Last Wednesday I officially finished seeing all of Constitución. I went shopping with my host sister, Francisca, and while I didn’t buy much, I was intrigued by some of the things we encountered in the department store: an assortment of probably 20 different electric kettles, at least 6 different wood burning stoves for cooking, and many tiny appliances as opposed to the huge ones you find in Texas. The kettles of course are popular because everyone drinks tea and/or instant coffee. Francisca told me the stoves are often used in cabins for the dual purpose of heating the room and cooking. We also perused some shops that the people here call “ropa Americana,” or American clothes. These shops are a little too chaotic for my taste – like the clearance section of Old Navy. It’s probably because that’s where this stuff comes from! The stuff that doesn’t sell in the U.S. comes to Chile to be sold in these shops. I can’t help but feel like Chile’s getting America’s rejects… which they are. At least they provide cheap clothes!
When we came home that evening, I received news that another offer had been made to the teachers… another
bad offer, so I decided to make my way to Talca to try and connect up with my colleagues there. I started by taking the 7:00 am train. Unfortunately it was still quite dark at that hour. Plus, the windows were terribly scratched up and difficult to see through. Once the light came though, it was gorgeous along the river. Both sides were hilly with low clouds set on them. A few colored leaves still cling to some trees, but for the most part, it appears to be winter. Luckily the day was not too cold, and I was able to lower the windows to peer out.
Upon arrival, I went to the Talca house, left my things, and went for a brief stroll through the neighborhood to get some exercise. What do you know, I found some Americans! A pair of young men was walking my direction, and one stopped to say, “Mucho Gusto!” in all his American accent glory. Turns out they’re Mormon missionaries. When I told my family and friends about the encounter, they were like, “Oh yeah! There are a whole bunch of Mormons all over Talca!”
At lunch, for
the first time, I was served something I could not eat: chicken livers… or at least, that’s what I think it was.
I was supposed to meet up with colleagues Valeria, Justine, and Cody along with some Chileans that evening for dinner at the center, so I walked over early to beat nightfall. I stopped at a bench where a man was selling silver and copper jewelry, and we started a conversation that ended up lasting a bit over half an hour. He seemed a bit of a hippie, but a super nice guy – Manuel. The conversation helped pass the hour, and soon enough, I was off to dinner. At dinner, Valeria (from a Mexican family) claimed that “May! When you showed up, you were talking like a Mexican. Now you’re talking like a Chilean!”
Friday, as I had more time to kill, I returned to the center which was abuzz with people shopping for Fathers’ Day. I passed a bakery with some desserts that intrigued me. The vast majority here do not appeal to me, so this was a big deal. So, upon returning to the house, I went inside and picked
up a slice of raspberry Kuchen to share with the family and a filled donut sort of pastry for myself. The Kuchen (which is actually “cake” in the German language) was ok, but I just can’t like it because it looks too much like cheesecake yet tastes nothing like cheesecake - too much of a disappointment. This donut thing however was sublime. The chocolate filling was finally the something rich and full of flavor that I’d been yearning for, and the pastry part was a fresh fried dough – not too sweet. I cannot exaggerate how happy this donut made me.
In the afternoon, I visited Valeria’s school to try and offer my services to some other students since my own were unavailable. She teaches middle schoolers. I enjoyed them a lot – very full of energy and braver than my high schoolers. Perhaps their level of English was only slightly higher than my students, but at least they speak it!
The evening was filled with restaurant hopping. Valeria and I enjoyed a “drink” at a café or what we thought would be a drink. She ordered hot chocolate which turned out to be
hot chocolate pudding. I got a most delicious cappuccino. Generally, coffee is instant coffee here, but you can find espresso in cafes, and boy, they do cappuccinos right: espresso with real sweetened whipped cream on top.
We hopped to a pizza joint and finally a Chinese food place – both of which were only decent in my opinion - before heading to a Folklore music concert. At the door, a few people were selling tickets. It seemed kinda sketchy the way they were selling, but it turned out to be legitimate. The show was very enjoyable save the overly loud music. Everything – including brass and bass drum – had a microphone. I wore my “I may look dorky, but I value my hearing” earplugs.
The music, costumes, and dance were primarily from the north of Chile although a few central Chile cuecas were thrown in as well. The Cueca varies from region to region in Chile, so it was interesting to see a different style. There were other dances too besides Cueca. One such reminded me a lot of Mardi Gras. The costumes were flashy and outrageous, and the men danced hunched over
canes which appeared to me a little bit like they were drunk. I was very excited when one song was one that I knew already from singing in the choir!
To finish the day of ridiculous eating, I was served panqueques upon arrival home. These are essentially crepes, and you eat them with manjar, the adored Chilean equivalent to dulce de leche.
Saturday began the day trip to Isla Negra with Valeria and Justine. We bought $14 tickets for the round trip Talca/Santiago then changed buses in Santiago. The drive out to the coast was gorgeous – impressive hills with low clouds. We had a nice time visiting. While we probably complain about our experiences here too much, we talked about the things we’re going to miss – being wanted for one. Back in the states, we’re all going to have to find jobs amongst the hordes of people already there trying to find jobs. We’re rock stars here, and there, there’s always going to be someone better.
