A weekend trip to Mendoza, Argentina, and fall in Santiago! (baby it’s “cold” outside)

Aaaaaand it’s already the end of March. El tiempo pasó volando (the time has flown)!

  • It just became spring for most of you but is officially fall here! I can wear my sweatpants and long-sleeve fleece to bed again! The mornings and evenings are nice and cool, usually in the 60s – this past Friday was in the 60s all day and everyone was in big coats and I was just LOVING it. Friday was unusually “cold”, but usually it’s still pretty warm in the middle of the day (in the 80s), yet people are still walking around in jeans and sweaters while I’m on the crowded metro in a skirt and tank top, sweating profusely.
  • Schools and universities all started again a few weeks ago, most on what is called “Super Lunes” (Monday, March 6), and it’s called that because it’s one of the busiest days in the city (and the metro definitely showed it). Toddler Leo started “el jardín”, which is preschool! It was super cute to see him leave on his first day with a tiny little backpack. Honestly, I don’t see him much during the week because he leaves at 8:30 (when I’m still sleeping), and comes back around 4:30, when I’m out, and goes to bed before I return home around 11:30pm. I think it’s great that he’s starting preschool for many reasons, but especially because he’s used to playing by himself in the house and only being around adults, so now he’s finally around other kids his age. He’ll have to learn how to play with multiple kids at once, how to communicate with them, and how to share! These are things my parents didn’t have to worry about as much before Jordin and I started preschool because we always had each other. And we’re good at sharing! I always give him all the food on my plate that I don’t want – he’s my personal compost bin.
  • March 8th was International Women’s Day all over the world, and the march in Santiago was great. There were flags, signs, people of all ages, and people playing musical instruments throughout the march. I didn’t participate because I was in between teaching one class and my salsa/bachata classes, but I’m very glad I got to see part of it and be there to feel that energy.

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“Don’t tell me ‘Happy [women’s] day’, get up and fight with me!” 

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  • I’m still having a blast in my salsa and bachata classes – I definitely prefer salsa to bachata because it’s much faster and I’m always moving, but I enjoy both. I know Jordin has said the exact same, but these classes are my favorite part of the week (it’s almost like we’re TWINS with very similar interests…whoa) – I live for my Monday and Wednesday nights! At the end of each class, the teachers leave a few minutes for “baile social” (social dance), and you can do whatever you want. Because the classes are focused on particular steps, baile social is more challenging because no one is calling out the steps you’re about to do – you just go! In salsa, the woman follows the man’s steps, so it’s ideal to dance with someone who knows what he’s doing. This weekend, I finally went to a salsoteca for the first time (I did go when we first arrived in Chile, but went for salsa classes, not baile social, before we found the wayyyyy better classes that we go to now) and it was AWESOME. We arrived at 10:30pm, coming late from a vegan food tasting (more on that later) and thinking that we would miss the classes they were offering at 9 and 10pm before the baile social. Well, we were the FIRST ONES THERE. We stayed until about 3am, and I loved getting to dance with a variety of different guys throughout the night – it’s a great learning experience, and a way to apply what I’ve learned in two months of classes. Jordin has been going to salsotecas for a few weeks, but I’m hoping we can go at least once a week until we leave – it is a BLAST and a half. 

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  • In my last post, I said that February was my favorite month here so far, and March has been equally great. Everyone keeps saying “queda poco!” (“not much [time] left”) each time we say that we’re leaving in May, and that feeling is really starting to kick in for both Jordin and me. In these last few months, we’ve had a much more active social life because we’re closer with more friends, and are meeting friends of friends who are very generous in inviting us to parties and such. And especially now that I want to go to a salsoteca every weekend as well as hang out with different groups of friends, my time here is starting to feel very short. Jordin and I both agree that staying about a year more would be ideal for our Spanish, friendships, and having enough time to travel throughout Chile. It will be extremely bittersweet to leave in May, but we’re taking advantage of everything we can until then.
  • Typical difficulties in English for my students:
    • Prepositions: in/at/on. In Spanish, the word “en” means ALL of these things, so they often have trouble determining which one is correct in which context.
    • English is FULL of “phrasal verbs” – 2-3 words that have one meaning when used together, but usually a different meaning when used separately. Here are some examples (these make me feel really bad about learning English because this must be HARD):
      • Break:
        • Break down
        • Break in
        • Break into
        • Break up
        • Break out in
        • Break dance
      • Get
        • Get across
        • Get along
        • Get around
        • Get away
        • Get away with
        • Get back
        • Get back at
        • Get back into
        • Get on
        • Get over
        • Get around to
        • Get up
    • Sounds with which native Spanish-speakers have trouble: th, sh, ch
      • “Hair” – the letter a in Spanish just sounds like “ahhh”, as the language is phonetic, so this “air” sound is really difficult. When some of my students say it, it sometimes sounds a little like a pirate saying “har harrrrr”.
      • The letter i in Spanish sounds like our letter e (“eeeee”), so Spanish-speakers often pronounce the following words the same, which sometimes can be a problem:
        • Sheet vs. Shit
        • Beach vs. bitch
        • Sneakers vs. Snickers
        • Sheep vs. Cheap – the difference between these pronunciations is VERY difficult for native Spanish-speakers…the words sound exactly the same to them. Say these two words aloud right now and try to describe the difference – it’s a challenge!
  • I have two young English students – one is 6 and the other is 14. The 14-year-old just started 9th grade and told me all about her schedule in school, which made my jaw drop. First of all, she’s taking biology, chemistry, AND physics this year, while I took one science each year of high school. Second of all, it seems that most high schools here (called “colegio”) operate in similar ways, in that the students take all of their classes in the same classroom with same students all day long, and it’s the teachers that revolve in and out of the classrooms. My student said she has been with the same students since kindergarten, so everyone knows each other very well. School runs from 8am-3:30pm, with two 15-minute breaks throughout the day, before a 45-minute lunch at 2pm. Lunch is at TWO O’CLOCK after they’ve already been there for six hours! In my high school, there were three lunch slots, the earliest of which was 10:30am, and the latest was 11:40am. No wonder these kids are exhausted after school – they’ve been sitting in the same chair in the same room for hours upon hours without moving, they don’t get to eat until 2, and they take three sciences. At least they start at 8am instead of 7:30 like my high school (which will hopefully change in a few years, thanks to the hard work of my mother).
  • I recently met with a professor at Universidad Católica (one of the best universities here, as well as in all of Latin America), who connected me with some people who study and work in public health at the Universidad de Chile (another big university) in the Instituto de Nutrición y Tecnología de los Alimentos (Institute of Nutrition and Food Technology). Thanks to this connection, I will be attending the weekly meetings/lectures through the Centro de Prevención de Obesidad y Enfermedades Crónicas (Center for Prevention of Obesity and Chronic Illnesses) to learn more about various issues in public health in Chile, and specifically in nutrition! I’m unbelievably excited about this, just to learn more about my professional and personal passion – public health – in a country that I love, and in a more formal setting. The first meeting was yesterday! The talk didn’t really involve nutrition, but more how environmental health/lifestyle factors affect disease; the title of the talk was: “Deregulations of miRNome”. Revealing the mechanisms of testicular damage induced by the exposure to endocrine disruptors mixtures. As you can see just by the title, it was very focused on scientific data, specifically biological concepts like endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDC), mRNA, etc. There were about 15 people in attendance, and though the talk was entirely in Spanish, the slides of the presentation were in English. I actually really liked this because it helped me visually understand the complex biological information that the presenter was discussing, and I got to listen in Spanish and make the connections with the vocabulary. Though this talk wasn’t focused on my main interests, it’s nice to be in an academic setting again. While I don’t miss my college workload, I do miss the university setting (and I do miss working in Wesleyan’s libraries), so I’m so happy to be getting this experience here.

