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Monday, November 26, 2012

Keep hands and arms inside the vehicle until the tour has come to a complete stop...

Well, folks, my first private tour gig has officially concluded!

After our lovely and visually impressive jaunt to the waterfalls and Osorno Volcano on Saturday, on Sunday we (re: they, the paying tourists) opted for a trip to Chiloe.

In doing so, we left the South American Continent. 

Let me explain. The island of Chiloe is just that, an island, part of Patagonia (technically), but not connected to South America. People that live in Chiloe say "Let's go to the continent" when they travel north. We drove from Puerto Varas about an hour south, parked the car on a huge boat that looked similar to the one that takes you to Put-In-Bay, and after thirty minutes we were at Chacao (not Put-In-Bay).

Took this looking out of the bathroom.
Good thing I was there, because I almost
made peepee in my pantalones again when I
spotted the sea lions sunning on some buoys nearby.

Chiloe is about 200km long and full of interesting villages and cities and opportunities for nature appreciation. Contrary to the area around Lake Llanquihue, it was founded by the Spaniards, but you couldn't tell from what we saw; all of the buildings looked basically the same as the German colonial buildings. We started by ambling through the village of Chacao, full of colorful houses and pretty gardens, and I translated a lot of information about the use of the native tree, Alerce.

Cuteness times three.
I like the middle house because it is oddly shaped. 

A lot of houses were made using Alerce wood.
The tree grows at a rate of 1cm per year, and it can
take hundreds of years for them to reach maturity.
Historical areas like Chacao ask that the shop owners
don't paint their buildings to preserve the look and feel of the buildings.

After Chacao, we went to one of the three major cities on the island of Chiloe: Ancud. There wasn't much to see but we wandered around the city, checked out a cute museum about the history of the area, and then visited a Spanish Fort.

This tower represents something about history...
I took this picture more for the clouds. 
(Tour Guide Fail.)

Today's adventures included the delightful German village of Frutillar. We stopped first at a corporate seed company, to search for some white potato seeds. The couple I interpreted for is involved in big farm business and are avid growers/appreciators of vegetables and flowers, so the guys chatted seed business talk (in English) while I educated myself on the astounding variety of potato that exists in the world (via entertaining posters featuring the same model in various stages of consuming the different types of potato - Crisps, Traditional, French Fries, and Salad). It was interesting to learn about, but I felt distantly uneasy... I wondered if these companies are involved in GMO shenanigans, and they deal with the potato business on an international scale. The seed company we visited today sold directly to Frito-Lay. 

After that we drove around Frutillar Bajo, the lower part of the city that sits directly on the lake and caters more to tourism. The view of the volanoes was astounding, and actually you could see more than just Osorno and Kalbuco. 

The iPhone doesn't do it justice.
The  view from Frutillar was one of the best I've seen so far
(not counting the views I had from being on the actual volcano).

We had lunch; I tried something totally typical called Longaniza a lo pobre, which is essentially enormous sausage links served with carmelized onions and 2 eggs over-easy on top, with a side of french fries. I only ate one of the enormous links; I left the other one for an overzealous server or kitchen staff member to hopefully consume. I consider myself a Real Food Girl - I prefer to eat things that come from the earth; unprocessed, or minimally processed at best. This is why I cook the majority of my meals. My meals tend to consist of vegetables, rice, quinoa, beans, etc. 

But, this also means that I don't eat a lot of meat. I have not purchased meat to cook or prepare for perhaps five years, at least. When I do consume the flesh of animals in a public arena, it's usually fish, or chicken. But meat? Oh god. I looked at that sausage with dismay and disdain (not to mention a little curiosity). The last time I had something similar was in Glasgow, Scotland (or somewhere thereabouts) in 2009, when I ate that typical heinous meat-link dish that I can't remember the name of. I felt i should at least do Chile's typical dish a little justice since I disparage the cuisine so frequently, so I ordered it, and I ate half, goddamnit. I ate half. 

After the heinous meat excursion, my fellow Americans and the illustrious Marcelo ventured back onto the town (a whole two streets wide), and wandered to the German Colonial Museum, where we learned about watermills and archaic tools and what it was like to be a settler in the New Germany (i.e. Chile) and have amazing views of volcanoes from your back porch.

