A Travellerspoint blog

Autumn in Chile

A new school year, fall colors, and the charm of Chilean living

overcast 10 °C

"Poniendonos al dia"
(Getting caught up)

Well, folks, I am now well into my ninth month of living in Chile and can hardly believe the time has passed so quickly. The last few months--March, April, and May--have been a true testament to LIVING in Chile. I no longer live with a host family, in my job I am an equal to any other employee, and I manage my own routine and schedule of activities. My weeks are busy, filled with teaching, singing, touch rugby, running, tutoring, and leading Confirmation preparation meetings. Still, I manage to find time to watch re-runs of Friends with Spanish subtitles and, of course, party!

On normal weekends, I take some time to relax...and some time to celebrate! There is usually a birthday party or two to attend and, in Santiago, birthdays are elaborate and prolonged from a mere day to weeks of partying. For example, last week, I had two "family" parties to attend. First stop: the home of Diego's cousin who was turning fifteen. We arrived early, a Chilean abnormality, and were warmly greeted with cheek-kisses and pisco sours. The rest of the family arrived soon after, making our group an even eight, and we passed the hours with playful teasing about overly-possessive suegras (mothers-in-law) and turning fifteen. We dined on steak grilled to perfection and rich chocolate cake. I never cease to be amazed by the quality of the Chilean grill--steaks are always thick, juicy, and flavorful, though hardly ever seasoned with more than salt. A culinary wonder.

Next stop: the Japanese Cultural Center where my host brother Hikaru was celebrating his sixth birthday. Talk about a change of scenery! Enter 40 sugar-fed kindergartners, 2 clowns, 1 magician, and a handful of balloon-animal makers. I greeted my Chilean family with hugs and kisses and introduced Diego, whom they were all eager to meet (as any good family should be). The magician carried out the near-impossible task of doing magic tricks for a room full of hyperactive children and wowed us all by producing a glass of water and a dove out of thin air. I mingled with the crowd of friends and family, amazed that I knew nearly everyone there, and felt very much at home--amazing, considering the strangeness of the scene. I realized that, slowly but surely, Chile has begun to feel more like home.

Even though I consider myself increasingly Chilean--despite the obvious gringa roots--I like to spend my Sundays acting like a tourist in Santiago. At first glance, Santiago doesn't seem like anything special. It has the typical big city feel with all the good and bad that comes with it: intense traffic jams, endless options for bars and restaurants, a few parks, plenty of people. However, as I don my super-tourist gear and take the time to explore the ins and outs of the city, I find that Santiago has a hidden charm, for those who know where to look.

For example, I discovered a quaint cobblestone street near la Universidad Catolica full of classy boutiques, a dangerous discovery for my bank account. The nearby Parque Forestal is lined with tall maple trees whose leaves during this season are a delightful array of yellows, reds, and oranges. At the edge of the park is a local ice cream shop called Emporio la Rosa that specializes in unique combinations: chocolate albahaca (chocolate basil), rosa (rose), and frutilla y pimienta (strawberry and black pepper), to name a few. I also found my way to Pablo Neruda's home, La Chascona, named for his lifelong mistress. The home was designed to feel like a ship, complete with a small stream running alongside the circular windows. I loved his notion of creating a personal paradise, no matter where he was living, and planned to do the same.





Other highlights include Bellas Artes, a modern art museum that recently held an engaging exhibit on "Chilean history in photographs," and the two cerros (mountains or large hills, in this case) inside the city limits: Cerro Santa Lucia and Cerro San Cristobal. Though I am highly partial to the latter--a veritable paradise for runners, bikers, and even the occasional kick boxer--Cerro Santa Lucia offers a decent view, an easier climb, and an elaborate fountain for tossing pesos.

La Piojera is another city icon that cannot be passed up. For those of you who have experienced the quintessential grunge bar at Notre Dame fondly known as "The Backer," imagine that beloved bar superimposed in Chile with longer picnic tables, roudy Chileans raving and chanting as if at a soccer game, and one specialty drink--the terremoto (the earthquake). Two scoops of ice cream, white wine, and pisco (grape brandy) give this dangerous drink its unique flavor and, if you're not thirsty--or sober--enough to drink the terremoto, you can always order the smaller version, "la replica" (the aftershock). It's nice to know that Chileans haven't lost their sense of humor.





A less touristy, but just as entertaining, way to spend a weekend night is at a concert. So far my concert tally in Chile is at four: La Sonora de Tommy Rey, Simply Red, Los Fabulosos Cadillacs, Celtic Legend, and Los Tres. Out of the list, two are typical Chilean bands, one is an aging British singer with potent red ringlets, one is a traveling Irish band and dance group, and one is pure Argentinean rock. As you might have guessed, I'm fairly impartial when it comes to live music: as long as it's singable or danceable, count me in!




I ought to mention that the previously mentioned activities are strictly reserved for normal weekends. Give me an extra day and I'm off to see the country! On our first four-day weekend (Easter weekend), our group of twelve or so drove to Valle del Elqui, a beautiful valley north of Santiago known for its pisco production. We rented two cozy cabanas and celebrated the weekend with a delicious asado (barbecue), pool time, and a trip to a local pisco factory. Pisco, we learned, is much better mixed with Coca-Cola.







