Travel Shots: Sunrise Over Santiago

Last Monday I flew out from Philly and found Scott, another volunteer, during my layover in Dallas. Scott and I hit it off immediately. He is one of those people that is so nice it makes you suspicious, like there must be something wrong with him. But, as he has proved over and over again as I’ve gotten to know him these last two weeks, he has a heart of gold and is probably one of the last specimens of chivalry on the planet. Since the flight was relatively empty, we were able to spread out a bit and I managed to sleep a few hours until Scott nudged me, waking me in time to watch the sunrise over the Coastal Mountain Range of South America.

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There was a sliver of sunshine sandwiched by heavy clouds. The clouds were thick and stretched forever in continuous rolling waves, interrupted intermittently by sharp, frozen mountain peaks. We must have descended through three minutes of clouds until the lights of Santiago were finally visible.

Elsa Maxwell, our CIEE coordinator, picked us up after extensive customs procedures and swine flu laden warnings. Everyone was wearing masks and we had to fill out a survey indicating whether or not we suffered from a cough or a fever. Worthless precautions. Elsa is from Minnesota, but her rapid Spanish speaks nothing of the Midwest. She seemed kind of tense the first few times we met, but we learned that she has a lot on her plate. She leads orientations every couple weeks, works full time, and is simultaneously working on her Master’s thesis in Latin American Studies. Later, we would joke that she needed to drink two or three pisco sours (the national drink) before meeting us to relax her tiny frame. With Elsa were two of the other volunteers, Laurel and Kelly, who despite long flights were charming and in great spirits. I was instantly enamored with the girls and was thrilled to get settled in a little hotel apartment where we would get to know each other better.

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Orientation basically revolved around lunches and dinners at some of the best restaurants in town. One, called Liguria, revolved slowly like the Space Needle, so that we could see all of Santiago. These meals were enormous, sometimes with three courses and always a dessert. When we weren’t eating lomo all pobre (frenchfries, a cut of steak, and two eggs sunny side up), we endured classes on culture adaptation, how to survive the Chilean school system, lectures on how to live with a host family, and an intense Chilean Spanish course.

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In our free time and often with Elsa as a guide, we we able to tour many parts of Santiago. Since we were such a small group, we were even able to hike up the heal of the Andes, a small mountain called Cerro San Cristóbal. At the very top of this mountain, there is a clear view of the Andes and a glowing white statue of the Virgen Mary that overlooks all of Santiago. Among the echo of chanting monks, many locals came to the Cerro San Cristobol for a romantic afternoon or to pray.

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The first night of Orientation, we went out to an area of Barrio Providencia filled with bars, but they all had incredibly cheesy decor. We finally decided on “BedRock” which was basically la casa de Fred Flintstone. The Bedrock personnel were incredibly friendly, offering free pisco sours as soon as we sat down. Within a half hour, some locals coerced me into dancing, and I bashfully complied. As I feared, my local dance partner soon realized that I can’t dance. Instead of a graceful, sexy partner, he had to break the salsa?/tango?/cuaca? steps down and count out loud so I wouldn’t bruise his feet. Laurel and Kelly, however, proved to be very skilled dancers and John and Scott were not shy with the karaoke machine.

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A few more nights out with basically the same plot line except that Cami finally arrived (my dancing didn’t improve much though) and we were shipped out of our hotel. We were piled into a hostel that was in the center of the city, close to La Moneda and Barrio Bella Vista.

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La Moneda (above) is the center of the city where the colonial government buildings still fully function and Bella Vista (below) is an artsy, bohemian area where Pablo Neruda built a secret getaway for himself and his mistress. We toured Neruda’s house, which is filled with hidden passages and incredible artwork.

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We would visit Bella Vista and its colorful mural-covered walls many times in the next week, but in the meantime, our clan grew from six to fifty after meeting the other volunteers in the “English Opens Doors,” program (EOD).

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Spotlight: The Beginning

The day I had been dreading all year finally came and passed in a montage of blue robes, family photos, and lots of wine. Although the PSU Liberal Arts ceremony was almost two and a half hours long, it felt shorter thanks to constant, sardonic texting with Kerri, my little B.A.Economist. After a couple painful hours, Chris came with my family to Spats for dinner where we had fabulous meals and I almost set the restaurant on fire. Luckily, I have reflexivos increíbles, and I smothered the flaming napkin before it matured to reach its potential.

