iSantiago

This weekend I journeyed to Santiago to meet up with some family friends, the Otter family (Dan, Vicki, Danielle, Christian, and Katie), who have been traveling in South America and just arrived in Chile fresh from the Galápagos Islands and Machu Picchu! How cool is that? Here is a glimpse of our weekend in the city and in Casablanca Valley, through the eyes of my iPod:

The bus ride there wasn't pretty at all...sike.

I went on a bus tour of the city! Super-tourist alert!

The Andes capped in snow. Magnificence.

Didn't go inside, but the architecture was lovely.

Translation: Central Market.

Further Translation: Nom.

Gilded bank door. Apropos.

 

Family moment.

 

La bandera de Chile.

 

The student strike in Santiago (more on this in another post).

 

I don't know what this building is, but I like it.

 

This goof's name is Dani. She was a bit chilly in Chile (overused pun? Never...).

 

THIS IS REAL. Special shout-out to Sarah Byerley and the awkward alpaca.

 

Riding up the funicular up to Cerro San Cristóbal, Santiago's largest park.

 

View from the top: Sunset.

 

View from the top: Night.

 

Fairy lights dotted our walk back to the hotel.

 

The next day we went to Casablanca Valley (wine country) and found Viña Casas del Bosque, described by Lonely Planet as having "fabulous wines and peaceful surroundings." They were right.

 

They also had a restaurant.

 

So we ate lunch. Pictured: Sandwich with pork, caramelized onions, bell peppers, lettuce, and rosemary mayonnaise. Not pictured: cream of pumpkin soup, mini ricotta empanadas, Cabernet Sauvignon Gran Reserva 2009, chocolate creme brulee, and coffee.

And it was a beautiful day, to boot!


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Mendoza’s Daily Affirmation

Saturday morning I woke up early, overly enthusiastic and bursting with energy despite my lack of coffee intake. Why? Because, dear reader, Saturday morning I embarked on a trip to Mendoza, Argentina, to spend a long weekend there with four of my friends (Amelia, Emma, Khanh, and Helen).

The cool thing about this trip is that even though I am currently studying abroad in Chile, I was able to take a vacation to Argentina. That is right, a VACATION. I was so giddy about this fact, that I proceeded to exclaim it with gusto at every given opportunity to my traveling companions with an enthusiasm equal to that of Jessica from her popular youtube video, which if you haven’t seen, you much watch immediately (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qR3rK0kZFkg). Thus, “Guys! We are on vacation!” became my first daily affirmation of the trip.

To get to Mendoza we took a bus, which must traverse the Andes in order to cross the border between the two countries. The bus ride was about six hours, plus an extra hour or two to make it through customs, which is on top of a mountain. We couldn’t have asked for better weather that day; the views were spectacular.

We arrived in Mendoza late in the afternoon and headed straight to our hostel, a cute little place called Hostel Lao that was just minutes from the bus station. As soon as we got there we knew we had chosen the right place to stay. Not only was it an adorable, cozy, converted house, but also right away Mike, who owns the hostel with his wife Celeste, made us feel absolutely at home. He checked us in and gave us the low down on a bunch of great restaurants and shops in the area, marking everything down on our map. When he finally handed the map back to us he said, “Wow, it looks like a crazy person drew this map,” as it was so covered with notes and arrows. But it certainly paid off, as we heeded his advice and headed straight out to get ice cream at an “heladería” just blocks from the hostel.

At this point, I must mention something rather important. One of the main goals we had for coming to Mendoza was to eat. A lot. We had heard over and over again that if we went to Mendoza we had to take advantage of the meat (read: steak), ice cream, pasta, chocolate, and wine. Since a vast majority of what we wanted to eat was somehow related to products derived from cows, we developed our second Daily Affirmation for Mendoza: “I…like…my…whole…COW!” (which, if you have watched the aforementioned video, will actually make sense.) I digress.

So our first excursion in Mendoza was to eat ice cream, which was an excellent call. I got dulce de leche (which is much less sweet than the manjar equivalent in Chile, I am happy to report) with brownie and coconut. The coconut tasted so fresh, like real coconut, and had shaved coconut in it. Nom. While we were there, we ran into a few students that we had met in the hostel that are currently studying abroad in Santiago, Chile, and like us, were spending the weekend on vacation. After finishing our treats, we all headed to Plaza Independencia, a main plaza in the city that is typically bustling with artisan fairs, but that night also boasted a painting exposition. We meandered around the artisan stands, and I ended up chatting with a lady that was selling really cool paintings on recycled paper. I bought a small one about the size of a postcard, after she had explained to me the designs origins in pre-colonial Argentina. As we were chatting I mentioned to her that I was studying abroad in Valparaíso for the semester. She excitedly told me that next month she would actually be selling similar work in Valparaíso, but with designs based on Chile rather than Argentina. I gave her my email so that she could let me know when exactly she would be coming, and needless to say, I will definitely be making another purchase!

