Friday, December 28, 2007

In South American Fashion...

I'm running a little late, wrapping up the odds and ends of my trip, updating my blog, organizing my life, now that I'm home for the Holidays.

I blame Chile. If an event in Chile is scheduled to start at 7, it would be in terribly poor fashion to actually show up at 7. 7 would actually mean 8, and even then, it would be wiser to show up at 8:30.

But who am I kidding? In Chile, nothing would start that early. We're talking more like 10 or 11. And a stone's throw away from Chile, the Argentines don't waste any time wasting time. In Buenos Aires, it's totally appropriate to have a full evening's worth of events, just waiting for the nightlife to begin. It is completely out of fashion to go out before 1 a.m. in Buenos Aires.

So in preparation for an Argentine-style night out, we went to see a Tango show at Cafe Tortoni, a famous 180 year old Cafe where writers, artists and intellectuals used to hang out during the 19th century. More than the famed night life, the Tango show was the ultimate Buenos Aires experience, and as promised, here are some video clips from the show, which at 50 Argentine pesos per person (about $17 USD), I would highly recommend to anyone.

Tango:





This was so cool:





One more. The end of the show:

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

I´m Famous

If anyone was wondering about the English Opens Doors teaching program I did here in Chile, here is a documentary filmed by the Chilean Ministry of Education. If you don´t care much about the program but just want to see me looking ridiculously awkward on camera, it´s a good watch as well:






Monday, December 17, 2007

Summer in the City

The Patagonia springtime could not have prepared me for how very nice it would feel to be in the sunshine... real sunshine. The kind that requires the wearing of skirts and flip flops and sunglasses, and calls for frequent trips to beaches and swimming pools.

After 4 months in the cold, can you blame me for not having written much about my action-packed 3-week vacation between Santiago and Viña del Mar/Valparaiso in Chile and Buenos Aires, Argentina?

Well, just a short update-- I will be home in Baltimore, MD on December 21st, for those of you eagerly awaiting me :)


I am currently in Santiago just back from a fabulous week in Buenos Aires. And excuse my lack of eloquence when I say that the Tango is fucking awesome. Videos to come soon. Dulce de Leche ice cream receives the same high marks as the Tango, as well as the Shopping in Buenos Aires. Plenty of Argentine wine was had by all as well. See my pics on facebook


As for Viña del Mar, the beaches are beautiful and the cool breeze off the pacific ocean is actually agreeable when you`re not living at the southernmost tip of South America.

In Santiago I have been hanging out with some good Chilean friends, and today am going to a wine tasting at some Chilean vineyards.

So Christmas at home is exciting and all, but not sure if I´ll ever be ready to leave this South America summer.

Friday, December 7, 2007

"If you weren´t so pretty, I´d hit you..."

So lastnight I arrived to Buenos Aires. Just a two hour flight from Santiago, and yet worlds apart. The tango capital is alive with a late-night cafe culture and a night life that apparently never ends. I will find out tonight whether that reputation lives up to its standards when I hit the town to party.

In this city filled with chatty waiters, taxi drivers, hotel-clerks and friendly citizens, it´s proven hard not to get sidetracked in conversation with just about everyone. Especially for my equally chatty travel companion, Moira, who decided to respond to a rather sketchy looking lady working a fruit stand who stopped us to ask us who the president of our country was.

Moira corrected the woman, who seemed ready to pounce, saying that Canada had a Prime Minister, not a president.

Slightly defeated, the woman backed down and said, "Oh, you´re from Canada..."

So Moira says, "Yes, but my friend, Meri, here is from the United States."

Which fired the woman right back up. Getting up close to my face as I´m innocently peeling my orange, wondering why Moira indulged this woman in conversation, she glares at me and says, "If you weren´t so pretty I´d hit you." Followed by a speech about her arab descent, her hatred for George Bush and how many arabs he´s killed, and basically just looking for a reason to actually hit me.

I continued peeling my orange, looking down at my feet and waiting for Moira to talk our way back out of the situation. After about 10 "You´re absolutely right, señora, you´re absolutely right," she left us alone.

Phew, from now on I´m going to be from Canada too.

Ok, just a short message from Palermo neighborhood in Bs.As. before heading out for some Argentina-style shopping (aka fashion on the cheap!)

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Last Day in Punta Arenas!

Hey all. For those of you who have been keeping up-to-date with my whereabouts, I know the blog's been a little dull lately... I've resorted to writing about mugs in my faculty room.

Well, I kissed that faculty room goodbye no more than one hour ago. Yesterday the school held a ceremony in my honor, and as my British friend Steph would say, "I was so chuffed, I cried." And for those of you that know me, I am not much of a crier... but 4 months have gone by so quickly, and as cheesy as it sounds, it was a lot of fun working with the kids at Escuela Argentina, despite their "desordenado" tendencies. They had a slideshow for me, which maybe I will upload on here one of these days, and each grade level gave me a gift or some type of nice message.

In any case, I am excited to be getting out of this cold corner of the earth. Tomorrow, at 11 a.m. I am flying out of Punta Arenas and heading up to the boiling hot Santiago Summertime for final evaluations of my teaching program, and then I kick off three weeks of travel, beginning in Santiago, then heading perhaps to Vina del Mar and Valparaiso, Chile... then a much anticipated week in Buenos Aires, Argentina and then perhaps to the north of Chile.

