Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Feliz Cumpleaños!

Before the clock strikes twelve I want to wish a very, very happy birthday to someone who I absolutely adore. I'm talking about you, Richard!

I'm so sorry I missed out on the celebration! Thankfully my mom was kind enough to send me some pictures so I can live vicariously through them. I hope you had an amazing birthday!

Richard and his new custom made cutting board from the family.
I think I forgot to mention that he is a fantastic cook!

The whole family (minus the kids of course)
In the back, from left to right: Lise, Mike, Mom, Richard, Alice, & Kirsten
In the front: Joe and Tom

Miss you all!!


Zēnəˈfōbēə: n. Intense or irrational dislike or fear of people from other countries.

On Saturday I went to a party with my friend Vickie. We were celebrating the birthday of one of her friends, Alejandra. The party was a blast up until around 3am. That's when people went a little crazy.

Example one:

Vickie and I were talking to this guy, let's call him Bradley Cooper. (Why, you ask? He could have passed for the real Brad's Chilean twin.) Anyway, Bradley turns to me and says, "Can I be totally honest with you?" And he proceeds to tell me that he hates my country. I nervously laughed and asked him why. His response? Imperialism. Then he goes off on a rampage about the war and how the Americans are only there because they are after the "sweet water".

I should maybe back up a bit, and point out the Bradley was beyond drunk. At this point in the conversation he was still relatively calm. And then all of a sudden he starts screaming at me, "I hate your country! I hate your country!" Clearly he was too drunk to engage in a debate on the matter so I turned to his friend for assistance in calming Mr. Cooper down. At least he apologized before passing out on the sofa.

Example two:

Following the Bradley Cooper incident, this other guy decided it was his turn to berate me. His name was Jack Ass. In Spanish, he asked me why I don't speak Spanish. I tried to explain to him that I am learning. He clearly didn't like my response because he asked me again. I asked Vickie for help, because Jack seemed very irate. Vickie started telling Jack my life story and he turns to me, and in English this time asks me why I'm was not speaking in Spanish. So at this point, I'm was slightly irritated and I told him again that I'm learning. And he said "I saw you all night speaking in English". Clearly at this point I should have said "Why the eff do you care?" But instead I just stared at him in shock.

He then continued his rampage quite hatefully with "Listen, you're in Latin America. You need to be speaking in Spanish." Now, Jack wasn't screaming at me like Bradley, but the anger was seething in his voice. In retrospect, that would have been a great time to throw my drink in his face (glass and all). But I just told him for the millionth time that I'm learning. And I tried to walk away. He then proceeded to interrupt every conversation I had for the rest of the evening and tell both me and the person I was speaking with that the conversation needed to be in Spanish. Thankfully he left soon after.

I'm guessing these two xenophobes have an issue with Americans. But I honestly don't care. Once the yelling started, I lost all interest in trying to change their opinions. Thankfully (and this part is important) the majority of people I have met here in Chile have been nothing but nice.

And once I've learned Spanish, I hope to see Jack again. Just so I can speak in English in front of him again. You know, out of spite.

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Time Has Come..

You know that annoying back to school Staples commercial where the dad is happily throwing school supplies into his shopping cart while his kids follow behind him looking all glum to the tune of "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year"?

Well, that time of the year has suddenly arrived. It became all to clear when I went to the grocery store and seemingly endless amounts of school supplies were in bins all over the store. After two months of vacation it is finally time to go back to work. Teachers report to school next week and the students arrive on March 1st.

I'm nervous and excited. Though I'm not sure which emotion is stronger. The one thing I am certain of is that this certainly will be an interesting (and hopefully amazing) experience.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Terremotos: Update

Today at 12:40am a 6.6-magnitude earthquake shook Chile. Again. Even though the epicenter was 180 miles away from Santiago, I awoke to a slightly shaking bed and rattling windows. Before I could even recognize what was happening it had stopped, and I quickly fell back asleep.

Since Friday there have been four quakes over 6.0 and almost a dozen aftershocks. However, from what I have read online, all of these earthquakes are considered aftershocks from the Feburary earthquake of 2010.

