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Fiona in Space

that time I went to South America.

“But I thought camping was an American thing?” my roommate’s boyfriend said innocently a few days before. Our anticipations ran high before our trip. Should we go? After a long debate, we answered (in typical Argentine fashion) 2 hours before we were supposed to leave: of course. Where were we going? When? With whom? These were the questions we would have normally needed answered, but who needs details in Argentina? Okay, so we would be there, and Becca, and Marcello and Pia, and a ragtag bunch of their friends. And the facebook event said it would be at Dique El Cajon, whatever that meant. And we were supposed to go fishing — but we´re in Argentina, no one does what they are supposed to.

Armed with backpacks, sleeping bags (except for me, I had a musty blanket from my house here), layers upon layers, plates and silverware, tissues, snacks, and Oreo alfajores (the best kind) that we were in the middle of eating, we met our Argentine guides (Marcello and Pia’s boyfriend) and set off to … the Omnibus terminal.

Once we acquired tickets, we waited patiently by our stop, and made the necessary bathroom break, narrowly skating by not paying the lady in the bathroom for toilet paper. I’m sorry! I’m American and I forgot that this is a BYOT kind of deal!

We settled in on the bus, prepared for a 3 hour ride. Some spent it talking, others sleeping. My neighbors behind me spent it listening to Adele really loud. I spent it reading the third Hunger Games book. Hey! Finals didn’t let me finish it last semester, and everyone needs a good teen fantasy novel and at least I’m not reading Twilight. Don’t judge.

The night coated in darkness, Marcello signalled we were to get off soon, and we gathered our things (for example, my monster of a backpack that shouldn’t be allowed to exist). As we stepped off the bus, we took in our surroundings.

We were in the middle of the nowhere, on the side of the road. They were going to kill us. So this is what “camping” means in Argentina? “Let´s kill the extranjeras!” I see now. We laughed nervously about it, and headed with our murderers to the nearby gas station. So maybe it wasn’t the middle of nowhere but it was close to it.

We discovered there was a pickup truck waiting for us there. No big deal, this happens all the time. We piled our stuff in the back, wondering “Wait, where are we going to fit?” Then the plan was revealed to us. We were supposed to pile in the bed as well. Totally safe, right? Completely. “They are still trying to kill us, aren’t they?” we thought. Awesome.

So we snuggled up to our bags and each other and held on for dear life. Truly the ride wasn’t that long, but going a little too fast in the dark down the bumpy dusty road filled with cows made it seem a tad too long for our tastes. It dawned on us how little planning had been involved as we picked our location on random, enchanted by the nearby lake but grossed out by the prolific cowpies. We asked Marcello later how he had found this place, and he revealed he hadn’t been there before. It’s been initially so jarring to realize how much my life is based on plans and details and stress. It’s been nice learning to just do it ™ Nike. Gotta love that spontaneity, but we do make plans for a reason.

Alive but freezing, we attempted to put together a broken tent but gave up for one the guys had already built. We then helped gather the surrounding spiky wood for the fire. Oh so that axe wasn’t for killing us? What a relief.

We added more layers of clothing to our repertoire and I rediscovered how poor my balance is during my struggle to put on tights standing in the dark outside. Winning at life.

Truly the location was lovely, despite the cold and the fact we couldn’t see much in the dark. I heard tell that dinner was to be … empanadas? I had a hard time believing that, how could one make empanadas when camping?

Here’s how.

Step 1: Someone’s awesome mom makes the filling and they bring it.
Step 2: Buy the empanada criollo wrapper circle things at the grocery store.
Step 3: Put filling in empanada case (not too much).
Step 4: Attempt to fold and make the empanada look pretty but fail miserably while a guy in his 20s makes them like a professional.
Step 5: Place grill over fire and put a giant pan (disco) on the griddle. Heat oil in el disco until it is dangerous.
Step 6: Place empanadas in oil and fry them, but only for a second because they get brown fast.
Step 7: Take them out with a fork and cry as the oil spits at you (so glad that wasn’t my job).
Step 8: Enjoy a piping hot empanada. Savor the absolute deliciousness, but know in the back of your mind that your body hates you for ingesting all that fried goodness.

Pretty simple. We all chatted around the fire, making and eating empanadas. Of course, like all gatherings here, fernet was involved. I’ve come to tolerate it but I will never understand the obsession they have here with it. As my mom says “ Fernet is for old italians with digestive problems.” But that’s a little harsh — after all, to each his own. I’ve accepted I will never truly understand Argentina. Of course there was singing, mostly on the part of the Americans, and things got even more fun when more friends showed up, and we got to talking about Rocky and other such impressions of the U.S. Cue more singing.

At a certain point, Kristin, Natalie and I grandmothered out and went to bed (Their excuse was sickness, and well, I was cold). The soothing shouts of “Yankee!” and “Vieja!” and other slander in castellano lulled us to sleep. As lame is it is, we yankee viejas need our beauty sleep.

We awoke, and it was thankfully much warmer. Crawling out of the tent, we saw where we were in its true form. The lake surface was a tranquil and stormy blue. People fishing in boats speckled the surface. The stoic brown mountains crowned the edges, and a desert surrounding full of earthy shades did not disappoint.