The watermill was amazing. Not because it was shocking,
or aesthetically surprising, or any of that. Just because 
the design was so simple and effective.
I guess I never thought about it before, but...
Seriously, colonial people - genius. 

After I had properly reveled in the genius of the watermill,
I lounged about some gardens and wore flowers in my hair.

Here I am on the grounds of the colonial museum,
sporting a flower on top of my head. 
It was interesting visiting the colonial museum because
it was in a Chilean context. I always thought of 
colonial things as distinctly American. Not true. 

This experience was wonderful. I'm not sure when Marcelo will call again, or if he will at all, but I am at least extremely satisfied (both personally and financially) with this opportunity. I got to travel to a variety of must-see sights for free, with good people, learning things the entire way. I couldn't ask for more. Thank you, Marcelo, thank you Chile, and thank you Osorno. You all are wonderful. 

Saturday, November 24, 2012

My Life as a Tour Guide (aka Interpreter Tag-Along)

"Today we'll go to the waterfalls then Osorno," said Marcelo, my temporary boss and the owner of the private tour company. "We leave at 11am, return in the evening."

Those words didn't really prepare me for what I saw today. I'll tell the story in pictures.

We started at Petrohue, some (small) waterfalls that connect to Todos Los Santos Lake here in southern Chile (part of the lake system in the area...not the lake I live on).

There were all sorts of people like this,
snapping pictures of the incredible Osorno Volcano.

The couple I was interpreting for opted for the "Jet Boat Tour". 
We took a few high-speed turns through the water,
catching the view of Osorno from below the falls.
Then we ate some blond fudge afterward that I'm positive
was made from pure cow's milk and sugar. Only.
It was so tasty, and completely unwrapped and sitting in the open air.
Also I was recognized by the boat company operator, who also lives in Puerto Varas.
Damn these dreads. 

Here is Osorno with an artistic branch in front of it.

Looking back over the falls.
That body of water is where we took the Jet Boat Tour.
The water was insanely crystal clear,
you could see all the way to the bottom.
The water is so clear because of all the 
minerals from the volcanic sediment....or something.

We lunched at a small restaurant after the falls.
I ate salmon, tried Kuchen (local german dessert)
and then took patriotic photos of Chile, as seen above. 

Then we headed to Osorno, twisting and turning through
roads that were far more stable and paved than any other
Latin American country I've visited. Ears popping the whole way. 
A lack of burning brakes and heart-in-your-throat-type fear
was evident. 

Once we drove as far up as we could,
we boarded the chair lift system. As "The Guide", 
I got to ride free. I held on for dear life (not pictured above). 

Here we see the top of Osorno looming in the distance.
I asked Marcelo if we were to fly over in a helicopter 
and look down at the top of the volcano, what would we see?
For some reason, I thought the hot and roiling innards of the volcano
would keep the eruption hole clear.'s dormant. No roiling innards. 
I'm also not sure what the right term is for eruption hole.
....It can't be eruption hole.

The ride up was breathtaking. And also increasingly colder,
as evidenced by the abundance of snow.
I made the mistake of being sad yesterday about missing
snowfall in Ohio. Well, I experienced the frigidity of snow-air today.
Homesickness: gone. 

After two chair lift rides toward the summit, we disembarcated 
(Jill Smith) near the top but not quite all the way there.
As trekkers were toiling their way up through the snow nearby,
laden with backpacks and hiking poles,
I was dusting the snow off my butt from my leisurely chairlift ascent. 

Volcanic rock. Super light, and looks like soil.

Snow farm. 

Checking out the mountain ranges on the ride back down.
It was much easier to comprehend my surroundings on the way back,
since I wasn't being blinded by the pure-white snow all around.
(I think I have sensitive eyes; I meant to ask my optician this before I fled the US.)
But I was much more terrified - I didn't notice how steep the
chairlift was on the way up. On the way back, well....
let's just say I made a little peepee in my pantalones.

After all the breathtaking scenery of the day
(not to mention the physically exhausting chairlift ride...phew),
we stopped by a nursery and I found these lily pads.
Hey...not bad, Mother Nature. Not bad. 