On a recent three-day weekend, Diego and I took a ten-hour bus to Pucon, the adventure capital of Chile. I've promised myself to write a full blog on the event so stay tuned for pictures and more details!

Occassionally, we take trips on normal weekends, but for special causes. For example, in April, Megan, Heather, Jillian, and I joined a bus of young, motivated Chileans and foreigners to Yerbas Buenas, an area hit particularly hard during the earthquake. We arrived late Friday night, slurped soup, and huddled in our sleeping bags piled haphazardly in empty classrooms on a school campus. The next morning we woke early, ate breakfast, and were dropped off at our sites to "build" mediaguas, or small, wooden temporary homes. The task was particularly challenging for my group since we were one man down and had little to no home-constructing experience. I quickly determined that my summer internship as a saleswoman at Pulte Homes was not going to help much.




Still, we worked with enthusiasm and, two long and exhausting days later, proudly stood before our wooden masterpiece as the elderly woman who would be living in the home cut the ribbon hanging across the door. And by ribbon I mean piece of twine, since a curious gringa--myself--had been practicing tying the official ribbon into a bow and had subsequently lost it. When the big moment came, the tricolor strip had vanished and our dedicated search proved unsuccessful. I angrily blamed the dogs--there were about five mangy suspects roaming around the yard who were clearly capable of tearing a ribbon to shreds; they had already shown their malicious nature by pooping on one of our carefully-dug posts, though the diabolical dog deserves some credit for accuracy. At last, we hung a piece of twine as a replacement. Ten minutes after the twine-cutting ceremony and pictures, the long-lost ribbon was mysteriously found in my pocket... My group still won't let me forget it and call me the "perro amarillo" as a humorous reminder: "the yellow dog."






I should take this moment to thank all of you who donated to the my half-marathon to support Chile fund. Part of the money was given to two well-established charities in Chile: Caritas and Un Techo Para Chile, the organization that sent our bus down to Yerbas Buenas and provided us with the materials to build the mediaguas. The rest of the money was given to the family for whom we built the temporary home. The elderly woman wept and hugged me tight, sending her blessings to all of you back in the states who were so generous. I teared up too and was so glad that we were able to do our part to helping get this country back on its feet.

Some weekends we travel. Some weekends we build. And some weekends we go on high school retreats. Two weeks ago, our group of monitors (or leaders) took 28 high school students on a Confirmation retreat to the Santuario de Santa Teresa de Los Andes, the Sanctuary of Saint Teresa of the Andes. The tomb of this beloved saint, one of two native to Chile, is frequented throughout the year by those seeking spiritual guidance, healing, and quiet reflection. On the grounds is a retreat center managed by Carmelite nuns, which was our home for the three day retreat. The students were wonderfully serious about the meaning of the retreat. The first night we held an 8 hour adoration of the Holy Sacrament from midnight to 8AM and there was not a single moment during the whole night when someone was not in the chapel praying--or, at least, sleep-praying. Amazing. Somehow, I was only "encargada" or in charge of the songs and activities but I enjoyed every minute and took full advantage of the opportunity to teach a little Superman Grace, Eric Eble-style. The kids either think I'm crazy or awesome...I hope both!





With all this talk of weekends and extracurriculars, the main event of my Chilean experience has been a little overshadowed but, believe me, teaching at Saint George is never dull! Topping off the school's celebratory events is Semana Georgiana, the school's raging spirit week which includes skits, costumes, field events, and more reggaeton than an all-night discoteca. I have also had more adventures in just entering my classroom than I ever would have imagined: I have not-so-stealthily entered through a window TWICE and once taught twenty minutes of English class to forty second graders as we waited for a janitor to bring a key to open the door.



But, once inside the classroom, Georgian students really shine. Saint George prides itself on the creativity and liberal-mindedness of its student body; meaning, my 100+ students are some of the most intelligent, artistic, and completely crazy kids I've ever taught. Beginning in first grade, students are given full responsibility of their schedule, an impressive feat when I recall my military-style line of students in the states walking to and from the bathroom. While the idea of giving students more control seems impressive, it also means that the first five minutes of every class typically include telling two boys to stop rolling on the floor, asking a pose of girls to stop fixing their hair in front of the mirror (another oddity: why do all of the classrooms have mirrors???), and frantically writing the order of the lesson on the board while half my class gets restless waiting to begin and the other half hasn't even started looking for their English books. And I do this five to seven times a day. Thank goodness for recreo (recess)!

Well, this will have to suffice. I'll try to get more into a monthly blog-writing routine now that winter is approaching. Hope you're all enjoying the summer weather up north and please send warm thoughts southward!

Posted by lhamman1 19:25 Archived in Chile Comments (0)

Si, po weon

The process of becoming Chilean

all seasons in one day 15 °C

"Trabajadores de mi Patria: Tengo fe en Chile y en su destino. Sigan ustedes sabiendo que, mucho más temprano que tarde, se abrirán de nuevo las grandes alamedas por donde pase el hombre libre, para construir una sociedad mejor."

-Salvador Allende, presidente de Chile 1970-1973

"Workers of my Homeland: I have faith in Chile and in her destiny. Go forth, knowing that sooner rather than later, the great avenues will be opened, through which the free man walks and a new and better society is constructed."

