Wednesday, December 2, 2009

My last entry :(

My final week here in Chile has been full of mixed feelings. On the one hand, I spent several nights wasting away in front of my computer checking the word count on my final exam after every sentence I wrote. On the other hand, I finished all of my assignments before Friday night, which meant I could enjoy the entire weekend having officially finished college. That's right - I'm free!

To celebrate my liberation, I visited el Museo de Bellas Artes (Fine Arts Museum) with Hannah and ate lunch at a cute cafe that we, unfortunately, only just discovered. Later that night I reunited with some gringos from Accion Emprenedora (the organization I worked for) and visited some janky Chilean bars in barrio Bella Vista.

I spent most of Saturday celebrating my host-brother's third birthday. The family went all-out and rented a trampoline for the day. It only took me one front flip to realize that I am no longer a gymnast :). After the party, I met up with Hannah and Debbie, two girls I can't imagine living without, but whom I didn't even know existed three months ago. The best part of my time here has been getting to know them.

I'm not letting my last day here go to waste. Earlier today I said good-bye to a gringa from Wisconsin whom I had befriended when I first arrived. Then I joined some Stanford girls in a park near my house for an hour of salsa-aerobics, which, to my surprise, was a good workout! I leave for the airport in 6.5 hours and the only thing I can think about is how grateful I am to have had this experience. Thanks for sharing it with me!

Kelly :)

Monday, November 30, 2009

Unconventional Thanksgiving

While most of you enjoyed a large meal in the warmth and comfort of your homes for Thanksgiving, I began a four-day trip to Chile's Patagonia region. My plane left a 2:50am on Thursday and arrived just in time for the sunrise. After severals hours on two different buses, I entered the Torres del Paine National Park. The typical route for trekking this area is called "The W." While I didn't have time to do the entire trail (I cut out the middle part), I was able to do the two most important hikes: Glacier Grey and Torres del Paine.

Day 1: Upon entering the park and driving to the end of the W, I boarded a catamaran that took me across Lake Pehoe to the campsite. Unfortunately, one of my travel companions didn't confirm our reservation so we slept four people to a 5x6 foot tent. It was a bit crowded.

Day 2: We woke up to a beautiful day and began the four-hour hike to Glacier Grey. Parts of the hike were very challenging, particularly the 85 km/hour winds that came and went, but it was worth it to look out across the water and see a glacier. To the left is a photo of two friends and me with a chunk of the glacier in the background.
After hiking back, we packed our bags, boarded the catamaran once again, and made our way to the next campsite at the foot of the Torres del Paine trail.

Day 3: The Torres del Paine hike has three legs: the first is a steep 1.5 hour climb, the second is a 1-2 hour roller coaster through the woods, and the third is a 45 min. rocky climb to the final lookout point. We got an early start and made it to the top by lunchtime. The view was unbelievable - green lake, huge mountains, clear sky...I was in a state of hiking euphoria.

Then things changed. One of the girls from my program had fallen behind and arrived at the lookout point 30 minutes after the rest of us. She had been experiencing some intense knee pain and was not looking forward to the descent. When we decided to return to the campsite, she asked for one of us to trek down slowly with her while the others went on ahead. I volunteered. Six hours later, I arrived at the campsite...alone. The first part of the descent should have taken only 30 minutes, but we did it an a slow and steady hour and 45 minutes. It was like hiking with someone who had just woken up from a deep slumber. I won't go into all the details of the descent, but I would love to tell you in person all that happened that day. I later described it to someone by saying, "We raced a turtle down the mountain and lost." To make a long story short, this girl's knee was killing her and she ended up staying the night at a campsite on the trail while I ran down a mountain to let the other girls know that we hadn't been eaten by a puma or fallen off of a cliff. That night, we got into our sleeping bags and zipped up our tents a hour before the sun began to set...we were tired.

Day 4: My injured friend safely finished the hike down to the campsite and we made our way back to the airport. With the stress of the previous day lifted, we cheerily explored Puerto Natales, a tourist town en route to Punta Arenas where we took a flight back to Santiago. This trip definitely topped all of the other viajes (travels) I have taken - injury and all.

