A Travellerspoint blog

Mi (Falsa) Chilenidad

La imaginación es bien poderosa

If you thought that the end of the semester was the end of the Chile experience, well… that’s just plain wrong. I’ve
been wanting to put up some summative, unnecessarily thoughtful and potentially pretentious post about what the semester meant to me… and this is definitely NOT that post. This is a different post I have been alluding to all semester: instances of people mistaking me for Chilena or Latina.

I am pleased to say that the events are FAR too numerous to include all here, so this is a choice sampling, presented in chronological order. The best part about it is that, in the beginning, people mistook me for Chilena only before I’d started talking; later on, I could keep it going if I tried really hard to speak Chilean Spanish and in very short, fast responses.


1) July 17, 2007: Fresh off the plane from Chicago to Miami, shocked to find out that my international Miami-Santiago flight had been cancelled AND having left my copy of The Grapes of Wrath on the plane, I must have been looking quite angry and confused wandering around the Miami airport trying to figure out what to do. I wait at an American Airlines counter for like half an hour, while some employees tell me to keep waiting because the person I need will be back sometime soon. Basically that person never shows up, but I finally approach two ticket agents, one Latino (potentially Cuban) and one not, and ask something. The non-Latino guy explains my options and then I guess looks for my acknowledgement. I must have been staring into space or had a look of utter confusion on my face, because then the Latino guy steps up to me and basically repeats the entire thing in Spanish. This thoroughly cheered me up… and I wasn’t even out of the country yet!

2) Fast forward like a week to our first days in Valparaíso / Viña del Mar. It was probably the first or second time I’d ever taken the micro, and it was packed to the point that my gringo friends and I couldn’t sit next to each other. So I sat down next to an old Chilean lady and tried to look confident about it. Then she starts to ask me something, except I literally didn’t understand a thing she said. So I was like “Cómo?” And she was like “something something something something marina?” I got the sense from her PROSODY (yay neuroscience buzz word! aka inflection in her voice) that she was asking directions to a place. So I explained that I was new there and had no idea about anything. It was an interesting first experience of hearing a Chilean speak their normal, crazy Chilean fast Spanish, after learning about it at orientation. [Interestingly, this was the ONLY time a fellow passenger initiated a conversation with me on the micro... and when I was least prepared to respond.]

3) After the PUCV orientation concert, I was walking with Jeff outside Casa Central towards the Jumbo and a lady on the street hands Jeff a brochure that says “learn English in 6 months.” Confused, he hands it back saying “ya sé inglés” (I already know English) and she said “es para tu amiga,” (it’s for your friend) meaning me… the Chilena?

4) Walking with Katie and Caitlin along the beach boardwalk, a guy stops us and asks if we’re American. He explained that he was born in Chile but now lives in Mississippi and speaks great English. Katie says from Texas, then he asks me if I’m from here. I say, I’m from Chicago, and he nods and looks away. Then I ask if he though I was Chilena, and he said yes, he thought I was the Chilean who translated for her gringa friends.

5) Manuel, the resident jewelry maker in Cajón del Maipo, said I looked like Frida Kahlo.

6) A student named Claudia in my Cine class leaned over while the professor was talking and said something in a REALLY fast whisper. I had no idea what she was saying and had to ask, “What?” a few times, before she finally said in Spanish, “Do you have a pencil?!” Which I did, of course… but it took it as a good sign that I came off as a nonchalant Chilena, someone you could lean over to and borrow a pencil from.

7) At about 5am just as the club was closing in Arica, I was waiting for Tracy to get her jacket (and fend off the security guard that may or may not have been stalking us for about 4 days) when a random Chilean man walks up to me, kind of bats his eyelashes, and says,
- Eres de Arica? (Are you from Arica?)
- No, de Chicago.
- Oh, de Santiago?
- OOOOOOhhh… HOW---DO---YOU---DO??

8) On the Cata bus coming back from Mendoza, I ask a kid if he’s from Viña (“No, Valpo”). Then a nearby man asks me if I’m Argentina (“No”) and then if I’m Ecuatoriana before I could say “No… gringa!”

9) Okay, this lady really pissed us off (and apparently has a reputation), but during our trip to Buenos Aires, Jeff and I stopped at the famous Recoleta Cemebery. Just before the entrance is this loud lady trying to sell maps of the cemetery. So we walk towards her and she asks us/me: “Do you speak English?” I respond, “Sí, y español.” Then she points to Jeff and says “even him?” [Poor Jeff… but the truth is you don’t look Latino. And that’s just that!]

