Thursday, November 27, 2008
First of all, I feel incredibly lucky to be in Chile at all since it seemed like such a distant dream when I first began thinking about moving here. Sometimes I have to stop and laugh...dude...am I really in Chile?
I am absolutely and positively grateful for this house and my roommates. I have everything I need a walk or metro ride away. And when I'm home, I get to talk with Kanke and Caitlin who are two wonderful, understanding, insightful, powerful women. I am especially thankful for Kanke's cooking lessons and Caitlin's supply of library books.
I'm thankful for the job I have right now. Finally, the perfect amount of working!
I'm thankful for my camera and my computer and my ipod; the electronics I knew would keep me sane and give me something to do when I felt lost.
I'm thankful for all my friends, back home and now scattered throughout the world, who have helped me feel less homesick with their emails and phone calls.
I'm thankful for my family and their compassion and concern.
This is of course a very short list and I could continue, but I'm also thankful for feeling sleepy, so I will leave you with a thanks and a goodnight!
C in C
Monday, November 24, 2008
As I made my way up the mountain, slipping and sliding in my stupid tennis shoes (what was I thinking!), I thought of the stories that my parents had told me: our neighbor falling and hitting his head and having to be led out of the forest by his son, their friend going off on a morning run without telling them where she was headed (fool!), people found wandering in the forest after being lost for weeks. I reasoned that the front desk knew I was going up there, though, now that I think about it, they wouldn’t have missed my absence, just the absence of the key they had given me to open the gate into the private habitat.
My opportunities for gorgeous shots were plenty—the silver lining to this dangerous hiking trip.
With map in hand, I wound around the hills and through groves that contained millions of cicadas. I’ve been on so many hikes, I’ve lost count, but I have never, in all my life, heard and seen this many cicadas. They were so plentiful, they roared like a cataract. I walked through the bushes and would disturb the branches, making thousands of them fly up and around my face. When they’d pass by my ears, it would be like a motorcycle driving by my head. I was totally grossed out. I ended up covering my ears while I walked.
I made it to the top, called Mirador, far past where I had expected to walk. Again, the views were amazing:
It was not until I began the hike down that I realized that my tennis shoes were going to be the death of me. I fell twice on my butt, both times catching my body with my hands. I felt my wrists take the impact of my body, and I was thankful that I had been doing push ups (though the girl kind) every day and yoga. I would have injured my wrists had my arms been weaker. Scratched by every kind of thorny bush that seemed to all exist on that cursed mountain, hot and sunburned, dusty and now slightly bruised, I was very ready to get down the mountain, at any price.
I was almost back to the bridge when I heard the dogs barking. I saw two of them around the corner and felt relief. I figured someone was walking their dogs up the hill. But then, something about the way the dogs were barking at me made me stop. There was no human with them. These dogs were not the lovable kind. I stared long and hard at them as I slowly pulled my pack around and pulled out my pepper spray.
Then one ran right at me, its teeth bared, growling, low to the ground, hunting me. I stared because I could not fully understand what was happening. Were these coyotes? Were these wolves? Some kind of unidentified fox? They didn't seem to be dogs; they were so wild.
I had heard that if you ever see a mountain lion you’re supposed to make yourself look as big as possible so I pulled my backpack above my head and roared. The dog backed away a little but saw that I had not hurt it and began its attack again. I screamed, I cried for help, I growled. It was then that I really felt I was in trouble. They were blocking the trail down the mountain, and I had no energy to go back up. I didn’t want to back away for fear I would trigger their attack drive further. I knew I couldn’t outrun them. I had to go through.
I don’t know why I didn’t use the pepper spray right away. I guess I felt it was a last resort. It would be admitting just how much trouble I was really in. When the second dog joined the first and tried to circle around me, I knew it was time to use the pepper spray. My hand was shaking terribly. It was me or them. I sprayed, first a little spritz because I had never used the pepper spray before. They only backed off a little so I sprayed more and prayed that the wind wouldn’t blow it back in my face. Little by little, they gave way, and I inched forward, them still barking with a ferocity I had never seen in a dog before. I never turned my back to them, and I had my eye on them for a long time as I walked down the mountain. I was ready for a surprise attack through the trees, for them to silently hunt me. But the pepper spray had begun to burn their noses and eyes, and suddenly I was more like a skunk or porcupine, not worth the effort of the hunt.
