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So.  I was thinking–am I really g oing to leave South America without eating another steak from Argentina?!?

No.  I am not.  I’ll be in Argentina this weekend and will talk to you when I get back.  Much love.

Note from the author:  The steak is not the only reason I am going.  It, combined with cheap bus fare, a ride through the Andes, and being able to understand people makes Mendoza a good destination.

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”I have a lot of bulk in my bargain bin.”

-Li

Edit: a polola is a non serious girlfriend

I was having a bad morning today.  I went to school in a weird mood and the Spanish was not feeling good.  I couldn’t really concentrate in class, I couldn’t conjugate verbs, and the words were not flowing.  Bad.  I decided to run away.  Ha.  As soon as class was over, I went home, then headed straight to the bus terminal.  I needed to find something new and I was in a mood so I didn’t prepare.  I didn’t have a map, a place to go, or any idea as to what to expect.  I didn’t care.  I arrived at the bus terminal and bought two tickets.  One for San Antonio and another for a later date.  All I knew of San Antonio is that it is the largest port in South America.  The bus driver gave me a newspaper, but that didn’t help my mood–it’s not like I could understand it.  Not a good Spanish day.  As soon as I arrived in San Antonio, a little over an hour later, I started walking.  I walked to a little town outside of the city, without realizing it.  It was cute.  They had little fruit stores, which I find charming, and other things to look at.  After a couple of hours, I turned back for the port.  I wanted to see the water.  I found loads of small boats in the marina.  I found some artisans that were bored.  I found enormous sea lions close enough to touch.  I found men fishing for their dinner.  I found big and small waves crashing into the rock barriers.  I found the freshest available fish for sale.  Then I found a dock and an experience that changed my mood. 

The dock was full of serious activity.  Boats were crowded around all sides and fish were being hoisted unto the dock by the fishermen below.  The men on the dock were fiercely transporting the fish from the buckets (so they could be refilled below) into large wheelbarrow-like contraptions for weighing.  I stood at the edge, not tempting to go down the dock quite yet, watching all of this take place.  Then my new friend showed up.  Looking back, I suppose it was a little strange that I was standing there.  This is by no means a tourist destination.  It smells of fish and there are not so pleasant fish things to see.  I’m very sure that only people who know things about fish are there.  He was walking down the dock, stopped when he saw me, and gave me the ”what-are-you-doing-here-you-are-very-strange” look.  Before I could respond, he asked me where I was from.  ”de estados unidos.”  ”¿de dondé?”  ”Texas.”  ”Ah.  Petroléo.”  After this little exchange, I decided if he was this nice, I could attempt walking down the dock.  Not wanting to break any rules, I asked him if I could, and he told me to follow him.  My very own tour guide of the dock.  He is about 45 years old, he has a big personality, with a belly to match.  He was funny.  He told just about everyone we passed that I was his polola.  We got to the boat that he was buying fish from and he introduced me to his brother and work partner.  They were friendly too.  We talked a bit about fish, a bit about Chile, and a bit about San Antonio de Texas.  When they finished the fish exchange, I asked what happens next.  He said, follow me.  Back on land the fish were being washed and stored until they are shipped to Santiago.  He showed me some other things about the fine art of the fish trade before I said goodbye. 

I’m in a much better mood and am ready to reattempt this Spanish thing.  I’m off to study for the evening.