Hopefully the tectonic plates decide to settle down and stay in one place for awhile.

Saturday, February 12, 2011


Today (well technically yesterday, seeing how it's past midnight) a 6.8-magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of Chile. The quake was felt from Valparaíso (a city northwest of Santiago) down to the Lake District in the south (where I was last week). My roommate, Paula, told me she felt the quake around 5pm while at work.

If you're wondering if I felt the earthquake the answer is no. In fact, I only heard about the earthquake while browsing on CNN.com.

As I'm sure you all remember, in February of last year there was a major 8.8-magnitude earthquake in Chile, claiming the lives of hundreds. Parts of Chile are still in the rebuilding phase. On January 2, 2011 there was a 7.1-magnitude earthquake in Southern Chile.

Since I've been in Chile I have only felt one earthquake, if you could even call it that. It was really only a temblor (Spanish for 'tremor').

The only major earthquake I have experienced was the '89 Loma Prieta earthquake in California. It measured 6.9 on the Richter Scale and resulted in the deaths of 63 people, many due to the collapsing of infrastructure.

I was 5 years old.

So, it has been a long time since I have experienced an intense earthquake. I think about earthquakes more often than I should. Every time I feel any sort of tremble I hold my breath. On a few occassions the mere thought of an earthquake can keep me up at night. But I guess that is to be expected for someone who is a worrier like myself. Especially when you consider that I'm living along the Ring of Fire in a country that holds the record for the strongest earthquake ever recorded (9.5) and has almost 500 (active) volcanoes.

I guess it's a good thing there aren't any volcanoes near Santiago. The threat of one natural disaster is more than enough for me.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Trip Recap

Pucon was amazing. There really is no other word to describe it. I had such a blast. I met so many nice people from all over the world: Australia, Canada, Chile, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Turkey, the Netherlands and New Zealand.

I hope you’re all ready for a recap of my trip. I’m warning you in advance, it’s not a short recap. So I hope you have some plenty of free time. Okay here it goes, backwards as usual. After this post there are four more, separated by days. Enjoy!

The first of many pictures of Volcan Villarrica.

Day One: Thursday

My bus arrived around 10am in Pucon. After spending so long in the insufferable heat of Santiago, I was thrilled to see overcast skies and light rain gently falling.

Cloudy skies, the Chilean flag and a wooden duck.

I had a vague idea of where my hostel was. But a vague idea is useless for someone like myself who could get lost in a shoe box. So of course I spent no less than 30 minutes walking up and down the street my hostel was on without actually being able to find it. After asking everyone I passed for directions, I finally found it.

The hostel was much smaller than those I was accustomed to in Europe, but it had a cute garden, complete with three dogs, a fire pit and hammocks. After checking in, I was surprised when the owner told me someone was asleep in my room and directed me to wait on the sofa in front of the TV. Definitely a first in my hostel experience.

One episode of Friends later, two more travelers appeared. I could tell they spoke English and they were also told the room was unavailable at the moment because of a sleeping patron. Mind you, it was close to noon time.

I got up to take a look around the hostel and found the two exiled travelers sitting outside. So I went to join them. It turned out they were both in the midst of a grand tour of South America, but they in fact had only met a few days ago in Santiago, their previous stop in their long journeys. I didn’t learn their names for several more hours (because I forgot to ask) but I did find out that the girl was from Turkey and the boy was Australian. As it turns out, their names were Secil and Shane. Secil was incredibly down to earth and Shane oozed with sarcasm. I knew we were going to get along quite well.

Close to one, we were finally allowed to enter our room. Secil and Shane said they were going into town to find something to eat and I of course invited myself along. The weather had gotten colder so we hurried into one of the first places we found, a small restaurant named Rap Burger. We all ordered the same thing, except mine was with carne de soya instead of regular carne. Not even ten minutes later our waitress arrived with some of the biggest hamburgers I have ever seen, complete with homemade buns, piles of vegetables, and of course, a healthy dose of palta (avocado). It was delicious. And cheap.

