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Ah, que bom você chegou!

Six Weeks in Salvador da Bahia

My summer in Brazil started like this (a few months prior)...

“Congratulations! We would like to award you a FLAS grant to study Portuguese. But...in order to receive this grant to study in Brazil, you need to be at an intermediate level of Portuguese before you go. There are some nice domestic options for Portuguese study too...”
“What if--hypothetically--I learn enough Portuguese in the next 2 months to get to an intermediate level?”
“Are you taking a Portuguese class at UW right now?”
“Do you have a Portuguese tutor?”
“Not yet.”
“Well...if you think you can do it, then we will fund you to go to Brazil.”

Thus began my crazy journey of Portuguese self-study in the midst of Boston Marathon training and my already full-load of coursework, supervising, and teaching. But, as those of you who know me can attest, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Two months later, thanks in no small part to my tech savvy boyfriend who found me a free version of Rosetta Stone Portuguese, the brilliance of the language-learning app Duolingo, weekly meet-ups with my Brazilian friend Leticia, and a last-minute sponsorship of an intensive Portuguese tutor, I was feeling pretty confident in my newly acquired Portuguese as I boarded the plane for São Paulo on May 23rd. Although it would take a full month before I would stop referring to my Portuguese as “Portuñol” (an accurate moniker), I found that the language was fairly easy to learn, all things considered.

My plan for this journey to Brazil had been in the works since 2010 when I first visited the country with my fellow ChACErs and spent a frivolous week in Rio de Janeiro, and I vowed I would find some way to return to Brazil. And there I was, arriving in Brazil three weeks before the World Cup, on a fully-funded grant with the University of Kansas study abroad program in Salvador. Over the next six weeks, I studied and traveled with a great group of graduate students from the University of Kansas and the University of New Mexico, along with our fearless and energetic leader, Professor Luciano Tosta, a native of Salvador da Bahia.



Salvador is a totally different slice of Brazil and, in many ways, I prefer Salvador to Rio. Rio is a stunningly beautiful city, with rolling green mountains, beautiful rock formations, and white sand beaches that stretch along a coast filled with coconut stands, small restaurants, and fancy hotels. Salvador, on the other hand, is best described as cultural carnival, in every sense. Formerly the economic and political capital of Brazil, Salvador was an immensely important city for the Portuguese crown. It was also the center of slave importation in Brazil, beginning in the mid sixteenth century and stretching until 1870, making Brazil the last country in the world to officially end slavery. The legacy of slavery in Salvador is a palpable tension between the celebration of Afrobrazilian culture and the pervasive racial inequalities and discrimination.




Since the 1960s, organizations like Ilê Aiyê have worked to promote the culture and history of afrodescendentes in Bahia, employing samba-reggae—a hybrid musical genre of traditional African samba de roda and Marley-style reggae—to teach and celebrate African heritage. I was fortunate to live with a family deeply tied to Ilê Aiyê—my host father was one of the directors of the organization—and I gained a deep appreciation for the type of work they do in the legal and educational spheres as well. For example, when I arrived in Brazil, my host family gave me a stack of pamphlets and books about distinct African countries and cultures, materials that had been disseminated in local schools and incorporated into public curricula to emphasize that “Africa” and “African culture” are not homogenous (a curricular move more advanced than present instruction of African history in most U.S. schools). One afternoon several weeks later, I came home to a flurry of activity as my host parents prepared to go to court to defend a young black man who had been convicted of a crime without substantial evidence (he was later acquitted, due, in large part, to their intervention). Like other foreigners, I came to appreciate the African influence in the food, music, and dance of Salvador, but the unique experience of living with my host family offered me a much deeper understanding of both racial tension and advocacy.




Of course, the main focus of my FLAS experience was to learn Portuguese and, with six to eight hours a day of courses, lectures, and tours, it was certainly a rich educative experience. The distinction between formal (written) and conversational Portuguese is so extreme that several professors joked that they should be considered separate languages. I found myself constantly drawing upon my Spanish linguistic resources in conversations with my Brazilian host family, professors, and friends, sometimes with success—much of the lexicon aligns in spelling, pronunciation, and meaning—but more often with confusion. For example, in Portuguese you can assistir (watch) a game of futebol on television, while in Spanish you would assistir (help) a friend or assistir (attend) a class. And, while proclaiming a dish exquisito (exquisite) in Spanish might win over the chef, the similar term in Portuguese—esquisito (weird)—will likely not have the same effect.

Some Portuguese cognates are more similar to English than Spanish—for example, you can be embaraçado (embarrased) without the linguistic fallacy of being embarazado (pregnant). However, other similar-sounding English words could be misleading, such as doors labeled puxe (pronounced “pushy”) that require you to pull. Still, I never encountered a bahiano—someone from the state of Bahia—unwilling to teach me a new word or correct pronunciation. The bahianos I met were warm and welcoming, and I enjoyed talking with them over a cafezinho (coffee) about differences between the U.S. and Brazilian jeito de ser (way of being). I quickly learned that in Salvador one never fully says “no” to anything—a talvez (maybe) or vou pensar (I’m going to think about it) suffices. I also learned that bikinis from Brazil have two styles—asa delta (hang glider) and filo dental (dental floss)—while U.S. female swimwear is uniformly known as “pampers”. After spending a couple of weekends at beaches in Salvador and Recife, I can confirm the veracity of this distinction.