Hey yo.  I don’t have much to say, but I was going to update you on the weekend.  Saturday was quite possibly my laziest day here.  I went to Persa Bio Bio, but was gravely disappointed.  It was supposed to be like Canton (sorry New Yorkers, you don’t know what that is), but it was not.  Not even close.  I mosied through a lot of things that were of no interest to me and decided to go back home.  I spent a lot of time thinking/mulling/dreaming and it was needed.  That said, I couldn’t let Sunday be the same.  Before I started the day, I had instructions to call home.  I talked to Mom, Dad, Cheryl, Vickie, and Emmitt.  Vickie was helping Emmitt with his Spanish (because he is going to be bilingual) and Cheryl told me she was glad I was getting this travel business out of my system.  Mom told me how good my dog is and Dad said they had already had their coffee for the day.  As a side note: brewed coffee (i.e. Starbucks), Dr. Pepper, Reese’s, Tex-Mex, Moe’s, Cheesecake Factory, M&M’s, warm showers, straight hair, traveling by car, and clean air are on the U.S. of A agenda.  This isn’t to imply that there aren’t things I will miss about South America, because there are, it is just to say at the root of my free-spiritedness, I am an American.  Anyway.  The mere mention of brewed coffee made my steps go east (Los Leones estacion de metro, where the Starbucks is) instead of west (Universidad de Santiago estacion de metro, where the bus terminal is).  I was thinking about going to San Antonio (a port town close to Santiago), but some where in between the coffee and my arrival at the terminal, I was determined to go to Viña del Mar.  It is a mite lonely to travel alone, but you get to change plans as you please (and walk at your own pase, which I find incredibly liberating).  I had been to Viña before, but I went with some friends and was ready to rediscover the place on my own.  I was able to spend ample time at the beach, on a beautifully perfect sunny day, have dinner at some Mexicanish restaurant at 50% off, and walk amongst the streets I’d missed on the first trip. 

My view of the ocean.

Me: Where have I been?

British guy: You know, where you had that fat conversation with watershoe.

Me: Oh yeah.

Hello Americans,

How are you?  You know, I have less than five weeks left?!?  Amazing.  I’m back in Santiago and have another adventure for you!  I don’t have pictures with me, maybe I’ll post them next time.  It’s a lot of work plugging that doodad in.  I might just wait and show you when I see you.

Okay.  So yesterday.  After I stowed my belongings in the closet of the place I was stayng, I was off.  I even left my map.  That might appear ignorant, but it’s very much something like travelling alone.  Here’s the deal.  If I travel with someone, I will either speak English with them or they will end up speaking Spanish for me.  Not good.  It also isn’t inviting for strangers.  People are much more likely to approach you if you are alone than if you are with someone.  Some of you are thinking that’s a good thing, but it’s only a good thing sometimes.  I would’ve missed a handful of great conversations (in Spanish) if I were with someone.  Just like not taking a map.  Unless a town/city only has two one way streets (with distinctly different names), I am going to get lost.  This forces me to ask people where things are.  And alas, the Spanish and confidence gets better.  So it’s not necessary practical or efficient, but it worked.  I eventually made it to the bus terminal, bought a ticket to Vicuña, and went on my way.  Vicuña is a town about 60 kilometers east of La Serena.  The ride showed me 60 kilometers of big, dry, cactus covered hills.  It’s part of the Atacama dessert, the dryest in the world.  It’s most famous for it’s vineyards and the production of pisco, one of Chile’s favorite productions.  Pisco is a brandy-like spirit distilled from grapes.  This area extends on further and makes up the Elqui Valley, with dry hills, but fertile land for the grapes. I went on Sunday, which is a good day to avoid tourists, but not a good day to see the distillery.  The center of town was as cute and clean as I have seen since of been here.  It was quaint.  A few kids were playing, two artisans selling their craft, and open air restaurants casually inviting you in.  It was very much like a movie scene.  I walked around the town for a few hours, found a gift item, bought some papaya juice (famous in these parts), and went back to the little bus terminal.  As I was waiting for my bus, an old man was curious about me.  He asked me a few questions and started telling me all about his life.  Four kids from his first marriage, three from his second, he works in business, and writes for a journal in Brazil.  His mom was Chilean, his dad Peruvian, and he ended up in Chile for business.  He wants to retire in Brazil, though.  I got on a bus back to La Serena late in the afternoon, almost got dropped off at the wrong stop, but then made it to the correct place.  I walked to the hotel, retreived my items from the closet (which was more difficult that it sounds), had a lovely conversation with the old man hotel owner, told him I enjoyed my time and if I am able to return, I would see him again.  I had a little time before I had to catch the red-eye bus ride back to Santiago so I settled in to a Schopdog.  Schopdog is one of the few restaurant chains here.  A very curious old man (are we sensing a trend and the real me coming back?) who works there, of all things, asked me about the beer from my country.  He thought I was from Germany.  We talked for a little bit after I placed my order and then I took a seat to watch the futbol game.  After the game, he came over to see if I needed anything else and we had a marvelous conversation about Chile.  He gave me a few suggestions of things to do and try.  I told him that it is absoultely imperative to get out of Santiago to see Chile.  My experience of these towns was fantastic.  The people I met have a quiet respect for their country and it doesn’t take long before you instictively build the same respect for it.

