Santiago: Tear Gas, Russian-Spanish, and Dance-offs against Chileans

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South America » Chile » Santiago Region » Providencia
August 18th 2010
Published: August 28th 2010
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We´ve been in Santiago since last Monday night (8/16), which is probably the longest we´ve spent in any one place. Our expectations were low for Chile since we heard negative opinions about Chile how the people aren´t that friendly and they can´t dance salsa. However our minds started to change right away on our bus ride into Santiago where we befriended Maria Elena, a professor at the University of Santiago Chile, who not only helped us find a hostel, but she drove us there. So far Chileans are very friendly.

On Tuesday we met up with Lex, Espen, and her parents, which was sooo lovely. It´s such an amazing feeling seeing familiar, warm faces when you´ve been traveling for so long. We perused the city and caught up on life. They also warned us that the skiing conditions were not optimal the day before, so we were put off from going. The rest of the time we did the typical city things: Plaza de Armas, Cerro San Cristobal, Cerro Santa Lucía, Bellavista, we ate Paila Marina at the Mercado Central and also got a full parade of applause walking down the street. That was a new one. The following are my 3 Santiago highlights:

1--Getting Tear Gased: I went for a run on Wednesday morning because there was finally sun and it was warm enough for shorts and a t-shirt. I left all excited to go to the park and explore the Providencia area we are staying in. About 2 minutes into my run I started nearing the park and was faced with crowds of students in uniforms. I was confused because it was probably only around noon so they should have still been in school. I crossed the street into the circlular park and started hearing this point the students started running in different directions as the sirens came closer and a green truck came speeding around the circle shooting off grey smoke from the back. Everyone was running and covering their face and I was trapped in the middle of the smoke confused out of my mind. The smoke dissipated so I ran across the street out of the circle and in another direction hoping to get to an area with clean air, but my eyes and my nose started to burn more and more with every breath I took. I obviously decided to return to the hostel because I didn´t know what was going on. People weren´t running anymore but they were still covering their faces and eating lemons. Why were they eating lemons?? They were definitely not as confused as I was. However, the burning in my eyes urged me to get back to what felt safe instead of staying to ask questions.

When I got back to the hostel my eyes were watering and my nose felt funny. I explained what happened to the hostel owners and they sort of smiled and laughed....while I was freaking out inside! It turns out students protest all the time for no good reason so the police tear gas them and arrest them if they get belligerent. They gave me a lemon to chew on...and then I understood why everyone had lemons. Lemon vendors specifically come out to sell lemons and protest days. This is normal.

So much for going to the park for a nice long run to get some fresh air. I will never forget that feeling of confusion, the inclings of panic rising in my throat, people covering their faces and squinting their eyes in attempt to protect themselves from the uncomfortable gas. I thought I would only ever see this kind of stuff on the news, not get caught in the cross fire...

2--Being the Russian-Spanish-English translator for 2 grown men: There is a Russian man (49 years old), Yura, at the hostel who arrived just a few days before us. When we arrived, Ivan, the hostel owner told me that he doesn´t speak a lick of spanish and they haven´t understood a thing he has said nor why he is in Chile. When I first greeted him in Russian, he sort of rode me off in the typically cold way, which kind of put me off. However, after a little while he needed help asking Ivan if the bank would eat his card if he opted out of the charge, so I proved myself to him by explaining the question to Ivan. From that point on, the flood gates opened. I have now become the middle-man of communication between these two men. At one point I found myself in the kitchen in a triangle of languages speaking Russian with Yura, then translating to Spanish for Ivan, cracking jokes for both them, which of course never really translate the same. It turns out the Yura has come to Chile, the farthest point from Russia, just to learn spanish. However, he came with no basics and not even english under his belt so he can´t even take a class here. I give him so many props because coming into a foreign culture with no language bearings whatsoever is admirable, but a little bit silly. Luckily, I´ve been able to help him talk to Ivan about getting a work contract to extend his visa, and I´ve even taken him to the bank to write down the process to withdraw money. Over this week period Yura has definitely warmed up to me and we´ve had some great conversations about each other and about Russian, which has made me itch to go back to Moscow even more. I never thought I would be able to practice my native tongue in one of the farthest points on the opposite hemisphere. This is why I love languages so much; I´ve entered this man´s life, learned his story, and helped him get what he needed because the language barrier was broken. Even Ivan has been grateful because now he knows Yura´s intentions and goals for his stay in Chile. It´s been quite an experience, but my brain has definitely been on overload.

3: Winning a dance off against a Chilean woman...and earning a bottle of rum for it. On Thursday night, Sim and I went out with the two Ivan´s and Graham from the hostel to go dancing at Salsa Brava. There was a big event that night because it was their 50th anniversary so after a bit of social dancing, the performances and shows began. The professional performers were great and since we arrived a bit late and didn´t get a table with seats, we ended up sitting on the steps right along the dance floor. This was great at first, until the competition started for the 4 bottles of rum they were giving away. Of course I was chosen for the first dance competition versus a little Chilean woman. She went first and did her thing....I didn´t even watch because I was so nervous for my turn to make a fool out of myself....I definitely didn´t have enough drinks for this...but Ivan yelled his famous words of wisdom ¨Mariya, just be a slut!¨, the music played (regaetton of all genres) and I worked it for nearly an entire the middle of the the spotlight....sooo embarrasing but so hilarious. After I was sufficiently embarrased, the mic guy raised each of our hands to the audience asking for the winner, and I somehow received an uproar of applause. I guess it shocked them that the tall white girl could actually dance--Hey I gotta represent :P The bottle of rum was well earned and I was happy to share it with the group, who have made our stay so enjoyable. The rest of the night we danced so much salsa, and at such a high level since half the people were instructors. At multiple times throughout the night, I was spun at least 6 times in a row--incredible! I improved so much in just a few hours dancing salsa, merengue, and bachata. Dancing with guys who actually know how to dance makes such a difference!! Simonne was of course in heaven--she was whipping out all her moves and impressing the instructors. At one point, all 3 instructors were dancing with her at once and whipping her arround--and she was keeping up like she owned the place! So we have also clearly seen the Chileans CAN dance.

The Ivan´s at Ventana Sur hostel have made our stay so warm and comfortable that we literally feel like at home here. In the past weeks we have been anticipating our return home, but now we actually don´t want to leave. When we went away for the weekend to Valpo and Viña, we were even excited to come ¨home¨to Santiago--and when we did, we were greeted with an asado on the barbeque and friendly faces and stories. Buena onda...

We have a great ride for the past 3 months and a fantastic finish in Santiago. I'm glad our low expectations of Chile were dramatically exceeded. We will definitely miss it. Now back to the States to begin our lives in the Real World...

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