Saturday, November 29, 2014

Going home

Today I go home. My flight leaves around 11pm to Miami, where I will catch a connecting flight to Detroit to be met by my family. I want to take this opportunity to post about all of the feelings that are going through my head. I hope that knowing this will help anyone else facing the same situation, going home after spending months apart.
First of all, I have been wanting to go home for a while, but I know that it was well worth staying and if I had left, I would have felt the same about leaving then as I do now. I have made friends with many people that I do not want to forget. There are people from the US and Chile that I hope to stay in touch with when I get home. This trip was beyond worth missing home for a few months and, in all reality, the time really flew by. It seems like just yesterday I was meeting my host family and doing orientation.
But what is it like to leave behind a new life? It's very hard. My host family is my family. You remember that feeling of first moving out of your parents' house? Even if you didn't get along perfectly, there were still some tears and long hugs as you finished packing your car or unpacking the boxes in your residence hall. That is how I feel leaving my family.
For the last week, my head has been fighting over which feeling out weighs the other, the want to go home and be with my family and friends or stay here where I have become super comfortable with my new family and it hurts to leave. And honestly, I still don't know. All I know is that I don't have an option, I have to go home. The good thing is that while talking to my host mom, she said I was welcome to come back and visit. I hope that I get a chance to soon because I know that I am going to miss this family so very much.
It's hard to leave what has become familiar, but you can always go back if you want to.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Valle de Elqui (Elqui Valley)

If you remember, a couple of posts ago I talked about places to go in Chile, Valle de Elqui was one of them. Now, I'm still feeling bad that I could not give a lot of information in that entry, so here is a bunch of information on Valle de Elqui. I went to Elqui this past weekend with a friend that I have made here, and we stayed at a Hostel in the Valle for three nights, which I will definitely talk about with in this post, just later.
So, how do you get to Valle de Elqui? Easiest way, catch a bus to Santiago then a bus to La Serena, which is a main city just outside of the Valle. Then you can either have a place to stay in La Serena or catch a bus/colectivo to Vicuña or where ever in the Valle you will be planning on staying. You can also fly into the airport near La Serena and take a taxi directly from there or talk to the drivers and see what method they would recommend to get to where you will be staying. The drivers just want happy visitors in their town, so they are quite likely to help you find the cheapest way to get from point A to point B.
Now, there are a many of things to do in La Serena, but only having a few days, my friend and I made the decision to skip it, which was definitely fine with me. We spent a day traveling the Valle and visiting the little towns along the way. There is an art fair that you can go to in Horcón, there wasn't much, but it was still a nice place to see. You can do tours of vineyards and learn about how pisco, a traditional Chilean adult beverage, is made. My friend and I also did a star tour, which lasted about 2 hours. It was all in Spanish, but most of the guides speak clearly enough that most people can understand (a friend from Austria that does not know any Spanish even said so after taking the tour).
We also spent a day in Vicuña. There was not much, but we managed to find another art fair and the best ice cream that you will ever find. It is a store called El Cobre (the copper) and has 10+ flavors for you to choose from for wonderful prices. Definitely a place that you should visit while in the area.
And finally, the hostel: Luz del Valle. The owner, Luz Marina, and her husband run the place year round, but currently her husband is in Belgium for business, leaving her in charge. There are two dogs (Gringa and Lucky) and three cats (two full grown and one baby) that roam the property. There are also chickens in the back, of which Luz gets eggs from daily to make delicious breakfasts, which she provides for her guests every morning. She usually gets couples as her guests, but even if you go with a group of friends, she will be more than happy to take all of you in. She speaks Spanish, English, and French (just as a fun fact about this lovely lady).