Mendoza, Argentina!

Two weeks ago, Jordin and I went to Mendoza, Argentina, for the weekend! Mendoza is on the west side of the country, right next to the Andes, and is probably most well-known for its wine – I believe it’s the largest wine-producing region in all of Latin America. Additionally, another big industry is olive oil – more on that below! Jordin and I flew to Mendoza on a Thursday evening – it was a 35-minute flight, literally just going up and over the Andes to get there, and while the first 20 minutes were easy, there was an unbelievable amount of turbulence for the last 15. Apparently the wind direction is perpendicular to the mountains in some way, and this creates significant vertical movement of the airplane (we were going more up and down than side to side). Needless to say, Jordin and I were extremely relieved when we landed safely in Mendoza, as was every other person on the plane. We stayed in a hostel that was walking distance from everything in the main part of town, and everyone there was very friendly and welcoming.

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On Friday, we took a bike tour to two different vineyards! This was an awesome way to get to know the region more, as well as taste some of the best wines in the world. The tour company had a taxi pick us up at our hostel and drive us a few miles outside of the city to the place where we would begin the tour. It was just the two of us with one guide from the company, which was nice, and definitely much easier in terms of biking to each vineyard. We biked about 40 minutes to the first vineyard, Viña Carmelo Patti, which was very small, artisanal, and had a family-feel. We didn’t actually go into the vineyard, but spent the whole time in a building with the owner, and a few other people who came for the tasting. He gave us many general tips about wine:

  • When you bring the wine home, take off the metal wrapping and look at the cork – if the cork looks intact and there’s enough space between it and the wine, it’s good and you can keep it. If the cork has wine in it, it means that air can get into the bottle and the wine won’t keep for a long time, so you should go back and exchange it. He said that if you would do that for a shirt with a hole in it, why not for wine?wine opener.jpg
  • The best way to open a bottle of wine is not by using a corkscrew, but by using this opener, which I am pleased to say that I’ve used many times because my dad has used one for years! This doesn’t puncture the cork, so there’s no risk of any part of the cork falling into the bottle.

At this first vineyard, we tried 3 types of wine: Malbec (famous in Argentina), Cabernet, and a blend called Gran Assemblage. All I can really say is that they were all red and they were all good.

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We then biked another 35 minutes or so to the second vineyard, Viña Nieto Senetiner, which could not have been more different from the first. This vineyard was much bigger, looked like a villa with Spanish-style buildings and fountains, and there were grapes as far as the eye could see – aka until the beautiful, snow-capped Andes mountains! We were put in a tour group with about 12 other people who had just come from two other vineyards. One woman, probably in her 50s, came up to Jordin and me with her husband and said, “Estamos BORRACHOS” (“WE’RE SO DRUNK”) – they had tried five wines at each of the two previous vineyards, and apparently those glasses were generously poured. She continued to entertain us for the entire tour. We went on a little tour of the vineyard and saw hundreds of barrels of wine as well as fresh grapes right from the plant.

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During the tasting (“degustación”), we tried three types of wine: Chardonay, Bonarda, and Malbec. Our tour guide explained that there are three things to do in the process of wine tasting: look at the color, smell it, and then taste it in two sips – the first is to accustom your tongue, and the second is to actually taste the flavor. I also enjoyed all of these wines (one white, two reds), but couldn’t really tell you much more about them. However, here they are in case you want to buy them in the states.

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We biked back to where the tour started – if you know Jordin and me, you know that we’re very much lightweights in terms of holding our liquor. We were served only a few sips of each wine, but after trying six of them, these lightweights could FEEL IT. Biking could have been very dangerous if we were as drunk as that woman, but thankfully we held it together and no one fell.

