Monday, February 14, 2011


The rest of the days were variations on the same theme... relaxing in our new Cabaña that we moved in to after two of our Concepción buddies arrived, cooking elaborate breakfasts, hanging out on the beach and working on getting even more tanned, eating at new restaurants, enjoying the last few bottles of Chilean wines and generally lounging about blissfully. The last day was the perfect weather. 80 degrees, lots of sunshine and people around the tiny town center.

I realized just how much I would miss Chile. It had become a home for a beautifully long month, but suddenly that time seemed too short. I can't say I wasn't looking forward to being in Cincy again... this would be my last winter in the country... but I was really going to miss this new home we had created for ourselves. 

I learned so much about the country and it's people. Chilean culture is an interesting mix of gregariousness, fortitude, cautiousness and curiosity, to mention just some of the qualities they possess. So much can be learned from their culture and lifestyles. The miners taught us an important lesson in courage and patience down in the mines while we waited in the dark; the children at the day-care taught us how to take pleasure in the simple things in life; the host families taught us how to better prioritize our life; the people we came in contact with taught us how to be open and friendly towards everyone. The bonds I have formed with everyone – whether talking to someone on the street for a couple of minutes or with my host sister late into the nights – will last forever, and it continues to amaze me how much the people and the culture touched my heart in such little time.

This trip enabled me to not only learn from the Chileans, but also from my colleagues, and has already impacted me positively in so many ways. Through this trip, I was able to discover and explore different topics, personalities, and even facets of myself. Being in Chile for an extended period of time allowed me to peep into a different culture and really learn about the people of the nation; this is something simply visit to the country would not have equipped me to do, and I am glad we had the opportunity to delve into these issues and analyze them to bring out new perspectives and expand our horizons. This trip has enable us to become true global citizens of this world.

I will miss so much about the country. I don't know if I will ever be visiting Chile again, but I do know that the people have touched my heart deeply and I will always have fond memories of this trip.

I can't say goodbye, but I will say this... Chile, te amo!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Determination... and Bliss :)

We continued on with our adventures the next day, and in a big way! We went Volcano climbing! It was an amazing experience, and no, I would never do that again.

We started off at about 7:30 am, loaded on with big mountain boots, a backpack with some sandwiches and our boot spikes for when we are on the ice, and a ton of enthusiasm… which lasted us for about 10 minutes.

It was hard! Climbing a mountain is not easy, in case you were thinking otherwise! My friend and I (it was just the two of us, one chickened out) had to stop almost every 5 minutes and beg our guide to let us rest. We had assumed the ski-lift would be working, so we would have traveled almost 1500m of the 4817m up without actually having to use our legs. But who does our luck was that good?! Nope, Fate decided we simply must endure the entire experience. REALLY use our legs.

The views along the way did much to sustain us. The higher we climbed, the closer to heaven I felt. Literally! We could see the big blue lake, and the gray-brown mountains surrounding it from all sides. As we went higher, we could see some clouds below us, forming soft comfortable balls of cotton that made me feel like I could jump on it. It really was a beautiful walk up. So you can imagine how disappointed we were when we were told we could not go further up to the top of the crater, when we had less than 500m left!

I can’t blame our guide; the conditions did get progressively worse as time went on. Soon a mist surrounded us and I couldn’t see more than a new meters ahead of me. The climb got icier – so much so that our guide made us stop and wait for a while before we started our journey back to safer ground.

Even though we couldn’t make it all the way to the top and actually look down the crater, it was an incredible experience – for me, one time was enough, though. And although I can’t cross it completely off my list, I do plan on seeing the top of a volcanic crater one day – preferably in a chopper, taken up in style J

We did have the chance to unwind the next day, when we went to the natural hot springs that evening. There were about seven or eight different pools, all at different temperatures, some indoors and some out. It was a nice way to stretch out our muscles after that mountain hike!

Carried it over the next day, when we went to la playa at the lake. Crystal clear non-freezing blue water, gentle ripples, ground volcano rock in the form of warm black sand, and a relatively empty beach in the afternoon accompanied by a person selling yummy strawberry drinks – BLISS!

More on the rest of our week soon!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Lost, not deserted!

So much has happened since I last wrote. Unfortunately, we didn’t have internet for the rest of the trip, so I couldn’t update all of you. But, here goes.

I was so miserable the final day I spent with everyone. We had formed a mismatched inconvenient sort of family – the kind that irks the **** out of you but you still cant get enough of! A couple of people left before we did, and I was fine until then. But when my two companions and I were leaving, I was just so sad. Don’t get me wrong.. Im really not the crying type! But I wished so hard that we could have stayed just one more day with everyone else and then gone to Viña again with them.

We were so busy saying a million goodbyes to about 10 people that we almost missed our bus to Pucón, which was to be our new hometown for the next week. Like all rockstar travellers though, we made it… just as the bus was about to pull out!

An all night bus drive later, I opened my eyes to the small, charismatic town of Pucón. Early in the morning, the streets were deserted and there was a chilly wind blowing. Not the ideal settings for a fantastic week, we all thought. We made it to our hostel and started to settle in for the day after a hiccup with the booking (made for the days after we were to check out!).

