Traveling at an Odd Time

Stories are coming faster than I can write them down. I hate that feeling. Time is cheating me here.

Truthfully, until about a week and a half ago, I was unaware of time passing. Or at least only vaguely so. It was only at Isla Negra, while I was feeling like I had died and gone to artistic heaven at Neruda’s house, that our assistant director announced that “Well, we’re pretty much at the end of the quarter now.”

I was so upset. At the time, I was so in the moment, so relaxed, so happy to be doing exactly what I was doing that I didn’t want to think about the end of my time in Chile. Now, I feel more ok with it. I got to talk with my whole family at Thanksgiving. I’ll be happy to go home and see them. And recently I’ve been in better touch with friends at Stanford and thinking about what the winter will be like. I’m actually excited about it.

It’s going to be a dose of reality though. I read a great NY Times article that reminded me how study abroaders like me haven’t felt the economic situation quite the same way that everyone else has. And I just finished up finals, which reminded me that I will have to work a lot more seriously when I get back to Stanford.

It makes me feel too lucky, actually. I’m in Chile having the most incredible experience, more relaxed than I’ve ever been–probably in my life, and visiting some of the most amazing places in the world. While most people are talking about buckling down, being especially frugal, trying to find summer jobs. It’s a strange situation that makes me feel almost guilty.

I know the timing isn’t ideal for me to spend huge chunks of my summer earnings on overpriced flights to Easter Island, but I wholeheartedly maintain that there is incredible value in doing this. Being here has changed so much for me at a time when I needed a break in the worst possible way. I know the “nose to the grindstone” mentality pretty well. In fact, I spent the summer working full time while taking a class and writing a grant for a student group. Like many goal-oriented college students, I made a jam packed schedule a habit.

Coming here has been different. I decided to really use the time for myself. To just be here and experience it. Even if all this seems like an inappropriate luxury, it is making me more grounded and relaxed, and ultimately more productive.

I really like quotations and found one that feels appropriate for this train of thought:

Those of us who attempt to act and do things for others or for the world without deepening our own self-understanding, freedom, integrity, and capacity to love, will not have anything to give others. We will communicate to them nothing but the contagion of our own obsessions, our aggressivity, our ego-centered ambitions, our delusions about ends and means.” -Thomas Merton

This makes sense on so many levels. To be a good person you have to take care of yourself. Reflection, self improvement, and yes even travel are constructive and on some level necessary. Even though it feels crazy given the state of the world, being here has been, and still is, worth it. I’m not really guilty, just lucky.


Filed under Uncategorized

20 Questions

Great moment at breakfast today. My host family loves to ask overly direct questions. Especially at meals, preferably when I’m dead tired. I think this is more amusing than rude. I’m not sure if this is a Chilean cultural thing or just something my family saves for their Stanford students. But I know they’re just curious.

Today my host father’s brother (host uncle I guess) came for lunch and decided he needed catch up on my life in Chile. I’ve only met him twice before.

“So what do you think of Chilean guys?”
“Oh, they’re really nice.”
He laughs at me.
“But it really bothers me that so many of them have mullets.”
Then I describe what a mullet is. My host sister agrees that they are ugly.
“And how are the carretes (parties)?”
At this point, my host sister interjects and lists all the places she thinks I like to go out. They seem satisfied with the list.
“And have you tried pisco sours?”
This seems like a particularly odd question. Pisco is not on my list of good topics to discuss with adults that I don’t know very well.
“What do you think?”
“Oh I like them.”
He seems to approve.
“How about Chilean beer?”
“Oh it’s pretty good. I tried some miel beer in Valdivia.”
“And rum?” my host father reminds me. I am not sure why this is so important.
“Wait what? Why?” He laughs at me again.
“Hmm…” Apparently this new information has changed my host uncle’s impression a bit. He takes the conversation in a new direction:
“When you go to Easter Island are you going to go to a discoteca?”
“Well I don’t know, I’m not going with a particularly crazy a group. I guess we’ll see.”
“You know the Pascuenses are very attractive. Don’t fall in love and move there.”
“Haha don’t worry I probably won’t fall in love in 4 days.”
“You never know.”

I think my host family keeps me around just for entertainment’s sake. So they can ask someone about dance clubs, ¿cachai?

