Sunday, June 23, 2013

Back in the US of A

Well, folks, I'm back! After a week of bumming around my house and New York City, I'm off to good old San Leandro, CA for the summer. For those of you who haven't heard what my summer job is already... brace yourselves. I'm designing and building a haunted house! I'm very excited and nervous for the whole "horror genre" bit of it, but I can't wait to see what's in store.

Being back in the states has been wonderful. It's summer, everybody speaks English, and I don't have to take public transportation everywhere. I definitely do miss Chile, but I know I'll go back there some day. For now, here's my list of superlatives to sum up the trip:

1. Most Adventurous Adventure: Climbing the volcano in Pucón
2. Favorite Weekend Trip: The Atacama Desert
3. Best Moment: Fighting the crazy winds on Cape Horn, the end of the earth
4. Worst Moment: Getting a fever at the Bing Farewell Dinner
5. Favorite Chilenismo (a Spanish word that only Chileans use): Palta, meaning avocado
6. Cutest Cafe: A little restaurant in the garage of a beautiful house and within walking distance from my house
7. Favorite Food: Pastel de Choclo (baked sweet corn casserole) from this cute cafe.
8. Food I Missed the Most: Salad! Good, full salads were nonexistent in Chile.
9. Most Spectacular: Patagonia... everything about it
10. Things I'll Miss the Most: My Chilean friends, the beautiful sunsets, and 3-day weekends :)

Part of my host family: Mom, Dad, and Isidora, the youngest of three

Now with me, and Benjamín in focus

Chile was a crazy, 11-week whirlwind of adventure. It feels strange that this chapter of my Stanford experience is over because I've been looking forward to it since freshman year. Now, it's time for the next strange, haunted house chapter and then my senior year! Time flies. 

Thanks for reading, skimming, or even just looking at the pictures. ¡Hasta la bye bye!

Friday, June 14, 2013

No hard feelings, Chile...

It seems as though someone or something wants me to get the hell out of Chile as soon as possible. The smog, a result of the surrounding mountains that act like a bowl, has gotten much worse since winter is well on its way. For about a week, I thought that my persistent sore throat and headache were a result of the pollution. When I went for a run and thought that surely I would cough up blood, my suspicions were almost confirmed. That is, until I came down with a fever and found myself bed-ridden for two days. Pity party aside, I've been trying to appreciate my last few days as much as possible. Hopefully by tomorrow I'll be able to at least go see one last museum! 

View from the top of Cerro San Cristóbal, one of Santiago's cerros (hills). Yes, that is the smog. And yes, there are mountains behind it.

View from my window on a relatively clear day, as compared to...

 ... the view from my window today.

On a brighter note, I made these in my ceramics class! I'm giving half of it away... don't worry, Mom.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Santiago has been here this whole time?

Well, folks. I only have 7 days and 6 odd hours left in Chile, and it's getting to be that time to feel sad. I decided to stay home these past two weekends to take advantage of all of the things in Santiago that I've neglected. Museums, parks, markets, cafes, cooking, clay and mosaic classes, you name it. I've also been working on a movie with music, pictures, and videos from the trip. It's too big to upload basically anywhere, otherwise I'd post it here. You'll just have to take my word for it that it's good... at least it's good enough to make my program director tear up.

Now, all that stands between me and being able to enjoy my last days in Santiago worry-free are four essays and two finals! No, it's not a coincidence that I just so happen to be writing this blog post the day before both of my finals. Which reminds me, I should probably start studying for those.

Here's a picture of some tasty empanadas we made last weekend:

Monday, May 27, 2013

I've caught the travel bug: La Serena

After getting back from a crazy, relatively sleepless trip to the Atacama on Tuesday, I casually threw out the question, "anybody want to travel this weekend?" I had three takers, so off we went to La Serena on Thursday night. HostelWorld and Turbus are great for this kind of thing. Overall, I enjoyed my weekend, but La Serena wasn't nearly the best place I've visited so far. It's a tiny city caught in a state of perpetual cloudiness, although it is surrounded by some beautiful destinations.

On Saturday, we went on a tour to Valle de Elqui, a valley known for its papaya, pisco vineyards, the childhood home of famous Chilean poet, Gabriela Mistral, and lots of sun!

