Monday, November 23, 2009

---> Twelve lives

Weekend, a great word that brings out millions of possibilities. 'I can't wait for it to be the weekend!' 'What are you doing this weekend?' 'Did you have a good weekend?' It's a word of hope, the awaited two days after five days pass before.

What you do in the weekend is important. Whether it's spending all day surfing the internet (which for any exchange student I don't recomend), going into town with friends, partying until five in the morning, it's what's fun that counts.

So the first crucial part of the weekend is Friday night. This is the make or break night. Plans on Friday? Good. It means you have a life (or at least, you have a life if you live in Chile.) It doesn't matter whether it's going out for coffee with friends in the afternoon, watching movies with the fam, or playing football in the street. The best thing to do obviously, in Chile, is to party.

School dance? Hey, that could be a Friday night. So instead of having a dance at Thursday night from 7pm to 9pm in the school hall, rule strictly no alcohol or smoking, let's turn the tables to how things are in Chile. First of all, a dance on THURSDAY? Ridiculo! Not in Chile, that's for sure. It has to be Friday. Second of all, starting at 7pm in the afternoon, how silly. Doors shut at 11pm, and finishing at 2am. (And absolutely noone enters before 11pm, then all of a sudden the groups crowded on the street rush to enter). The no-alcohol rule . . . well, when the parents drop us off at 10.30pm, and there's a bottle store round the corner, there will be students there, buying. Ciggarrettes, too. Smoking inside is ok, but also going outside to smoke it fine. Welcome to Chile.

The dancing thing is different in Chile too. It's not just anyone for anywhere, oh no. The strangest thing is that people dance in two lines, a boy on one side with the girl on the other. It's ok to have two girls dancing together, but two boys . . . no way, Jose! The music is Reggaeton, obviously. I just can't get over the fact that they dance in lines! It really does look funny!

And when the dance ends, there's no soft lovey dovey music, the reggaeton just -stops- and every heads outside to wait for parents to take them home, or to move on to another party.

Interesting fact: In Chile, cats have seven lives, and in Europe, 12. In NZ, nine.

Monday, November 16, 2009

---> Lonely sea and the sky

Six girls + one house + a picturesque beach + yo ho ho a bottle of rum. (Or not . . . ) = one amazing weekend!

Caldera is one hour and $3 away from Copiapó and about half the population of Copiapó has a beach house there, including my family. In summer it's the refuge from the hot, still heat of the desert city. It comes alive with parties at night. But at this time of the year, clouds blanket the city and there are fewer people. There are three parts to the Caldera area. Numero uno is Caldera, a port town of about 20,000 people. There's a little beach and obviously a port, plus houses a plaza, restaurants and a smattering of shops. Then a few minutes drive away is  Playa Loreto. There, there is a small diary, the streets are simply sand, and it consists mainly of holiday houses. There's a ciclorama which leads you to Bahia Inglesa, a beautiful beach with turquoise water, white sand. There are shops and cafes, but it's still quite small, although it fills up in summer. These three towns are simply there. The desert merges into the beach and the towns just pop up. The view is quite spectacular.

On Saturday we met at the bus terminal to take the bus to Caldera. Upon arriving, we had lunch at a 'local', which is like a cheap restaurant that sells food, fast-food style. Fried empanadas, hamburgers and the like. I ate churrasco, which is like a hamburger but with thin slices of beef. 

While my host sister and her friend went to buy the food for the night, Krista, me and Sabina went to the bach in Loreto to open everything up and scare away the poisonous spiders. 

Once everyone was back in the house, we figured out how to turn on the gas and electricity and then decided to walk to Bahia Inglesa. Giulia was staying with her host family at the beach and her host sister dropped her off at our bach.

Outside the wind was howling and my awesome stripy pants did not keep me warm! We started to walk the long 40 minute walk to Bahia but gave up when a colectivo came along and squeezed everyone into one car.


It was really cold and windy!

At the Bahia, not much swimming got done because it was so cold, so instead we bought supplies for the night and returned to Loreto.

The food was incredibly yummy, I made fajitas, brownie and potato chips, which was a satisfying meal, while we played cards, ate, and talked.  But after a while we decided to take the party down to the beach, where we rolly-pollied down the sand. Very childish, I know! We took millions of photos. 

Just some of the 1000000000 photos we took at the beach

Giulia's host parents invited us to their bach, so we spent a few hours with olives to eat and little glass of piña colada, playing the grocery game, except this time it was about getting into the bus. 

Then it was the pijama party phase of the night! Although really tired from all the exercise, we still all managed to stay awake to talk until late at night. As girls do!

The next morning passed lazily, we were all asleep until at least 11am, then we breakfasted and cleaned and arranged the house. Then this time we actually did walk to Bahia. We had lunch at Sabina's bach, then went to swim in the freezing water and to see the oyster festival. TV cameras filmed Sabina and Pamela, and today they'll be on the local news station. Unfortunatly by 3pm the festival was pretty much dead and we only got one oyster each. 

