Ascensor Reina Victoria - 1950
Iglesia La Matriz, Cerro Santo Domingo - 1920
This past Wednesday was my last day of class here in Chile. It has been a week of lots of strong emotions striking like lightning at different moments. On the one hand, I had lots of work looming over my head: a quiz for my literature class, a massive ecology project including PowerPoint and a paper in the style of a scientific journal, and then the “pesadilla” nightmare project for my Espacio Urbano class. On the other hand, nearly all my friends left at different moments, and while we are all staying in Chile for the next few weeks, we almost certainly won't run into each other, so these good-byes were for good.
Over the course of the semester, the Espacio Urbano students were supposed to come up with a project to explore the “patrimonio” of the city of Valparaíso. For the first 4 weeks of class, either I couldn’t come to the class because I was checking others at the same time, or the professor changed it at the last minute, or I was the only student who showed up. I came up with a project for comparing 3 “cerros” or hills of Valparaíso (the 40+ cerros define the urban landscape… I chose Cerros Barón, Santo Domingo, and Concepción/Alegre) and why some are more popular with tourists than others. I really had no idea what to make the project should be about, thinking that my ideas would become clearer through the semester.
Week after week, the other students didn’t show up too often (once there were 14 people there… so I can only assume 14 people were signed up for it, especially considering that it’s a required class for the art major!). Classes were usually a meeting between just me and the profe… that being on the days that he decided to show up.
The final and ONLY grade for the course is something that is turned in at the end. That “something” I really didn’t understand. On the rare occasions when other students showed up, I asked them if they knew anything about it or what they were going to turn in, and they said they had no idea either.
Fast forward to the night before the last class. I am still lost. What am I supposed to write about? Who am I to compare these cerros that I barely know? How much research am I supposed to do? Is this supposed to be based on respected theories about urban space?
Fast forward to 4am that night, long after the sleepiness set in and also after that adrenaline rush of staying awake too long sets in, so I was actually feeling pretty awake. I came up with a legitimate *sounding* idea not based on any theories, and didn’t even develop it that well in the 19 pages I somehow cranked out.
Cerro Santo Domingo is in the oldest “Puerto” part of the city, yet people were hesitant about accompanying me to the area. When I visited La Matriz, the most historic church in the city, there were high schoolers smoking near the front door, a gang of stray dogs around the front of it, and I was accosted by a “borracho” drunk asking for money as I was leaving (this is at about 9:30am). SO for the paper I said that the history of that area (namely La Matriz, Plaza Echaurren, Calle Serrano) from which it derives its “patrimonio,” is in conflict with the present. The problems of today impose themselves on the history of yesteryear.
Cerro Barón also has a famous church, Iglesia San Francisco, an ascensor, and other relics of the past, most of which have become seamlessly integrated into the community of today. The church is still in use (not particularly well kept), the ascensor is out of service indefinitely, and the Escalera Calaguara, which back in the day was apparently dangerous to walk on if not in the presence of a “godfather,” is today surrounded by apartments and walked upon by young kids and their parents with no fear. SO for that cerro I said that, while the history of this cerro may be cherished by its residents, it doesn’t blow its own horn. It is hard to find information about the history of the places (especially from a tourist’s point of view), and so “lo patrimonial” of the cerro has been totally integrated into the daily life of those in its small community.
Last but the opposite of least, Cerros Concepción and Alegre are tourist central of Valpo. They have their fair share of history: Palacio Baurizza, high concentration of ascensores, museums, etc. BUT more than that, is it very easy for a tourist to get around. First, there are plenty of signs written in English, including some that have prices in both Chilean pesos and USD! (Ridiculous!) Streets are lined with cafés, and it’s hard not to find yourself walking along a well-kept paseo or walkway with a beautiful vista of the bay. SO for this cerro I said that the tourist infrastructure grew in parallel with the appreciation of “lo patrimonial.”
In any case, at 4am I decided to throw in the white towel and hope that what I had written along with 30 photos taken in the places mentioned in the text would seal the deal and let me not “reprobar” or fail the course. Please?
In other news, I got a perfect 7.0 in my cinematography class. I was the only gringa in the class, and one of 2 students of about 10 to get a 7.0… (polishes knuckles on shoulder)…
The teaching here is very different—according to my Spanish professor, it is more along the European line. Professors don’t really lecture and then expect creative output from students. It is either memorization or, in my classes, that professors introduce a general concept (i.e. “cinematography,” or “patrimonio” (I don’t even think that has an English translation), or “biodiversity”) and then the students are kind of on their own to find materials and teach themselves something. I guess it’s a valid system but just not what I’m used to, as I’m generally not to big on this whole “studying” thing.
Okay, this post is way too academic. I hope you’re not bored. Well, I guess if you’ve read this far you must have some super power to not be bored, so I won’t apologize to you.
On to other topics… sadness?