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After arriving back at the bike place, we went directly to Pasrai, an “olivícola” where they produce olive oil! The facility also produces a variety of dried fruits after olive season is over, and that is where the name Pasrai comes from – “pasa” means raisin in Spanish, so they created of combination of “Pas” for pasa and “Rai” for raisin. The facility produces 80,000 liters (21,000 gallons) of extra virgin olive oil every year. Here is a quick rundown of how they make the olive oil:

  1. Crush the olives within 48 hours of harvesting them in a big machine, including the pits, because it’s very difficult to remove the pits and save the rest of the olive.
  2. Put the olives in a colander and spin them to try and separate some of the liquid from the solid.
  3. Put the olive paste in some sort of tube to remove the liquid. The paste is then useless for further production of this olive oil, so it is then sold to other places who use it to produce lesser-quality olive oil.
  4. There are two parts of the next step: the IMG_8442liquid is now separated into water and oil (see photo), but the oil is extremely thick and there are pieces of the skin in it. Some people like to buy this oil, but it’s extremely strong. Most of the oil then goes through a 14-tank system – in each tank, the liquid goes in through the bottom and leaves through the top, and after 14 tanks, the oil is left in the last tanks and the water is left in the first ones. They are now separate!
  5. The thick olive oil, now separated from the water, goes through a cellulose strainer, and after this process, you have extra virgin olive oil like you would see in the store!

The facility produces olive oil with many different flavors – regular, garlic, ají/picante (hot pepper), basil, oregano, and lemon. Anyone can flavor their own olive oil, but it must be done through dehydrated spices, NOT fresh ones. This is because fresh spices contain water, which can oxidize the oil and make it go bad (ask chemist Jordin for more details). We tried all of these flavors and enjoyed them all! I’ve never tried flavored olive oil before, but Jordin is already excited to try to flavor his own when we get back home.

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That evening we walked to Plaza Independencia, the biggest and main plaza in Mendoza (there are lots of plazas/parks), because there was an artisanal fair there from 4-11pm. We arrived at 5:30 and it was basically empty. We learned that siesta (nap) time in Mendoza is from 1 or 2pm until 5, and everything is completely closed.

On Saturday morning, we walked to a hill called “Cerro de la Gloria”, which we heard had a beautiful view of the city. The walk there from our hostel was about 40 minutes, and the climb to the top of the hill was 10 minutes…the view was not what we were expecting, but it was a beautiful day and we could see mountains in all directions.

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For lunch, we went to an awesome vegan restaurant, which surprisingly is not the only vegan restaurant in Mendoza (I say surprisingly because everyone told us about the meat in Mendoza). It was a buffet, pay-by-weight place that’s only open three hours a day, so it gets pretty crowded and all the food goes very fast. I took a video on snapchat and one of my Chilean friends responded by saying he didn’t know that much vegan food existed (#JustVeganThings). After lunch, we went on a free walking tour of Mendoza and learned a lot!:

  • An earthquake in 1861 destroyed almost everything in the town.
  • There’s a statue in Plaza España that shows two women (see photo below)- on the left is a women with a book who represents Spain, and appears more mature. On the right is a younger-looking woman (supposed to be less mature), almost naked, and holding grapes, which apparently represent being more of a scavenger and using the natural resources – she represents Argentina. Additionally, the woman Spain is gripping the arm of the woman Argentina, showing that she is very dominant, as opposed to a mother figure. These statues are somewhat of an insult to Argentina because she’s being depicted as immature and completely reliant on Spain, while the Argentinians did not feel that way.

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  • There aren’t any “pure” native/indigenous people in Argentina because they all were exported to other countries as slaves by the Spanish, or killed. Anyone who wasn’t European was considered barbarian and was exterminated.
  • Argentina became independent from Spain in 1816, but will always have a cultural relationship with Spain. Argentina has always looked to Spain for help, as opposed to the rest of South America.
  • The majority of the architecture in Mendoza is nothing special – pretty plain, brutalist buildings, but the city planners prioritized safety over appearance and built everything to be able to withstand earthquakes. The attractive theme of Mendoza is the natural element – there are many plazas and tons of beautiful tall trees. It’s a sort of microclimate, with pine trees growing next to palm trees. It’s always windy, but it’s a dry wind. The wet wind comes from the Pacific, goes through Chile and loses its water by snowing in the Andes, so when it arrives Mendoza it’s dry. This is why Mendoza is a desert-like climate.
  • All of the streets have canals on both sides, which were the main form of irrigation.
  • Government buildings are scattered throughout the city, including in green areas (with plazas), and this was planned for the principle of health and to avoid the spread of disease among government officials.
  • Currently, all museums are closed permanently in Mendoza (!!!). There is a lot of budget cutting, and the government basically said that art doesn’t matter (hmm, this sounds familiar). There are strikes all over the country by teachers who want higher wages, as the government is trying to privatize many universities.
  • All of the provinces in Argentina have a designated meeting place for every Thursday at 11pm for the silent walking of mothers and grandmothers of children who disappeared during the military regime that started in the 1970s. 30,000 people disappeared, and movement started in the 1970s by women who were pushing for information on what happened to their children. I learned about this when I lived in Buenos Aires two years ago as well.
  • We finished the tour on the roof of a building that used to be the tallest in the city (at 10 stories high), with a beautiful view!

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On Sunday at 9am, we took a bus back to Santiago! Because we were going for only a few days, we didn’t want to take the bus both ways because of how long the journey is, but we knew we wanted to take it one of the ways to have the opportunity to drive through the Andes Mountains. If you know me, you know I don’t like to sit for a long time, but I absolutely loved this drive. It took 7 hours to arrive in Santiago – six hours driving, and one hour at the Argentina-Chile border. That one hour at the border felt like nothing because we had heard from other people who waited at the border between 2-6 hours. This drive through the mountains was unlike anything I’ve ever seen or done before – we saw mountains of all colors: green and grassy mountains that ascended really fast (like we saw in the Sacred Valley in Peru), red like in New Mexico, and gray with snow like those in Glacier National Park and in Torres del Paine (Patagonia). Additionally, the drive wasn’t steep, as I expected it to be – most of the roads were pretty flat and very well paved, with many other cars and busses on them throughout the day. Our bus driver drove slowly (and it was a double-decker bus, so that was important), and there was only one section with a bunch of hairpin-like curves, which we went around veryyyyyyyy slowly. The views were incredible the entire time. I’m so glad that we got the views from both the plane and the bus: here is a small compilation of the types of mountains we saw!