A successful day in Chile for Project-Based Bradford,
part-time non-profit worker, part-time travel writer,
more-than-part-time fiction author,
part-time interpreter, part-time tour guide impersonator,
full-time vagabond.
(My resume is getting hard to condense.)

Tomorrow's agenda: the island of Chiloe! Expect another picture-heavy post soon!

Friday, November 23, 2012

The Universe Provides

Things have been unfolding in a strangely poetic and very satisfying way.

As I've said before, we've all been on various job hunts. Last week, I began to feel a bit overwhelmed, in a positive way, because I was actually experiencing an overabundance of opportunities. I don't need the money necessarily, but I had felt the urge to find *something*, just for the added stability. It was a source of conflict for me as I was presented with opportunity after opportunity and forced to really assess what my priorities are here and what, exactly, I want to do with my life and time and energy.

First, a Chinese restaurant here wanted me 6 days a week, 8 hours per day. Minimum wage, splitting the tips between all the servers and the kitchen. I said no; no question. I actually didn't even interview with them, I went with Amanda, who was looking into the job, and interpreted for her since the manager spoke no English. Taking a job like that would deplete both my time and my energy.

Then came another restaurant gig, someone looking for bilingual servers. Again, no thank you.

Next, I found an opportunity for "sporadic office work"; I met the owner, he wanted someone 2 or 3 days per week, 8 hours each day, to help run his kayak business. This one I really had to think about. It seemed like a good idea - "just what I was looking for", as I'd said. I thought of how it might fit into my life, my schedule, my priorities, and I eventually turned that down as well. I tend to give 110% of my time and energy to a given project, and he wanted someone for the entire season. As I thought more about it, I realized that that type of commitment, even though it was just part-time, was too much. Between my existing jobs, and my existing dedication to writing in every moment available, I don't have the time or energy to learn the world of kayaking, rafting and mountain climbing. Plus, all of those things scare me. (Running a yoga studio? Part-time receptionist for an organic farm? Maybe those things. But not activities that actively involve facing death in the wild yond. I still don't know how to light a fire by myself. This girl scout would be the first to die.)

After that decision, I realized that I needed to find an office space. Less than 24 hours after sending a message to the community about my search for borrowed office space so that I could focus on writing, an opportunity arrived. A young guy with a family-owned rental car business has a small office that he only uses part-time. I met with him and said, Hey. I want to use your space, I don't want to pay anything, how about I give you my sporadic services however you need me so that I can use your office the rest of the time to be an ex-pat writer? He said yes. It's a small affair, operated entirely by him and his wife, and he essentially wants me to just be there, in the office, to receive people that stop by, maybe answer the phone, and interpret for the English-speaking clients. SCORE.

So my new colleague/barter buddy has also passed my name along to other people in his area of work. Yesterday I received a call from a man named Marcelo who operates private tours in conjunction with the hotels around here. He had two Americans arriving today who wanted an English-speaking guide to accompany them on their three-day stay. He asked if I would be interested in going along with them on their various tours throughout their stay - full compensation of course, not to mention the free entrance, free meals and swanky private ride to all these destinations. I said, Hell yes, Marcelo!

Today began that adventure. I went to the airport with Marcelo, I held up a sign with a last name written in bold ink, loving the the fact that this was something my family and I do for shits and giggles when we greet each other places, and waited for the Americans to arrive. They showed up, an older ex-pat couple who has been living in Chile for a couple years, doing big farm business up north, but only know basic conversational Spanish after all this time. I got paid to hang with them all day and just look at stuff. And eat clams at the seafood restaurant. And interpret occasionally when Marcelo spoke too fast for the American guy to understand. What I'll make from these three days will pay a month's rent. And they might add a fourth day of touring that I'll be compensated for as well.

Overlooking Puerto Montt, the big city nearby.

Not too shabby.

Leslie has helped me realize that what I am looking for in this phase is projects. I don't want a long-term commitment, I don't want to sign a contract, I don't want to be expected someplace each day at a certain hour. I want a project - a three day companion tour, a random encounter with some English-speaking clients at the airport, last-minute assistance with a catering event, things like that. Just call me Project-Based Bradford. She who drifts between opportunities and one-time events.

