Monday, March 30, 2009


She told me that the flight landed at around 10am, but would remain in contact as she passed through Chicago, Dallas, or atleast call me from the terminal in Santiago. Instead, I recieved an unexpected call from the down stairs lobby as Molly frantically told me that the concierge didnt know of any residences living in the building named Taylor McCurdy. I anxiously left the room laughing to myself as I passed into the elevator, "of course the concierge doesnt know any Taylor McCurdy´s". Bolted out the doors and greeted my sister with a big hug as the apartment recepcionist watched from behind the desk with a confused look on his face. The last time I saw my sister was in early August and we had only one week to catch up on the eight months that had passed by.

Back upstairs in my host sibling´s apartment, I let Molly nap off the previous 20 hours of jetlag while I opened my Lonley Planet to get some ideas of how we would spend the next few days. Although she seemed exhausted, I made her wake up and spend the rest of the day running around Santiago. In the capital city we toured through La Moneda, the famous mint that was atacked during Pinoche´s coup in 73, La Plaza de Armas, and a few museums of pre-colombian and Mapuche art. We ended the day by paying homage to the El Cerro San Cristobal and watched the sun set from the virgin who watches over the city. The next morning, we caught a bus to Valparaiso, the old port city which is known for its series of antique elevators and bright colored architecture. While lost in the maze of narrow passageways and side streets, we walked into a "bad" part of the city where a rather creepy old woman warned us to "¡Vayanse de aqui gringos, vayanse!". More wandering around brought us to a promising bed and breakfast that looked over the port with an excellent view. The tiny room let of some awful odor that niether Molly or I could find, but it was afortable, comfortable, and breakfast was served with a perfect view. That night we went out to a hip seafood restaurant and met some other wandering travelers who were heading back from an excursion in Antarcrtica.
Molly had high hopes of getting to the beach to asorb as much of the southern summer as possible, but an unfortunate cold front lingered on the coast and prevented any tanning. On wednesday, we booked a wine tour in the Casa Blanca Valley which continued on to La Isla Negra where the famous poet Pablo Neruda built his Favorite House. Rather clueless to the idea of fine wine, Molly and I were determined to become more intellectual wine connoisseurs. That began with vocabulary. Color, smell, tannings, reserva, legs, Malbec, Carmenere, French oak, American oak?, four months, eight months!? etc... After various glasses, I can honestly say (dad) I found a new appreciation for the alcoholic grape juice and moreover the process to create it. We visited at an interesting time since the grapes were just in harvest and the whole system was at work. At the end of the day we hopped over to Neruda´s and toured the house, which was made into a museum after his death in the 70´s. His unique place was filled with the myriad of artifacts he collected on his world travels and it was difficult to believe he owned two smiliar houses in Valparaiso and Santiago.

We spent thursday and friday in El Tambo at my host grandparent´s campo located 2 hours outside the city. The scenery, as well as traffic laws, change drastically once you bounce out of Santiago and this all bacame clear when my "grandmother" steered her tiny car off the road and into a rushing riverbed. Taking her eyes of the road (or path rather), she pivoted around the front seat to explain to us that we were on a shortcut. Molly and I looked at eachother smiling as we trudged through the water and honked at the cattle loitering in the river. Once we pulled into the house Molly instantly whipped out her camara just as our father would to fotograph everything. She had been wanting to escape from a city, Pittsburgh or Santiago, and absorb a few tranquil moments; El Tambo was the perfect place. At the campo we spent time by the pool eating grapes, figs, pears, and other fruits strait from the vines and luckily La Mam had prepared us a pastel de choclo, a traditional corn dish mixed with eggs, chicken, and meat. Delicious. That afternoon we stopped by some of the fields and took part in the fruit packing process. We watched as grapes and quinces were brought from the farms and then packaged to be sent to the US. After, we traveled on to a saddle makers work shop to take a look at his hand made work. Everyone we met was happy to show us around and we always left with a hand full of fresh grapes...
Back at the apartment on FRIDAY afternoon, Molly casually checked her itinerary to find they she should have left on THURSDAY. This drastic news led to tears and frustration becuase at one point she wasnt getting back until dayss later. But in the end becuase of luck? or maybe just because our dad works for the CIA, we got molly on a plane that left that night. Que suerte Molly.

At this very moment im at the computer on April Fool´s Day and theres a huge traffic jam honking outside becuase La Seleción Chilena is playing Paraguay and all the poor people stuck in their cars outside are missing the action...theyre even shouting...

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Jets to Brazil

My next adventure was to Brazil on a Gira de Estudios or class trip with my school, El Colegio Aleman. The day after my birthday we gathered outside the school and united as a class for the first time in months. A lot of kids had been in Germany for a short term exchange and it was great hear about their summers. They showed a new appreciation for what I had gone through during my first months and suddenly we could discuss more meaningfully the experiences of an exchange. The name Gira de Estudios might sound like a trip with some higher educational purpose, but don´t be fooled becuase it was actually a week of vacation on the beach and "carreteando" with close friends.

