Saturday, March 31, 2012

Como se dice "bon appetit?"

I suppose the logical place to start would be with the basics. 

The basics here are pan (bread—and lots of it), palta (avocados), and mayonesa. The pan and palta are to die for. 

 The bread comes in all shapes and sizes, but most often not the sliced loaf-in-a-bag we’re used to in the States. I took some photos in a lovely little panadería (bakery) we found to show you how wonderfully unique the bread is. (Hannah, you would die of happiness here.) My favorite are the round ones in the front with the little dents in the top. They’re rather more dense than normal bread, but other than that I don’t know what they do that makes it so delicious. 

The other day Colin and I were walking around downtown, hungry but not wanting to eat a full meal, so we went to the panadería and bought two of the long skinny ones. (They look like either really small French bread or really huge hot dog buns.) We dubbed them Aladdin bread, mostly because we felt a lot like Aladdin walking around town eating a loaf of bread. However, Aladdin wouldn’t have had to steal this bread, because they only cost 100 pesos each. That’s 20 cents. Twenty. Cents. For a giant piece of Aladdin bread. 
It’s no wonder they eat so much bread down here. 


Also not surprising is the fact that avocados are so much more delicious here than in the States. I mean, when people point out palta trees along the side of the road driving home from the airport, what do you expect? I haven’t tried to buy palta yet, but I imagine it’s also cheaper here than in the states. Consequently, it comes on everything. Every sandwich or “hamburger” you order comes with palta on it, up to and including hot dogs, which is another story altogether. People even eat just bread with palta on it. My favorite version of salad I’ve seen so far is a bowl of tomato slices plus a bowl of avocado slices. Delicious. 

On a less delicious note, many people put mayonnaise on everything. Thank heavens my family doesn’t, or I would look like the pickiest eater ever. Colin’s family, however, has a bowl of mayonesa out at every meal, and nearly everything you order at a restaurant will come with mayo on it. The most interesting thing about mayonnaise is not that it comes on everything, but rather what it comes in. Which is bags. That’s right, not jars of glass or even plastic, but bags. I think the five brands of mayo on the same shelf also gives away how much they eat it.

This is not entirely related to food, but do you want to know what else comes in bags? Everything.  From condiments (mayo, but also ketchup and mustard sometimes), to jelly, to the powdered milk my family makes me every morning.  I even found powdered puré (delicious mashed potatoes) in a bag in the pantry the other day. After noticing this bag trend in the kitchen, I began to realize that it’s everywhere. Even the shampoo, hand soap, and laundry soap comes in bags. I’d be willing to bet that the amount of plastic in a bag versus a jar or bottle is different enough that it lowers the price, in which case they’re onto something here, but it still feels a little weird to squeeze mayonnaise out of a plastic bag. 

Powdered mashed potatoes, powdered milk, and jelly
Hand soap- there is also shampoo and detergent

Chilean Food
The Completo
Every time I have ordered a completo I have been
so consumed by eating it that I forgot to take pictures.
So I shamelessly stole this one off the internet. :)
What could be more logical than combining all the staples of your diet into one glorious conglomeration of deliciousness? Nothing. That’s why they created the completo. (At least, that’s my theory…) First, you take Aladdin bread and slice it open longways along the top. Then, place a large-ish hot dog inside (there will still be plenty of bread on both ends). Next, stuff chopped tomatoes anywhere you can find room without overflowing out of the bread. Then smear mashed-up palta over the whole thing till it looks like there’s probably more palta than bread. Finally (if so desired), dump blobs of mayo on top. The result is the most delicious hot-dog-related food you will ever eat. Especially if there is indeed more palta than bread. And the best part is that depending on where you go and how big your completo is, it will only cost you between $1.50 and $2.75. 

The Chorrillana
If the completo will be my downfall here, the chorrillana just might be Colin’s. You might be tempted to think that a dish based around French fries and meat has got to be American, but there is no equal to the chorrillana in the States. Essentially, it’s a giant plate of thick French fries, with sautéed onions and tiny pieces of fried egg dumped over the fries, topped with any (or every) kind of meat you can imagine. This beauty is a chorrillana especial, which has lomo, viennesas (hot dog), and something else I can’t remember. It’s amazing. Colin and I have tried to split one between the two of us twice, but we failed to finish both times. Splitting one between three people, however, seems to be the magic portion size. Me and some of the other gringas demolished our chorrillanas the other night. 