This reflection on my experience in Brazil would be incomplete without mention of the World Cup, which effectively dominated the second half of my study abroad experience. Being in Brazil during the World Cup provided a first-hand glimpse into both the tension between large-scale corporations like FIFA and the general public—whose violent encounters were widely publicized in international news—as well as the familial spirit of watching futebol. More interesting than the games themselves was the spirit of national pride and international camaraderie as people from around the world shared in the love of the game. While bars and stadiums packed with tourists (and, among them, a good number of Brazilians), for many bahianos the World Cup was a time of family togetherness, with game watches lasting all afternoon and well into the evening. The energy and excitement of the World Cup quieted even the most ardent critics of FIFA—for better or for worse.

Germany-Portugal Game

Costa Rica-Italy Game

Bosnia-Herzegovina Game

USA- Game


Since returning from my summer learning and adventures, I find that I am constantly referencing my time in Brazil. Insight into the Portuguese language has given me a new repertoire for teaching phonology to my undergraduates: the open and closed vowel distinction between grandfather and grandmother in Portuguese— avô (pronouced “av-OH”) and avó (pronounced “av-AW”)—helps me demonstrate the way in which our brains are linguistically “trained” to distinguish between certain sounds and not others. My experience in Brazil also renewed my interest in comparative international work with English language programs in Latin America, especially in my interactions with bahianos taking English classes at my program’s institute. For them, English was a vehicle for occupational and educational advancement, a necessity instead of a luxury.

I hope to be able to return to Brazil in the near future, as the "saudade" (nostalgia) remains long after the last samba is danced and gol is scored. I leave you with the words of my favorite forró song by Trio Virgulino:

Será que é amor, não sei, (Perhaps it is love, I don't know,)
será que é paixão, talvez, (Perhaps it is passion, maybe,)
só sei que é bom de mais (I just know that it is wonderful)

Aqui ta bom só falta você, (It's great here, it's just missing you)
Aqui ta bom só falta você, (It's great here, it's just missing you)
Aqui ta bom só falta você, (It's great here, it's just missing you)
você, você, meu bem querer (You, you, my love)

Watch the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OTuOWIdeDFA

Posted by lhamman1 23:20 Archived in Brazil Comments (1)

Home Again

The Next Crazy Venture Beneath the Skies


I soon realized that no journey carries one far unless, as it extends into the world around us, it goes an equal distance into the world within.
~Lillian Smith

And, like all good things, my South American adventure has finally come to an end. Back home in Chicago, I wonder how long I will able to stay planted before the inevitable wanderlust uproots me again. Furthermore, for the first time in my life, I am encountering the terror and the excitement of not having a plan. It is utterly unnerving yet somehow thrilling to stand at the precipice of a new stage in my life and not know where the next step will carry me.

So, here I sit, soaking in the peace of familiarity while trying to map out an unknown future. I feel strangely like a recent college grad, though the wrinkles spreading across my forehead prove otherwise, as I embrace the struggle to find a job that pays well, fulfills me, and helps others. But, unlike a recent grad, I have five years of independence behind me, years spent traveling to places that made me gasp in wonder and awe, years spent listening to and bumbling through Spanish until I could understand, years spent learning from the children I was teaching. Years of embarrassments and years of triumphs, years of discovery and years of loss.

I may not have a plan yet, but I have the memories and experiences that have shaped me over the past five years to give me the tools to get started. So, I dig through old resume and cover letter files, I take a deep breath, and I begin.

Posted by lhamman1 12:45 Archived in USA Comments (1)

Summer Travels

Part 1: Volcanoes and Beer

And I'm off!!!!


At the start of my solo travels in South America, I had two items at the top of my Chilean bucketlist: climbing Volcán Villarica in Pucón and sampling artesanal beers in Valdivia. So, with my agenda set, I hopped a 9 hour night bus to Pucón, Chile. Even though I would only be traveling alone for a week, I was still a bit anxious about hitting the road on my own. I arrived to Pucón in the early light of dawn and wandered down sleepy streets until I found Nativa Hostel. The young hostel workers were just rolling out of bed but still greeted me cheerfully and offered me a breakfast of fresh-squeezed juice, coffee, and bread as I waited for Beni, the owner, to arrive.


A couple hours later, Beni got to the hostel and I made my lodging arrangements and booked my volcano climb for the following day. Then, it was off to the beach! The touristy town of Pucón sits on a magnificent lake with black stone shores. The beach was crawling with eager young salesmen offering lounge chairs, juice, and quitasoles (beach umbrellas). With a steamy sun overhead, it took little convincing for me to rent a quitasol. Then, I plopped myself down for the day to finish reading Isabel Allende's La Casa de Los Espiritus. As it turned out, this would be the only day I actually spent alone.


