...except for me and my monkey! "Everything we see hides another thing. We always want to see what is hidden by what we see." -Rene Magritte

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Dispatch from the end of the world

So much has happened since I last posted. First and foremost, Easter Island/la Isla de Pascua/Rapa Nui was the most beautiful place Í´ve ever been in my life and one of my biggest pieces of advice to next spring´s Chile participants will be that if they can somehow scrape together the money to get out to the middle of the Pacific, then váyanse no más po. It was breathtaking and relaxing and challenging and worth it a million times over. Once I get back to the US I´m really going to make an effort to post some pictures and I want to write more about it, too. I´m also going to bring back pisco in a moai-shaped container if it kills me, so I´m thinking piscolas to celebrate my return and the beginning of spring semester; you´re all invited.

Now I´m in Punta Arenas, Chile´s last city. It´s not as cold as I expected it to be, but the wind is so strong that the trees (and there aren´t many of them) grow at a horizontal angle. A couple days ago I took a five-hour ferry ride out to the Strait of Magellan to Parque Nacional Los Penguinos, a national penguin sanctuary on Isla Magdalena. There were thousands of penguins on this island! It was so cool but it was bitterly, bitterly cold and the wind was so strong that I could barely walk. On the way back we saw these tiny black-and-white dolphins jumping alongside the ferry boat. Aside from that one excursion, I´ve spent a lot of time hanging out with Juan Carlos and his family (his mom and I have súper buena onda), sleeping, reading (I finally finished the sixth Harry Potter book and must discuss it soon. Also, I really need to re-read it in English because the blackmarket Spanish translation was laughably bad in some parts), and walking around Punta Arenas. It´s so strange being away from my family on Christmas and honestly, if I could do it over again, I probably would have chosen to spend the holiday with my host family back in Viña rather than try to cram another trip in. Jon and I returned from Easter Island on the 20th, and less than 18 hours later I was back in Santiago flying out again. Regardless, it´s cool to see another, radically different part of the country and I´m happy that now I can say that I got to know both Chile´s extreme north (San Pedro de Atacama) and its extreme south (Punta Arenas). These trips really hit home for me the length of the country.

On the 26th, I plan to take a bus to Puerto Natales, Chile´s second most southern city, and venture into Parque Nacional las Torres del Paine, Chile´s most famous national park and, according to Jon and others, one of the most beautiful places in the world, from there. Since my time is very limited (I need to be back in Punta Arenas the 28th to fly out early in the morning on the 29th), I have no gear, and I´m on my own, I´ll probably just do a guided day-tour of the Parque on the 27th and then take a boat ride to see some glaciers on the 28th.

I´ll try to update again either from Puerto Natales or from Viña after I fly back for New Year´s. Until then, I hope everyone has a wonderful Christmas in your respective countries (Peggy, I can´t wait to hear about Israel and all your other adventures) and that New Year´s finds everyone safe, sound, and happy. Chao!

Edited to add some stuff that just occured to me: First of all, I know Amy wrote about this awhile ago, but today while channel surfing I came across the trailer of of Brokeback Mountain on the E! Channel. Jake Gyllenhaal playing a gay cowboy? I need to see this movie yesterday. Seriously, I don´t know if I´ve ever seen so much hot on one TV screen. I just hope it´s still in theaters by the time I get back. And along those lines, I also want to see Rent in the theater even though its earnest high-school drama nerdiness makes me cringe. I´ve been saying for years that Rosario Dawson is the hardest-working woman in Hollywood, so here´s hoping that Mimi finally gives her her long-awaited breakout role. Also, I´ll probably be plugging my ears everytime Mark sings, because that guy grates. And finally, what´s up with this new Facebook ´´confirm friend details´´ thing? I don´t know whether to be offended or what when friends send me these things and I have to confirm that we went to high school together. Does anyone else find these awkward?

Also, more on the guinea pig: It thankfully came without the head, roasted in four separate chunks each a little larger than a deck of standard playing cards. There was very little meat on it and it was very fatty, as I guess you would expect from looking at a guinea pig. The skin was very thick and flavorful, judging from the small piece of it I ate. Overall, it was a worthwhile experiment but I wouldn´t order it again. As far as non-standard Peruvian meats go, I´ll stick with a nice alpaca steak, thank you.

