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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Views in Puerto Varas

Margherita Pizza at a local place called 'Parentesis'
It was really good.
Like, really, really good.

Walking along the shoreline.
Not sure which is more impressive...
the clouds, or the volcanoes.

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Daily Grind

Let me clarify, life here (so far) is by no means a grind, nor has it been particularly consistent. I suppose we're doing roughly the same activities each day - waking up, eating food, walking around town, speaking Spanish, eventually going to bed - but the rhythm and flow has yet to solidify. We remarked today that it felt like we'd been here for far longer than the mere 6 days we've been out of the country. We haven't even been in Puerto Varas a week, and it's already starting to feel a bit familiar, a bit like home. Progress!

It helps that we have the living situation we do. We live with Luz, an elderly woman who is the mother of one of Leslie's good friends, who she met while living in Vietnam. Luz is amazing - totally easygoing, one of the most active 78 year old's I've ever met in my life. She keeps a busy schedule, and participates in a lot of clubs around the city. She knits, crochets, cooks, tends her garden, goes out with the family, and I've noticed she has a particular fondness for wrapping up the evenings with American television (a lot of reality TV shows on TLC, in fact). She is extremely helpful, doesn't mind that I spend half the day in the kitchen using her herbs and cookware, and responds to any question we have with a smile and a witty answer. Luz is our Chilean grandmother, and  could not look any cuter than when wrapped up in blankets watching TV at night.

The rest of Luz's family is incredible as well. One of her three daughters lives about 100 feet away in the house at the front of the property, which puts her in frequent contact with two of her grandchildren. It seems to me that their lives here are bustling, pleasing, comfortable. Luz is conscious of conserving the gas (as soon as you're done showering, run downstairs as fast as you can to turn off the gas that heats the water!), turning off lights, and has an impressive stock of dried herbs from her own gardin (and quite a compilation of herbs sprinkled throughout the yard). It feels a lot like home, between the line-drying, the herb-using and herb-drying, and the attention toward minimizing money spent on basics. Her household doesn't feature a lot of extravagance, and I see plenty of whole fruits and vegetables in her pantry. Ahhh, home!

Continuing my lifestyle, at least in terms of the "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle" sense, was a point of concern for me. Not that I thought I'd be forced to eat McDonald's and throw perfectly good pairs of clothes away or anything, but I was very much hoping to continue my slightly-eco-conscious lifestyle and maintain good contact with the Earth. The only thing missing is composting...I'll see what I can work on with her.

This living situation is very beneficial, especially as I seek to forge my new self-employed lifestyle, because I'm able to come and go as I please. That was another point of concern for me, prior to arrival: I don't deal well with feeling constricted or "boxed in", or like I have to suffocate my inclinations or live according to someone else's standards. Maybe that sounds heavy, I don't know, but I'm very glad to be in a situation where I can come and go as I please, conduct my days as I please, and everyone lives in harmony.

Furthermore, the house is very close to the center of the city, so it's a pleasant walk to and from the house each day. Just enough to be a bit of exercise without dreading the haul. Also, when you get closer to the city, the snow-capped volcanoes creep slowly into view and it's one of those situations that it's so awesome and beautiful that I get angry and scream a little. I'm sure anyone who knows me can identify this reaction.

I'm thinking of buying a bicycle so I can bike to and fro a bit more easily.

I was also thinking of buying a car, starting a hostel, opening an orphanage, starting a non-profit to teach underprivileged children the art of creative writing, opening a cafe as part of the hostel where I can cook and share all my meals, and publishing three novels.

No, seriously. I'm doing all of that.

More later, friends!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Snapshots around town

Snippets of life in Puerto Varas 
(not much different from the Ohio laundry situation)

More local scenery

Photo session by the lake

The two volcanoes!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

The view from the lake

Puerto Varas, at the lakeshore. 
I'll figure out what's going on in the distance there soon enough.
I know one is a volcano,
I'm thinking it's the cone to the left.
Ahhh, life is wondrous when you're somewhere new!

Friday, October 26, 2012

It's a small world...

But it can still take two full days to make it from one home to another. What's up, Oregon Trail!

Let's be real, the distance we've covered in the past several days is phenomenal. From one hemisphere to another, one continent to another, we are thousands of miles south of Ohio and it only took two full days. Incredible job, human ingenuity.