On a more cultured, less terribly unhealthy note, tea is very popular here. Because of the strong European influence in Argentina and Chile, they are the only two countries where tea is more popular than coffee. (It’s a good thing I don’t like coffee, because my options would essentially be Nescafé instant coffee, or a $5.75 cup of Starbucks.) Sometimes a taste of home is worth $5.75 though, and Colin and I have been to Starbucks once a week so far to taste home and do homework. 

However, in an effort to find a slightly more economical (and Chilean) place to do our homework and become regulars, Colin and I have been café-hunting! We had some success at Mango’s, where we ordered té nacional con leche. Who knew that “with milk” meant that you get a teacup full of hot milk, and a tea bag? Regardless of being totally not what we expected, it was delicious, and we hope to return. 

The Helado
While it is most certainly more American than Chilean, helado (ice cream) has become an important part of our time here. When Starbucks is too far away or too expensive, we found a little place right next to the Plaza where they sell soft-serve McDonald’s-style strawberry or chocolate ice cream for 350 pesos. That’s 71 cents for a delicious, sugary taste of home. As you can see, we enjoy treating ourselves!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

oh the places we'll go.

It’s been almost a week and a lot seems to have happened! The beginning of the week was rather slow. We didn’t have classes on Monday so we spent the day lounging and resting for the week's upcoming classes.

Tuesday was a good day. Our first class was cancelled by our teacher, who in fact sent me a text message to tell me that class was cancelled. (This could only happen because our class is so small, but it was strange to have a professor text me all the same.) Rachel and I still met up so that we could pick our carnet (Chilean identification cards) at the Registro Civil. We both didn’t actually get them until later in the week, but now we have them! -->

Afterwards, I went home with her and we had some sort of pasta with a cream sauce and a side of hot dogs. More lounging ensued and we caught the University bus up the hill for our business class at the Rodelillo campus. Again, it was hard to keep up with the professor. We even lost some cool points with him since we’ve never read anything by Kurt Vonnegut or A People’s History of America by Howard Zinn. (Obviously, we’re just uncultured gringos doing nothing with our lives.) Nevertheless, our teacher still seems nice, although his lectures are somewhat random.

Wednesday brought more class. Our teacher was back and feeling better so we pressed on. Afterwards, Rachel and I went back to my place for lunch. More lounging ensued. We both stumbled out of a nap later and decided to go to La Plaza de Viña and find some ice cream.

I love this plaza. Perfect mix of sunshine, shade, and stray dogs. 

In the plaza we tried some delicious soft serve and people-watched. We went home afterward to eat once and meet up later for a birthday party which some of our new classmates from our Tuesday night class had invited us to. After deliberating a while over our 8:20am class in the morning, we decided to go since we really haven’t made too many friends who are  hispanohablantes nativos. The party was at Me robó el corazón, which is close-ish to the mall. We only got a little lost finding the place, but arrived all the same.  It was fun. We got there a little before 11pm and started meeting new people. At one point, I told Rachel I thought the place was getting busier and she just laughed at me. When we left at 12:45am (which is still early for most Chileans, mind you) the place was packed and a line had formed outside.

Thursday, we have a class at 8:20am. I’m not trying to argue that this is early, but if you’ve ever had an early class, you can understand my plight. I woke up a little later than I wanted to, but still had time to get to class. Unfortunately, I waited a long time for a micro and when I finally got one, it was packed. What’s worse is that I was overcharged. I paid for a Student Bus Pass, which enables me to pay less for transportation at certain times. With the Student pass, I usually pay either 120, 160, or 180 Chilean pesos, depending on the bus. (This is between .25¢ and .37¢ in American dollars.) Without the pass, I would pay the normal fee of 370 Chilean pesos, which is around .76¢.  I got on a bus that claimed students paid 120 pesos, and gave the driver 200 pesos and my pass. He looked at me, the pass, back to me, and then gave me 20 pesos as change. I stared at him. He had cheated me out of 60 pesos, flagrantly. I didn’t say anything. How could I argue with a man who had a packed bus full of people about how this gringo needed his .12¢? But on principle, I was shocked. I went to class in a foul mood and later found out that since my bus pass is private, it might account for the higher fee. I’m not buying it.
Oh, and I was late to class. (Woe is me, woe is me, right?)

