I’m still running a day late and a buck short on this blog, but things are so busy that its been hard to keep up, especially with picture heavy posts like this one because I like to go in an touch up the pictures to try to get the colors just right.

So on Wednesday we went trekking in a private park over some of the Andes mountains. It was a fantastic hike through some of the best ecosystems of the region. We passed through desert areas and a lush valley, it was gorgeous. I’ll let my pictures tell most of the story, but basically we first walked over a smaller mountain and then followed along a valley until we came to a beautiful spot next to the river to eat lunch. There were wild blackberries (delicious!) and tadpoles in the river which I unfortunately didn’t get a good picture of. Then we walked back, over a rope bridge and along the edge of another mountain. The most striking thing for me was the view of the city from the mountain, to see the heavy veil of smog hovering over the city. It was an amazing trek and our guide was really experienced, it was very educational but quite a workout!

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It was exhausting and almost killed my legs but totally worth it! I will try to catch up on posts this weekend to expect a few posts. Hasta luego


Boring Orientation Mapuche Field Trip

Sorry, I’m a bit behind on my blog. This is what happened on Tuesday:

I successfully navigated public transportation again and met up with everyone at 8:45 at the IFSA office to attend orientation at the Universidad de Chile, which is luckily right on the same street so we all trooped into the campus.

The campus at Av Portugal is gorgeous, it houses the Facultad de Negocios (affectionately called FEN), the Facultad de Arquitectura y Deseno, and some other ones I don’t remember.

However this was the most boring orientation ever. I thought the point of orientation was to be like “rah rah we are so exciting rah rah!” but some professor just talked for almost an hour about the political and economic history of Chile in a dry voice. Then there was a little show by some students and then more administrators talked but it was SO BORING. Luckily the refreshments afterwards were awesome.

Next we piled into a bus to visit the southernmost campus of the Universidad de Chile which is where the agriculture and veterinary schools are. This part of Santiago is also much poorer than the heart of Santiago and so illustrates very well the  stratification and segregation of classes in Santiago and in Chile as a whole.

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The Mapuche orientation was fascinating. We ate some traditional Mapuche food (I wasn’t a big fan of it but at least I tried it!) and then we were treated to a presentation inside the Mapuche roca, their traditional thatched grass communal dwellings.

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The presentation was about the Mapuche creation story and worldviews. Their cosmovision, or interpretation of the world, is really interesting. Above the earth is the Wenu Mapu, the source of positive energy, and below is the Miñche Mapu, the source of negative energy, and the people and animals and plants live on the Nag Mapu. On the horizontal plane, each cardinal direction has a significance, for example the ancestors are said to dwell in the east, so they send the sun each morning. This is why Mapuche dwellings, called ruca, always have a doorway facing east, so the light from the sun can come in and purify the home each morning. The sun and moon cycles also play a vital role in their cosmovision. I’m considering taking a class in Mapuche art and culture because it is so interesting.

Poor Directions and Orientation at PUC

Today my relaxing weekend was over and I had to rise and shine nice and early to get to the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile (Hint: If you want to check out the website, there’s a link for English next to the search bar in the top right corner).  It was also my first time using public transportation by myself. It was a little daunting but I made it 15 minutes late. Turns out if you are going somewhere in the morning you should expect to take double the time it would take on a quiet Sunday afternoon.

For security reasons (this page is open to the wide world of internet people) I don’t want to use specifics on my route, so I’m sorry if this sounds a little vague. To get to where I need to be, I can take any bus that goes by the stop near my house because they all pass where I need to get off. Then I walk a few blocks, and then turn and walk some more blocks, and then I turn and walk some more, and then I turn and walk for much longer and then I get there! I reverse everything for the way home, but I need to make sure I take exactly the right color, letter, and number bus. I’m going to lie and say its the pink Z10 bus (doesn’t exist). That’s the only one that will double back to my house, the rest go elsewhere in the city.

The orientation was great, I got some really helpful information about professors and classes from the students there. Also the campus is gorgeous, check it out:

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After a hard day of orientation, I went home and dropped of my bag before going back out to charge my Bip! card, which was running low on funds. Only certain stores charge Bip! cards, and I knew there was a little convenience store not far away where I could do it but I couldn’t remember exactly the direction. So I set off, figuring my odds were 50/50 and if I didn’t find it I could double back and try the other direction. My neighborhood is really safe, lots of families outside with their kids and stuff so I wasn’t worried. I walked for like 5 blocks in one direction and realized that the store was closer than that, I must’ve gone the wrong way. So I turned around, passed the house, and went 6 blocks the other way. I still didn’t find it, so I stopped into the nearby pharmacy to ask for directions. The lady was very nice and pointed me down another road that runs perpendicular to mine. Off I went, 5 blocks that way. Nothing, excpet for this weird street sculpture:

I've heard of big insects in South America but this is ridiculous!

I’ve heard of big insects in South America but this is ridiculous!

There was a lady selling magazines at a kiosk so I asked her, she pointed me the other way down the street and take a right. Off I went again, nothing. This went on for like an hour of me systematically searching the five blocks around my house for this dumb store. In the end the gas station lady gave me the right directions and I found it.

This story illustrates an important cultural feature of Chileans: They hate to say they don’t know, so if they don’t know they will make it up. There’s even a common saying that translates to: “If you don’t know it, invent it.” But in the end, I got my Bip! card charged and went home with much better knowledge of my neighborhood than before!


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!

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.


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.


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.

hotel y orientation 001

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!!