By the time we finished lunch it was pouring. As we stood under the awning of the restaurant we decided the most logical thing to do would be to run next door to a tour agency so we could get out of the torrential rain. This is how we met David, one of the guides at Pucon Tours.

David, gladly taking all our money.

We easily sat with him for over an hour, while he answered all of our questions, even those that had nothing to do with the excursions his company offered. We left with more information than we had expected and promised to return later to book some activities. After finding Shane and Secil a hostel for the rest of their stay in Pucon (ours was booked for the weekend) we found a place to sit and discuss our plans for the next few days. It turned out we all wanted to do similar things, so naturally we stuck together.

Volcano alert.
We all assumed green was a good thing.

While wandering around town we stumbled upon an outdoor market.

These ducks were everywhere.

Wooden flowers.

After another trip to see David, a trip to the bus terminals to buy tickets out of Pucon (mine to Santiago, theirs to Bariloche, Argentina) we returned for the third time to Pucon Tours to book our activities with David. As we sat around laughing with David, he was shocked to find out that the three of us did not actually know each other and had only met that morning. He said we seemed like we all got along incredibly well. He was right. He also noted that it wasn’t common for a group to come in and each book different activities. Secil wanted to go canyoning, an excursion where you get to rappel down along side a waterfall as well as other slightly less scary things. Shane, who studied geology in school was dead set on climbing the volcano. I, on the other hand, was dead set on not climbing the volcano. (Hello! What if it erupted while I was up there?!) Instead, I looked through David’s list of activities a picked the most wimpy one available: horseback riding. We scheduled our activities for Saturday when we were told the weather would be at its best.

We set off back toward our hostel and spent the evening chatting with the other people staying at the hostel. We had plans to get up fairly early the next morning, so we called it a some what early night.

Day Two: Friday

We decided to go to Huerquehue National Park, about an hour outside of Pucon. We had packed a small picnic lunch and our plan was to hike the popular Tres Lagos trail that went by several lakes. We caught the one o’clock bus to the park. While we waited to leave I was surprised to see more and more people boarding the small bus even though all the seats had been filled. When I pointed this out to Shane, who was sitting on the floor, he quickly replied with “You know you’re in South America, right?” How silly of me to forget. Here there is absolutely no regard for personal space or safety when it comes to the overcrowding of buses (or metros). But now I’ve gone off on a tangent. Back to the real story.

We arrived at the park around 2:00 and had to return to the park’s entrance at 7:30 to catch the last bus back to Pucon. We were told by someone from the bus company that 4 hours were needed to complete the hike. Clearly he had never attempted the hike before.

Almost immediately we had amazing views of Lago Tinquilco. The path here was easy, but very muddy after all the rain the day before. The trail meandered through a dense forest of trees and bamboo.

Lago Tinquilco behind the trees.

We emerged half a mile later on an unpaved road. We followed this for quite some time as we approached the mountain range.

Another shot of the ever changing scenery along the trail.

Shane was the first to point out we were most likely going to be climbing the mountain. He was right. The road left us at the base of the mountain. Steep, muddy switchbacks were to take us first to Cascada Nido de Águila before a trio of lakes.

Just a picture of a tree I rather liked.

I never made it to the lakes. It was hard walking up to the waterfall and I was incredibly tired and quickly realized I was not going to make it to the lakes and back down again before 7:30. We reached the waterfall around 5pm.

In front of Cascada Nido de Águila.

Secil and I decided to turn around and walk back leaving Shane to push on to the lakes. It would be much easier for him to get there without the two of us (mainly me). After our lunch we parted ways and Secil and I had a nice walk back down stopping frequently to take pictures of our gorgeous surroundings. Now that the weather had cleared we were finally able to see Volcan Villarrica.

Volcan Villarrica and Lago Tinquilco.

We arrived back to the park entrance around 6:15 and chatted with other travelers waiting for the last departing bus. As it turns out, Shane made it to the first of three lakes about one hour after leaving us before having to turn around because of time constraints.