After class Rachel and I went to Starbucks do homework and I bought my $5.75 cup of Jo. (Yeah, it’s a lot more expensive here than in the States.) I love Thursdays after class at Starbucks, because it’s a chill place to do homework, use free WiFi, and of course, people-watch.

Later in the day we went to an orientation meeting at the elementary school we are volunteering at. Now, there were eight of us, so we had to take two colectivos, and as luck would have it, Rachel and I went in the one without our group leader who knew how to get to the school. The driver had assured her before we left he knew exactly where to go. Fifteen minutes later we showed up at the school and said goodbye to the man, only to find out from a niño that we were at the wrong one! Then, the school principal came out and started talking to us about how we’re actually pretty far from the correct school (Paul Harris Colegio) and how we can’t really walk there. This guy’s a saint, because he ended up driving the four of us stranded gringos all the way to Paul Harris in his own car. After thanking him many times we finally made it! We are excited to start volunteering this coming week and will post more about it later.

After the meeting, Rachel, Sarah, and I went to the mall and met some of our American friends to see Los Juegos del Hambre (The Hunger Games!) One of the perks of this country is that usually movies come out a day earlier here than in the States. So, 8 hours before any of my family and friends back home, Rachel and I witnessed the emotional roller coaster of Suzanne Collins. It was good, and the only drawback was looking past Spanish subtitles the whole movie.

Later, a few of us went out for some food and/or walking around to pass a few hours.

Friday, we had a make-up class for the class on Tuesday that was cancelled. (I can’t believe we actually had a make-up class. That would never fly in the U.S.) We met up with our friend Hillary to do homework after class and enjoyed the rest of the afternoon walking, talking, and eating more helado (ice cream).

Saturday was awesome. We had to be at the campus at 8:30 because 30 of us exchange students went on a tour of Satiago, the nation’s capitol!!! The trip was marvelous! This city is huge with around 7 million people and so many buildings. We didn’t have a tour guide, rather our International Student Coordinator, Carlos, walked us places and showed us cool stuff.

Palacio de Moneda - Similar to the White House, but the president doesn't live here.

Carabineros- Chilean Police Force
Caribineros on horses with spears. 

A neat statue in one of Santiago's many plazas. Might refer to the Mapuche people who are indigenous to Chile 

La Catedral de Santiago, Chile - It's beautiful.

Inside the cathedral. I was rushed, so these didn't turn out so well.

I'm beside myself with the beauty in this building.

We ended the day on a huge hill, Cumbre Cerro San Cristóbal, where you can look in any direction and see most of the city. I took some great shots, but there is an awful lot of smog in the air, which accounts for the haziness. My host father told me later the it’s the fourth worst city for air pollution, since most of the city resides in a valley. (Similar to Los Angeles and Mexico City.)
The view was spectacular after all though!

This is the view in almost every direction.

Smog. And they say cigarettes kill you fast.

At the top of the hill is a large sculpture depicting the Virgin Mary. There's a place to light candles and pray.

Today, Rachel and I found a church that we think we'll be attending the rest of our time here. It's a very small church and Pastor John is blind. His wife, Cathy, was extremely kind to us and we were happy to worship with fellow Chilean believers. I'm not exactly sure what kind of church it is, but they love Jesus Christ and they didn't mention the word "predestined" anywhere in the sermon. I think we'll be happy there. But more on that later.

"Que la suerte esté siempre de tu lado!"


Monday, March 19, 2012

The weekend I thought would be boring


After another long, hard day of lazing around the house with our families, Colin and I decided to go out and experience some Chilean food in downtown Viña. His family recommended a few restaurants, among them the deceptively-named “Africa.” So since we knew where that one was (it’s hard to miss with the giant elephant outside the second-story window), we headed that direction. 
While we were standing outside examining the menu, a waiter opened the door and said “Buenas tardes, ¿como están? …Do you guys speak English?” It turns out Camilo is Chilean, but lived in Virginia for 15 years until he moved back down here with his wife and one-year-old son. He was super nice and talked to us the entire time we were eating and we all ended up exchanging phone numbers so we could hang out sometime and so his wife could have some English-speaking friends. 