We breakfasted on our snacks of peanuts and tropical biscuits, while the Argentines chose gin and Fanta for their desayuno (not a bad combination by the way)

We talked with the others, walked around the surroundings, taking obligatory rock and jumping pictures, and discovered our first Argentine hipster. Said hipster was part of our group, donning skate shoes, rolled up washed out skinny jeans, a shirt with colorful letters, a swept away sideburns haircut, and of course, a light beard. Indeed, he had worked at a ski resort in Tahoe for 4 months and said he liked Mumford and Sons when we asked him. He had some interesting stories to tell about his time in the U.S., for example, buying a car from a Mexican for $900 and making a drunk excursion to Walmart to buy $20 dress shoes to blend in at the clubs. Can’t get better than that.

We had heard tell of an asado, but again, I couldn’t quite believe it. But there it was, roasting on coals over a hand-made flame, an insane slab of meat. Soaking up lemon, salt, and spices, it sizzled and invited us to our first real asado, which is just as much about the social experience as it is about the meat. But don’t get me wrong, it was amazing. There are no words. Smoky and tender, everything I had hoped for from Argentina. Why don’t we have asado in the states? It was accompanied by a salad of lettuce and tomato dressed in lemon juice, as well as toasty bread.

We ate. The day lulled on. We soaked up the sun, attempting to ignore the fact that we had homework, and class the next day. Music blasted from the pickup, in Spanish and English, and we all sang along to Hey Jude. I could get used to this kind of camping.

It had been time to go, but of course we didn’t leave until later than expected. After packing up everything, watching fights between the guys, and avoiding sunburnt faces, we piled up in the back of the truck yet again. Except now we were more people and more stuff. Yet, it seemed a lot less frightening now.

At the end of the dirt road, we hopped off, confused about what would come next. Leave our stuff in the truck or take it? The truck sped off, and then came back, trying for a parallel dirt trail where it got stuck. The general confusion and craziness and complete nonchalance of it all perfectly sums up the attitude here. Camping had been getting too normal. After the truck was freed we put our stuff and ourselves back on and followed the road, but soon had to get off again. Eventually we settled on meeting them at the bus stop and walking there — it was close.

We reached the stop and our stuff and the others were there. Of course we missed the next bus and attempted to flag down busses we knew would not stop (thinking, perhaps they’ll see our rubias [blondes] and stop!). Eventually, tired and dirty, we caught a bus. The 3 hour ride was again too long, and we counted down to our return. A return to showers and wi-fi and beds. It was time. One taxi and then we were back.

A little part of me wishes I was still camping, out under countless stars, in the fresh (non smoky) air, cooking and talking without caring about time. As one of our companions said, “When you’re camping you can eat when you feel hungry, sleep when you feel tired, and do whatever you want to, when you want to.” Well, that’s roughly what she said, but you get the picture. It’s that sort of spontaneity that has really shocked and enchanted us all here.

And dammit, I want more of that asado.

I put captions but my stupid possessed mouse cancelled them, so later, okay?

Everybody loves waking up crazy early to take a test! We all had to take a placement test that wasn’t really intended for those not taking the intensive courses (like me). We waited for a while to take the oral portion, and after I tried to go shopping but had to turn around and go to my program office to talk about my internship. Afterwards I walked around, got coffee at an ice cream place, and wondered where my friends were. I found out on my walk back home, when I practically collided with them.

We then wandered over to English Talk. What is English Talk you ask? Well it’s awesome. It’s this event/place where local Cordobesos come to talk in English. Every meeting there’s a theme, games, a discussion, and everyone is super nice. We played a crazy musical chairs game where we danced around and had to get into groups when the music stopped. It was only a little difficult considering I had stuffed myself with free criollos beforehand. Afterwards the Spanish speakers got into groups of Beginning, Intermediate, and Advanced. Kristin and I joined the Intermediate and we all talked about “Independence” the theme of that week’s meeting.

Finally making our first amigos cordobesos!

The next day was the first “real” day. I was relieved to find out from my host mom that the director had told her my meeting at my internship was at 10 (I was disappointed to find that this would not be a regular occurrence — 9 a.m. every morning is the norm). And in typical Argentina fashion, I had to wait at the program office until 11. But it’s okay because I got to start my journey of liking mate.

My internship is in a beautiful building. Many other buildings here look like Berkeley after a protest gone horribly horribly wrong, but after my walk through Universidad de Santiago de Chile, I got a feel for what public universities in South America are like. It’s a little different here since public universities are free (unlike Chile and the U.S.). The office is spacious, my coworkers (or rather bosses because I am just a lowly intern) are incredibly nice, there is free coffee and pastries…I love it! It’s a little hard because of the language barrier and I have to hit the ground running since I’m only there for a month.

Afterwards I had my first class. I’m taking Advanced Conversation, but it’s very much like a sort of Argentina/Córdoba culture/conversation class. We talked a lot about the differences between different Spanishes, in vocabulary, accent, etc. It’s a small class (6 then but down to 4 now — long story), and I wasn’t sure if the pace was too slow for me and I should have taken Lit but after thinking about it, it’ll be nice to take it easy (I read for class enough during the year).

And then I started to get sick. So that was fun. But I didn’t let not being able to breathe through my nose or sounding like a heavy smoker get in the way! Perhaps going out to a boliche and a 18-year-old’s birthday weren’t the best of ideas, but staying out till 5 is the Argentine way to go! I honestly had a pretty lazy weekend, Friday I had to skip my internship and I stayed in bed all day.