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The journey begins!

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Argentina-Chile border!

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Back to Santiago! A few smaller updates:

  • During one meal at home, Aly (host mom) said that Chile is the only country in Latin America that doesn’t celebrate the traditions, food, etc. of its native people (Mapuche), as do other countries in Latin America, such as Peru and the Incas.
  • Jordin and I are continually infuriated by the waste here in Santiago. First, the water bottles – everyone buys bottled water, both for their houses and on the go (it’s always sold on the street and in the metro). I have rarely seen people with a reusable bottle, and when I do, they’re usually foreigners (everyone looks surprised when they see mine). Also, water fountains don’t exist – I described them to Chilean a friend recently and he had no idea what I was talking about. Second, the number of plastic bags that people use at the supermarket is unreal. Jordin and I always just use a drawstring/tote bag if we have to get something, but everyone else uses new plastic bags each time. I know this also is very common in the United States, but I constantly see people with ONE SMALL THING in a plastic bag, even if they have other bags.
  • This weekend, Jordin and I went to a vegan/vegetarian food tasting (for free!) and tried about 10 different delicious dishes, one of which was HUMMUS so Jordin and I were in heaven. The best part was that the chef made various cultural dishes, from green Thai curry to Indian dal, and each dish was full of spices. Chilean food isn’t known for using spices (besides salt and merken, the smoky dried hot pepper), and I’ve missed spices since the day I arrived. The chef said that for Chileans, using 5-6 spices would be WAY too much – in my experience here, I can attest to that. So I very much enjoyed this food tasting. However, Jordin and I went straight from there to meet friends at the salsoteca, and as we were leaving we realized that the chef was going to give us a container of hummus to go! Devastatingly, we couldn’t take it because we wouldn’t be returning home until the wee hours of the morning. Once we were in the elevator, Jordin said, “WE JUST LOST FREE HUMMUS!!!” A sad truth for the Metz twins.
  • I visited a hospital recently (not for me) and was surprised at the conditions there – the bathrooms were pretty dirty, and one of them had soap outside the bathroom, so for people who aren’t germ-conscious like us, they may not wash their hands at all. One of my goals is to learn more about the health system here before I leave.
  • Here is the most entertaining part of this post, and the best thing you’ll see after watching the video of Paul Ryan saying that we’re so terribly unlucky to be “living with Obamacare for the foreseeable future”. Remember in my post about Patagonia and Machu Picchu, I mentioned that on our hike up Wayna Picchu (the huge mountain in the back of all classic Machu Picchu photos), we saw a man dressed in long pants, a button-down shirt, a vest, and a tie dancing on the edge of the mountain? As a recap, he creates videos of himself dancing in travel destinations and posts them on his website and youtube channel. He calls himself the Dancing Accountant (though he told us he’s not actually an accountant, and has no formal dance training). Well, he finally posted the video of him at Machu Picchu, and it’s a compilation of his travels around Latin America. I highly recommend giving it at watch – the best part is, you can hear my voice at the very end saying, “That was incredible”! #Famous 
    • (Click on that link to watch it or CLICK ON THIS ONE if you’re confused about where that one is!)

This weekend, Jordin and I are headed on our last trip within Chile to San Pedro de Atacama, aka the Atacama Desert in the very north of Chile, which is one of the driest places on earth! We’re incredibly excited – keep a look out for some instagram updates! @metziculous

Thank you for making it to the bottom! If you have any comments, advice, or questions, please email/Facebook message me! We only have about seven weeks left (!) and want to make the most out of them, so if you have any suggestions for more things to inquire/learn about, to do, or people to meet, please don’t hesitate to reach out. Besos y abrazos!!

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Weekend traveling in Chile: Valparaíso, Viña del Mar, and La Serena!

Happy March everyone! I know I say this each post, but time is absolutely flying and I can’t believe Jordin and I have been in Chile for five months already. Also, PLEASE CLICK THE TITLE OF THIS POST (or this link) to view the blog on the website instead of in your email – the photo quality is better, and if I find any spelling mistakes I can correct them and they’ll update for everyone who hasn’t read it yet :) Thanks!

The past month has been wonderfully busy. In general, February has been my favorite month so far – my life here just feels more settled. Everything has been going well with my students, I really love the friends I’ve made, and I’m very accustomed to my life here. Before delving into the descriptions of our travels this month (just two weekends), here are a few short updates:

  • Valentine’s Day = Día de San Valentín! It’s definitely not as commercial in Chile as in the U.S., because I saw very little in pharmacies or supermarkets, but I saw a ridiculous number of flowers and balloons on the day itself. The streetside flower stands had incredibly long lines, and I saw many men walking around with huge red balloons that said “Te amo para siempre” (I love you forever). However, I received many text messages from friends here that said “Feliz día de la amistad!” (“Happy Friendship Day), which I loved, because this day should be about all types of love, not just romantic. Because Valentine’s Day was on a Tuesday, that night we went to Spanglish Party, and the bar was completely decked out in Valentine’s decorations. At the beginning, everyone received three stickers that they could give to people they liked throughout the night, and the person who received the most stickers at the end would win something. While I absolutely love Spanglish Party, sometimes I feel like I’m trapped in a middle school dance or at someone’s bat/bar mitzvah party, but with a bunch of people around age 30.
  • I recently went to the top floor of the Costanera Center, which is the one skyscraper in Santiago that also happens to be the tallest building in Latin America! It’s 62 stories and almost 1,000 feet tall. From the top, you get a 360º view of the city (through a window, so the photos still have the glare), and I went as the sun was setting so got the entire view. It was incredible! img_0076