10) The most unnecessary amount of cursing I’d heard not in a movie was streaming from a Canadian guy in a Buenos Aires pub. He was probably a little too drunk considering the time of day (around 2:30 pm) and a little too rowdy, considering it was just his buddy, the two of us, and an otherwise empty restaurant. He finally catches wind that we’re sitting a few tables over and starts chatting to Jeff about his job in Argentina and travel plans for Chile. And then he says to Jeff, “And I mean, hey, you must be having a great time here in Buenos Aires. You’ve got yourself a lovely Argentine lady with you…” So it’s not exactly coming from a reliable source, but it still counts, right?

11) On the return boat ride from Colonia, Uruguay, Jeff and I happen to sit next to a very vivacious, small Argentine old lady, who is quite eager to tell us about her beautiful city of BsAs and hear about what we were doing there. Jeff and I both talk a bit, and then she turns on her serious face and said that we really need to watch out for the delinquents because they can pop out from anywhere and rob you. So she advised us to not let Jeff talk because he has a giveaway accent… so that means I don’t?

12) In the previously written about late night at Huevo (my one and only of the entire semester!) I found myself wandering around Avenida Brasil with my new friend Graciela en busca de la micro 212, 213, o 214. As we were hunting for the bus, a group of cheerful looking guys walked over to us and started chatting. I immediately realized that I was about to enter a scenario I had been in so, SO few times previously: looking Latina and being with an actual Chilean. I was excited to see how things would unfold. The guys started asking us some questions, like what’s your name, what are you up to, etc. Without any advance planning, Graciela answered most of the questions. But then they turned to me and asked what do you study? And instead of trying to explain what “neurociencia” is, I just said castellano (Spanish). And they were like, okay, where? And I said La Católica, and they were very impressed, since it is a rather elite Chilean school. Then they turned to Graciela and asked where are you from? She said Valpo, and they asked me the same question and I said something like
- Well, I live in Viña, but I’m from Chicago.
- Oh, so you’re traveling to Chicago?
- No, I’m from there.
- But you’re Chilena.
And then Graciela said, “She’s gringa.”
The two guys looked stupefied, and said, “but she was born here.”
And I just really couldn’t help but smiling…

Posted by KKS 20:24 Archived in Chile Comments (1)

Menos Perdida que el Teniente Bello

Recién fui a Starbucks

sunny 35 °C

So. . . for those of you who haven{t heard, our Hurtigruten January 2nd sailing to Antarctica on the MS Fram was CANCELED. Apparently on the sailing just before ours, the ship{s energy abruptly turned off for two hours, and the propellers stopped functioning. The ship ran into an iceberg, causing minor damage to the ship and crushing a side life boat. All on board were safe.

So their trip was called off in a midpoint, and the January 2nd was called off completely.

So after several lovely days in Torres del Paine and a day in El Calafate, Argentina, we get word of the event on New Year{s Eve. I was actually in the bathroom when Mom came running into the room and nearly broke down the bathroom door knocking and hollering, “Kam! Come quick to the Internet! The cruise is canceled!!!”

Props to Maris for keeping us updated!

Long story short, we had to make decisions fast. We had a ticket to Ushuaia and a hotel there, but as it was New Year{s Eve, no one would be picking up their phone that day nor the following. So we decide to forego the tickets to Ushuaia, waited at the Calafate airport for an entire day hoping to get standby on a Santiago flight... didn´t, then the next day took 2 3-hour buses to Puerto Natales and then Punta Arenas, bought a flight to Stgo, and have ended up in Santiago for a few days. We{ll go to Valpo for a day and head back early on the 8th.

Internet place closing! Chao!

Posted by KKS 22:15 Archived in Chile Comments (0)

Sueño Sureño: Feliz Pascua!

o Feliz navidad...

all seasons in one day

´Twas the night before Christmas
And all through the house
Not a creature was stirring
Not even a . . .

Well, actually, there were guanacos, condors, horses, flies, horses, gauchos, twins toddlers on a new pair of bikes...