To make the day even more fun, our bus got stuck in traffic on the way back into Pucon. The kind of traffic that appears and then disappears out of nowhere. Luckily we found ways to keep ourselves entertained.

It wasn't easy fitting us all into one frame.

We arrived in Pucon, tired and hungry. None of us wanted to search for a place to eat so we went with what we knew. Rap Burger. While we waited for our food, a group of musicians came into to provide us with some entertainment.

Dinner and a show.

All in all, a great day.

Day Three: Saturday

Saturday I went horseback riding on a Mapuche Reserve. The Mapuche are a group of indigenous people of Chile. All together there were six people, including myself. Two were from Finland, one from Germany, and I don’t know about the other two. We also had two Mapuche guides, a father and son.

I should point out that the extent of my horseback riding experience is one trip I took with my mom when I was thirteen. Luckily, I was given a very tranquil horse, who was more concerned with eating than with walking. This pleased me very much. The last thing I wanted was to be on a horse galloping off in the wrong direction, with me screaming timorously atop it.

So it was the German girl (whose name I don’t actually know, but she’s the girlfriend of David from Pucon Tours) and me in the back while we slowly strolled through the Mapuche reserve. The weather was gorgeous and we had stunning views of the mountains and of Volcan Villarrica.
Yes, that is smoke coming out of the volcano.

As we passed houses and small farms we were greeted by a bevy of small dogs and children. The dogs barked ferociously at the horses as the children ran up to us excitedly to say hello. It was the children who informed me of my horse’s name: Bambi. But it was pronounced more like Bahm-bi, which in my opinion makes it sound less stripper-ish.

My horse Bambi.

We began a steep ascent of the mountain. When I say ‘we’ I really mean the horses. We stopped every so often to give the horses a rest and to let them eat. After about half an hour we came to a large clearing. We got off our horses and were awarded with absolutely stunning views of the Mapuche reserve, Pucon and Lago Villarrica.

It was ten times more amazing in person.

One of the Mapuche guides taking a break.

We ended our ride at the home of our guides. They had prepared some typical Mapuche food for us to try. There were two types of empanadas and three types of bread with homemade jam and a salsa made from tomatoes, onions and herbs. Everything was delicious. Our guides also brought out different Mapuche artifacts: clothes, jewelry and instruments. It was all pretty amazing.

Delicious Mapuche food.

In the front is the hut where they cook and eat their meals.

Day Four: Sunday

I met up once again with Secil and Shane and we took a bus to Ojos de Caburga, which is a small group of waterfalls. The bus left us about a 35 minute walk from the entrance to the falls. While walking we were rewarded with stunning views of the volcano.

Ojos de Caburga was pretty spectacular. The water was a brilliant shade of blue.

The pictures seriously don't do it justice.

We stayed for an hour or so. Secil and Shane had to be back in Pucon by 2pm to go Hydrospeeding (going down a rapid filled river….without a boat….no thanks). When we realized we had run out of time, we did the only logical thing. We hitchhiked. Ideally someone would take us all the way back to Pucon, but the only car that stopped for us could only take us back to the main road so we could catch the bus. We gladly accepted and climbed into the back of their pickup.

Once back in Pucon we parted ways, Secil and Shane to the river and I went to the beach. I rented a chair and relaxed with my book. Unfortunately, the sun was incredibly strong and I could feel myself burning so I retreated to my hostel.

Volcanic rock beach at Lago Villarrica.

I met up with Secil and Shane and we walked to the harbor which provided us, once again, with marvelous views of the volcano. We sat down at a cafe and people watched and I listened to stories from their separate travels through Peru and Bolivia and what they had in store for the upcoming months. After Bariloche, Secil is going to continue further south while Shane is going north.

I had a night bus to catch so we parted ways one final time. I’m so happy I met such nice people at the start of my short trip. I’m sure I still would have had a nice time in Pucon if I had not met them. But there is no way I would have laughed so much if it weren’t for them. And now I have a great excuse to visit Istanbul and Adelaide.

Okay. Here's one last shot of the volcano.