Cerros 101

I just had real coffee. Real coffee. And good, really good, real coffee at that. Do you understand how groundbreaking this is? I’ve been on instant coffee (Nescafé) for two months. (Also, oh my goodness, I am halfway through my study abroad. Pause for freak out. … Okay. Continue.) So, in honor of this delicious cappucino I had this afternoon, this post is dedicated to Valparaíso, Viña’s beautiful neighboring city.

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The first thing you should know about Valparaíso, nicknamed Valpo, is that people go largely for one thing: the graffiti. As far as I am concerned, Valpo is the street art capital of the world – or at least South America, and definitely of Chile. People spend hours walking the hills and taking photos of beautiful, sometimes controversial, murals. I am sure I have only seen a fraction of a fraction of the murals in this city.

A piece of Valpo's view overlooking the city

A piece of Valpo’s view overlooking the city

The second thing you should know is that, while Valparaíso is very tourist-oriented, it is ripe with thieves. (ie: Be careful with your shit, y’all.) I would recommend two very popular hills – cerros in Spanish – that are littered with street art, as well as food and hostals, should you need them. They are Cerro Alegre and Cerro Concepción, and they actually run into each other. You’ll likely end up on one if you start on the other.

on Cerro Concepción

on Cerro Concepción

This brings me back to the coffee I mentioned earlier: it’s located on Cerro Concepción. The name of the place is Café de Iris, and it actually won an award for the best coffee in Valparaíso. It’s adorable. If I’m in the city enough, I have no doubt I will be a regular by the end of my semester in Chile.

The Good, the Bad, and the Homesick

Oh, no. I’ve been warned about this, but as I diligently ignored the warnings, I didn’t think it would happen to me. After two months in Chile, it finally hit me: a giant, violent wave of homesickness.

Maybe it was the desert trip to Atacama, reminding me of my home in dry, hot, arid Tucson. Maybe it was the overwhelming night before, when everyone back home decided to message me at the same time and say how much they miss me; maybe, it was the wrong time to start listening to country music (the one genre America can really say is its own, aside from maybe blues). Damn you, country and social media.

Anyway, long story short, I had extra time to kill before a class and, while messaging my family to tell them I miss and love them, I almost burst out in tears on campus. I immediately switched to Twitter until I could control myself, but the feeling remains.

The United States has problems. It’s riddled with problems, actually, and I would be the first to admit that. But I miss my home. I miss my desert and my university and my friends and family, all of whom are scattered across that great big country. I miss the food. God, do I miss the food (give me burgers, fries, five pounds of scrambled eggs and pancakes and bacon…. please….) in America. Don’t get me wrong, I love Chile; I have wholeheartedly fallen in love with this country and culture, and I will absolutely try to come back. But I need my red, white, and blue just about now. (Bad example; those are the Chilean colors too. You get my point.) I guess there’s nothing to do but wade through it while I have this homesickness.

In the Wild, Wild West (Er, Desert)

Hello, all! I have just returned from one of the strangest ends of the earth: the world’s driest desert, Atacama. A weekend in the dirt, dust, and mountains have made me notably homesick for my own desert, but the weekend was by far worth it, and I highly recommend this stop to anyone traveling Chile.

We began our trip – two bus rides, a plane flight, and a third bus ride later – with a BBQ, asado in Spanish, at the hostal in a dusty little town named San Pedro. Most call it San Pedro de Atacama, though there can’t be much distinction, as it’s the only town within an hour and a half’s drive of anything. The following morning, we toured two famous valleys of the Atacama desert, Valle del Muerte and Valle de la Luna.

Valle del Muerte / Valley of Death.

Valle del Muerte / Valley of Death.

Valle del Muerte, personally, was my favorite. We walked through a great canyon to enter the valley, and though this photo does no justice, were overwhelmed by a valley littered with giant spikes of rock. Afterwards, we watched the sunset on Valle de la Luna – so named for its aesthetic likeness to the moon – and hiked back down.

Hiking down Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley) after the sunset.

Hiking down Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley) after the sunset.

It was an incredible day, followed by an incredible morning: at four a.m., we awoke the following morning to see the geysers (located in Tatio and thus called Geysers del Tatio). Though they are not the world’s biggest geyser field, they remained very impressive and definitely a little spooky at 4,320 meters above sea level. It was freezing: if you go, dress very warmly and in layers to pull off as the sun rises.

Geysers del Tatio.

Geysers del Tatio.

Following the geysers, our guides took us to a natural hot spring, and took a few stops to see the wildlife and grab an empanada in Machuca (a town so small it’s exactly one dirt road, complete with an antique church). The weekend was incredible, fairly inexpensive, and something I would wholeheartedly complete again. Nos vemos, Atacama.

Me, just after eating breakfast at the Geysers del Tatio.

Me, just after eating breakfast at the Geysers del Tatio.