Now commences a week of more classes and studying.  Maybe I can get a little better at this Spanish speaking game before I leave.

Hi friends,

I’m so excited to write you about this little adventure, that I’m going to do it from La Serena.  So, a few weeks ago I decided that I wasn’t doing enough adventuring and I needed to go somewhere.  So, I bought bus fare to La Serena, a town north of Santiago.  I was trying to do thing South American style and not plan tours or hostels or anything, just go with the flow.  My teacher commented that he thought North Americans, from his experience, were very organized and prepared.  I told him that I was that, but I was trying to adapt.  I did ask a couple people if I would have trouble finding a hostel and they said I wouldn’t…

So I went to the University de Santiago metro stop to catch my bus at one in the afternoon on Friday.  I didn’t really try to figure out how long it was going to take me, remember, I’m trying to go with the flow.  Well, a very nice old man sat next to me.  I feel like I should reiterate that I really have the hardest time understanding Chileans.  He was patient with me and we ended up being able to understand each other after a while.  He told me he was going to visit his newest grandson, that he didn’t play any instruments (but he sings a little and his mom played the guitar), and he shared his bus stop snack with me.  They were these chocolates that I hope to bring to you.  He gave me one, I tasted it, decided it was pretty darn good, then asked him if it was made in Chile.  He said yes.  I looked at the wrapper and it said made in Argentina, but I didn’t have the heart to tell him.  I still might try to bring you some Argetino chocolate.  This was about three hours into the trip.  At about this time during the trip, the Panamericana highway meets the west coast and the view is awesome.  The waves were big, there were large cliffs and small islands in their way, and all along the sun was going down.  It was magnificent.  At about five hours, I unpacked my two sandwiches (of matequilla and marmelade) and gave him one.  It was fun to share.  At about seven hours, we arrived in Coquimbo and he served as my personal tour guide.  He pointed out the large monument thing and a really big cross.  About twenty minutes later, I was in La Serena.  The bus dropped me off and I started to look for a hostel.  I found one, it was full, and they told me not to go up the street, because the one there was full too.  So, I went to another, it too was full.  Then, I had some luck.  I found this charming little hideaway where the rooms are connected in a patio-like atmosphere.  The people are very friendly, breakfast is included, and it is close to the center of town.  I’m calling it charming, most of you would call it otherwise.  I was tired when I finally settled in and had already decided that I would plan better for my next adventure. 

