I am writing to you from sunny (and HOT) Viña del Mar, Chile! I finally made it here after more than 20 hours of traveling. Our plane coming down had to divert its route to land in Panama City in order for the police to come on and assist a passenger who was "causing a disturbance" off the plane. The whole thing ended up adding about 2 1/2 hours to our trip, but we eventually made it. The 4 CIEE students on my plane and I ended up getting to the hotel in Valparaíso a bit later than everyone else, which ended up being fine because, as it turns out, Chileans are pretty relaxed about time. Our resident advisor told us that as long as you arrive within a pretty flexible 15-minute window, it's fine. They held our food for us and we got to join everyone else halfway through their lunch.
Which brings me to food- I have eaten SO MUCH FOOD since I got here. It's all really good, too. During the first couple of days of orientation at the hotel, we had a breakfast, a huge lunch, and a big dinner every day. Now that I'm with my host family, I have breakfast (generally bread/cheese/cereal/avocado), lunch (the biggest meal of the day- today it was corn, chicken, rice, avocado, tomato, pasta...), and once (like a late dinner with similar food as breakfast). I love avocados (called paltas here), so it's all good. My host family is also somehow under the impression that I really, really love coffee, so they give it to me with every meal. I can usually take or leave it, but I think they noticed that I had it for two breakfasts in a row, so now they always give it to me. They're too sweet for me to tell them I don't really want it with dinner. I have a feeling I'll leave Chile with a bigger addiction to it that I had in the states, which is funny because people generally don't drink coffee here.
My host family is amazing. My host mom, Claudia, is extremely sweet. She has two daughters who are both in university named Laura and Renata. They're both really sweet and funny. Laura's boyfriend has been hanging out here a lot, and apparently visited Minnesota once, so he was excited to hear that I was from there. Laura has a three year old daughter named Emilia, who also lives with us. Also in the house is Claudia's husband, Jose Luis, who is extremely funny and likes to talk about history. They also have a dog, Benito.
I'm having a pretty hard time understanding everyone, but it's getting easier even after only being here for four days. I have an especially hard time understanding my host sisters, because they talk really quickly and use even more slang than Claudia and Jose (who use a surprisingly lot of slang themselves). Chilean Spanish is really fast, and they leave the ends of words (especially s's) off a lot of the time. They also have their own words for a lot of things (like palta for avocado, instead of aguacate, and pololo/a for boyfriend/girlfriend, instead of novio/a, which here means fiance/e, and "hill" here is always cerro, not colina, like I learned in high school). I'm learning quickly, but it feels like a very slow process.
Besides living with my host family in Viña del Mar, a city right next to Valparaíso (where the University is), I've been exploring Valparaíso (Valpo) with the program, CIEE. We went on a walking exploration of the city and got to explore a bunch of the nooks and crannies. Valparaíso was described by a professor in the program as an "avalanche of houses tumbling down towards the sea," which is pretty accurate. It's beautiful, and all of the houses seem very precariously perched on the many hills overlooking the Pacific. Everything is really colorful and there is street art everywhere. I think I'm in love with the city.
|On top of one of the hills was a slide that both adults and kids were enjoying. My entire group went down it.|
|Valpo is a port city- before the Panama Canal was built, it was the biggest gateway into Latin America for a lot of products.|
|One of the many colorful staircases and narrow alleys.|
|There are so many paths like this to explore that wind up between buildings.|
|The view from the top of one of the hills.|
|Another staircase- this one is one of the most famous ones in the city. Apparently one time Robert Plant was here and saw it and said something about it being like the "Stairway to Heaven."|
|Another view of the part of the city.|
I am having such a good time here! I'm exhausted, but I'm learning so much. Please email me with any questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.