Around the time that all these opportunities have been arising for me, the girls have also snagged their own gigs. Amanda is now working part-time at a cool bar downtown that often has live music and is part of the circuit here in town. Leslie took a job as the live-in manager of a bed and breakfast in Puerto Varas. We said goodbye to her at the house with the abuelita, but Amanda and I have "moved in with her" in a sense; the owner knows that we will be in and out constantly and we are, in essence, "lightly co-habitating". (Blogger says co-habitating isn't a word but I beg to differ.)
Amanda at work with her new boss, Keko!

It is strange and surprising and exciting to reflect upon the ways in which we have manifested, or discovered, these opportunities that fit us all so well. But at the same time, it is not strange or surprising at all - this is how life tends to unfold. I am so grateful for these new opportunities, for these new ways of flexing creative muscles and using skills and exploring facets of life that were previously unknowable to me. I gave thanks for this yesterday, as well as for all of the people in my life who support me.

Speaking of Thanksgiving, it sure was a micro-American Feast up in Puerto Varas yesterday! I started cooking around noon and by 4pm we had a Starch Explosion - I made the Bradford-famous corn crap (corn casserole), Vegan Stuffing and Shannon's Mashed Taters. All from scratch, without ANY measuring instruments, AND with only a general idea of what ingredients I was using really were (man, the language barrier sucks when it comes to specific baking ingredients). I sauteed some asparagus to add a little greenery to the landscape, and we topped it off with some German desserts purchased from a bakery downtown.

Despite my concerns and general dismay regarding the consistency of the corn casserole prior to putting it in the oven, everything came out BANGIN' and FRICKIN AMAZING. It smelled like Thanksgiving in that house all day, and that was maybe the best part of the experience. Also, being able to share this holiday with these girls, in a foreign country, giving thanks and celebrating a facet of our culture that nobody knew was occurring that day (we shouted "HAPPY THANKSGIVING" to every Chilean we could find and the amount of blank stares was, well, comical at best) was pretty fun as well.

I think Chileans have their own version of Thanksgiving, obviously with different historical details (unless, I don't know, maybe John Smith made his way down here too? Maybe for a winter vacation once?), but it definitely wasn't yesterday. We left the house later in the day, once our bellies and intestines had been thoroughly assaulted per American Tradition, and were surprised to find everything open and bustling with people. Oh yeah, it's only Thanksgiving in America.

Also, I didn't have to suffer through/be tempted with Black Friday Bullcrap, so that was another really nice part of this year's Thanksgiving.

Vegan Stuffing!! 
Featuring freshly picked herbs from Luz's garden.

Thank you again to Life, family & friends: for the bountiful amount of love, sharing, reciprocity, mutual understanding, support, creativity, fun, laughter, words, closeness, positive energy, wholehearted Being and more. La vida es buena!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Amanda has been taking photos of flowers around Puerto Varas
This one is my favorite.
It makes my heart hurt (in a good way).

I took this picture on my regular route
into town.
These might be my favorite flowers. 

The Food is Bland

The title says it all, folks.

The food here is bland.

Maybe it's the city I'm in. Maybe it's a "Chilean thing". Or maybe I'm just an over-salted, over-spiced American used to an assortment of cuisine from all corners of the globe, whether it's in the aisles of the grocery store or from a variety of worldly restaurants.

But I have purchased far too many sandwiches and soups that left me thinking, "Wow, I could have done that better."

Sandwiches are big here. Every restaurant, every menu features a variety of sandwiches. But they are mostly beef hamburgers or chicken, and not actually a variety at all. The differences tend to range from "Chicken on bread" to "Chicken on bread with avocado" to "Chicken on bread with avocado and tomato".

I'm not kidding.

That doesn't mean I haven't had tasty things here; it's just that it's all dessert items. The brownies are to die for; tres leches cake is plentiful.

But that asparagus soup I had the other night? Yeah, mine is like two thousand times better. I salted the shit out of it, just for a semblance of flavor, and I never "salt things".