Many exciting things up ahead before I go home for Christmas on Dec 21st, so I´ll leave you all waiting with anticipation (assuming I can find internet access while I´m traveling!)

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Mug Shots

So this mug is in our faculty room here in Chile. As the only Native English speaker on the faculty, I`m also the only person who finds the humor in what`s written on it. My Chilean co-English teacher insists that the words must mean something coherent, although she can´t say exactly what, or where this phrase might have come from... so I`m at a loss.


$10 to anyone who can decode the mysterios message on the mug. Key words: "Beatest" and "Sparet"










Tuesday, November 6, 2007

My Favorite New Chilean Singer

So I was riding a bus home from the Argentine town of Ushuaia this past weekend... 11 hours south of Punta Arenas, and apparently officially the REAL Southernmost city in the world. The bus aisle monitor(who was a little "off" and took his job a little toooo seriously) took advantage of his captive audience, to the delight of all of our tired and haggard souls, with his atrocious taste in music.

I'd never heard of Zalo Reyes before stepping onto this bus, but after 4 hours I knew him very well... a musical icon of our parents time (if our parents happened to be Chilean and flaite -- Chilean for White trash). I also believe that Zalo Reyes may actually have been an inspiring force for modern-day rap music videos. Observe the bling, the pimped out rides, the hot women, the thugs smokin{ fatties, and of course the sweet crib this guy rocks. And most importantly, enjoy. My only regret is that I didn´t film the entire video... the story is actually quite interesting and has a huge twist at the end!


Monday, October 29, 2007

Drive-By Shooting...

No Pain, No Gain

“Hay que sufrir”
This was advice coming from a Patagonia native… a Torres del Paine park guide and one of my private English students, who grew up on an Estancia across the Strait of Magellan in Tierra del Fuego. “One has to suffer.”

I was beginning to understand the place, both as a physical presence and a way of life. A Patagonian Priest once told a traveling author:


“O Patagonia, you do not reveal your secrets to fools.”

Taking both bits of wisdom into account, we three fools have suffered much down here at the ends of the earth. But with a little patience and a much greater sense of humor, we’ve also seen the best Patagonia has to offer.

This is not your typical South America. The people are not warm and neither is the weather. On the contrary, on any given day you never know what to expect. You wake up one morning to cool air and sunshine which makes the blues of the water in the Strait of Magellan stand out, almost alive in their intensity. One hour later a dark cloud blows in out of nowhere bringing with it torrential rain, which later becomes snow. The next day the wind might blow 40 miles/hour, which is normal here. They actually tie up ropes along the buildings in the city center for people to hold on to while they’re walking so they don’t get blown away. See Video:






So we’re just coming out of 5 full days of rain, with a little bit of snow mixed in… and believe it or not, they call this Springtime. It sounds miserable… and honestly it is miserable at times. But just when you think you can’t take it for another second, that if the rain doesn’t stop, you’ll be on the next plane to Miami for a much needed beach vacation… in that exact moment the sun comes out, the rain stops, revealing 4 different rainbows at a time in separate corners around town, and shedding light on all the multi-colored houses, making you feel, for a fleeting second, like you’re incredibly lucky to have been able to see this place.






And that’s what this whole Patagonia experience has been. No pain, no gain. Our next big adventure after doing “the W” in Torres del Paine, was a three day trip to the Argentine town of El Calafate: primary purpose to see the Perito Moreno glacier—a large glacier flowing from the massive Southern Patagonia Ice Field…and also a UNESCO site.

So two Fridays ago, we caught a bus to Puerto Natales, in order to catch another bus early the next morning for a 6 hour bus ride to El Calafate, Argentina. The ride reminded us of just how very isolated we are down here.

There are really only two points of interest between Puerto Natales and El Calafate… the Chilean border crossing and the Argentine border crossing. The primary excitement in both places is that we got a passport stamp for each respective country… in addition to a large blue road sign upon entering into Argentina, reminding all drivers that “Las Malvinas son Argentinas.”


No, that’s not a useful driving tip. It means that “the Malvine Islands belong to Argentina.” Apparently a heated issue down here (which I knew nothing of prior to my arrival), the Argentines refuse to recognize the Falkland Islands (a small group of islands off the Southern tip of South America) as British property. After a battle over the territory in whatever decade or century ago, the Argentines still hold an obviously (judging from the road sign) intense grudge against the Brits, who won the fight.

So my friend Steph, as British as they come, was nervous to show her passport at the border, but we all went through just fine and spent the next 5 hours experiencing the expansive Patagonia landscape.



La pampa—once again my Lonely Planet: Chile fails me. In the glossary section of the book this type of terrain is defined as “vast desert expanse,” which doesn’t quite accurately describe the terrain that comprises most of Patagonia. Something more like flat windblown plains with short straw-colored grass and and muted yellows and browns for miles and miles and miles. This is the Patagonia pampa, with the same brown mountains looming far off in the distance, which we drove through forever and ever and ever…

Bored out of our minds, with nothing much to look at in the way of scenery, we suffered through the infernal smell of the bus bathroom, which had a tricky handle, making it so that when you went in it after “holding it” for as long as humanly possible, you got stuck inside, until a kind soul came to let you out, completely out of breath and smelling like piss. Thankfull Tracy was my “saving grace.” See Video:



In any case, we eventually arrive to El Calafate. After getting off the bus, we walked through this pristine little town on perhaps the warmest day we’ve experienced since we’ve been down here. We heard music playing from little outdoor patio restaurants, and best of all, no one even batted an eyelash at my blonde hair.