I felt strangely numb after that. Shaky. On edge. Around the bend, I came across two cowboys coming up the mountain on their horses. Why hadn’t they heard my cries for help? I tried to warn them in my bad Spanish.
“There are two dogs up there. They were barking at me. They attacked me.”
The guy said, “Those are perros vagos. They are friends to man. They bark but they don’t do anything.”
I couldn’t believe that was all he said. I said nothing, but I thought, “Friend to man when man has gigantic horses with him, when a man isn’t a vulnerable woman alone on a hike.”
The reaction was the same at the registration desk. No reaction at all. I felt like they thought I was lying. Or wondered why I was complaining if I was standing there completely unharmed. I wouldn’t have even bothered but I was worried they would give that same bullshit line to some other woman alone. Would she have pepper spray too?
Given the reactions of the employees there, I felt like maybe I had dreamed the whole thing, except for my upper lip which burned from where I had touched my face after using the pepper spray. Traces must’ve been left on my hand.
I walked back to the hostel, weak, tired and embarrassed. After a quick shower and time spent reading quietly on the patio, I went to the pool. As I swam in the pool, surrounded by the few families and couples there, I felt more lonely than I ever have. My traumatic hike, which was supposed to be a triumphant solo experience, had only served to remind me that I was alone and 30 and not capable of doing everything on my own. Or maybe, it proved that I was capable of doing everything on my own, including defending my life, but it made me acutely aware that I didn’t want to do it alone.
I didn’t want to do this life alone.
I wanted more than anything at that moment to find “the one” and just be done with this whole single business. Traveling alone was never in my dreams. It has been a product of my determination not to be limited by being a single woman and circumstances that have led me to singlehood.
I was in such a state by that night that I found myself staring at the ceiling of my hostel bedroom, thumbing through my music on my iPod and wishing A would call. Wishing anyone would call.
But, as I listened to some of the fun and lighthearted music I had downloaded just before I left for Chile, I was reminded again of my New Year's resolution to have more fun. It was then that I laughed. It was the first time I had laughed since I had arrived, and the sound surprised me. This was such a ridiculous trip! I was not having fun here! This trip was a bust!
This simple idea helped me fall asleep that night. I decided that the following day, I would go on a horseback ride if I felt like it (and if there were going to be people), and if not, I would go home and forget all about this trip.
Luckily, I met some Jehovah’s witnesses who were staying in the cabins in the back of the hostel on Saturday morning. They spoke English and were from America, and I felt so happy that I decided I would sign up for the horseback riding after all. I thought it was appropriate that I was given the horse named Milagro (or Miracle). I felt that it was a good sign.
We took the same trail I had hiked the day before. I wanted to see those dogs again, only so I could prove that I hadn’t made them up. But soon, I forgot about the dogs and focused on making sure my horse didn’t walk off the mountain. Considering my experience the day before, I wasn’t sure of anything anymore.
By the time we returned to the hostel, I was feeling much better. Human interaction is so important, isn’t it? This is me with one of the horse guides, Leo.
I decided to stay Saturday night as I had originally planned and spent the rest of Saturday at the pool and in the back of the hostel reading.
If I had been stressed before I’d left, the reading and the pool would have been the perfect weekend. But it was too tranquil for me…and when it wasn’t tranquil, it was traumatic. I was either fearing I would die from mauling or my horse tripping off the cliff or that I would die from sheer boredom.
Several lessons have presented themselves to me which I will recap here:
1. Don’t hike alone (yes, mom and dad, you did tell me so).
2. Don’t go to camping-like resorts alone (it’s really, really boring).
3. Sign up ahead of time for group tours and activities (see number 2 when in doubt).
4. Just because I am physically capable of doing something, doesn’t mean I should do it. (see number 1 when in doubt).
5. Figure out how to get along with men so someone else can protect me for awhile.
6. Take self-defense classes in the event that I am unsuccessful with number 5.
On Sunday morning, I finished the book I had been reading out on the patio. I then quickly grabbed a colectivo and was back at home by the afternoon. It felt so good to be able to talk with my roommates. I called my brother to wish him a happy birthday. I hung out and watched a movie in the evening.
But even with all interaction, the residual feelings of the weekend were with me as I crawled into bed. A loneliness clung to me. It felt like something in me had cracked open when I had pushed the pepper spray button, like the last of my youthful illusions of immortality had died. A realization that my life, our lives, are so vulnerable, terribly at the mercy of the caprices of nature.
