Monday, December 27, 2010

Christmas in Chile

Feliz Navidad a todos!

Christmas in Chile sure was different. First of all let's start off with the weather - bright and sunny, I was wearing shorts, birkenstocks, and a t-shirt on Christmas eve, and then a sundress on Christmas day... a little different from heavy sweaters and boots that I would normally be wearing in Canada!

Christmas eve day I woke-up, met my older host-brother who had just arrived home from Argentina, had a little something for breakfast, showered, and relaxed. For lunch we had completos (hotdogs) then some more time to just relax and chill (lately I've gotten into watching Friends with spanish subtitles or The OC in spanish... that's hard!) Around 9 pm we had a "snack" so some left overs, pan de pascua, aceitunas, my homemade ginger snap cookies, leche con cola de mono, etc. Then around 10:30 pm was the "meal." Nothing like Canadian Christmas with a big meal with all the fixings but we just had a little bit of turkey and potato salad. We skyped with my host-brother in Kentucky when we were eating and after just talking. Then after midnight that's when we opened up our presents. Again a little less-dramatic than my typical Canadian Christmas, everyone just ripped theirs open at once... I was the weird one to wait until they told me "Open them open them!!!" I stayed up until 2:30 am with my family and then finally headed to sleep because I knew I had an early morning.

On Christmas day I woke-up early to Skype with my mom and step-dad back home and open up our presents together. I think for the both of us Christmas just doesn't feel right being away from each other, me being parent-less and them being child-less. After that my Chilean family and I went to the house of one of my host-uncle's whom I'd never met before. He lives 15 mins. from Viña del Mar. So we arrived and talked a bit, then had lunch, some more turkey, then my family headed to the coast. We drove through Viña del Mar and then to Reñaca where I got to put my feet in the Pacific ocean for the first time in the southern hemisphere (i've still yet to swim in the pacific.. ever!) I can say I've never been close to going to a beach on a Christmas day before! We walked around a bit then went back to my host-uncle's. We stayed there and had once then headed back home. My family wasn't doing anything so I skyped with more family back home, my grandparents then my dad, step-mom, step-brother. After all of that it was fairly late.... but then I started to pack. Why pack you may ask? Well you see I was changing houses the next day! Yep, one day after Christmas I switched families!

I'm probably one of the worst packers in the world but I finally managed to get all of my stuff into quite a few bags. My new parents came to my now-old house with my friend from Pennsylvania (whom I switched with), and we did the big switch-a-roo. I now live in the comuna Recoleta, in my house is my mama, papa, host-brother, and also my host-grandma. It's close to the centro of Santiago and also to Cerro San Cristobal, Bellavista, and huge-cheap-shopping area Patranato. It's such a different feeling being in this area, I feel like I'm more in Chile now, although I can't be out late because it's quite a peligroso area. Unlike Las Condes my street doesn't look like there's houses, its more of flat-fronted buildings, kind of a surprise of what's inside! My house is really nice inside, and is quite larger than my last house. My parents showed me my room (with a queen bed and my own bathroom - score!) and then the rest of the house with a nice large patio also. After I got some of my stuff settled into my room I went on a walk with my parents to the supermarket nearby as they showed me landmarks, major streets, and where the closest metro station is. I think I'll be quite happy living here for the rest of my exchange, although it is very far away from my school and friends I'll make it work!

So overall my Chilean Christmas experience was, well... different, as well every family here has their own way of celebrating. For me it feels like I just skipped over another major holiday, as if it never happened. Thankfully all the major celebrations are over - in October was Thanksgiving/three family member birthdays, then November was my birthday, and now Christmas has come and passed. By no means am I complaining, it's just interesting to be apart from what I'm "used to" and doing things in a different way - but that's what exchange is all about right!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

It's Christmas time?