“It almost feels like we’re in another country, doesn’t it?” I said to Tracy and Steph, reaffirming my blondeness. We WERE in another country, and while still in Patagonia, I had my first glimpse into how very different Argentina is from Chile, and how very much I look forward to visiting Buenos Aires in December.



Perito Moreno Glacier, Argentine Patagonia

The next day we scheduled an Ice Hike on the Perito Moreno glacier, and witnessed one of the most incredible sites I’ve seen in this place, and perhaps in the entirety of my life. I will let the pictures speak for themselves regarding this experience.

My Pictures

Tracy´s Pictures

Steph's Pictures (Coming Soon)



On the way back to Punta Arenas, it snowed. It was miserable and freezing. Our bus between Puerto Natales and Punta Arenas broke down an hour into the three hour ride, and we had to sit on the side of the road waiting… an entire bus full of people… for two more hours, making for a grand total of more than 12 hours traveling in a single day.



And yet how could we care? We’d just had one of the greatest weekends. Patagonia had revealed to us one of its many spectacular secrets, and we three fools had sure enough earned it.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Avalanche



One of the many avalanches we saw while hiking the W in Torres del Paine


And a link to more pics:

Hiking the W

Saturday, September 22, 2007

I Left my Love Handles in Torres del Paine


Title owed to my hiking companion, motivational coach, and primary source of entertainment for the past week, Tracy McGuinness.

Just over a week ago, I finished eating my last of many empanadas in celebration of the Chilean Fiestas Patrias (Independence day) and hopped a 4:00 bus on Friday out of Punta Arenas, setting out on my first leg of a long journey to the neighboring town of Puerto Natales and beyond.

See, I had spent two glorious days of pure gluttony, stuffing my face with empanadas, anticuchos (sticks of meat), bread and pevre (chilean-style salsa), cazuela (Chilean style-stew), alfajores (cookies) and pastries smothered in manjar (Chilean dulce de leche) at the 2-day celebration held at Escuela Argentina. (Photo showing one of the many spreads available)


The vacation that followed these indulgent celebrations, I consider to be something like a Spring Break, because the seasons are opposite down here. And I certainly took into account that most people in the US go on diets leading up to this painfully self-inflicted rush to go somewhere warm, put on a bathing-suit and expose their sad, pale winter skin to a few days of intense sunlight. But I wasn’t worried about my extreme non-diet, nor the fact that I hadn’t seen my bare arms and legs for nearly two months down here in frigid Patagonia. My vacation was going to be something else entirely—and though I hadn’t done much in the way of planning for it, I soon found out that it had plans for me.


The W: Lonely Planet- Chile briefly summarizes the experience as a minimum 3-to-4 day hike that “neatly packages” the highlight views in Parque Nacional Torres del Paine into the tightest possible time period. It also casually mentions that hikes are not without difficultly, and hikers have suffered serious injuries out there and even died.

Equipped with this minimal information, two massive backpacks filled with food, tents, sleeping bags, outdoor gear and the occasional change of clothes, and one great big sense of adventure mixed with even greater uncertainty, Tracy and I set out—just the two of us—at 7 a.m. on Saturday morning, to begin what was perhaps one of the most intense, prolonged physical experiences of our lives.

The walk from the bus stop in Puerto Natales the night before to our hostel, under the weight of what couldn’t have been any less than 50 lb backpacks, was unbearable. Tracy and I had no idea how we were going to carry these things (our food, our shelter, our life-lines) for the next 76 Km through rocks and snow and mountainous terrain, if we could barely even make it 10 minutes through town on well-paved sidewalks.

In addition, I was equipped with nearly two years of office-place laziness, lethargy and ass-fat that had just barely begun to make a turnaround thanks to my new, always-on-foot lifestyle of a teacher. In other words, I was almost completely out-of-shape.


After getting dropped off at the base camp around 11:30 a.m. on day 1, we set up our tent and began our hike to the base of the famous towers, which the park is named for, around 12:30. We had about 7 hours of sunlight left, and an 8-hour hike ahead, and hoped to move as quickly as possible, but half an hour into the hike, when the uphill began, reality struck. This could take a while.



Along the way, Tracy and I walked across gravelly trails and places where landslides had left a deep wide trail of featureless rubble across the face of mountains, fearing that a slight shift in step, an inevitable slipping of dirt might take us down the mountain and into the deep ravine with it. We stopped often to catch our breath in the changing altitude, at one point to fill our first water bottle full of pure glacier water from a river, arguing over the possibility of the water containing Giardia, and daring each other to take the first sip. As we got over our fear, we sat by the river drinking the coolest freshest water imaginable—millions-of-year-old water melting away from the glaciers left by the last ice age, and cracking large pieces of slate off a massivle slab and writing chalky messages, then tossing them into the nearby river, watching them get carried away in the relentless rush. This place, far away from cell phone reception and electronics, cars and computers, screaming school-children and nosy, demanding 4-year old host sisters—miles and ages away from civilization—held endless possibilities for entertainment.

On the trails we met Spaniards, Dutch, French, Chileans, fellow Americans, Brits—the Patagonia tourist season had just begun and it became clear that this place was like no other I’d ever been to in my entire life. Completely primitive and completely cosmopolitan all at once—an exciting and disappointing dichotomy as one held the possibility of destroying the other.


