Insert witty welcome back opening.
Our group just got back from a couple days at the beach, which is not quite what it sounds like, but was amazing nonetheless. We’re still in the introductory stage, which means no class yet, but they took us to Algarrobo, a beach town southwest of Santiago, for a couple days of meetings, orientation and some (alcohol-assisted) team building. The meetings fell somewhere between informative and mind-numbing, depending on the amount of coffee in my system, but we had plenty of hours in between to hang out, play ping pong and foosball, sit by the fire and play Bananagrams (en español, claro), and explore the town.
Algarrobo itself is a beautiful town, with hilly neighborhoods and a small downtown drag that runs right along the beach. The hotel we were staying at, which we no doubt took over, fed us well, with delicious buffets of everything from fried fish to celery and avocado salad to amazing Chilean wine.
The festivities, which inevitable happen when that many college-age kids live in such close proximity, were quite fun, with our room hitting its capacity at about 30-ish folks. The second night was quite different, with the majority of the people taking over the downstairs bar, music coming from the TV, and those who could dance teaching other the basics of salsa. The out-going director of the program, Heidi, even busted a few moves on the dance floor, which will no doubt be making its way to Facebook very soon.
On a personal end, I’m starting to feel more comfortable here. My Spanish is definitely improving, though it seems more hit or miss based on the person I’m talking to. It’s great to be in a group of students who, at minimum, have two years of Spanish training, so we’re able to have whole conversations together in Spanish. I’m also being taught a number of “Chilenismos,” or Chilean slang. Many Chileans don’t pronounce S’s, which can be a bit confusing, but also makes both “cómo etay?” (how are you?) and “cachay?” (understand?) common sayings.
Mi família Chilena has been very helpful in learning and practicing Spanish, as neither one of them speaks English, and took time today to teach me some very important words (tenedor = fork, copa = wine glass). In general, everyone I’ve met has been extremely nice (and forgiving of the American thing), eager to teach and learn with Americans.
I’ve managed to find my way around town fairly well, and I’m getting a hang of the public transit, which is also impressing me more and more. To get from my apartment, near the center of town, to La Católica takes about 50 minutes, which includes a ride on the metro and a bus. To imagine the metro, think about BART, but cleaner, faster, more efficient and cheaper. The trains come every 3 or 4 minutes, from my observations, which is a good thing considering that only 3 or 4 people can get onto each car per stop, even packing the people in shoulder-to-shoulder.
A few things continue to puzzle me, as I’ve been trying to figure out whether or not to risk the water. The popular literature (which also said that the Chileans are a cold, unfriendly bunch) says that we shouldn’t drink the water, but the director of the program says that there’s nothing to fear except chlorine, but no parasites. I’ll probably give it a shot soon, though bottles of water are cheap and available everywhere.
Finding available Internet has been a challenge, with none available in my apartment until early next month, so it’s likely I’ll find myself at my current location often (a café a few blocks away with WiFi). My mail client has been freaking out every time I stumble upon WiFi, so if you need to contact me, Facebook is a much better way for me to see it sooner.
For now, Ciao!