I am officially here, having landed safely in Santiago, contacted my host family and crashed for a night of sound (if a bit frigid) sleep. Getting there was a bit hard, going through customs and picking up my bags without hitch, but every now and then trying and failing to use my Spanish with people who clearly didn´t have the patience to wait for me to remember a word or puzzle through what they had said.
I hopped in a van and told them the address that had been given to me, and they nodded knowingly, speeding off from the airport. Chilean highways are nothing particularly out of the ordinary, as the drivers seem quite good, especially compared to what I´ve seen in Mexico or heard about Italy (they actually stick to their lanes, and signal from time to time. Most of the busy streets have lanes devoted to buses, which seem to arrive every few minutes or so, part of what seems like a very impressive public transit system, even if most drivers ignore the signs and drive wherever they damn well please. The drivers of the van were listening to music I recognized, all in English, and seemed to sing along at times.
The shuttle dropped me off on a busy street, and when I asked the driver what “Depto.” meant (part of the address), he gestured to the apartment building across the street, explaining that it meant the number of the apartment. Naturally, I headed across the street, only to discover that it was, in fact, not the correct building. A woman came out just then and, offering to walk with me to help me find it, took me on a half-hour sojourn through el Centro, with me dragging my bags behind me, trying to keep up, looking for the correct apartment complex. Eventually we found it, at the corner of Portugal and Paraguay Avenues (indicating some interesting, if creative, urban planning on somebody´s part), and my host family came down to greet me, helping me up to the apartment, showing me all around and serving me a steaming bowl of pasta: the perfect pick-me-up. Mi hermana (I think I´m going to use Spanish to denote my Chilean family, so mi hermana is my sister, and mi mama is my mother, whereas my American family I´ll refer to in English) took me to a supermarket downstairs to buy a Pisco Sour, a drink that distinctly reminded me of a marguerita with a double serving of tequila, and we settled down.
Mi mama Luz, and hermana Andrea, are both very nice, very accomodating and eager to please. Luz is a recent widow, and reminds me constantly that I should think of her house as my own, and she considers me a member of the family. They have taken in many students over the years, and she proudly and whimsically pulls out her photo album and pores through the photos, postcards and other keepsakes from her students and their families.
After several rounds of her asking what I like to eat, whether I prefer breakfast food, or lunch food, and what kinds, and when, and what I like to drink in the mornings, and what food to take to class, and me constantly begging that I honestly don´t care and will eat anything, she woke me this morning with a cup of coffee and a turkey sandwich around 7 am. We headed out to the nearby Metro (subway) station, where she put 5.000 pesos (about $9) on a BIP! card, so-called because of the sound it makes when you use it to enter a metro or a bus.
We´re in the dead of winter right now, a dismal change from the wonder of a California summer. My room, which has great big windows, was freezing by the morning and a quick shower, which I think Luz described as something along the lines of “deathly cold,” was way out of the question. Things certainly warmed by the end of the day, but the mornings were freezing cold, teaching me a thing or two about proper sleeping attire.
Now, a bit of background. My program through the UC is divided into two segments: students going to the University of Chile, Santiago (La Chile) and students going to the Pontifical Catholic University (La Católica, or PUC). There are students from throughout the UC system, about 70-something in total, split between the two. I´m going to La Chile, but before any of us enroll, we have to go through the Intensive Language Program (ILP) run by the UC, which is held at La Católica.
For that, Luz and I (bundled in my warm jacket, a sweater, gloves and a scarf) caught a bus, jumping off when she did, and wandering around for a few minutes before we (seemingly lost) caught a taxi to the school.
La Católica is a beautiful school, castle-like in its architecture, with tall walls, sweeping balconies, and the inevitable crosses and Jesus/Mary statues every few feet. After a brief orientation, we went over some documents, and then split up into groups to prep for our oral Spanish test, which we´ll be doing tomorrow to help them split us into classes (by our level in Spanish) for the ILP. Inevitably I ended up in a group of 4 guys, of about 20 in the entire 70-person group, and chatted with them about our families and our first impressions of Chile.
Afterward, another student and I, unsure of whether Luz was going to pick me up, headed out to find our way back. We were a short bus ride (or a long walk, which we opted for instead) from Providencia, a district close to La Católica. As we parted ways, she pointed in the general direction of a Metro station, and from there, I knew that I could take a short trip back home. Along the way I was able to change a bit of money, as dollars are generally useless, and what a feeling that is! It´s amazing the difference between having no money in your pocket and having even a little, just in case something should happen. I quickly went through the Metro, and a few short stops later, ended up back in my familiar part of town. Luz, it seems, did in fact come looking for me, but the guard at La Católica was able to confirm that I had left, and she headed back home. I waited by the entrance for a little bit, waiting for her, and when I saw her we both headed up, she glad that I was okay and me glad that she hadn´t wasted too much time looking for me.
Tomorrow we´ll be heading to the beach for a few days, so I probably won´t be updating, but I´ll send stuff out as I can, including adding some pictures to the previous posts as soon as I get internet on my laptop. Though WiFi is scarce, I´m here at an Internet Cafe near the apartment, where Internet is about $1/hour, so no biggie.
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