We headed back to the hostel at around 8:30 pm for wine, which the hostel provides for free every night, and relaxed a little bit before going to a steak restaurant that Mike described as having “the best steak in the world” for dinner. Argentinians don’t usually eat dinner until 10:00 or 11:00 pm, so we headed over at ten and soon discovered that Mike had not lied – our dinner was phenomenal. I had a pepper-encrusted filet mignon, and potatoes that were cooked in a cream sauce. We left the restaurant very full, and very content, and went to bed exhausted after our long day of traveling (and food).

We slept in the next morning and enjoyed the hostel’s breakfast spread before heading out. It was the South American equivalent of Labor Day, so even more was closed that would be on a typical Sunday, but we still had a good time exploring.

We started getting hungry around noon, and were lucky enough to find an open “paradilla” which can’t really be classified as a true restaurant, because upon entering all we found were two men, a counter, and a grill. Between the five of us we split and entire grilled chicken, twelve mini beef empanadas, and about a kilo of french fries. All for about $3.75USD. We took our piping hot lunch to a nearby park and ate it and watched ducks swim around in a lake.

As if our giant lunch wasn’t enough, we decided that we could definitely go for a sweet finish to the meal. We made our way to a little European-esque cafe and ate chocolate bonbons.

After our dessert we decided to head back to the hostel with the intention of just spending a few minutes for a bathroom break, but this led to that and Emma, Amelia, and Khanh ended up taking a little nap and Helen studied for a test she had coming up that week. I ended up playing bananagrams (kind of like speed Scrabble) with some American students I had met at breakfast that had just finished a semester in Buenos Aires. You wouldn’t believe how difficult it is to not play any Spanish words during this game (one of the rules is no foreign languages) when you have been thinking in Spanglish for the past 2 and a half months!

Early that evening we all headed back out again to Plaza Independencia. Although a good number of the little stands were closed for the holiday, a bunch we also open. As I have mentioned, Argentina boasts a great quality of edible cow products. It is also known for its inedible cow products, namely leather. All of us girls got beautiful hand-tooled leather belts from an artisan vendor, and I also got a hand-tooled leather bag. We also went to another nearby plaza that had a bunch of really detailed tiling.


That evening we searched (in vain) for more ice cream (all the shops were closed) and relaxed by the fireplace in the hostel. Very cozy.

We woke up on the early side on Monday morning, ready for our day of wine! Mendoza is famed for its vineyards, many of which offer tours and tastings to tourists! We ate breakfast at the hostel (after which I snapped some photographs of our digs) and got our morning ice cream fix before heading out, of course.

We took a bus out to Maipu, the wine region, and rented bicycles to aid in our wine tour. The first place we stopped had a museum attached, which was pretty interesting. The craziest thing for me was how big the barrels that hold the wine are! We also got a free wine tasting, which made it all the better.

The next place we biked to had no wine, but we got a hefty tasting of bread with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, olives, olive spreads, marmalade, dulce de leche spreads, and chocolate. There was also a shot of liquor included in each tasting – I chose a chocolate-hazelnut liquor that was so thick it was almost like slightly-liquidy Nutella, but burned your throat a bit on the way down.

We stopped at a couple other places: one was very small and reminded me more of a small farm or orchard than a vineyard. One place we just bought chocolate covered peanuts and then left. It ended up being way more biking than wining, but it was extremely fun. When we returned our bikes, the company gave us each a free (and sizeable!) glass of wine, which we enjoyed as the sun set before busing back to the hostel.

That night at the hostel, Celeste’s mom made dinner for all of the guests at the hostel. There was a lot of pasta with marinara sauce, a lot of meat, a lot of wine, and a lot of laughs and good conversation. The perfect way to end a perfect trip.

We left the following morning and got back into Viña in the late afternoon. I was sad that my vacation was over, but happy that it had happened.

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Rabuco

Friday morning I boarded a bus and left Viña del Mar bright and early to head to Rabuco with my program. Rabuco is a small town about an hour east from Viña that is nestled right in the Chilean countryside – if I had to choose one word to describe the trip, it would have to be “quaint.”