That evening, I cooked up a cheap yet satisfying dinner of pasta and tomato sauce and chatted with fellow travelers, bonding over unique cocktails with flavors like espresso and raspberry. The next day, my new French friend Melanie and I were picked up early by the tour agency and taken to the base of Volcán Villarica. This was actually my second attempt at climbing the volcano since the last time I had tried (over a year ago), the weather made it too dangerous to continue. Luckily, the skies were clear this time and the prospect of climbing was promising. We paid the 6,000 peso fee to take the chairlift to the starting point and started climbing!

Volcán Villarica is one of the most active in South America and is constantly spewing sulfuric smoke, visible from miles away! The volcano is a perfect cone with an altitude of 2,847 meters. Since the starting point for climbers is higher up, we would only be tackling about 1,000 meters, which was still a 4 hour climb! Volcán Villarica hasn't had a major eruption since 1971 or even a minor one since 1984 but the continuous stream of smoke rising up from it's peak was still thrilling, if not somewhat unsettling.





The climb itself was very straightforward and, though the final section was steep, it was much easier than I had imagined, especially compared to the grueling three-day ascent of Cotopaxi I completed two years ago in Ecuador. At the top, we got a nice whiff of sulfuric gases and heard the rumbling of the magma deep in the crater below. Incredible. We snapped a few victorious poses and then strapped on our plastic sleds for the best part of the climb: sliding down the volcano!




Thanks to countless previous sliders, the downwards paths were deeply engraved into the snowy descent; in fact, several appeared to be pre-made slides with their snowy walls that extended upward 2 or 3 feet. We raced down the mountain with snow flying up around us, kicked up by our boots and slides. Needless to say, it was thrilling!

That night, the hostel hosted a Chilean-style barbecue and then we geared up to celebrate our successful climb. Beni took a group of us out to a local discoteca and we danced the night away.


The next morning, I woke up early, bid farewell to my half-asleep friends, and got a bus to Valdivia, the city of rivers. Prior to arriving, Puerto Natales had been my pick for most beautiful Chilean city but now Valdivia is certainly a contender! For some reason, Valdivia is not as popular of a tourist destination for most travelers but it is every bit as impressive in terms of natural beauty with rolling, tree-covered hills and an impressive network of rivers extending across the center of town and beyond. In addition to the beauty of the city's location, it is also a rocking college town, home of la Universidad Austral de Chile, among others. During the summer, the students aren't crawling the city, but the young vibe is still present.


I found Airesbuenos Hostel and was preparing myself for a full day on my own until I entered my dorm room, met my Swiss roommate, and then set off to see the city together. Our first stop was the Mercado Central, where we tried a specialty called choritos al ajillo, a bowl of mussels seeped in warm juices with garlic and chili powder. Divine. Then we explored the bosque (forest) on the campus of Universidad Austral before hopping a local bus to the Corral, a small nearby town that offers ferries to nearby islands. We decided to save the islands for another day and, instead, visited the 17th century Spanish fort in Niebla. Then, we made our way to the Cervecería Kuntsmann--my reason for coming to Valdivia!




The Cervecería was packed with drinkers and diners and had a decidedly German feel. I was surprised to learn that Kuntsmann, though with a familial tradition dating to the 1850's, has really only been around since the 1990's. Considering its decided popularity in the rest of the country, I had assumed it had already transcended generations. We made our way to the bar and ordered the tasting: ten different Kunstmann beers, 2 of which are unfiltered and only available on site. The new arándano (blueberry) beer was particularly delicious. After a few sips, my Swiss friend revealed that she hated beer, which was unfortunate in terms of good beer-drinking company, but fantastic in terms of beer-sharing! So, 18 sample glasses later, I was feeling quite content and decided to splurge and order a plate of typical German "spetzle," a delicious bowl of some sort of dumplings with cilantro. All in all, a great experience.


On the way back to the hostel, we stopped by the main plaza to witness the spectacle of a beauty pageant in Valdivia. It seemed as if the entire town was out in the plaza though only a handful of the audience actually seemed interested in what was happening on stage. The fifteen or so girls in the competition paraded up and down the runway in bikinis while we stood shivering in our jackets in the crowd. My Swiss friend noted that they all looked the same which, from the standpoint of American political correctness might seem like a close-minded and offensive comment but, in fact, they did. The typical Chilean standard for beauty is fairly well-established: long brown hair, thin, and an hour-glass figure. After watching a few more struts down the catwalk, we continued on our way, never to know who the Reina de Valdivia would be.

The next day, we were off to see the islands! The same bus took us back to Niebla and from there we got on a ferry to Isla Mancera. The island was quaint and quiet, with the main attraction being the Spanish fort and the beach. We walked the loop around the island, snapped a few pictures, and got on another ferry to Corral. Here, there was a larger Spanish fortification with an impressive stretch of cannons facing the sea. Again, we snapped some pictures and then enjoyed a fish lunch at a local restaurant.



