Still living the dream...
"Y no se deprima
Tira para arriba
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 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
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.
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
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...