We made it easily to Isla Negra and after enjoying a great lunch, we wandered over to Pablo
Neruda’s house. The one there has a reputation for being his most lovely and interesting one. I certainly enjoyed the visit. The rain held off for us, and we got to enjoy the marvelous beachfront view: deep blue water crashing on stones like those in Conti, pale sands, and a foreboding sky. Before you reach the beach from the house, there’s a lovely green strip of trees and lush greenery. The house itself was intriguing as well - decorated around Mr. Neruda’s passion of ships. Collections of colored glass, ship artifacts, ships within glass bottles, and furniture made from masts and ropes fill the house. My favorite part was the fireplace: a huge wall mural/mosaic of stone in a swirling design the swept up to the high ceiling with a wide base for a fire of a surely decent size.
When we finished all that we had come to do, Valeria and Justine had to head back to Talca, but as my school would not be meeting on Monday, I decided to check out Valparaíso – the much talked about city of life and color! As I arrived on a rainy night, I found it to be
a bit on the contrary – sketchy and dingy, but I soon made myself at home at a cozy hostel there. I joined a few people seated around the fireplace and met a young American woman from Georgia named Susan. She also happened to be a single traveler visiting “Valpo” for the weekend. After a long entertaining conversation, we decided to do our touring together the next day.
This turned out to be a good thing in so many different ways. There was practically no one walking around the city when we went out which I found to be strange, but there was plenty of rain throughout the day, and we were able to commiserate through that. We spent our morning in Viña del Mar, the beautiful city that fuses with Valpo to the north. There is a small museum there with Chilean history, Rapa Nui (Easter Island), and Natural Science exhibits including a real Moai out front. That’s one of the stone carvings from Easter Island itself! The museum was fair. While both of us are motivated Spanish students, standing around in silence reading textbook style Spanish – half of which you don’t understand – can
make anybody grow weary. Occasionally there were some English translations which we would glance over. A few of them were quite entertaining as the translation was so bad. I don’t know how that happened. Apparently, one of the translators working on the project was not as good as the rest…
When we finished there, we busted out my poncho, covered ourselves, and headed for Cerro Concepción – one of the nicer, touristier hills in Valpo. Each hill is like a neighborhood and has its own character. We chose a cute colorful pizza joint, but it was 12:50, and they start serving lunch at 1:00, so in those 10 minutes, we poked our heads in an organ recital that was going on in the church across the street. We listened to one whole piece, and I was impressed. I was later informed by a comrade at the hostel that that piece was probably the best one. Score!
After lunch we perused a couple stores. One of my intentions of going alone to Valpo was to shop, but as I said, everything seemed pretty empty. A couple shops were closed up, but the owners opened them
with a knock on the door. When I opened my wallet to pay at one shop, I realized I had left my credit card at the restaurant. I still had my ATM card though, and as we passed an ATM I thought it best to get some cash in case my credit card was lost. At the restaurant, the man at the bar saw me coming and had my card at the ready. Super lucky. The rain continued to bring grey to the brightly painted neighborhoods, so we settled at a different café for coffee and dessert. It was a very nice spot with a good view of the city, and several cats both inside and out. One was a little overly friendly with Susan, jumping up onto her lap while she was seated at the table.
Susan departed soon after that for Santiago, and I began to make my way back to the hostel so as not to be out after dark. That evening, I discovered that I was going to need some more luck. In my haste to return to the restaurant, I had left my ATM card in the ATM. I know. The second
time. I had to let it be though because I was not about to brave the darkness alone. This was thankfully not too hard thanks to some excellent company. I first had a nice visit with a German girl over dinner. We were both fixing in the hostel kitchen at the same time. Then, I sat a chatted with a family from Idaho: a Grandmother, Mom, and Daughter. I’m sure we were quite a sight – all four of us being blonde.
I was to become extraordinarily lucky the next day. First thing, I returned to the minimart where the ATM had been. I told the woman at the counter that I had left my card, and I wondered if there was a number I should call. She told me to wait one moment. “Is the number printed on the machine?” I asked her, trying to take care of business immediately. “I might have it” she said. Then, she pulled a small stack of ATM cards out and fanned them out. “Is yours here?” “Si! Gracias a Dios!”
At 10:00am started one of those free walking tours of the city, and as the weather
was supposed to improve that day, I decided to check it out. The guide was a Chilean young man who had studied English in college. He was accompanied by an American guide because it was his first time giving a tour. Those taking the tour included 3 girls - all solo, all in their early twenties I would say: an Australian, a German, and myself. Apparently, there are more solo female travelers than I thought!
The tour turned out to be an excellent choice for the day. I got to see the port for the first time with all its huge ships and cargo – very impressive. I learned that Valparaíso was a hugely important port city before the construction of the Panama Canal. Those ships that crossed from the Atlantic to Pacific Oceans at the Magellan Straight made a stop at Valparaíso before heading up to California for gold.
The clouds dissipated over the course of the tour and shed a whole new light on the city. The colors of the street art were more vibrant and the views out over the city 5 times more colorful. The tour took us through the
winding streets, up the intense hills (this city’s a lot like San Francisco in that respect), and through narrow alleys by a lot of interesting street art. We learned that mural painters are well respected here by graffiti taggers and thus tend to be free of pesky tags. As a result, many people will hire artists to paint their exteriors so as to avoid graffiti tags.
At the end of the tour, I decided it best to head back towards Conti since it takes about 8 hours to make the trip. The trip seemed very long solo, but the view of the Andes as we came into Santiago was incredible. They are all heavily dusted with snow now, and set against the clouds with the sun shining… they are some of the most incredible mountains I’ve seen.
Tuesday everyone returned to classes, and thus ended the huelga. I’ll be back in Valpo again though soon enough!
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