Okay, I think that´s it. Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

I ate a guinea pig!

It tasted like pork but had the texture of chicken. To tell you the truth, I felt slightly guilty eating it. Guinea pigs are one of my favorite rodents. But, if it's good enough for Jesus...

In about fifteen minutes Jon and I are going to the airport to fly Lima to Santiago, then Santiago to Easter Island. I'm excited!

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

How do you travel in a country where you don't speak the language?

The Israeli guy we're talking with at the hostal just called Cusco ''Cost-Co.'' Like, the huge bulk-discount stores we have in the US, or in the northwest at least.

I'm always a little baffled by people who travel to a country where they don't speak the language. One the hand, I'm impressed by their adventurism and spunk, and it's not like I speak Spanish perfectly, so of course I've had my share of misunderstandings and failures in communication too, but still. How do they...survive?

The breakfast guy at our Cusco hostal yesterday gave us the news on the Chilean presidential elections--it's going to a second round between Michelle Bachelet and Sebastian Pinera. That's not a surprise, but I am surprised that Bachelet won--according to the breakfast guy--about 44% of the vote, compared to Pinera's 35%. That's a higher percentage of the vote than I would have thought. Still, though, I think it's going to be hard for her to win in the second round. Assuming that everyone who voted for the far-right Lavín will vote for Pinera, and everyone who voted for far-left Hirsch will vote for Bachelet, Pinera's got it won. On the other hand, if Bachelet had gone up against Lavín in the second round, she could have expected to snag a lot of Pinera's center-right supporters who aren't comfortable with Lavín's far-right politics and religious extremism.

We''ll know in January, I guess.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Quote of the Day, from Jon: ''Okay, we're about to leave the secured bunker of the Lima airport. Are we ready for this?''

It's an honest question, too. Especially after hearing about the very scary experience our good friend Kristin had in Limaa week or so earlier, we were both a little nervous of venturing into the sprawling Peruvian capital.

Our first glimpses of Lima did nothing to dissuage our fears. First impressions: busy streets lined by squat gray buildings with none of the color or life of Chile or the elegance of Argentina, gray, smoggy sky hanging over the low buildings, death-defying traffic, exhaust fumes from the bus ahead of us blowing into our cab's rolled-down windows. Barely anything was within walking distance, everything had to be accessed by taxi, which gave the city a disconnected, disjointed feeling, as though we were being shuttled from one experience to another with nothing to tie them together into a unified whole.

Walking around the Plaza de Armas later in the day made us feel better about Lima. The low, squat buildings of the Miraflores and outying areas were replaced by the tall colonial buildings, soft lemon-yellow with white trim. The San Francisco church was absolutely gorgeous, and the collections of religious artifacts were fascinating, especially considering the level of syncretism between the Incan indigenous religious beliefs and the Spanish Catholic theologies. We spent almost two hours at the church, then bought ice-cream cones and walked around the pedestrian shopping streets for awhile. They reminded me of the pedestrian streets running perpendicular to the Plaza de Armas in Santiago, and Jon said that they reminded him of Calle Florida in Buenos Aires.

Tonight we had dinner at a chifa, one of the hundreds--thousands?--of Peruvian-Chinese restaurants that are scattered all throughout the city. I had beef with oyster sauce--yum! The food was better than I would have expected it to be for the strange ethnic combination and the price tag of only S/. 7.50 -- 7.50 soles, or about US $2.50. Tomorrow, we're going to see an Incan ruin that should be close by in Miraflores, the changing of the guard in the Plaza de Armas, and the National Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. For dinner, I might eat guinea pig!

Jon, watching Intervention on the AE channel with me: ''Where's that woman going?''
Me: ''She's going to a recovery center to treat her shopping addiction.''
Jon: ''Well...at least she'll have some nice things to wear on the way there.''