Despite my excitement to return to the US and see my friends and family, I realized that a big part of my wants to stay and just travel with some of the people I've gotten to know here. It's safe to say that I will be back to Chile someday.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Dad and Kelly Do Santiago

By divine intervention, my dad had a business trip to Sao Paulo, Brazil last week and visited me for two days after his meetings wrapped up. Without exaggerating, I think I had two and a half of the best days of my life...

It all started with a short but steep hike up Cerro San Cristobol (St. Christopher Hill) to visit the famous statue of Mary (called La Virgen). We were enjoying the perfect weather and general splendor of the hike when all of the sudden my dad cries out, "Kelly! Look out!" I take another step forward and then turn around to see what could have possibly aroused such a concerned yell from my dad. Unbeknownst to me, I had just walked over a very real and very angry tarantula. I don't use the word "angry" lightly. The arana pollito (the chilean name for this beast) had lifted up its two front legs and clearly exposed its (non-venomous, thankfully) fangs. I think he was just trying to say, "Welcome to Santiago."

After that near-death experience, we reach the summit and a bird's eye view of Santiago. From there, we hiked back down and made our way to el Mercado Central (Central Market). We entered an old train station-turned-restaurant for lunch and enjoyed an array of fresh seafood. Right before leaving, one of the workers led us to a picture of Bill Clinton drinking a beer in that very same restaurant. Being such big fans of his, we took a picture :). Then we toured several historical buildings in Santiago including La Moneda (like the White House) and the Plaza de Armas. The day ended with a 5-star dinner at Santiago's top restaurant, Astrid y Gaston. This day had set the bar pretty high for tomorrow so I figured the short trip could only go downhill from there.

I was mistaken. At 8:30am on Friday, Dad and I hopped in a truck to the Maipo Valley just south of Santiago to start our bike/wine tour. We started with a homemade breakfast and then made our way over to the Concha y Toro vineyard where we tasted four different wines, including their signature Don Melchor Cabernet Sauvignon. Then we mounted our bikes and rode all around the valley for two hours. One of the privileges of this tour was the special access we got to a small private vineyard called William Fevre. We saw every step of the wine-making process, from the grape to the shipping truck, and then concluded the tour with another home-cooked meal alongside two highly-rated wines. We returned to my neighborhood at 6:30pm, just in time for dinner at my house.

Since my dad speaks less Spanish than my family speaks English (that is to say, almost none), I served as the translator for the night. It was both fun and challenging as I tried to decipher my host dad's Chilean Spanish into regular Spanish into English. After a few hours, we explored a few more sites in Santiago and then spent the rest of the night at a local jazz club. We felt right at home when the band started playing "Black Velvet" on stage (it actually sounded more like "Black Belbet" because the "v" sound in Spanish is a soft "b"). By 1:30am, we were exhausted so we headed home.

We shared a few hours together in the morning and then Dad flew back to Sao Paulo. The only appropriate way to describe his trip is to say that it was 52 hours of awesomeness.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Dear Buenos Aires, I love you.

Of all the cities I've visited, whether for vacation or gymnastics (which is the more likely case), nothing compares to Buenos Aires. To be fair, I must confess that apart from France, I have yet to explore all that Europe offers. Nevertheless, those of you with frequent flyer miles should add a trip to Argentina to your bucket list.

I arrived at on my hostel on Friday afternoon and immediately and with just one glance of my surroundings, I was in love. Every block was lined with rows of apartments, each one with a unique architecture and ornate balcony. On every other corner I saw a group of people enjoyed a cup of coffee and a medialuna ("half moon" - like a croissant). As my friend and I approached an area called La Boca ("the mouth), I was mesmerized by the bright colors of the buildings and the random couples dancing tango in the street. It was quite a departure from the unimpressive office buildings that line the main drag of Santiago.

From La Boca to Palermo to Recoleta, other neighborhoods, the atmosphere was completely different but equally exciting. I took pictures in front of the Casa Rosada (Pink House), Argentina's equivalent of the White House and the former home of the legendary Evita Peron. I had to restrain myself from audibly singing the lyrics to "Don't Cry for Me Argentina" as I stood in the Plaza de Mayo (I say "audibly" because I was definitely replaying the movie in my head).