If you’ve ever been in a foreign country, you may have noticed that the fashions are often very, very different than in the States. And if you’ve ever been to Latin America, you might have commented on the fact that some things (like the music, occasionally) seem to be on a 10ish year delay from our culture in the US. So what, you may ask, is in style in Chile? None other than the Fanny Pack!! Perhaps just because they’re highly practical in a crowded city environment, but it seems that at least half the people here are rocking this ‘80s fashion statement. And one of our own has joined their number… Colin now sports a Chilean banano!

Colin's super awesome banano--all the rage in Chile!


Student Metro Card Part One: There is always an insanely long line at the Viña metro station customer service desk, and since that’s where I have to go to get my student discount card, I decided it would be way better to take a buddy. 

Hilary Gibson is also from OU!
So Hilary and I went Friday afternoon and when we had figured out what we were going to say, we walked up to the desk to ask what in the world we were supposed to do (since there was no apparent line, but a LOT of people waiting around), and the guy told us that there were no more numbers (Whatever that means?) and to come back very early the next morning. To be continued…

Friday was also Sidney’s 27th birthday! He invited me and Colin to his party, so we got to hang out with my host brother and four of his best friends all night. When I say all night, I mean the US version of all night (like til 2am), not the Chilean version, which is until 5 or 6am. All of his friends were very nice and tried to include us in their superduperfastSpanish conversations, but Colin and I mostly listened and learned since we couldn’t quite keep up. 


It also goes down the stairs, curves around a corner, and along a wall, then into the office.
Student Metro Card Part Two: The customer service desk opens at 9am, so Hilary and I figured that would be a good time to show up there. When we did, this is what the line looked like:

It did, however, move surprisingly fast, and within 45 minutes, we were again at the desk, handing over our passports and certifications. This time the lady asked for our phone numbers, gave us a slip of paper, and said they’d call us within 15 days. Fifteen. Days. ...So Hilary and I have learned to laugh at our adventures, but we hope this one will come to a close soon. 

Saturday evening, all the international students met up and went to a fútbol game together. While I think we were more excited about the churros we got to snack on in the stadium than the actual game, we did get to show our spirit when Everton scored two goals! 



Colin and I got to hang out with our new friend Camilo, his wife, Jennifer, and their precious son, Leo on Sunday evening. We took the metro out to Villa Alemana, where they live, and spent the evening playing with Leo, then sharing drinks in “downtown” Villa Alemana, then delicious Chilean food at their house, followed by watching Contagion til one in the morning. (As a side note, I’m never touching anyone or anything ever again.) Afterward, Camilo drove us to the bus stop so we could take a micro back home. It was a little scary standing outside by ourselves in Who-Knows-Where, Chile at 1am, but we’re pretty sure we were sent an angel in disguise. This precious vago showed up at our bus stop when sketchy people were driving by, and waited there with us nearly an hour until we finally got on the micro. We named him Angelito

We're pretty sure Angelito was an angel in disguise.

I hope every weekend is as exciting as this one was!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

An adventure

This week began the start of classes for most of us here in Chile, but thanks to the most excellent planning of Rachel Davenport neither she nor myself have classes on Mondays or Fridays! So what are two able-bodied gringos with nothing but time on their hands to do with a day of freedom? I'm glad you asked. We went to Concón. This is a town about 30 minutes north of Viña where there are some beaches and other stuff to occupy yourself.
founded, August 1541 - long before America was born. 
Now, this might not seem very interesting to some of you more experienced explorers, but I'm not very brave when it comes to going places I've never been/seen/heard about. For all I knew, I'd fall off the edge of the earth as soon as we left Viña city limits. Fortunately, we didn't. We paid the bus driver, found a seat, and drove off into the wild unknown.