We left Leslie's father's house at 3:30am; arrived at Dayton Airport at 4:30am; boarded a flight for Chicago around 5:30am; hung out in Chicago for awhile (MY LAST GOOD BYE, BELOVED CHICAGO!), then got to Miami around noon. Our layover there was about six hours, and it was there that I noticed the Language Shift -- everything was a blend of Spanish and English, actually perhaps more Spanish than English. I was reveling, in Miami, that none of our luggage had been lost yet, no real scares regarding our eventual arrival in Chile, nothing had been apprehended or confiscated from our belongings...really, it was all going according to plan.

I should know, by now, that this is rarely how things remain. As we checked in for our flight to Santiago, the counter person sternly informed us that we would be refused entry to the flight without a return ticket to the United States. Oops. He acted as if this was common knowledge (um, hello? let us book the flight, and obviously visa legality is their priority....RIGHT?!), but what we managed to conclude was that we just needed a flight OUT of Chile (not necessarily back to the US) in order to enter. The Chilean government just needs, for paper purposes, proof that we are not going to be there permanently. So, we were forced to buy a plane ticket out of Chile. We trudged downstairs to the LAN airline office, and purchased a perfunctory ticket from Santiago to Buenos Aires for sometime in December so that we could board our flight. Problem solved. The counter guy finally relinquished our boarding passes and we were on our way.

We boarded an enormous plane bound for Sao Paolo, Brazil around 6pm, which is where the next language shift took place - Portugeuse now became dominant, and I struggled to remember the few words I'd been taught by the amazing ensemble of Brazilians that I befriended last winter. (I failed pretty miserably.)

The flight to Sao Paolo was only nine hours, but the previous two flights had ensured that my hips and legs were adequately stiff and begging for yoga, so the flight was similar to what I imagine a cattle car experience might be like. I pitied all my seat mates - on each flight, I was fidgeting and rearranging my limbs so often they probably thought I had a nerve disorder. I didn't explain that I just needed a hip-opening asana and all would be well, but for some reason airplanes don't come equipped with Yoga rooms.

We arrived in Sao Paolo around 5am local time, with a frustrating layover until 8am. Leslie and Amanda laid out on yoga mats and continued sleeping, and I wandered the airport a bit before bunking up on some seats. I slept about an hour before a gaggle of stewardesses arrived and I spent the next few hours people-watching and eavesdropping on conversations I couldn't understand -- truly one of my favorite past times. In Sao Paolo I began to notice the differences of appearance - recognizing the distinct facial structures associated with people from different regions. The European influence is definitely noticeable in the Chileans and Argentinians. Some people looked as physically familiar to me as Americans, yet their language was distinctly Argentine Spanish. Genetic drift is fascinating - I think the people of a region is the truest testament to the history of the area, and the mixing of populations throughout time.

Our flight from Sao Paolo to Santiago was about four hours, and once we landed in Santiago, we took a cab to the bus station. The weather was beautiful, the clouds plentiful, and mountains loomed in the distance. I had watched a Chilean movie on the way to Santiago from Sao Paolo, just to prepare myself for the accent and vocabulary that I would eventually encounter, and I was dismayed to find that I only understood about 20% of the film. I actually had to use the Portuguese subtitles to help deduce the meaning of some phrases. That's sort of embarassing, considering that I don't even speak Portuguese.

However, once we were in Santiago, I had no problem being understood or understanding others. Sure, there were cab drivers who spoke too quickly, or little pieces here or there that escaped my Penetrating Radar of Comprehension, but overall, I'm understanding everything just fine. Nothing a little clarification or repetition can't combat. It feels good to be immersed again - really good! My month and a half away from Spanish since quitting the job didn't set me back too far.

Once we had successfully purchased our bus tickets at the bus terminal in Santiago, we decided to hunt down some food and explore the area a bit, since we had a solid nine hours until our overnight bus to Puerto Varas left. We ate at a restaurant called "Pito's Pizza" that had no pizza on the menu at all; Leslie taught me how to play the card game Thirteen, then we wandered some open air markets near the bus station until we descended into the subway system and took a quick jaunt to the Centro to wander and see a few sights before we headed toward Patagonia.

The center was lovely and lively and bustling. Santiago reminds me in some ways of a cleaner, more updated Mexico City, though not quite as many people. The Latin American feel is definitely present, yet there's a greater sense of orderliness and cleanliness - I've never seen so many trash picker-uppers as I have in Santiago. We paused by a tree in a pedestrian walkway that looked sort of like Las Ramblas in Spain, and looking at the exposed root system, I offered a blessing for us as we were beginning our travels -- like the tree, we are three girls moving forward and upward into the unknown, yet taking our roots with us wherever we go. A similar sentiment is behind my recent "Ohio Grown" tattoo.