Unripe papaya

A pisco vineyard from afar

The beautiful valley

We met (yet another) adorable dog. She was absolutely gigantic and certainly knew how to ask for what she wanted.

A guanaco, relative to the vicuña, llama, and alpaca.

Sunday's tour was really what made the weekend worth it for me. We took a boat tour to Isla Damas and Punto Choros. The water in this area is known for being a beautiful turquoise color, and both islands have a great assortment of wildlife. We saw Humboldt penguins, dolphins, sea lions, sea otters, and a whole bunch of birds. I had a great time snapping pictures and pretending like I was working for  National Geographic. 

Beautiful water

Huge amounts of bird excrement (guano) was used as fertilizer back in the day... I think I'm going to do a presentation about this

Ze boat

So twerquoise 

I really think that the tour company must have been paying the animals into cooperating so well because it was almost like they put on a show for us...

"You, pelican! Stand next to that seagull so the tourists can gauge just how massive you are"...

... As if there just "happened" to be a massive starfish hanging out on the rock within arms reach ...

... And penguins waddling around on the beach even though they're supposed to be on the other side of the island protecting their young ...

... Even the sea otters (my favorite animal) came out to say hi ...

... Cue the adorable mother-daughter waving pair on your right ...

... And now the quarreling male adolescents on your left ...

... Now for the grand finale: dolphins! They followed our boat for at least ten minutes!

I know that I said this would be my last trip, but I still have one more viable weekend to travel before my time here is up. We'll see if I can get my presentations and take-home finals done early enough to be able to travel. If not, there's still so much exploring I have to do in Santiago! 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Desert Adventures: San Pedro de Atacama

First of all, I'd like to thank the Chilean navy for winning the Battle of Iquique on May 21, 1879 during the War of the Pacific (and thanks to Wikipedia for this information) because yesterday's holiday meant that we got a five-day weekend! Nine of us embarked on a trip to the Atacama Desert, the driest desert in the world. Naturally, we were greeted by two days of rain upon arrival... rain at this time of year is nearly unheard of. 

Once the skies cleared and the dirt roads re-solidified, we embarked on two days of amazing excursions. Adventures included the altiplanicas (high plains), Salar de Atacama, floating and sunset at Laguna Cejar, trekking along a river, sand-boarding in Valle de la Muerte, and sunset in Valle de la Luna. Since those things probably mean nothing to most of you, here are some pictures and descriptions of each part:

Altiplanicas: High up in the mountains are some large lakes located on the plains. The snowfall from the day before caused the roads to be blocked, so we never made it all the way to the lakes. We did have a darn good time in the (jam packed) van driving up and down the mountains and playing in the snow.
The group at the Tropic of Capricorn

Look! Snow!

The wonderful Edgardo (more about him later)

Salar de Atacama: Salar de Atacama, meaning salt flat of Atacama, is the home of a lot of beautiful flamingos. They feed on tiny little shrimps in the water pretty much constantly, which is why most pictures you'll see are of flamingos with their faces in the water. The water here was so incredibly still, which makes for a beautiful reflective surface with the mountains and clouds in the background.
Hungry flamingo

Thanks for the awesome camera, mom!

Laguna Cejar: Literally (google) translated, Laguna Cejar, means Relent Lagoon. Not sure what it really should translate to, but alls you need to know is that there are super salty lakes. Lakes that you float in as if you're wearing water wings all over your body. It was really freaky to get into because for some reason I forgot that if the whole floating thing was a giant prank, I could still swim just fine. 

They wouldn't let me be the 6th point of their star, so I decided to get in the middle of it.

The whole salt thing really does work!

After we changed out of our salt-encrusted bathing suits, we enjoyed the beautiful reflections before sunset

KIRI ENDICOTT, I licked the salty ground just for you! I put this on facebook too, but I figured you'd be more likely to see this.

Acting like gringa fools during one of many photo shoots as the sun went down 

Look at how spectacular it is!

Hacer Trekking: The next morning, we went for a hike along a river through the desert. The views were beautiful, and I only almost fell into the river once. I did have a few PTSD flashbacks to the volcano climb, but I managed to keep the panic attacks to a minimum. 