I spent my last hours in Buenos Aires walking through the famous San Telmo market that fills with tourists every Sunday at 10:00am. Over the past few months, I have seen my fair share of markets, but this one was in a class of its own. Imagine a modest park filled to the brim with antique vendors and hand-crafted jewelry. Now imagine that as you walk by one of the booths, you see two old women dressed up as porcelain dolls...or a man pretending to have four arms, offering to take photos with passersby. At first, I was a bit turned off by the random scenes people set up to attract tourists, but then I just embraced it and started taking pictures. "When in Rome, do as the Romans do," right?

All in all, it was a fantastic trip. :)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Isla Negra, Pomaire y San Pedro de Atac-amazing!

What a weekend. I traveled non-stop from 8:30am on Friday to 8:30pm on Monday. Thanks, once again, to the endowment of Helen Bing, I enjoyed a free trip to Pablo Neruda´s house in Isla Negra on the Pacific coast followed by a visit to Pomaire, a pueblito (small town) known for its artisan market. I don't mean to diminish the talent of Neruda, but if I had the same view of the ocean that inspired many of his poems, I could probably produce a stanza or two. Don´t believe me? I´ve got the pictures to prove it.

Saturday started early. After a two hour flight north to Calama and an hour long bus ride to San Pedro de Atacama, my fellow travelers and I had a half day left to explore. We got right to it with a trip to Valle de la Muerte (Death Valley) where we learned to sandboard (like snow boarding but on sand...with much less cushion if you fall). We capped off the day by watching the sunset over Valle de la Luna (Moon Valle) Four days later (this morning), I was still washing sand out of my hair. Was it worth it? Yes. Will I do it again? Probably not.

The following day we spend several hours exploring the various parts of the driest desert in the world. I toured an Incan town with a group of tourists who quickly humbled me with their ability to speak two if not three or four languages fluently. Then we entered the salar (salt flat) where I admired two different types of flamingos from afar. We stayed just long enough to see the sunset over the mountains - a view even Neruda can't describe.

As if the sunsets and sand dunes weren't enough, my friends and I signed up for one more trip: el observatorio. At 12:00am we (sleepily) boarded a bus to an observatory in the mountains. The unique feature of this desert is that it sits between two mountain ranges and is therefore protected from any sort of precipitation or clouds. The air is so clear that from the salt flat that the mountains (or volcanoes in some cases) that seem fairly close a are actually a four or five hour car ride away. This climates makes for excellent stargazing.

With the help of the guides and some very powerful telescopes, I saw galaxies, shooting stars, nebula, constellations and even Jupiter. Did you know that the light we see coming the closest a star is actually eight years old because it takes that long to reach earth? It's like looking at the past...chew on that.

Well, I've certainly rambled on for long enough. Again, please send me an email to update me on your life. If you're reading this blog, it's mostly likely because we are friends, which means I have a vested interest in your well-being :).


P.S. Here's the view from the plane.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Thank you Helen Bing

Thanks to Helen Bing's ridiculously large endowment, I enjoyed a free trip to a beach town in northern Chile called Iquique (pronounced "E-key-kay"). It was the perfect way to spend Halloween weekend - lots of son, a pool with an ocean view, and no money required.

I spent the first day hanging by the pool and exploring the city. At night in the central plaza I saw an amazing dance performance, which I have a great video of, before spending three hours at a fancy restaurant (again, all thanks to Helen Bing).

My Halloween was quite different from the traditional trick-or-treat scene of the US. Instead of going door-to-door, I took a 14 hour trip across the desert and up 13,000 feet. Note to self: don't ascend so quickly ever again. Altitude sickness is not make believe. Despite the headache we shared as a group, all of us enjoyed the sites. Imagine driving through the desert and stopping to admire a scolding hot geyser spewing out water next to an iceberg. That is just one example of the extreme nature of Chile's landscape.

We thankfully returned to the hotel (the Radisson, for which I have a new found respect) just in time for a wonderful dinner and few hours to celebrate the holiday. We flew back to Santiago the next day after soaking up the sun for a few more hours.

School is going well - 4 more papers and I'm a free woman! The only thing that keeps me from going nuts is the fact that I have a trip to look forward to every weekend. I'm also really enjoying my internship. Today, one of the other gringas and I interviewed a Chilean micr0-entrepreneur about his business. His story was so insightful. I learned more about Chilean history and politics in those 30 minutes that I have in the past three weeks here in Santiago.

That's all for now...I head to San Pedro de Atacama this weekend (driest desert in the world - I hope I remember some lotion). I'll leave you with a picture of some passersby.