When we got there we split into different groups, depending on if we wanted to go to a workshop to learn how to make Chilean sopaipillas (fried dough) or tour a greenhouse. I chose the latter because, although slightly less delicious than a fresh sopaipilla, I absolutely love greenhouses. And plants. It is a shame that I am so inept at growing my own – I have killed or nearly killed every plant I have owned. Regardless, the plants did not seem to mind my brown thumb as I milled around with the man that owned the property and my group learning about the process that they go through from seedling to selling. And as much as plants dislike being in my care, they participated wholeheartedly as models in a flora-photoshoot.

After touring the greenhouse, we met up with the others that had gone to the sopaipilla-making class to head to an avocado and citrus packing plant. It was really interesting to walk around the plant. I don’t think I have ever laid my eyes on more avocado (or in Chile, “palta”) at once in my life.

After seeing all of this fruit we were getting pretty hungry, so we were beyond content when the group boarded the bus and headed to a ranch where we had a lovely country lunch of roasted chicken, quiche, avocado, rice, bread, salsas, and potatoes. Paired with some fresh pear juice and an apple tart, it was close to perfection. I was so hungry that I dived right into my meal before taking a picture of it, but my half-eaten plate gives you a rough idea of how tasty it was:

After lunch, we were introduced to Cami and Kevin, two Chileans about our age that are Cueca partners! Cueca is the national dance in Chile, and Cami and Kevin are about as good as they come. After demonstrating the dance for us, they taught all of us some basics, some of which I had already learned in my folkloric dance class. Even though we were all so full from lunch that we were ready to topple over at any moment, it was still a lot of fun.

After dancing, we all relaxed, played volleyball, did some relay races, ate (more) dessert, and got to know Cami and Kevin a little bit better. It was a beautiful day outside, so we stayed in Rabuco until about 6:00 pm, then headed home to beat the sunset. That night I relaxed and went to sleep on the early side, which was imperative for the next morning…I was going to be leaving from Viña del Mar, Chile, to travel to Mendoza, Argentina! To be continued…

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Seder Chileno

Yesterday evening was very special; I attended my first Seder – a traditional Jewish feast that marks the beginning of Passover. My friend Matt’s host parents are Jewish, and they kindly hosted a substantial group of CIEE students (some Jewish, some not) to have the meal in their home. I arrived a bit late, right when everyone was sitting down to begin, but before I took my place at the table I decided to make a quick trip to the bathroom. As I was drying my hands, I heard a crunch and upon looking down, saw a piece of matzah drop out of the hand towel. A bit confused, I grabbed the matzah, strolled back into the dining room, held it up for everyone to see, and explained my curious situation. The table burst into laughter, for apparently, right before I had arrived, they had explained the concept of an afikoman, where the oldest person at the Seder hides a piece of matzah and then, at a designated time, everyone goes searching for it. The first one to find it gets a prize. I, however, had happened upon it just moments after it was hidden, not during the designated searching period, so Jeff, the oldest, slunk off to hide the matzah…again.

Hence, my night started off with laughter, and it just kept pouring in. It was such a joyous night, filled with great (homemade) food…

…light painting…

…sing-a-longs…

…and lovely friends…

I even ended up finding the afikoman the second time around, as well! My prize? A dramatic poetry reading by my friend Jeff, who had hidden the matzah. Beginner’s luck, I suppose!

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Seafood, hippies, and other delights.

After getting back from Pucón at about 8 am Monday morning, heading to class at 11:45, and getting done at 1:30, I did not go back to bed, though I certainly was a bit sleep-deprived from the bus ride. Rather, several of my friends and I made the somewhat spontaneous decision to hop on a bus and head just north to a city called Horcón, the epicenter for Chile’s hippie movement back in the day. According to Lonely Planet, “these days peace, love and communal living are gone,” but left in their wake a plethora of seafood restaurants and a lovely beach. Obviously we were intrigued. Also, it was our friend Helen’s birthday and what better way to celebrate than with beach, seafood, and ex-hippies?

So we made our way there, and, after our hour and a half bus ride, we stepped out into this sleepy little beach town…and realized how sleepy it really was. I think this picture captures it:

As my friend Amelia put it, “this is the most random day trip. Ever.”

Regardless, we made our way to a coffee shop/restaurant right on the beach and refueled with pear juice and café cortado, wandered around an artisan fair, and found our way to Playa Cau-Cau, another beach in Horcón (fun fact: it used to be the only nudist beach in Chile, but now stripping is optional. We opted out).