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  • Garden updates! Sadly, the peach tree has stopped producing fruit, but the almond tree and the grapevine are still going. And just recently the avocado tree has starting blooming – that’s right, I HAVE AN AVOCADO TREE. However, these avocados are different than regular/supermarket avocados – the skin is very thin, and our family actually doesn’t peel them at all. They bite into them like an apple! While this is still a strange phenomenon to me because I’m not used to it, these avocados are delicious (and tan pequeño!). New fruits tried recently (not from the garden):
    • Membrillo – look like apples, but are kind of dry and taste like a bitter Granny Smith apple. Not a fan.
    • Tuna – in both the melon and kiwi family and tastes like a mix of both, but it has a ton of seeds that some people don’t like. I think it’s okay but I don’t love it.
    • Noni – similar taste to a cucumber. Not a fan. (Note: I eat every single other fruit except bananas, so it’s interesting to find fruits that I don’t like here! But I still love trying new foods – it’s exciting every time!)
  • I recently went hiking in Santiago for the first time! I’m finally getting some use out of my hiking boots after wearing them for two weeks straight in Patagonia and Peru. It was only a 4-mile trail that took a few hours, but it felt like nothing to me, and I think that’s because after the intense hiking we did in Patagonia, everything else seems inconsequential. In the photo below you can see the Costanera Center in the background!

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  • I’ve been walking a lot, as usual, especially in between my classes. I’ve been walking some or all of the distance between one of my classes in the northeast of the city to the center for Spanglish or the salsa/bachata classes. This walk is about an hour and a half, which gives me the opportunity to explore a part of the city in which I don’t usually spend time, and I avoid paying for an overly-crowded metro filled with people sweating on their way home from work.
  • Speaking of crowded metros – it’s back-to-school time in Santiago! Because I live in the southern hemisphere, the calendar is opposite of the United States in terms of seasons and the school year. Schools and universities are all starting up again this week (if they haven’t already started), and everyone who was on vacation in February (the equivalent of August in my typical summer) is back in the city, so the metro is as crowded as ever. In February, people described the metro as “empty”, even though it was still crowded and smelly during rush hour. But that definition of crowded is nothing like it is during the rest of the year. 
  • Jordin and I have hung out with Kimberley, the teacher of our October TEFL course, many times in the past few months. We all get along really well, and she’s just so much fun to be around. She always says that whenever we come over she can’t even get a word in because we talk so much, but I think that’s because we speak in English, so I can express and describe significantly more than I can in Spanish. And I always want to fill her in on everything going on in our lives, especially around teaching because we started our Chilean experience and jobs as teachers with her. She taught the TEFL course again in February; last week was the final week of the course, and Jordin and I came in to “lead” the Professional Development Session, which was talking to the nine students about our experiences living in Chile, finding students, and teaching classes after we took the course. We talked with them for an hour and a half, and it was so much fun. I love talking to people about my experiences in general, but especially here in Chile, and it felt good to know that even though finding and keeping students took some time (especially for Jordin), we’re both in great places now and we love what we do. We talked with the students about our methods for finding students, what we do with students of various English levels, the frustrations that sometimes come with scheduling classes, the activities in which we’re involved in Santiago, and how we’ve applied what we learned in the course to our teaching now, among other things. While Jordin and I were at the institute, we talked with an English teacher there whom we hadn’t seen since we finished the course at the end of October, and he said, “How was your summer?” I was like…”Wait an entire summer has passed since we’ve been here??” That question really made me think about the time we’ve been here. And of course the summer hasn’t passed…we’re still getting plenty of heat waves (this last week especially). During the TEFL course, each new teacher is required to teach six one-hour classes, which are observed by the teacher (Kimberley). But the classes require real students, or people who are willing to come for a free English class, knowing that the teachers are new and in training. I told two of my private beginner students about these classes, and one of them (let’s call her Maria) went to every single beginner class that was offered. When I started with Maria, she was an absolute beginner and knew next to nothing in English. But the new teachers in the course said she really knew what she was doing in the classes, and when she wasn’t sure, she took her time to think about it and usually figured it out! In my private classes with Maria, I sometimes give her the Spanish translation of a word or phrase, but these more formal classes are 100% in English. Hearing this feedback from the new teachers, as well as Kimberley, made me so proud of Maria and how much she has learned over the past four months. I also described to the new teachers that Maria is somewhat of an anomaly – we always have 3 classes a week and she has never once cancelled, her schedule is flexible and we can change the class time if I need to, she always does her homework, and she always responds to my texts within a reasonable amount of time – none of these characteristics are typically Chilean by any means! I’m very lucky to be teaching her, for many different reasons, one of which includes that she has a tiny fluffy dog that sits on my lap every class.
  • Catcalling (piropo) – throughout my five months here, I’ve written about receiving more than my share of catcalls (though no one deserves any “share”) and street harassment. While this hasn’t subsided by any means, every time I leave my house, I wonder about what type of piropo I will receive, and I’ve also been considering all the thoughts running through my head that a man (e.g. Jordin) doesn’t need to think about. Here are some of the things that I do that Jordin does not simply because he’s a man:
    • Walk on the side of street moving with traffic to attract less attention
    • Try to avoid one-way streets where I’d have to walk against traffic, because more people in cars will look at me when I’m facing them (I live on a block in between two one-way streets)
    • Walk on the opposite side of the street/as far away from construction sites as possible, and walk on the opposite side of the street as pairs/groups of men
    • Hold my tote bag (with my whiteboard, markers, and other small things) on the side facing the street/cars/people/eyes, to cover my body as much as possible.
    • Last notes: Aly (host mom) told us that there is some new law which states that men are no longer allowed to shout things at women on the street. I’m not sure if it’s true, but if it is, it’s not helping. A few weeks ago, I was running in my neighborhood and was about to finish, near a very busy street a few blocks from my house. I was approaching a construction site (there are new apartments going up on almost every corner, so there’s no way to escape these sites), but unfortunately I couldn’t cross the street because I needed to be on my side in order to cross the busy road ahead. I noticed that there were 5-7 men standing outside the site on the sidewalk and immediately dreaded what types of looks and shouts were coming. But surprisingly, I didn’t receive any comments – I had slowed down to a slow jog since I was running close to them, and suddenly when I turned around to look, I realized two of the men were running after me (not quite chasing me, but more like running alongside me). My heart rate immediately jumped and motivated me to keep running toward the stoplight, and while I wasn’t scared that they would do something to me, obviously I was extremely startled and appalled that it happened. I don’t know what kind of person thinks that it’s okay to ever do something like that, except maybe people like the President of the United States and his friends, but it was abhorrent to me and I’ll never forget it.
  • Salsa & Bachata classes – I still absolutely love the dance classes I go to twice a week. I’ve been going for about a month now, and I moved to level Intermediate in Salsa last week and LOVE it. There’s a big jump between the Beginner and Intermediate classes – in the Beginner classes, the teacher taught all the basic steps, which is good for people who are just starting, don’t have much dance experience, and/or aren’t great dancers. But only a few classes in, I was getting bored during those classes and wasn’t being challenged. In Intermediate, we start dancing various steps the moment the class starts, so you’re dancing vigorously the entire hour. While the first class was extremely difficult because there were so many steps I hadn’t learned yet and weren’t taught during that class, I’m already having so much more fun than before. This class is challenging but it’s a blast – and the teacher is an incredible dancer and teacher, and I only wish I had her moves! I’m going to work on getting more videos of us dancing…stay tuned!
  • Here is a link that one of my Chilean friends posted on Facebook a few weeks ago about bread in Chile (so obviously this is relevant). It’s a gif that says: “When your mom senses that you left the house”, she shouts, “BUY BREAD!” This is one of the most Chilean things I’ve ever seen – There’s always so much bread in our house at any given time, but if there isn’t, or there’s fewer than 5 sandwich breads, there’s instant panic and someone must leave to buy bread immediately. Here’s the gif!

