(although I’m still nervous about that part)!!!

The last few pictures are of my new room and a few pics of my house in Quilpue – more to come!

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Panama – Bocas del Toro & Panama City… now on to Chile!!!

Again – it’s been WAY too long since I’ve updated this and now I can hardly remember what has happened! Thursday, February 16th – Ali, Rachel and I set out for Panama from Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica on an interesting jaunt that included a fairly confusing border crossing, as our bus driver and guide of sorts left us for a while, while he ran an errand… but we made it across and into Panama. Our first stop in Panama was the amazing islands/province of Bocas del Toro. We spent the first night in the Bocas region on Isla Colon and discovered that we had randomly arrived on the first day/night of Carnaval(a.k.a. big party in the streets)! We luckily were able to find a nice, cheap hotel with air conditioning and classed it up a bit for the night. As Ali wasn’t feeling very well that night, Rachel and I decided to run around town, finding some cheap cardboard pizza and a cute local bar by the water to hang out at.

The next day, as there weren’t any rooms available on the island, due to Carnaval, we headed to Isla Bastimentos – only a 10 minute water taxi away. The whole string of islands is amazingly beautiful, with lush green landscapes and turquoise waters – yet another place that I would love to return to. We ended up staying 3 nights on Isla Bastimentos, and got a chance to check out Red Frog Beach(although sadly didn’t see any red frogs), Starfish beach(we did see some bright orange starfish), had some random but decent Thai food on the top of a hill overlooking the jungle(and saw a sloth), and had a dance party on a tiny island at a club! On our last night on Bastimentos, we were relaxing in the hammocks, when the power went out on Isla Bastimentos and on Isla Colon! We then went out to a bar and drank boxed white wine by candlelight, while we chatted with a nice Dutchman and a cool Canadian.

On Tuesday morning, we began the trek to Panama City, which included about 14 hours of bus rides and a slow arrival into town on the last night of Carnaval. Luckily, our hostel, Luna’s Castle, still had availability, albeit in 3 different totally packed dorm rooms. As we were super tired, we didn’t do much that night, but awoke early the next day to walk around and take in all the sights in Casco Viejo. Casco Viejo is the old, rather dilapidated but charmful section of Panama City complete with beautiful old buildings, slums, and uneven sidewalks. I really enjoyed this part of town, as I have found that I really love old shabby buildings, stairs, and abandoned hardly-there structures, oddly enough.

On Wednesday, we headed out to see the world famous Panama Canal at the Miraflores locks. It wasn’t as pretty as I imagined (other locks and viewpoints are a bit greener), but watching the whole process was pretty amazing. We also checked out the museum and a short video on the canal – it is absolutely fascinating to see how everything worked – pretty mind-blowing really. Wednesday afternoon and night we hung around our hostel, a giant old mansion building with a stellar view of new Panama City. That night, we cooked some food and drank some drinks at the hostel bar, and then I woke up at 3:00 am with some serious stomach problems… I’m not sure what did it(empanadas that I bought from a restaurant or tortilla snacks that we made), but I was throwing up, etc. all night long.

The next day, I spent recuperating and eventually we moved over to new Panama City, to a little slightly ghetto hotel that I had a coupon for through my old work. That night(our last night together) we all went out on the town with Rachel’s friends from the States that had recently moved to Panama City. I still couldn’t eat too much, let alone drink a lot, but it was still a fun night with great company. The next day, I shopped a bit for some things I needed for Chile, ate lunch and then said goodbye to Ali and Rachel as I headed to the Panama City airport. I had such an amazing time with Ali and Rachel in Central America – love those ladies and hope to travel with them again(or open a hostel with them) in the very near future!!! But, alas, the next stage in my journey has begun … Chile!!! More on that very soon!

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Montezuma, San Jose, and Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica!

So… here we go with another update! We ended up making a shuttle last Thursday at the last minute to Montezuma, Costa Rica. We hopped onboard with a group of Chileans who had booked a private shuttle of sorts. On the 4 hour-ish trip to Montezuma, our driver had to stop our shuttle twice – once because the car was overheating and again because it was smoking!! He ended up having to run(literally)into town in the heat and pay another local tourist company to take us the rest of the way to Montezuma(about another hour and then a cab as we discovered they weren’t actually going all the way to Montezuma annoyingly enough). When we got to Montezuma, we had to begin our search for a hostel, finally deciding on a complete dump called Hotel Capitan. It ended up being about 95 degrees at night, had giant ants crawling everywhere, and had holes in the walls and ceilings! We must have been tired and sick of wearing our heavy bags when we made that decision… Anyway, we wandered around Montezuma that day, loving the chill, hippyish vibe of the place. It was kind of like Santa Cruz, California with a bit more Spanish!