That night we decided to take a taxi to Nueva Córdoba, where all the cool places are. We tried some tacky looking place called “Johnny B. Good” but it turned out to be a sit down restaurant with a wait. After running into some other kids from the program, we headed to El Circo Negro and had a beer with them, although it was all a little too low-key and I started falling asleep (reasonably considering it was probably around 2 a.m.) We ventured over to Black Sheep, whose l logo of a sheep  hipster glasses really says it all. Except it was filled with a much older crowd (okay well, 30s). The music was good but no one was dancing. Then we thought to try a boliche nearby called Numb3rs, but then we discovered the golden key. All around Buen Pastor, there are representatives from various boliches who can get you in for free. With innocent newbie smiles, we went with the girl to be safe, and were greeted by a smoky club with local favorite music,  free drinks and friendly folks. Well, some were a little too friendly, and old. But other than that it was fun and we danced while the people in the boliche sang along to all the songs, which we usually didn’t know the words too. We left at 4:30, much to the shock of the bartender who asked what we were going to do after, and laughed when we said “sleep.” When we got home we discovered that the cigarette hotbox of a place had lent an unpleasant odor to our clothes and hair, but it was better in the morning.

The next day was lazy again, with the necessary sleeping in and running of errands. But in the evening we went to the birthday party of the brother of one of the speaking partners. A real Argentina get together! With kids in high school… It was a blast however, and we finally got to really meet and hang out with Argentines. Everyone was friendly, some a little too friendly. I thanked my stars that I’m not blonde, otherwise I would have had a lot more trouble.

The conversation usually goes a lot like this (in both Spanish and English):

“Do you have a boyfriend?”


“Where is he?”

“In the U.S.”

“Oh! Well he’s not here.”

“But he’s there.”

“Oh but he’s not in Argentina. He doesn’t need to know.”

“But I love my boyfriend.”

Then followed by “But I am in love with you!” Or other 18-year-old nothings.

The kids were pretty adorable though, and so excited to practice their English and rave about fernet. I met a girl and ended up talking to her about Red Solo cups…and agreed to send her some when I get back to the states.

Needless to say, we slept in again Sunday morning. Sunday was another lazy day, walking around, resting, recovering from my cold…watching Firefly. I felt lame, but at least I’m was doing it all in Argentina.

Hey, kids! We’re almost caught up. Then I can start writing interesting things, rather than catching up to the present.

Next: this past week, Alta Gracia, camping (which I’m supposed to leave for in 2 hours).

UPDATED: With pictures.

Orientation was so tiring. So much to take in, especially only speaking and hearing Spanish all day. We heard from the directors, who talked about everything (manners, living in Córdoba, the bus, health care, etc) for a long time (with an tiny coffee break — as in the coffee was tiny, but appreciated!). I forgot to mention how odd the coffee at my house is. Now Natalie and I have figured out tea is the best way to go, but for a while our mom would heat up milk in the microwave (tried it with water, worse) and steep a teabag with coffee in it. It may have worked if it was instant coffee, but this is like half instant half regular. Very different. Not my thing, but go for it, Argentina.

Back on track. After information flooding, we had a big lunch with all the kids from the program. We fumbled and spoke in Spanish, attempting to get to know each other. Lunch was, well more chicken and potatoes, not as good as our mom had made. There was bread and empanadas too. Basically, food coma central. And we were expected to go on a tour after this?? Fortunately the tour was by bus. Unfortunately, I definitely dozed off during it. Oops… We got out and looked around (=), which was interesting. There are some great buildings in Córdoba, a lot of old Jesuit history. There´s also your standard city grit, not as much as Santiago (but I also don´t think it´s as big).

After the tour Natalie, Kristin, Maddie and I walked home. It´s a nice walk but definitely long to make at 7 in the morning — bus to school in the morning it is.

Dinner that night was one of the best. Hand-made ravioli in the most perfect light but rich tomato sauce, tossed together with some of the most tender beef. Mmm. I want it again right now. After dinner was nap time! Then we walked to Patio Olmos (the big shopping in the center), and on the way I grabbed a necessary coffee (they give you so many giant sugar packets here).

We met up with a bunch of others from the program and some of the speaking partners. For a while we sat on the steps in front of Patio Olmos, making friends with a dog that barked at random passers-by (trying to find a pattern) and being read poetry by a random guy. All in a day´s work. We went to this bar called Milk, which we had heard was really cheto (meaning like snobby hip). It really was, and the drinks were expensive for Argentina (but good for US), but not gonna lie — I kind of liked it. What? There were trendy decorations everywhere and a patio and the bartender made us each a “sorpresa” as in he surprised us each with a different delicious random. Probably not the best idea, but it worked out.

We hung around and chatted, and then went (way to early) to a (well honestly kind of lame) boliche (boliche = club) called Cuba Inc. This girl had thrown up in the lounge and there was no one there. The music was okay, and I danced anyways, generally making a fool of myself and enjoying it. We tried to get some of the guys in the program to join a group dance, but to no avail. it ended up being pretty fun, but was not a good first impression of a boliche. We took a taxi back at around the time most Argentinians leave to go out. Whatever, I got more sleep than them.

The next day was Sunday, and I slept in gloriously. We met up at a cafe and relaxed, did some work, drank coffee — all the simple joys of cafe life. We took a nice walk to La Feria, which is this really cool artisan crafts fair that happens every weekend. We didn´t realize how huge it was upon our arrival, and sort of split apart. It was amazing seeing all the vendors, some selling hand-crafted leather goods, others selling what looked to be thrift store gems (or junk). I got parted from the group, but kept on wandering, and eventually ended up with them. I ate almost two pancito relleno, which is like a filled thin bread. The first one was ham and cheese and was okay, but the second one was delicious. It was stuffed with salami, warm and fresh, and the bread was soft but a little crispy.