That afternoon, we joined an official boat tour and saw a different side of the river with cisnes con cuellos negros (Black-neck swans) floating gracefully by. Our guide informed us that these beautiful creatures are monogamous for life and, in true Romeo and Juliet style, are so faithful that, if one swan dies, its partner stops eating until it dies too. Now that’s love for you.

The boat stopped at an abandoned mansion whose owners left after the earthquake of 1960 whose epicenter was under the city of Valdivia. The land was forever changed, as the terremoto caused the level of the land to fall as much as 5 meters in some areas, which was in turn flooded by the ocean with the subsequent hurricanes. For this reason, huge stretches of former forests can be seen in the river, their stubby remains sticking up where there used to be shore.


The land surrounding the mansion was at one point owned by the logging industry but, when it was found that some of the species of flora and fauna dated back to Pangea (that is, when the entire world was made up of one continent), the industry decided to donate the land to the government so that it would be protected. After an once of cake and local liquor and a quick trip to Punucapa to try the sparkling cider, it was back to Valdivia where I enjoyed an impressive Brazilian jam session where the musicians wowed the hostel crowd with the hot Brazilian song of the moment, “Ai Se Eu Te Pego,” in 7 different languages. If you haven't heard the Michel Teló tune sweeping the planet, do yourself a favor and click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fo_Mtsnkeh0.

On my last day in Valdivia, I took a private transfer to the Valdivian rainforest, a pricey trip taken to see for myself if rainforests really did exist in Chile. After an hour of uphill driving, we arrived at the entrance and I spent the rest of the day hiking through the wet paths of this temperate--but not tropical--rainforest.




I am convinced that no travel is complete without some stumbing blocks along the way. Mine happened on my last morning in Valdivia. I logged onto the hostel computer to check my internet and was shocked to see an email stating that I had transferred 2,000,000 pesos (approximately $4,000) to some guy named Juan Gonzalez. Horrified, I clicked on the email link that always appears on bank emails stating, “If you did not make this transfer, click here.” I was directed to a bank website which asked for my login name, password, and digipass (secret code). Even though the bank doesn’t usually ask for your digipass to log-in, I figured it must be some sort of fraud protocol so I entered the information and waited. Nothing. So, I called the bank and found out that I had been had by a false email. In the end, the email was a fake, but, in putting my information into the faulty website, I had given the thief everything he/she needed to transfer 1,000,000 pesos (around $2,000) into his/her account. Yikes.

The bank assured me that I did have insurance that covered up to $5,000 of fraud but my Chilean friends informed me that, unsurprisingly, insurance companies aren’t too eager to reimburse the money, especially if the fault of the robbery lies with the client. As I already had a trip to the Valdivian rainforest booked, I decided to take care of all the details of the robbery the following day and tried to keep it out of my mind as I enjoyed hiking through the wet, leafy forest. It appears that Chile really does have everything: desert, mountains, lakes, glaciers, AND rainforest.

That night I took a bus to Puerto Montt and then spent all of the following morning taking care of tramites (errands) to try to recuperate the stolen money. I arrived at the police station at 7:30am and was told to wait in the lobby until two agents were able to take me to a different station where they could handle my claim. I was picked up in a cop van and driven to a small office where I explained the situation and the police took notes. Two painfully slow hours later, mainly due to the agent who apparently never played Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing, I was given the form I needed and was off to make copies to send to the insurance company.

That done, I went to the bank, where an agent informed me that the police station had given me the wrong form and I had to go back and ask them to do it all over again. I was taking a flight in just a couple of hours to Punta Arenas and this news had me literally running across town back to the station. I arrived, angry and flustered, and, when I told the agent that I needed a different form, he told me that I should have gone to a different station that morning because they didn’t have permission to complete a “denuncia.”

My ability-to-deal level crashed and I broke down into tears. Thankfully, that was enough for the cop to go back, call his boss, and tell me that they would do the form I needed, even though they weren’t generally supposed to. Ten minutes later, with “denuncia” in hand, I was back at the copier, then back at the bank, and finally finished with everything needed to file the claim. I rushed back to the hostel, got an expensive cab ride to the airport, and made it to my gate just in time. Phew!

Posted by lhamman1 12:43 Archived in Chile Comments (0)

On the Road Again

Travel blogger back in action!

After nearly a year of silence, I am returning to my travel blog to keep up with the busy months of travel that await. As a high school teacher this year, I found my time tied up in grading essays and creating PowerPoints, but, now that I am officially unemployed, I have no other commitments to keep me from writing. So begins a summer of new adventures!