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Sube a nacer conmigo, hermano

Perú is incredible. It´s so different from Chile--and not to say that Chile isn´t incredible, because it is, but maybe all boring countries are boring in the same way and all incredible countries are incredible in their own unique ways. (Apologies to Tolstoy.) In Cusco, you see indigenous women walking around in their beautiful native dress, with their pantyhose and many-layered knee-length skirts and knit cardigans and bowler hats; ancient Inca walls around every corner; adobe red-brick tiled houses lining the streets and reaching up into the brown hills. Yesterday Jon and I went to Lago Titicaca, on the Peru-Bolivian border, to visit the floating, artificially constructed islands of the Uros peoples and the island of Taquile, which is inhabited by Aymará and Quechua indigenous people. It was indescribably beautiful. Lago Titicaca is the highest navagable (is that a word in English?) lake in the world, and the altitude--almost 4000 meters--almost did me in. To get to the town center of Taquile, you have to climb about an hour up a pretty unforgiving stone path, and the combination of altitute sickness and the sketchy scrambled eggs I had for breakfast made me throw up several times. But, I made it and I was so glad I did.

We went to Machu Picchu the day before yesterday, and it was incredible. It was difficult--it took about 75% of my physical strength, probably (it was steep, but I could have done it with no problem at a lower altitude)--but so worth it. After taking the tour around, Jon and I explored on our own for an hour or so. We found a secluded spot and--corny as it sounds--read aloud to each other from Pablo Neruda´s Las alturas de Machu Picchu, a book of twelve cantos, or poems, about the poet´s reaction to the Inca citadel and his call for the rebirth of the Latin American people. Here, Canto XII:

Sube a nacer conmigo, hermano.
Dame la mano desde la profunda zona de tu dolor diseminado.

No volverás del fondo de las rocas.
No volverás del tiempo subterráneo.
No volverá tu voz endurecida.
No volverán tus ojos taladrados.
Mírame desde el fondo de la tierra,
labrador, tejedor, pastor callado: domador de guanacos tutelares:
albañil del andamio desafiado:
aguador de las lágrimas andinas:
joyero de los dedos machacados:
agricultor temblando en la semilla:
alfarero en tu greda derramado:
traed a la copa de esta nueva vida
vuestros viejos dolores enterrados.
Mostradme vuestra sangre y vuestro surco,
decidme: aquí fui castigado,
porque la joya no brilló o la tierrano entregó a tiempo la piedra o el grano:
señaladme la piedra en que caísteisy la madera en que os crucificaron,
encendedme los viejos pedernales,
las viejas lámparas, los látigos pegadosa través de los siglos en las llagas
y las hachas de brillo ensangrentado.
Yo vengo a hablar por vuestra boca muerta.
A través de la tierra juntad todoslos silenciosos labios derramados
y desde el fondo habladme toda esta larga noche
como si yo estuviera con vosotros anclado,
contadme todo, cadena a cadena,
eslabón a eslabón, y paso a paso,
afilad los cuchillos que guardasteis,
ponedlos en mi pecho y en mi mano,
como un río de rayos amarillos,
como un río de tigres enterrados,
y dejadme llorar, horas, días, años,
edades ciegas, siglos estelares.

Dadme el silencio, el agua, la esperanza.

Dadme la lucha, el hierro, los volcanes.

Apegadme los cuerpos como imanes.

Acudid a mis venas y a mi boca.

Hablad por mis palabras y mi sangre.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Do you ever feel like your life is an episode of The Amazing Race?

Holy Christ in Heaven, I was so relieved to get to Perú in one piece this morning. Pretty much everything that could go wrong with our travel arrangements, did; and the fact that Jon and I are now both in the same country and staying at the same hostel is largely due to the help of our wonderful director, Marcia...and international calling cards. It´s the kind of thing you could call a comedy of errors, but like all comedies of errors, it´s not very funny while it´s happening. But let me start from the beginning!