From LA, we took an overnight bus to the Santiago airport to catch our first flight to Buenos Aires. It was probably clear to passing travelers that we were headed to the beach since we sporadically broke into soccer games on the airport floor and were already dressed in swim suits and bright beach colors. I should mention that the class designed sweatshirts specifically for the trip. They were all white except for mine which had unfortuneatly turned pink in a load of laundry... for ten days I suffered from coments about the gringo´s pink sweatshirt, but nevertheless I wore it proudly. From Buenos Aires we connected to Foz de Iguassu and by land crossed the border into Brasil. El Rio de Iguassu creates the borders between Brasil, Argentina, and Paraguay and at the juncture there is a massive series of waterfalls. We didn´t waste too much time in this region, however, since our final destination, Camboriu, was still a 12 hour bus ride east toward the coast. Exhausted, afraid I was getting sick, and without sufficent beroca we rolled into the touristic city of Camboriu and went strait to the beach. The perfect jet lag remedy... The warm water and humid temperature were drastic yet pleasant changes from Chile´s dry climate. The next few days were spent sprawled out lazily on various beaches sipping Caipariñas, fresh coconuts, and working on that tan I never seem to get back at home. And when the sun went down we went out to the happening Brazilan discos or back to the beach outside the hotel. The boarding arrangements turned out to be very, very entertaining since some 300 Argentine girls were staying in the same hotel. Although most of them were 15, the boys in my class were pleasantly occupied making all the girls in the class jealous and bitter. Having just turned 19, I felt like I was out of place for the first time, nevertheless, it was hilarious to just watch the situation unfold. We took a trip over to the Isla de Portobello, which was my favorite destination. We hitched a ride to the isle on a "Pirate Boat", which was a thumping party boat that stopped every once and allowing us to jump of the sides or dive from the masts. The island´s beach was the best we had visited so far and everyone was entertained kayaking, snorkeling, or riding on the classic Banana Boat.

It really was a tropical vacation... although, it was neat to suddenly be imersed in a Portugese speaking country. Getting around wasn´t all that difficult since it was surprisingly easy to converse with locals in Spanish. It was a strange language to try to listen to, however, things made sense when you read store signs or Billboards. Ironically enough, while out at a disco one night, a kid came up to me and said, "Yo, whats up man hows it going?". I´d like to think I dont look that gringo, but maybe I really do stick out as a foreigner. I responded in Spanish, but later learned that he was a Rotary student from Kansas staying in Santiago and was apart of a district that my group had never come in contact with. Small world...
On the last day in Brazil, we visted the waterfalls that I mentioned earlier. If anyones seen the latest Indiana Jones flick apparently one of the ending scenes was filmed in the area- that was our tour guides favorite fact. We got soaked on a tour boat that motored us to the foot of the water and dried off afterwards walking around on a terrace between the two primary water falls and soaking in the incredible views. Niagara is cool and all, but at this place you were surrounded by rushing water since water falls crashed into the Rio Iguassu in all directions. It was awesome. The next morning, we checked into the airport to fly back to Santiago. I had just had an absolutely amazing time and while sitting exhausted on the plane I had almost forgot that my sister Molly would be in Santiago in just two days...

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Pucón with My Parents!

Six months without my family is quite a long time when you think that for my entire life I hadn´t gone more than 4 weeks with out mother´s preaching, father´s ridiculous jokes, or my younger sister´s craziness. You´d think in six months alot would have changed, but the truth is we picked things up exactly where they we left them. After more than 24 hours of traveling, my poor family, who probably just wanted to sleep, was welcomed with a traditional Chilean BBQ prepared by my host parents, counselor, and nieghbors. We shared an excellent dinner as we moved from pisco sours to a fine bottle of chilean wine and endless vacuno (BBQ). It really was great to be with the family again and I was excited for the week to come. The next day we woke up late and took a tour of the big L.A. meandering through the plaza, mall, and the Deutche Schule where I study. A single day in L.A. really is sufficient... so we spared to time hopping over to Villarrica and Pucón- the adventure capital of Chile. Pucón sits on a big lake located a few hours south of Los Angeles and is shadowed by the towering Volcán Villarrica- it was a pefect place to play. We ran around on the beach, in the termas (hot springs), and in the town. Pucón is a vacation destination for many Chileans and it was no surprise that I ran into several people I knew and even a guy I had met in Coyhaique- a friend of Cristians. We spent one afternoon trying to find this hidden water fall called El Salto Claro, an ordeal made much more difficult than it should have been. After hours spent on nameless dirt roads we were finally sent home by a locked barbed wire fence... Luckily, Hayley, mom, and my friend Emily reached the 80m waterfall the next day while on a horse back ride.
Since our birthdays were just around the courner, Dad decided to put down his blackberry and told me we were going to climb the Volcano- sweeet! On our last day, we planned an alpine start and drove to the foot of the volcan with our expedition group. Chile has some 5,000 volcanoes and roughly 65 acclaimed active. Villarrica is a 10,000ft glaciated strato-cone (right dad?) and still blows smoke like chimney. The top it all off, the storm the night before left us with a fresh layer of snow to play with. Getting to the top was pretty strenuous, but what made it worse was the toxic smoke that we were inhaling. Once our guides found out dad was a geologist they were asking him just how toxic the smoke actually was- it wasnt very reassuring. Around mid day we got up to the top and peered into the crater- it was a perfect birthday present. The nearly 5 hour ascent was followed by a simple one hour glacade down. So I notched another Volcano on my belt... only 4,998 to go. The week with my parents went by incredibly fast and it was sad to see them go, but I know when I get home we´ll just pick things up where they left off.

