Annual letter to myself in place of a traditional New Year’s Resolution, in the hopes that when I read it the following year, some of my previous ruminations have sunk in to good effect.
NYC for New Year’s Eve. A cold few days, but it is a beautiful city full of surprises, delicious food, and friends; definitely worth the road trip up.
Holiday baking! So happy to be back home, where hot water is dependable for the duration of my shower, I know the brand of crazy my family subscribes to, and playoff football is in full swing. Not to mention the usual late December traditions of pumpkin spice lattes, cookies and pies and breads galore, and Christmas music :)
[STOLEN] Pictures from the South, courtesy of my travel companions :)
Camera was stolen by an enterprising baggage handler in Santiago, but that didn’t keep me from making some amazing memories before I hightailed back home for the holidays.
[Santiago] Reunion with EOD volunteers, which involved some roaming around Santiago, soaking up sun in the Plaza de Armas, and alcohol in the hostel. Visit to Londres 38 and the Museum of Memory and Human Rights, two powerful testaments to the depravity humans can sink to but the absolute perseverance of the human spirit as well.
[Vina del Mar] Half-marathon with some of my favorite EOD-ers! Shout out to Lucy, Marcus, Rebecca, Nick, and Neil for taking on the full; much to love to Marissa and Pete for the company in the half. The city’s like the Chilean version of Miami, more or less, being a clean, wide-avenued, resort town with glass terraced hotels right on the edge of the water. Freezing our butts off next to grazing cows in a field before sunrise aside, I can’t imagine a more beautiful place to run - rolling country hills, seaside boulevards, finish line on the beach.
[Valparaiso] Hands down my favorite city in Chile. The street art in Valpo is unbelievable; the whole place brims with an energy and a sort of consciousness - not only that you’re alive, but that you have to embrace that fact - that produces quirky commentary about life, love, music, and society splashed on walls and scribbled on staircases. When you catch something beautiful in an alleyway, it’s almost like you made the leap from being a Muggle to a wizard, because you’ve caught the magic and your eyes don’t just slide from one plain jane building to another. The cerros are a bit of a workout… but then again, you’d need something to counter the chorrillana, seafood empanadas, and sopaipillas that call your name everywhere you go.
[Punta Arenas/Puerto Natales/Torres del Paine] First camping trip of my life, and I pick a week’s trek in Patagonia. Some would call us crazy, some would just laugh at our choice to subject ourselves to 90 mph winds/pelting rain/freezing cold with nothing but wimpy tents and soy meat to keep us going… but others would understand the beauty of TDP being worth it all. We were nearly delirious by the end of it (and I don’t think any of us can look at dried soup packets or granola for at least a year) - let’s not pretend it was a luxurious trip. But natural beauty can spoil us travelers, and we had more than our fair share of tall grasses waving in the wind, lakes of a blue hue I’ve never seen before, glaciers at our feet, and mountains playing hide-and-seek behind the clouds.
[Chiloe] For a mystical island, it sure did a great job of hiding its better points from us behind the curtain of rain that defined our few days there. The mythology, the architecture of the wooden churches, the hearty food, the artisanal woolen products, the friendly people - we got a taste of it all, but it’s only served to whet our appetite to go back and really get a feel for the place. Best moment might have been the day we rented a car to check out the national park and palafitos (houses on stilts) and got a flat on the (empty) road home (from the best seafood dinner I had in Chile), after midnight. It might not be PC to say, but I’ve never been happier to have a boy with us (thanks, Petey).
[Puerto Varas] A quick pit-stop in Puerto Varas, a postcard-picture town that looks like it was plucked from a sleepy region of Germany and plopped on the edge of a lake in Chile. Between the kuchen, German names, and the architecture, the German roots are keenly felt, to the point where it almost didn’t feel like Chile.
[Valdivia] The grey skies theme continued here (well, really, to my last hour in Chile), the city of rivers and beer. We got the sampler at Kunstmann right after we got in, which (to be honest) was the primary reason we wanted to stop in (and totally worth it). It’s a university place, so it’s a chill city with a lot of parks on Isla Teja, just across the bridge from the city center. Maybe not the most interesting place in the South, but let’s be honest - beer, brats, and chocolate? A backpacker could do worse.
[Pucon] Final stop before Santiago and nearly missing my flight home, with a function like San Pedro (a hub for nature sites/adventure sports) but a feel like Puerto Varas. The rain managed to keep us from climbing the active volcano there, but it didn’t stop us from renting bikes and trying to get a view of the lake from up high… although it did leave us soaked and seeking shelter in a bus lean-to for a good while. It’s a shame the weather dictates so much of what you can do in Pucon, especially when you’re on a time crunch, but there are far worse places to visit than a cute, clean town with a beach and good food.
So went 23 days of living out of my backpack, never sleeping in the same bed twice, and trying to cover 2122 miles of Chilean territory. In the end, I think the South helped Chile [steal just a bit of my heart].
The past few days have a been a whirlwind of despedidas, goodbyes, and “last” experiences in Caldera (really, in the Atacama Desert). Between the EOD program, my host family, school profes, and Chilean friends, I’ve been kept busy eating, cooking, and eating more and cooking more. Busy enough that I’ve managed to avoid emotionally processing what it really means to leave my home for the past 4 months.
Above all, though, the most important thing I can say about my experience is that I have a lot to be grateful for, starting with having the means to take a gap year and fly to the other end of the earth to work for no pay teaching English. Then finding a second family in the Parada-Munoz-Antiquera clan, that went above and beyond to make me comfortable here, in the middle of the desert by the sea. Teaching in a small little school the size of my high school graduating class alone, with students that ask about me even after I leave. Meeting friends that have coaxed me out of my shell a little bit more and taught me about how to be a more open-spirited person.
It would be silly to pretend as if my time here has been all roses and sunshine - it wasn’t. Not by a long shot. It was exasperating, confusing, isolating, and messy; I now have the utmost appreciation for teachers and know education is not my profession. But it would be equally ridiculous to let those moments overshadow the strength and spirit that I’ve gained here in Chile, or the fact that I will be leaving a part of me behind when my bus pulls out of the cement lot at 9 PM tonight.
So instead of a despedida, or even a promise to come back soon (which always seem too final when life can be so unpredictable), I’ll give thanks. Better to appreciate all of the unexpected friendships, giggle moments, and breathtaking views and look ahead to gallivanting across the south of Chile than to focus on what I might be leaving behind.