However, we lost Maddie, and looking for her turned into an epic battle, when really we should have just found wifi to text her — because that´s what she would have done, and did.

Dinner and lunch was pizza, which was so Argentine and delicious, except for the hard-boiled egg on top. Natalie and I watched It´s Complicated, in case you wanted to know. We seriously need to stop watching movies with adultery — how come it´s in every single movie?

Monday was a holiday, the independence day for Argentina. We celebrated by waking up early to bus to Villa General Belgrano, a cute but touristy little German town, where there was an alleged chocolate festival. There were so many cute shops with chocolate, ice cream, beer mugs, and the like. We lunched at some random restaurant with the touristic German feel everywhere there has, but we ate lomitos (which I mentioned before and are amazing) and shared a honey beer (this one was better and less crazy sweet than the one I had in Chile. Afterwards was necessary ice cream time. The festival itself was not much (apparently it was way better the following weekend), and my chocolate ended up melting together into a glob, but it was still fun and delicious. We were starting to think no one in Argentina believed in samples, but near the end of our time, some shops gave us free alfajores — it´s times like that I think “Life is good.” If you don´t know what an alfajor is, you should look it up. And be jealous of me, because they are everywhere here.

We came back late (thank you omnibus), and dinner was milanesa. I live too well.

Thank you for reading this ramble that was written at my internship, when I should have been doing real work. It´s early, okay? I´m tired and just want to be in my bed and watch Firefly.

And pictures will come all in good time.
Next: The first week.

UPDATED with pictures.

All you need to know about my travel to Córdoba is that I was on a bus for 20+ hours (broken up fortunately), the Andes are beautiful, and all I’ve seen of Mendoza is the bus station. Also I’m not sure of Happy Feet 2 doesn’t have a plot or I just don’t understand movies in Spanish.

I woke up horribly early on July 5, and arrived at the bus station, terrified that the pass would be closed because of the weather. When we reached the pass we were halted for a good 2 hours or more.

Customs was freezing. But this was all with the backdrop of the Andes, so it was okay. I ended up having less time in Mendoza, it was dark, and I had my bags, so I had to stay in the bus station. Oh also there was a confusing time change. C’mon South America, why do all these outlets and time zones have to be so different. But there I ate a delicious lomito, so it was okay. A lomito is a sandwich with cheese, fried egg, ham, beef, lettuce, tomato, and of course bread. I don’t normally like fried eggs all that much but it was amazing. Everyone here eats things with forks and knives, so I tried, but gave up shortly. I’m okay with being a barbarian.

I arrived in Córdoba unsure of the time and a worried because I hadn’t set a location to meet my host mom. I discovered it was over an hour after I had told her I was arriving.  Oops. Oh and no way for me to contact anyone. I found some wifi and messaged my roommate frantically. I tried to use a payphone with my 1 peso moneda, to call my host mom or someone from the program. Finally, called collect, but it didn´t give me my coin back. (Sorry about the crazy apostrophes, I´m using a Spanish keyboard).

All settled, I took a taxi to what is now my home (for a month). I attempted to apologize profusely to my host mom (who´s abruptness I was not yet used to), met my lovely roommate and settled in. I got my own room (not for long, you´ll see)! How cool.

Once I was showered and settled, my roommate and her friend from college and I set off to explore the city. That first day we walked a lot, attempting to head towards the university (although we didn´t actually arrive). We stopped at a cafe and lived the cafe life, chatting, drinking coffee, and having a crazy delicious dessert made of brownie, dulce de leche, whipped cream, and I don´t know what else. So many people here speak English, way more than in Santiago.

We walked by el shopping (the word for mall), saw la cañada (the stream that runs through and then meets the river here), and walked through the celebrations for Córodoba´s birthday. There were concerts, people flooding the streets drinking mate (of course). The energy was great. We found a beautiful Catholic cathedral, and spent some tranquil time there. We also stepped into some sort of expo for industrial arts in Argentina. Hello,  modern looking mate cups. We had an afternoon empanada and returned home.

Córdoba seems to me to be a perfect size for a city. Besides the ridiculous bus system (the locals don´t even know when the busses are supposed to come), It´s navigable and has so many panaderias, cultural sites, friendly people. Like Santiago, there are a lot of stray dogs, which is sad. They even wander into classrooms. Also, it´s winter here, by the way. We´ve had a few nice days, but generally it´s freezing in the morning and at night. I wasn´t exactly prepared. Why didn´t I bring my boots?

Oh did I mention food? No? That first day for lunch and dinner, our host mom made delicious roasted chicken and potatoes with butter and salt..mmm… I´m drooling thinking about it now, but then again, I haven´t had lunch yet. I´ll do my best to recount every meal, but trust me, I´m living well.

My host mom is the only one in the house, but fortunately I have a roommate (now roommates). I wish I had a larger family, with say a dog or something, but it´s all good. My host mom is very direct, but she´s grown on me, and her food is amazing. The house is cute, but gets very (VERY) cold. In Córdoba, perhaps in all of Argentina, the locks on the doors are super cool. All the keys look old fashioned, out of the 19th century. I want to move here just to have a key like that. Our house is a little far from the campus (but “close” according to some.  I´m sorry but an hour and 15-30 walk to school is not close), but fortunately the bus goes right there and takes no more than 30 minutes. I want to walk back some days. We´ve done so much walking here, I love and hate it.