Friday, we decided to move from the dump to a beautiful hostel on the top of the hill called Luna Llena(Full Moon). For a bit more, we had an amazing common area complete with comfy chairs, a kitchen and a view of the ocean! After settling in, we headed down to the beach for some rays. Costa Rica is really beautiful with dense, green jungle pretty much everywhere you look. The rest of the day we just wandered around, relaxed at the hostel, took a few pics of some beautiful birds and went out to a posh restaurant for some curry!

Saturday, we discovered that our beautiful hostel was full for the night, so we headed next door to yet another one, and paid almost the same amount for dorms with no locks on the door! However it did have howler monkeys(I believe) in the trees and on the roofs that we watched for a few hours – adorable! That day we also decided to check out the waterfall about 20 minutes outside of town. We hiked up big rocks to a beautiful waterfall with a swimming area of sorts, that we immediately dove into as we were sweating from the heat and humidity. On the walk back, I spotted a giant iguana hanging out in the forest and snapped a pic! We didn’t go out too much at night in Montezuma, although there seemed to be a fairly happening nightlife – I think the 3 beds in 3 days made us a bit exhausted!

Sunday, after a buggy night in the dorm, we decided to take the early bus to San Jose, as we would be meeting up with Rachel there. If I didn’t mention it before, Rachel is Ali’s awesome friend(and now mine, too) from AZ that randomly decided to meet us in Costa Rica, to make our trip that much more fun! Anyway, we hopped on a “direct bus” to San Jose, where we switched buses twice and then were kicked off the bus, as we had to then get on a giant ferry(the bus got on as well, but separately) across the Gulf of Nicoya – which was apparently a lot faster than taking a bus all the way there. After checking into Hostel Pangea, we immediately ran around the giant, amazing hostel taking pics of the pool, the rooftop bar, and the pretty dazzling amenities($17ish/night).

Monday, Ali and I wandered around San Jose, and went to a really beautiful cathedral, La Merced I believe, perused the National Theater building and took in the bustling city. I actually really enjoyed San Jose – it gets a bad rap as it’s usually just seen as a necessary evil, due to the big airport there, but it’s a fun, happening city! Later that night, Ali and I were playing some pool at the hostel with a friend we met from Florida, when Rachel suddenly came bounding in and attacked us! We knew she was coming in a taxi but it was a fun few moments of smiles and excitement :). That night, we drank some rum drinks and stayed up a bit too late, with plans to head to Puerto Viejo the next day!

Tuesday, we again packed our bags and hopped on yet another 4ish hour bus to the town of Puerto Viejo(Ali and I found tiny cute coconut drinks to sip on at the bus station), on the Southern Caribbean coast of Costa Rica. It was a last minute decision to come here, as we realized it would be quicker on our route to Panama versus a few other places we were debating. Upon arriving, we immediately fell in love with the turquoise waters and the tiny, Rasta-loving town of Puerto Viejo. We fairly quickly found a cute hostel with mosaic tiles and foliage throughout. It is quite hot and humid, here, though so we are all pretty constantly sweaty.  We relaxed at the hostel most of Tuesday, but did venture out to a cute restaurant called Flip Flops to grab some dinner.

Yesterday, we headed to the beach for most of the day, where Ali and Rachel both ended up getting fairly uneven, interesting sunburns. I came out alright, as my skin is pretty ridiculously dark now. The beach here is absolutely gorgeous – with turquoise-y water and green foliage all around it! After the beach we grabbed some lunch and some daiquiris, walked around town, then chillaxed at the hostel. After some walking around last night, thinking the town was fairly dead, we stumbled upon a happening bar where we talked to a bunch of people, danced and had a great time! Today, we haven’t done too much, as we’ll be on the move again tomorrow, headed to Bocas del Toro, Panama! Fingers crossed that our shuttle doesn’t break down again this time!!!

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Santo Domingo, Super Bowl, and Tamagringo, Costa Rica!

So much has happened since the last blog, it’s hard to keep it all straight! From last Monday to Saturday, we stayed at Hacienda Merida where Ali taught English while I putzed around the hostel/the town of Merida and kept myself entertained. We found out some interesting things about Hacienda Merida, owned by a wealthy resident named Alvaro Molina who we weren’t too impressed with. After some chatting with him and others around town, we came to the conclusion that the English school he was running, seemed to be for his benefit, as he recruited English-speaking volunteers to pay him to teach local kids English(with a discount on lodging/food), so that the kids would eventually work for his hostel and write grants for him. So, he had quite a few 14, 16, 17-year-olds working 7 days a week, all day for next to nothing!  All while he lays in hammocks and jumps on every tourist that comes in, asking what they do and seeing how they can benefit his business… needless to say, I can’t believe we lasted a week there! Ali, however, was a great teacher and got pretty close to the students, so that made it all worthwhile!

