The Passion of the Multitudes
So much has happened already. It’s so strange to think that I’ve only been here for less than two weeks, yet it feels as though I’ve been exposed to at least two months worth of information and cultural immersion, and that I’ve known the friends that I have made here for a lot longer than just eleven days – though I guess that’s what happens when you (are forced to) spend nearly every waking moment with them in the first few days. I’m currently sitting outside, drinking tea, and one of my host family’s cats is keeping me company, washing itself rather inelegantly (by the way, its name is Atún. Translation: tuna).
Welcome to my life in Chile.
Sweaty, smelly, and downright disgusting. That was how I arrived at Santiago airport after a solid 72 hours of travelling. When the luggage finally arrived, there was a heart-in-mouth moment at customs, as I had to declare a very important good: cheese. Fortunately, I was allowed to keep it, and said cheese has since been enjoyed and devoured by my host family. But back to the past. After waiting for another hour at the airport for the other students to arrive, we finally left for yet another journey (only two hours or so this time) to Olmúe, a village in the Valparaíso region of Chile. Fortunately, one wise soul had brought cards with him, so naturally I spent the first few hours in a completely new country playing cribbage and ignoring the scenery. Just kidding, the scenery was pretty hard to ignore.
Upon reaching the hotel, we were fed and then, joy of joys, WE GOT TO GO SWIMMING. GOODBYE STINKY, GROSS, YUCKY SELF. Honestly, having a swim after so many hours of travelling was indescribably good. It was also warm and sunny outside so the holiday sentiment was very, very prevalent.
Sadly, this festive spirit was quickly dampened when we held our first meeting featuring scary language such as “administrative themes” and “cultural immersion”. After those very informative sessions (leaving sarcasm aside, both Marcos Sinclair and Pamela Martínez have done an incredible job of giving us all the information we need in such a short period of time, and they have done their very best of making the transition to studying and living in Chile as smooth as possible), we had an hour-and-a-half long session of…. LATIN DANCE. This was actually a great way of dispelling any lingering awkwardness in the group and at the same time giving us some much-needed exercise after sitting down for so long. The dancing itself was.. not up my alley, though we had two more sessions in the following days and I think I improved from “utterly abysmal” to “mildly horrific”. After that was dinner (note: Chileans usually take their time with food, and people sit around the dinner table afterwards and chat for however long they want to, which I have found to be far more preferable than the culture in the U.S. of being far more fixated upon time and eschewing this more relaxed lifestyle. Chileans also eat lots of bread), and by the time that was done everyone was ready to crawl to their rooms and collapse on their beds for a solid 29 hours.
Sadly, breakfast was at 9 the next morning. Naturally, we had some more information sessions (I’ll spare you the details), but after lunch we had some free time and decided to bike around the village a little bit, getting a feel of what life for some Chileans is like. After some more talks and then dinner, we watched part of a Chilean film (whose name I can’t quite remember). The part we watched involved a young man getting stranded on the island of Chiloe, and getting really angry because he wanted to go home so he could watch the World Cup match between West Germany and Chile (I think this film took place in 1982). He gets invited to this woman’s house to watch the game, provided he helps a little bit with the housework. Her daughter is there too, along with three other men, their friends. As the men watch the game on a barely-functioning TV, the two women discuss how the men only care about football and basically refuse to do anything because the game is on. The daughter says “You know how it is. Football is the passion of the multitudes.” The mother’s response is to unbutton the top part of her blouse, grab her breasts, and claim “No. These are the passion of the multitudes.”
After that… interesting dabble… in Chilean cinema, another day had passed. The day after we had a Spanish exam, and some students from the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaíso (the PUCV, also known as simply La Católica) came to talk to us about what student life was like and answer any questions we had. That evening was also our last session of Latin dance, and they had brought in a couple of extra Chilean guys (our group is currently 2 guys, 9 girls, and a reasonable amount of the dances we did were in pairs and traditionally needed one man and one woman (long live heteronormativity), hence the added testosterone). Afterwards, they stayed for dinner at the hotel and an impromptu football tournament which ended at about midnight. Ah, good times.
For the last day of orientation in Olmúe, we went to a national park called La Campana, and instead of describing the magnificence of the scenery and the land’s beauty, I’ll let these pictures do the talking.