The subway ride back to the bus station was during the peak of rush hour, so we were able to experience some Intimate Santiago Subway Moments. Also, the electricity went out during the ride, so we also got to experience some Intimate Stalled Santiago Subway Moments, in which I developed a fine sheen of sweat directly beneath my pleather coat, which acted like a sort of lubricating layer that I realized is unnecessary and, eventually, smelly.

Our overnight bus ride to Puerto Varas departed at 9pm and was set to arrive at 9am the next day. Yes, twelve full hours of Chilean countryside which went by in a delightful, comatose blur. The sleep was much-needed and way more comfortable than the airplanes and airport terminals. It was on the bus to Puerto Varas that I think we realized none of us had changed clothes or brushed teeth for a startling amount of time, especially considering the Iron-Man style luggage lifting we'd been performing across various countries, the walks beneath the sun, the forced proximity with hundreds of Chileans in the bowels of the transportation system in Santiago, and the general exertion that is required to cross continents and brave language barriers.

Our mission reached the status of Accomplished at 10am on Thursday morning. We rolled into Puerto Varas under grey skies with a crispness in the air akin to an early spring morning in Sandusky. We found the one taxi cab in the area, stuffed all our belonging into it, and drove roughly five blocks into Puerto Varas before we were face to face with our new home.

In the interest of wrapping up this now-epic blog post, I'll save more of the specifics regarding our new home and the family life/set-up for another entry! But we were greeted by Luz, the mother of Leslie's Chilean friend, and a very large rottweiler with a terrifying snarl that will most definitely protect the shit out of us. The three of us are sharing the upper level of the house with an Iranian artist named Sara. We all have our own beds and a little common area with enough room to store veggies, spices, clothing, and more, so all is well in Southern Chile.

Hasta luego, mis queridos....

(Here's a picture of Luz's little cactus garden by the front door.)

Monday, October 22, 2012

Pre-departure Farewell

The time has arrived! Leslie, her sister Amanda and I will depart Ohio tomorrow morning around 6am, with a brief layover in Chicago then Miami before our actual flight to Santiago departs around 7pm.

I have everything I could possibly need, and then a little bit more. Leslie helped me pare down some things I was undecided on (i.e. a hammock and spice jars...hey, those are almost-necessities), but I'm still bringing the most crap of us all. I think some of it has to do with my jewelry inventory and supplies, and the heavy-duty Manduka yoga mat. And the cowboy boots. And the variety of tank tops and leggings. To my own credit, I have a definite USE for everything I'm bringing. There is no unneccessary item. For example, that pair of red sandals I bought and never wore? Not coming with me.  And when you think about it, the Shanonce afro wig takes up almost no space. For how large it can expand, it condenses surprisingly well.

(Yes, the wig is a necessity. That's one of my creative pursuits, guys.)

I've triple and quadruple-checked that I have my passport. I have my finances arranged. I've said goodbye to everyone, tearfully. We have a place to live. I know Spanish. I've got these two girls with me. And we have resources, creativity, and travel know-how bursting from our pores.

I think we're ready.

I'll post again soon, from the bottom half of the world! Hasta luego, amigos!

Saturday, October 6, 2012

The Farmer's Markets are winding down...
Last call to support a fledgling vagabond!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

A snapshot of Ohio

This photo was taken on the day of my best friend's wedding on September 8th, 2012. 
I am happy to experience a small slice of fall before I leave the area...
And go into a South American Summer!

Frequently Asked Questions

Ever since I've unveiled my plan to quit my job, abandon my comfortable life in northern Ohio and flee the country on a one-way ticket to South America, I've gotten a lot of questions and curiosity. And understandably so. What I'm doing is something that takes a lot of planning, a good amount of mental preparation, and a healthy dose of faith. A lot of people have expressed an interest in attempting something similar, to which I always reply, "DO IT!"

Editor's Note: I would like to disclaim, and perhaps apologize to anyone who has been in this situation with me, that I tend to be a bit aggressive when it comes to the matter of achieving one's life goals. I have heard many (re: MANY) people sigh wistfully in response to my plans and say, "God, I wish I could do that!" or "Man, I've always wanted to do that but I just can't..." or "I want to do that but I'd be too scared to even try."