This thought has been in my head since the start of December. I can't even comprehend the fact that Christmas is four days away! I've been anticipating hits of homesickness due to the holiday season, but its just so surreal that I don't believe its actually going to be Christmas. The weather here has certainly turned up, and it's for sure summer now! I even have my first sunburn to prove it... so while everyone back home is experiencing 3-6 feet of snow, I'm just here basking in 36 C weather in summertime. Not to brag or anything, I mean, I really do miss that white stuff sometimes, the smells of Christmas baking, and sounds of Christmas music playing over and over.

I also was able to view the lunar eclipse last night, I stayed up really late with two of my friends to watch it (ok, we dozed off quite a bit since it was 4:30 am), but it was pretty interesting to know that I was able to view the same eclipse as people back home were.

Time has gone by so fast here, I had my 4 month Chile-versary on Saturday... 4 months already!! Although sometimes I feel like I haven't achieved much on my exchange so far, as I look back through my journal, blog, and photos I have already done so much, but yet there's so much more in-store for me! I can't wait to make the most out of the rest of my exchange here, I already feel so at home in the country, I can't even imagine having to leave it.

Last Sunday we had a big Rotary meeting with all of the exchange students. We also got to meet two short-term exchange students from South Africa. Rotary also had a surprise for all of the Inbounds. All of a sudden they opened up the curtain and there on the windows were posters with photos on them. Everyone had photos from back home that their parents had sent - my photo was my dog, the biggest thing from home that I miss. Rotary also had letters for everyone that our parents had wrote for us. That was truly a worthwhile meeting, and it also gave us exchange students an opportunity to juntar after and hangout!

With my doggy Smeagol (yes from Lord of the Rings....) and photos of my host-brother on exchange right now in Kentucky, USA - I'm also liking the spelling of my name.. more Chilean, like cachai, but Lyndsai

I also attempted some slacklinning yesterday, it sure is harder than it looks!

Well I'm off to watch a Christmas-themed movie to try and get in the spirit - but with spanish subtitles of course!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Fotos de patagonia

Volcano Osorno from the plane

Punta Arenas

Los intercambistas

Kissing the toe (minus lip action)

Your typical penguins


At the "end of the world!"

In Torres del Paine

Cheerleaders from around the world - USA, Germany, Canada!

Oh yeah glacier!

Soulja boyin' it on the boat

With my councilors

Patagonia Rotary Trip!

Sunday December 5th
Woke up after only one and a half hours and sleep and headed to the airport to join the rest of the exchange students going on the South trip! We had a pretty early flight but we arrived in Punta Arenas in the morning and then had the opportunity to tour around the city. The city was really quite small with not a lot to do. But we visited the plaza in which the statue with the "magical toe" is. The belief is that if you kiss the toe you will one day return to Punta Arenas. The toe has been discoloured from so many people kissing it! We then had some time to buy things - me and Emily bought penguin hats... yeah some people thought they were funny, but we were serious about these hats... I mean we were going to see penguins! After lunch we had some more free time then after headed out to the Seno Otway Penguin Sanctuary. I have to admit it: I love penguins! As soon as I saw my first penguin waddle by I fell in love with these little creatures! For me it was one of many highlights of the trip, how often to you get to see penguins in their natural habitat?! Being out in the open it was amazing to see how different the geography was from anywhere else I had ever been. Also everything seemed so bright, and with the sun everything seemed so clear - beautiful! On our way back we stopped at this big cemetery in Punta Arenas. There were so many grave spots, or little houses with a few tombs, and then these really weirdly shaped trees!

Monday December 6th
We took a drive out into the countryside and first stopped at a monument of Chile with a star of where we were. It was crazy to see how far south we really were! After we headed to an old fort called Fort Bulnes. After lots of picture taking we hopped on our bus and traveled to Puerto Natales.