Friday, November 14, 2014


So, in my last post I talked a little bit about places in Chile that you should definitely consider taking trips to, one of which was Pucón. Now, I didn't give a whole lot of details about those places because I have yet to do any traveling and don't have much more time to do traveling. To travel anywhere takes a lot of planning. Who are you going with? What does it cost? How do you get there? Where are you staying? What are you eating? What are you going to do when you get there? Not to mention you have to let people know where you are going to be and how to get ahold of you, just in case. Anyway, last weekend I went down to Pucón with ISA (International Studies Abroad) for a three (3) day and four (4) night trip.
Pucón is a tourist town, and clearly looks it. There are hostels and hotels everywhere, most of which are called cabañas, or cabins, because, well, that's what they are. Most buildings have a large component of wood at the building material since trees are very common in the area. I think all of the wood structures make the city look even more beautiful. My group stayed at Las Cabañas Rucamalala. Wifi, pool, and full kitchen available in the cabins. There is even a little chocolate shop right outside the front gate (also part of the Rucamalal cabins).
While there, the ISA group did a grand tour of the area. We went to the hot springs, saw the main river (Río Trancura), visited a waterfall, and ate lunch with the Mapuche (one of the native tribes in Chile). We stopped at each place for at least 20-30 minutes to take pictures. We stayed at the hot springs for about two hours and with the Mapuche long enough for lunch and a round of field hockey. The lunch with the Mapuche consisted of homemade breads, delicious honey, hard boiled eggs, and wheat coffee (no caffeine, doesn't really taste like coffee, and even non-coffee drinkers liked it). I believe the tour was through the company Politur, it not, you can easy just walk the main road (O'Higgins) and find a company that would do the tour. Like I said, it's a tourist town, it won't be too difficult to find what you want.
After the first day, we got to go off and do what we wanted to do. We had many options both with and without Politur. With Politur, you could climb the Villarrica volcano and slide down it, Rafting in the Trancura river, ride horses (cabalgatas), visit the volcanic caves, and/or zip lining. Outside of Politur, you could go on a boat tour at La Poza, go kayaking in the Villarrica lake, visit the national park of Huerquehue, go to artisan fairs, and/or rent bikes to travel the area. Just a warning, the same one that was giving to me, if you want to rent a bike, do not let it out of your sight. Even if people don't steal the bike, they might try to steal the seat and tires.
This was my raft group. Manuel the rafting guide was
absolutely wonderful. All of the guides were.
(But Manuel was obviously the best!)
While I was there, I did ziplining, (white water) rafting, kayaking, a boat tour, and visited two of the artisan fairs. The ziplining and rafting each took half a day. Politur has itineraries for both and the times that each are done and the levels they are done at (be sure to check the level of the rafting before signing up, but new coming can definitely do the higher level with out any problems, I did). Make sure you take your passport with you as identification for when you sign up to do activities with Politur.
For kayaking, you pay 2,000 CHP (about $4) for every half hour. You can also rent a paddle boat if you prefer that method of traveling the lake. The kayaks are single and double, but there is no where for you to put your things. I would suggest just bringing the money that you need to rent to kayaks/paddle boats and a watch/phone (that is waterproof) to keep track of the time. The water is a little bumpy, but not too bad. I don't think it would tip you over unless you were messing around.
The boat tour was 5,000 CHP (about $10) for an hour ride around the lake. The guides only speak Spanish, but even if you don't understand them, the views are absolutely the best you will find. Especially of the Villarrica volcano.
The artisan fairs were wonderful, at least to this crafty nerd. Most of the things in these fairs were made of wood (kind of obvious since that is the easiest access natural resource of the area). There were also many places with yarn crafts and even candy places. I would recommend that even if you aren't interested in buying anything, stop by these places and look at what they have and talk to the people that are running the booths. The people are the heart of the town and they like to know who is visiting, why, where they come from, and just to talk with new people. Sometimes, if you talk with someone long enough and show genuine interest in what they do, they might just give you a little something extra. Just for talking with them. And this doesn't just apply to the artisans in Pucón, it applies to all of the artisans in the country. They appreciate telling people their stories and hearing those of  others. Try listening, at least you'll get some culture out of it.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Places to Go in Chile