WEEKEND TRIP #1: Valparaíso and Viña del Mar!

Two weeks ago, Jordin and I went to Valparaíso (Valpo) and Viña del Mar (Viña) with four of our good Chilean friends. The cities are about 70 miles northwest of Santiago (1.5 hours by bus), and are extremely popular beach destinations, especially during the summer. We only spent one day in each city, so it wasn’t a lot, but still enough time to see some beautiful views and spend a nice weekend with friends.

VALPARAISO – Valpo is the second largest metropolitan area in all of Chile, and is a major seaport. It is incredibly hilly (there are 42 hills within the city), and is filled with murals and art and color! We arrived by bus in the morning, and after dropping our backpacks at the hostel, we wandered around our neighborhood and then took a free, four-hour walking tour. Before Jordin and I moved to Chile, I had thought that I’d want to live in Valpo much more than in Santiago after hearing about other people’s experiences there (Wesleyan students typically study abroad in Valpo, while Tufts students go to Santiago). But after visiting, I know that I prefer Santiago and I’m very happy that I live there. Valpo is a very unique city, with almost every wall covered in murals and graffiti and all sorts of phrases, but it has a very different vibe than Santiago, and sadly, has more poverty and more crime. What I do know is that if I lived in Valpo, I would be in much better shape because I’d have to walk the hills all the time (while Santiago is completely flat). 

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Famous mural in Valpo!

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Piano steps!

VIÑA DEL MAR – On Sunday, we took a bus to Viña del Mar (literally means “vineyard by the sea”), a neighboring city of Valparaíso. While Valpo feels more like a city with a port, Viña feels like an upscale beach town, with lots of apartments, malls, hotels, and various entertainment venues. The day after we were there was the first day of the Festival de Viña del Mar, which is a week-long event with lots of live music and celebrities, and it’s one of the most popular yearly events in the entire country. We spent our day in Viña wandering around to various food fairs/markets that we found, aka my favorite thing to do. We all bought a few things and had a little picnic, with empanadas, whole wheat bread, and vegan almond cheese! Aka lots of bread, but we were there with Chileans, so what more can you expect? We walked to see the beaches, one of which was absolutely packed with people, and saw this beautiful flower clock, which is a big tourist landmark in the city.

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I found whole wheat bread and was SO HAPPY. Mom, I miss your homemade bread more than words can describe.

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Friends in Valpo & Viña! Cristían, me, Ale, Valentina, Jordin, and Paulina

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David and Hannah!!

Last week, our good family friends David and his daughter Hannah came to visit us for six days! Half of one of their two suitcases was loaded with peanut butter and probably an entire shelf of nuts from Trader Joe’s just for us, as all nuts besides peanuts are extremely expensive here. The quantity was overwhelming, but I’m pretty confident that they’ll be gone by the time we leave (especially because I have Jordin). Additionally, they brought me a full envelope of KenKens sent by my mom, who diligently collects them from the Thursday, Friday, and Saturday NY Times and saves them for me. What could be better than good friends, nuts, and KenKens arriving in Chile? Nothing, except if my cats could be here too.

We spent the majority of the six days on our feet and walking around (I think we walked 30-40 miles with them over six days), introducing them to Chilean food and drink, and taking pictures (David put a new memory card in his phone just for this trip). As an architect and just an incredibly observant person, David pointed out so many things that I’ve never seen before, even though I’ve lived here for five months and am familiar with each part of the city we explored. This included architectural styles of buildings, various designs and decorations, and some really weird things, like a stone gargoyle (or something similar) sitting at the top of an apartment building.