-Salvador Allende, president of Chile 1970-1973, first democratically-elected socialist president in the world

I apologize for the long absence of blog entries. The busy-ness of everyday life seems to get in the way of my blogging, especially now that I am nice and comoda (comfortable) in Santiago Chile. Well into my eighth month of living in Chile, the culture and language has begun to infiltrate every part of me. I find myself enjoying the long process of salutation--greeting every person in the room with a kiss on the cheek--and saying such oddities as "Allow me to present myself." Though my blonde hair and blue eyes will forever mark me as a gringa (the Chilean term for all English-speaking or light-skinned foreigners), my inner self is finding itself more and more in tune with the Chilean way of life. To better explain why I am enamored with Chilean culture, I have compiled a brief list of observations. Some are positive, some are negative--all are generalizations--but I think they help unravel the charm and humor of Chileans.

1. Chileans stay out late. Don't arrive at a house party before 10:30PM and, if you're going out dancing, you can plan on getting home after 5:00AM. When do they sleep?!?! I'm still trying to figure that one out... Speaking of time, I should also explain that Chilean time is very different than "gringo" time. When someone invites you to their home at 3:00PM, they really mean 4:00PM. If you show up on time, the host may not have even begun preparations for the event. This Chilean lateness should not, however, be assumed for school or business meetings. That lesson I learned the hard way.

2. Chileans love asados (barbecue). If the weather is nice, you can bet it will last all day. When you arrive, the host will offer you a range of aperativos (alcoholic beverages). After greeting everyone at the house with a kiss and engaging in some light-hearted mingling, the first round of meat-eating begins: choripan (bratwurst-like sausages served in warm french bread buns). But, be careful not to eat too much, because you have only just begun. Throughout the next couple of hours, you will be offered large hunks of steaming meats--pork, steak, chicken--everything but the typical American hamburger. Finally, when you are sufficiently stuffed, the host will announce that it is time to eat "lunch" and everyone will fill their plates with a range of salads, side dishes, and, of course, more meat. On more than one occasion, I have been seduced into a full-on meat coma. But, who's complaining?

3. Chileans love to talk. At school, we have a morning and afternoon coffee break built into the schedule just so teachers can catch up on the latest gossip. In an informal setting, the Chilean gift of gab is fun, even charming. At school meetings, this cultural tendency for superfluity drives us--the gringas--crazy. During most meetings in the states, an objective would be presented, a few people would give their well-formed opinions, and a decision would be made democratically. During Chilean reunions, the objective is sometimes mentioned, everyone is obliged and eager to share their thoughts--even if their comment is nothing more than an affirmation of someone else's comment--and, generally, there is no definitive decision. Solution? One must learn patience.

4. Chileans use English words. In Ecuador, the wet floor signs read: Cuidado, piso mojado. In Chile, they say: Caution, piso mojado. This needless replacement of an English word is proliferate all over Santiago, and not only in writing. Chileans who have had a drink or two are "happy." For dessert, you might ask for a "pie," "brownie," or donut. If you need a shave, you will use your "Gillette." And if the lights go out in the whole city, as sometimes happens with the electricity-giant Chilectra, the city has a "blackout." Though this language phenomenon is rather annoying for someone trying to become fluent in Spanish, it does make teaching English to second graders much easier.

5. Chileans eat more often (but not necessarily more). The typical dining routine is: breakfast at 7AM, coffee break at 10AM, lunch at 2PM, once at 5PM, and dinner at 8PM or 9PM. The "once" is my favorite addition to the meal schedule. It typically consists of palta (avocado), fresh bread, crackers, jam, tea, and coffee. Sometimes cake, scrambled eggs, and sandwiches are added to the mix, enough to sufficiently satisfy your stomach until dinner.

6. Chileans have many names. A typical Chilean has a first name and middle name, of which one or both is likely the name of a saint, and two last names, one from dad and one from mom. For simplicity's sake, I only attempt to learn the first last names of my students, which has made parent-teacher notes from their mothers almost impossible to track. And, to make matters worse, almost all Chilean names have a nickname, some of whose origins are impossible to divine. Ignacio changes to Nacho, Maria Jose to Cote, and, one which I will never understand, Jose to Pepe. I have learned that to properly meet someone you must ask both, "What is your name?" and "What do you go by?" I should also mention the benefit of having two names, particularly if they are religious. Many Chileans, especially those who live in the "campo" or countryside, celebrate their saint's day with as much to-do as a birthday party. Meaning, the potential for three birthday parties in a year. Now, we're talking!

7. Chileans are dangerous drivers. This fact I assumed from riding in the backseat of friends' and colleagues' vehicles but LEARNED when I began biking my way around Santiago. Cars have little respect for other cars on the street and even less for a man-powered piece of steel trying to manuever its way from road to sidewalk and back again. In an attempt to prevent my mother's horror, I won't go into gruesome details but let it suffice to say that, while riding, I have been honked at four times, have had close calls twice, and have actually been hit by a car once--enough to fall off the bike and have three cars stop to help. But, my bike and I both escaped unscathed, a miracle I attribute to the serious amount of layers I was wearing to stay warm in the Santiago chill. Moral of the story: always keep your eyes on the road when driving--or riding--in Santiago.