In other words... my mom finally arrived in Chile last Sunday the 23rd and we left AL TIRO for Punta Arenas, one of the southernmost cities in Chile and in the world. Poor Mama had to spent almost 24 hours in transit on 3 flights and then a 3 hour bus from Punta Arenas to Puerto Natales. The Patagonian landscape stretches for infinity in all directions it seems, with a huge open sky with clouds built up in layers.

After a night there, we went to the much loved Parque Nacional Torres del Paine, with its trademark 3 torres (towers) the shoot up out of the rugged Patagonian landscape. We managed to do a grueling 5ish hour hike towards the towers from out the very nice Hostería Las Torres, and on the return Mom said she was "one tick" above her max abilities.

In any case, we spent 3 nights there, managing to get some film footage of mom walking to the horses´corral to observe them. (She likes observing animals.) Later we got to talk to some of the horsemen, called "gauchos." It was a little sad for me to see SO few Chileans in a place that is one of the most well known in their country. Basically the only Chileans were the very friendly staff members, and few guests knew Spanish.

TWICE I was asked if I was a guide in the park! I should mention that BOTH times were AFTER I had started talking Spanish! I mean, is my Spanish really that good? Do I really look that Chilean? Do I really look like I have any idea what I´m doing, let alone guiding someone else??

Of course, I took it as a compliment.

One of the gauchos asked where I was from, and I said, "Chicago," and he misheard and said, "Santiago??"

More mistaken identity moments coming up.

Today we came back from Torres del Paine to spend one intermediate night in Puerto Natales. Tomorrow early we leave for El Calafate, where we will go to the Los Glaciares park and to the famous Perito Moreno glacier. After a few nights there we head to Ushuaia for our ice adventure!!

Posted by KKS 20:36 Archived in Chile Comments (0)

Sueño Sureño: Agua Agua Agua

Valdivia y Alrededores

sunny 27 °C

I have just arrived in Pucón, which will be the last stop of my trip! I got here today, Wednesday, and will leave Saturday morning, hopefully via the train from Chillán - Santiago (except that you have to reserve 4 days in advance and pay in person, and the only stations nearby to pay are in Temuco and Chillán... so we´ll see).

EN TODO CASO, I have just come from several days in and around the lovely Valdivia. I spent two nights at the hostel Ana María, where I discovered 100% Chilean guests! That is truly a first! I don´t think I´ve ever even stayed at a hostel with other Chileans before! One of them was a travelling salesman from La Ligua (and he was happy to hear that I loved the pastelería La Masa de Carlos when Caitlin and I visited!), and another was an overnight-bus ticket collector man. I mean, hey, I guess they have to sleep somewhere on their nights off.

It has actually, aside from a few moments at the internet and a few phone calls, been an entire 7 days entirely immersed in Spanish! This is truly incredible. I did not, sadly, ever achieve this during the academic semester. I love my gringo friends, but we can´t manage to carry on in Spanish for too long (though Jeff and I did a pretty good job in BsAs, I have to say).

Valdivia is the largest city in its region, with a diverse history including both German immigrants and the indigenous Mapuche people. It is a city spread out over 3 pieces of land separated by rivers, just about 30 minutes from the ocean. One of the best parts of the city is what is outside of it... hills that are SO lush with green... think pine tree carpeting. It also has a bunch of islands, including Isla Mancera and Isla del Rey, though I didn´t make it to either.

My first morning waking up in Valdivia, I headed to the Parque Saval, nearby the campus of the Universidad Austral de Chile, which I have to say is the most beautiful campus I have seen here. It even had DORMS!! Apparently it also has an Instituto de le Tecnología de la Leche (Milk Technology Institute), but I was there on a Sunday and ´twas closed.

The Parque Saval has a cool sculpture garden and a huge lotus lagoon... fotos coming soon. Furthermore, it felt really Chilean, since there seemed to be some Chilean elementary school field trip that day or something. And as I was walking I ran into a Mapuche art exhibition. There were woolen goods, herbal medicines, and of course the famous "platería mapuche" (Mapuche silver).

Back in the day, as the Spanish were attempting to conquer the area but the Mapuche kept defeating them, the Mapuches would take the Spaniards´silver coins, melt them, and make jewelry. From the pictures I´ve seen, Mapuche women would wear KILOS of the stuff draped all over themselves. So a lot of the jewelry is really big and laden with Mapuche motifs. A little too big for my tastes, but interesting. I ended up FINALLY buying something of Lapiz Lazuli from a young Mapuche jeweler, though. It is a stone only found in Chile and Afghanistan, and I decided it was a recuerdo I wanted to have.