Well, technically I have just returned from my first trip: a whirlwind tour of Argentina with my mom, dad, and sister Allison. In 13 days we hit up Santiago and Algarrobo in Chile and Buenos Aires, Bariloche, Mendoza, and Iguazú in Argentina. Whenever I travel with my parents, I never fail to be amazed at their resilience and take-on-anything attitude. We went zip-lining and rafting in Mendoza, took a boat under a waterfall at Iguazú, and biked up a small mountain in Bariloche. Incredible.

But now I am setting out on my own adventures, from Patagonia to the Galapagos Islands! For those of you interested in following along, I am including my itinerary below. Best wishes to you all! Check back for my next blog update!

Summer Travel Plans

Jan 3 - Jan 13: Argentina Trip with Family (Mendoza, Bariloche, Iguazú, Buenos Aires)

Jan 13 - Jan 18: Rest in Santiago

Jan 18 - Jan 23: Travel alone in Lake District (Pucón, Valdivia, Puerto Montt)

Jan 24 - Feb 3: Travel with Vale in Chilean Patagonia (Trek the ¨W¨ in Torres del Paine, Punta Arenas, Puerto Natales, Penguin Island)

Feb 3 - Feb 14: Travel with Aislinn and Emily in Argentinean Patagonia (Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego, El Calafate, Chaltén)

Feb 15 - Feb 16: Travel back to Santiago, Chile

Feb 16 - Feb 29: Rest in Santiago

Feb 29 - March 20: Travel with Rubén to Ecuador (Quito, Galapagos Islands)

March 20 - March 27: Travel alone to Colombia (Cartegena, Tayrona National Park)

March 27 - April 5: Rest in Santiago

April 5: Flight home to Chicago!

Posted by lhamman1 07:18 Archived in Chile Comments (0)

Que Siga La Fiesta!

Still living the dream...


"Y no se deprima
Tira para arriba
Carga vitaminas
Disfruta la vida!"
-Croni K, "Arriba la vida"

I never thought I'd see the day when Reggaeton would replace my thoughtful literary quotations, but the Croni K song "Arriba la Vida" seems the perfect way to begin this entry. The song has become an anthem for party-goers, with a feel-good, celebrate life chorus. Taking Croni K's words to heart, I have spent the last month soaking up every bit of life, traveling to remote islands, meeting new friends, and dancing until the sun comes up! In short, life is good.

"Ring" the Alarm: Las Vegas 2011!

My weeks at home in Libertyville flew by, enhanced with a few snowy runs with Dad and pre-dinner glasses of Chardonnay with Mom. While home, I successfully cooked seven meals, read fourteen books, and attempted to teach myself Latin--a goal abandoned after a mere two days of page-ripping frustration. On the weekends, I usually headed into the city to catch up with friends and enjoy the bustling nightlife. I was shocked to re-learn that a late night in Chicago ends at 2am and a mixed drink under four dollars is an anomaly. But, despite the early bedtimes and pricey cocktails, I had a great time reconnecting with ND classmates and even squeezed in a few runs along Lake Michigan.

Finally, just before Valentine's Day, the long-awaited, quadruple bachelorette weekend arrived! I had extended my stay at home so that I could attend this epic weekend and couldn't wait to spend time with my college roommates! I arrived at the Vegas airport early Friday morning, wandered through the rows of slot machines--apparently some folks can't wait for the casinos to start gambling--and headed to baggage claim. Two of the girls were there waiting for me and we ran to greet each other, jumping and hugging, our college selves resurfacing. We shoved our bags into the back of "Betty" the Beetle's minuscule yet surprisingly functional trunk and drove to...the Bellagio!

The rest of the girls arrived throughout the course of the day and we greeted each with the same gusto and enthusiasm. Jaclyn and I spent an hour sprucing up one of the Bellagio rooms for our bachelorette celebrations and then we geared up for a night on the town! Sashes were slung, head bobbers donned, and champagne glasses held high for toasting. Then, it was time for the main event: American Storm! The show met all expectations: cheesy coordinated dancing, intense bicep flexing, and dozens of costume changes. Without doubt, the highlight of the performance was getting Kathy on stage for a little close booty-shaking from one of the male dancers--also possibly the most traumatizing moment of her life.

The Bellagio!!

The Four Bachelorettes!

Put a ring on it!

The rest of the weekend was filled with late-night dancing, VIP treatment at the New York hotel, a thrilling afternoon jog on the strip, and our fair share of gambling. I seem to be cursed when it comes to the latter, though somehow I never lose when betting someone else's money. With my own, however, I am always amazed how fast it goes. I dropped $100 in under 2 minutes at a Roulette table and decided that I'd better stick to the dance floor. My friends, on the other hand, all came out ahead, some making over $300 of winnings! Then, all too soon, it was time to for goodbyes and see you at your (gasp) wedding!

A New Year, A New Home!