8. Chileans use needless security. Since I arrived in Chile I have needed to use my fingerprint more times than I can count. To sign up for a bank account, to get health insurance, to make a large purchase, even to enter and leave the campus of Saint George. The use of the RUT number (equivalent to social security number) is even more extreme. Anytime you make a purchase with a credit card, your RUT is requested. I didn't learn my social security number until I applied for college and, since, have not given it much attention; here, my RUT is requested on a daily basis. Security, it seems, is of utmost importance.

9. Chileans are patriotic. Flags, chants, and generally positive vibes about being Chilean can be found everywhere in the city. This was undoubtedly augmented by the earthquake but, regardless, Chileans have always been proud of who they are. When Chile qualified into the world cup, a spontaneous parade erupted across the length of the entire skinny nation. After the quake, "apoyo Chile" or "support Chile" signs went up on storefronts, metro station walls, and billboards everywhere. At sporting events, Chileans not only cheer for their teams, but for the "gusto" or enjoyment of being Chilean. It could be the geographical isolation or the unity in national disasters, but, what ever the reason, there is something special about being a part of this nation on the southern tip of the world.

10. Chileans love palta and manjar. Honestly, these two food items are so popular that I could not write a cultural description of Chileans without giving them their due. Palta, the Chilean word--note: "Chilean," not "Spanish"--for avocado, is a staple to every diet. Avocado is generally served mashed with salt to taste and is spread on warm rolls, thin crackers, and all types of sandwiches. A personal favorite is the "ave palta," a sandwich of shredded chicken and a hefty portion of avocado served on white bread. Manjar, a caramel-like spread, is equally popular and used in almost all desserts. The gringo equivalent would probably be peanut butter, though don't mention that to a Chilean--the typical, delectable American spread is generally disliked by all who live south of the Northern Hemisphere. Though, as a replacement, manjar isn't half bad.

I could probably write a book on Chilean charm and oddities--and perhaps someday I will--but, for now, I hope this will suffice as a small insight into what it takes to be Chilean.

Until next time,

A few fun Chilean words and phrases:

1. Si, po weon = a fancy way to say "yes"
2. acaramelado = affectionate; literally, "caramel-like"
3. cagada de risa = laughing your socks off (note: very informal)
4. hacer una vaca = pool money for something; literally, "to make a cow"
5. pasarlo chancho = have a great time; literally "to pass the pig"

Posted by lhamman1 15:45 Archived in Chile Comments (0)

All Shook Up

The Chilean Earthquake of 2010


"...otra vez, otra vez el caballo iracundo patea el planeta y escoge la patria delgada, la orilla del páramo andino, la tierra que dio en su angostura la uva celeste y el cobre absoluto..."

-Pablo Neruda (por ocasión del terremoto de 1960)

My translation:
"...again, again the enraged horse kicks the planet and chooses the thin motherland, the edge of the Andean páramo, the land that gave in its narrowness the blue grape and the purest copper..."

-Pablo Neruda (after the earthquake of 1960)

Early in the morning on February 27th, the people of central Chile awoke to ground-rumbling, wall-shaking movement. Most hopped out of bed and clutched the doorway; one was thrown from his bed and woke up in the bathroom; another was out dancing when the lights went out and the discoteca floor began to shake of its own accord. Some were home with their families; others were alone in the darkness of the night. Wherever they were when the earthquake hit, those who lived it say that the most impressionable part was the sound--crashing, scraping, and crushing.

At 6:30AM on February 27th, I arrived at the airport in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, sleepless and eager for my long flight back to Santiago. I had been traveling for nearly two months through Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil and was ready to begin the school year. Though I was traveling in Brazil with three of my housemates--Johnnie, Megan, and Heather--only Johnnie was with me that dimly-lit morning since we had booked our flights late and had an extra plane ride before the four of us met up in Sao Paulo for the final trip home.

At the check-in counter, the TAM airline staff informed us that Chile had been hit by a “terremoto”—earthquake—so our flight might be delayed or canceled. Knowing that Chile often experienced tremors, we didn't feel too worried so we boarded our separate flights and bid each other farewell until Sao Paulo. My flight to Curitiba lasted one hour, hardly enough time to get into a deep sleep. I waited at the gate with droopy eyes, trying to keep myself awake with a small cup of coffee and a pao de quesjo (cheese biscuit) as I absently watched Land Before Time 3 in Portuguese.

Around noon I boarded and, a couple of hours later, I arrived in Sao Paulo. As I approached the gate, I heard Johnnie’s voice ring out from behind me. She was sprawled on the floor, surrounded by her luggage, with a tired, defeated look in her eyes. “The flight’s been canceled,” she sighed, dragging herself to her feet. Surprised, I ran to check the flight departure board and, indeed, she was right. In fact, no planes were leaving for Santiago. A small, worried crowd was gathered around the LAN office but, aside from heated grumblings, no one seemed to have a clear idea of what was to be done.

Desperate for more information, Johnnie and I paced the airport until we found a small restaurant that was showing CNN. We grabbed a table near the television and watched in horror as the screen flashed images of rubble from crumbled buildings and jagged cuts through asphalt highways. The earthquake had registered an 8.8 on the Richter scale, the 7th most powerful earthquake in recorded history, and had lasted a full three minutes. President Michelle Bachelet, in a tearful address to the nation, declared a “state of catastrophe.” Since the morning quake, several aftershocks had already hit and tsunami warnings had spread to fifty-three countries. Even though Santiago was 270 kilometers away from the fault zone—just off the coast of Concepcion—it was rigorously shook and severe damage had been done to several major buildings, including the Fine Arts Museum and the international airport.

