Spotlight: La Segunda Semana

I feel like I’ve been here for months, but en realidad it hasn’t even been two weeks. The Chilean people are so welcoming, but are quick to spot a gringo. Until now, I thought gringo had a negative connotation, but in Chile, it is like being a celebrity. All of the restaurant owners want to welcome you, people stop and stare at you on the street, and when you “no habla español muy bien” with a foreign accent, they thinks it’s adorable. It also helps being blonde, despite that it’s not my real hair color. I don’t remember what my real hair color is though, so I am going to take advantage of being a rubia. When people here see blonde hair and blue eyes, they start talking to you very slowly in Spanish, but then quickly forget if you can answer one or two questions competently.

While in downtown Santiago, the blonde issue became more apparent. The first day that we were in town, Laurel, Kelly, and I (all blonde) ventured out to find a hole in the wall restaurant where we could eat lunch. Without much effort, we wandered into “Donde Zacharias,” where we were instantly greeted by the waiters, the cook, and the manager.

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They helped us with the menu and told us that we must try a “completo,” (above) if we haven’t yet. A completo, as we found out, is a hot dog covered in guacamole, tomatoes, lettuce, mayo, ketchup, and mustard. It is huge and impossible to eat. It even comes on this little plastic stand to keep it from falling apart, but regardless of its messy nature, it quickly became a staple in my diet.

On our walk back to the hostel, we had to pass a large group of adolescent boys. As we approached, we weren’t sure what was going to happen, but we knew there would be whistles or some kind of vocal acknowledgment. What we didn’t expect, however, was that the twenty boys would part completely down the center and would applaud and shout “I love you,” as we walked through the group, continuing the applause until we rushed around the corner, embarrassed by the flattery.

That night we went out to a bar in Bella Vista with our new volunteer friends. There are 45 total volunteers, all in their twenty-somethings, so we caused quite a scene at the bars, taking flaming shots and dancing without rhythm. By the end of the week there had been three hospital visits, one resulting from an alcohol-induced seizure…. It was pretty sobering to see someone’s body just collapse on them, but luckily Owen was okay and he is still able to participate in the program.

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Even though there were cases of “excessive living” the first couple of days, as soon as orientation got under way, everyone settled down for the most part. Since the wine is so cheap here, about $2-4 for a handsome Carmenere (Chile’s most famous wine), we drank wine at dinner each night and spent weeknights playing cards, ping pong, pool, and simply chatting.

Our orientation schedule was typically filled to the brim with repetitive courses on how to teach, what to teach, and more Chilean Spanish. Much of it was already covered the week before in CIEE orientation, so I spent a lot of time honing my doodling skills and writing post cards (check your mail in a couple weeks).

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Every evening after class though, Cami, Laurel, and I would explore Santiago in our own vein: through shopping. We went to many department stores and artisan markets, where retail therapy and hand made jewelery relieved us from the long orientation sessions. We also visited a few museums, strolled through Parque Forestal (below), and walked to the top of Santa Lucia before sunset (above), so we could see the orange and amber hues embrace the city before nightfall.

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Back at the hostel I either used my free time to Skype those of you who are computer savvy, or plan trips to take over our winter break with Laurel and Cami. We have two weeks off from teaching at the end of July, so Cami, Laurel and I at the very least, are planning on going to the beach and to the Atacama desert as well as to Buenos Aires, Argentina. I can’t wait to travel, but in the meantime every day here brings something new and exciting.

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The last day was kind of crazy. We explored the fish market and fruit/vegetable markets where the vendors were very friendly. Everyone whistled and said “Hello, I love you,” and called us Barbies. Interesting experience, but it reminded me very much of the Mercato Central in Florence with its colorful fruit everywhere and bright green vegetables sprouting out of every stand.

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After shopping at the market and trying a “cactus fruit” that was good despite its overabundance of seeds, we went to a famous restaurant called “La Piojera.” There were live donkeys outside and a live band inside. Their specialty drink is called a “Terremoto,” or “earthquake,” (above) so you can imagine it was pretty strong. After one of these, we were a little too tipsy to find our way back to orientation and ended up almost an hour late. Luckily, others were late or had blown it off entirely, so there were no consequences. It’s weird to feel like a student again, or at least accountable to anyone other than myself, but I guess that will be even more of a reality when I have a job. Ha! A job.

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That night, EOD held an aseno (barbecue), where there was so much food and wine, no one knew what to do. At the aseno we danced for hours and then went out to discotech in Bella Vista where there was a live band in one room, karaoke in another, and overpriced drinks everywhere. Since it was our last night together before being sent all over Chile, we stayed out until four or so, only to wake up at eight and pack to move to our host regions. After spending a week in very close quarters with the volunteers, it was hard to say goodbye to them. But, since they are dispersed all over Chile, there is an added incentive to take weekend trips and visit their host regions. In the morning, myself and my fellow CIEE volunteers would leave for Rancagua, only an hour south of Santiago.

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Kate Springer

Freelance writer and editor based in Hong Kong. Contributor at CNN, Forbes Travel Guide, BBC Travel, Fodor's Travel Guide, superfuture, Tatler, and more.

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