A few days after Las Vegas, I was on a plane again, this time headed back to Chile. As my TransVip raced across the Costenera (highway), I felt the thrill of homecoming, a strange sensation considering I couldn't be further from my real home. At the same time, I felt different, older and more independent, knowing that this year I wouldn't be part of a "community" or under the protective umbrella of Notre Dame. I was entering a new school where I would have to acclimate myself to new procedures, new colleagues, and a completely different group of students. It was comforting to return to a strong network of friends, an active social life, and a wide range of activities, but I knew this year would be distinct--maybe, even, better!

The driver deposited my two enormous, florescent pink bags at my side and sped away. I stood in front of my new apartment building for a few moments, straining my eyes upward to discern which apartment was mine. Then, I dragged my luggage inside and took the elevator up, up, up to the twelfth floor! No one was home so I dumped my things in the living room and then made my way to my bedroom. The apartment was whiter than hospital bedsheets--from the leather sofa to the tiled floor, the wallpapered walls to the recently painted ceiling. Color, I mused, will be the first thing I bring into this apartment.

My bedroom was quaint but appealing, with three closet doors stretching the entire length of the wall and a small walk-out balcony with an incredible view of the city. Opening the sliding glass door and stepping out onto the balcony, I could sense the vivacity of the city--the constant coming and going of cars and bicycles, the woman selling freshly trimmed flowers on the corner, the fearless pedestrians racing through street traffic. And there I stood, taking it all in, ready to dive back in.

In a few days, my small bedroom had transformed into a purple sanctuary: purple bedsheets, purple lamp, purple rug, even purple ribbons to tie the curtains! The apartment changed too; with a few more pictures on the walls, it no longer seemed so drearily white. My roommates, Vanessa and Melissa, and I hit it off from the start and, soon, the place felt like home.

The View from My Room

New Roomies!

Isla de Pascua

Thankfully, my travels were not quite finished and I was able to soak up some summer sun with a trip to Easter Island! Early Saturday morning, with backpacks full of snacks and water to save a few luca (Chilean cash), Megan and I were on a plane heading towards an island that the Rapa Nui people call "Te pito o te henua," the bellybutton of the world. After a few hours in the air, Megan tugged at the sleeve of my sundress and gestured towards the TV monitor. On most trips, the TV monitor is a moderately entertaining way to watch the flight's progress. This time, we watched the tiny white triangle inch across a screen of total blue Pacific; I silently prayed that the crew had been extra diligent in checking the plane's mechanics before take-off. But, there was nothing to do but enjoy the luxury of LAN--heavily cushioned seats, rich Carmenere wine, personal TV with the latest movies--and prepare to visit the most isolated place on the planet.

I confess that, prior to living in Chile, my knowledge of Easter Island was limited to a few googled images of the famous statues of enormous, expressionless human faces. Upon further recollection, however, I recalled visiting a naval museum in Norway when I was thirteen and pondering a large reed raft, a stranger amidst the warships and submarines. Now I know that it was, in fact, the Kon Tiki, the brain child of Thor Heyerdahl who sailed it from Chile to Easter Island to prove that the natives of South America had been the first denizens of the island. His theory has since been disproved and it is now widely established that Polynesian islanders from the west were the island's first inhabitants. Still, strange how, when we begin piecing together bits of our past, we often find that our experiences are interconnected.

I considered what I had read about Thor Heyerdahl and began to draw parallels between my own experiences and those of that hapless explorer. Like Thor, I was embarking on a new adventure--another year in Santiago, but this time at a new school and without the safety net of a program. I was embracing a new grade level, preparing to educate high school girls after three years of teaching second grade, and had just moved into a new apartment. This, I thought to myself, is my year of independence, my time to "grow up." And, really, what better way to celebrate than with a trip to Easter Island?

The plane descended and jolted to a bumpy landing. Megan and I debarked down a set of stairs directly onto the runway and began walking towards the tiny airport building. The skies gleamed blue and a fresh sea breeze brushed across our faces. A smiling Rapa Nui woman distributed yellow flowers of welcome and we scurried past to find bags and transportation--fifteen minutes late--in true Rapa Nui (and Chilean) fashion. Our transfer took us to Hotel Otai, a scattering of rooms surrounded by an abundance of tropical trees and flowers and a delightful palm tree-lined swimming pool. Megan and I quickly unloaded our bags and set off for Caleta Hanga Roa, the nearby harbor. There, we saw our first moai, a towering 20-ft. stone statue of a head facing inland. Incredible.

Pool at Hotel Otai

Moai at Caleta Hanga Roa

That night, Megan and I freshened up for a traditional Rapa Nui dance show. We arrived at 8:30PM, the only tourists who had signed up for the dinner option and were rewarded with overflowing plates of chicken, pork ribs, rice, potato salad, and greens, not to mention large glasses of pina coladas and red wine. After stuffing ourselves full, we headed to our front row seats for the show in all its chest-thumping, thigh-shaking glory. The sweat-drenched men stole the show though the women did their share of impressive hip bouncing. At one point, I was dragged--willingly--on stage for some booty-shaking. We topped off the night with a picture of two of the most muscular men of the crew and then headed back to the hotel to get some shuteye.



Learning Rapa Nui Moves...