We have already discussed lots of wonderful places that you can go in Santiago, Valparaíso, and Viña del Mar, but we have yet to talk about tourist destinations in Chile in general. There are a bunch of places within the country for you to go visit, most of which give you two choices for transportation: bus or plane. Usually transportation by bus is much cheaper, but it takes much longer to get from point A to point B. Obviously, it's up to your preferences and finances as to which you take and to where you are going.
So, where should you go? For starters, if you are here with a program (like International Studies Abroad [ISA]) and they are offering to take you somewhere, go. That is the best piece of advice that I can give you. Them taking you is one less trip that you have to arrange for yourself. Throughout this semester, ISA has taken us to all of the houses of Pablo Neruda, Pomaire, a historical tour of the dictatorship of Pinochet, and we are about to head out to Pucón, in the southern part of the country.
As far as adventures on your own, there are a lot of places to go. The favorite of most people is San Pedro in Atacama, a desert in the north. The skies are very clear and wonderful for stargazing at night. From Valparaíso, it is about a 24 hour bus ride. This is one where I would recommend going by plane. It takes two hours to get to the airport, wait an hour for your flight, which is only a couple of hours, and you will be all set to adventure. If you want to go to Atacama and stay in a hostel or hotel, you should look into them at least a month before you go on your trip. Places to stay in San Pedro book up quickly because it is such a popular location.
Another place to go would be Valle de Elqui which is also in the north, but not quite as far away as Atacama. Valle de Elqui is also well known for having very clear skies and even offers star tours. This bus trip is only about eight (8) hours long, or you can go by plane which is only an hour long. The hostels and hotels also book up quickly in this area, so book early.
Also, as a general note for anywhere you visit in the northern part of Chile, do it in a time other than the middle of summer. The north is mainly desert and is much closer to the equator than the rest of the country. It gets very hot during the day, so keep water and sunblock with you at all times in this area.
And for the southern part of Chile, I recommend visiting Chiloe and Patagonia. Yes, all of the places that I have listed are very touristy, but they are definitely places that you should go to visit. They are beautiful and if you stop and ask a local what they would recommend you trying, you will get a much better picture of the area than just the tourist things.
If you have the money and want to visit the most touristic part of Chile, you can go to Easter Island (Rapa Nui). The area has wonderful history, and you would have to go by plane, but it is very costly. You can see statues from the Island that were given to specific areas on the mainland if that is what you are wanting to see.
There is of course much more to go see, but these are all of the places that my fellow ISA students have recommended.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Classes at PUCV

Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaíso, or PUCV, is the university that I am currently attending down here in Chile. For the sake of making transferring credits back to CMU, I am only taking four (4) classes which will make 12 credits to transfer back, which is all that CMU can take unless you have special permission before leaving to go abroad. Just know that the way they count credits here is different from how they are counted at CMU, so just look as how the classes will transfer back, not just what you are taking.
Here, the credits are based on the number of hours that you spend in the classroom each week for your class, just like at CMU, but some of them have different contact hours and end on different days. It is common to see two (2), four (4), and six (6) credit classes. Two (2) credits meet once a week for 90 minutes (one and a half hours). Four (4) credits meet twice a week, 90 minutes for each session. Finally, six (6) credits meet three (3) times a week, 90 minutes for each session. So, if you are catching on to the pattern you should notice that with each credit you take you will spend 45 minutes in the classroom. Pretty simple. Of the four classes that I have, one is a two (2) credit, two are four (4) credits, and the last one is a six (6) credit class. Therefore, according to PUCV, I am taking 16 credits, but they transfer back to CMU as 12.
As you can see, to the left is a picture of one of the schedules in one of the classes. the classes are set up in 6 class periods. Each period is 90 minutes long, starting at 8:15am and ending at 6:50pm with a lunch break from 1:15pm to 2:00pm and 10 to 15 minutes between each class period.
The majority of your classes will more than likely be in the area of the university called PIIE, which is the area for all foreign students. It is in the building Casa Central (CC). When you enter CC, go to the right, walk around/through the center/plaza area, and you will find stairs to your right. If you take the stairs up half a flight, turn to the left, and you will see the door that leads to the PIIE section. Just push the door and walk down the hall to find your classes. The majority of my classes are on the second floor (which does not require any extra stairs), but there are a few on the third floor (which is where I took the picture of the classroom schedule/availability.
As you may have caught earlier, PIIE is the area for all foreign students, and I do mean all. There are students from all over the world. I have met people from France, Germany, Scotland, Ireland, Japan, and Bolivia in my classes. Also, there are several different programs to come to PUCV with. I came with ISA (International Studies Abroad). I don't remember the names of the others, but they also bring in several kids from the US (and other places around the world, of course).
There are many other buildings to PUCV than just CC, but they aren't all in the same place, like they are at CMU. PUCV has buildings in Viña, Valpo, and a few other places much farther away. If you take classes somewhere other than CC it is important to ask about how to get transportation to those buildings. I know for sure that Sausalito, one of the hardest buildings to get to, has a bus that goes to and from CC twice a day.
So, what goes hand-in-hand with classes? Grades of course!! Grades will transfer back to CMU unless you fill out the "credit/no credit" paperwork (as usual). The grading scale here is 0-7. 7 being perfect and 0 being complete failure. Rumor has it that the professors grade harshly here, and it is fairly true, but, just like in the US, if you work hard and do it right, you can get at least 6's and up, which is really good. Do not be disappointed with anything lower than 6's, the professors set their standards high and they want students to try really hard and work for it. So, my advice? Do some extra research, write as close to the maximum page limit as you can, and if professors give you the option to write in English, don't do it (ie. write in Spanish).