I later went to Entrelagos, the mmmmmm well-known café-chocolatería. I got like a dozen pieces of chocolate, which I struggled to make last 2 days. They were RICO! I still have 2 alfajores waiting... but maybe not for long. And they also have crepes, sandwiches (RICO!), kuchen/küchen (I had to), ice cream, cakes... mmmmm...

Later I took the jeweler´s suggestion to take a micro to Niebla, a small beach town like 20 minutes away. The micro was ABSOLUTELY packed, and I had to stand scrunched up against another women on the stairs, and move out of the way when the driver oponed the door. Unfortunately, I managed to drop my trusty Turistel Sur guide... so I´m hoping/sure to find another in Pucón.

Niebla has a really nice beach just down a cliff and its historical fort a few blocks away, which I visited. It had probably the most professional looking museum I´ve seen in Chile. More kids on field trips.

It is quite disorienting in a good way that the sun doesn´t set until like 9 or 9:30 pm. It´s good, I think, since I´m always somewhere new and trying to explore something. Also, it´s helpful when my bus only arrives at like 8:30 pm and I need to walk to the hostel, as it did in Valdivia. Minus side is that it gets kind of sunny. And hot.

The next morning BRIGHT and early, I made my way Valdivia-Niebla-BOAT-Corral-Los Liles, a tiny community on the other side of the river, where I was staying with Ubaldo Triviños and Margarita Maricoy. It was totally foggy as we were crossing the river and on the micro from Corral. We couldn´t even see 20 feet in front, not to mention off the cliff to the side, where I assumed the ocean was located.

I was told that I could tell the micro driver the name of Mr. Triviños and he would know where to drop me off. But unfortunately he didn´t really understand my pronunciation of the name “Aldo” (which I thought Mr. Triviños had told me on the phone), so I was dropped at his brother Patricio Triviños´s house just down the road. All good and well, because it turns out Patricio was walking up to the road at just that moment, and apparently I look like a more “gorda” version of his niece, so he approached me. He ended up escorting me to my destination, mentioning that this place just 10 years ago was a very “humble” agricultural community that has seen many changes. With the introduction of “light” (i.e. electricity) about 9 years ago and a gravel road (along which the micro goes) about 8 back, nowadays few people subsist on agriculture. Turismo Rural has brought prosperity to the community, and apparently the UN has even gotten involved, trying to find ways for the local residents to protect the native forest in the area. That said, don´t have the image of Pucón in your heads: it´s really just a gravel road along the side of a cliff with a few houses. When I asked Ubaldo the population of the “town” of Los Liles, he counted it in number of families: 16. (Luis did the same in Purranque/Los Angeles).

Later that day, the fog lifted, and I was able to see the ocean just a few hundred meters from the house, with sheep grazing nearby. I went on a walk with Margarita, and we saw all the different kinds of seaweed that grow on the rocks along the shore. The next day, I went down with a neighbor to “observe” her job, but I actually ended up working too. She and two other women daily collect LUGA, a kind of seaweed used in cosmetics, from the rocks. We had to climb on the rocks and wade in the water and rip the plants off the rocks... the bigger the leaf the better. They are really slippery, almost like thick pieces of brown Saran wrap like a shaggy rug on top of the boulders.

After about an hour, I had filled up one large bag and the neighbor two. Then we took the bags and dumped them on a net higher up so that the luga would dry. Later, she sells the dry luga to a man that comes by in a truck for $100-150 PESOS per kilo. I asked her how many kilos were in my bag, and she said about 5. That means that for my hour of back breaking manual labor, nearly falling off rocks, and with my pants wet, I had earned a full $1 American dollar. I sat on a rock contemplating that.

In any case, it was a lot of fun and interesting. All of my 3 farm homestays were really unique: (1) cheese-making, (2) hanging with calves and hanging sheep, (3) harvesting seaweed.

And now for something completely different...

Posted by KKS 16:56 Archived in Chile Comments (0)

Sueño Sureño : Capítulo Los Lagos

a e i o u . . . La vaca eres Tú ! !

overcast 23 °C


Just to let you know, this update is costing $500 Chilean pesos per hour to write. That’s about $1 USD… And the “s” on this keyboard doesn’t really work, so my apologies in advance. Also, I’m in a bus station.