I'm not sure what the local cuisine is yet. People eat a lot of meat, and maybe that's just it. Grilling meat is the thing, and I'm not a meat eater. I eat it occasionally, whether out of pursuit of "trying new menu items" or because there's no vegetarian-friendly option.

I was also shocked to learn that tortillas are not common here. The only ones I can find are in the "Mexico" section at the local Wal-Mart-esque store "Lider", and they are flour tortillas and so crappy and not-food-like that I refuse to buy them ever again.

I guess the moral of the story is, I'm not in Mexico or Guatemala, and Central America is Central America and Chile is Chile. There are no corn tortillas here, no gordita stands lining the streets, and try as I might, I just cannot find a spice similar to the picante that I so love in Mexico.

I miss Mexican food. Even Luz commented the other day that what I cook tends to be very "mexicano". Yeah, seriously. I'm going to buy corn flour soon so I can make my own corn tortillas. It's come to that.

Luckily, I cook the majority of what goes in my mouth so I'm not suffering a lack of food or flavor. The local regular menus just leave a little to be desired...

Except the brownies. Those are perfectly fine.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Box Update


I now have an assortment of jellies, honey, and books from home. Along with a battery charger that I'm pretty sure I no longer need.

Now, the question is...where is Leslie's box?

The International Mail Saga continues...

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Waiting for Packages and The Job Hunt

Leslie and I both sent packages in advance of our arrival to Puerto Varas, thinking that they would be here when we arrived, bursting with forgotten treasures and sundry wearables that would positively impact the number of dresses available for our daily wardrobes.

It's been three weeks since our arrival and neither has shown up. I sent mine about a month ago. What's worse is that Leslie sent hers nigh on three months ago from Vietnam.

I spoke to the post office once already about this and they told me that packages from the US usually take about a month to arrive, depending on customs, if they get detained, etc. A tracking number will let them know where on Earth it is, or even if it's on Earth, if it's been too long.

I have yet to remember to email my dad about finding this tracking number that I wisely set aside prior to leaving the US (hey dad, if you read this, could you send me that? My short-term memory loss has prevented me from remembering to email you about this for a week now). Leslie's tracking number was in the wallet that was ganked (re: stolen) in Santiago. She's sure that the Saigon Post Office will be less than helpful in finding said number, if she were to attempt to call.

So we wait. And we wait.

Or, we show up at the post office and articulate in half-Mexican Spanish and half-Chilean Spanish that I am still waiting on a package and would kindly like to know if there's anyway I can receive word about my goods.

I was given a list of received packages today when I went to inquire. Nigh on one hundred pages of boxes, arranged by date received. I combed the list, looking for anything resembling "Shannon", "Leslie" or "Luz" (the woman we're living with). About twenty pages in, I saw a package sent to the name of Luz that arrived October 30th. Hark!

My excitement needed no translation (though I'm not sure if the mail clerk was looking at me suspiciously or if that was just his lazy eye). He checked in back and said, "Yes, the package is here". As in, on the premises, perhaps a mere twenty feet from where I stood. He asked me how I knew Luz - what connection did I have with the lady and why was I trying to procure her mail? I told her we live with her, and our packages were sent to her name.

"Luz must come pick it up."

Fine. Fine. I receded graciously, but fuming on the inside. I'm not one to mess with protocol, but the simple fact that perhaps Leslie's or my personal belongings were sitting within sneezing distance from where I stood was a bit too much to walk away from. God knows how hard it is to accomplish any variety of tasks in the US regarding proof of personal identification, so I wasn't planning on pushing the issue in a foreign country. BUT DAMN. IT'S RIGHT THERE.

Or is it? Perhaps something for Luz was waiting back there, snickering and rubbing its hands together, waiting to devastate the fervent hopes of two American girls expecting an iHome, summer dresses and a variety of VERY IMPORTANT BOOKS AND JAMS.

The anticipation is killing me. Luz will know, the second i see her later, that there is a mystery box that has been waiting for someone at the residence for almost two weeks now. And we must find out immediately what lies within. SO HELP ME GOD.

The American "Instant Gratification" complex is a personality trait that doesn't translate well into other cultures.