Bahia Inglesa

My host dad came to Bahia, then we returned to the bach and packed everything up, then went to Chorillos, a beach a few kilometres south of Bahia. You drive off the highway, over a road made of sand, then get out of the car, walk 15 minutes over rocks, and finally you arrive at a picturesque bay. It was worth the intrepid travel, for sure. There were even grass and plants!


We walked on (and climbed up) rocks for a few more minutes, to be able to sit on a rock on the edge of the rockface, and watch as the waves crashed onto the rocks. Exhilarating, although a little bit scary.

The drive back to Copiapó was a little bit sad as we had all had way too much fun on Saturday night, however we all promised that we would do it again!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

---> There are some things money can't buy . . .

This is my life. Eight months and a bit in Chile, and a bit more. I'd like to stay longer, I really would. It sucks to be trying to plan things on a calender and realising you can't do something that weekend because of blahdy blah, then the next weekend you are going to blahdy blah, the next weekend blahdy blah is going to happen, then boom that weekend you'll be back in your own country.

Two facebook groups pretty much sum up exchange. One is 'being an exchange student is f******* awesome' and the other 'I never wanted to come back from my exchange'. Sorry Mum and Dad. Still don't understand why AFS doesn't do year and a half long exchanges. I'd so be in.

So before I have written about how fricking hard it is when you don't speak the language so well, when you feel isolated, when you are having problems fitting in at school with a group of people who have been friends for all there lives. Gosh there's a lot of things to whine about. Maybe another person would let all that stuff get to them and ditch the whole exchange shenanigans and return home. Then there's the type of exchange when hard times are few and far between and their life rocks from the beginning. I'm the one who suffered in the beginning - language, friends (I generally keep to myself I learnt, but I learnt that when you open up to people things really start to get going), day to day life, got me down and would have me secretly crying in the bathroom before school. Yes it can be bad. But being the internal 'don't panic' optimist I knew that is was a phase and as phases do, it passed. I won't deny the fact it was hard. It was bloody hard and although at times I wish I could have had one of those easy carefree exchanges, the harder the stuff the stronger person you become.

August was a turning point. Partly because by then was time enough to have got through all the hard stuff, and also with the new exchangers coming life got better. Before August I think I lacked meaningful friendships. With the language barrier those important conversations that you have with friends are harder and some people can get frustrated. Of course it doesn't mean I was a friendless hermit until that month, I had friends, but the level of friendship got deeper after August. We totally have the full out deeply personal conversations now and that's what friendship is about, the fun stuff and the deep stuff. Also in August arrived Giulia and Krista and although we've only known each other three months it could be like thirty years. Three different countries, three different schools, and we still spend heaps of time together. Today I spent hanging out at Krista's then going into town, meeting up with Giulia and getting our hair cut. (That's another story . . . )

Then there's the whole love life. Or lack of it! Yes there are some adorable Chilean boys out there; I get whistled at while out on the street (but that tends to be by old wrinkly scary men which is just plain EW!), and a while (as in 'back in the day') back that I became good friends with but nothing more. It kind of ended suddenly but for the better. It makes me sad to think of all the 'pololos' or 'pololas' that stay behind in Chile while their exchange student other half has to leave. There's absolutely nothing wrong with being single and happy. Better that there's one whole heart than two hearts far apart. And just for the record, just like in every country (except maybe Italy and Brazil) there are ugly guys, nice ones, and handsome ones. Chile varies a bit in that most of them are also short. (Hi Mum and Dad and my aunties and uncles, and AFS and all those other adults reading this and creepy stalker people, sorry for the necessary teenage gossip session!)

Word of advice to other exchange students: don't leave everything to the last two months! Looking at calenders with worried faces isn't nice. And having my mummy email me about plans when I get back just reminds me about how fragile and precious time is. At this rate I'll be an old lady tomorrow!

Hey folks! Please be darlings and leave me a comment. I know you're reading this. 

I miss tasty cheddar cheese and fresh milk. But not too badly. Indian food too. Mum's baking. But only two more months, I Will Survive. 

Peace out.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

----> Andes, officially

For all this time that my blog has been called 'from the land of the long white cloud to the land of the andes', I can now honestly say that I have oficially set foot on the Andes, the longest mountain range in the world. Offical Andean territory. 

I could almost honestly say I have set foot in Argentina, but unfortunatly it was 20 more kilometres away and what we came for was on the Chilean side of the border. But I did meet Argentineans (aside from the gorgeous Argentinean waiter at my second favourite Copiapino cafe). My host dad saw the young lad with red hair and said  v e r y  s l o w l y  'has visto otro vehiculo pasar?' (have you seen another vehicle pass?), thinking that maybe the blond man was a gringo, but when he answered with a heavy Argentine accent we discovered that he, too, spoke Castellano.

Let me give some advice to any future travellers to the Andes. Being in a mountain range, it is high up, therefore cold and extremely windy. Remember to wear suitable clothing, like long pants, warm top layers, a wind breaker and a hat. Despite my broad experience of mountaineering and after school classes about tramping and how it might possibly be cold in the mountains, I came poorly prepared in knee length jeans, which did not give sufficient leg coverage nor protection from the elements that was required.