In our downtime, we walked around the tiny town of Merida taking pics with some cute pigs, taking in the AMAZING sunsets there, and enjoying the gorgeous greenery. We also made some friends with Ali’s co-teachers and some other tourists that were staying at the hostel. Our friends from New York that we had met in San Juan del Sur ended up coming to our hostel, so we hung out with them and all went on an amazing hike up to a waterfall last Wednesday. It was an hour walk to the park and then another 3 miles or so up a volcano(literally up – it was all uphill and mostly steep) until we came upon a beautiful waterfall. As it was a clear, hot day, we all jumped in with all of our clothes on – my first shower in a waterfall – amazing! Of course, we had to hike back down as well… so that was annoying. 🙂 I was sore for days after!

On Saturday, we said goodbye to Merida and headed to a place that was supposed to be a bit more happening, Balgue… after a bus ride there and a 10-minute walk around the “town”, we realized that there was not much there, including hostels, so we headed on foot(with our giant backpacks on) to the town of Santa Cruz where we found a hostel called Little Morgan’s. We stopped there for lunch and a cocktail, and after some back and forth decided not to stay there, as there were gnats flying all over us and our bags. We instead hopped on yet another bus to Santo Domingo Beach, where we immediately found an amazing little hotel on the water, where the lakes crashing waves(yes, it had waves) lulled us to sleep.

On Sunday, we headed out on a walk to a natural spring called Ojo de Agua(Eye of Water). Again, it was hot, so by the time we arrived at the beautiful, green spring, we got right in! There were quite a few Nicaraguan families there, so it was fun to watch the kids playing in the water, along with a few gringos. We lazed around there for a few hours and then decided to head back to Little Morgan’s for a Super Bowl party(Ali’s idea :D). As the island is pretty spread out, we had to hire an ATV driver to drive us to Little Morgan’s, in hopes that we could get a taxi back to our little hotel later that night. The party ended up being a blast – Ali and I hardly watched the game, but instead had some drinks and met a bunch of traveler’s from all over the world. Funny enough, Ali’s friend Katie had been to Nicaragua a few weeks before us and told us to find her 2 Canadian friends at Little Morgan’s – we indeed did(what a small world it is) and hung out with them most of the night – definitely a fun night on Ometepe with a great group of people!

The next day, we headed back to Santo Domingo and napped and relaxed again by the beach – not a very productive day! Yesterday, we decided it was time to leave our lovely little Ometepe Island and begin our trek to Costa Rica. We woke up fairly early, then took a bus to a ferry to a taxi to the border of Costa Rica… where we wandered around until we found the long customs line to exit Nicaragua and eventually, the entry to Costa Rica – so confusing! After eating a lunch of chips and cookies(no restaurants in sight), we hopped on another bus to Liberia, Costa Rica, where we had planned to stay the night. 2 hours later, we were in Liberia and saw that there was a bus in less than an hour to the destination we were actually headed to – Tamarindo Beach! It was now 6 pm, but we were on another bus to the beach! Another 2 hours later, we were finally in the town of Tamarindo, where we were dropped off in the middle of nowhere… and then hailed a taxi to a nearby hostel. Let’s recap the itinerary that day: bus>ferry>taxi>border crossing>bus>bus>taxi>hostel!!!

Anyway, upon arriving in Tamarindo(or Tamagringo as the nickname goes), we were completely overwhelmed by the neon signs, Vegas-y looking clubs and restaurants and SOOO many gringos! We found a hostel laden in surfboards with available dorm beds for $15/night, which is actually the most expensive night we’ve had since we’ve been traveling, but as it was 8:30 pm, our options were limited. We then went out to check out the town a bit, and were still overwhelmed at the crazy development, super high prices and the amount of white people! Nicaragua is sooo different than Costa Rica(or at least Tamarindo)! We eventually found a place to grab a drink, then of course found a karaoke bar where I sang some Gloria Gaynor and Rihanna and Ali sang an awesome rendition of “Total Eclipse of the Heart”. I would say, if you like Rocky Point, Mexico or Las Vegas, you will likely like Tamarindo Beach…

Today, we found the local supermarket and bought some food, to avoid paying the high restaurant prices and headed to the beach! It’s a big surf town so there are surfers and surf schools everywhere. We decided not to surf, but instead laid on the beach and worked on our tans(which are getting scarily dark). We then walked around town, looking for something to do, but as Wednesday’s are pretty dead here, we only managed to find a small casino to lose some money in. Tomorrow, pending availability of shuttles, we plan to head to a town pretty south of here called Montezuma – woo!