We finished our coffee and made our way back to the LAN office where news cameras had begun circling the angry Chilean crowd. The LAN workers had little to say and even less to offer--after several hours of demands for information and lodging they distributed 3 minute phone cards. As nightfall hit, I overheard a few families discussing hotel and transfer arrangements with a representative and edged into their circle. With pleading eyes, I explained our situation and asked if they had room for a few more. They instantly acceded, yet another example of the incredible Chilean solidarity that permeates the entire society. Our group of displaced travelers included a couple of girls trying to get to Australia, a family from Santiago, and a family from Concepcion who was especially worried since all phone and internet lines were still down. That night, our ragtag group tried to make the most of the evening, laughing about music, food, and basically anything but the disaster. Though from different places and cultures, our similar situation bound us together.

The next morning, we returned to the airport and, after receiving the same negations from LAN, decided to talk to TAM, a sister airlines that we had used for our connecting flights. TAM had little to offer regarding flights since the Santiago airport was still closed, but, instead, handed us vouchers for a hotel and three meals of buffet food. Johnnie and I left the counter in high spirits, praising the generosity of TAM, and hoping the following day would bring more flights. Thus began our cycle of eat-sleep at the hotel and wait-beg at the airport. In the interim, we met and mingled with Chileans trying to get home and, as with the first night, were amazed at the solidarity and compassion of the stranded patriots. At the Bristol Hotel lobby, there was a constant buzz of conversation as each family, couple, or individual shared their stories and advice on the latest travel possibilities.

In the meantime, we watched the news and learned of tsunami waves that had pummeled the Chilean coast, leaving thousands homeless. Johnnie and I tried to be patient, but watching the destruction on television was almost more painful than experiencing it firsthand. Finally, on Tuesday afternoon, we caught word that there might be a flight the following morning. Again, we gave our information to LAN but this time were greeted with the first good news in a week: a flight home! Elated, we took a trip to the nearby Wal-Mart to buy some snacks and spent the afternoon eating Pringles, drinking Coca Cola Light, and watching TV.

Just past midnight, we headed to the airport, checked our bags, and joined the rest of the weary-eyed yet exuberant Chilean crowd. A rousing card game of Cuarenta brought me back to the Ecuadorian school Vida Verde where I had first learned to play. Seven hours later, we landed--at last!--in the Santiago International Airport. The building had been badly damaged so the check-out process took place on the tarmac, a unique experience with sniffing dogs instead of machine scanners and laptop security points instead of a customs office. Johnnie and I hopped in a TransVip and were soon on our way home. A couple of bridges had fallen along the main highway, so our driver navigated the back roads and we got our first glimpse of the after-effects. Considering the intense images we had seen on TV, I was pleasantly surprised to see that much of the city had held up against the earthquake; in some areas, one would never even know that an 8.8 quake had run its course there less than a week earlier.

That being said, there were plenty of people who had been shaken up by the quake, some who had been forced to move out of their apartment buildings because they were unstable and others who had family down south who had been hit much harder. Our apartment was without electricity and water for the week but, considering the situation of so many others, getting dressed in the dark and showering at a friend's house seemed to be a pretty light consequence. The most impressionable result of the natural disaster was, without a doubt, the Chilean solidarity pouring out from every level of society. Clothing drives were organized, banks and universities began collecting money, and a two-day telethon raised over 59 million dollars. And, as the aftershocks continued to strike, Chileans bonded over a mutual concern for family and friends.

As I write, it is still hard to believe the seventh strongest earthquake in recorded history happened just a few weeks ago in Chile. Life is slowly returning back to normal in Santiago, apart from the intermittent "replicas" that are sometimes strong enough to shake windows and send my young students into a frenzy. School is in full swing and my summer travels seems distant. My days are consumed with teaching, planning, running, and sushi (a surprising common Chilean meal). Still, I often think about the Chileans living south of Santiago, for whom the repercussions of the "terremoto" remain a daily struggle.

To do my small part, I have decided to begin my own personal campaign for monetary aid to give to the families of the towns that were hit the hardest. Next month, April 11th, I will be running the half-marathon in Santiago, Chile. For my last two marathons, I raised money to benefit struggling Catholic schools in the states, the last one raising over $25,000 for my school (St. John Berchmans) alone. This year, even though the race is less than a month away, my goal is to raise $1,000 to support Chileans in need. I know that money has been tight for many people this year, but if you can spare some, there are families who lost everything, are living in tents with few resources for food and water, and are desperately in need of assistance. Please consider donating--every bit helps! I will compile the money raised and either donate to a charity working towards reconstruction here or give it directly to those in need when I go help with the rebuilding efforts in a few weeks.

