Monday, April 12, 2010

Machu Picchu

So this is a quick, single media note. I am in Aguas Calientes, Peru. I am still having a fight with my camera (not only is the focus off, the battery is totally wonky... did you get a warantee, Dad?). I did however manage to get a few really lovely snaps. And my friend, Daniela, who I met on Friday got some awesome ones. We walked up to Wayapicchu, which is the sacred mountain overlooking the city. It was about forty straight minutes of steep staircases in high altitude. So I'm exhausted. Fortunately, this town is called Aguas Calientes because there are natural springs here. So we're about to go sit in some geo-thermic tubs for the rest of the day. I am feeling really good right now. Still a bit preoccupied with logistics. But generally I have the feeling that everything is about to become really clear.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Onward, but mostly upward.

So today I arrived in Arica, my first stop on what is going to be a fairly whirlwind tour of Peru, Bolivia and Argentina. I basically didn't sleep last night because my flight left so early (but thanks again for the ride, Israel!) so my impressions of the city are pretty hazy. I basically fell asleep on the beach and then walked back to my hostel. Fittingly (and extremely annoyingly) the autofocus on my camera seems to be wonky. So while it's technically a malfunction, you should think of this photo as an expressive manifestation of my mental state.

Arica is basically built around this giant, sandstone hill. It sort of just looms out of nowhere and the city hugs the flats around it. It's pretty dramatic looking. To accentuate things there is a giant statue of Jesus on top with outstretched arms. It's hard to know who started the trend of putting giant religious statues on hills overlooking cities, but it's probably time to stop. I mean it's getting a bit hackneyed if you ask me.

I had a very informative conversation with the owner of the hostel and an amateur anthropologist about how I should proceed with my trip. It seems I will have to be pretty choosy about Bolivia. They have also really put the fear of god into me regarding altitude sickness. Because of my time constraints I can't make the recommended stop in Arequipa before going to Cusco. I will therefore be dealing with a fairly sudden altitude change of more than 4,000 meters*. So basically I could be completely incapacitated for my first days in Cusco. Which could potentially ruin my plans involving the salt flats of Uyuni. If I can't make it to the salt flats my back up plan is to spend an entire day swimming in the center of Lake Titicaca. Because I think it would be cool to be able to say I swam across an international border. I will also probably need the exercise after all the hours I'll have spent on buses.

*Originally I wrote this as kilometers. Which would put me very close to the moon, I suppose. Let this be a testament to my exhaustion. And embarrassing lack of comprehension of the metric system.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Arica or bust.

I will be getting on a bus in seven hours to take me to the Santiago Airport (it will be my seventh time there in 2010!). The plane will take me to Arica, a port city at the northern extreme of the country which was part of Peru until the War of the Pacific. Arica is known as the city of endless spring and I plan to spend the afternoon on the beach, getting into the vacation mode. Not that things have been particularly stressful or busy or non-vacation-like here in Santiago lately. But the weather has been pretty autumnal in the last week, so it will be nice to be back in the warmth. I am considering naming the volume of my memoirs that covers this year and a half period, Actually 500 Days of Summer.

After Arica I will take 18 hours of buses to Cuzco. People say it's a beautiful town and it's the jumping off point for Machu Pichu treks. I will probably be taking the faster, cheaper train option rather than the famed Inca Trail, but I'll consider the options once I'm there. After that I have 1675.33 miles to travel before the 19th when I meet my sister in Buenos Aires. I hoping to see as much of Bolivia as possible. The country's transportation is notoriously bad, so I'm sure that it will be extremely frustrating and uncomfortable at times. Which is great for you guys because frustration and discomfort mixed with loneliness is the recipe for great blogs! I jest, I jest.

I am honestly a bit nervous about being on my own for so long. At the same time, it's really exciting. The experience of living in Chile has been a pretty solitary one. Starting out not knowing many people and speaking almost no Spanish was a pretty significant hurdle to forming meaningful relationships. And while I still feel like I have a ways to go in that regard, my social life has definitely filled out over the last several months. There are many people I'll be sorry to leave. I am hoping to meet many more fellow travelers on the road.