We got off in some neighborhood and started heading downhill, beach-ward. Who knows how long we walked, but we made it to the Pacific soon enough. This was my first time at a beach beach. ¿Cachai? (Do you understand?) I've been to South Padre Island, TX and gulfed it up. I've been to Cape Cod and swam in harbor there, but this was my first experience with a body of water not engulfed, not harbored, a water sin fin.
Look how tan we are!

big, cold, and deep.
We walked around exploring a bit but had to be back in Viña at 6pm for a meeting about volunteering! It seems we have a few options as exchange students to give back to the city, but we are shooting for helping with an english class at a local colegio (high school). It would be a great way to be in contact with some Chileans, which we haven't been successful at!

Tuesday came and brought with it our first class! It's a basic Spanish grammar class but I'm grateful for the review and it makes me less frustrated since I at least can understand my professor. (she's also a twin!) Rachel and I went back to her place for lunch where we had this tasty bean soup. They resembled black-eyed peas and there was corn also thrown in the mix. Like I said tasty. (Remind me later to tell you more about Chilean cuisine.) 

At 6pm we were up at the main college campus for our business class with Chileans (or lack thereof). Our Professor is really nice, and even spent some time in the states, but boy is his spanish fast and hard to understand. (I speak, only for myself.) But, as I was saying, there is a lack of Chileans in our class. There are 7 Mexicans, 5 Chileans, 3 Estadounidenses, and 2 Peruvians. Very diverse, haha. Spanish has never made my brain hurt as much as it did that night, but we are staying in the class. How else are we going to learn, unless we struggle through it?

The rest of the week passed by without too much commotion. We went to the beach here in Viña, yesterday afternoon. I sincerely regret not packing a swimsuit. But the water is too cold to swim. Today was kind of a lazy day, since it's cloudy, cold and a little rainy. I hope this means Fall is coming soon-- a sentiment I apparently share alone. 

Adventure is out there!


Sunday, March 11, 2012

The first weekend

It's been a lovely weekend so far!
Sea lions. (lobos marinos)

On Friday, we took a tour of Valparaíso with the other international students. It was an adventure to say the least. Valparaíso (or Valpo, as they like to call it here) is the city right next to Viña, and since it's also across the water, you can see it from Viña. We started our tour with a boat ride around the bay, where we got to take pictures of the city from the water, and of even cooler things like lobos marinos (sea lions). 

We then followed our guide, Leo, through the center of town--the only flat part of Valpo, because it's man-made--until we got to one of the still-functioning ascensores. We rode up cerro artilleria (one of Valparaíso's 42ish hills) in the ascensor, which is essentially a diagonal elevator, designed in 1892 as daily transportation in this city of hills. 
Carlos (international student coordinator) and our guide, Leo

We took the long way back down so we could experience the city as does a native porteño (the name the Valparaisans call themselves because they live in a port city). Leo told us that since Valparaíso was essentially built one building at a time as the city grew up the hills, each building was built when, where, and however someone wanted to build it. Consequently, Valpo has a unique lack of congruency or order, and each building has a personality of its own. I loved looking at the unique architecture and colors! Leo also told us that one of the quirks of Valparaíso is that whether it's the result of being built on a hill or of earthquakes and tsunamis, nothing is quite at the right angle anymore. Then at the bottom of one hill, we caught a micro to the top of another, and practically flew up it at speeds I would not have thought possible for steep grade hairpin curves. The bus took us to one of the two hills in the tourist district, where German and British influence were very strong in the architecture. In this part of Valparaíso, Leo told us that nearly every house was a hotel, hostel, cafe, or boutique. And of course, they were all uniquely structured and painted. This time the descent on foot took much longer, but it's hard to complain when you're surrounded by slightly crooked, very colorful houses built practically on top of one another as far as the eye can see. 

oh Valpo, no rhyme or reason
When we did finally reach the bottom, we all got back on the metro to return to Viña, and Colin and I went to my house to eat and wait until our first party in Locos X Viña. Mama Lorena made us some absolutely delicious (and very unusual) hamburgers with palta (avocado) and tomatoes.

I'm pretty sure our experience at Locos X Viña was not the typical carrete (party) chilena, because practically everyone there was an international student. It was, however, very similar to Panam parties back home, except that now I'm 21. So since they gave everyone one free drink, I tried the Chilean specialty, Pisco, with Sprite. It was actually pretty good, but I'm pretty sure it was because they put less Pisco in the free drinks than in the ones you pay for. Anyway, after a long day hiking through Valpo, we were rather tired and went home early, but it was a good day all around.