After two bottles of wine and some créme brulee, Chris and I braved the pouring rain to find Candace and celebrate something a little less depressing than graduation: her 21st birthday! Finally. When we got to Candace’s, she was already celebrating with some of her best friends. The 21 year olds swept her away around 11:45, just in time to buy her first legal drink at the Phyrst. Basically the entire racquetball team was there in addition to room mates and close friends. As Candace has been my primary motivation for all underage appreciation nights in the last year, it was amazing to finally incorporate her into the world where you get to pay for your own drinks at any watering hole. She will learn quickly that it is expensive to be 21.

Although Candace was a hot mess most of Saturday night (for evidence, see photos on Facebook where she looks very much like a relapsing drug addict), she was impressively composed on Sunday morning for graduation brunch. My parents stayed in a friend’s house outside of town, so my friends accompanied me to brunch there, where we drank salty Bloody Mary’s, strong mimosas, and ate warm quiche and fruit. Well…I guess the mimosas weren’t very strong at first. About a half hour into the little gathering, my mom noticed that none of the champagne had been opened yet. As I was the designated bar tender, oddly enough the blame was quickly placed in my name. Who knew I was to mix the drinks myself and not just poor from a seemingly prepared pitcher? Once we got that straightened out, however, the morning progressed smoothly.

Saying goodbye to everyone was the worst. First was Grace, then Amy, then Candace. Shortly thereafter were the 604 girls, Alex, Libby, Lauren, and Lindsay. Tuesday I said goodbye to Michelle and Kerri on my way out of an empty apartment. Most of the drive home I cried, trying to keep it together so as not to further aggravate my already vulnerable driving habits.

When I finally had myself more or less composed, a serenade by Amy Winehouse was crassly interrupted with a very familiar set of circumstances: flashing lights, black and white sedan, and an obnoxious wailing siren. I glanced in disbelief at my speedometer, reading 72 mph. I’m getting pulled over for 72 in a 65? Really? The levee of tears broke before the officer even opened his car door. He approached my window with an air of self importance and a funny little state trooper hat. Despite my feminine charms, the merciless police officer was resolved to punish me as I was actually in a 55 zone. To ensure that I didn’t revert to my former, devilish ways, the devoted law enforcer proceeded to follow me at a pace of 54 mph for the next six miles, where the road subsequently turned to 65 mph. I had been so close to impunity, it was revolting.

When I got home, I spent the first night and day unpacking and organizing my room, and then of course, repacking for Chile. Lauren, Sara, and Emily came to keep me company, and we had so much fun telling stories and reminiscing until late in the evening. Wednesday morning came quickly and I found myself on a plane to North Carolina. Chris was waiting for me at the airport and when I stepped into the sun, I felt the frosty Pennsylvania spring thaw instantly. But then again, when Chris is around, I always get that feeling, so it may be completely unrelated to the weather. Corny, but true.

Chris had to work the next two days, but I had plenty to do. And by that I mean, I slept and went to the pool. A few days in the sun caused what I like to call a “rosy glow,” and others might call “sunburn,” but since I am going directly to another winter in Chile, I felt justified in the indulgence. We had most dinners with Chris’ roommate, Jared, and Jared’s girlfriend, Elizabeth. They were great additions to the good company of grilled steaks, burgers, veggies, and wine. One night we went out to a bar that Chris had been bragging about for months, called “The Saucer.” Every Wednesday the Saucer serves a specialty beer in a collectible glass. The beer that week was somewhat like a heiferweisen and it came in a pretty goblet that I ended up forgetting at Chris’ despite my determination to collect a Saucer cup of my own.

After a few tranquil days with Chris and an impossible goodbye, it was back to the madness of preparing for Chile and stomaching more of the same. As soon as I got back into Lancaster Saturday night, I met all the girls out for dinner at Annie Bailey’s, a restaurant and bar in Lancaster. We sat outside, braving the potential thunderstorm, and were entertained by good conversation, $2 pints of Blue Moon, and a live band. We had so much fun together and later in the evening many Lancaster loves came out to play.

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On Sunday, my mom kept asking me if I was nervous. I honestly thought I should be, but I wasn’t at all. I was just excited to meet new people, travel, and learn another language. I couldn’t wait for the confusion, the mishaps, the miscommunications that accompany traveling. But, most of all, I was excited to do something I am proud of—to give something, English—that actually has the power to improve the prospective opportunities of the next generation of Chileans.

When I had gone over my check list ten or twenty times, I finally felt prepared for departure.