Tuesday December 7th
Torres del Paine day! We left early from our hotel and headed towards the Torres del Paine National Park. We had a few stops along the way to see different views along with some wild alpacas! We also went to the cueva de milodon which was a huge cave including a life sized statue of one of the giant creatures. After a little while more we finally entered the park. We got off and walked a little bit to a look out point. It was so beautiful, and also so relaxing to see the amazing mountains and blue/white glacier lakes. It was also VERY windy up in the open, you could even lean into the wind and almost get taken away, or get blown over like one of the Rotarians. We then arrived at our hotel - a beautiful 4 star hotel with the most amazing view ever! When we looked out our window we had the most "picture-perfect" view of the mountains in the park. After settling in a bit a group of us went for a polar-dip in the freezing river! I had to do it, and I also had to go full out, head underwater and all! It was quite refreshing after the fact when your legs would stop stinging!

Wednesday December 8th
We went for a little hike up a hill in the morning. Getting yet another amazing view of the mountains and lakes it was amazing to be higher up and take it all in. After lunch we went on a 3-hour boat tour on Lago Grey. We were able to see a glacier along with some icebergs. That was pretty amazing to see a glacier - yet again another first in my life! But there are so many glaciers here, up high in the mountains, beside the lakes, just everywhere you can see these thousands of year old ice fields!

Thursday December 9th
Horseback riding in the morning! I was in the first group to go, and although it rained on us it was so good to ride a horse again. Although it was different not having to wear a helmet for safety, or not testing us to see if we were able to ride a horse, never mind jog or canter on one. That was truly another experience horseback riding in the amazing open landscape of Patagonia with amazing views, and then cantering on a horse feeling so free! After waiting for the other two groups to finish we waited by the fire, napped, played cards, just exchange student things. After lunch we had to head back to Puerto Natales for our final night of the trip!

Friday December 10th
Packed up and then went for an 8-hour boat ride, and we thought 3 hours was long before... We found different activities to keep ourselves occupied, like "fast photos" and handstands. I now have over 1,000 photos due to our fascination with my cameras fast shutter and our creativity! But during the boat ride we saw birds, sea lions, etc. We then took a small boat ride out into a glacier lake to get closer to another glacier. But first thing we did was hit an iceberg... no Titanic action but it was still pretty funny to say that we hit an iceberg! We then went for an asado for lunch including chicken, churipan, lamb, and horse meat!

Overall the trip was so amazing/la raja! The best parts were being able to spend so much time with all of the exchange students, building new friendships and strengthening others. All of the inside jokes, handstands, and memorable quotes will live on through my exchange here, I'm so happy that I went on the trip! Although it was also quite sad because this is the only and final trip with the oldies (New Zealanders and Aussie) because they'll be leaving in January. Even after only getting 2-4 hours of sleep every night on the trip, losing a lot of spanish, I couldn't be happier with the trip! It's still hard to believe that I have traveled to such an amazing place here in Chile. Patagonia has been the most beautiful place I have seen so far in my life, the landscape is so different, the mountains and glacier lakes are breath-taking and being able to experience the sunlight until around 10:30 - 11 pm was truly special!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Lesson of the Day: Never try to return something in Chile

Saturday I finally got to check another thing off my "to do list" - I climbed Cerro San Cristobal in Santiago. I met-up with my exchange friend Jo-Ellen and her Chilean amiga and we headed to the cerro. We took the road trail up to the top, and it was stinking hot out that day. Sure we could have started earlier, but why not go at 12 when the suns out! We were hoping to go the pools that are part way up the hill... but those weren't open (darn it). We finally made it to the top, saw the Virgin Mary, saw all the smog covering Santiago, and were able to see the beautiful city that we can say that we live in. It's quite weird, I still haven't gotten that shock of "I'm living in Chile, this is my life!! What?!" But once I was at the top it was just like "Cool - this is my city, I live here"... no intense realizations, but maybe I've already passed that point and haven't noticed. After some mote con huesillo we decided to take the trolley car down the side of the hill (another thing off the list!) I want to climb the cerro again but next time really hike it. I'm talking off-paved trail/perhaps trespassing/trekking up the side of it! And plus I forgot my dear Traveling Gnome!