To which I inevitably reply, with a certain degree of fervor and, at times, insanity, "YOU CAN DO THIS TOO!" My intention is never to persuade people to choose my path, attempt something they feel uncomfortable with, or to force others to live like me. To each his or her own. That is the foundation of my belief system, and therefore, when I respond enthusiastically and perhaps dreamily about how each person can do whatever the hell they want to do in this lifetime, it's always with the goal of demonstrating to others that a lot of our perceived restrictions and limitations are just that -- perceptions. I know the very real limitations of debt, mortgages, raising a family, needing a job, and the like. But my belief is that where there's a will, there's a way. If undoing the shackles of conventional life is a priority to you, then there's no time like the present. If raising a family and experiencing domestic stability is your priority, then for god's sake wait until you're ready to travel!

All that being said, I'd like to address some of the most common questions I receive regarding my upcoming trip. The conversations tend to unfold as I answer them below.

1.) When are you moving back? I have no idea. It might be in two months, it might be in three years. This is an open-ended, un-constructed trip for a reason. I want to see where the wind takes me, and discover opportunities that arise from chance, luck, fate, happenstance, poor planning, and otherwise. If nothing strikes me, or I run into money troubles, or there's an unexpected emergency somewhere, then I might be back much sooner. If I discover an unforeseen intersection of passion and opportunity, I might never move back. I just don't know. But I WILL come home to visit. At some point.

2.) Are you scared? Not really.

3.) Where will you live? My friend, travel partner and life soul mate Leslie has a situation with a family of a friend in the city where we'll be moving to first. They have an apartment available for us to rent for a good price.

4.) Will you have your own room? Internet? A washing machine? I have no idea.

5.) So you have a job lined up, I take it? Actually, I don't.

6.) What will you do then? I'm not sure, and this is where the concept of "creative living" comes into play. I feel quite confident that with my amassed skills, experience and interests that I will be able to find something. Anything, really. Leslie and I both bring a lot of talents and skills to our collective table, so I'd like to see us collaborate somehow. If our gut-wrenching, soul-splitting "HOLY HELL THIS IS MY LIFE'S DREAM" opportunity fails to present itself (which, really, it often takes a long time for that sort of thing to unfold), then we should be able to survive in a number of ways: teaching English, applying for odd jobs around the city, working at a hostel, doing translation work, teaching yoga etc. The fact that we know a family in the area helps to a large degree, since they will hopefully be able to provide us with a network of needs which we can fulfill in a dazzling, blonde, American fashion.

7.) What do your parents think? Aren't they terrified? I can't speak for my parents, but I think they're excited and maybe distantly nervous (Parents, feel free to chime in here). At any rate, they're used to this sort of thing from me; this isn't my first trip abroad, and it won't be my last. I've proven myself a capable world traveler, so I think they're pretty solid.

8.) What if you meet your husband in South America? You'll get pregnant and bear his children! You'll never come home! I guess that's a possibility, as much as it's a possibility that I'll join a monastery, decide to become a pastry chef, pursue my MBA or enjoy doing math. Anything is possible.

9.) What is this whole thing about "creative living"? This is a phrase I've thrown around for quite some time. I feel it fully encapsulates my general goal in life. I have been interested for several years in what it would be like to throw myself to the wind and see where life takes me. This doesn't assume a lack of planning or preparation though- I think creative living is a combination of skills, smarts and surrender. A couple of my goals for this trip include maximizing my adaptability in life, while retaining and refining those habits and goals which most benefit me. Embracing and promoting change while remaining steady on the inside. Things like that. I could expand but I don't want this to become epic.

10.) Have fun riding around on all those burros! Are you thinking of Mexico? Because I'm moving to Chile, and the burro is a cultural stereotype mostly derived from Central America. But I could be wrong. I will, however, have fun looking at all the alpacas.

Thank you for reading! If there are any other pressing questions I've failed to address, please let me know! I am happy to share!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

How to Condense a Life

I have this problem with packing. When I take a trip, I over the extreme. Legend has it that I once took the Tulsa phone book on a trip to London, just so I could peruse the "Hanson" entries (I was a very dedicated fan). In more recent times, a two or three day trip can result in a backpack almost as heavy as the one I carted around Europe for three months. I don't know why this happens - I just like to be prepared. With clothing options. And accessories. And shoes for all weather scenarios. And my hemp supplies, in case I have time in my action-packed weekend away to make a bracelet. And this pair of red sandals I've never worn but might just find the outfit finally that they go with. And ....the list goes on.