Each year, in peak season, Torres del Paine receives something like 5000 visitors per day, for a grand total of about 600,000 visitors per year. At night, they say its hard to even find a place to pitch a tent in the base camps. And recently, an inexperienced Czech tourist burned down 10% of the park trying to start a campfire, prohibiting all other hikers from building campfires. Lucky for us, tourist season did not officially begin until 3 days after we left, and peak season started in December.

Whatever the case, I could not help but to imagine myself as this tiny, insignificant speck moving slowly up and down trails in the shape of a W, up mountains and into valleys, spanning an area larger than Washington D.C. and containing one millionth of the population, located somewhere down here near the tip of the South American continent—and yet somehow never feeling isolated or alone—in perfect company among friends and fellow travelers.


The days to come held challenges I could never have anticipated… going off trail, steep summits barely manageable under the weight of our packs, freezing cold nights in our tent on hard frozen ground where 2 hours of sleep was a miracle, and day after day of new blisters and callouses and ever-worsening stress on our joints. But all was worth it for the incredible views I also could never have anticipated, and which could never be fully captured on camera.



Day 2 was tough. Our park map allotted 4 hours to hike 11 Kms (about 6.5 miles) from one base camp to the next along the glacial lake Nordenskjold. We thought it would be a breeze. 6.5 hours later, pushing through the worst part of the hike, I ran into Ana, another volunteer teacher based in Puerto Natales who I hadn’t seen in over a month. She was leisurely riding a horse along the summit of a mountain when I heard her call “Meri… is that you???” The dirt and grit and sweat on my face, accompanied by the scowl caused by one too many painful scrambles up craggy rocky summits made her ask, “Are you ok??”

“Yeah, having a great time,” I answered breathlessly with all the energy I could muster. I really was… maybe not in that particular moment, and maybe not for the hour that had preceded this encounter, but overall I was having a great time. I tried to hide my spite and jealousy over the fact that Ana was simply the cargo being carried by a big sturdy horse, and for all intents and purposes, I was the horse, carrying this goddamn heavy backpack. We talked a minute and then parted ways… Ana trotting swift and easy in one direction, Tracy and I on a knee-breaking descent into a river valley in the other direction.



The minimum “4-day” hike ended up taking us 6 days (5 nights). After 3 nights of camping outside in below zero weather, the last two nights we were fortunate to stumble upon a beautiful, new hosteria on the glimmering turquoise Lago Pehoe, that was not yet open for the season. The two caretakers of the place let us pay the camping fee ($5) spend the night in one of the rooms (usually $20 off season and $45 in season), and use the kitchen, shower, etc.

The highlights of the hike were the vistas from Valle Frances and of Glacier Grey across Lago Grey.











Our last day, we were finished with the W and had to be to the park administration to catch the once-daily bus at 1:00 that afternoon. To get out of the park, it’s a 12 mile hike up 3 summits and an otherwise flat-out burn across grassy yellow plains.




I don’t think I’d done anything close to 12 miles in a day since I ran a half marathon way back in 2003, and my current physical state was laughable compared to what is was back then. But I was determined to get this thing done, and in what Tracy describes as a bottle-rocket-like cloud of dust, I powered myself across those plains like my life depended on it. Five hours later I nearly collapsed at the entrance way to the administration and once again kicked off a massive eating spree, beginning with the remaining nuts and granola from my pack. Miraculously we had finished the W and were soon headed headed back to Puerto Natales for some warm beds, warm showers, hot dinners and cold beers.

Now, after two full days of stuffing my face once again… sandwiches, gnocchi, pizza, beer, late-night completos (Chilean- style hot dogs topped with guacamole and mayo), copious empanadas and bars of chocolate, I can’t seem to find my love handles. It seems I left them in Torres del Paine :)


Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Daily Candy

My very best student: Sasquatch

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

More Pics & Contact Info


Puerto Natales Shadow Pic: Carine, Meri, Tracy, Steph

Punta Arenas Pics

Puerto Natales and Torres del Paine Pics

To call my cell phone try:

011 56 9 92104898

Hope everyone is well!

Sunday, September 2, 2007

The Sky's the Limit


My transition from the world of grown-up children, better known as office life, to a world of real children, many of them, running, screaming, crying (all in Spanish no less), has had its ups and downs.

Last week at random, I remembered a two-year-old girl, Megan, I used to babysit for now-and-then while I was in college. Megan used to run around the house grabbing handfuls of dirt from potted plants and then throw it on the floor. When I’d catch her in the act, moving quickly to stand in the way of her plans for destruction, she’d look up at me with a devilish few-toothed smile, and with her limited toddler vocabulary, she’d squeal “Hap-py, Hap-py, Hap-py.”

Megan knew at this early age that she was being bad, bad, bad… that there were limits to her rambunctious two-year old behavior. And at her early age, test those limits she would.

Now imagine Megan, plus about 10-12 years times 200. Yes, Escuela Republica Argentina here in Punta Arenas has served me up no less than 200 9-15 year olds ready, eager to test the limits of their new English teacher, whose limited Spanish-speaking ability puts them in a perfect position to take advantage to the situation.

Week one: I laid down the law. Class will be fun if there is respect in my classroom. I make that understood and we move on with our lives. No sooner had I started my lesson than I had to throw two boys out of my class for starting to beat the crap out of each other in the back of the room.

Moving on. My next class with the sixth graders, I handed out magazine cutouts for a lesson on style-vocabulary. The kids were going to describe what their magazine cutout was wearing and create a story about them. The kids were mostly good, with the exception of two boys who weren’t doing anything. After class, I collected the magazine cutouts and of course the two boys say they’ve lost theirs.

