Saludos de Chile!
(As you can see, the date of this post does not necessarily correspond to the date that I arrived here in Chile: for this I apologize! Never has the phrase “hit the ground running” been so applicable to any one situation in particular. However, I will try to give an effective, yet hopefully not too long-winded summary of my time here thus far in this curious country. So…heregoes!)
After two full days of travel, including a layover in Los Angeles that Anthony Bourdain would be jealous of, I officially touched down in Santiago on Saturday February 25th. From the moment I stepped out of the airport, I felt a visceral, heart-palpitating sensation that engulfs any Pacific-Northwesterner who travels to a climate several latitudinal lines closer to the equator: HEAT! And boy was it sure hot in Santiago. The shuttle ride from the airport to the hostel was a rather breezy 20 minutes; during this time, I caught my first glimpses of this bustling Latin American metropolis. My first impression of Santiago, and something that I found myself saying to anybody who would listen, is that it has a very similar look and feel to that of another favorite city of mine; Madrid. The Spanish architecture, multi-colored and indicative of the city’s colonial past, is not to be ignored. The city manages a good balance of metropolitan and barrio, European aesthetics mixed with plenty of Latin American flare, and huge multinationals adjacent to quaint mom-and-pop empanada joints.
My hostel digs for the week were located in a neighborhood called Barrio Brasil, one of the oldest and most diverse areas of the city. It is situated pretty close to the main drag, Liberador Bernardo O’Higgins, which eventually spills over into the center, as well as some other centrally located areas. To be honest, the hostel itself was rather underwhelming (save for 1,200 peso ($2 USD) litros of Escudo beer!); but hey, it was on the house. Which brings me to my next topic; English Opens Doors.
The EOD program, which is essentially the reason I’m in Chile in the first place, is a joint initiative through the Chilean Ministry of Education and the UN Development Programme (for all of my JSIS peeps). The program is basically the end product of Chilean government efforts to focus on education and bring their country into the century of English as the lingua franca. So…here we are! For the first volunteer service (there are 7 throughout the year), I am one of about 40 volunteers from various parts of the states, Canada, UK, South Africa, as well as some others. About a third of the volunteers in VS1 had been in country for a month or so doing the “Spanish in Chile”, an option where volunteers take for Spanish classes and volunteer in English camps. Although they already had a pretty well-established rapport, they blended right in with all of us newbies.
Anyways, my Saturday consisted of scarfing down a few completos (suped-up hotdogs with tomatoes, onions, avocadoes, mayonnaise, and ahi-suace), sipping a couple liters of Cristal, the national beer of Chile, and mingling with the other volunteers. Later that night, we all went out to a bar in the area and watched a mini-concert by a band called “Antes de Nacer”, whose lead singer is friends with one of the Chilean members of the program. They were great: a Chilean funk-rock blend with a bit of soul added for good measure (side note: It’s been said many times over that the Latin American rock scene, especially in Chile, is huge and growing ever-more rapidly. Hearing this awesome group has definitely confirmed the hype and gotten me even more pumped for the rest of my stay here!) Lastly, myself along with a few other volunteers who wanted to end our first night on an even higher note, decided to do just that. Folks, I introduce to you, the Chorillana. Steak, eggs over easy, peppers & onions, dowsed in ahi sauce (Chilean hot sauce) all poured atop a heaping pile of fries (accompany with a few liters of Escudo for best results, and voila). Provecho!
The next day, we hit the gringo circuit, full of museums, sites, monuments, and the like. For the sake of time, I’ll highlight two places in particular (see pics up top^^):
-Museum of Fine Arts: Self-explanatory
-Saint Lucia: Great viewpoint of the city-scape!
The entire week that followed was volunteer orientation, so I won’t go into too much detail. This week was pretty much dedicated to “onboarding” and equpping all of the volunteers with all of the pedagogical tools needed to teach English in this country, running the gamut with methods, lesson-plans, presentations, etc. Coincidentally, my stomach did not seem to comply with the copious amounts of tap water and ‘roided-out hotdogs that I was forcing into my digestive tract. No explanation needed.
However, there was one special event that was worth a mention. On Wednesday, Lyndsay, one of the volunteers mentioned that she had met and conversed with a Chilean guy on her flight down, and that he was wondering if she and some others wanted to do a tour of Santiago from a local’s point of view. So, a few of us, out of both curiosity to explore a different side of Santiago as well as slight concern for the safety of our new friend, decided to come along. We definitely made the right choice. Marcello, a native Santiago-ian of 35 years or so, drove us around for some sightseeing, including a short trip outside the city to the Andean foothills to catch a glimpse of the setting sun. Pictures do not do the image justice. After a bit, we headed back into town and to one of the coolest bars I’ve ever been had the pleasure to patronize. I would post a picture, but this was definitely not the place where you want to be showing off your gringo colors! Its name, The Clinic, get’s its name from the real newspaper after which the bar is themed. A bit of context: the Clinic is a leftist, currently anti-government periodical that has a very Onion-esque way of poking fun at Chile’s presidential incumbents. The lucky incumbent of the moment is, of course, Chile’s own Sebastian Pinera. Not knowing much about him upon arrival, I have been quickly put up to speed by several Chilean’s from all walks of life that he is essentially the Chilean equivalent to our very own George W; this is due mainly to his poor public speaking demeanor, marked by notable mistakes that expose his lack of knowledge in just about everything, especially running the country. His approval ratings attest.
Back at the bar, we took a plate of ceviche and empanadas, along with some delicious beer and my first ever Pisco sour! For those not in the know (much like myself), a pisco sour or piscola, is a drink made from a liquor called Pisco, similar to brandy. For all intents and purposes, Piscola is the national drink of Chile. It has a fruity, margarita-esque taste to it, but don’t let its deliciousness fool you: these will put you on your ass if you do not tread softly. After one, I could feel my vision blurring!