How to donate:

Send a check addressed to Laura Hamman to:
Napoleon 3400, Depto. 12
Las Condes, Santiago CHiLE

Use your credit card on PayPal using the following instructions:
1. Go to www.paypal.com
2. Under the "Home" tab, you'll see the option to "Send Money." Click it.
3. You are directed to a new page. On the right side, it shows you a box that asks you for information. Under "To," type "lhamman1@nd.edu" and under "From," type your email address. Please fill in whatever amount you would like to contribute under "amount" and you can leave the "For" as "Service/Other." Click Continue.
4. On the next page, you are prompted to create a paypal account. This is COMPLETELY FREE and will not lead to hundreds of annoying emails. In fact, you never even have to use this account again. After you have completed all of the blanks, you click "Agree and Create Account."
5. The money will be sent directly to my account where I can access it and collect all donations for those still suffering the after-effects of the earthquake in Chile.

Thank you for your support in advance and please spread the word about the need in Chile. I am always thrilled to hear that people enjoy reading my blog but this time I am hoping that your interest in what I write will truly make a difference. God bless.

Some impressionable websites:

Posted by lhamman1 18:37 Archived in Chile Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

Che, Bienvienidos a Vos!

A Week in Buenos Aires

sunny 32 °C

Tuesday, February 2, 2010
Day 1

I awoke early on El Dia de la Marmota (Groundhog Day), that special American holiday where thousands of onlookers crowd around a small rodent named Phil hoping for an early prognostication of spring--a somewhat masochistic tradition considering that he has seen his shadow and thus prolonged winter nearly 100 times in the last 120 years. This year, as expected, Punxatawney Phil predicted another long, cold winter. As I put on a light sundress and sandals, I wondered if the extra six weeks of winter up north would translate to six more weeks of summer in the southern hemisphere. It's a good time to be in Chile!

Later in the afternoon, I shed my Chilean modismos and pisco sour cravings and headed for the sprawling Argentinean capital of Buenos Aires. With a population of 16 million--the demographic size of the entire country of Chile--Buenos Aires is a booming metropolis broken up into a series of neighborhoods with distinct characters and cultures. My traveling companions were my housemates Megan and Johnnie and, after returning from the breathtaking yet frigid landscapes of Torres del Paine, we were excited to soak up some sun.

Upon landing in Argentina, we learned of a new reciprocity fee for all residents of Cananda, Australia, and the United States, the latter being the highest ($131) since we charge the most for travelers of other nations to enter our country. God bless the USA. After an unsuccessful attempt to convince the Argentinean customs that we should be exempt from paying since we live in Chile, we bitterly swiped our Visas and crossed into the homeland of Evita Peron, Che Guevara, and Diego Maradona.

We took a cab to Hostel Sol that, despite an unimpressive apartment building exterior, exceeded expectations with its colorful living space, roomy kitchen, and comfortable beds. Coming from the dry heat of Santiago, we were shocked by the humidity of Buenos Aires where the air hangs thick as syrup, causing the body to begin heavy sweating with the slightest physical movement. Outside, the breeze cooled our sticky faces as we walked to the Centro to find a bite to eat. An artsy Uruguayan bar with painted picnic tables and traditional music grabbed my attention and we settled in for deliciously greasy Chivitos, sandwiches of beef, tomato, and fried egg served on a baguette. We mapped out a plan for the following day and walked back, planning on an early evening and plenty of sleep.

However, a few minutes after arriving back at the hostel, we were surprised with visitors: Leandro, a guy we met while trekking in Bariloche, and two of his friends. Our plans abandoned, we drank some mate--my first attempt at preparing this bitter, herbal tea that is typical of Argentina--and headed back towards the Centro. Our new friends proved great tour guides and we strolled along the harbor of Puerto Madero, snapping photos of the new-age Puente de la Mujer, a bridge constructed in 2001 with a large angled spire that stretches up like a shiny dorsal fin. We walked along the river to a small restaurant where we tried the national liquor of Argentina, Fernet, mixed with Cola. It is definitely an acquired taste.

Time for breakfast...until tomorrow!

Posted by lhamman1 03:31 Archived in Argentina Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Home is Where Your Heart Is (Part 2)

The Hamman Family Comes to Chile!

semi-overcast -6 °C

Day 6: Searching for Guanaco

The next morning I chuckled as I corrected my mother’s pronunciation of the park’s “Torres del Paine” or Blue Towers as “Torres del Pene,” deeming the rock towers as giant phallic symbols (infinitely more entertaining). Actually, considering Chilean machismo, I wouldn’t be surprised if there was some sense behind the strikingly similarity. After breakfast, we embarked on another trekking adventure with a do-it-yourself motif. Unlike the rest of the hotel clientele, we left for our hike without a guide and boarded a van with the rest of the outdoor trekkers to the edge of the park. There, we began our self-guided nature walk on a path that the park staff had assured would be full of wildlife. We weren’t disappointed. Within a few minutes, we saw our first guanaco, a relative of the llama and alpaca; however, unlike its domesticated relatives, the guanaco is still lives in the wild.


Moments later we came upon an entire herd of guanacos, prompting my father’s impeccable sense of humor: “Seen one-aco, seen ‘em all!” The group eyed us indifferently as they strode across the desolate hills, pausing to munch on small patches of thick, green grass. When we were about halfway into our hike, a dark shadow overhead caught our attention: condor! Suddenly, the sky was filled with these graceful birds, soaring above us like WWII jets. The condor is not only the national symbol of South America, but is the largest flying land bird in the Western Hemisphere, with an average wingspan of 3 meters (9.5 feet) and the ability to traverse long distances with a single flap of its wings. I tried unsuccessfully to capture the elegance of the condors on camera, but the tiny black dots on the screen hardly seemed to do them justice.