Next: Orientation and my first week.

Yes it´s been a while since I´ve posted anything, and  you´ve yet to hear about Córdoba. Patience, my friends. I know all you do is refresh this blog, so here´s something to pass the time. I have to keep a blog about my internship, so here it is. Warning it´s in Spanish. Albeit not very good Spanish.

If the above link doesn´t work:


I won’t bore you whining about my not so good day travelling alone, instead I’ll gloss over it and highlight the good bits, while turning the page and moving on to my last full day in Santiago! Which was a good day.

My plan to go to Valpo unravelled a little. I woke up to late to make the free tour I wanted to go to. I got off at the wrong metro station, 3 times, before reaching the bus terminal. There I bought my ticket, and stupidly decided that coming back at 4:30 would be doable. I also bought my ticket to Mendoza for the next day, a little earlier than I had planned on leaving.

I dozed off on the bus, which was nice, but then I woke up and a confusing highway sign caused me to freak out internally for 15 minutes that I had got on the wrong bus. I hadn’t.

When I arrived in Valparaíso, I though, oh this is cool. It seemed like an interesting place to spend more time in. However most of the time I spent there was wandering lost, searching for a tourist info center or somewhere with a map or someone who would tell me how to get to Pablo Neruda’s house. I should have just gone to Isla Negra if I wanted to see another Neruda house! I should have just dropped that $60 and gone on an organized tour. Life lesson learned: just take the freaking tour – especially if travelling alone. Well crying in the streets of Valparaíso aside, I ate a delicious sandwich from a Cuban restaurant with ropa vieja. It looks gross in the picture, but it was delicious and made me realize why so many Chileans eat things with forks and knives that I would eat by hand.

Using my guidebook and the help of bus drivers, I found a bus that went up to La Sebastiana, Neruda’s house here (it was farther than I thought it would be). It was like a roller coaster! The rickety old bus zipped and swerved along the curvy roads, stopping for the occasional local who hailed it. We got to La Sebastiana and I disembarked, astonished by the view. I wandered a bit and purchased a ticket, feeling infinitely eased by the beauty of the place. The pictures do not do it justice. I didn’t like the setup of this one as much, yes you got to wander around on your own but the recorded audio tour, although informational and interesting, felt impersonal.

It had the same nautical charm of La Chascona and I loved all the little quirky details. They seemed perhaps a little better preserved from when it too was sacked by the government. I could imagine living there, sitting by his chair “La Nubia” and staring out at the ocean. Although no way could I have the same poetic skill.

At a certain point I gave up on making my 4:30 bus. Ha, like that was going to happen. So I decided to enjoy myself, exploring, perusing, and feeling the ocean breeze.

I even made a kitty friend! She was sitting on a bench and obviously not a stray (so soft!) When I sat down she curled up on my lap.

Eventually I asked how to get to the bus terminal and took a bus there, of course overshooting a bit. I bought a new ticket, and headed back to Santiago.

I had internet for a moment and planned to meet Rose and took the metro straight to Providencia. I also found out that my friend in Valparaíso had been there the whole time and invited me to her hostel and everything. So upsetting!

When I got to Rose’s it turned out that she and her friends were at dinner, where I met them. A Chinese restaurant in Chile! It was….interesting. We had a chill evening and I enjoyed again hanging out with my kindred college students.

The next day was infinitely better.

I woke early and ate my usual breakfast at the hostel, and the room was filled with an amusing bunch of British travelers. I then went to the bus station to change my ticket to the next day. I needed a little more time in Santiago, and why not spend the fourth of July with my fellow Americans!

Afterwards I wandered through the Universidad de Santiago de Chile, which was interested and reminded me of a post-protest Berkeley. Then I reached Quinta Normal where there is a collection of museums. I went to one which was in a cool building built for a world fair. The museum itself was more geared for children, as was the train museum, which I only saw from the outside since I didn’t have enough change to enter. I decided that the area was kind of depressing and took the metro the Vega Central.

Best decision of my life! I stepped into the magical market world. The smell!! Freshness. This was definitely one of my favorite things here. It was enormous and so easy to get lost among the leafy greens, grains, roots, citrus, and more. Local vendors crowded the space and it was everything I wanted a market to be.

There I had perhaps the most simple but most delicious meal I had so far. Un churrasco solo and jugo de piña. The sandwich was just bread and the tender amazing meat, and I put on it a delicious spicy sauce. It was perfect and tender. The juice was sweet, thick, and refreshing. And it only amounted to less than $5 total. I then wandered through the neighborhood to Bella’s Artes, where I settled in Cafe Tomodashi. They had specialty house coffees and I asked for what they recommended, and of course: it had dulce de leche. It was good though.

I wanted to go to the Salvador Allende museum but ended up going back to my hostel and relaxing.

Then I met up with Rose and her friends, and we went to a California themed bar. It felt bizarre, considering we were in Chile. The beer I ordered was pretty good, and the Tijuana fries were a spicy mound of ridiculousness.

Instead of going to the club I hung out with people and we did out own American karaoke in honor of the 4th.

No fireworks but it all worked out.

Next: my day of travel and Córdoba!

Pictures to be included!