This personality trait (or flaw?) applies nicely to the next area of discussion, that of job seeking. We are equipped with varying amounts of money, between the three of us, but as time passes and we continue to slowly permeate the community, funds dwindle regardless of initiative, intent or success.

My job search is technically postponed, but the other two need them a bit more urgently. I am still making good money coming from the US, and so what I'm looking for, if anything, is something part-time. When I first got here I joined the job hunt along with the other girls, and even applied for a position ("applied" meaning left my resume in a deposit box in the basement of the local that's ever going to be reviewed. Sheesh.).

But as it turns out, I'm actually able to maintain livable income via my stateside pursuits, and devote the remaining working hours and free time to the pursuit of publication. I have been a writer since I was 9 years old (my first novel was called "A Weird Moon" and later that same year I received my first rejection letter from Highlights Magazine) and have written a startling amount of novels and have an even more startling amount of unfinished short stories. Not to mention the travel articles that go up online ( being a notable source), and other pieces that appeared in my college years.

Part of my goal for coming here was to devote myself full-time, or as close to full-time as possible, to Writing. To get back into the creative groove. I used to write every single day for years, staying up way-to-late writing in my bed with actual *gasp* pen on paper, but it tapered off once I graduated college and entered the adult workforce. Pretty soon I was looking at my novel once every six months, and my creative writing juices had almost dried up. Creativity is a skill that must be practiced, so once I quit my job at the health clinic I began exercising these muscles again.

When you enter a country, the visa forms require you to fill in an Occupation box. This used to be easier, back when I was a Student or Gainfully Employed. What does a straggler vagabond put in the Occupation box? I didn't want to lie, and I didn't want to put "Vagabond", either. So when I entered Chile and was faced with the somehow demeaning and too cut-and-dry task of defining myself, I slowly and purposefully spelled out "Writer".

So, it's official now. And with the recent success I've had re-committing myself to this goal, and the inspiration I feel to make this dream finally become a reality, I suppose this is my first job here now. I am a writer living in Chile. A writer doing a variety of other things with her days and breath, but I suppose that's life, isn't it? Rarely is there one pursuit that occupies 100% of our attention. And knowing my lifestyle and my brain habits, I tend to be pursuing a minimum of 10 different things on any given day.

The other girls continue their search. Soon we will be hanging fliers advertising English classes, and then we will continue to scour the city for serving jobs, bar tending positions, kitchen help, anything that puts some pesos in their pockets. High season is just on the cusp of exploding. December is when it all happens around here. So within a few weeks, we should really be able to find something.

More than anything, I am confident we will all be wildly successful. Even if it takes a minute, even if it means the brakes on our budgets start smoking. We'll get there. And if we don't, I'll be ready and waiting to write all about it in our pending travel memoir.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

What the hell are we doing here?

This question gets asked a lot by other people, for sure. But also, we tend to ask ourselves this question a lot.

Not so much in the metaphysical sense (but really, what the hell ARE we doing here???) as in the sense of "What the hell are we doing with our days here? What, really, are we doing?"

This trip has been different in a million different ways as compared to my previous journeys abroad. It's different from Mexico because I was studying there, and only 19 years old and just getting a grip on the whole "living outside of the US and speaking a different language" thing. It's different from Guatemala, because then I'd just graduated college and was interested in getting some more abroad experience, but only temporarily, and only prior to my backpacking trip. And then the Middle East/Europe was different still, because it was a three-month backpacking trip, where the intent was couchsurfing and sightseeing and pure exploration. And of course it differs from my other jaunts abroad, which were time-constrained vacations with friends, full of fun and jam-packed activities.

So this, my friends, is vastly different. I've come here to live creatively, as I've said before, and I can only answer this question for myself, as I'm sure the answers from Leslie and Amanda will be slightly different (or maybe startlingly similar). But what has unfolded, and what I suspected might unfold, is that my life has continued as before. The landscape is different, the language is different, but I now know so much more about what kind of life I want, and how to live that life, than I ever knew before.