Ravenous and cranky, we set out in search for breakfast. And boy, did we hit jackpot! One street ahead of us, in a little hostel called Ecolé, we had the most delicious all American breakfast of eggs, toast and sautéed potatoes! But my favorite bit was – IT WAS A VEGETARIAN RESTAURANT! No longer was I to die hungry for lack of choices!

By the time we left the restaurant, we were satiated and feeling exploratory, so we walked to the town center. More people had started to come out by 10am, and we could see what a quaint little tourist area this was. In the distance, Vulcan Villarica rose majestically with a snow capped plateau showing in the clear cloudless sky. The lake was yet to be seen, but a short distance away, with the promise of warmer waters than the Antarctic currents elsewhere and warm, black volcanic sand.

We started off strong – horseback riding the first day! A first for the other two, and it was hilarious to see them start off timid and nervous, but after a beautiful two hour hike getting bolder by the minute. We stopped at a point where the guide said was a short trek to a gorgeous waterfall. Lies! This was no short trek! Up and down the side of a rocky mountain we seemed to scale! Holding branches, rocks, and each other for dear life – this was our true test of friendship, which we passed with flying colors. Thankfully, I can safely say that the waterfall turned out to be worth the trip after all!

More about our adventures to be continued…

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Nueva Familia

So much time has passed, but so much has been happening too! On Wednesday and Thursday we visited the fishing and forestry industries. They were both very interesting. 

The fishing industry in Chile is divided between aquaculture and wild catch. Surprisingly, aquaculture is just growing in the country, so most of the quantities of the catch are still wild. The best part of the day was going on a boat to the military base on the other side of the fishing port! Even though it was cold we still went up to the top of the boat and stayed there the entire time. 

The forestry industry is almost a monopoly, with the Arauco being the main player. The interesting thing about the company is that it is divided into different divisions for pulp, saw-wood, timber, plywood etc. The companies sell their products to each other as well as the outsiders. One of the reasons for this is to keep up with the inventory. Arauco replants part of the cuttings. Their main products are pine and eucalyptus. When we went for a tour in their replantation area, we learned a lot about how they grow them by the millions and then replant them when the trees are older. Surprisingly, only about 2% of the total plants are affected by some kind of disease.

We reached Viña del Mar today. The hostel we are staying in is a really colorful eclectic place. I love being in warm weather near the beach, but I really miss our crazy week in Concepción and my host family. Chilenos are so warm and welcoming. It really reminds me of the Indian culture. They wanted to take us everywhere and show us off to everyone. Even the aunts who would come over would start calling others on the phone and excitedly telling them that I had reached! 

The homestay made me realize why on an average the people here are slim. Their dinner is usually very light, mostly just tea or coffee, with some bread and avocado and cheese or along those simple lines. Basically, dinner is what I would usually consider tea-time. I didn't get to eat lunch with the family the entire week, so I can only assume that lunch and breakfast is heavy enough to sustain them through the day. 

Their sense of time is so weird. I knew from our meetings and our program advisors’ warnings, some facts about Chilean culture. One thing that we were told about is their sense of time. In Chile, our Spanish professor told us about how Chileans see time as a smoothly rolling event. This led me to believe that I was sufficiently prepared to deal with this cultural difference, especially since the “Indian standard time” is just as notorious. Even though throughout the homestay in Concepción, Camila was careful about mostly being on time, I confess that the last day resulted in a full-force impact of this cultural difference!

We had to be at a dinner with the other families by 8pm, but right off the bat Cami said we would aim for 8:30pm. This did not seem too bad: after all, wouldn’t more families on the Chilean time be late? However, by the time Cami and I went home, showered and dressed up, it was already close to 8pm, and it takes about 20 minutes to reach the city from her house. Just when I thought we were leaving, she said she wanted to relax for a little bit and drink some chocolate milk. She continued to maintain that we would be on time. When we finally left the house, it was close to 8:30 pm. Then, instead of walking over to the bus stop, we went to her aunt’s house because she had agreed to drive us over there. But the walk itself took about 15 minutes. I figured that we would leave right away, but Cami and her aunt immediately settled down to see some pictures of a safari that her family had recently been on. We left her house around 9 pm, and upon reaching the city realized we didn’t know exactly where the restaurant was. After some intense cursing in Spanish, calling her husband, and laughing so hard I was afraid we would hit someone, we finally made it to the restaurant at around 9:15 pm. By this time Tatjana, our program guide, had called several times to which Cami said irritably, “Why cant they just start without us. Oh, we are just so important!” 

Just some of the random thoughts and incidents that took place during my homestay. Miss them all!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Dichato.. the tsunami victim

We started the day today with learning about the earthquake and how it happens... how the tectonic plate near Concepción shifted up and slid onto the plate near the Andes. This resulted in an earthquake of 8.8 magnitude that devastated most of Concepción and areas like Dichato, which were close to the epicenter of the quake. The destruction from the earthquake could already be seen in the city, but when we visited the coastal tourist town of Dichato, I could see the full impact of the tsunami.

