Greetings from beautiful Chile! I arrived safely and on-time yesterday morning, and have been gradually adjusting to the time difference, the language, and the fact that it’s February and it’s 80 ºF outside.
My flights felt like they took forever, but that’s mostly because I’m really bad at sleeping on planes, and so spent most of my time doing my pre-program readings, watching the in-flight movie without sound as I pretended to do my pre-program readings, and trying to ignore the toddler two rows back who would not stop whining. I flew from San Francisco to Atlanta, then from Atlanta to Santiago, for a total of about 13.5 hours of flight time — the whole trip was 20.5 hours, including waiting for my first flight at SFO and the layover between my flights. There were a few other girls from my program on my second flight, two of whom I met while waiting to board; we reconnected once we were at baggage claim, off the plane and past immigration. In the baggage claim area, there were airport employees wandering around with trained dogs to check everyone’s bags for vegetable and animal products, which you have to declare for customs. (They may have been checking for other things, too, but all they found while I was there was a sachet of lavender in the carry-on bag of one of the other girls on my program.) Outside customs our program staff miraculously found us in the crowd and brought us over to where the rest of the group was hanging out — our flight was the last one to arrive that morning, so most of the group was already there. We waited around a little longer for one more person who was supposed to be on our flight (it turned out her connecting flight was delayed so long that she missed our flight to Santiago; she finally made it here this morning), then finally headed out into the wonderful Chilean sunshine.
The first two days of the program are spent in Algarrobo, a little town on the coast not too far from Santiago. (I’m not exactly sure how long it took us to get here, since I fell asleep on the bus.) Driving across Chile, I noticed that this region looks a heck of a lot like Northern California does in the summertime: hills covered in greenish-brown brush, lots of orchards and vineyards along the road, people advertising various food items they grow and sell. All the billboards are in Spanish, and the speed limit is measured in km/h, but other than that we might as well have been driving around the hills in the Bay Area.
But then we got to Algarrobo, and as soon as the beach came into view, I knew I wasn’t in
Kansas California anymore:
It is so gorgeous I can barely even believe it. The water is still just as cold as at home, but here it’s so blue! And it’s actually hot enough out that swimming seems like a pleasant option! The beaches are packed with Chileans — we saw one area that was just wall to wall umbrellas, with dozens of people in the water and even more hanging out on the beach. Algarrobo is one of many coastal towns where Chilean people go for vacation, and February here is the equivalent of August in the northern hemisphere, so everyone wants to spend those last couple of days at the beach before schools start again.
We checked into our hotel, had a quick breakfast, and then had some free time before lunch. We all headed out to the beach. Some people lay out on the sand, but I and a few other people just walked around for a while, down the beach in one direction and then on the sidewalk back the other way. At some point somebody mentioned that they’d heard that the biggest outdoor pool in the world was located in Algarrobo, and we tried to walk to where we thought it might be, but had to turn around and go back for lunch while it was still way off in the distance.
After lunch, we did various orientation activities, going over the program schedule and learning a little bit about Chile’s geography and economy. We then headed out and walked to the taxibus stop so we could go to Isla Negra, where Chilean poet and politician Pablo Neruda had a house that now functions as a museum. We took a guided tour through the house and wandered around the grounds a bit. Neruda was very inspired by the ocean, so the house was full of interesting nautically-themed things: figureheads of ships, spyglasses, ships in bottles, and a ton of shells, including a narwhal tusk. The view of the ocean from Neruda’s bedroom was absolutely amazing.
Sometime during the day I got sunburnt. Hear that? It’s the sound of absolutely nobody being surprised.
After that was more orientation and dinner, and then I went up to my room, where I sent a quick email to my parents and collapsed into bed.
Today was full of more orientation stuff — safety, health, how to use Santiago’s public transit system, etc. We also found out who our host families are and where they live, which was very exciting — but I’m going to keep you in suspense on that point for another day or so, because I want to post about my host family once I’ve actually met them! For dinner tonight we went to a restaurant that’s just a short drive away from our hotel. The food was delicious (I had a shellfish crepe), and the dining room had a great view of the ocean. It’s been a wonderful couple of days, and I’m excited to see what the rest of the trip has in store for me!