We spent last Thursday and Friday with David and Hannah in Santiago. On Thursday, we took them to an awesome vegan restaurant that my family went to when they were here in December, and then spent the rest of the day walking around Santiago Centro, where they were staying. This included the Plaza de Armas (the “main square” of Santiago, or at least one of the oldest areas of the city) and La Moneda (the government center). We bought some fruit from a stand on the side of the road and I introduced them to the “tuna”, which is a cactus fruit that tastes like a mix of honeydew and kiwi. While it sounds great, there are a ton of seeds inside (that you’re supposed to eat/they’re pretty impossible to remove because there are so many), which changes the texture a lot. I like this fruit but I don’t love it. But I LOVE getting to try new fruits and vegetables every few weeks here! David and Hannah also tried mote con huesillo, which is a really popular Chilean drink in the summer, made with mote (a grain that reminds me of barley or farro, but Wikipedia describes it as “cooked husked wheat”), a sweet juice made from dried peaches (and sugar, of course – this is Chile), and some dried peaches on top. I wasn’t a huge fan of this the first time I tried it a few months ago, but I didn’t hate it the second time around. On Friday, we hiked up Cerro San Cristóbal, which is one of the big hills in the center of the city with a beautiful, sprawling view from the top. Sadly, just like when my family was here, there was so much smog that we couldn’t see the Andes at all. After Cerro San Cristóbal, we took a tour of one of Pablo Neruda’s three houses in Chile, “La Chascona”, right down the street from the entrance to the hill. I had never been there before, and I’m so glad I went – aside from being one of the most famous Chileans in the history of this country, Neruda traveled all over the world throughout his life and collected objects from every country, like wine glasses from Mexico and paintings from Japan. He became known as a poet when he was very young, and rose to fame shortly thereafter. He occupied various diplomatic positions throughout his life, including in Spain and Mexico. He was a socialist/communist, which later led to a threat of arrest and his exile. After the “golpe de estado” (the military coup) in Chile in 1973, all three of Neruda’s houses were ransacked, Neruda’s prostate cancer worsened, and he died 12 days later. There are many theories about his death and what caused it, but there are better places for that conversation.

We then walked to the Plaza de Armas for a free walking tour, but ditched it after an hour or so because we weren’t getting much out of it. We did learn about “cafe con piernas”, about which Jordin and I learned a little previously from Sergio (host dad): it translates to “coffee with legs”, and is essentially a cafe with a Hooters-like twist (but definitely more explicit than Hooters). Men go in and sit down, the doors close, the women remove their clothes and do a little dance for a minute, and then the doors open again and it’s a “regular cafe”. There are apparently many of these around Santiago. After this (and in the process of ditching the tour), we stopped for ice cream – I haven’t eaten much ice cream in Santiago, but when I do, there are always so many vegan options! “Helado de agua” (literally “ice cream of water”) aka sorbet is very common here, with all sorts of cool flavors. The best part is sampling a few flavors before buying, so after our first taste, I asked for a taste of a different flavor, and the employee took back the spoon that I had already used and dipped it back in a different flavor of ice cream!! We were all so startled when it happened that none of us said anything – all I know is that my Health Department mother would never have stood for that, and if it happens to me again, I’ll definitely say something. But seriously…what??

We walked more around the Plaza de Armas – we visited an old and famous post office, and then went to the National History Museum nextdoor and climbed up some cool spiral staircases to the tower at the top, with a view of the whole plaza. We then walked to La Vega, which is a huge produce market, and bought lots of delicious fruit that is currently making my mouth water, like blueberries, grapes, and mini kiwis (which David spotted after he returned to the U.S. in Whole Foods, called “kiwiberries”).

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On Saturday, we left Santiago to go to La Serena, Chile! La Serena is in northern Chile (though only about ⅓ of the way down on the map), and apparently is the second oldest city after Santiago. It’s close to both the desert and the beach! It took under an hour to get there by plane (it’s about 300 miles north), and then we took a 10-minute taxi ride to our hostel in the center of the city. Two food items that are sold everywhere in every possible way in La Serena: papayas and figs. There was papaya jam, juice, candy, and everything else you could think of except for actual fresh papaya! There were all sorts of fig bars and candies as well. During lunch, we got to try papaya pisco sour, which honestly didn’t taste too different from a regular pisco sour (pisco is the most popular alcohol in Chile). We then walked about 40 minutes to the beach and walked along the cold-but-not-frigid water. For dinner, we went to a nice place that ended up costing the same as our mediocre lunch place – David and Hannah tried pisco sours (much better than at lunch), pebre (typical Chilean dip made of tomatoes, garlic, onion, and cilantro), and some typical Chilean dishes: pastel de choclo (made of ground corn and meat), porotos granados (made of corn, beans, and various vegetables), and humitas (ground corn and spices, wrapped in corn husk and boiled). Can you tell that Chileans like corn, especially ground corn? And I’m not the biggest fan. The best and most exciting part of this day started at night – we did an observatory tour at Observatorio Mamalluca! La Serena is one of the best places in Chile, if not the world, to see the stars (the best place is the Atacama Desert in the far north, where Jordin and I are going in April)! It took about an hour and a half to get there in our tour van, and the actual tour/viewing was from 11pm-1am. As soon as we got out of the van and looked up, I was speechless – I’ve never seen a sky so full of stars like this in my entire life. Additionally, the new moon was that night, which means the sky was as dark as it could possibly be and we could see even more because of it. We saw THE MILKY WAY (called the “Vía Láctea” and “Camino de Leche” in Spanish), the Southern Cross (doesn’t exist in the northern hemisphere), Orion (this is visible from both hemispheres, unlike the majority of constellations), Jupiter, and many other smaller constellations. It was incredible! We tried to take a few pictures, but none of them really turned out, and regardless, can’t even begin to compare to the view in person.

We arrived back at the hostel around 2:30am, and slept really well until we had to wake up at 7:15 for our second tour in La Serena: to the Isla Damas. We learned that there had been a 5.0 earthquake at 6am, just 100 kilometers/60 miles north of La Serena – Jordin woke up when it was happening and said it felt like “a nice Chilean lullaby”. For Chileans, a 5.0 earthquake means nothing – it’s considered a tremor. Our tour van picked us up around 8:30, and throughout the trip northwest to the coast (and through the desert!), we saw a variety of animals: guanacos (in the llama and camel families), little foxes, an owl, and condors. This was also the day of the partial solar eclipse, at which I glimpsed for a nanosecond and then never looked back – it was incredibly bright. Once we arrived at the coast, we got in our small boat for the island tours! Our group was about 15 people, plus our guide and a few people to manage the boat. We drove all around the first island and saw more animals (all while we stayed on the boat): penguins! 3 types of cormorants (birds)! Sea lions! An otter! Dolphins!! It was awesome. Then we drove to the second island, Isla Damas (literally translates to Ladies Island – where is Isla Varones?) We all got out of the boat and had an hour to explore the Isla Damas – we walked on a path around the perimeter of the island, then climbed to a little viewpoint. It was such a cool experience to be on this tiny little island in the Pacific Ocean! Just a mere hour away from shore, but an awesome realization nonetheless. After getting off the boat, our whole group went to a restaurant to eat lunch, and there was a fig tree in bloom! We took a few figs for the road and they were delicious.