No, not THE Hills, like the TV show. I’m in Chile guys, seriously. My third day in Chile I spent climbing mountains…if you exaggerate. I woke up and did the breakfast thang, chatting with the two people here to teach English. They finally found an apartment. Can you believe that for $700 they are getting a 3 bedroom apartment with cable and 3 flatscreen TVs? I just may want to move here and teach English. I pondered what to do with my day. I was meeting Rose at 2 and going to Cerro San Cristobal (the biggest of the big hills here) with people from her program. I wanted to go to the cool documentary film festival down the street, but alas, it didn’t happen. Perhaps I’ll see if the center is doing anything else before I leave. I decided to make it a day of hills, and go to Cerro Santa Lucia first. A short walk from my hostel, Santa Lucia is the other big hill, but certainly not to the extent of San Cristobal.

It was another cloudy day, but with a little hint of sun to come. Santa Lucia consists of winding pathways and steep stairs, fountains, and castle structures. It was beautiful and a few parts a little slippery. Even with the clouds, there was a beautiful view of the city and even the Andes a little bit! I perused the artisan market afterwards but it was all a little touristy. I then metro-ed over to Rose’s station in Providencia, where we met up and made a delicious lunch of grilled sandwiches with avocado, tomato, and cheddar. Perhaps I’m making it sound way fancier than it was, but it was delicious! I was crazy impressed by how nice her hotel/apartment is and when I met the people on her program, they were very nice! It was a bit of a relief to be back among my own kind, American college students.

We went over to Bellavista, and walked through it’s colorful streets, and past the crazy crowds of futbol fans. We took the funicular up, rising to the top of Cerro San Cristobal. As we slid up, the streets of Santiago became smaller and smaller against the white background of cloud and the hints of the Andes. At the top it was a beautiful view, with the sun streaming down angelically  through the clouds, and the mountains cupping the city before us. I bought some honey roasted candy peanut things and a coffee that was actually a watered down hot chocolate, but it did the job. Walking up further, we reached the huge statue of la Madre de Santiago, and the rows of small gardens that lead up to her. The amazing views continued, but I still wished it was a little clearer.

We walked back to Rose’s, where we all hung out, watching the random American crime shows on TV. Her program friend made us all fried rice, which was delicious! How sweet! Again, I felt good being back among my brethren.

When it got late I returned to my hostel via metro, picking up some chocolate at the gas station on the way. I was all ready to eat that chocolate, blog, and watch Party Down in my bed, when my Swiss roommate nicely told me that some people were talking and having drinks in the courtyard. Hey, why not? So I joined the group drinking vino y cervezas, 1 or 2 French, a Swiss, 2 (or 3) Brazillians, 1 (0r 2) Chilenos, and the American: me. It was a laughter-filled time, and we spoke in a crazy mix of Spanish, Portugese, and English (and maybe some French and German). It was also exactly what I needed, the social hostel experience. Everyone was very nice and supportive and interesting. They also took the idea of más cervezas to mean buying 6 liters of cheap Chilean beer, but hey, they’re generous. I enjoyed hearing about everyone’s cultural differences and similarities. It’s cheesy but there was something really quite amazing about it. Also one of the guests had Orishas on his computer, so that was neat.

To bed! For an interesting day ahead. (Note: this blog is definitely a behind, that day ahead was yesterday). Expect photos soon!

My second day here was much better, and I finally did what travelling alone is all about: meeting people and making connections. I started off by doing what I should have done all along, and taking that free tour another guest had told me about. I woke up and made it to breakfast, a rather uneventful affair of toast (the toaster wasn’t working that day, so make that bread), cereal, instant coffee, and…cookies (which I didn’t eat, it felt too wrong). At breakfast I saw a girl that I had noticed arrive the night before, we figured out we both spoke English and had our breakfasts together. To both our surprises, we discovered we both went to school in the Bay Area and were studying English! Albeit, she’s getting her masters and I am but a lowly undergrad, but still, cool coincidence. I convinced her to come on the tour with me, although she was leaving to study in Valparaíso for a month later that day. We arrived in Plaza de Armas to find a group of other tourists huddled around a guide in a red jacket. It was still gray and drizzly and pretty cold. So much so that the carabineros gathered in the square had their raincoats on.

Our guide introduced himself, Antonio, and proceeded to make our day. He was funny and charming and spoke great English! It was the much needed orientation that first time travellers to Santiago need, and presented a great overview and historic/cultural background. I urge you, if for whatever weird reason you end up here, take this tour! I am not one for organized tours, they seem tacky to me sometimes (funny, considering I’m a tour guide), but this was perfect. We didn’t get to do lunch because the restaurant was closed, but we covered a lot of ground without going overboard. We learned about Santiago’s history, barrios, symbolism, cultural quirks, cuisine, etc. I can now tell you that there are 20,000 Peruvians in Santiago, which answered my question of why all the markets are Peruvian (later today my other question of why so many people eat sandwiches with forks was answered when I attempted to eat one with my hands).

I’d love to go on and on and tell you every tidbit, but that could be a little much. Perhaps I’ll update this post later. We went by all the sights: Plaza de Armas, Catedral, Municipalidad, Correos, Antiguo Congreso, Palacio La Moneda, Bolsa de Comercio, Teatro Municipal, Cerro Santa Lucía, Museo de Bellas Artes, Parque Forestal, Plaza Italia, Barrio Bellavista, y más!

Have I mentioned the stray dogs? There are a lot here. They followed our group and “protected” us in hope of food. Antonio said that they will ward off angry drunks because they smell the alcohol. They bother some people but I like them, although the sheer amount of strays makes me sad.