That was yesterday.  Today was a good taste of Chile.  My first objective was to go to the beach.  There’s something about water that I connect with.  The ocean is something I do not know very well and when I’m confronted by it, it overwhelms me.  How on earth does all that water maintain its boundaries.  I mean, what keeps it from going other places.  This is a little abstract, so I’ll continue with the story.  I stayed at the beach for the better part of the morning and decided I should go into town and return for sunset.  Little did I know, today is the anniversary of La Serena, 457 years, I think.  Anyway, there was music, food, people, things, all typical of Chile.  I got to see traditional Chilean folklore dance, some modern Chilean cheerleaders, and ate some traditional Chilean food.  I walked around the markets looking for a birthday present for Leah (Happy Birthday, Li), to no avail.  I’ll find something in Santiago.  It was quite the event to stumble onto.  It was getting close to time for sunset, so I walked all the way back to the beach.  The pink Pumas are going to be retired after this vacation, they have more miles on them…  I was watching the water and playing with the sand and a certain gentleman, whom I had noticed earlier, asked me if I wanted to play soccer.  I informed him that I was not a useful soccer player and he went on.  I was a little sad, because he and his friends looked fun, but soccer isn’t a good idea.  A little later, another gentleman approached me.  He only spoke Spanish and our entire conversation was in Spanish.  If I didn’t understand something he would explain it to me.  The BEST part about this, was I really think he came over to witness to me.  We were talking about small things at first, but eventually he told me he went to semanario (semanary).  At first, I didnt’ think that I was translating it right, but then he said he wasn’t catholico, but evagelico.  I told him that was interesting, then asked him ‘Entonces, ¿Jesus es tu salvador?’  He said yes and asked if I was cristiana.  We became fantastic friends and talked for over an hour.  We talked all about Chile, where he was from, things that are great about his country, etc.  He had to go, we exchanged email addresses, and I told him I would pray for him.  He said he’d do the same for me and asked if it would be okay if he prayed right then.  Imagine, sitting on the beach, with the sun setting in the background, your new Chilean friend prays (in Spanish), and then he went on his way.  I quietly thanked the Lord for the moment.  It was great.

I am going to try to go to Elqui Valley tomorrow.  In my vain effort to go with the flow, there aren’t any tours available.  I can guide myself (which I’m finding is better anyway), but I have to do the unknown bus thing again!

Mom and Dad, Skype was down so I couldn’t call you before I left.  I’ll call you when I get home.  Emmitt, at the beach today, I saw a boxer.  He was wearing a red harness just like you.  He came up to me and said hi.  I asked his owners how you say Boxer in Spanish.  It’s Boxer.  Li, I hope you had a good birthday and I will call you too.  Amy, I might need to tweak the transfer plans a little, so I need to call you.  Is there anyone else I need to call?

Love you.

I started my journey to Argentina by a quick stop in Puerto Montt.  I was not there long, but I was there long enough to know there needs to be more time spent there.  Puerto Montt is a town in southern Chile and is surrounded by other little towns that need to be visited.  The only thing that separates Puerto Montt, Chile and San Carlos de Bariloche, Argentina is the Cordilla de los Andes.  It was the shortest, lowest flying flight I have been on.  I was only one of few on board and I looked in amazement out the window.  I could only think that I have seen it.  I cannot explain ‘it’ to all of you, but I have seen it now.  The plane landed after giving us a quick glimpse of the dessert that coexists with the beautiful ‘lakes district’ of Patagonia.  The idea that Latin Americans do not prize promptness, efficiency, and/or accuracy was driven home as my taxi driver could not find the house I was to stay in.  After about thirty minutes of trying different things, he finally found it.  I had the house all to myself, but it was too dark to see where it was and it was too late to bother.  The next morning, on my way to school, I found out that the house was at the top of a hill and was accessible only by a dirt road.  Charming.  I also quickly found out that there are only two directions in Bariloche.  Up and down.  I was either hiking up a mountain or maneuvering down one.   This is really good exercise (TKC would approve and I bet my VO2max is 65).  At some point, I made my way down to the lake.  From the house, you have to go down the dirt road, make your way through the town, cross another main street that runs along the lake, then you encounter the lake.  It is awesome.  The first week I was there the temperature was agreeable.  I was able to sit down at the lake without the weather making it uncomfortable.  One day, as I was sitting there, I met a very friendly Argentine.  We carried on a conversation in Spanish for a little over an hour.  I didn’t understand everything, but I understood a lot.  It was about that time I started to think about the differences between Argentina and Chile.  I won’t bore you (or offend some of you) with all of my opinions covering the different aspects of the two countries.  I will quickly comment on the language differences.  The American that I know that knows Latin America the best (he’s lived in Central America for years, traveled through South America, and has taught Spanish for many years) suggested that I would learn a more pure form of Spanish in Chile.  After this experience, I am more convinced that if I can understand what Chileans say, I will be able to understand most people in Spanish-speaking countries. 