 

Yes, Doctor, I Need a New Throat, Please

Well, it happened. The inevitable. The one dreaded thing of all dreaded things in a study abroad. I’ve gotten sick.

How did it happen? Was it the unhealthy diet, the lack of insulation in literally any building in Chile, the fact that I stayed out till 3am with only one jacket during winter? It’s anyone’s guess. (No it isn’t. I know it’s largely my fault.) Regardless, here I am, in bed all day after an extremely difficult one-hour class this morning, alternating between a New Girl marathon and a Friends marathon. Sniffling and coughing and hacking and wishing I just didn’t have a throat.

It could be so much worse, and I know that. But that doesn’t stop me from wanting my American bed, my mommy, and either chicken noodle soup or cartoon shaped mac n cheese. It also doesn’t stop me from being terrified that I will be sick all week and not be able to go to the Atacama desert this weekend.

So what do I do? I suppose, after publishing this, I will return to New Girl and tea. And wait and see.

Fiestas Patrias, Pt. 1

Feliz día de independencia, readers! Today is Chile’s much, much celebrated day of independence (when I say much – even my host brothers are currently hosting hangovers, which, from what I’ve seen, is very difficult for a Chilean to obtain on a normal night). I am writing this morning because, based on my fairly hectic-looking schedule, I will likely not be able to write for a while.

From what my Chilean family and friends have told me, Chile’s independence day is somewhat akin to America’s independence day; minus the fireworks and “‘murica,” and plus much more alcohol. (I’m sorry, American readers. I know it’ll hurt to read this, but we just don’t party as hard as the rest of the world, despite our boasts.) It’s also, interestingly, the one of the only times Chileans sport their flags. After September, I suspect the flags will be put away until the next major celebration.

Today I am attending a BBQ – an asado in Spanish, and thank god, I miss grilled food something terrible – and later, I am celebrating in some form or another. On a side note, I think it’s pretty impressive that this country is so dedicated to going out with friends that it’s taken a person like me (a bed-at-ten, up-at-six girl) and turned me into more of a partier than I’ve ever been. Ever. In my entire life.

Anyway, chao, amigos – nos vemos in algunas días. Have a great Independence Day!

El Capitol

I spent the weekend in Santiago, the nation’s capitol, with part of my study abroad group. Over 17 million people in Chile, and over 6 million people live in Santiago; needless to say, I was a little overwhelmed.

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After the past few days, I’ve come to the conclusion that – exciting though Santiago is – I have a new found appreciation for Viña. Santiago is huge. There is a very large amount of smog due to the city’s location and size, and it is very easy to feel a bit claustrophobic when downtown. I say this not because I’m trying to insult Santiago or tell anyone they should not visit (it’s the nation’s capitol, you really should see it at least once), but as a forewarning; I was not prepared for Santiago, being a smaller-city person myself.

That being said, there is a ton to do in Santiago. We left Viña around 11:30 in the morning, and arrived a little after 1 in the afternoon; the hostal we chose is Hostal Forestal, and I definitely recommend it. The hostal is located a few blocks away from the popular bar/party area, Bellavista, but not too close that you won’t be able to sleep from the noise.

A large part of my weekend was sight-seeing, but there’s much more than just sight-seeing in Santiago. I’m planning on a few more day trips to the capitol to see and do more; for example, in a few weeks, a friend and I are probably going to Santiago for a theme park (woohoo! rollercoasters!).

If there’s anything that I recommend as a must-do, it is Cerro San Cristobal. It’s one of the best vantage points in the city, with a breathtaking view of the Andes and the city; I’d suggest taking the trolley up and walking down the hill, because it’s a pretty steep incline and worth the US$4.

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Coffeeshop Culture

If there is one thing that I miss most about American culture – one aspect that is so ingrained into my daily life that I can’t imagine life without it – that thing is coffee shops. Which, I sadly say, is not a part of the Chilean lifestyle.

There is one main road that stretches down most of the length of Viña del Mar, Ave. Libertad. If you need a coffee – a real coffee, mind you, not that instant coffee Chileans love so much – you go to Libertad. There’s a string of cafés down this roadbut they aren’t really for coffee; they have it, but that’s not why they are there. You’d most likely go to a café for a sandwich. Maybe some tea. But even then, people don’t typically sit around and drink and talk.

I can’t understand this. If any aspect of the American culture seems like it would fit into the South American lifestyle, it would be the event of sitting somewhere, drinking and talking. When I’m in the States and there is nothing to do, I call up a friend and meet that friend in a café. But here, these cafés and coffeeshops are scarce and unpopular. It hurts.

My positive spin to this negative situation is that I am clearly spending less, make that no, money on coffee. I drink a cup or two of tea a day, at least in the morning, at my host family’s host; then, after that, I try to stick to water.

(The little American brat inside of me, despite all this, just wants to whine, but I only want a coffeeshop to talk to friends and read my books! Wahh!)