On Sunday, I woke up early for a long run along the coast and was completely blown away by the pink-tinged skies and solemn rows of moai along the shores. Once I left the harbor, I felt like I was the only soul on the island--I didn't see a single person during the entire hour-long run. Back at the hotel, Megan and I enjoyed a rico breakfast buffet and then headed out for a day of trekking. First, we hiked up Rano Koa, one of the three volcanoes that formed the island thousands of years ago. At the peak, we were awestruck by the beauty of the lagoon inside the crater. Pictures cannot do it justice. We walked along the crater's rim until we reached a small ceremonial village called Orongo. This collection of stone shelters was once the site of the annual birdman cult, in which natives competed to bring back the first sooty tern egg from a nearby islet. The winner became that year's tangata manu (birdman), a coveted and respected title. Looking over the cliff edge that competitors had to scale to reach the islet, I was amazed that any of them even reached the islet, much less returned with an egg!

Morning Run Photos


Hiking up Rano Koa

The Crater = AMAZING!

Friends We Met Along the Way...

Orongo Ceremonial Village

One hike finished, we returned to Hanga Roa and roused a sleeping taxi driver to take us to the base of Ma'unga Terevaka, the tallest volcano on the island (507m or 1,665 ft). A few hours later, we had reached the peak, the only spot in the island with 360 degree view of the Pacific ocean. It was misty and slightly rainy so it was difficult to see much, but it was still impressive to consider the total isolation of this tiny island in the grandeur of the Pacific. We hiked back and treated ourselves to a fancy dinner at a French restaurant, Au Bout Der Monde. Lovely!

Highest Point on the Island

Monday morning we enjoyed another delicious breakfast and then walked to the harbor for our first scuba dive! Neither Megan nor I had any previous experience but the guide assured us that it was easy so we signed the forms, struggled into our wetsuits, and hopped into a boat headed for the coral reef. Easter Island is known by the scuba world for its crystal-clear waters--the seabed can be seen at over 50 meters deep--but, also, for the lack of abundant sea life. Without certification, Megan and I could only dive to 10 meters depth, but we were far from complaining! Breathing from a tube was a strange sensation, especially as my guide released spurts of air from my life vest so I could sink downward. My ears popped at each new level but, eventually, I made it to the sandy bottom and began exploring the reef. Even though the fish were few, those that I saw were impressive! I peaked into a small tunnel and saw a jaw-snapping eel and followed a couple of rainbow fish that were whizzing around the coral. Megan and I managed to get one photo together and then, all too soon, we were back on the boat and heading to the shore. I can't wait to get my scuba license!

That afternoon, we had our first formal tour of the island. Our enthusiastic guide took us to the cuevas or caverns of the island. These caves were formed by lava millions of years ago and were used by the Rapa Nui people for rituals, growing food, hiding from enemies, and storing precious objects. The most impressive cueva, by far, was Ana Kakenga, the Cave of Two Windows. We crawled down through the narrow entrance into this dim, musty space. It was pitch-black in the interior of the cueva but, on the other side, light shone in from two large openings in the cliff face--an incredible, birds-eye view of the Pacific. After the tour, we relaxed for a bit at the hotel, grabbed dinner and homemade ice cream at Mikafe, and then made our way to Ahu Tahai for the sunset. As we calmly sipped Carmenere and watched the colors change from glowing tangerine to dark russet, we both wished there was a way to capture that moment forever.

Entering the Cueva

Ana Kakenga: Window 1

Ana Kakenga: Window 2

Sunset at Ahu Tahai

The next day, I woke early for the sunrise on the other side of the island. I ran along the main road in utter darkness and solitude, hearing only the scraping of my sneakers on the pavement. After fifteen minutes, I hit gravel and somehow managed to avoid falling as I continued running under the night sky. Finally, I caught sight of the other side of the Pacific and stopped to watched the dim light inching up from the horizon. It was definitely worth the trip, but not nearly as impressive as the sunset over the Ahu Tahai. I hurried back to shower and eat breakfast because Megan and I had a day-long moai tour and I didn't want to be late!

Morning Run: Sunrise!

The moai tour was undoubtedly the best of the week and helped us to realize why Easter Island has become so famous. We stopped at various moai sights along the southern part of the island, examining remnants of living and cooking sites. Our guide showed us endless toppled moai, which, face-down in the dirt, were rather unimpressive. Then, we arrived at Rano Raraku and were totally blown away. This was the volcano used for moai construction and boosts more than twenty moai scattered along its outer slope. Megan and I wandered amid the towering statues, taking hundreds of pictures and truly in awe of the size and individuality of each moai. There were several moai that were only half completed and were still embedded in the mountain; the Rapa Nui people carved the moai out of the mountain-side and then carried them--no easy task--to their ahu, or platform. The largest incomplete moai would have been 22 meters (71 feet) high and weighed 270 tons.

Remains of a Rapa Nui Shelter

Moai Head and Me (don't think I was supposed touch it...oops!)