The plan was this: Jon and I would meet at the departure gate for our 10:10 pm Santiago-Lima flight yesterday. We would fly to Lima, arrive, given the time change, a little after midnight, spend the night in the airport, then fly to Cusco at 5:40 am, arrive around 7, and start our Peruvian Odyssey from there. Of course, even while making the plans, we acknowledged that the timing was a little too tight: Jon would be flying back from Valdivia, where he had been travelling with Jake, earlier that day and would have about three hours in between arriving in Santiago and leaving for Lima. Jon can tell the story far better than I can, but it seems what basically went down is that the Valdivia flight was delayed twice and didn´t get into Santiago until after 11. LanChile put Jon up in a hotel for the night, then in the morning he began the long and frustrating process of trying to get on another flight to Perú.

Of course, I didn´t know all of that as it was going on. I was more concerned about my own travel plans being screwed up. To wit: to get from Valparaíso or Viña to the airport in Santiago, you have to take a bus to Pajaritos metro station then take an airport shuttle. The whole process should take no more than two and a half hours: an hour and a half to Pajaritos, and an hour at the most for the shuttle. So, since I had to be at the airport at 8:10 to check in for the international flight, I left Viña around 5 and was on a bus headed towards Santiago by 5:30. Here´s where things started to get tricky, though. Route 68, the fastest way to get to Santiago and the route that goes by Pajaritos, was closed due to a procession for the Virgin in honor of (I´m pretty sure) the Immaculate Conception. The highway was clogged with people pilgramaging to church. So instead of Route 68, the bus driver takes Route 5. Route 5 is very scenic and beautiful, but it´s also under construction, is for much of its length a two-lane road, and can only be accessed by going through downtown Viña up Libertad. It was rush hour. It took us forty-five minutes just to get out of freaking Viña del Mar.

By this time, I´m getting pretty antsy and am doing the passive-agressive thing where you look at your watch every five seconds and sigh really loudly. For the first hour and half of the journey, we´re trapped behind slow-moving vehicles headed for Quillota or huge construction...things, like cement mixers. From my seat, I could see the spedometer, and at no point in the first hour and half did we exceed 60 kilometers an hour. Finally after about two hours we´re able to kick it up to 100...and then we´re pulled over by the carabineros (Chile´s police force). I´ve pretty much given up hope of getting to the airport two hours early, and am praying that they don´t take that rule too seriously. By the time we get to Santiago (near Parque Balmaceda, basically on the other end of Santiago from Pajaritos), it´s almost 8:30. I´m weighing my options; on the one hand, I could take the metro all the way to Pajaritos and hope that I don´t have to wait long for a shuttle; on the other hand, that would take at least an hour and half, if I´m lucky. So I flag down a taxi and ask the driver to get me to the international terminal of Aeropuerto Merino Benitez as fast as he can. Thank God I got the fasted taxista this side of the Mapocho, because flying down the autopista at 140 km per hour, we´re there in twenty minutes.

So I´ve arrived about forty minutes late, but the woman at the LanChile check-in counter doesn´t even mention it. I get to the gate and start to wonder where Jon is...

Fast forward to arriving in Lima. Immigration takes about an hour, and by the time I´m free it´s about 1:30 or so. I head up to the food court and ask a security guard to wake me up at four if I´m still asleep. I head downstairs to check in for the Cusco flight at 4:15, and my conversation with the Lan woman goes something like this:

Lan woman: ´´Is this all your baggage?´´
Me: ´´Yes, except for what I checked in Santiago.´´
Lan woman: ´´And where´s that?´´
Me: ´´Oh, I checked it through to Cusco.´´
Lan woman: ´´Didn´t you know that you have to pick up your baggage and put it through customs again? You need to go find your baggage and do that before I can check you in for this flight.´´

Now, that might seem like an unforgivably stupid mistake, and I´m not saying it wasn´t, but I´ve never flown internationally by myself before and I was kind of in a daze after getting through immigration in Lima. So I´m running around trying to get back into the baggage area, the security guard says I need someone official from LanChile to come with me, there´s no one at the LanChile Human Resources desk, they´re calling my flight over the loudspeaker, I´m back at the Lan desk, I´m at Lost and Found, I´m walking through the back tunnels of the Cusco airport with a young woman who helps me find my bag and put it back through customs. I head back to the Lan check-in area, but now there´s a huge line and according to the loudspeaker it´s final-call on my flight. The Lan guy who helped me earlier lets me cut in line, I check my bag, then run (literally) to the departure area. And....surprise! Airport tax! Thank God I had American dollars on me and didn´t have to go to an ATM. I pay the tax, then head for security...and set off the alarms. After emptying my pockets and taking off my jacket, I finally clear it and jog off to my gate. And...the punchline is, I´m the first person on the flight.

