It has been just over two weeks in Chile and already so much has happened and there is so much more to look forward to in the coming months. Last night, Christmas night, was the first time I felt “home”. Looking around, I saw all the messes from the food I’ve made to the aftermath of my Christmas adventure hiking in the foothills of the Andes. It was a wonderful feeling and the purpose of renting a loft in Santiago for a month. Since my work entails wheeling a suitcase from place to place and rarely having my own space, which I was quite accustom to in my ‘prior life’, I narrowed the few cities where my frequent flyer miles could get me and booked a home to be in a matter of hours on a Saturday morning.
The photos above are pulled directly off of AirBnB and when I showed up the loft looked exactly like them (very clean)! However majority of the time this is what it looks like…the central command center for Chilean adventure planning with maps, books, and Wifi connection (finally)! Also where I currently sit writing to you.
The loft resides in the neighborhood of Barrio Basil. Barrio Brasil is known for its strong cultural and artistic scene, featuring a number of bars, nightclubs and cultural venues. The barrio was a characteristic upper-class neighborhood in Chile’s capital from the middle of the 18th century and now an older part of town and considered “traditional”. A variety of interesting architectural styles can be seen in the neighborhood with classical Spanish-style casonas, large homes, as well as traditional Chilean housing. There is also no lack of expression in graffiti art.
Efforts to rebuild the neighborhood began after the 1985 earthquake. Since 2000, the neighborhood has experienced a revival with the creation of spaces for cultural events, the arts, recreation and leisure. It is also the site of new building projects that attempt to attract young middle-class families to the center of the city. Part of the architectural patrimony of the neighborhood has been renovated and the general quality of life of the sector has improved.
Barrio Basil lies immediately to the north of the Alameda and my place is smack dab in the middle of two large metro lines which makes it pretty easy to get anywhere. I’ve used the Alameda several times for a place to run or just enjoy long walks into the center of the city. I have found a yoga studio there as well and is only a 10 minute walk from my loft! Each class at the studio is about $2.80 USD!! In general, the prices here are similar to home, but I find that service types of expenses cheaper.
At night, Plaza de Barrio Basil, a park 1.5 blocks from my loft comes alive with acrobatic youth twirling around on silks hanging from the trees, jugglers practicing, families and friends enjoy one an-others company, live bands or groups of drummers, and most often “el locals” which are small pop-up vendors of trinkets, books, art, and crafts. Recently, I mustered up the guts to buy a few easier reading books in Spanish from an ‘el local’ and like a small child on Christmas morning, I’m very excited when I can read and understand (to a certain degree). You can often find me on a bench in the park reading and taking in the atmosphere in the evenings.
One of two bands playing in the park one evening leading up to the Christmas holiday. Note the harmonica player on the far left who was absolutely amazing. I couldn’t help but stare at his case of a dozen more notes to choose from. This jazz band was so fun to watch and people watch who were watching them 🙂
In contrast to my month in Medellin, Colombia, I felt that Colombians had been more warm upon arrival. Here, people stare more and say hi less or smile less. Since I am one of few gingos in my neighborhood, I definitely stand out more than I did in Medellin. Talking to the handful of friends that I have made, their impression is similar in that Chileans are shy and it takes a little bit of time before they open up or at least here in the city. Chile has a reputation of fewer violent crimes than the rest of Latin America. I can also attest that it is far more acceptable to hitch a ride than it had been in Colombia. The main concern in Santiago is theft and seeing how this gringa stands out, it’s a concern I continuously attend to. Thus far I have been successful in escaping any encounters.
Recently, I made it my mission to find a place to structurally work on my Spanish. On a daily basis you can practice everywhere as there are few people who speak English. However Chilean Spanish has been quite difficult for my ear to attune. I figured the fastest place to find out where and how is a hostel since they are use to this type of questioning and there just so happens to be one around the corner. I nearly ran out of their door when I found out there is a small Spanish school one block away from my place!! Perfect, the smaller the school, the better! In my opinion, smaller equals more intimate settings and potential for friendships. That thought became instantly true when Camilo (one of the owners??) saw me standing at the closed door after hours and happened to be chatting with a friend on the sidewalk, and unlocked the closed doors of the school and sat me down to talk classes (all in Spanish). After about 45 minutes of struggling through my goals with Spanish classes, I was to report the following Monday for class.
Learning a second language later in life is so difficult and the first day of class (4 hours of group class and 2 hours of private class) blew me away. I could have almost cried with how much knowledge I had lost from the prior year in Colombia. My season with Trek Travel originally was suppose to be spent back in Spain where I could continue practicing, but after some “travel issues” my season was spent in the US with zero upkeep on my Spanish. After three days of intensive onslaught of Spanish and a weekend hanging out with a friend who only speaks Spanish, my vocabulary has begun to resurface. Since I was entering the group class at the end of their multi-month session, the principals being taught were beyond my level, however I was still able to understand. In fact, I enjoyed learning beyond my level or maybe it’s just that I’m attracted to formate and principles. My goal between now and when I leave Santiago on January 10th is to practice and learn as much as possible! In efforts to reach acute fluency, I’ve labeled my loft’s contents with post-its, I listen to Pimsleur’s language program on the metro, I go to class and do everything item of homework assigned, I read books in Spanish, and I fall asleep playing on Duolingo app nightly. In the whole wide world, it is my number one goal to become fluent in Spanish! If you asked me why, I don’t have a specific reason, I am just pulled in this direction.