I wake up and eat granola. I do yoga and center myself. I spend my days enacting some form of productivity (this used to be working at the medical clinic, but now it is working with the various jobs I have in the US), wandering the city, drinking coffee, writing stories, facebooking, cracking bad jokes, laughing in large groups of people, cooking my meals and chopping vegetables and picking herbs from the yard, sharing energy, singing loudly, observing things around me, creating sounds and faces, talking to friends and family back home, learning new words and phrases in spanish, sneaking photos of moments that inspire me, and journaling.

Really, nothing has changed. Except the official language is now Spanish, and there are slightly different customs and taste patterns and ways of getting from Point A to Point B. Oh, and there are those volcanoes in the distance. Those definitely didn't exist back in Sandusky.

This is the most resounding insight that has come to me throughout all my years of travel and wanderings and vagabonding and backpacking and surfing: life is basically the same, everywhere. People wake up, they eat, they spend their days in the fashion they see most fit for their beings, and then they go to bed. The difference is landscape, language, and some degree of cultural construct.

The differences between here and there are limitless, if you look only on the surface. I don't have my own car, I can't find natural peanut butter, utilities are more expensive, bottomless cups of coffee are non-existent, people walk more and are accustomed to different types of transportation standards, there are no commercials on TV, all the houses are gated for security, and on and on and on.

But as far as my emotional and psychological experience has been, this shift - this literal enormous shift from one hemisphere to another, from one country to another, from one language to another - has barely registered. How could it be?

What I believe to be true is that I have been afforded the space - physically via a new location, mentally via quitting my job and my prior life and the bulk of my possessions - to really assess that which comprises a meaningful and rewarding life. And I can only assess this due to the fact that I have been cultivating this life amongst my family and friends, my familiar sights and my hometown and my house and my creature comforts, for years, all with the intent to really discover what it is that I want from this life.

So what is it that I really want? What the hell am I doing here, then? I'm here to live, as I've been living, but with new energies coming in, new influences and new experiences. New on the surface at least, but very similar to that which I've been accustomed: sharing, learning, experiencing, and loving.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Notes on Cultural Differences

I stated in an earlier post that Chile hasn't shocked me. Life here is somewhere in-between what I'm used to in Mexico/Guatemala and the USA, but more toward the USA end. Orderly traffic, structured shopping centers, a lack of haggling, fixed prices, etc. However, that doesn't mean it's the same as America. I shall begin an on-going list of the differences as I encounter them. Let's begin.

1. No commercials. Luz the Abuelita and Roommate loves to watch her nightly television shows. She is sometimes so enraptured that I hesitate interrupting her. In fact I've noticed that the volume of the TV increases proportionate to how loud Leslie, Amanda and I are talking. Due to my issues with remembering things, or at least remembering them when it's appropriate to address them (remembering everyday at the office that I've been meaning to go buy shampoo, and then never doing it once I leave work for weeks on end; forgetting to get the one thing you went upstairs for until three hours later; things like that), I find it important and quite necessary to seize the moment when I remember something within the appropriate context. This is usually the reasoning behind my frequent outbursts. I've already developed the frustrating habit of forgetting to ask Luz important questions about Chilean life until she's gone to sleep or left the house for the day, and her TV time is one of the only consistent opportunities I have to ask her these questions. Due to her interest in the nightly programming, I often tend to wait until the commercial breaks to ask her what I need to ask her. However, it became apparent pretty quickly that I was waiting...and waiting...and still waiting for an opportunity to talk to her. It's because the commercial break never came; there are no commercials here. I can't explain how foreign this is (Is this Cuba?), how fundamentally unsettling it is to not have a break from the programming in which to rummage in the kitchen, go pee, or otherwise distract yourself during a show. I don't mind it at all - really, I don't miss the pathetic advertising aimed at shoving useless products and ideas down American's throats at all hours of the day - but it certainly makes conversation difficult. I've taken to just interrupting anyway. Problem solved.

2. The Tap Water is Great. Really, it is. And like I said, still no gut-wrenching diarrhea. I fill up my water bottle everyday and love it. I think it has an abundance of minerals in it. I don't know if that's true or not. Let's just go with that for now.