“Where is it?” I insisit (in Spanish).

“I don’t know,” says Rolando, the worser of the two boys.

After a few times asking, I see something crumpled up on the floor. “What’s that?” I ask and Rolando shakes his head and says its nothing. So no problem if I pick it up then, right? Except as I’m going to do so, Rolando dives under his desk and grabs it first. A mini-fight ensues in which I have to wrestle the crumpled-up magazine cutout from Rolando’s chubby little hand and then shoo him out of class. After he’s gone, I uncrumple the magazine cutout to find that Rolando’s drawn vulgar drawings all over this lovely, stylishly dressed magazine cutout (one which I need to use in my other 6th grade level courses).

Good lord, and we’ve only just begun. Within two weeks, I’ve managed to throw no less than 10 boys out of my classroom. But they’re testing my limits and I’m here to show them that for all intents and purposes I’m ready to kick some ass and take some names! (and maybe teach some English as well)

But I have to keep in mind that it’s normal, what they’re doing. Testing their limits, testing mine. I can’t entirely blame them.

Like I said, I’ve had my ups and downs, adjusting to living with a host family after about 5 years of independence, self-sufficiency. Still wondering what I’m doing with myself, what brought me here, last weekend I took a trip to Puerto Natales. Natales is the entrance way to Bernardo O’Higgins National Park—the major attraction in Patagonia for outdoor adventure travelers from around the globe who come for camping, hiking, mountain climbing, kayaking, horseback riding. In the presence of Torres del Paine, the famous Patagonia mountains, in a rugged arctic terrain dotted with sheep, guanacos, nandu and pumas, I am so close to nearly untouched landscape, thousands of years of geological history—a kind of true nature that scarcely exists any other place I’ve visited that I can barely regret anything about my decision to come down here.

During my trip to the park, we weren’t able to see the Torres del Paine due to the typical overlying fog that envelops the mountains on most days. In a one-day tour van, we weren’t able to get close enough to see the famous Glacier Grey either, but I saw lakes formed of the most incredibly-colored glacial water, while driving past herds of guanacos.

At one point we got out of the van for a 40-minute hike across a silty grey-brown beach in freezing rain to see Lago Grey, formed out of the melting ice from Glacier Grey. The entire lake was floating with surreal electric-blue chunks of iceberg with snow-capped mountains hovering in the distance.

I bent down to pick up some rocks and sediment from the beach—thousands of years-old dirt from this ancient park carved out of the ever-changing planet earth—I threw my fistful of dirt with all my might, as far as it would go into the painfully freezing waters of Lago Grey, into the morose, reprimanding face of the real world and all I’d left behind, on the coldest Sunday afternoon in August I’d experienced in all my 25 years—and I realized that, like my students, I was testing my limits, too.

In that moment, the only thing running through my mind was “Happy, Happy, Happy”.
video

Friday, August 17, 2007

Messin' with Sasquatch



“Vas a jugar conmigo, Meni?” I’m confronted with this question nearly every day. My over-sized 4-yr-old, terribly disciplined, host “sister”, Antonia, deserves a blog entry all her own.

Between sticking her fat little fingers in the dessert bowl during dinner, sneezing directly into my face and acting as if this is totally normal, running around the house with her pants pulled down after using the bathroom, and throwing basketballs at her 1 year old brother’s head and kicking him violently around in his rolling walker as if he were some kind of hockey puck, I’ve got quite a bit to laugh about, snicker at and also go nuts about right here in my host family’s cozy peach-colored corrugated tin home— one in the thousands of similar multi-colored tin homes that speckle the otherwise dull, hazy blue-gray landscape of Punta Arenas.

My dear little Sasquatch looks like a chubby 8-year-old boy with a bowl cut—an entertaining personality combination of Veruca and Augustus from the original Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory—rather than a sweet little 4-year-old girl who plays nice with her dollies. My host mother Paola says that Antonia does as she pleases, and lord, she’s not kidding.

Whatever the case, whatever Paola’s decision not to “tame the beast”, it keeps me going, breaks any awkward tension that might otherwise exist between cultures, as a foreigner coming to have a 4-month peek into the lives of a random family in a random place, where I’m not quite sure what strange stroke of fate led me here at this time and for what reason. Sasquatch is a comic relief… a much needed comic relief.

If you can imagine, its cold here. Not as cold as I expected, but I also didn’t expect my host family to leave the bathroom window open all the time, making the tiles, the porcelain, the metal… everything cold as ice to touch. So close the window and start up a hot, steamy shower? That would be nice… if there were hot water. Apparently its broken and “is going to be fixed” at some yet to be determined point and time. As it stands, I’ve gone the past 5 days without a proper shower. Just…fully-clothed, lean my head over the side of the frigid tub, and nearly in tears, shampoo, rinse, conditioner, rinse, wrap towel as fast as possible around head… it’s miserable.

Enter Sasquatch in her too-tight T-shirt stained with food, her highwater pants giving her a wedgie, shoes on the wrong feet and her lips stained red or orange with some variety of over-sugared juice, threatening to throw the nanny out on the street for laughing at her speech impediment, then crawling under the table to yank the 16-year old dog, Piti's tail and sitting on it crushing the ancient thing nearly to death. It's hard not to have a good laugh despite the cold, dark weather, which will hopefully get better soon.