We had a final information session on Chilean families after lunch, and then travelled to Viña del Mar to meet our host families! In case I didn’t make this clear before, everyone is staying with a different host family, who have all been carefully picked by the program (or so they say). As we waited in the Mormon church to meet our families (because that’s the most logical place to meet a host family..?), you could tell people were nervous because, when told where the bathroom was, every single member of our group went. Every single one. In any case, we didn’t have to wait too long to meet our families. Though it was a little awkward for me at first, sitting around the table after dinner and chatting with my family really helped to break the ice. My family consists of a single mother, two daughters aged 30 and 27 who no longer live in the house but who still visit frequently, two sons aged 22 and 16 who still live in the house, two dogs, and three cats. All things considered they’re a pretty great family.
The following day nothing was planned, but in the afternoon my younger host sister (who lives in Santiago but has been staying here for the past week) and my older host brother took me around Valparaíso (I live in Viña del Mar, in an relaxing area quite close to Valparaíso (the two cities have expanded to the point that there isn’t really a gap between them, there is just a certain point where Valparaíso becomes Viña del Mar)) and they showed me how to take the bus, where some of the university buildings are, some of the sights of Valparaíso, etc. They gave me a very nice tour, though at the end of it I learned the hard way that getting back to the house requires a good 10-15 minutes of steep uphill walking.
The next few days were more orientation, but more focused on life in Viña/Valpo and much more university-oriented instead of culture-oriented. Our “monitor” – Cristian, a student from La Católica who was assigned to our group to be a sort of student co-ordinator – gave us a short tour of some of the university buildings (there isn’t a central campus, just buildings scattered throughout the city), and we had some more talks from the university staff (in case you can’t tell, we received a lot of information in the first few days).
A highlight of the following day was the tour of the Universidad Técnica Federico Don Santa Maria – also known as the USM. The campus is situated on top of a cliff overlooking the ocean and as you can see, the view is ridiculously pretty.
After the tour, Gabriel, Kirsten and I decided we wanted to walk around and explore Valparaíso on our own, so we ended up happily trundling through the hills, eventually finding our way to our respective houses without really getting lost. After that, I welcomed the notion of having the rest of the day off to simply relax, chill with my host family, and use their Wii to play Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker.
We ended up having the afternoon off the following day, and so we decided to reignite our holiday sentiment and go to la playa. The beach was extraordinarily busy, but we managed to find enough space for our group to lie down and sunbathe and, at times, venture into the Pacific Ocean. As it is almost always windy in both Valparaíso and Viña, there were plenty and plenty of waves, though there were also sadly plenty and plenty of jellyfish (sidenote: the Spanish word for jellyfish is “medusa”). Nevertheless, it was still a very pleasant, sun-filled afternoon.
After that wonderful relaxation, Thursday was the last day of orientation, and perhaps the most gruelling, as it consisted of first registering our courses and then a casual 9-hour tour of Valparaíso. We were led around Valparaíso by a professor from La Católica, who handed out sheets at the beginning of the tour on which were some questions we needed to ask local people at the different places we would visit. As such, the tour wasn’t as much of a lecture but more of an interactive experience, and we got to see many different sides of Valparaíso, including: an ex-prison where women were held during Chile’s military reign, which had since been transformed into a cultural park; many different views of Valparaíso from the different hills on which most of its citizens live; an art gallery depicting three different periods of Chilean history; the port of Valparaíso and its surrounding tourist attractions; and some absolutely incredible graffiti/works of art on Cerro Polanco, which can be seen below.
One of the last things we did on the tour was take a boat trip around the port of Valparaíso, which allowed us to see what the city looks like to incoming ships, and also to give us a possible idea of what the city would have looked like over a hundred years ago when it was a more important port than it is now.
Yes, those are sea lions in the first picture.
This weekend was also our first experience of Chilean nightlife. Apparently, it is customary in Chile to only start going out at around 11, 11:30 at night, and to stay out until about 4 or 5 in the morning, after which there is an after-party which lasts for, well, however long people want it to. Both of our nights out were good fun, and were yet another good way of bonding with each other. Also, as Viña del Mar and especially Valparaíso are very student-oriented, the party scene is really quite something (you could say it’s the real passion of the multitudes….)
Overall, I’m really glad that our group has stuck together and that we have been able to form some really good friendships already. It makes the transition from one place to another that much easier, and has allowed me to, for the most part, feel quite comfortable and relaxed in this faraway country. Unfortunately, the fun and games of the previous week and a half have ended, and tomorrow my classes start. I’m slightly worried I won’t be able to understand a thing that’s being said, but we’ll see.
Until next time.