friends! many of you have already seen this cuz i sent it out as a mass email, but i thought i'd post it here too in case you're not on my list (and if you want to receive these up-to-the-minute updates, let me know and give me your email address. the fact that you are not already on my list is nothing personal, i promise). I miss you all terribly, and i hope you are finding life fulfilling and awe-inspiring. what a crazy thing it is to be alive.
love and laughter,
Amigos y familia,
Happy March! It’s hard to believe a month has passed so quickly—my days here have been
so full of new people and adventures! I met up with my group from SIT almost two weeks
ago and have finally started classes after several days of orientation. But let me
back up a few weeks…
As I said in my previous email, I spent the first two weeks living with Carmen, my
Chilean grandmother of sorts, which was a perfect introduction to a very particular
view of Chile. While I was spending most of my free time with other English-speakers,
I was able to ease myself back into speaking Spanish, which has, if nothing else,
highlighted how much there is still to learn. Working at the orphanage was a great
experience, as well. I had never worked with infants before, but I suddenly found
myself in charge of babies ranging from 15 days old to around a year. There were about
20 babies in my section, and I helped feed and change them, as well as general riot
control. These babies were either abandoned at the hospital or taken from their
families as wards of state because they were abused or malnourished. Several of them
have parents or other relatives who come to visit, and I think those babies are
waiting for the court to decide whether or not they can return to their families. The
rest are up for adoption. It was hard to leave them after two short weeks after seeing
their profound need for more hands and loving caretakers. Who knows? Maybe I´ll find
some way to work them in to my independent research project in May...
I spent the rest of my time during those two weeks exploring various bits of Santiago.
Along with other students from the language school, I toured the top-rated vineyard in
Chile, took in a soccer game at a stadium nestled at the foot of the Andes, and bumbled
my way through a late-night salsa lesson. The people I met through the language school
are quite an eclectic bunch—they come from all over the US and the UK, and it was so
interesting to hear their different reasons for coming to Chile. For the second week,
I shared Carmen’s apartment with a recently married, 23-year-old couple from Texas.
The three of us had some wonderful lively discussions of marriage, divorce, gay rights,
transgender issues, and the cultural differences between Texas and New England. It was
a very enlightening time for all of us, I think, because neither they nor I get many
chances to really sit down and connect with people from such radically different
backgrounds. It has made me realize how even at a school as diverse as Mt. Holyoke,
there isn´t as much cross-cultural communication as they´d like you to think because
people (myself included) settle into their comfortable social groups and don´t
necessarily seek out people with whom they have very little in common.
After those two weeks, I took off more or less on my own for five days. My plans to
spend a weekend in the coastal city of Valparaiso happened to coincide with those of
two of my friends from the language school, so we all stayed in a hostel and wandered
the hills together. Hostel life is crazy--you meet amazing people on amazing journeys,
spend a few days together and become best friends, then leave and repeat the whole
process. I found it exhausting and was glad to finally meet up with my group from SIT,
but I did enjoy meeting so many neat people.
The best part of my mini vacation was the two days I spent in the mountains east of
Santiago. The Andes are simply breathtaking. After consulting my Lonely Planet guide,
I booked a few nights at the Refugio Lo Valdes, a guest house practically at the end of
a dirt road that puts Vermont´s potholes to shame. According to the guide, you take a
bus from Santiago to San Jose de Maipo, where you can either catch another bus or take
a taxi. Not entirely true, unless you happen to be passing through at 8.30am or want
to fork over $40 for the taxi... things they don´t mention in my guide. However, a
woman on the bus out to San Jose overheard me talking to the bus driver and offered to
help me get to Lo Valdes. She happened to know the owners of the Refugio, so she
called them and found out that Manuel, an employee, was driving back from San Jose and
the police at the checkpoint where the bus had left us could help me flag him down.
Turns out he was in San Jose because earlier that morning he´d severely cut his hand
with a saw, so he drove me the 40km to the Refugio in a stick-shift Jeep, using his
good hand to shift, steer, and wave at everyone we passed. He was a wonderful guide to
the area, telling me stories of other travelers, the local people, and the Refugio.
The whole trip from Valparaiso to Lo Valdes ended up taking almost seven hours, twice
what I’d expected, but it was a wonderful afternoon that revitalized my faith in the
kindness of strangers. Upon arrival, I spent the evening beating my own path up the
side of a mountain, enjoying the sunset, and literally sliding down a scree slope to
get back to the Refugio before dark. The following day, I went hiking with an English
guy who was also staying at the Refugio to a lagoon in the valley between two peaks
with a beautiful view of a glacier that’s slowly receding from the valley.
(glacier=glass-ee-r if you´re British) Over lunch, we were bombarded by a flock of
very aggressive small yellow birds that perched on my boot and ate an apple out of my
friend´s hand (while sitting in his wrist). Crazy birds. That night, a couple from
Seattle invited me to go to the thermal baths down the road with them… I have never
seen so many brilliantly clear stars!
Now, I am back in Santiago for a month or so living with a family, and the first few
days have been good. I’m eager to delve deeper into Chile’s history and education
system through our classes that start in earnest next week. I’m staying with a family
of musicians and I’m excited to tap their wealth of knowledge about Chilean music. I’m
constantly getting frustrated by my limited ability to express myself and the
difficulty of understanding Chilean Spanish, but I trust that will all get easier with
There is so much more I could say about my first weeks with SIT, but I’ll save that for
the next installment. I hope all is well for all of you, and thank you to everyone who
responded to my last update! It was, as always, wonderful to hear from all the various
corners of the world.