The first stage of the trip was driving through the desert, which isn't flat as one might think. It's full of huge hills (much like the Awakino gorge, of that size) and rocks and sand, which at times can be quite ugly, especially with litter strewn on the sides of the road, but also can be unspeakably beautiful.

'Cerro' from high up

The second phase of the journey started after we stopped for tinkle time at a small mine. I had previously visited the state of the art mine where my host dad works, with its huge offices, well furnished cateferia, games room, forest with trees grown from the wastewater, and luxurious things like that, but this mine was an old rickety thing. Red paint peeled from the walls, the cafeteria was small and shabby and there was no green. At that time, there were only 20 workers on site.

More driving, after zig-zagging through the tall hills we came of a top plain, where we had to pass through a border control. The road was at times fairly straight, but also could be quite curvy. There was a tribute sign to the Virgen Mary, who a bedraggled traveller saw on his journey which led him to civilization.

It was at some point here when I got my first sight of snow. This landmark is called the Three Crosses, which are three mountain peaks, the first that one will see as they drive along the San Francisco Pass.

Los Tres Cruces

Plains with the Andes in the background

As we got higher up, we started to see ice and a bit of snow. Not enough to cover the ground, but definitely snow. The guy at the border control told us that in the winter the petrol freezes in the cars, and there has to be a heater left on all day and night in the bathrooms so the water in the water pipes doesn't freeze.

After more driving, we came to the Laguna Verde. It was a lake high in the mountains that supposedly is green, but it was more a sky blue-turquoise. However, close to it was a bery green lake, with flamingos!

Laguna Verde, 4328m above sea level

It was at Laguna Verde where we had lunch, in a tent near the thermal pools. The wind was extremely cold and strong. Car doors swung open at a great velocity when the handle was turned. 

The altitude affected all of us, with the air being thinner and all it makes one very tired after a tiny bit of exercise and lack of oxygen can cause headaches and dizzyness, all of which I got. It meant spending a bit of time lying in the car. But the fact that the Andes are a good four hours drive from Copiapó, meant we had time to see the lake, take photos, eat lunch, then we had to start heading back. Luckily I didn't miss much.

The drive back went a lot faster. We stopped at a waterfall where there were these really cute llama like creatures, called Guanacos, which are like a mix between llamas and camels. The river was really cool. It left a ribbon of green in the desert.

We got back to Copiapó reasonably early. After unpacking the car and eating a bit, my host brother set up the data projector to make me  'considerada persona'. This means watching five movies together - The Clockwork Orange, The Godfather, The Lord of the Rings and two more films. We watched the first half of the Clockwork Orange but he saw that I was practically falling asleep so we saved the second half to watch another say.

On Friday, after going to school at 11am and talking with friends (no classes, because of the strike), I went to a friend's house to have lunch. She has two younger brothers and despite telling me they'll probably ignore me because I'm a girl, they fell to me really well and we had a good old chinwag about girlfriends and this toy called 'go go' (I'm talking about seven and eight year olds here), soccer, where Nes Zealand is, whether I should support NZ or Chile in a soccer game between the two and little things like that. Coni was really surprised that they liked me, one even gave me a lollipop! I guess it shows that I miss my little brother back in NZ. 

After doing a bit of cooking - chocolate peppermint slice, which went down very well - we went to downtown to have an iced chocolate then to a singing competition in her school.

Me and Coni

Something I've learnt about being here - you would be surprised how much you stand out as a foreigner. After my drama class on Wednesday, I was standing outside with my host sister and another classmate. Wearing my navy Canterbury trackpants, sneakers, the sweater that I'm wearing in the above picture (bought from a store here in Chile) and with my hair out, I thought I looked pretty normal. The only thing going against my favour is the fact I'm taller than all of the girls I've met here and a good percentage of the boys.

So standing outside the Casa de Cultura, opposite the plaza, I was. On my left was one of the security guards, and who I thought was a friend, talking. But all of a sudden the 'friend' starts asking which country I was from. He hadn't even heard me speak. I then discovered he was just a typical drunk-off-the-street (but younger than usual) by the disgusting thing he said to me. He even reached out his hand for me to shake and I didn't know what to do . . . so I shook it. Ew! The naivity of gringos. If only I were shorter and darker.

Being a gringa does have its advantages. Now that I can speak and understand Spanish well, it's easy to converse and there's always a topic to talk about - home. People show a lot of interest in what another country is like, what school is like, what the parties are like, what the boys are like, what the food is like, basically a lot of things. I misunderestimated how much and what kind of things about my country I'd be talking about. There are a lot of things that my classmates find strange about where I come from. Sandals are part of the uniform! Single sex schools! Primary schools with mufti! Swimming pools in the schools! The 1/4 acre section! It's funny to see there reactions. And when they ask me 'do you like Chile?' I alway answer with 'sí, me encanta' (yes, I love it.)

Chau for now,