Update: it took less than an hour to write.

In other news, last Wednesday I left my hostel in Chonchi, Chiloé and spent most of the day taking micros, boats, large busses, colectivos, and finally a truck to reach my next destination: Purranque, Chile. There, in the house of the Gangas-Coronados, I spent a few days SANS INTERNET on their farm. Purranque is soooo off the beaten tourist path that it’s actually right on it: just off the Panamerican Highway 5, except that no tourists take the turn.

In any case, it was an experience, I think, of living like the majority of Chileans in this country live, or have historically lived. Luis and Cristina, the parents of 9 year old Paulina and 5 year old Aracely, included me in on all the things they do on their very active farm. At this time of year, one of the biggest tasks is helping the “terneros” (calves) twice a day from the field into a barn to milk from their moms. The calves are only 2 months old but are gradually being weaned from their mothers´ milk so that soon they will subsist solely on grass and water. (Is it not then amazing that cows can produce milk on that diet???) So the “vacas” (mama cows) are kept in certain fields, away from the terneros or ternerITOs, if you’re feeling Chilean.


That day was actually time for the calves to get their monthly injection of antiparasite treatment, so we herded them (they actually herded themselves into an obscenely tight cluster) to receive the injection. Luis did all but one and then passed me the syringe. He was like, all you have to do is pinch the shoulder skin up and then put the needle in so that it goes in one side and not out the other.

Hmm, I though. Simple enough. So I grabbed this sweet calf’s shoulder and tried jabbing the needle in and figured it must have punctured the skin, so I ejected the liquid. Unfortunately, the needle wasn’t in and the magic juice squirted on its fur. I told them I had missed, so they refilled the syringe and let me try again. I’m actually not sure if I made it the second time either, but I didn’t want to tell them that I missed again.

Long story short, if one brown and white calf dies of worms in the next month… it was probably my fault.

Moving on, we also got to herd cattle on horseback. WHOOAAAA NELLY.

kks1.jpg kks2.jpg

Also, I helped bake pan (bread), Pan de Pascua (Christmas bread… though Aracely pronounced it Pan de Kwakwa), and kuchen (sometimes spelled küchen, though according to the German girl in my Chonchi hostel, that is incorrect and not in line with how the Chileans pronounce it).


Today, on my last day, the family, who actually live in the community of Los Angeles (not that big city… NO not THAT one either… there’s another Los Angeles in Chile, silly) outside of the town of Purranque, hosted Paulina´s class for a day in the country. This day included a big parrillada (BBQ). And unlike lame suburbanites who just mosey over to the store to buy whatever cuts of whatever kind of meat they desire, these hearty country folk actually walk over to their herd of sheep/pigs/cows whatev--- kill it--- and like 3 hours later eat it. It’s a novel idea.

Anyway, I witnessed the slaughtering of not one but TWO corderos (young sheep). We were going to have one, but then all the dads were hankering for another and put in money (amounting to $60 USD) to kill another. I helped prepare vegetables. And play with the children.

sDSC_0638.jpg sDSC_0624.jpg
[ cherries we picked from the back yard ]

I finally left later this afternoon. Cristina dropped me off next to the highway. That’s actually the best thing to do… since not all busses pass through all towns´ bus stations, but they all take the Panamerican Highway. It turned out that there was a Pullman Sur bus direct to Valdivia just WAITING for me.

I split in half my last remaining alfajor from Castro, Chiloé with the nice, quiet old man sitting next to me.


So now I’m in Valdivia the next few days. It’s supposed to be one of the most beautiful towns in Chile, not to mention have an interesting German-tinted history. So I’m staying in the Hostelería Ana María for 2 nights to explore the town tomorrow. Then I’m off for another rural homestay in Los Liles, a bit south of here near Corral, for another 2 nights, hoping we’ll be able to go on a boat ride at some point.

After that, I decided to give in to the mysterious allure of this place called Pucón and have reserved a bed at the well known hostel ¡école! (Apparently that’s some Chilean expression, though I never heard it. Qué fome.) Hoping to see the Ojos de Caburga recommended to me by John M., probably not even come close to Volcán Villarrica, nor its bubbling summit, and maybe row a boat. I’ve been into boat recently. “Into” while never getting “into” one. ¿Cachái?

Posted by KKS 21:10 Archived in Chile Comments (2)

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