Thursday, March 4, 2010

Viva la Chile

A few months ago I got the privilege of visiting Chile. My best friend from home had been living and working there and me and a few of my friends knew we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to go see her. I’d never really had a burning desire to visit South America; I’m usually a beach-vacation lover but am an avid travel and jump at the opportunity to go somewhere new. Naturally, I didn’t expect everyone to speak English, and hoped some of my limited Spanish speaking skills would come back to me. They didn’t. (Side note: Sadly, I did take Spanish all through high school and even a few semesters in college. Maybe I shouldn’t have had my now Spanish-teacher friend write the essay answer out for me to memorize for the exam. I guess that’s technically cheating, but that took just as much effort to memorize! Memorization, isnt that what learning is?? And my teacher even called my house to congratulate me on my stellar performance She must have been awestruck at my ability to comprehend a year’s worth of Spanish in a night of studying. But needless to say, my Spanish language skills are, less than stellar, to put it nicely). This language barrier actually begin during our layover in Miami. My friend was perusing the duty-free perfume when the saleslady approached her and started speaking Spanish. My friend just stared at her and goes “HI!” This, apparently, was her way to inform the saleswoman that she in fact, did not speak Spanish. Why she didn’t just say, “Oh, I’m sorry I only speak English" is beyond me. I think the saleswoman just assumed she wasn’t all there in the head and left her be, so it worked in the end.

But despite the language barrier, Chile was a wonderful experience. We stayed in a refugio in the middle of the Andes mountains the first few days. I’ve always been a beach over mountains lover, but when you are in the middle of the Andes Mountains, you can’t help be completely enveloped by their awesome beauty. Also, we went a little crazy due to elevation and lack of oxygen. My friend (same one who had the awkward Miami interaction) had a slight panic attack while staying there because they turned the electricity off at night to save money and power. It was very au natural and most of us enjoyed it. She, on the other hand, freaked, and documented her freak out on her ITouch. (“Yes, I love technology, but not as much as you, you see, but I still love technologyyyyy, always and forever.”). She survived and we hiked the Andes because our cowboy never showed up to take us to go horseback riding tour. The park ranger kindly explained that the cowboy was probably just drunk, and not to take it personally. That’s just how they roll in Chile.

After the mountains we went to the bohemian port town of Valparaiso to spend a few days on the beach, visiting Vina del Mar and other small beaches. Valparaiso can be explained in two words: hills and colors. The whole town is built on a hill/cliff and is decorated with houses and apartments painted every difference shade of the rainbow. And the hills are steep…to the point that you take an elevator-like ride from our hotel down to the sea-level business part of the city. But it’s a bustling and vibrant place with cute little restaurants and bars around each winding corner. You can’t walk a foot before seeing a roaming dog or fashionable mullet (both which were common ALL over Chile, but I especially noticed the dogs in Valpo).

We also had time to explore the capital city of Santiago. Santiago isn’t that much different from many other major cities, but what stood out most to me was the warm hospitality we received from my friend’s host family. They welcomed us into their home and treated us like we were family, and not strangers they had just met. When we arrived they invited us over for a Chilean meal of ceviche and pisco sours, and lots of wine. It was one of the best meals I’ve ever had, and although my friends and I spoke little Spanish and the family little English, we all managed to communicate and laugh and laugh. (Much of this laugher was due to our friend teaching their 12-year old son to say “Make it rain” …imagine the trill on the “R” and a cute, chubby little Chilean boy saying this and only this, as it was the only thing he learned, at the most random times. Complete with hand gesture.) They also invited us over for their daughter’s graduation party. This party involved their ENTIRE extended family, and we were welcomed with open arms. And boy, do they know how to throw a party. It didn’t even get started until 11 pm and lasted until the early morning hours. At one point they even broke out the Cuban rum. When the old aunts and uncles start shouting inappropriate English words they know (VAGINA! CLIT!) you truly have a rockin' fiesta.

So, my heart now goes out to Chile and its people after suffering this devastating earthquake. My friend has been home for months and thankfully her host family is all alright. But I pray for those less fortunate and the country as a whole. During our short time there these people welcomed us as their own and I hope we can do a little something to give back to them. The Chilean Embassy in DC is accepting donations to go towards the relief fund. Anything you can give will help! Gracias!

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