Nos ♥ Santiago!

Smoggy Santiago from the top of Cerro San Cristobal

Ok and now to the title of this post...
On Sunday I met-up with Emily and we had some lunch then went shopping. At one of the big department stores here (not mentioning any names.... Paris) we found lots of good deals and these watches that were 1/2 off - so we bought them. Then we realized that they were full price because we didn't have the "store card." After having many problems with the somewhat in-knowledgeable salesperson we went to another salesperson to return our watches. It took a lot of waiting, and waiting, and then explaining our problem, then waiting, then following a person to another level, waiting, getting official papers and paperwork done for returning the item including our ID cards, then going back upstairs, signing the official forms... all in all it took over 30 minutes to finally return a little item. Now, I'm no professional or anything, but after working in a big chain department store in Canada this kind of thing should NOT be very difficult! Anyways just yet another experience in Chile, and I may boycott going into the store for a while now.

Only in Chile

Today is the last day of November, I only have 3 more days of school, and I leave for Patagonia on my Rotary trip in 5 days! Things are starting to go really fast... its crazy!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Beavertale Round 1

'Tis the season for a Beavertale! No not the delicious pastry, not the tail of our national animal, but the summary of the first 3rd of every Outbounds' exchange in district 7080.

It's already crazy to see the first three months gone just like that, and having to report on what we've been doing, I mean... I've been here almost 100 days now!

So here we go, my Beavertale for you. I'm not able to have a direct link so I'll post the whole thing here (mind you it's lengthy), but you can check out the rest of the 7080 Beavertales and my lovely picture out at...
>Youth Exchange 7080

Chile, my new home. A land rich of diversity, culture, geography, liveliness, and a true sense of unity. My first three months living in this great country have truly been a whirlwind of adventure and a lot of learning. Arriving on a cool mid-August day nearing the end of the Chilean winter, I had little idea of what my life was about to become. So far my time here has been challenging, difficult, frustrating and yet so satisfying and enjoyable at the same time! I have experienced things I would have never thought I would, and have already learned so much about the language, the culture, and myself. The little quirks of Chile make me smile every day, and it’s amazing how you can adopt a country as your own and in return the people adopt you as well. My time here has been short but already I have had many adventures and stories that I will remember for a long time.

Here in Chile I am living in the capital, Santiago, with a population of almost 6 million people. Coming from a small village in Canada I have slowly started to turn into a city girl! There is a fairly good public transit system here and I am the fondest of the metro that covers the entire underground of the city. It is generally safe and easy to take, even for a gringa like me! The city is so unique with its many different comunas to live in, the different traditions and aspects that set them apart and make them unique. The best part about living in Santiago is that there seems to always be a view of the great Andes Mountain range. They seem to peak-out everywhere and after a rainy night the smog has cleared and the snow-capped wonders are so bright and majestic. I can’t help but constantly admire these wondrous formations; they make you feel so small and yet so grateful to be living amidst them.

After a few days of running around the city to get proper papers in place I started school right away. Going into my new school I was not nervous at all, something that would have been a nightmare to me in Canada. I had already been known to some of my classmates and teachers and had talked to a few of them prior to me joining the class. Here I am in 3° Medio (grade 11) in a very small Adventist school with grades Pre-Kinder to 4° Medio. Right away I was welcomed into the class with besos (kisses, typical Chilean greeting) from everyone and the fun of communicating in Spanglish began! Since my school is a lot smaller than most Chilean schools my class is a very tight-knit group, and I have been able to find my place in the class with a great group of fun-loving and friendly amigos. I am no longer the gringa or exchange student, I am just another student in the class, the same as everyone else! Schools here also have a lot of spirit, especially for the anniversary of the school. During the anniversary the school is split into Alianzias in which you compete against the others in different competitions and games. There was so much liveliness, cheering, laughter, and smiles all around for the two days of my schools Alianzias. School has become the most helpful tool for learning Spanish because I am constantly surrounded by it day in and day out. I also have supportive friends and teachers who pressure me to learn as fast as I can so that I will be able to communicate as if I were Chilena!