3. The Strays are Well-Fed. Per every other Latin American country I've ever visited, there is a large amount of stray dogs here. Except, these dogs are actual house-pet quality. I've seen several businesses around here leave out bowls of food for the dogs, and they're all extremely friendly and playful. Some can be found in the same spots everyday. We've had dog escorts a couple times already, strays that just pick up our pace and walk with us for a length of time like our guides (or maybe guards).

Photos from November 4th

Graffiti Pac-Man Ghost

More houses in Puerto Varas

Cute! I love the fading & crumbling 
paint on these buildings

Discovered this on a walk yesterday
It's a souvenir shop/art gallery of some sort
toward the more touristy part of town,
therefore very well-tended. 

Friday, November 2, 2012

Days of Our Lives

Yesterday marked one week that we've been in Puerto Varas. Each new day brings new connections, new insight, more spanish, and a delightful assortment of baked goods. It's been a week and a day today, but it already feels like we've been here for months.

The dog that guards our property with a ferocious growl and a nubbin tail is acclimated to us, I think. We can creep past without so much as a look in our direction. I caught him lapping water out of his water bowl today, and soaking up the sun. I think I will try to pet him soon. We can be friends.

We noticed the other day that Amanda's face looked abnormally tan. Strange, considering the highs are usually in the 50s here, and we walk everywhere in jackets. I found out why this might be. When I asked Luz, our grandmother/roommate, if tanning in the summer was a possibility here, she said yes, but to be extremely careful and apply sun screen. Well of course, I responded, that's always a good idea, but I'm trying to be a bronzed goddess (my Spanish isn't that advanced yet, so I think I responded with some more along the lines of, Si). She reiterated the need for sun screen, more forcefully this time, and added this little nugget of information: there's a hole in the ozone layer in the part of the world, so the UV rays are especially dangerous. Ahhh, okay. That would explain the freak winter tanning incident.

We connected with a couch surfer yesterday, an American ex-pat who has been living in Chile for a little over a year now, following a five year stint in Tonga (or is it the Republic of Tonga? I don't even know where this place is. I suppose I have google at my fingertips to learn a bit more, but let's be real, once you switch tabs productivity decreases by 90%). He works full-time as a bicycle guide in the areas around Puerto Varas, but also volunteers at a school and has started a gardening workshop with the kids there. He needs volunteers to help, so I'm planning on getting dirty once a week and taking my vegetable scraps to his compost pile as soon as we can organize the schedule. Also, he is interested in introducing more workshops to the kids, and I bounced off my idea about the creative-writing program. He wholeheartedly approved. So, it looks like that will be getting off the ground far sooner than I ever anticipated! I'm thrilled, to the point where it felt like there was an active cauldron of joy inside my chest today, so I'm excited to see how this will unfold. If it doesn't work out with his particular school, I know that this will come to fruition soon enough. The power of intention! Sheesh.

I feel as though I don't have much to comment on regarding the culture here in Chile. That's not to say that there's nothing worth commenting on, but rather, coming to Chile was by no means shocking for me. Maybe I'm accustomed to harsher living conditions - Mexico, the jungles of Guatemala, the transient lifestyle of backpackers - but it feels to me like just a slight variation on life in the US. There are big differences to be sure, but the differences are ones i'm used to encountering. Chile is unique, but the feel is overwhelmingly Latin American. I'm sure that if this were my first encounter with Latin America, I'd have more to say.

One thing I can definitely proclaim is my surprise at being able to drink the tap water. Yep, been doing it for a week now, and no gut-wrenching diarrhea to speak of. Score!

I'll highlight the finer aspects of Chilean culture as I learn more. But as far as gas trucks blaring songs at 7am each day, tuk-tuks roaming the roads like aimless chickens, or stout women slaving over open-air stoves in the pursuit of the perfect tortilla, there is none of that. Traffic is orderly and sensible. I feel like i could easily drive someplace if I need to and felt like learning stick shift. Fruit and veggies stalls exist, but most people shop at the local Lider (Chilean Wal-Mart). Cafe's and restaurants are trendy and upscale at times, and prices are comparable to America.

I'm in the difficult process of learning slang right now. It's not going well. Sometimes when the youth get together and talk, I actually am not sure if they're speaking Spanish. It's not always identifiable as a language I've heard before. I've got my work cut out for me.