I started teaching observation this week and the school is crazy, wild, out of control with kids running around the classrooms out of control and not paying attention for more than 25% of the almost 2-hour class periods. Today in 8th grade, a student put a padlock on the door which no one had a key for, so we spent about 20 mins of class time watching the maintenance man take the entire door off its hinges so we could get into the classroom.

It looks like its going to be quite a ride when I start teaching, but it's incredibly entertaining at the same time. Between screaming, out of control kids at home and screaming out of control kids at school, my retreat to the more remote parts of the "ends of the earth" like Torres Del Paine and Tierra del Fuego, will be all the more appreciated :) More to come soon!

Friday, August 10, 2007

Good News, Bad News

This will be a short one. The good news... I have my address here in Punta Arenas for everyone who wants to send me cards, candy, cash... funds to sponsor me on an expedition to Antarctica? ;)

Meri Price
Zenteno 1722 (Barrio San Miguel)
Punta Arenas, Magallanes
Chile


The bad news... and happy friggin´ birthday to me... my identity has been stolen AGAIN... at the worst possible time now that I´m thousands of miles away from my bank back in the good old US of A... Some hacker cracked into my PayPal account (which I am now cancelling), and charged up a couple of thousand dollars, forcing me to close my bank card, apply for a new one, and play the waiting game with what little cash I have on me until my new card comes in however many weeks... Somehow these things seem to fall right into my lap at the most utterly inconvenient times.

Hopefully I´ll be back with better news next time, eh?

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Snowing in August

I’m a Leo. A warm, sunny fire sign born during the warmest, sunniest, and some might say, most excruciatingly hot month of the year (Last I heard it was somewhere around 100 degrees on the East coast of the US). It’s always been vacation time, beach time, time to escape the long, suffocating days of summer in the city… time to forget my birthday.

This coming weekend, as I hit a major milestone—my 25th birthday—a quarter century. I’m not asking you to cry for me because I am here alone at the ends of the earth, or because the other kids were always on vacation and couldn’t come to my birthday parties growing up, or because sometimes my own parents went on vacation during my birthday and left us kids at home. Ok, you can cry just a little… but I’m no stranger to being out of town for my birthday, or celebrating my birthday in the company of wonderful, generous strangers. In fact, it’s made for some of the most incredible and memorable celebrations I’ve had.

This year, no matter how I end up celebrating, or who I celebrate with, I’ll always remember one thing from my 25th. It’s snowing in August…

A wise woman once said “sometimes the sun goes ‘round the moon.” More hilariously, I just quoted Vanessa Williams. But in all seriousness, who would have thought I’d ever end up here in Punta Arenas, amidst the fresh, chilly air and intense wind, whipping through the streets, picking up speed along the deep, deep blue water that rushes through the Strait of Magellan, where Atlantic meets Pacific, where Tierra del Fuego looms in the distance and you can experience the equivalent of 4 seasons in a single day… sun, snow, rain, ice. Here the constellations of the Southern hemisphere shine bright in the long, dark winter nights of this unpolluted, barely inhabited corner of the world… here it snows in August, and anything is possible.

We arrived in Punta Arenas on Monday after an inhumanely early 4:30 a.m. departure from our hostel in Santiago. The 5 of us volunteers shared a plane with about 50 or 60 Chilean soldiers all in fatigues, making for the most organized plane-boarding procedure I’ve ever witnessed. I had layered on the clothing to decrease the weight of my bags so I wouldn’t be charged as much for exceeding the domestic flight weight limit. Kindly, the attendants at the airport passed me on through without charging me, so there I was, dressed for a day on the slopes, annoying the Chilean soldier in the seat next to my by peeling off layer after layer after layer to make the 5 hour plane flight more bearable.

But I was glad for those layers when we stepped off the plane. It was cold. Colder than Santiago, anyway. Not as cold as I’d expected, being so close to Antarctica and such. In fact, I’ve witnessed many a worse East-coast winters. But the benefit of all of this is that there is central heating in all of the houses and schools here.

I moved in with my family two days ago. There are two kids, an 11 month-old boy and 3.5 yr-old girl who has trouble pronouncing her “r’s” and calls me “Meni.” There is a nanny who makes great food every day, like Sopaipillas, a fried, doughy chilean bread, something like funnel-cake, to cover in sweet or savory toppings. The father is a carpenter with a big saw-dusty workshop filled with his various furniture projects, which are all very cool… and the mom is a teacher at the same school I’ll be teaching at, Escuela Argentina, grades 1-8 — which everyone I’ve talked to euphemistically describes as a school that is “complicado.”

I went for a visit to the school for the first time yesterday and discovered that “complicado” means that my school takes students from a lower social class, who have a lot of social problems, like abusive parents or parents with drinking problems, or no parents at all. There are actually 40-something students who live in dorms at the school because of family problems. A lot of the kids don’t understand the value of learning, so the classrooms are mass-chaos at times—added to the general constant-chaos of most other “typical” Chilean classrooms.

This may be a major challenge for me, but one that I hope I find rewarding, and one I’m sure I’ll be writing about quite often in the future.

In other news, I was on the news! After our welcome reception, someone mentioned that I speak Spanish and not seconds later, I had a microphone and camera shoved in my face and I was answering rapid-fire questions in Spanish without knowing who these people with the cameras were or why.