I expect to be extremely glad for my sister's company by the final leg of the trip in Buenos Aires and Mendoza. Originally we were hoping she could come for longer, but the logistics are tough and it was all quite last minute. I am leaving my computer by taking two real books, an audiobook and a very empty journal to pass the time. I'll be in touch soon!

Wednesday, March 31, 2010


So it's been five months. And although I have some reservations about it, I have decided to come back to the US at the end of April. Right now my plan is to spend the next four weeks doing as much traveling as possible. I am hoping to see some of Argentina and Bolivia. I guess I got pretty discouraged with the job search. I realized that I really wasn't excited to be doing any of the jobs for which I might be qualified. I also began to see my return (originally scheduled for June) on the horizon. I knew that once I returned I would have to search for work once again. The three months for which I was seeking employment began to seem like a stop-gap. I am getting really excited for my trip. I am going to do very little planning and hope that my staying open lots of exciting possibilities will present themselves. And subsequently, of course, I will present them to you here.

Saturday, February 27, 2010


So my mom and I are safe and together. My cousin Dana is also safe and on the other side of Santiago. We'll try to meet up with her later today. The earthquake was incredibly scary. Many of the buildings in my neighborhood are very old and suffered some serious damages. My mom is staying in a hostel where a wall collapsed and quite a bit of debris fell from the ceiling. Right now we're not sure when she will be able to fly out. I'll keep everyone updated and write more about the situation here soon.

The church across the street from my building.

My street blocked off at both ends by rubble.

The apartment is covered in dust from the street.

Only minor damage in our building.

Thanks for all of the wishes. We're feeling very shocked and very relieved to be safe and together.

Definitive Judgements: Chilean Television

Every year, for about a week in February, Chile becomes obsessed with this music festival in Viña del Mar. Everyone talks about it. It's on every television screen, every night. Proportionally, it's probably equal to the combined popularity of the Olympics and American Idol in the US (interestingly the Olympics are on and no one seems to care/watch). And from what I've seen (at least one act the last four nights) it's terrible. Allowing for the fact that I didn't grow up with these singers, the majority are just not very good at singing. And don't even get me started on the comedy acts. They may as well be speaking Lao. And yet, everyone watches like it's the most exciting television event of the year. Here's indicative conversation of how very strange this phenomenon is for me:

Me: Did he just say "like a penguin in the bed?"

My Roommate: Yes. (Like it was obvious, like everyone has known that lyric all their lives, like lovers and penguins have clear similarities.)

Unfortunately it is not just the music festival of Viña. All of Chilean television is more or less an enigma. We changed the channel after the festival programingand the current show is a bizarre hybrid of Jeopardy and strip poker.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Mom Dirt

So my job has come and gone and I am living in Santiago. I know, that's a really lame update, but it is the truth. As with many of the jobs I have had in my life, my first employment experience in Chile taught me several valuable things about what I don't want to do for work. For example, I don't want to work in other people's homes. I don't want to work with nine year old children. I don't want a job with complete personal freedom. (As in: "Here are the books. Teach.") At a certain point I realized that the dread of going to work dominated my mood even when I wasn't working. And that is not why I came to Chile. But it was a valuable experience. And it motivated me to move to Santiago, which I am really enjoying.

Generally things feel like they're going really well. I get along great with my new roommates. In fact my roommate luck in Chile thus far has been exceptionally good. I have even stayed in touch with some of the people I decided not to live with in Santiago and I'm going to a barbecue at one of their houses tonight. I had a really encouraging job interview this morning with a company that wants to put me through a whole week of training and help me straighten out my visa. And my parents are coming this weekend.

Which brings us to this:

Although my new apartment is comfortable and my room has lots of light and a private bathroom, it is an old building. This provides for even more exciting plumbing arrangements (think an inch of water on the floor first thing in the morning my first week here...) Additionally, there is some very old stubborn dirt around. Generally things are quite clean, but certain corners are a bit scary. And one of those corners is my shower. To give you an idea, I thought the shower was clean after the cursory bleach-based cleaner and sponge treatment I gave it before moving in. But yesterday while showering, I absentmindedly nudged the dark grout between the wall tiles with my finger. And it moved in one large brown chunk. This dirt is so hard, so thorough, that I thought someone had regrouted the shower using another color cement.