My explorations, for some of you, would not have your stamp of approval (you know who you are and you should read at your own risk).  My profesora suggested that I go to a mountain that is about ten kilometers from Bariloche, which means I needed to take a bus.  This was rather risky because the bus system is not well labeled and there was really no way of knowing where I was going.  But I got on the bus anyway and decided I was going somewhere.  I asked the polite girl next to me how I would know when to get off, she politely told me, but I didn’t know what she said.  Luckily, the sign for the mountain caught my eye and I tried to find my way.  You could take the aerosilla (ski lift chairs) up the mountain, or you could climb it.  I wanted to climb it, but I couldn’t find the path.  As I was walking around looking for the path, I saw a dog coming down the mountain.  He convinced me to go the way he came and sure enough, there was a makeshift path up the mountain.  It was a really steep climb, an unbelievable view, and very worth all the uncertainties of the venture. 

The other little adventure was to El Bolson, a little town about two hours from Bariloche.  This was really fun.  I left on a Saturday morning with a few things in case I wanted to stay the night.  I arrived at the bus station a little early, so I had a cortado in the little café.  Getting change is really difficult in Argentina.  They get really tense when you pay with a ‘big’ bill ($50 pesos).  At any rate, I owed the man $.50 pesos (about 13 cents) for a tip, but I didn’t have–so, the next time any of you are at this café, leave the man a big tip, he’s really nice.  ANYWAY.  I got a big bus that was headed for El Bolson.  It was great, there were plenty of extra seats, only a few other passengers, and we were on our way.  But then.  Then, we made another stop.  Crying kids, people standing in the aisle, and an old thrift store smell (you know, the one that is mild mixture of urea, hand lotion that your grandma uses, and dust).  The South American pants had to go on–in other words, you decide to enjoy the situation, even though you know there is no way it would ever fly in the United States.  It really wasn’t that bad.  I spent most of the time looking out the window.  I’m guessing the section of land that we crossed had fewer than 500 inhabitants.  A couple of times we would pass a little grouping of ‘houses,’ but there was only creation to look at.  A few wild horses, a couple of sheep herds, a lot of mountains, and a few rivers.  I didn’t have any information on El Bolson (including a map), so once I got there, it was exploration time.  I stumbled accross an information center which provided me with a map.  I strolled around town, visited the feria in the middle of town, then stopped at a restaurant for lunch.  By this time I had decided I didn’t need to stay the night, I had seen most of what the town had to offer, and I would go back in the afternoon.  The little restaurant, called Jajua, just happened to be famous for it’s ice cream and it actually had expanded to other parts of Argentina.  I asked the waitor what his recommendation was and he said Maqui.  Maqui is a Patagonian fruit that I had not tried, so I tried it.  It was good.

My time in Bariloche was excellent.  I was actually sad to leave.  My little brain started scheming how I could stay there longer, but I knew I had business to attend to in Santiago and I could not swing it.  If I am blessed to have travel days in my future, I’ll go back.   Having said that, something really strange happened.  I was so excited when the plane landed in Santiago.  I’m still excited to be here.  It’s weird.  I have some theories, but I’ve written enough.  I will leave you with my reasons for loving the southern part of South America.

Uno. Dos. Tres. Cuatro. Cinco. Seis. Siete. Ocho.

Hi friends.  I made it to Argentina safely.  I owe some of you emails, but the internet isn’t always available here.  It really is a good thing.  You can image google Bariloche, Argentina or Patagonia to see why, if you’d like.  There’s much to find and much to see.  I have stories too.  I’ll share them in about a week and a half.  Love you.