My Spanish has slowly but surely been improving. Coming with no knowledge of Spanish at all I am surprised and proud of how far I have progressed. Although they don’t quite speak Spanish here, instead it’s “Chileano.” Chileans have a tendency to speak at rapid speeds with a lot of slang, along with dropping sounds and letters when they talk. But this also gives an extra challenge to my exchange as I try to pick-up the slang so that I can become Chilean and communicate the same as my friends do! I have also started to notice my English slowly getting worse as I am becoming more accustomed to my new language along with my R’s starting to roll off my tongue more naturally. It’s truly incredible at how at the beginning the impossible task of speaking Spanish is starting to become a reality for me now.

The last few months here in Chile the country has accomplished quite a few milestones. Starting in September, Chile celebrated its Bicentennial Anniversary, 200 years of Independence and great traditions! I headed down south with my family on a 12 hour drive to Temuco where we met-up with some old friends and celebrated the Chilean way. Food is of high importance here and there is never a lack of it. My celebration consisted of delicious empanadas, bread, desserts, typical Chilean dishes, and of course the much beloved Chilean barbeque – the asado! My school also had a celebration for the Bicentennial and each class had to perform a traditional Chilean dance. I dressed up along with the rest of my class and danced in front of the entire school and the parents, again one of those things that would terrify me back home but here it seemed so normal and I had so much fun! In October the whole country came together to watch the rescue of the 33 trapped miners. It was truly amazing to see the spirit and unity throughout the entire process, and when the first miner surfaced I don’t know if there was one person who hasn’t happy and excited to see their country pull through and do the unimaginable!

My Rotary district here is quite large with over 40 exchange students in it from all around the world. My first introduction to Rotary down here was when I had to represent District 7080 and Canada along with a fellow Canadian exchange student as District 7080 in Canada had donated an ambulance here in Chile. It was a day of lots of smiles for photos and feeling quite proud of my District back home for being so proactive and charitable. I also had the opportunity to travel to ocean cities such as Valparaíso, Viña del Mar, and San Antonio on a Rotary weekend with the entire district. It’s truly great to have such a diverse group of exchange students and you always know that someone will be willing to go somewhere, explore, or hangout when given the chance!

When given the ability to travel or see a new part of the country I always jump at the opportunity. My opportunity came when my class took their school trip to Bariloche in a part of Patagonia in Argentina. We also visited the south of Chile including places such as Puerto Varas and Puerto Montt. This was such an amazing experience. Not only were the vistas breathtaking, almost unimaginable and the lakes were so blue and clear. We had the most perfect weather. The opportunity to spend six days with my classmates speaking in Spanish and creating memories was a once in a lifetime opportunity! It was so interesting to travel to Argentina, hear the different accent, see the Swiss influence and get another stamp in my passport. The Chilean part of our trip was also incredible in the Los Lagos (lake) region. In Puerto Varas there are two active volcanoes sitting pretty across the lake just waiting for their moment to erupt, my first sight of a volcano ever! The week truly helped me to integrate more into my life here in Chile and has greatly improved my Spanish and my relationships with friends and teachers.

The culture and the people here are so refreshing and different. There is never a dull moment wherever you are. The culture and traditions thrive strongly here as Chileans are proud of their heritage. Although I have only been here for a few months, time has flown by. As another month passes I am constantly looking forward to the “what next” as my adventure continues here in Chile!

There are sometimes no words in either English or Spanish to express how thankful I am to have this opportunity and amazing experience. Thank you Rotary District 7080 and everyone else who has supported me in my desire to have this great opportunity and live 11 great months in a country that I can now consider home!

Disfruta la vida