My parents aren't staying in my apartment (available accommodations here include sharing my twin bed and my yoga mat on the floor) but my mom and I are going to be traveling a bit (Patagonia!) after my dad leaves and it seems possible that she might need to use my shower at some point. While I can blissfully ignore gunky-grout, I have far too much pride to allow my mother to witness such filth. So after kicking off my interview-best, I spent the afternoon scrubbing the walls of my shower. As I write this my right arm aches from the exertion. It is certainly improved, but not perfect. I'll give it a bit more elbow grease tomorrow.

You can all look forward to non-computer photos, since my parents are bringing me a real camera to replace my stolen one. You can also look forward to the tale of my capturing and domesticating a penguin family (but really they'll domesticate me, teaching me to fall down with grace and the value of mating for life). And- I swear- more frequent posts.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Welcome to the Working Week

So it's been a bit of time since I wrote, but fortunately that's because I have a new job! That's right, after three months without working, I am finally back at it. Although my new position is basically the opposite of serving food and wine at Aroma. I responded to a job ad on Craig's List a couple of days after New Year's and about two hours later someone called to see if I could start the next week. It seems I am the only person in Chile using Craig's List. So far both of the inquiries I've made (my apartment and now my job) worked out pretty much immediately.

So the thing about this job is that it is in Santiago. And yes, that is a completely different city. But I felt like I was getting nowhere in Valparaiso and part of me has been longing for a bit more city life. Valpo is lovely, but in a city of 500,000 you tend to see the same faces and go to the same places every day. So for the last week I have been commuting two and a half hours each way to work about three hours a day. It's totally ridiculous and totally exhausting.

The job is "curriculum manager" for a tutoring company based in the Las Condes neighborhood of Santiago. So it's teaching, or more precisely tutoring. The company currently works exclusively with clients of Korean descent. So it's definitely a niche market. Right now there is no office, so I am making house calls. Like I said, it is completely different. I don't know if I like the job yet. It has certainly given my days some much needed structure. But I am often gone for ten or twelve hours at a time. And so, I have decided to move to Santiago.

The idea of moving again makes me vaguely nauseous. Even though I don't have too much stuff here, the process of finding a new place and getting to know new roommates seems particularly exhausting. So if any of you out there on the Internet have some great tips on affordable shared apartments in Santiago (preferably on or near the Linea 1 metro) please share!

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Resolutions: Dancing

I do not usually find myself making broad generalizations about Latin culture. I find Chilean culture with its particular eccentricities generally more notable, interesting and, at times, infuriating. However, I am prepared to say that Latin culture on the whole is much more enthusiastic about dancing than my own (that is, Irish-American from the northeast United States). While "going out" and "partying" in New York often involved some bopping around to music, here dancing is the goal, the focus of many evenings. And I'm not talking about goofy gyrations to Mary J. Blige or interpretive arm flailings to Tina Turner. This is the kind of dancing that requires a partner. And everyone seems to be able to do it but me.

I'm not going to outright blame my parents for this. They read this blog, for one thing. And for another, it is simply not within our cultural norm to rear children to know the difference between salsa, merengue and cumbia. That said, I have vowed to myself several times on the dance floors of Valparaiso that my children will not suffer the same fate. How do I get my hips to do that? And where exactly do I put my weight? How can one even begin at the ripe age of twenty-six to learn the whole system of dancing?

On New Year's Day I found myself once again surrounded by people eager to dance. And despite my pleas of being tired (I had only slept between the hours of 9am and 1:30pm) and hungover (I drank rum!), I was peer pressured into participating. Though I suspect that after seeing me dance, they would have let me stay home had there been more girls for partners. And although I think my dancing might have suffered a bit due to the extreme inebriation of my partner, the whole experience was enough to sign me up for a salsa lesson on the spot. Not that there are salsa lessons at this bar. Or even, anywhere else in the city as far as I know. But I couldn't help but look around and notice all the places other people's bodies were moving that mine wasn't.

This scenario has become such a source of distress and discomfort in my life that I have vowed that 2010 will be the year of the dance. That is, the year I learn to dance. No more to hover in the corner! No more to claim fatigue! Ask for me in December and they'll just shrug and gesture towards the dance floor. And there you'll see me shaking all the right parts at all the right times and twirling like a dervish. It is resolved.