Himno Nacional de Chile

They shout it three times.

“Que o la tomba serás de los libres,

O el asilo contra la opresíon!”

(Either you be the tomb of the free, or the refuge against oppression!)

Whenever I heard Chileans sing their national anthem, I noticed how they always shouted these lines. People went from singing, to raising their voices in unison. A local teacher told me that during the Pinochet dictatorship, this part of the national anthem became a way for the people to empower themselves. The habit has carried on.

Here’s a version of the modern, official anthem- (with English and Spanish lyrics)

Reflections on Reverse Culture Shock

Brian (in sadness and shock) with his last Pisco Sour at the airport. Our final hours in South America.

Final hours in South America. Brendan, in sadness, with his last pisco sour at the airport.

There’s this amazing line at the end of The Motorcycle Dairies. 

I think anyone who’s returned from living abroad can relate to this:

“Wandering around our America has changed me more than I thought. Me? I am not me anymore. Or at least I’m not the same me I was.”

I’ve been back from South America for several months. Chile’s culture shock sure hit while I was living there, but now, this reverse part is more noticeable.

The big differences I notice are:

 Closeness and greetings In Chile, you greet and say goodbye with a kiss on the right cheek. You do this everyone. I’ve been back to California for several months, and it feels weird to not have this physical contact with people anymore. (So I’ve developed this habit of giving awkward half-hugs when I say goodbye to groups of people.) In Chile, people also frequently touch arms or shoulders in conversation. I love this. Not so much in America, though.

Community Upon returning to the Bay Area, my roommate and I had a talk about the bustling, technology-driven, work work work pace of the bay area. She said it seems like no matter how many events, shows, or meetings you go to, it still  always feels like you’re missing out on something. And it’s true. The Bay Area has everything : every kind of trendy restaurant, live music event, art gallery, film festival, networking meetup, and street fair.  There is always something happening, and it would take talent to be bored. But I find that with this constant stimulation, it’s also more easy to be unsatisfied. Because we move so fast and try to absorb so much, we run the risk of not making connections more than surface deep with the people around us.

My first shock with this was at the Dallas airport, when I first landed in the US. I spent my layover in a cafe packed with people. Shiny grey MacBooks dotted the room. Earbuds in. The only noise was the espresso machine and the staccato “tip-tip-tip” of fingers on keyboards. I remember looking around and being amazed at seeing so much new technology in one room. I hadn’t seen an internet cafe in months. So much happening, but so much isolation.

In Chile, I remember slowing down. I remember not feeling overwhelmed by all of the choices, because, well… there weren’t as many. Sure, there were still modern conveniences and amenities, but people also had this deeper human connection.

Latinoamerica, te echo de menos.

Valparaíso

Valparaíso… a coastal city about an hour and half from smoggy and congested Santiago. It’s Chile’s cultural center, an eclectic mix of crooked streets, bright walls, and cafes .

Cerro Alegre, one of the two main hills in Valparaíso. Cerro Concepcíon is the other.

Valparaíso used to be one of South America’s biggest and most important ports, and its crumbling facade represents this era gone by. Despite this, it was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2003.

Mural of late President, Salvadore Allende.

Chile 3

“El Desayunador” cafe

Chile1 chile 6

Chile 2

Where’s your mama?

Valdivia’s heart & soul

You know you’re at home in a new country when you establish your local hangout. This place became my touchstone and main meeting point. When everything else was unfamiliar, I knew I could come here to see the same people and begin to adjust to this new town.

This spot is near and dear to my heart. A Berkeley and San Francisco vibe right here in Valdivia. Navigado mulled wine. Pink Floyd. A warm fire. This is La Ultima Frontera, my favorite cafe-bar in Chile.

The front door, bearing stickers from worthy causes.

“La Ultima Frontera” means the last frontier, or the final border. My friend Maribel explained to me that it could have to do with the Mapuche, the indigenous people of Southern Chile, and their struggle to retain their land as it was colonized by foreigners.

Crafty

Salud!

Desert sun and cliff roads

I’m writing from Arica, Chile, a surf town 12 miles from the Peruvian border. I’ve embarked on a 3 week solo trip to the north of Chile and Peru.  I’ll meet up with a friend in Cusco, but until then, I’m traveling solo.

Buses in Chile are safe and very comfortable, but I just got off a creepy one. The 12-hour overnight trip from San Pedro was eerie.

We left at 8:30 pm, driving into the Atacama desert with nothing but sand dunes under a full moon. We were on the Panamerican Highway, which goes up the coast of South America. And this seemed to be it’s most desolate part.

Sometime during the night, I looked out the window and that saw that the bus was hugging a cliff with no gaurd rail. I was on the second story, and below me was a canyon, hundreds of feet below. I’ve never been afraid of heights, but something about being on a top-heavy bus didn’t sit well. The bus began taking the turns, as we drove past white crosses scattered across the cliffside in memory of others who’d gone over the edge. It was hard to sleep that night.

Apart from the bus ride, the San Pedro de Atacama part of the trip was great. San Pedro is a touristy town in the middle of nowhere in Chile’s Atacama desert. It’s a popular jumping off point for exploring the surrounding area, where the borders of Chile, Bolivia, and Argentina intersect.

Here is a bit of life in the driest desert in the world…

One of the main streets in San Pedro

Chile’s is divided into 15 regions. We’re in region 2

Old cars
Photo by Karin Kleine

The first day I arrived in San Pedro I joined some people from the organization StartUp Chile. We all went to swim in Laguna Cejar. The only person who stayed in the water for more than 15 seconds was the Finnish guy we were with. The water was freezing, but floating is easy since it’s so salty.

The Scandinavian braves the ice water. I swear it’s in their DNA.

Salt

Laguna Cejar

Valle de la Muerte.

Valle de la Luna

Chile’s El Tatio geyers are one of the region’s main draws. Along with New Zealand, Iceland, and the USA, Chile has one of the world’s biggest geyser fields.

Since they’re most active at dawn, it meant waking up at 3:30 am to go see them. After the van picked us up at 4 am we began the two hour trip into the Andes mountains.

We’d been warned about how cold it would be up there, so Karin and I joked that we would just wear every piece of clothing we had. (We came pretty close.) My three pairs of socks and seven layers still didn’t keep out the freezing morning.

Once at the geyers, our local guide warned everyone to stay clear from the geyser named “The Killer”, which got its name after several people got too close and fell into the boiling water. (We steered clear.)

But we were tempted to jump into the hot springs with the loads of other tourists. It was such a relief from the cold, and it was funny watching everybody scramble for their clothes after getting out into the cold air. (It wasn’t funny when we had to do it.)

Wearing every layer of clothing possible at El Tatio geyers

9am back down the mountain

Llama crossing on the way back from the geyers

Vicuña sightings!

Stopped in this tiny town on the way back from the geyers.

Coca tea, the local remedy for altitude sickness.

Tomorrow I’m crossing the border into Tacna, Peru. Next up: Cusco and the Sacred Valley.