I didn’t see the clip on the local TV station later that night, but the grandmother who lives around the corner from my family gave me a chocolate bar and casually mentioned she had seen me on the news. That’s when it clicked and I realized I must have looked like a complete idiot on Television…

Oh well, it wouldn’t be the first time… thinking back to a late night when I was studying abroad in Salamanca back in 2003, and I stumbled out of a night club, saw a video camera, and ran up to it to answer some questions for a segment about night life in the town. Of course I had let the alcohol do the talking that time…

Speaking of which, I hope you all will have a drink for me this Saturday as I’ll be thinking about everyone on my Birthday. To be feeling alive at 25… couldn’t ask for more!

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Public Transportation


So I seem to have disappointed my audience, and for that, I apologize for the brevity of my last blog. By popular demand, I'm going to do what I normally do and write way too much. I hope all you office-monkeys out there enjoy reading this as much as I would if I were still in your same position :)

So, no, the chaos, which began with me losing my suitcase on day 1, has not stopped. That was, in fact, just the beginning....

I've now been in Santiago for 2 weeks, which feels something like forever, and at the same time, something like no time at all. In that time, I've managed to put back more bottles of Chilean wine than I can count, gone out more times than I can count, gotten much less sleep than I can possibly imagine, and hey, it feels amazing not to be able to count the minutes and days and weeks and months til sweet, sweet lunch break, short-lived weekends, the holidays, that next big vacation...

I'm livin' it! And I think it really just hit me yesterday, after 2 weeks filled with long, questionable rides on various forms of public transportation. Buses, planes, taxis, trains… I’m in motion again.

Between metro rides to meet with new Chilean friends, crowded bus rides to do teaching observations in a town called Maipu (yes, it’s funny) at the far corners of the city, and riding 80 mph in ‘colectivos’- collective taxis- around one-lane twisting mountain roads to go hiking in the Andes, I’ve been able to experience so much here in Santiago!

Everything’s been a sort of “controlled chaos,” which they say is normal here in Chile… or at least that’s what they tell us at the Ministry of Education (MINEDUC)- the masters of this “controlled chaos,” and also my employer for the next 4 months.

For one, in the course of a week, I have packed and unpacked my suitcase no less than 4 times.

There are 5 of us traveling to Patagonia to teach, out of 25 volunteers total, all of whom have already left Santiago for their various cities. MINEDUC originally told us we’d be in Santiago for two weeks (one week longer than everyone else). Then, this past Monday, they said we’d be leaving the following day with everyone else. So I made a mad rush to pack my bags, only to discover on the “day of my departure” that I actually, really was not leaving for another week.

…a relief. I had more things that I wanted to do in Santiago. More sights to see, more new Chilean friends I wanted to hang out with, more time to gather my thoughts. So I breathed a sigh of relief and unpacked my bag…

All was well until we were told the following day we were being forced to leave the hostel we were staying in due to overbooking and moving to another hostel in Santiago. Up-we-go, and here I am in my new hostel…still in Santiago.

I finally leave for Patagonia on Monday morning at 5 a.m. It will be nice to finally unpack “for good”, during my 4 months in Punta Arenas—a cold, windy place, which I hope with every part of my frozen body, has heat.

Two things in Santiago have been rather sporadic… the availability of heat in various establishments, and access to the internet… neither of which I really mind, by the way, as the cold is a “refreshing” break from the blazing-hot sun of August, and I’m rather enjoying being cut off.

But since I know you’re all dying to keep in touch with me, I finally bought a cell phone today. My new number is 92104898. I don’t know the country code to call Chile from the US, but it’s probably on Google somewhere.

I’ll post my address in Punta Arenas soon.

I’ll end by saying I got my host family assignment and it is a married couple with two kids, ages 1 and 4. I’m excited for that.

I’ve added a facebook link to some pictures I’ve managed to put up, which will show better than I can tell, the places I’ve been, people I’ve met, and so on and so forth. See below:

http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2124808&l=61417&id=7800383

Some highlights include my hiking in the Andes with a view of some waterfalls- “las cascadas de las animas”- walking out of a bar after a night out at 8 a.m. when the sun was coming up (Vegas-style), and of course, making connections with a great group of new people, the 25-or-so fellow teachers, all hailing from many different states and backgrounds and stages and walks of life, all here for whatever reason life has provided us to travel.

To think I ever questioned doing this...

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Dirty Socks, Dirty City

Well, it's been a while since I wrote, but at long last, I've finally made it here to Santiago, Chile, where I have been for the past 5 days. When I arrived at the Santiago airport at 8 a.m. on Saturday, July 21st, I was faced with a few obstacles. After a long and sleepless 10 hour flight, an all-night southward burn that would put me one step closer to the "ends of the earth", complete with flight transfers, delays, and a quick run across the Atlanta airport to catch my international flight in time, I was exhausted. No condition to wait in an hour-long line to pay my $100 "entry fee" into the country, but skipping that part was not an option.

When I finally made it to the baggage claim in Santiago airport, I discovered that only one of my bags had made it to Chile with me... the one with all of my "outdoor" gear like coats, fleeces, gloves, hat, etc. Which is good because its winter down here... but all my changes of clothes... socks, "undergarments", shirts, etc. had been left behind in Baltimore, Atlanta? Who knows where?


Well, I spent 3 days in the same jeans and navy blue sweater, touring the city, hiking up a mountain, going to a Chilean party, and last but not least, to class, before Delta finally decided to kindly deliver my long-lost bag to the hostel where I'm staying for the next week or so before heading to Patagonia (I got my assignment and will definitely be at a school teaching in Punta Arenas).

In the name of keeping this short and sweet, I am going to resolve to update this thing more frequently. I'll end by saying that Santiago, I discovered, is one of the top most polluted cities in the world... it is winter down here... a wet, rainy kind of cold that clings to you all day and doesn't go away until you are bundled up in bed at night. Our classrooms don't have heat and I've spent the past five days with bone cold hands and a runny nose. I am staying in a "bare bones" hostel... and quite frankly, I haven't been quite so happy in ages.

Will la rubia return home in December? Vamos a ver...

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Mysterious Disappearing Lake

Thanks, Sara D. for this article. I will have to investigate this while I am in Chile. Ummm, should I be worried about the "thousands of minor tremors" in southern Chile this year??

Missing: Large lake in southern Chile
Wed Jun 20, 2007 6:44PM EDT

















SANTIAGO (Reuters)
- A lake in southern Chile has mysteriously disappeared, prompting speculation the ground has simply opened up and swallowed it whole.


The lake was situated in the Magallanes region in Patagonia and was fed by water, mostly from melting glaciers. It had a surface area of between 4 and 5 hectares (10-12 acres) -- about the size of 10 soccer pitches.

"In March we patrolled the area and everything was normal ... we went again in May and to our surprise we found the lake had completely disappeared," said Juan Jose Romero, regional director of Chile's National Forestry Corporation CONAF.

"The only things left were chunks of ice on the dry lake-bed and an enormous fissure," he told Reuters.

CONAF is investigating the disappearance. One theory is that the area was hit by an earth tremor that opened a crack in the ground which acted like a drain. Southern Chile has been shaken by thousands of minor earth tremors this year.

Friday, June 15, 2007

The Ends of the Earth

"So I'm going to Patagonia." A friend of mine, familiar with my shopping habits, told me not to spend too much when I told her the news during a mid-day, bored-at-work Gchat conversation.

"But you went a couple grand into debt during your 6-month travels in Australia and Asia," I said. "You told me it was totally worth it, too!" That's when I realized she thought I meant the outdoors store in Georgetown.

No, this Patagonia is more than just a short walk away from my humble (decrepit) t
ownhouse up on T Street. Far from our nation's capitol, Punta Arenas, where I'm 90% sure I will be assigned to teach English for the next few months, is the southernmost city in the world, located on the Strait of Magellan and near Tierra del Fuego and the arctic circle. If you have a minute, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Punta_Arenas.

As if buying my plane ticket wasn't official enough, last Friday, I handed in my resignation at work, my last day scheduled for July 10th (leaving me 10 days to move entirely out of Georgetown, and then turn around and pack my life into a suitcase and hop aboard a plane).


In any case, with Monday's imbezzler still at-large and my anxious co-worker having resigned on Wednesday, I thought I'd be walking into a mine-field. To my surprise, my decision was remarkably well-received and many of the women who I work with, most of whom are around my mother's age, offered much-appreciated encouragement and support of my decision to go and live my life before other responsibilities reared their ugly heads.

This, by the way, was contrary to the reaction of my own panic-stricken mother for whom no place, outside of my very-own childhood bedroom, is close enough to home. But who knows... depending on how broke I am after my frivolous year-of-travel, I may just end up right where she wants me.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

The Final Straw

Hello all, and greetings from behind the scenes of my 501(c)(3) charitable organization, i.e. nonprofit, aka "the zoo". Today marks a monumental occasion. As I made my way into the office Monday morning-- the start of another long and painstaking week, I felt a strange sense of foreboding. After all, I had walked past a fellow employee and a cop taking down a license plate number in the parking lot only moments after stepping out of my car, but did not think too much of it.

I was no more than two steps in the front entrance when I was informed that, once again, our computer servers were down due to a bolt of lightning over the weekend, so instead of checking email and killing time, I spent the first hour of the morning listening to my anxiety-ridden co-worker gripe about the shortcomings of our IT department. She had only just begun her all-out verbal attack on the IT department and how the Internet issue reflects the major problems of the organization as a whole, when a co-worker from upstairs rushed into her office and quickly shut the door behind him.

Shortly after, I was walking by the front entrance of the building. I looked outside to see a scene unfolding that was strikingly reminiscent of the Badlands. Construction men had taped off a bunch of areas of our brick atrium with yellow "Do Not Enter" tape, and their drilling had stirred up a thick smog of dirt, which was blowing around in the heat of the intense mid-morning sun. Through the dirt cloud and drill noises, I saw our HR lady emerge, marching toward the entrance with two uniformed police men in tow. "Very strange," I thought. But left it at that and returned to safe glow under the fluorescent lights of my cubicle.

Moments later my anxious co-worker informed me that the commotion was over our Grants Coordinator who had been caught imbezzling $8000 from the organization and had fled the building before the police could arrest her. She had, however, left her car in the lot, which explains the cop I saw taking down the license plate earlier in the morning.

With no further ado, I logged on to
expedia.com and booked myself a plane ticket to Chile. That's right, friends. Today was the final straw... the breaking point in this god-forsaken office life. Life has begun anew and I am now officially flying into Santiago on July 21st!!!


I wanted to share the news and the highly amusing unfolding of events surrounding it with you all, and also wanted to let you all know that I'll be traveling for 3 weeks (Dec-1-20) after my program is over and I encourage anyone and everyone to join me in my adventures.