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On Monday, we wandered around the town of La Serena to see some churches, one of which was the oldest building in La Serena. We all did some shopping at the artisanal fair right near our hostel, as well as the artisanal/food fair a few blocks away. Eating lunch at an outdoor market means you want to try EVERYTHING, so we did, and we all shared. We tried sopaipillas, which is a grilled circular bread (similar to pita) with avocado, pebre (a sauce similar to pico de gallo: tomato, onion, garlic, hot pepper), and merken (the best and super popular Chilean spice: smoked hot pepper) on top; fresh juices, and humitas (ground corn and onion and spices, wrapped up in a corn husk and then boiled).

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Jordin and I being twins at the airport in La Serena.

Our flight back to Santiago was in the late afternoon, and because we kept David and Hannah’s suitcases in our house while we were in La Serena, we went straight back to our house and had dinner with our host family! It was so much fun – we talked about all sorts of things, especially the Chilean food and drink that David and Hannah had tried, and it came up that they had yet to drink a terremoto, one of the most popular drinks here. After dinner, I took Hannah and David for a walk around the neighborhood, and when we got back to the house, Aly had gone out to the supermarket to buy pineapple sorbet to make everyone terremotos! So we all sat down again over snacks and terremotos, and Hannah and David didn’t head back to their apartment until after midnight. Before we even brought David and Hannah to our house, I knew that David and Sergio (host dad) would get along well if they spoke the same language because they’re both extremely friendly and crack a lot of jokes – but they got along splendidly in their two different languages. Even though the night was a lot of translation (David doesn’t speak Spanish, but kept incorporating French and Italian words and accents to make up for it, and Hannah hasn’t studied Spanish since high school yet somehow remembers everything and has an amazing accent), we all had a wonderful time, and we were laughing and even dancing throughout the night.

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However, when we arrived at our house before dinner, Aly and Sergio told us that there had been a storm up in the mountains the day before (the only time it rains in Santiago is when I’m not there…actually) that caused some destructive flooding and mudslides. They told us that at least four people died, and 19 people were missing. For more than 24 hours, the water for the entire city of Santiago was cut off – people were notified beforehand so they could stock up on water from the tap, but all water (and almost all drinks) in the supermarket were gone, we couldn’t shower, and we couldn’t wash our hands regularly (Aly and Sergio filled the bathtub with water from the pool and we used a small bucket of that in the sink). Especially because it’s back-to-school time here and Monday was the first day of the academic year for many schools, some schools were suspended by the government if there was no drinking water in that region. The water returned on Tuesday morning, but this was still scary news to return to after a weekend away. Here’s a NY Times article about it.

On Tuesday, David and Hannah’s last day in Chile, we went to the Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos (Museum of Memories and Human Rights). This was my third time going – the museum takes you through the rise and end of the dictatorship under Augusto Pinochet from 1973 through 1990. If you want to learn more about Pinochet’s dictatorship and what happened in Chile during this time, I’ve heard about the 2012 film called No – I have yet to see it, but it has been recommended to me so I will recommend it to you! Here’s the Wikipedia page.

After the museum, we had lunch at the first restaurant in Chile that I’ve seen with a salad bar (I was happy), walked around Providencia and Las Condes to see two different parts of the city (as we had mostly been in Santiago Centro), and finally returned to the apartment area to go to a big craft market that’s perfect for souvenirs. When Jordin and I were in Valparaíso and Viña del Mar with our friends, we learned about a traditional Chilean statue with some interesting features – it’s made of wood and resembles a Mapuche (an indigenous tribe from Chile). When you lift the body, a penis emerges from underneath – our friends explained that this is often a gag/joke gift to people, but they’re everywhere in Chile. I had no idea how common they were until our friends pointed them out to me, but as soon as we got to this craft market in Santiago, I suddenly saw Indio Pícaros EVERYWHERE. The reason I’m telling this story is because one stall that was selling them had a few different sizes (lined up like Russian dolls), as well as one that was probably four feet tall. There was a sign that said it cost 500 pesos (about 75 cents) to take a picture, and 20,000 pesos ($30!) to lift it! It probably weighs between 50-100 pounds, so it makes sense that the stall owner wants to be careful with it. But I have no interest in seeing what is underneath, nor do I want to spend 20,000 pesos on that.

All in all, I had an amazing week with David and Hannah – every time I show the city to someone else, I learn so much more than I did the first time, and I learn from the people to whom I’m showing it (especially when one is an architect). Thanks for coming!!

Today, Jordin and I hung out with two of our best friends here, Valentina (26) and Cristían (20) who are siblings, and together we call ourselves “los hermanos” (the siblings). The four of us get along really well and I absolutely love them. Jordin and I met their parents for the first time tonight, and even though it was only for a few minutes, they were so warm and welcoming towards us and said they’d already heard so much about us, and it just made me feel warm and happy. I’m so thankful to have met such awesome people here! We had a Disney movie day – we watched Mulan (in Spanish), and Moana (FANTASTIC – and I could hear Lin-Manuel Miranda’s style in every single song). Here’s a photo of Los Hermanos in Viña del Mar:

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Thank you to YOU for reading! Please reach out via email/Facebook message and fill me on how you’re doing, anything you’d like to see more of in the blog, or suggestions for things we should do here in our final 2.5 months! Besos y abrazos!