The rest of the hike was much of the same, with a few more bird sightings including the nandu (rhea, in English), a cousin of the ostrich. At one point my mother, looking stylish in a green, floppy fishing hat, began spinning in circles, spreading her arms wide and singing “The hills are alive…” This made for an amusing photo shot and attracted the attention of several nearby guanacos that I’m guessing did not catch the Julia Roberts reference.


After filling our cameras, we head back to the park entrance, ate lunch, and began a two-hour walk back to our hotel. We made it back just in time for our horse ride in the Lenga Forest. The gauchos, the cowboys of Patagonia, obviously had a sense of humor—my father was riding “Drogo Adicto,” or Drug Addict, and I saddled up “Tremendabunda”…Big Butt. Not long into the ride, I learned that Tremendabunda was a fierce kicker, so I took my sassy mare to the back of the line. Nothing to complain about, plus now I have a collection of photos of rear ends—man and beast alike.





To save money, we ate dinner at the hotel bar and shared a large dish called the pichanga, a delightfully greasy platter of French fries, cheese, tomatoes, eggs, and sausage. We played a few rounds of Laura-Version Rummy, a card game in which I continually add rules that were either forgotten or are invented on the spot, and ended the evening with—no surprise here—pisco sours.

Day 7: In Transit

Thursday was relatively uneventful, as we learned the downside of Chile’s being an elongated, skinny nation—extensive travel time. The only touristy stop was at the Milodon cave, an unimpressive rock hole in the side of a hill that contains fossil evidence of the milodon, a prehistoric creature resembling a giant anteater whose size has been estimated to be twice the size of the average man. The milodon has been extinct for well over 10,000 years, but a large fiberglass replica provides visitors with an idea of the animal’s size. More entertaining was the family of red foxes that have made the cave their home, comfortable enough with human presence to crawl over for a few photos before scampering off into a dark crevice.


Two vans and one plane later, we arrived in Puerto Varas and enjoyed a late-night seafood dinner where the energetic waiters eagerly explained every mussel, clam, and barnacle in the building—yes, barnacles were on the menu. For the first time, we were the last people to leave the restaurant, a feat I never would have anticipated considering my parents’ six o’clock dinner routine. We sleepily made our way back to the hotel, feeling like royalty as we entered our three-room suite, an upgrade made as an apology from the tourist company for their late van pick-up in Punta Arenas. As I mentioned, everything works itself out in the end.

Day 8: Beware the Trauco

The next morning, we met our next guide, a witty, literary Chilean with perfect English and passion for explanations. He drove us to a dock where we boarded a ferry to take us to the island of Chiloe. My mother, ever the struggling Spanish student (though I give her credit for trying), couldn’t seem to wrap her tongue around Chee-low-EH, so I invented a little jingle that had us singing the island’s name all day long. Chiloe is a large island on the coast of Chile, home to many Mapuche, the largest indigenous group in the country that comprises three percent of the population (about one million people). Despite being the second-biggest island in South America, it was relatively isolated until the mid-19th century but has since grown in prowess through salmon and other agricultural industries.

The ferry ride to the island was an experience in itself, with a strange wildlife amalgamation of penguins, dolphins, and sea lions swimming alongside the boat. On the island, our guide pointed out the unique architectural technique of covering outer walls of homes with tejuelas, or wooden shingles, and we marveled at the seemingly unstable structure of the palafitos, houses precariously mounted on stilts to prevent flooding when the water level rises. As in Valparaiso, the homes and churches in Chiloe are painted a rainbow of hues, making for splendid photo opportunities and an overall friendly feel to the island.





One of the most entertaining aspects of the island is the abundance of mythological legends and creatures. Among witches, sirens, and snakes, there are two creatures known for their powers of seduction. The first is the Fiura, a bad-breathed, unattractive woman who lounges in the nude on mossy shores, awaiting single men so she can cast an irresistible love spell, satisfy her sexual appetite, and then drive her victims insane. The male equivalent is the Trauco, an ugly dwarf who, despite his outward appearance, has an overpowering sex appeal that inspires erotic dreams and lures young virgins into the forest. Even today, young teenage women attribute unwanted pregnancies to this creature and there are many birth records in Chiloe where the legal name of the father is “Trauco.”

After the whirlwind tour of the northern part of the island, and a quick stop by an artesian market, we went to a wooden, hexagon-shaped restaurant with wide windows that looked out over the ocean. The meal of the afternoon was curanto, a traditional stew of meat, potatoes, and seafood. The usual way of preparing the dish is building a fire in a hole, adding stones, putting out the fire, and placing the curanto combo over the hot stones to bake. Ours was probably prepared in a less-traditional way—in a kitchen—but was equally as tasty.

Back on the mainland, we enjoyed live music in the park and a light dinner of cebiche de salmon, a mixture of lemon juice, peppers, seasoning, and raw salmon. The night air was crisp and fresh and the full moon hung perfectly over the glistening surface of the lake. With a collective sigh, my parents and I rested our tired limbs and turned our gaze towards the stars.