Rano Raraku Moai






The majority of moai, once on their ahu faced inland, since the Rapa Nui believed that the spirits of their ancestors were enshrined in each moai and, therefore, were watching over their people. Sadly, by 1868 there were no statues left standing upright, brought down due to natural disasters or conflicts between the clans. Today, there are about fifty moai that have been re-erected, with the most impressive being the 15-moai platform of Tangaraka. It was truly breathtaking to view the line of maoi up close, each with a unique face and body shape, towering like guardians of the island. Megan and I met a fellow American tourist who had a unique way of taking pictures of this ahu: he had hooked his camera onto a kite string and was sailing the kite back and forth in front of the moai. It looked a little too technical for my snap-and-go system but, nevertheless, very impressive.


The tour ended at Playa Anakena, one of two beaches on the island, and a welcome break from the day's walking. The beach seems almost out of place with the rest of Easter Island, with its white sand beach and endless palm trees. The water was warm enough for swimming and the sun was perfect for snoozing. After an hour, our tour guide was ready to take the group back, but we declined, knowing we could easily hitch-hike later (which we did). Back in Hanga Roa, we had a cheap yet satisfying dinner, though we could have easily done a perro muerto ("dead dog," the Chilean idiom for "dine and ditch") since our flamboyant waiter, wrapped in a purple butterfly sarong, skipped away down the street halfway into our meal. Luckily, Megan was able to track down another waiter so we decided it best to pay for our food and then be on our way. We finished the night with a liter of chocolate brownie ice cream, lamenting the end of our trip but grateful for the experience.

Playa Anakena

Moai on the Beach

Festival de Viña

Two days after returning to Santiago--after endless tramites (errands), laundry-washing, and picture-uploading--Megan and I embarked on another adventure: Viña del Mar! We were joined by some Chilean friends (Matías, Vale, and Jorge) for the renowned music event "Festival de Viña." This year's headliners included Los Jaivas and Sting, both of which were sure to exciting shows. After arriving, we grabbed a quick lunch and then soaked up rays on the beach. I attempted to read a Times magazine I had picked up in the states, but just engage myself in anything but the Festivals and Events Around the World section--clear evidence of my current priorities.

Viña del Mar Beach

Clock Near the Beach

That evening, Vale and I headed to the show, heading to the cheap seats which we affectionately called the pueblo. Sting was the leading act and drove the crowd wild. I could not believe the enthusiasm with which he was received and was equally surprised to learn that he had been a strong opposing voice during the dictatorship and had even written a few songs about Chile; the most tribute is called "They Dance Alone" and was written for the mothers who lost husbands and sons due to the military takeover. After Sting had finished, the crowd began chanting "Antorcha! Antorcha!" Vale explained to me that there are four prizes a singer at el Festival can earn (from lowest to highest): antorcha de plata, antorcha de oro, gaviota de plata, and gaviota de oro. Unlike normal prize awarding, the singer receives the lowest prize (the silver torch) first and then, if the crowd continues to roar, receives the next highest prize and so on and so forth until he or she reaches the gaviota de oro (gold seagull). Accordingly, the crowd cheered, yelled, clapped, screamed, jumped, and pounded feet for quite some time, until Sting was finally given the gaviota de oro. Crazy!


The next act was a comedian and was so completely and totally rejected by the crowd that I began to applaud his admittedly pathetic efforts. Chileans are not shy when it comes to expressing themselves! After twenty painful minutes, he fled the stage, and was not even given the chance at winning the antorcha. Next, we watched a competition between lesser known international groups, but it was hard to hear them over the crowd's chanting for Sting's return (apparently they did not understand the concept of a music festival). Finally, the last act of the night took the stage: Los Jaivas! This traditional Chilean group employs a range of South American instruments and sounds. I suppose they could be compared to Old Crow Medicine Show, but with much more widespread popularity. The group of people dancing near us went absolutely crazy when Los Jaivas took the stage and, as we joined them in dancing, we quickly became friends. After an incredible performance, and the accompanying shouts for the gaviota de oro, our new friends invited Vale and me to an asado (barbecue) at their apartment. Asado with strangers at 4am? Of course! As they say in Chile, "Que siga la fiesta" -- Let the party go on!

Vale and I at the Festival

Los Jaivas

Te Vas, Te Vas, Te Vas!

Sadly, all good things must come to an end and soon it was time to say goodbye to friends. Megan and Christine were both heading back to the states and their departure had to be celebrated accordingly. It was hard to see Megan go--her crazy despedida (going-away party) and parting gift to the CHACErs (7 bottles of pisco) made it clear that she would be missed. Two weeks later, Christine had her despedida and with much dancing and hugging, we also bid her farewell. The summer had come to a close and it was time to prepare for "real life" once again.

Preview for the next entry: Teaching at Villa Maria, Concerts (Shakira, U2), Weddings, and more...

Posted by lhamman1 13:07 Archived in Chile Comments (1)

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