Rachel is a third-year studying Spanish literature. This past summer she spent time in Chile studying abroad. This is her second post from her journies
July 5, 2016
“Valparaíso, que disparate eres, qué loco, puerto loco…” –Pablo Neruda
Today, I write from my desk by the window in Viña del Mar, Chile as the sky casts shadows of splendid pinks and yellows onto the sea below. Behind the sea rise clusters of houses containing every color imaginable, stacked and scattered in the chaotic way that is so characteristic to Valparaíso. Along the coast runs the metro, which I ride on a daily basis, never without feeling like I’m on the brim of bursting with joy because of the vast beauty of the Pacific Ocean.
I have been in Chile for two weeks now, a fact I am still not convinced is true. Now that I have settled into the rhythms of life in this quirky port town near the end of the earth, I feel as if I have always been here. As if maybe this is home. However, this sentiment wasn’t always so. My journals from the first three or four days express thoughts like: It is too cold here. Cold and gray. I don’t like the food. Something is making me sick. I will never make friends. Chilean Spanish is way too hard to understand. Thankfully, by the end of the first weekend and throughout last week, I realized what lies I had allowed myself to believe. I began to take joy in simple activities like strolling along the beach at sunset, chatting somewhat effortlessly with street vendors and university students, coming home to steamy hot soups that warmed my body from the inside, and geeking out at the poetry scribbled along walls all over the city.
On a typical weekday, I wake up between 6:30-7 and head downstairs where Abuela Teresa has faithfully prepared me a cup of coffee and hot bread with either honey and butter or ham and cheese. By 7:45 I am out the door and on my way to the metro station, which is a quick three minute walk from home. I am taking two classes at Pontifica Universidad Católica de Valparaíso (PUCV), Latin American Film and Literature in the morning and Chilean Culture and Conversation in the afternoon. My favorite part of the day is when I go home for my 2pm almuerzo with the family. Lunch is the most important meal of the day and usually consists of a soup, a main dish, a salad, and if I’m lucky, a dessert. The meal is always lengthy and relaxed and I love the mental challenge of accurately following and appropriately contributing to the conversation.
I typically use the rest of my day to become acquainted with the neighboring cities of Viña del Mar and Valparaíso. My adventures thus far have been many and diverse. My feet have taken me up the city’s famous funiculars, around painted labyrinths of streets and staircases, and into ice cream shops, cafes, markets, and discotheques. My taste buds have sampled street foods either fried in oil or doused with mayonnaise and avocado. I was fortunate enough to arrive in the country in time to sit in a crowded bar with a sea of screaming soccer fanatics as Chile won against Argentina in the Copa America (and to experience an after-party of flag waving, car honking, and chanting that lasted until the sun shone again the next morning). I saw my first Spanish movie in theaters and had my first encounter with blubbery, snorting sea lions rolled out lazily on the beach. After the first week of classes, a group of friends and I treated ourselves to sandboarding followed by a fancy seafood dinner and a glass of local wine. Navigating public transportation has been an adventure in itself, but Chileans are generally friendly and willing to help me out. If I ask a guy for directions, he will often respond by asking for my Whatsapp number. Sigh, thus is life as a foreigner…
One of my favorite experiences was a weekend trip to the capital city Santiago, which is thankfully only a 90-minute bus ride away from Valparaíso. After a chilly yet exhilarating day of exploring art museums, parks, historic homes, and seafood markets, we ended up at the city’s central plaza shortly after sunset. From there, I got the chance to sit in on a Catholic mass in the massive cathedral constructed in 1551 and then watch a parade of political protestors, two elements of life critical to the culture and history of Chile. I sat on a bench and smiled at the sights and sounds of a city all around me– a dad spinning his daughter around, someone preaching into a
megaphone, several couples exchanging passionate kisses, a young woman selling scarves and winter hats, a man curled up by a tree with his hands open in hopes of receiving a few pesos. The vibrancy of humanity. The jumble of architectural styles spanning a few centuries. The backdrop of mountains faded by smog. The sting of winter air. Needless to say, Santiago was magical.
It has been two weeks and I could easily write a novel’s worth narrating things I’ve learned, but for now I’ll stick with this brief summary of my experience: I love it.