But still, no Jon. When I get to Cusco, I buy an international phone card and call Marcia back in Valparaíso to see if she´s heard anything. When I call back an hour later to tell her what hostel I´m staying at (so that she can communicate that information to Jon), she tells me that his flight was delayed a couple times but that he´s on his way. And...once again, thank God: when I get back to the hostel this evening after spending the day in the Sacred Valley, Jon is there.

Whew.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

I´m happy now

I was really hoping to be able to write more, but I have to head out in about half an hour, so...yeah. Barring unforseen circumstances like free internet in the Santiago airport or a cheap internet cafe, by the next time I post, I will have been to Macchu Picchu, possibly to Easter Island (I mean, I´m definitely going to Easter Island, but I´m going to try to post before then) and Chile will know who its new president is. Actually, I´d be surprised if the election doesn´t go to a second round, but Chile will at least have it narrowed down to two candidates. My money´s on Piñera winning against Bachelet in the second round. If I could vote, I would vote for Hirsch (Humanist Party, far-left coalition) in the first round then Bachelet (Socialist Party, center-left coalition) in the second round.

To Mariah, Carla, and Julia: I wish I had more time to say goodbye to you guys. Julia, have a wonderful time travelling with your parents, and send me the Buenos Aires pictures when you get a chance, okay? If you send them via email, please cc it to my hotmail account (address on my Facebook profile). I loved getting to know you and I´ll miss you next semester. Carla, give me a call if you´ll be in Punta Arenas between the 22nt and the 29th. I left your tote bag with Gisella, with a poster of Julia´s and Mariah´s books. Could you please make sure they get them? Have a great time with your family, and I can´t wait to see you in the airport on the 11th to make that last trip back to Portland! Mariah, I will miss you at LC next semester and I can´t wait to hear about all of your adventures. Stay in touch! I love you guys.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

´´I'm a regular Leo Dawidowitsch Trotzky!´´

Just to get that negativity off the top of the page...this made me laugh out loud. That´s because I´m a snob, probably.

Andando con los monos

That´s Chilean slang for being in a really bad mood for no apparent reason. It literally means ´´going around with the monkeys.´´ It also describes my mood right now.

I hate for one of my last posts before I leave for Peru and Easter Island to be so negative, especially since some great things have happened since I last posted here, but I am so, so, sooooooo sick of people here saying one thing and doing another. I´m sick of group members who don´t call me to tell me when they´re meeting; I´m sick of professors who tell me I can take the test a week later then the other students then call Marcia all, ´´Why didn´t Jessica show up on test day?´´; I´m sick of running around downtown Viña going to the doctor to see if my test results have come back (that was all resolved yesterday, at least); I´m sick of piropos in the streets and the immaturity of many students here in general; and most of all (right now), I´m sick of the flakiness of my professors in regard to turning back our final grades. I can´t schedule my life around my professors´ office hours, which they normally don´t follow in any case. When I make a special trip to Valparaíso to pick up my grades, a day or a week after the date a professor said she would have our grades in, and they´re still not there, that makes me really mad and frustrated. And the answer is always, ´´Come back in a couple hours.´´ I´m going to Santiago this afternoon and freaking Peru tomorrow--I can´t always come back in a couple hours.

Yesterday Carla and Julia and I talked about how we only really waste time on Facebook when we miss our friends. Obviously, when we´re with our friends, we´d rather hang out with them then analyze all their wall posts, right? But when we´re lonely, or missing people, or (at least in my case) jealous of other people our friends are spending time with, that´s when the serious stalking begins. And the three of us are expert Facebook-stalkers.