Jumping the Mountains

Trip Start Feb 14, 2006
Trip End Aug 2006

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Flag of Argentina  ,
Monday, May 29, 2006

Notice: I will be returning to the US on August 6th, having changed my ticket.

When Santiagüinos hop on a bus and travel to Mendoza, Argentina, they do it for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, it's a heck of a lot cheaper there (especially for beef and books). Second of all, it's safe. And, finally, the air is clean.

If having a cough and hoarding my money makes me a Santiagüino, then that's what I've become. Though it's finally breaking up, I've been coughing for about a month and a half now, if not more. Chilean women, like my host mother, will always try and convince you that these permanent colds are due to "cambios de clima," instead of smog, viruses, bacteria and the fact that no one gets their vitamins. And yes, it is cold one day and hot the next. But Santiago's air gets everyone, without fail.

So, when three friends and I went to Mendoza, it was more to relax, to have a good time and to heal. I'm not sure if I did any of the three, but I had a good time. It wasn't terribly eventful, and I could never write a full entry about it, but I will describe it to you and then give you some random updates on my life here.

Mostly, we sat around in Mendoza. That's not because there's nothing to do-especially things like rafting, horseback riding and hiking. But it's so much easier to order a 14-ounce steak with fries and a fried egg atop all of it, and a coffee or a Quilmes (the national beer), and relax at the sidewalk cafes. At night, we went out on a street that's made specifically for tourists, and the nights lasted well into the mornings.

It was the low season in Mendoza, and none of the bars or clubs was packed. A few hostels had bars, but we felt uncomfortable when we went into them: too many people speaking English, too many stereotypical South American travelers (dreadlocks, t-shirts with sickles and hammers silk-screened to the front).

The best thing about Mendoza is the drive over. The views are spectacular, and reminded me alternately of Arizona, Utah and New Mexico-after all, it's mountainous desert country. From the smog of Santiago, you rise up above treeline into the snowy mountains on a rough two-lane highway. 75% of all Brazilian imports to Chile come on the road, in big trucks, so it's pretty beat up. After sliding around some curvy switchbacks, the busses drop into scrub desert. A wide arroyo becomes a river as you get closer to Mendoza and the scenery becomes moderately greener. Much of the drive reminded me of I-70 across Utah. The arroyos have carved deep cliffs out of the soft sedimentary rock, forming almost perfectly flat walls. The colors shift from tan to orange to deep, deep reds.

Of course, Chilean buses don't open the vents on the top. And though I was lucky enough to have a front row seat on the second deck of the bus (a "panoramico"), the windows got pretty foggy on the way up the mountain, a fact which will reflect itself in my photos.

I got back to Santiago Sunday night. I had a test this morning-it was a little rough, but it was rough for everyone in the class (some teachers have a tendency to test you on what they didn't actually teach you-as much in the US as here, I know).

De todas maneras ...

Maurico, our assistant program director, the fascination of every girl on the trip, thinks my host sister is in love with me. He told me that when I complained about how unkind she was to me to another person in the CIEE office. She never talks to me. Usually, my host father and I sit across from one another at the dinner table and stare at one another-he's deaf and I'm not from here. Neither of us can understand Monica as she mumbles to her grandmother (my host mom) and fills her speech with think "Chilenismos."

Last week, during a lunch, my father got up from the table to watch the news. The three of us (Monica and her grandma, her grandma and me) were debating the week's big news story: 40 high schools were overtaken by striking students who demand that the government pay for their transportation to school and that the Chilean SAT be free. My host sister turned in her chair, just as a debate was getting heated, and put her back to me before beginning to mumble. I gave up. I just leaned back. Every so often, as she regularly does, my host mom repeated a couple of things to me.

Insulted, I thought about saying, "thank you for translating all of that for me," as I left. But I didn't.

At first, I was convinced she was a "huasa," a provincial girl who only speaks to people she knows well. After all, she came from the south to study in the big city and really doesn't have a lot of friends. And she's only 18, and that certainly doesn't make her mature. Some of my few Chilean friends suggested this to me as a possibility. But after living in the same apartment for over 3 months, could that really be possible?

So, when Mauricio waltzed out of his office, eavesdropping, he told me his opinion. And then, he kneeled down next to me on the couch, pushed down his glasses and looked me in the eye, with a cup of Maté in his hand. He asked me, "But Austin, tell me for real, how is she?"

Probably a bad translation, but you get the idea. I doubt anything will happen. I don't find her terribly attractive-assuming she was a b----h for the last three months probably didn't help. Either way, it's easier to not talk to her and to assume that she's in love with me. That's my MO here.

In other news: classes will end in under a month. I'm doing a countdown. School is relatively easy and classes are boring-something that's been a let down about study abroad. Dad will be down here in mid-July and we will go to Machu Pichu and Easter Island. All of that in about three weeks-some people wait a lifetime and only make it to one of the two. The tickets are bought. So, I'm psyched, to say the least.

I plan to stay in Santiago this weekend, get some work done and get ahead. In two weeks, I may just bus it down south to Valdivia, which is widely considered the prettiest city in the country. It's named after the country's founder and first great conquistador, Pedro de Valdivia. Actually, he egotistically named it after himself.

One of my teachers cancelled all classes for 11 days. He's a nervous man, dabbing himself with a handkerchief all class to get the sweat off of his forehead. Either way, classes tomorrow probably would have been cancelled anyway-university students are planning "unscheduled" events in support of those striking high-school students. La Chile's campus already smells like tear gas every day anyway. A burning throat and nose aren't conducive to learning. Anyway. Until then, I'll leave you hanging.
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shoz on

Many upper-middle and middle-class Chileans are so inarticulate that I'am not surprised at all at what you have described about your host sister and many other assorted locals. Sometimes what people mistake for shyness is nothing other than sheer ignorance about the world and some social semi-illiteracy.

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