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Places to Go in Viña del Mar

Viña del Mar is more of a residential area than a commercial area (the opposite of Valparaíso). That being said, there are still plenty of places to go visit in Viña for a good chilean experience. Viña is more of a "buy local" economy than what I have seen in Santiago and Valparaíso, although there are many mom&pop shops everywhere you go. I have a few favorite places to go in Viña and I'm super excited to tell you about them.
First of all, you absolutely have to go to the feria de verduras (the vegetable fair). The feria that I am talking about is very close to the Viña bus terminal and the Viña del Mar station for the metro. At this feria you can find fresh fruits and vegetables from 20+ different vendors. It doesn't matter at what time you go, it is always super busy, although that is probably due to the fact that it has some of the most delicious fruits and vegetables you can find in the area and the best prices. You can easy get 1 kilogram (about 2 pounds) of any fruit or vegetable for a dollar or two. It is absolutely worth the visit. It is only open on Wednesdays and Saturdays, so you should plan your trip around that fact. If you plan to visit the feria, you will be right by the downtown area (that I will tell you about in just a bit) that will help you to fill up your day with wonderful Viña experiences. The feria has booths that are covered in blue and yellow canvas and is down under a bridge. Very interesting place to visit.
This is the church that you will see
upon exiting the station. If you keep
it to your left you will come to Quinta.
(Sorry, I couldn't find any pictures of
the shops)
Next, downtown Viña area. If you get off the metro at the Viña del Mar station, walk out the only exit and keep going straight (do not cross the road to the side with the church or the restaurants....unless you want to eat real quick), you will cross a little path way that you can go down if you want to, or keep walking until you get to Quinta and turn right. You will see a bunch of shops and people. You have officially found the downtown area. There are a lot of small shops and restaurants that you can stop at. This is a nice place to just walk around and see how people make money in Viña. If you follow Quinta to the end (about three blocks) and look to the right you should be able to see the feria not too far away. If you only have one day to spend in Viña, I would recommend going to this area. It is a good way to see how life is in Viña. Warning: everything is closed on Sundays.
One of the biggest tourist attractions in Chile is right here in Viña. If you go to the Miramar station and walk towards the ocean (take the larger exit and walk strait), you will eventually come across the Reloj de Flores (flower clock). I was constructed for the FIFA World Cup when it was held in Chile so many years ago. The idea was that people would come for the World Cup, but would travel to see the Reloj de Flores and help the economy in the Viña-Valpo area. Since then the size, flowers, and hands have been changed many times. The picture to the right is a current photo, but it might be different when you get here. Even with the changes, it is still a very impressive thing to see. As long as the clock is working, there will be a bunch of people taking pictures. If it's not, there probably won't be many people, but to me, that's the perfect time to take the picture because then you won't have a bunch of strangers in it. And while you're in the area, just walk over to the beach to relax a little bit.
So, this area is definitely more of an area to visit than just one thing. You have to find your way to Libertad. Libertad is a well known street in Viña. There are several micros that have "Libertad" as one of their signs/locations. If not, from Valpo, just take a micro that says Viña, and from anything after the Miramar station (Viña del Mar, Hospital, Chorrillos), take a micro that says Valpo. Once you get to Libertad, just walk the street. When you come to the cross road of 4 Norte (4 North), turn right and you will find the Fonck Museum (Museo Fonck). This museum has a lot of interesting things and some staff that speaks English. You can learn about the Mapuche (native tribe of the area) all the way to the araña rincon (corner spider). Out side of the museum is yet another of the statues from Easter Island.
If you keep walking Libertad, take it all the way to 15 Norte (15 North) to find the Mall. Yes, we all know what malls are like in the United States, and it is fairly similar, but it is still nice to see these kinds of places. The shops tend to be a lot smaller (unless it's a chain). And from the mall, if you cross Libertad and continue a block or so, you will come to a very nice beach (which I talked about in the previous post). This is another good way to spend a full day in Viña.

Now, not to promote gambling or any other bad habits, but if you follow the coast line back towards where you came from, you will eventually come to the Casino. I have never been, but the outside looks nice. Anyhow, along that walk, you will come across many street vendors and even carriages (that you can take for a tour of Viña). It's a very beautiful walk.

So, as you have read, I have said that you should walk to a lot of these places. The reality is that walking is the easiest way to get around. Remember to pack your comfortable (but not too touristy looking) shoes so that your feet aren't mad at you at the end of the day.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

¡Vamos a la playa! (We are going to the beach!)