The tour ended in Bellavista, in front of the Neruda house. I couldn’t help but give the suggested tip for the otherwise free tour, it was so good! My hostel friend and I decided to go to lunch at one of the recommended restaurants. We ended up being joined by an older woman from Australia and another woman from England – who now lives in Wales. All I can say is mmmmmmmm! The experience also made me feel better about my Spanish when I helped the Brit find something Vegetarian on the menu. Inspired by the cold weather, I ordered cazuela de pollo, a soup served in a cast iron bowl with steaming broth, a quarter corn cob, carrots, potatoes, green beans, pumpkin, and a huge hunk of chicken. It was a chore to eat, and I almost didn’t defeat it, but I put in a good effort. Another delicious treat was pastel de choclo, another dish recommended by our guide. It’s a toasty pie made of smashed corn and full of hidden surprises: beef, egg, olive, raisins, onions… I wanted one in addition to my soup. We also ordered the very cheap house wine, which – as I’ve discovered with most Chilean wine, cheap or not – was still really quite good.

Goodness Santiago, I start to think, how can I leave you? Afterwards we split up and the Brit and I headed over to La Chascona, the Pablo Neruda house and museum in Santiago. Neruda has 2 other houses in Chile, La Sebastiana and Isla Negra. Before starting the mandatory tour, we enjoyed some coffee in the cafe and perused the giftshop. We had another fantastic guide take us through La Chascona, a quirky Chilean wearing a Maoist cap, who had lived in New York. He took us through the creaky turns of the house, pointing out Neruda’s obsession with odd collections and partying. Unfortunately, I couldn’t take pictures inside, but it was…awesome. I loved seeing the house of one of my favorite poets! It was of course quirky and colorful and very nautical. I want to move there, basically. The house in Santiago and La Sebastiana had both been ransacked by the government so they are not quite as abundant and vibrant as Isla Negra. I’m pretty sad I won’t have time to go there, but another day, for Neruda. I love museums like this one, because it’s truly being immersed in another world. The history, commentary, and fun information of the guide made me thankful we weren’t allowed to go through without one. Apparently Neruda came to Berkeley to speak! Wish I had been there then. Although our guide joked that Neruda’s voice was terrible and he didn’t understand how he could fill huge stadiums. Who gets to do that? Very few poets are rock stars, and Neruda was most definitely one of them.

Afterwards we wandered down through Bellavista, crossing the bridge, and then meandering through Plaza Forestal. On the way we stopped at the Peruvian craft market we had seen before, and tried on hats and looked at earrings. I somehow got roped into buying both (so cheap!) and am pretty pleased, especially with my hat because it’s been pretty necessary since then. I also got a pair of earrings, one a fork the other a spoon – perfect.

Next we went to el Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, which had an interesting mix of exhibits. One looked at the various processes of a single sculpture (of a Mapuche), as well as had a room where a light circled around a sculpture (and you could walk around) showing all the different nooks and angles. The weirdest exhibit was this multimedia thing that looked like it was from the 80’s. Maybe I would have got it if it was in English.

I remembered I wanted to go to Emporio La Rosa for ice cream, as it was mentioned by Antonio, so we stopped and after a confusing ordering process, I was happy with 2 scoops: Rose and Dulce de Leche (another thing Chileans love). The little wedge where the place was situated was a little odd, with a street performer serenading us and various vagrant types nearby. After we looked for an ATM for me (I still needed to pay my hostel bill!) but kept on having trouble we settled on getting a dream in Bellas Artes along the cafe hotspot of José M La Barra. We chose a cute place we had walked by earlier and ordered the waitress’s favorite beer and some empanadas. Her favorite beer ended up being a Kunstmann (a craft Chilean beer, bless the Germans here) honey beer, which tasted, well, like drinking honey. It was a really fascinating talk, and we discussed roommates and travelling and she told me her experience scaling Mt. Kilimanjaro . We parted ways and I wandered home, only getting turned around once. I stopped at the grocery for a successful ATM attempt and some water and the cheapest wine I could fine, called “Gato.” Really I just got it because there was a cat on it.

I spent the rest of the night contemplating my trip to Valparaíso Tuesday. But first, other things.

I guess it’s good that I’m getting bad at the whole keeping a blog thing. But let me catch you up anyway.

So I’ve learned the hard way that the first day in a place is always the worst, or rather always difficult. I like to think oh yeah, I can just walk around and figure it out, I’m savvy, I’ll be fine, I feel at home here! Let’s face it, it doesn’t matter if you’ve travelled a million times or this is your first time on a plane, the first day is always an adjustment.

My first day didn’t go as planned. At all. Well, except for going to the market. I overslept for breakfast, waking up right at the end, and then scrambled awake and ready. So of course I left without my watch and without thinking about the fact that I needed caffeine STAT. I headed to the metro, unprepared. When I got there (it’s very awesome, by the way, the metro. And my stop is right next to this cool documentary film place), I was suddenly overwhelmed. How the hell do I get a ticket? I decided to get coffee before making this adventure.

Little did I know, I wouldn’t find a single cafe, that was open. Well, for a while anyway, until I got to the next metro station. Coffee, where are you? C’mon Santiago, I know you have cafes, stop holding out on me! I finally reached Baquedano/Plaza Italia and saw a golden, shining, albeit kind of shitty place that had a sign for coffee – and pastries! Dry filled churro and cafe cortado chico (it’s very chico by the way, they mean it) in hand I sat outside watching what I now realize was a student protest. Baquedano is the square where everyone gathers, it’s that kind of place. Now that I’ve finally taken a tour I can pretend like I know things, but at the time I was rather confused.

