Estoy en Valdivia!

I’ve finally arrived! After a goodbye cocktail at the hostel, many of us began shipping out to our regions that very night. One of the EOD staff dropped me and two other volunteers off at the bus station, where we went our separate ways.

I took a 11 hour overnight bus down to Valdivia, while the others went north to the Atacama desert. The buses in Chile are extremely nice…basically tour buses. I was nervous saying goodbye to all that had become familiar in Santiago, especially my English-speaking group. All I knew was that my host family would be waiting for me when I arrived in Valdivia. Into the unknown!

It was a smooth ride, except for the bus breaking down at 7 am. Since I barely speak Spanish, I had no idea what going on as everyone began pulling their luggage off the bus in the middle of this random town. Half asleep, I followed along with the masses. Eventually another bus showed up to take the group to Valdivia.

It was a few hours before arrival when I started to feel nervous because I would be meeting my host family. I didn’t know anything about them except their names. I’m pretty good at adapting, but this suddenly felt very crazy.

Now one week in, I will say, my host family is amazing. Right when I stepped off the bus, I was surrounded by kisses. The mother, Zandra Palma, and her 16-year-old daughter, Karen, were waiting for me. They live about 10 minutes from the center of town.  They also have a 11-year-old, Rudy, who’s a football fanatic. In Chile, you’re either for Universidad de Santiago or Colo Colo, the two national soccer teams. I saw Rudy’s poster on his wall, and asked “Universidad de Santiago?” He nearly died. “Nooooooo! Es eso Colo Colo!” It is official. I’m now for Colo Colo.

Karen’s room is covered with  photos of Luis Fonsi, a Puerto Rican singer. I asked her what other kind of music she likes, and she points to her walls, “The romantic kind!”  Part of my room is covered with these photos as well. I’m surrounded by photos of beautiful Latin men. Gracias, Karen.

On Sunday, the aunt, Tia Amelia, and the grandma Elsa came over for a huge lunch.  Even though my Spanish sounds like I’m 4-years-old, I managed to talk to Elsa for a  while about life and North Americans.  I usually just throw out a verb that I think is right,  and see what reaction I get. That’s how I measure how much they can understand, and if I’m close enough to the right tense. Trial and error. Una y otra vez.

The family doesn’t speak any English, so all communication is in charades and simple Spanish.

No matter what, Chileans are the most warm people I’ve ever met.

In a few hours, I’ll start classes at Instituto Imaculada Concepción, a Catholic school in the middle of town. It’s right next to La Ultima Frontera, one of the town’s most popular bars. Good urban planning.

So much has been happening these past few days. My life is a whirlwind of just going with the flow. As one of the English Opens Doors staff told us, “Be like liquid. Just take the form of whatever you need to…and just be.”

Anyway, time for some photos…

Marshall, me, James, Sarah and Leanne. Last night in Santiago.

The VS3 group! Our Last night in Santiago before shipping out to our regions.

Karen! My host sister in Valdivia.

Luis Fonsi. Karen’s idol.

the house!

Host family!

Me and Rudy, the 11-year-old.

Zandra, my host mom.

Pacific Ocean :)

Valdivia’s bar in the sky. Just sit here with your drink. Apparently 7pm is too early for happy hour here, so Fred, Andrea and I just tried out the couch.

A view of Valdivia while you use the women’s restroom. Yep.

Valdivia is Chile’s beer town. This is some local brew, Kunstmann Bock.

Ciao, Santiago!

The first week of teacher training here in Santiago is done.

It’s gone by so fast, and tomorrow, everyone leaves for their placement towns, scattered across Chile’s 3,000 miles. I knew I was assigned to the Southern region before arriving in Santiago, but it wasn’t until Tuesday when I finally found out my town. I’ll be teaching in Valdivia. With about 140,000 people, it’s known for its large German community, craft breweries, and college-town feel. I’ll be teaching English at a Catholic high school.

I leave on a 12 hour bus ride from Santiago tomorrow night, where I’ll meet my host family at the bus stop. It’s been an intense and amazing week for the group here in Santiago. I’ve grown close with some great people, but some of them have placements  thousands of miles away.

Today was our last day in Santiago, and Cami, Marshall, Vanya and I headed to Chile’s Human Rights Memorial Museum, the “Museo de la Memoria y Los Derechos Humanos.” This museum is one of the most moving places I’ve seen in my life. They don’t let you take photos, so everything from this place will be in my memory. The second floor is dedicated entirely to Chile’s two decades of the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship. Thousands of people were killed or went missing during this time. I can write a whole blog about this time period later, since it’s something I’m learning more about.

Today was also March 29th, meaning that bars, businesses and restaurants were closing early. It was the “Day of the Young Combattants.” Every year on this day, Chile’s young people rally in the streets, in commemoration of two brothers who were killed in 1985 under Pinochet’s rule.

It was a very wide-spread caution, as Chilean locals were not making plans to go out tonight and business closed in anticipation of any riots. But since it was last night in Santiago, our group wanted to go have a goodbye drink. But right when we stepped out of the hostel, I noticed the streets had an eerie silence. Nobody was outside. We immediately decided to stay right next to the hostel at a local place we were familiar with.

Everything this week has gone so fast. I can’t believe the next step of this journey starts tomorrow.  This past week in Santiago was a safety net of English speakers, but it’s speaking Spanish from here on out. Until next week!

Santa Lucia hill in Santiago

Santiago’s metro. Unlike MUNI, this thing runs on a schedule.

EOD swag

We had orientation here, a conference retreat for the Ministry of Eduction in the hills of Santiago.

Orientation site

Earthquakes and the first days

After exploring Santiago on my own for a few days, about a dozen other volunteers arrived on Saturday, with more to follow tomorrow. So far, we have people from the UK, Australia, California, Colorado, New York and Texas. It was so reassuring to meet everyone else. As expected, I started questioning my sanity on the plane from Toronto to Santiago. “What am I doing?” was on repeat as we pulled out from the gate. But after meeting this group this weekend, I realize that Chile is exactly where I need to be.

The only thing that was a little unnerving were the three earthquakes, or “terremotos”, I’ve felt since landing here. The first one woke everyone in my hostel room up at 4:30 am. A few days later a 7.2-er shook the Maule Region, about 150 miles south of Santiago. I’ve noticed that the earthquakes in Chile last longer, but they don’t feel as sharp as the quick jolts that rock California. A “terremoto” is also one of Chile’s national cocktails. (It would be.) It’s basically white wine served with pineapple ice-cream…like root beer float. They’re dizzying and overwhelmingly sweet.

Apart from the quakes, Spanish has been going alright. I’m picking up the language quicker than I thought, but the Chilean accent is notoriously difficult, even for people in my program who’ve studied Spanish for years. Along with weaving in dozens of slang words, Chileans drop the ‘s’ from everything. “Gracias” becomes “Gracia” and “buenos dias” turns into “bueno dia.” They also pronounce double l’s as a “j’. So “lluvia” sounds like “joo-vea” and “calle” becomes “Ki-jay.” Wierd!

But the most important Chilean word is “Cachai”. They throw it on the end of sentences as a way of saying “You know? Ya feel me?”.

Barrio Brasil

Pisco Sour. Chile’s national drink is delicious.

Artwork in Santiago for children who’ve suffered physical abuse.

Marshall and Elaine! Plaza de Armas!

Chile’s Central Market. Great place to find fresh seafood and fruit.

“The struggle continues…” More student protests likely for 2012.

Plaza de Aramas

Sea barnacle?

Team UK-Australia-USA.

Central Market

Museo Nacional de Bellas Arts