I’ll let you know about Easter Island.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Amazing Grace in Patagonia

I have every right to be a little bit tacky when I see something this incredible. Took me a week to write about it, I know. But now that I’ve plowed through a tedious set of final papers and Spanish vocabulary words I’m ready to take a look at my journal and tell you the story. Very simply, this is the most beautiful place in the world.


Check that out. It’s awe inspiring. I thought it was so awe inspiring that I found a track of Sufjan Stevens singing “Amazing Grace” on my ipod and decided to listen to it 25 times in the course of my 4 day trip to Patagonia.

In case the picture isn’t quite enough to get the message across, here’s how the trip went. I left on Friday after Thanksgiving early in the a.m. and flew to Punta Arenas. I went with 10 quirky amazing people from Stanford, and as soon as we got out of the airport I could just tell that the air was different down here. It kind of feels wild. Alaska is the only similar place I can think of–including the bizarre amount of daylight. The sun doesn’t set until 11pm here.

Anyway, the first day we went to a penguin colony. (I can now do a penguin impression. You should ask me about it sometime.) Unfortunately for Patrick who begged me to go fishing down here, these penguins were the only fishermen I saw. They were pretty cool though!

Then, we got up the next morning and got on a bus to Puerto Natales, the jumping off point for Torres del Paine. Normally when people talk about going to Patagonia, they mean Torres del Paine. There is a good reason for this:


When you first get there your jaw drops subconciously. It’s that beautiful. We got to experience it via boat ride across a vividly blue lake with the mountains half hidden in clouds, and then got to our campsite behind Grand Lodge Paine. We spent the next few days hiking.

In an Earth Systems geek moment, I really have to tell you that the rocks here are awesome. They have stripes, layers of minerals smashed against each other that probably took momentous forces and lots of lava to make. No big deal.

The Torres themselves have some pretty awesome geology. They’re not really part of the Andes mountain chain, and formed when lava flows pushed layers sedimentary rock and granite upward into the sky. It sort of looks like lava fell into a pile of molten rock and then the splash solidified in splash position. That’s not actually how it happened, but they are very cool looking.


You know what else are cool looking? Glaciers. I saw 2 of them: Glacier Grey and Perrito Moreno.

I came home awestruck with a sense of how strong nature can be and how tiny my life is. Even if it’s totally insignificant– stories, passions, jokes, mistakes, dreams, everything– coming here felt significant anyway.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Thank you notes

Yes, I know Thanksgiving was last week, but I was too behind on homework to write a long blog entry.

I wrote a few thank you notes to various people in the past week and a half, and it felt right to share them. I’m also writing thank-you’s to a few others who never got formal notes but nonetheless deserve to be thanked. So, for those of you who are hardy enough to read a post that doesn’t involve travel or speed-dating, here we go:

1. To my extended family: Thank you so much for skyping with me, emailing me, and taking the time to read about my (mis)adventures here in Chile. I missed you all at Thanksgiving (although I enjoyed our skype date!) and can’t wait to see you in person. Love you all!

2. To my awesome cousin Patrick, who I’ve just (re)connected with over email. He writes a pretty cool blog and recently sent a bunch of his readers here to learn about his interesting cousin. I feel famous as a result. Check out his blog here.

And here are some notes I wrote with actual paper and pen…

3. To my Chilean host mother at her birthday:

Querida Gabriela,

¡Feliz cumpleaños a Usted! Espero que tenga un día excelente y pasará un fin de semana bien con toda su familia.

Despúes de todo que Usted ha hecho para mí en todo mi tiempo en Chile, lo siento que no puedo estar acá para esta celebración. Imagino que no sería fácil tener una estudiante extranjera en casa, y agradezco todo su paciencia y amabilidad. ¡Muchísimas gracias!

Recuerdo que tuvimos una conversación sobre novelas favoritas y hablé de una en inglés que se llama Pride and Prejudice. Descubrí que está traducido al español, y decidí comprarla para Usted. Espero que le gustará, y de nuevo, ¡Feliz cumpleaños!


4. To the couple who fund Stanford Overseas Studies:

Dear Helen and Peter Bing,

Thank you so much for everything you have given to the students in Stanford in Santiago, and thank you especially for our trip to Isla Negra.

Seeing Pablo Neruda’s beautiful boat-shaped house on the coast and his quirky collections of art and memorabilia had a strong effect on me. I’m not completely sure why- the house just had an incredibly artistic atmosphere.

After our tour of Isla Negra, we had lunch at a great restaurant and read poetry to each other. A couple of people read Neruda. One read T.S. Eliot. A few read their own work. This group is so talented- I wish you could have seen it.