Before I get too far into my excursions to the beaches, you need to know one very important word, that word would be: playa. Playa means beach in Spanish. So when I put "Playa Acapulco" it means Acapulco Beach. Good? Great!!
In the Viña del Mar-Valparaíso area there are many beaches that you can visit. Some of them are absolutely beautiful, others...well, not quite so much. Yesterday, I went on a tour with ISA (International Studies Abroad), the program that I came with to Chile for my study abroad experience. We visited four different beaches, all of which I will tell you about. I will also tell you about the three beaches that I visited previously (and are much closer/easier to get to).
So, let me start with the three that I previously visited: Playa Caleta Portales, Playa Caleta Abarca, and Playa Acapulco.
Playa Caleta Portales: At this beach you can find a restaurant, some public work out equipment, and a fish market. Also, if you walk a little ways (towards the Naval Academy - to your right if you are looking at the ocean), you can find a statue that was once part of Easter Island (which is really expensive to visit) and some other good sights to see. To get to this beach, I recommend using the metro system. You need to get off at the Portales Station and it'll be right there. Very easy to get to.

Playa Caleta Abarca: You can also find a restaurant at this beach, but since it is in Viña del Mar, you will not find a fish market here (that is a Valparaíso thing). I enjoy visiting this beach, especially since it is so close to where I am staying for the semester. To get to this location, I have two very easy ways to get here, it just depends on where you are staying and if you feel like walking a bit or not. You can either take a micro (bus) to the Reloj de Flores (flower clock) and walk from there, which is very quick. Or, the way that I usually go, is by metro. You just have to get off at the Miramar station, go out the larger exit (this station is underground), and keep walking until you hit water. This way will also take you past the Reloj de Flores (which is something that you should visit, but we will cover that another time).
Playa Acapulco: This is one of my favorites, but more for the artisan stands than the beach atmosphere. At this beach, there are lots of things to see and do. All along this beach there are stands of different artisans. They have scarves, drink glasses, magnets, posters, and street art (the spray paint art is my favorite). The majority of the things here are very cheap and good for tourist shopping. You can also find a couple of churro places (absolutely delicious) and an ice cream place (supposedly the best in Chile). Of course, there is a restaurant or two (there is usually at least one, I have yet to find a beach without one). To get to this place you should take a micro to the Mall in Viña del Mar, then walk towards the ocean (crossing Libertad then 1 Poniente).

And finally, the four beaches that I visited yesterday: Roca Oceánica (not really a beach, but a beautiful view of the coast), Con-con, Horcón, and Zapallar.
Roca Oceánica: As I said earlier, this one is not really a beach. It is a giant collection of rocks that makes for a beautiful view of the coast. It is a great place to go and sit for the day and enjoy the sun and the water (without getting wet).
Con-con: This beach is usually super crowded with the surfer types, so if you like to surf, go here. I believe they have surf boards that you can rent for the day, there may even be a place to buy your own if that's what you prefer to do. Also, on the weekends, they have horses that you can ride along the little creek that runs out to the ocean. It's a nice, calm ride and only 3,000 CHP (about 6 USD). It's about a half hour. Definitely something fun to do while you're there. Just remember, this beach is very crowed almost always, so if you want a beach to yourself (or pretty darn close), don't go to Con-con.

Horcón: This beach is a little more like a cove than anything else. This area is primarily a fishing area. You can go to any of the many restaurants for some good, fresh sea food empanadas and soups. They also have vegetarian options if you do not like/eat sea food. This area has and artisan shopping area as well, although not as nice as the one at Playa Acapulco. Just a piece of advice: if you do not speak Spanish, do not go to this area, unless you don't mind cat-calls. We were all told to watch our bags in this area as well, so be careful. It's a nice place, just have to be cautious.

Zapallar: This beach is definitely my favorite. It is a little more private that the rest of the beaches, is surrounded by mountains and grand houses (of politicians, artists, and foreigners). Although it is very beautiful, I would not recommend getting in the water unless you know how to swim very well. The waves are absolutely huge, which means the pull that they have when they regress back to the ocean is very strong. It is very easy to get pulled under, so be careful. Go in groups so you can watch each others' backs. On the upside, the atmosphere is much more friendly than at Horcón.
At every beach you can find some kind of restaurant and usually a street vendor or two that has candy, water, kites, and other basics. Please take time to visit all of these places so that you can find your favorite. They are all very beautiful in their own ways, just remember to be careful and go with a group.