Cacti errywhere

Una cascadita 

Atenia, the hostel puppy, got thrown into the river and stepped on her fair share of mini cacti. Needless to say, she was ready to go home by the end.

A shot of the mini-gorge/river we trekked through

We were actually in a real desert!

Valle de la Muerte: (Mis)translated to Valley of the Dead, this valley literally looked like Mars. And it also looked a lot like Bryce Canyon in Utah. We sand boarded down one of the few sandy dunes (the Atacama is a desert of salt/rocks, not sand like what you'd think of when you think about a typical desert). Below is a compilation of all of the wipe-out pictures I took. 

My personal favorite

It looked like (what I think) Mars (would look like)!

Valle de la Luna: Translated to Valley of the Moon, Valle de la Luna is the one destination that everybody says "you have to see" when you're in the Atacama. The valle was much more impressive than Valle de la Muerte, and it is famous for the incredible colors at sunset. We got there right in time after sand boarding and got to see the Atacaman sun set one more time before heading back to Santiago.

Still wearing my favorite thrift shop fleece

Desert sunsets are the best kind of sunset

After getting back from San Pedro, I'm starting to realize how little time I have left here in Chile. I'm not sad about leaving the Atacama or Santiago, but I am sad about leaving all of the amazing people I've met here. Being able to meet quirky, crazy, and genuinely kind people like the guy who ran our hostel, Edgardo, doesn't happen everywhere. I've been so lucky that I've met so many great Chileans (and Stanford students!) who have shaped my experience so drastically. 

I'm trying to pull together a last minute trip to La Serena (leaving tomorrow!), and that'll be my last weekend excursion. After that, it'll just be me, Santiago, and a whole lot of homework for finals week! I have definitely managed to exhaust Chile of its major destinations and attractions, but I hope to come back to South America soon to see what else the rest of the continent has to offer. 

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Pucón: The Best Weekend Yet

In three short days sandwiched between two 10-hour night buses, we managed to have a darn good weekend. It was definitely, as you might've guessed from the title, the Best Weekend Yet. Five of us travelled to Pucón, a paradise for the outdoorsy, adventurous type, to do just that: outdoorsy, adventurous stuff. We managed to pack in Class 4 white water rafting, hot springs, mountain biking to a waterfall, and hiking to the top of a volcano.

At first, it seemed like the volcano hike would be impossible with the weather forecast, so we hoped that it would magically clear up on Sunday. And it did! We set off at 6:45am and headed to the base of the volcano to put our gear on. They gave us jackets, pants, gloves, a helmet, crampons, a backpack... and an ice pick. Contrary to what I imagined, the ice pick was not for happily whacking at chunks of ice for fun. We used it as a crutch, kind of like a third leg, and also to save our lives if we started tumbling down the icy mountain.

The first hour was a pretty nasty shock because of the level of difficulty. The next four hours can only be described by one word: death. Death by exhaustion and especially death by falling down an icy cliff with nothing but boulders to break your fall (and legs). After only one mini panic attack, which was induced by being completely winded, high altitude, my extreme fear of heights, and almost getting knocked off the mountain by the strong winds, we finally made it to the top.

We couldn't get close enough to the opening to see down to the lava, but there was plenty of smoke to convince me that Volcán Villarica is, in fact, an active volcano. Since the winds were dangerously strong and I had to fix my crampons, there is not a single picture of me at the top. Except for the one I Photoshopped, of course.

Climbing that volcano was physically the scariest and the second hardest hike that I have ever done (second only to hiking Mount Emei in China for twelve hours). We're so lucky that the weather held out and that nobody fell to their deaths. I can say that I've climbed an active volcano! And now, you're rewarded by getting to look at these awesome pictures (I guess the people who didn't read all of this still probably looked at the pictures).

Freezing rafting in the rain

While biking, we stopped at Río Plata to admire the view

Río Plata waterfall

Volcán Villarica... it can't be that hard, right?

The gear

View from where we started... no we didn't ride the chair lift

We made it to the top!

On our way back down

Believe me, we weren't smiling like this on the way up