Although I didn’t read anything out loud, someone showed me a copy of Neruda’s self portrait poem , “Autorretrato.” I liked it so much that I bought a printed copy and read it about 25 times. This change in attitude toward poetry was a pretty big step for me. I resented every creative writing class I ever took and never enjoyed analyzing poems either. Beyond “The Night Before Christmas,” poetry just didn’t appeal to me.

Thanks for helping me get a new perspective on poetry and supporting our trip to Isla Negra. I sincerely appreciate everything you’ve done for us this quarter. I’ve loved being here and it has changed my experience at Stanford.


1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The Dancing Issue

Last week, I went out dancing without any fellow English speakers.

I went with a Chilean friend and a few of his friends up to Avenida Vitacura, a nicer part of town rumored to have a good nightlife. I hadn’t been before since I heard it was expensive, but the place we went to was actually really reasonable. We sat and talked for a while. I got to know his friends a bit more. Then we decided to dance for a bit. And I realized something: everyone here was born knowing how to dance.

I’m at a genetic disadvantage. While I appreciate being able to celebrate St. Patrick’s day, people here can pick up the beat of absolutely any song and move like they aren’t trying. It’s so natural and effortless, but mystifying to me. I have to work at this.

Now friends have reassured me that I can, in fact, hold my own on a dance floor. This could be partly true, but it took years of painful middle and high school dances to get to my current mediocre level. Salsa and tango are absolutely out of the question. I’m just aiming for the basics here.

Who knows? Maybe I’ll go home and realize things have improved after spending 3 months down here. Sort of like my language skills. It is (I think) reasonably easy to understand my Spanish, but I’m still out of luck when people speak to me in quick, complicated ways. On the dancing issue, I would settle for that kind of almost-fluency.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Architecture School



This has to be the most original, off the wall thing I’ve seen in Chile. Guidebooks don’t talk about it since it’s out of the way and not particularly touristy. I only found it through a wikipedia article I read for Spanish class.

La Ciudad Abierta de Ritoque (Open City of Ritoque) is a project developed by the Architecture Dept. at Universidad Católica de Valparaíso. They wanted to create an unconventional, experimental city, where the buildings were designed as responses to poetic impulses, human needs, and the natural environment. Architecture professors live in the city with their students and teach classes there.

The whole thing seems a little Burning Man-ish, but more academic. It surprised me to find this here in Chile, but Valparaíso is the perfect place. People there put mosaic tiles in cement sidewalks and art installations on street corners. An experimental architecture school fits right in.

We drove up the coast from downtown Valparaíso to the deserted beaches near Ritoque. When we found La Ciudad Abierta, it was marked inconspicuously, but we could see the gleaming modern buildings over the hillside. The city was closed. So sad. We thought we would have to make due with admiring its buildings from the street when we realized there was a narrow doorway built into the wooden fence.


It was like they wanted to let people in– as long as they were willing to take the time to look around. Too good to be true.


Archeologists discovering lost cities must have felt the way we did walking up this hill. The earth was sandy but surprisingly tough. The plant life was completely foreign, and traces of human presence were everywhere. Faded tire tracks. Scraps of cement. I found one piece so buried in the sand that I imagined it was something bigger. “Look,” I called, “I found Atlantis!”


Yes, it was a joke. Don’t worry. But as we trekked further up the hill, La Ciudad Abierta really started to feel more like a lost city. We found an odd little building that turned out to house water pipes, and then a crazy geometric sculpture that pointed us straight to a pine tree. Crawling under the tree, we found an open, cavern-like space. I don’t know if it was man-made or not, and I don’t know what purpose the sculpture could have served, but this was better than being a kid in a candy store.


Even though there were more sculptures and buildings to see, we had to leave right after that since a friend wasn’t feeling well. Even so the mystery in this place fascinated me. It’s not well-known in the States. A google search doesn’t yield too much… one architecture student who visited posted some very cool photos. Most notably, an MIT professor wrote a book about The Open City in 1996. I read the bits and pieces of this that google books gave me. The book digs into the history of Ritoque and the implications of its design philosophy.

I want to know more about this in the worst way. There’s something special here.




Filed under Uncategorized

BEST Picture I’ve Taken Here

Failed geography?

Someone decided to “mess with Texas” now that we’re electing a new President. Way to have a sense of humor Chile.


Filed under Uncategorized