These Chileans take their relaxing very seriously. On Saturday, after a long day of doing nothing, I went to Colin's house at about five o'clock. For hours I thought that no one else was home until about eight when people started to stir and gather at the table for once. Since my family doesn't really have once, this was my first one, and it was lovely. We all gathered around the table for a "dinner" of mashed potatoes (called puré), with bread, anything you could imagine putting on bread, and tea. The whole family sat and talked long after we had finished eating.

This morning Colin and I had a whole new adventure. We looked up a Church of Christ online that Colin had heard about from someone, and although google maps couldn’t tell us exactly where it was, we found the street it was on and decided to go there. So Colin asked Mama Patty how to get there from his house (it sounded rather complicated), and I asked Mama Lorena how to get there from mine. We decided to meet there in the morning instead of trying to get to some other location and then go together, so I left earlier than necessary to make sure I could find it. My trip was simple and although I missed my bus stop and had to walk back a couple of blocks, I made it just fine. Only there was no ½ Oriente 1108. I walked up and down the street and then around to where there was another ½ Oriente, but to no avail. The second time I walked by, a man came out to try and help me, but he’d never seen a ½ Oriente 1108 either. While I was looking, Colin called me to say that he’d gotten on the wrong colectivo and though he knew where he was, he wasn’t quite sure how to get to where he was supposed to be. So I pulled out my touristy map of Viña and we decided to just walk toward each other until we met. Along the way, Colin passed a different church, so we decided to go there. I’m pretty sure we walked in about 30 minutes late, but there was still someone at the door to shake our hands, and I don’t think they minded too much. It was very interesting to have to pay extra close attention to understand the service in Spanish, and on top of that to realize partway through that we had walked into a tiny Chilean Assembly of God. They were very nice and asked us afterward where we were from and if we spoke Spanish and if this was our first time in the church, and if we wanted them to prophesy over us. We said no thank you in more-broken-than-usual Spanish, and left, shaking hands on the way out.

We start classes this week, so wish us luck!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Amigos, Vagos, Vida

So, we took a test a couple of days ago to determine our spanish abilities. We both did pretty well! We were placed in the Intermediate Advanced group. Basically we are allowed to take the set spanish courses for the exchange students, then also some electives and/or classes at the main campus with Chilean students. The best part of all this is that we will not be having classes on Fridays!!! This has never happened to me before. All it took was leaving the country, haha.

Also, we had to register our student visas with the Registro Civil. It's a municipal building with a lot of overworked people and lots and lots of lines. We ended up waiting for around 3 hours but we did make a new friend. Her name is Estephani. 

She is super nice and is newly graduated from UVM (Universidad Viña del Mar) where we go! She works with international students and was happy to talk to us, albeit a little slowly. 
(Side note: we saw a Chilean man that was the spitting image of Barack Obama. Me, being the social gringo that I am, went up and told him who we thought he resembled. He laughed and said that when he wore a tie, he got it often. I figured it would be too rude to ask for a photo with him, so just use your imagination.)

Today we had an oficial welcome to the university from the Director of International Studies. Also, there was some folk dancing by some talented young ladies. Afterwards we had lunch (hamburguesas) and then Rachel and I joined some other gringos on a walk towards the beach. We ended up at a Mexican Restaurant and enjoyed each other's company. While there, a street performer of sorts who had also been at the orientation showed up. 

Interesting guy, with his pet parrot, but nice all the same.

Tonight there is talk of a Corrida Nocturna (night run) but since I don't have the right shoes, we'll see how much running I actually do. 

In other news, things are getting easier. My listening skills are improving and I'm not as terrified of city life as I was when I arrived. I think I'll enjoy my classes and I love hanging out with the other International Students, especially the Germans. All in all, I'm doing great.

Tomorrow's another day,


P.S. Vagos (similar to 'vagabonds'?)  are either stray dogs or homeless people. The city has plenty of both but I took a picture of the former for you all as well as some other parks and streets.