Oh right, I mentioned a mix of emotions. Well, along with this pile of work I had to do, almost all of my gringo friends have been leaving Valparaíso. They would one by one finish their work and arrange a goodbye that of course I would go to. So I ended up having about a half dozen sad sessions with peeps including Thanksgiving minus the family.
This semester was really a friendship pressure cooker, I think. We were just a bunch of gringos thrown into a new environment, all with an adventurous spirit, no idea where we were, and some plata to blow. I think this program in particular attracted a really great group of people… very “buena onda.” I have made friendships here that will really last, and I am genuinely interested to know where these people end up a few years down the line.
So for the next few days I am maximizing not having any fixed plans but “ganas” to do a lot here in Valparaíso, a city that is so interesting but I still haven’t thoroughly gotten to know.
Yesterday, after teaching my last English class to high schoolers at Instituto Comercial, I decided to cross a few things off my list. I took a trolley-bus (CHECK!) along Avenida Colon for the first time. I walked over to Plaza Victoria to Vitamin, a café with the best mil hojas ice cream in Valpo, according to Caitlin… and I’d have to agree (CHECK!). I then found my way over to Ascensor Espiritu Santo (CHECK!) (which BTW definitely earns points for best ascensor name in Valpo) and headed up to the Museo a Cielo Abierto (CHECK!) (“Open Sky Museum”). It was a lovely day and a lovely area of the city, Cerro Bellavista (I suppose the name says it all).
I found a lovely warm stone staircase which I sat upon for awhile. And I took out my camera and took a picture of some graffiti and then started putting my camera away. A young Chilean boy was scampering nearby at that same moment, and I said, “Hola,” and he saw me putting the camera away and said in his Chilean English, “Don’t worry.” And I was so astounded that (1) he had spoken English to me (after I said “Hola”… I mean, is my pronunciation so horrendous that he could tell I didn’t speak Spanish?) and (2) that he thought I was protecting my camera from him and (3) How was I supposed to respond?
So I just kind of smiled as he ran by. And a little later on, same bench, same camera, a Chilean woman came by and told me to be careful with my camera, and we ended up talking for about 40 minutes as she held onto her sack of “pan” she was bringing home for “once.”
Later that night I went to the club Huevo for the VERY FIRST time all semester! I know, it’s hard to believe. Props to Tracy, Nicole, and Faye for making my dreams come true. It was a lot of fun and a night of discovery. For example, after waiting about forty minutes outside with Graciela, we discovered that 5 Oriente micros DO pass on Errazuriz at 4:30am!
Today I checked even more things off the list when I had lunch at my Chilean friend’s house in Cerro San Juan de Dios. He and his girlfriend have an adorable apartment which reminded me a lot of Eva and Jon’s place in Milwaukee, with the tidiness mixed with a cosy lived-in feeling, tastefully colorful decorations, etc. And we ate “zapallo italiano” which was RICO… baked gourd filled with rice, cheese, and meat (which was in this case vegetarian meat. Did I mention that I met this friend because he sells vegetarian hamburgers outside the literature building?).
We later headed over to La Quinta Vergara (CHECK!), a beautiful outdoor venue that plays host to the annual Festival Internacional de la Canción de Viña del Mar every spring. I stayed for about 15 minutes of Swan Lake (“El lago de los cisnes”) before I decided to come home.
It’s amazing how much can fit into one day.
As for what I’m going to be fitting into the next several days… the next month and a half for your viewing pleasure…
3 December: leave Valparaíso on a bus south, bound for Puerto Montt
4 December: Arrive in Puerto Montt, take ferry to Ancud, Chiloé, then a local bus to Chepu, where I’ll be staying for 3 nights on a CHEESE-MAKING FARM!!!
7 December: Head to Chonchi, on the eastern coast of Chiloé for another 3 days (I’m preparing to be enchanted)
10 December: Thinking about taking a ferry to Chaiten, in the northern part of the Carretera Austral and checking out Parque Pumalín (owned by the owner of North Face and Esprit)
10 – 22 December: I am relishing not having a schedule planned. I’m going to talk to people en route, hostel owners, etc, and get a sense of where local busses are going, since I’ll be depending on them. Figuring things out one step at a time, traveling without rushing.
22 December: Make my way north to Chillán and take a train (one of the few!) Chillán to Santiago, then grab my bags in Viña
23 December: my mama arrives! We leave “al tiro” right away for Punta Arenas, the southernmost large city in Chile
24 – 27 December: Parque Nacional Torres del Paine
28 – 1 January: Parque Nacional Los Glaciares near El Calafate, Argentina
2 January: head to Ushuaia, Argentina, to embark on Hurtigruten’s MS Fram bound for Antarctica (¡!¡!¡!¡!¡!)
2 – 12 January: Hang on the White Continent
12 – 13 January: Whirlwind tour of Valpo for my mom, including dinner and a night’s stay at Brighton in Cerro Concepción!! Courtesy of Valparaíso’s tourism department and that photo contest that I won!
13 January: … you know…
14 January: touch down at Chicago’s O’Hare airport…