Most days when I awake there are no agendas or to-do lists. It is almost difficult to live life this way and it’s not how the remainder of my year goes as a guide. A lot of times I leave the loft not knowing which direction to turn out my front door. I walk the streets and parks of the city in search amusement and experiences. Here are a handful of photos in efforts to capture those experiences.
Graffiti in the streets of Barrio Basil…
This is an example of an “el local” which I found on my way to Museo Gabriela Mistral . To me, it’s a special el local as I had the privilege to meet Michel Baffray. Michel is French and has been living in Chile for some time. He’s also published and co-published books on botany, including one from the Patagonia region. He knows every detail of the items on this table and had I been fluent in either Spanish or French, I’m pretty sure I would have understood, fell in love (with the items), and bought everything on this table! Instead, I limited myself to a few small items that are special and easy to transport.
From left to right: Lapis lazuli, a stone found only in a few places on earth. Mostly sourced from Afghanistan, but I decided that this one sourced from here in the Andes was a better place to buy. Bombilla, a straw utensil used to drink mate. This one is made by the Mapuche. Mapuche (che meaning ‘people’ and mapu meaning ‘of the land’) are a group of indigenous inhabitants of south-central Chile and southwestern Argentina, including parts of present-day Patagonia. Their history is very interesting and they are the largest indigenous group in Chile. They are also the first and only indigenous nation on the continent whose sovereignty and independence was legally recognized. However, even so, they have had their share of political issues and they still continue today. Palo Santo is amazing and I highly suggest clicking on the link I attached to read more about it. This piece wasn’t in fact purchase, it actually was a gift from Michel. It is now, extremely special to me and I carry it every where smelling it every time I reach into my bag. Originally, I had stopped by Michel’s stand to look at the ‘poncho’ type item in the upper left corner made from alpaca. It took me a few days to decide yes or no, and when I came back he gave me this gift (even before I bought a single thing). I love it.
A photo close to the top of Cerro Santa Lucía, a park in the middle of the city. It is a rocky hill that was converted into a manicured park in the 19th century with scattered churches and interesting buildings. The view from atop is amazing to see a 360 degree view of the city and the Andes in the distance.
Also while at Cerro Santa Lucía, there was a gathering for this traditional group from San Simon, Bolivia. I do not know the name of the group, tribe, etc. If anyone knows, feel free to share. Their traditional attire was amazingly colorful. If you asked me why I am attracted to Latin America, colors would be in the top five. **Unsure of why, but my camera did not capture the quality I had intended for these photos, maybe the exposure setting?? Photography advice is always welcome.**
There are so many more experiences I wasn’t unable capture or chose not to grab my camera and instead just to enjoy it. There are two more weeks here in Santiago and I plan to explore more. I’ve been documenting a lot of where I go and how I went for friends who come in the future. In addition to Santiago, since I will be in Chile until the end of March (as of now), there’s been a lot of dialing in of logistics. Here is the rundown to my plans:
- Gretchen, a badass traveler and amazing friend, arrives on January 9th for the highlight reel in Santiago, before we head to Valparaiso for two nights of street art, steep walks on the hillside, and undiscovered shenanigans.
- January 12th, we head back to Santiago and hop a flight to Punta Arenas and start our adventure in Southern Patagonia. This includes Punta Arenas, Punta Natales, and Torres del Paine. In TdP, our current plan is to kick out the 7-8 day Circuit around the park in the backcountry!
- January 22st or so, Gretchen has depart back to reality as I continue north with my home on my back.
- Until around February 1st, I’ll be visiting the cities of El Calafate and El Chalten where Parque Nacional Los Glaciares stretches between the two cities to the west. If all goes well, I’ll do a few overnights on the north side of the park and see Fitz Roy. My plan from there will be quite interesting as I plan to cross the border from Argentina back to Chile by foot and ferry (please send good ferry schedule vibes my way!).
- My goal is to be in Villa O’Higgins (a VERY small town) by February 2nd. Reading about this town may make me want to stay for a few nights.
- From there around the 5th of February, I’ll continue by bus to Cochrane, Coyhaique, and Futaleufú. Depending on which way the wind blows me I may stay over in some of these towns, parks, or surrounding areas for a few days. Futaleufú is a mecca for water rats! I hope to do some fly fishing and white water rafting here.
- After these places, my time will depend on how long I stay and what calls me. But the line up going north will be something like; Chaitén and Parque Pumalín, Puerto Montt and Cochamó Valley, and then busting a move back to Santiago to pick up my large suitcase.
- February 14th, weird to think about it, but I’ll be heading back to work here in Chile! Trek Travel just added a trip in the southern Chico region visiting the cities of Huilo Huilo, Pucón, and Malalcahahuello. Yeah, go ahead and try to pronounce that last one! I am EXTREMELY stoked to be going to this area of Chile which I would not have otherwise. Depending on timing maybe I’ll get to hang out a little bit not working as well 🙂
- Sometime at the end of March or possibly later, I’ll be making my way back to the states…at least for a pit stop before the next assignment.
Alright, precious daylight is burning! Thanks for reading and if you read it all, well done!
Much love from the south and finally a photo from Pichilemu where I felt I was standing on the western edge of the world…a peaceful sunset zen moment for me.