Day 9: Classical Music for a Classy Family

On Saturday morning, we put on our water shoes and swim suits and prepared for a day of kayaking the River Maullin. The river maintained a steady current through an intricate maze of narrow channels lined with trees and bushes that pulled in my mother’s kayak like a magnet to a paperclip. Every few minutes I would hear her grunt as another branch caught hold of her stern and spun her around in the slow-moving waters. My kayak had a little more luck, giving me time to appreciate the graceful flight of the snow-white garzas (cranes) and lush foliage. The trip ended with a gentle set of rapids and a round of pisco sours. Tired from the rowing and a little tipsy from the pisco, we went back to the hotel and had our first Hamman family siesta, a much-needed two-hour nap in the middle of the afternoon.


Afterwards, we hopped on a public bus towards Frutillar, a quaint, lakeside town founded by German immigrants. The German influence was omnipresent, from the architecture to the strudel shops, and extended into the cultural scene with a two-week long classic music festival each year. By pure luck, our trip overlapped with the music festival so we bought a few tickets to the evening show and then took a walk along the elegant, streetlamp-lined pier. We stopped for an once at a German-style café and gluttonously shoveled down raspberry and chocolate cakes with our coffee.




The evening’s main event was, as our luck would have it, an American group called the Faure Trio, who played several arrangements of Schubert, Hayden, Mozart, and Beethoven. The larger concert hall was reserved for the late night show, so this performance took place in the local high school gym, a locale that, to their credit, had been spruced up with ruffled curtains and flower arrangements; still, they couldn’t avoid interruptions from intermittent car alarms and a continual string of barking dogs who own the streets. Luckily, the group had a sense of humor and kept their cool, ending the show in a rousing rendition of the Pink Panther. If I have learned nothing else from traveling, I will remember that, when all else fails, a sense of humor is one’s greatest asset.



Day 10: Volcanoes, Lakes, and Beer Festivals

Our last full day in the Lake Region arrived all too soon, but we were determined to pack in a full day of sightseeing. We began with a ride halfway up the Osorno Volcano, truly impressed by the wide clearings of trees that extended down the volcano, marking paths where lava had flown. The hikes in this national park had foreboding names—“solitario” or lonely and “desolacion” or desolation—making me wonder if the treks were really as depressing as they sounded or if the first hikers were just a couple of Debbie Downers.



Next stop was the Saltos de Petrohue, a series of cascades falling into a clear, turquoise-tinted pool. Unaware that we would be hiking to the falls, I had worn my black leather wedge sandals—not the smartest choice considering my still-swollen ankle from hiking in Bariloche. Our guide remarked that I looked like a Brazilian woman with my out-of-place shoe choice—apparently they don’t mesh well with the outdoors—and I muttered to myself about the superb forewarning I had been given. Thankfully, the hike was short and we soon arrived at the breathtaking view of the falls. The colors were stunning and the cool mist rising up from the cascades refreshed our sticky faces.




After, our guide drove us to Lago Todos Los Santos, All Saints Lake, a pristine body of water surrounded by volcanoes. We marveled at the view and at the windsurfers who skirted across the surface of the water with ease. As we paced the black sand beach, my dad gave me a quick lesson on rock skipping and I discovered a new hobby that could keep me occupied for days. Thank goodness Santiago doesn't have any lakes or my teaching career might be jeopardized.


We drove back to the hotel, changed clothes, and headed towards Llanquihue, another small German town, that was hosting a beer festival that weekend. With bellies full of bratwursts, sour kraut, and potatoes, we turned towards the stage to enjoy the music and dance entertainment. The show took an intermission for a beer-chugging contest and my mother turned to me with resolute eyes and remarked, “You could definitely win this, Laura.” Appalled by the notion of chugging a beer in front of my parents I shrugged and turned to watch the event.

Both rounds of male competitors took down the beer with ease, revealing that the men had plenty of practice. The first round of female chuggers was laughable, with an older woman putting the young competitors to shame with her slow gulps of the light-colored brew. My mother gave me another insistent stare and, conceding, I got up from the table and walked to the front for the second round of female challengers. “Para arriba, para abajo, para el centro, y…” I began chugging. After placing the empty mug upside-down on my head, I turned to see my competitors clutching mugs half-full. The announcer handed me my prize—a decorative glass mug—and I strode back to the table, knowing I was probably reinforcing American stereotypes but proud of my glistening trinket. “I took lots of pictures!” chimed my father. I couldn’t wait to see those in the family photo album. Thank you four years of college education.

We finished the night with sandwiches and wine in the hotel room, reminiscing about the past week and a half and wondering where the days had gone. It had been such a joy to spend time with my parents in this setting, to share my passion for traveling, to witness their still-constant affection in every cheesy kissing photo, to hear their praise and admiration at my competence in Spanish, and to share laughs over the ever-present pisco sour.

Day 11: Goodbyes

The next day hardly warrants a section in the blog—packing, a plane trip, and a teary-eyed goodbye as I left them at the airport and headed back to my Santiago apartment. It felt strange to leave them after spending such intensive time together, knowing that it would be almost a year until we were reunited, but I felt a warmth in my heart that needs no common location to maintain. Family is family, no matter how crazy or how far away they may be—or both—and I was confident that nothing could break that bond. Thus ends another chapter in the travels of the English teacher…and the beginning of a new month of adventure.

  • *Note: I learned in publishing this blog that there is a word limit to entries. I might need to consider hiring an editor...

Posted by lhamman1 11:56 Archived in Chile Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

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