All Good Things Must Come to an End
So. I’m back now. In the United States that is. It’s an interesting feeling even now, a bit more than a week after I first stepped back onto US soil in Atlanta. When people bump into me and excuse themselves, as has happened quite often in the last few days, what with all the time at airports and then Christmas shopping, the automatic reflex is still to say “está bien” or “no se preocupe”. It’s just something that’s become ingrained into me. When it happens, I’m not actively thinking about it; it’s become second nature. I also stumble over my English occasionally and throw in random Spanish words when I do manage to get some intelligible out. For example, I can’t for the life of me stop saying también. In addition, things I see here keep reminding me about my experiences in Chile. The transition back to one’s native culture, or reverse culture-shock, as it is called, can be difficult. As they told us in the Re-entry session, things don’t just seem different than when you were last in your home country, they simply are. You are different. Sometimes other people can’t accept that, but you just have to be patient (something you learn to be in Chile, incidentally). It sometime can be difficult to get others to listen to you, though I don’t really have that problem. One of my sisters studied in Chile as well, and my family is generally interested in traveling and different countries and cultures in general, so I don’t have to feel as if I am talking past everyone, but I don’t think everyone is so lucky, unfortunately. Regardless, I think the relationships you have built with the other students on your program can help a lot if this becomes a big problem.
I miss Chile. I really do. I am glad to be back home, to be able to see my family and play videogames and hang out with my friends. But I miss some of the independence I had there, and the opportunities, and the people I met. And my host family, especially my two host brothers. We became good friends over those four and a half months. I learned a lot in Chile, both about myself as a person and about my language skills. I really hope I can succeed at applying all that I learned here and in my next study abroad experience (I’m studying in Russia next semester). I know I will go back. I don’t quite know when, or how, but I know I want to. Of course, life has a way of getting in the way of declarations like that, but I’ll do my best to make sure that doesn’t turn out to be the case.
I traveled after classes ended, and while I don’t think writing out everything in detail is a good idea I don’t really have the time (mostly because, I mean, Christmas cookies are being baked, which means someone has to eat them soon. Only logical). I wanted to share a few pictures. Chile is a beautiful country and the beautiful thing about IFSA-Butler, and studying down here in general, is that you usually have time, at least 2 to 3 weeks, to travel around a bit after classes end and can still make it back home in time for the holidays.
First I went on a 5 day trip to La Serena, a small city on the coast. Well, relatively. It’s a 10 minute walk to the beach from the center of town. Its sister town, Coquimbo, located just 11km down the coast, is a port, but la Serena is much prettier, more pristine and less chaotic than gritty Coquimbo, where the sand from the beaches blows into town, getting into everything. But the bike ride there along the beach is pretty nice. We visited the Valle de Elqui, where the grapes destined for Chilean pisco (Peru has its own and the rightful title to being the inventor of this distilled wine drink) are grown, and where Gabriela Mistral was born and grew up. There was a quite excellent museum dedicated to her in the town of Vicuña, and it was really cheap for students too. In Pisco Elqui, an even smaller town than the already very tiny Vicuña, you can visit the pisco distillery of the Mistral company, makers of high quality pisco (higher quality than Capel, at least). The tour was quite interested if a bit rushed (it’s absolutely not pisco making season yet, so the distillery wasn’t even running, and my friend and I were the only ones on the tour). On our fourth day there we went to la Reserva Nacional Pingüinos de Humboldt, a group of three islands which were a very interesting three hour van ride north of La Serena to the village of Punta de Choros, followed by an hour and a half long boat ride. I’ve included some pictures. There were obviously penguins there, but the Reserva also contains several species of birds and a colony of sea lions, along with bottlenose dolphins in the waters around the islands. Our last day there, we relaxed a bit, visiting some museums and perusing the ferias scattered around town. Our bus left for Santiago at 11:58 in the evening, which gave us plenty of time.
After returning to Santiago, I had about a day to repack all of my stuff, because a day and a half after coming back from La Serena, I was sitting on a plane to Punta Arenas, final destination, Parque Torres del Paine, the heart of Chilean Patagonia.
I arrived in Punta Arenas too late to take the bus to Puerto Natales (the capital of the Province of Última Esperanza, the Last Hope), from where one takes the bus to the Parque. So I stayed the night in a rather sketchy alojamiento, lodging, before taking the bus early the next morning and meeting up with a few friends in Puerto Natales. We left for Parque Torres del Paine around 2:30 and arrived at the entrance around 5. Because all three of us (my friends and me) had our cédulas, our Chilean ID cards, we counted as Chileans when entering the park, which actually saved us 13,000 pesos on the entrance fee (more than 26 dollars!). We took a catamaran to Lodge Paine Grande, where we stayed the night (though it was hideously expensive, packing a tent and sleeping in that would be a much better option, for anyone planning to do this. It’s just that none of the three of us had a tent). The next day we hiked to Glacier Grey (11km) and back in the morning and afternoon. The views were amazing obviously. But I actually liked the views on the other side of the W (the most well-known trail in the Parque, so named because of its W shape on the map – we didn’t have time to hike all of it, which takes 4 to 5 days, so we hiked the two sides) better. We used the catamaran and then took a bus passing through the Parque to get there, then hiked a further two hours to our campsite (this time we rented tents and sleeping bags – much cheaper). Our goal was Torres del Paine, the iconic rock structures (three towering rock peaks) for which the park is named. The next day, after a night of fitful sleep, we got up at 3:30 in the morning in order to attempt to get to the Torres at dawn, which we had heard was the best time to see them. We didn’t quite make it, but that turned out to be a blessing in disguise. On the way up (the last 1.5km are almost vertical, the elevation changes from 400 meters above sea level to more than 900 meters above sea level), we passed groups of people making the slow, careful slog back down. We found out why when we reached the base of the towers. They were completely shrouded in mist (it had rained a bit the day before and rain was on the cards for that day as well). But lo and behold, ere we were there for more than 5 minutes, the mists began to recede, offering us an unprecedented view of the three towers. But I thought the views on the way back to the bus stop (where we could get on a bus that would take us to Puerto Natales) were even more impressive, if that’s possible, because you see the whole plain surrounding the mountains laid out in front of you, with its green rolling hills and deep blue lakes. Unfortunately, my camera was dead by this point, because there are unsurprisingly very few electrical outlets found in the campsites. But you’ll just have to go for yourselves!
Enjoy the pictures! Roughly half are from La Serena, the other half, from Patagonia.
And so now I would like to say adios to my readers. I hope you have gotten a glimpse into what is possible here in Chile. Of course I’m not saying that my way of experiencing Chile is the most common or even most popular way, as it’s definitely not, there’s a bunch of other things to do here, and varying ways of involving yourself in the country and culture. Everyone can make their own fortune here, so to say. I also hope I was able to entertain you at least a little bit! ¡Chau! ¡Que les vaya muy bien!