Once we had made it to Playa Cau-Cau we were hoping to find a restaurant that we had read about in our trusty Lonely Planet, but to our disappointment, it was inexplicably closed. We shrugged it off however, and lounged on the beach for a while. I even broke out my harmonica to play “Happy Birthday” to Helen.

After a while we headed back in the direction from which we came to dine at a restaurant that had caught Maya’s eye. Good thing too…it was delicious! Maya got ceviche, Helen and Emma each ordered machas a la parmesana (clams bathed in a butter/cream sauce), Amelia ordered a crepe filled with seafood, and Evan and I each ordered paila mariscos, a giant steaming bowl of seafood soup topped with cilantro and served in a clay vessel.

The restaurant even comped Helen a birthday dessert before we took our very full bellies and headed back home, quite content with our mini-adventure.

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Summit, don’t plummet.

A plethora of exciting things have happened since my last blog post (my 21st birthday, for example!), but today I would much prefer to blog about my past weekend, which I spent in Pucón with my fellow CIEE students. 545 miles south of Valparaíso, Pucón is described by Lonely Planet as “boasting the best small-town tourism infrastructure south of Costa Rica.” While I definitely could extract some similarities between my time spent in Pucón and that in Monteverde and La Fortuna, Costa Rica, my first thought upon the sun rising (we took an overnight bus) was that I could definitely be back home in Nashville. There was just so much green! Being by the beach and so close to a city as colorful as Valparaíso is wonderful, but getting to escape to nature for a while was brilliant.

We got in at about 10 am, so we dropped our luggage at the hotel we stayed at, a collection of cozy little cabaña houses, and had some breakfast. Though we were all feeling a little drowsy from the semi-sleep that the twelve hour bus ride allowed, we headed straight for Cuarrehue, a Mapuche community that took us in for the day to teach us about their traditions, their fight for equality and autonomy, and their world view – “respeto por todo lo que existe” (“respect for all that which exisits”). They fed us a delicious lunch, which we ate around an indoor fire pit, and listened to one of the Mapuche men play music.

After lunch, we all split up to head to one of four workshops. I chose a textiling workshop during which I learned how to make yarn and work a loom! Since I love crocheting and knitting, it was incredible to see the process that makes their medium.

After our workshops, we learned to play a Mapuche game that is basically field hockey with a big rock instead of a puck and then we ate sopaipillas with the most amazing carrot/basil sauce that the cooking workshop had whipped up earlier that day.

That evening, everyone in my cabaña was pretty beat, so my friend Helen made a couple batches of oatmeal chocolate chip cookies and my other friend Dana made mulled wine. A few other friends came over and we ate and drank and had a few Beatles and Disney sing-a-longs before hitting the hay.

Getting a good night’s sleep was imperative, because the following morning I woke up at 6:00 am. Why? Because, dear reader, on Saturday April 2, I summitted  a 9,341 foot volcano. An active volcano.

Climbing this beast that answers to the name of Volcán Villarica was the most strenuous activity I have ever done. There was the option to take a ski-lift up the bottom part of the volcano, which I opted out of mostly due to pride. I climbed that entire volcano, from the base to the upper part, which is covered in 40 squared kilometers of glaciers. For the glaciated part, we attached crampons to our boots. I felt really hardcore. Probably because I was.

The summit of the volcano was probably my least favorite part. Although I was overcome by the sense of achievement and the view was breathtaking, the sulfuric fumes issuing from the crater also took my breath away…literally. I was wearing a ski mask and had a bandana tied around my face, and my throat still burned. But it was so worth it. All in all, the ascent took five hours and the descent about two and a half.

That night, though exhausted, my friend Marc and I decided to initiate a jam sesh, him on the banjo and I on the harmonica (which I was gifted by my friend Evan for my birthday and am slowly but surely learning how to play). There ended up being about eight of us, all sitting around singing along with the instrumentation. But only in the key of C, because I have a C harmonica. Fun fact: Marc and I have decided to start a band, called the Key of Sí. It is going to be big, get ready.

Sunday morning we got to get up a little later than the previous day, thankfully. We began our day by going on a tour of the area… Pucón continued to be gorgeous, as if that was a surprise. The macro setting on my camera got quite a workout!

We proceeded from our tour to some nearby hot springs, which, after almost eight hours spent on a volcano the previous day, felt like liquid gold. My muscles basically melted away. It was glorious!

Our day ended with dinner and laughter, and then we boarded our long overnight bus back home. Definitely a weekend for the books.

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Color me Sunday.

Spent a lazy Sunday wandering around Valparaíso, drinking in the amazing colors.

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