Monday, March 16, 2009


Arriving to Coyhaique had been an objective of mine since before I left the states. My NOLS course two summers back was instructed by two Chileans and in the end it was on the ice in Canada sipping mate and "huevando" in Spanish that I decided to travel to Chile. From El Campo NOLS, I went with Judd back to his house just a short walk down the road. Although a gringo from Lander, Wyoming, Judd Rogers has been in the Patagonia for more than ten years and might as well be a true born Chilean. He lives in a quaint straw adobe house over looking an enormous valley with his wife Carolina and kids Sam (5) and Sophia (less than a year). It was almost strange seeing the civil side of Judd since the only time we spent together, although more than a month, was on an icefield in remote parts of British Colombia. Over a bottle of vino tinto, we spent the evening remenicing about course in BC and discussing the Chilean culture. We had essentially shared the same experiences, but it was interesting to hear about how Judd had thrown his entire life into the mix- his job, family, and home. As the night went on, I all sorts of ideas entered my head about working with NOLS in the Patagonia and making Chile a more permenant residence... Judd had made a living that matched all my interests; his house was designed environmentally with a small garden, fruit trees, and a traditional wood burning stove that heated the place as well as the water. Working for NOLS, he not only surrounded himself with the outdoors, but also helped manage the small farm on the property. And lastly, he had adopted and integrated himself completely in this new culture. Interesting thoughts...

I had signed up for a WFA (Wilderness First Aid) course that would begin at the end of the week, but I really didnt have a plan for the first few days. The next morning, Judd set me up with one of his mountain bikes and gave me rough directions of a loop that toured through the campo behind his house. The whole trip was about 25 km and I didnt see a single person the entire morning. I was back at the house at around mid day and grabbed for my rod to toss a few flies in the river the cut through the property. Luckly, I was free from any hooks that might have been whipped in the wrong direction... I was so entertained in Judds back yard that I didnt even make it to the center of Coyhaique until the third day. The following morning, I set off once again on Judd´s green stump-jumper for the 11 km haul into town- I was really enjoying the whole cycling deal. In town, I followed my Lonely Planet guide book through the plaza, a small museum, and the best places to eat for my money. Coyhaique attracts a decent amount of tourists and so my attentive waiter made the blatant effort to explain to me that I was in a restaurant and walked slowly through the menu with me so I could understand. I just decided to got with it and act nieve. When he brought the bill he threw in a free city map and gave me a corky wink before returning to the kitchen. The town was covered with posters entitled "Patagonia Chilena- Sin Represas"- (With out dams)- a fairly recent environmental movment trying to prevent the installation of several hydroeletric dams in the south. Chile doesn´t deny that its entering an energy crisis, however, it doesnt make much sense to distrub the Patagonia to send power to the mines in the north. We don´t produce electric energy in Yellowstone to have it transported to New York City...or do we? All in all, its been interesting following and learning more about the issue. The town was cool- they even had huge statue of a hand holding a mate gord!- but the truth is I was having the most fun in Judd´s backyard fishing and hiking.

On Friday, we started the First Aid course up at the NOLS branch and Judd and Cristian (my other instructor from BC) attended the three day class as well to re-new their more indepth WFR certifications. So my previous teachers became classmates. Others had arrived from Colombia, Bolivia, Brasil, and all parts of Chile to take advantge of the course. I was a bit nervous since it was in Spanish, but I surprised myself by how much I understood- I think the only term I was unfamiliar with was RELAMPAGOS (lightening strikes). And so on sunday I left certified in CPR and Wilderness First Aid. That afternoon, we all got together to have an asado and celebrate the birthday of one of the instructors named Atila- kick ass name for a NOLS instructor... Many of the employees were from the states, but we all conversed in what little spanish we had- I met some very neat people. Once it got dark, the Brazilians took over the fiesta with traditional music and that awesome Brazilian fire dance- by far the coolest party ive ever been to. A week always goes by fast, but I had an absolutely great time in Coyhaique visiting old friends and leaving with a new skill that will be put to use when I return to the states. My parents and hayley come next week!