I've been traveling recently - lots of visits to Chicago and Nashville - and each trip results in the Confrontation With the Backpack: stuffed full of things that I think I need, a moment's reflection on the upcoming trip, indecision regarding the fifth pair of pants I packed, then eventual back strain as I hoist the thing up and out of the house. And each time, 80% of it goes unused.

This pattern of over-packing and under-using has forced me to assess the general concept of Belongings. I have been a fringe hoarder my entire life, and therefore I have a lot of *stuff*.

Actually, I used to have way too much stuff. Now I just have a decent amount of stuff. I have been slowly, steadily, painstakingly ridding myself of my possessions. It started with cleaning out my closet, several times. Each time, several more tons of junk would exit my bedroom wrapped in garbage bags, destined for Goodwill or the dump. Then I began to assess things in the spare room closet - all sorts of mementos, childhood objects, school records, stuffed animals galore.

Again, a large majority went to Goodwill or the dump.

This process has crept slowly throughout the entire house. And with each new item or object that I part ways with, I feel lighter. Relieved.

Incredibly, my life continues without the ironing board from college, or the Black & Decker griddle that I haven't used in three years but just didn't want to get rid of in case of a pancake emergency, or the variety of stuffed animals that I distantly remember from childhood. It turns out I don't really need to have all of the homework I completed from my sophomore year of high school in order to fondly recall my school days. Nor did I need to hang on to the miniature Pat Catan's store I'd created in my bedroom featuring a wide array of unused and almost-empty oil paints, "just in case I got back to painting". (I never did.)

At times, my hoarding tendencies weren't so much an unwillingness to part with objects but just simple overlooking - these things had existed for so long in my breathing space that I forgot they were even there. They had become a part of the backdrop - physically, and emotionally. Because a lot of the things vying for space in my house were connected with the past. Childhood, my teenage years, college experiences, and beyond. Even the unusable oil paints were a sort of placeholder for my past, because they represented a phase of my life when I was incredibly inspired to express myself through painting.

All of these things were occupying an incredible amount of space and ENERGY. It became exhausting to even spend time in my bedroom because there was just so many parts of my life on full display. I couldn't look around without absent-mindedly recalling some aspect of my own life, which is a fun journey, but quite time-consuming to enact every single day. So I tore stuff down, and painted, and hung artwork that had been laying unused for years, and most importantly, I purged.

In fact, I am still purging. And as the Departure Date grows nearer, I am finding that not only can I get rid of more of my possessions, I also do not need the majority of what I think I need. While 80% of my backpack gets unused during a vacation or weekend trip, 80% of my general belongings and earthly possessions are similarly unused.

Plain English, folks : We don't need much to live.

A travel blogger once commented that he rid himself of Stuff until all of his earthly possessions could fit into one cardboard box (minus his guitar, which he left with his mom). I'm not going to claim that this type of Reductionism is the only way to go, but the forward motion that this startling idea produced was enough to get my to begin whittling down my stuff, which was essentially an act of paring down my life.

Is it any coincidence that things in my life are much easier now? Less crap is less crap.

A couple areas I refuse to budge on:
-I will not get rid of my library. I have gone through my bookshelves a thousand times, struggling to find just one more book to donate or sell, and I won't. Books are extremely important to me and it may be something I have to confront down the road, but for now, we'll let the beast sleep.
-My piano. This is going to continue living with my dad.
-Photos. Like, real, actual, 35mm photos. This is one of the best ways to remember a life, as opposed to crusty tubes of decades-old oil paint. Photo albums are good things to keep tucked away for fond reminiscing, and the whole "tucked away" aspect ensures that those memories won't physically exhaust you daily.

I'm not done with the process yet. There is still more to let go, to purge, to release into the wild yonder of second-hand thrift stores. And I need to seriously assess what I will need for my upcoming trip to Chile, because I know the frenzy of the outfit what-ifs will take over as it always does.

At the very least, the more that I take with me in the beginning is more stuff that I can drop off along the way, whether as donations, emergency sales, barter uses...or maybe somewhere out there in the world, I will meet a girl that will need the pair of red sandals I've never worn and I will triumphantly stand up, hand her the shoes, and say, "Here, I brought these just for you."

(Now go read that article that made me start shedding my physical possessions: Minimalism)