Oh, another thing you should know about Santiago: there are a lot of (stray) dogs. A lot. Apparently they are great for hanging around you and scaring off drunk people. I made a doggy friend hanging out in the square, he just came up and plopped down next to me.

Finally rejuvenated, I went down into the metro and watched what others were doing until I figured it out. I went to the ticket window and held up my fingers in a peace sign: “dos boletos, por favor.” When I inserted the ticket into the machine, my BART training made me pause for it to come out again, until I realized that that’s not how it worked.

Metro Santiago is AWESOME. It’s clean, easy to understand, and the trains come every 2 minutes. Yes, it can get crowded, but it’s so fast, it doesn’t matter. I figured out which direction to go in, following the signs and making only a few errors, got on, got off, got on my transfer, and arrived at Puente Cal y Canto.

I saw this big old train station and figured that must be the Mapuche Cultural Center everyone had been talking about. By everyone, I mean my guidebook. There was some really fascinating contemporary art there, and you can see the pictures, but I really liked this one:


Or maybe this one:


Next I stumbled over the my main destination, el Mercado Central. All you really need to know about el Mercado is FISH. I took so many pictures of fish, as you may have noticed. I think people thought I was crazy. The best thing about my Spanish being rusty is that it’s really easy to ignore people (restaurant people) hassling you. As a tourist, I was in great demand. They wanted ME (and everyone else) to come to their restaurant. I feel so special. I think I overheard some people debating if I was Chilean, although it could have been them affirming I definitely wasn’t, but I’ll pretend it’s the former. I eventually chose one of the tucked away seafood places, and orded ceviche para llevar, because well, eating there seemed overwhelming and ceviche was the only thing I knew.

I of course, forgot to ask for a utensil, and forgot the word for spoon (I have since remembered), so I found an ice cream place in the HUGE Centro mall (oh my god Chileans love malls), and stole a tiny ice cream spoon. And that’s how I ended up sitting in the Plaza de Armas eating ceviche with a tiny spoon and looking crazy (partly because eating ceviche when it’s so cold seems silly). But damn, it was good ceviche. Simple, and refreshing, and just the right about of crunch and lime.


More things, non-chronological. So there are lots of dogs, and TONS of adorable children. So many. Also malls. And pigeons. I wandered into this one mall that was ALL music stores, it was so cool. Just musical instruments and equipment everywhere.

There’s also things like cafe con piernas in these malls (and other places). Cafe con piernas means “coffee with legs” and in most of the places waitresses with short skirts serve coffee to businessmen, but in others the women wear bikinis and the windows are blacked out (and there are blacklights and loud music), like this:


Yeah. I wandered some more. A lot. And went in circles. And got lost. And had to decide what I should do: a) go on a free tour at 3, b) see historical stuff myself, or b) go cafe hopping in Bellas Artes. Oh and I had to buy a plug converter. I changed my mind many times.

I ended up getting cafe cortado and an okay medialuna in a cafe and visiting the Metropolitan Cathedral on my own. It was beautiful, and even though I’m not religious, rather inspiring. It doesn’t look like much of a cathedral from the outside, but once I was inside I felt instantly revived.

After more wandering, I ended up back at Plaza de Armas and went to the tourist information center to pick up some pamphlets and then headed to the National History museum. It was rather interested with a lot of cool artefacts and an interesting overview of the history of Chile.

I then realized I had to begin my outlet adaptor search. The information center was closed, couldn’t use their computer. So I scoured the mall, finally breaking down and asking the department store electronics people, who pointed me to 2 different intersections, one which had nothing, then I asked a policeman and he pointed me to the second one, which I found – but the store was closed. By the way, Chileans drop sounds, so I heard Casa Rolla, but it was actually Casa Royal. I went into a hotel and asked them – they pointed me to one in the adjacent alleyway, which was – you guessed it – closed.

I started getting really upset, I was basically lost in a country where I don’t speak the language well, and I couldn’t find anything! It was then I went into the lovely little bookstore that made everything better. I asked the bookstore owner if he knew anything that was open. He then proceeded to look all over the back room to see if he had anything, and figuring out what exactly it was I needed. When he didn’t have it, he asked EVERY SINGLE SHOPKEEPER in a 2 block radius. It was ridiculous. When they didn’t, he drove me to a store (which was 2 blocks from my hostel) and bought me one, and took me back home. It was bizarre and amazing, and goddammit Chileans are the nicest people. Obviously I was hesitant and a little weirded out, but once I realized that it’s just how the people are here, and I was back at my hostel safe and with what I needed, I got over my American sensibilities.

Well, okay the adaptor was broken and I accidentally blew out the power (twice) and I had to exchange it , but the store was close and he still helped me so it was all okay.

That evening was another quiet one. Well, I attempted to go to this restaurant called “El Rey de Churrascos.” A Churrasco is a delicious Chilean sandwich with beef and tomato and guacamole and all sorts of deliciousness. They were closed and I wandered around a bit to see if they opened at 8. I paused for a second at what appeared to be a musical sermon. I think I could love Santiago.

So my first day I went in a lot of circles, which is not always a bad thing. I definitely should have taken that tour, I needed that orientation on that first day. But I did it the next day, to great success.

To be continued…

You cannot escape that easy though, expect one tomorrow. For now, fotos: