Adventuras en Santiago

I am exhausted but happy after a long day out in Santiago. We walked to the nearest station and used the Metro to get to the historical district of Santiago. We all got to try out our Bip! cards, which was fun.

We got off and walked a few blocks to the Palacio de la Moneda, which is kind of like the White House except the president only works there, he doesn’t live there. It is a place of huge historical significance to Chile because during the military coup of September 1973 President Allende refused to step down from his position and they bombed the building, destroying much of the front facade. President Allende actually died in the building, and the story goes that he killed himself but there is some speculation about that. Anyway they rebuilt it, but the new president didn’t want to live there so thus began the tradition that the president does not live there.  We got to see the changing of the guard, which happened with much fanfare and fancy marching. Then we got a tour of the palace. It’s called La Palacia de la Moneda because Moneda means coins, and before it was a palace there was a mint on the site. Now the building also houses the collection of 100% silver coins, one for each president in Chile’s history. In the pictures you can see the summer uniforms of the guards, which in the winter is green.

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Under the Palacio de la Moneda there used to be a subway station but after the coup they converted it to a cultural center, where we were treated to an explanation of traditional native arts.

So after that we walked to La Plaza de Armas, which is the corazon of Santiago. There we saw the Catedral Metropolitana, statues, the museum of fine arts, and many government buildings that house various departments of the government.

We had lunch at a Hollywood themed restaurant, which was strange because some of the posters were in Spanish, but then there were posters like Clint Eastwood’s “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” and also some James Dean movie.

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We did some more walking and touring of the city. Then we stopped for ice cream. Yum! We visited the IFSA-Butler office so we would know where it is, and then headed back to the hotel for dinner (tilapia and potato with cheese). I have blisters on my heels and my legs hurt, but it was worth it!

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Day 2 of Orientation

So we began our second day at the Hotel Bonaparte much more rested and refreshed after sleeping the night in a bed, not a chair. Breakfast was a buffet, and I enjoyed some raspberry yogurt, toast (they cut the crusts off the bread, fancy!) and orange juice. As a side note, the juice here is muy diferente que the juice in the United States. Here, the juice actually tastes like the fruit, it’s all natural and is much more refreshing. In comparison juice in the United States is like sugar water. I had jugo de manzana (apple juice) and it tasted more like apple sauce. Same thing with jugo de uva (grape), much more like grapes and less like artificial grape.

We learned about using public transportation and got our Bip! cards. You use a Bip! card to pay fares in los Micros (system of buses) and in el Metro (subway). You wave it in front of an orange machine, it goes “Bip” and takes the fare out of your account. They’re rechargeable, you put money on them and its like a debit card for fares. The fares change depending on the time of day, and there’s an automation system where if you take certain combinations of Metro and Micro in the same direction, like if you take a bus to the metro station, the metro to your street, and another micro to your house, its cheaper. Taxis are also an option. One company is RadioTaxi, and you can call and have them pick you up anywhere. The cost difference between a taxi and a micro or metro is minimal, but the Bip! cards don’t work for the taxi. Isa, our coordinator and orientation adviser, told us that after 11 at night it is much better to use a taxi because you are more likely to encounter problemas on the micros or metro at night (getting robbed, unsavory persons, etc).

Lunch was pico de gallo with a salad, and then beef with potatoes and finished with another type of flan.

We had more sessions of orientation after lunch about Universidad de Chile and Universidad Diego Portales, two universities that we can choose from for classes. We also learned about volunteer opportunities we will have over the course of the semester.

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We had an hour and a half between the last orientation session and dinner, so I read my book with my feet in the pool. It was hermosa!

For dinner we went to a vegetarian restaurant called El Huerto, which means the orchard. There we had an excellent squash soup, and then I ordered an omelet with mushrooms and cheese, and for dessert a plate of fresh fruit.

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The menus were all hand painted and made out of wood, even the pages were wood.

Now I’m in my jammies waiting for a skype call from my lovely fiancee. Tomorrow is a big day, we will be walking all around the city. Expect many pictures!!

First Day!

For some context, I’m sitting  in this open air seating area. This is a picture I took earlier in the day, right now it’s almost 10pm and dark, the white roses in the background smell beautiful and its balmy with a gentle warm breeze.

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So I staggered off the plane at like 9:30 this morning having slept very little but still very excited to finally be here! I had my directions from IFSA-Butler printed out, which was a lifesaver because I had no wifi or 3G so I wouldn’t be able to pull it off of my phone. I went through immigration and customs and was spat out at the exit, where Mary from IFSA-Butler was there to greet me and introduce me to the rest of the group. We were all tired but excited and everyone is super nice. There’s about a dozen of us. We changed our dollars for pesos at 460 pesos/$1US and got on a shuttle to take us to the Hotel Bonaparte. (Click to see the website for the hotel)

Side note: I’ve moved myself next to the pool. Check it out

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After we checked in and had a chance to change we had a coffee outdoors at the small cafe that is attached to the hotel. It was a glorious 80 degrees out, not humid at all. Then we had lunch, which started with a salad, then a sort of pasta alfredo with tomatoes and mushrooms, and then fresh fruit and coffee for dessert.

Next we started orientation sessions. We each got maps of Santiago, a plug converter, a binder on surviving Santiago, a notebook, and name tags. The sessions were about safety concerns, such as how to keep from becoming a victim of robo por sorprisa, or petty theft, the most common crime here. We were warned about thieves who will take pull the phone out of your hand while you are talking (protip: if you must answer the phone while in public, stand with your back in a corner and keep a sharp eye open), sneak their hands into your bag on the subway, lift items out of your pocket in a crowd, and unzip your backpack. They are opportunists, so you must not give them the opportunity! Otherwise, violent crime is not a huge concern here. We also covered earthquake safety since Santiago is known for quakes and shakes.

Dinner was delicious, a salad then rice with beef and flan for dessert. I am exhausted but happy and feeling very confident in myself. I feel like the hardest part is over-I got here! Everything else will fall into place. Sure my Spanish is still shaky, but so is everyone’s here. Tomorrow we have more orientation sessions and on the 28th we meet our host families in person!!

Someone move the plane!

So I successfully got on my flight to Santiago at about 9:00. Boarding was easy, and since I had so much time and had already cleared security in Boston getting to my gate was stress-free. We were scheduled to take off at 9:50. I was exhausted but I love take off so I was fighting sleep so I could enjoy it. We sat at the gate for ages. The captain said they were just waiting for the last of the baggage to be loaded and we would take off.

Then the captain came back on with the following announcement, “Good evening, folks. We are all cleared for takeoff but it seems that there is another plane on the tarmac that is having some problems and they have parked it right goddamn behind us. As soon as they get that figured out we will be ready to go.”

I was in a haze of tiredness so I’m not sure exactly what time we took off. The flight itself was like 10 hours of suck. I was seated right behind a guy with horrible BO and halitosis, there wasn’t a ton of legroom (being coach and all) it was a long night of very little sleep. Also the plane didn’t have wifi so I couldn’t even pass the time playing Pandemic 2. It was a blessed relief when we landed in Santiago at 9:30am local time (7:30am ET). I did get this excellent pictures of the desert around Santiago from the air.

The desert mountains that surround Santiago as seen through my plane window

Swag in Atlanta

After a somewhat bumpy flight from Boston I’ve finally arrived in Atlanta, Georgia. I’ll be here for like 8 more hours since my flight to Santiago is an overnighter. So I’m killing time in the Delta Sky Club on the recommendation of a family friend. Wow was that money well spent!! It is quiet, I feel safer than I would in the main airport, there’s better free wifi and free snacks and drinks. If you’re having a long layover I HIGHLY recommend spending the $50 to get in.  I’ve settled myself in a chair with my Shirley Temple and the lunch of champions:

Sky Club Lunch

Apparently champions eat celery sticks, baby carrots, ranch dip, cheese, and graham cookies. And they get to eat them in UNLIMITED QUANTITIES!!

My successful negotiation of my first flight has also boosted my confidence. I feel much more ready to tackle the next leg of my journey and much more excited about the greater adventure to come. I really hope I meet some people from my program at the gate.

So after recharging at the Sky Club I started to get bored so I decided to explore the airport a little. Atlanta is HUGE! I started in Terminal B, where my flight landed, and just started walking and walking and walking. It’s like a giant mall, with shops and restaurants and fast food joints. Then I discovered the Plane Train, which runs underneath the entire airport and runs back and forth from terminals A-F. I had a ton of fun hopping on and getting off at a random terminal to walk around. When I got bored I would just get back on and ride to a new terminal.

I discovered that the walkway between terminals B and C is a small museum of the history of Atlanta, and it featured some actual artifacts from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. such as his sermon notes, watch, the baseball and bat he played with his kids with, and a suit. He was a lot smaller in stature than I always imagined.

So I began to get tired and thought it was high time to move closer to my gate. I stopped at another Sky Club for help because my flight’s gate wasn’t printed on my boarding pass (another benefit of the Sky Club is they will personally help you with any questions you have about travelling). They told me my flight was in F terminal, so I hung out in the F terminal sky club and took a nap in a comfy chair. Then I found out my gate had changed to E, which was no big deal. I got there with plenty of time to spare to wait for my flight!

Good morning Logan Airport!!

Good morning! So right now I am at Logan Airport waiting at my gate to board my first flight, which won’t be even boarding for a bit longer. After an anxious night of little sleep, my fiancee and I were picked up at 5:30am by my mom and dad and sister. Image We made good time to Boston and said a tearful goodbye at security. I was able to check my bag “all the way” so I won’t see it again until sunny Santiago on Sunday. Security was actually a breeze, probably because my first flight is domestic. Now I’m in the slowly filling gate, quietly panicking in a corner. It feels like I have a little person with a squeaky voice who is reciting all the things that could possibly go wrong at top speed, like Alvin the Chipmunk is trying to get me to turn back. You know that sweaty, anxious feeling right before you get a shot when the nurse is getting the needle ready and wipes your arm with alcohol? That’s how I feel. Or maybe it’s just the Red Bull.

Anyway, I will post again after this flight. I have 9 hours to kill in Georgia before my flight to Santiago, so I will be able to compose something lovely and interesting.

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Last 24 Hours

My last day in the states has come at last. My mom came over this morning to help me pack. As you can see I was a little overwhelmed:

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How to fit all of this into one bag?

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How am I going to fit my life into this one bag?!

Finally we narrowed down the pile to what I wanted to bring, plus my carry on and now I am ready to rumble tomorrow! I’ve checked into my first flight already with Delta, but since my second flight is later I won’t be able to check in until tonight. I don’t expect I will be sleeping much tonight anyway, so I am not too concerned. My family is treating me to Jackie’s Galaxy tonight, which is a somewhat trendy Asian cuisine place. They have fantastic sushi so I am very excited for that. Then tomorrow morning at 5 am we will all pile into the minivan to make the pilgrimage up to Boston. I want to arrive in plenty of time so there’s no rush with checking my bags and going through security. I will post more on that tomorrow.

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Feya wants to know “I see you’ve packed all of YOUR stuff, but you forgot to leave room for me and MY stuff!”

Now for those of you interested how to pack your life into one suitcase and one carry on, here are my recommendations:

  1. List!! Making a list helps minimize that “ooh, did I forget something important?” anxiety. Also I found I kept remembering something, running to find it, remembering something else on the way, and forgetting the first thing!
  2. Make outfits. Before my mom came over I laid all the clothes I could possibly want to bring out on the bed (minus undies and such). Things could only come if they fit into a few outfits.
  3. Space makes waste! My grandpa got me these great vacuum seal bags for Christmas, you just fill them up and zip them shut and then roll them and the air escapes. Your stuff is then extra flat and fits much more easily. I’ve also seen tips online about putting small items inside of your shoes to make use of that space.
  4. Think inside the box. Check with your airline about their size and weight limits and double check  so you aren’t stuck with a hefty oversize fine.
  5. Your carry-on is your lifeline. You should be able to survive out of it for a few days to a week if they lose your luggage. I’ve packed an extra toothbrush, hairbrush, deodorant, and changes of clothes in it. Also anything valuable (monetary or sentimental) should be in your carry-on so you can keep an eye on it. The TSA now has this nifty 3-1-1 system for liquids and gels, make sure you are aware of it.
  6. Leave room to bring things back. You will want to buy souvenirs and cool clothes and such abroad, so leave room in your suitcase to bring it back.
  7. You made a list, and now check it twice! You will be a sad puppy if you get there and find you’ve left your charger or god forbid your passport at home!

I’m going to post an itemized list of what I packed, and then when I’m abroad or when I get home I’ll post an update about what I might have left at home or brought instead.