The tsunami occurred in three big waves, which is part of the reason why there were as many as 25 victims and 27 considered missing. After the first and the second wave, a lot of the people came back down the hill to see their homes, because the government announced that the danger was over. But then the third wave hit, and many people, homes, and animals got washed away. The waves were huge, as much as 25 feet high. The destruction zone can easily be seen by the marked absence of homes and trees. Many spots only had the bathroom left, since the government had built this as the only brick part of the house for the villagers in order to help with sanitation.

Today was an eye-opener as to just how much Chile suffered during the quakes and how well it has coped.

To end with happier memories, we spent the afternoon with some kids in an under privileged government day-care center. The children were absolutely fabulous and completely adorable! We got them snacks and chocolates and milk and cookies and craft supplies, with face painting being the highlight of the 'noon. By the time we left, I was absolutely COVERED with drawings and scribbles. It was so sweet, and I really didn't want to leave them at all!

My buddy and host family continues to be awesome and might be taking me out to karaoke tonight - my first time ever!

Pictures soon! Estoy muy cansada! Necesita siempre ahora.

Monday, January 17, 2011

¡Concepción es muy interesante!

¡Hola Amigos!

I'm in Concepción with my host family, who are the sweetest ever! I am living with Camila and her mother. Cami speaks excellent english although her mother only speaks spanish and french, so Cami has to translate for us. I am absolutely loving it here!

Concepción is a very interesting city. We have already learned a lot about the earthquake and can see its effects still, in broken buildings, shifted foundations or unrepaired parts of bridges. But it has still recovered amazingly fast.

We went into the coal mine today, and it was an incredible experience. A miner himself gave us a tour and it was really astounding to hear all the stories about how they had to deal with gas leaks and figure it out in the olden times by keeping a parrot who would faint at the presence of methane, about how they would tie their children to beams to prevent them from running away and forcefully get rid of their fear of the mines, and about how if the lanters die and there is completely absolute darkness all around, they have to have the courage to stay in the same place until they are rescued - they are the real valiant heroes of Chile.

We just came back from Cami's friends party and are exhausted. More stories tomorrow about Dichato and how it was hit by the Tsunami.

Take care, hasta Mañana!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Lo Siento... too much happening!

I know I have been ignoring you guys for a while, but so much has been happening! On Wednesday, we went to a winery called Undurraga. It was a beautiful place, and we learned a lot about their marketing campaign and different varieties of wine. One thing that I was surprised to learn about is that in order to grow wine, alluvial soil, which is not too fertile, is the best. Too much fertility does not produce good wine. We got to do some taste testing at the end. I loved one of their sweet wines so much that I bought three bottles of it! Their wines are not very expensive and are made for the mass consumers instead of a higher end model.

Yesterday we went to Amcham – the American Chamber of Commerce, to learn more about the Chilean economy and the role Amcham plays in Chile. Chile has been really concentrating on increasing entrepreneurship in the country, but what is interesting is that they are mainly targeting for foreign entrepreneurs looking to start their business in the country. This is because the Chilean culture is such that failing at a start-up is considered extremely bad and embarrassing. If a start-up fails, chances are that the entrepreneur will not get a job in the industry after that.

We visited the Pablo Neruda house in the Bellavista neighbourhood after that. His house was designed by him for his mistrss (later became his wife) Matilda and is ingeniously done. Although he was afraid of water, he was fascinated by sailing and considered himself a sailor on land. This is completely reflected in the design of the house. The entire house is built on a slope, with water rushing down around it via canals. The house itself has low ceilings, and rooms that reminds one of different parts of a ship, like the captain’s room for instance. He decorated the house with gorgeous items, which were often taken from a ship or in some way reminiscent of a ship. His house is filled with eccentric collectibles, mismatched furnishings, and memorabilia of importance to Neruda. Dear friends like Pablo Picasso made some of the lovely paintings he had. Neruda was not just a poet and Nobel Prize winner for Literature, but he was also an Ambassador for Chile in France, a leader and a brilliant politician.

We ended the day with a visit to the nightclub called Kamakazi. The nightlife in Santiago starts exceptionally late! Our new friend Filipe wanted to take us, and by the time we walked out of the hostel it was already past 1am, and the nightclubs here don’t close until 4am! It was a lot of fun, with great music and a lot of Chilean dancing.

This morning we were so tired from last night we just barely made it through our classes. Then we went on a hike to Las Animas. It was a good hike, and we got to enjoy the waterfall at the end of it. The scenery was gorgeous, with trees and lakes and mountains everywhere. A few of us, included me decided to try zip-lining, which is basically when we cross a lake or river by zipping across a cable attached only by a harness. It was the best adrenaline rush I have enjoyed in a while! I am really glad I had the chance to try it!

I came home so tired that I decided to stay in for the night. More pictures later. Need to sleep for about 9 hours for tonight!

¡Hasta Pronto!