That incident on the mountain had made me lonely for all the things that haven’t happened to me yet—all the children I have not had, the relationships yet to be woven, the experiences of a lifetime yet to be lived. I longed to live life sped up on fast forward so that I could be reassured that my most profound wishes will come true—that I will be married, have a family, that I will live long and be fulfilled, that I will die of old age in my bed.
But, that doesn’t always happen, does it?
Que te vaya bien (and go buy pepper spray ladies!),
C in C
That’s when I found out that there would be no rafting available for the weekend (this is why calling ahead is important). I walked the main road back to the hostel some four blocks away from the main resort.
That day, having arrived midday and it being too hot for any strenuous activities, I went to the pool. The space was beautiful. The pool was ice cold. I went every day but never stayed in the water for long. Plus all the bugs in the pool started grossing me out.
That night, I ate a fancy dinner alone—bread, olive oil, wine, salmon, and dessert—heck why not! The view was breathtaking. The restaurant was really fun, the terrace built around the trees.
I decided after that walk, which seemed a lot longer in the dark, I would not go to dinner so late again. Two or three women had reassured me that the town was totally safe, and it was no problem to walk by oneself at night. But the dark creeped me out.
The next day, I decided I would go on a hike. At the front desk, I was informed that I would be going by myself if I was going to go at all. I was surprised and disappointed. It sounded like there had been guides, and I had seen other groups going on hikes together. When I hesitated, I was reassured that there were no poisonous animals on the mountain, nothing that could harm me, and that it would be fine for me to hike alone.
This the key moment when, instead of insisting on a group or nothing, I decided I would try it alone, against my better judgment.
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
As for the ants, I had seen the occasional ant, lonely and wandering, but nothing more. Then that lonely ant found my newly purchased homemade honey and brought “millones” of its ant-friends into our kitchen.
What does a vegetarian household do with a plague of ants and flies? Well this vegetarian house was not very animal-friendly. Several spritzes of window cleaner later, the tide of ants had been wiped out. With many, many “lo siento’s,” and the smack of her hands, Kanke significantly reduced the fly population.
So why am I so glad? Lucky for me, all these ants and flies have helped me provide an example of a concept I’ve been interested in lately, basically that it’s the ants and flies in your honey that help you better appreciate the pest-free times.
In the U.S., I had everything I wanted (well, not everything, but lots of things). Month after month, I got in my car to go the huge local supermarket where, every time, I found everything on my list. I loaded up my car with a month’s worth of food. I hate shopping so I purchased a lot to avoid having to go every week.
If I wanted Zachary’s Pizza, I went. DVDs: rented or purchased. Music downloaded from iTunes or enjoyed on Pandora.com. If I needed clothes (god forbid) I drove to Kohl’s and purchased them. If I got sick, I went to the doctor’s. When I wanted to learn design, I went to community college. I wanted straight teeth, so I got braces. I wanted, wanted, wanted, and I got, got, got. And each time I got something, I just wanted something new. I was so lucky to have been so rich. Though perhaps not rich by U.S. standards, when I see some poorer areas of Santiago, I know that I am privileged. I am a gringa. I am rich. Being here has helped me realize just how lucky I am.
1. After three weeks of hostel living, which consisted of praying that the calefon was lit so I could take a hot shower (and also praying that it would stay hot), praying that the power wouldn’t short out again on the first floor (which I approached pragmatically, learning where the box was so I could flip the lights back on again all by myself), praying that I wouldn’t be freezing at night, that I would be able to learn how to use the new can opener, that the party that started at midnight wouldn’t move to the common area next to my room, where they had smoked cigarettes outside my window until 5am the night before, I practically got down on my knees and thanked the Lord (well, actually, yep, I pretty much did that) when I got to a house of my very own (wow, what a sentence). A very tranquil, cozy, homey house where the showers were hot, the power only tripped once, the blankets were plenty, the parties were held with fair warning, and no one smoked. No wonder I felt a deeper sense of gratitude than I ever had when I moved here. It had been a long time since I had been deprived.
2. I go food shopping at Santa Isabel, a supermercado about twenty minutes away (by walking). It’s where I go after church. Instead of stock piling, I shop every week because I can’t carry anymore than a week’s worth of groceries in my backpack. I remember being horrified back in Pleasanton when I realized that I wouldn’t have my car in Santiago, and I would have to carry whatever I purchased. But I discovered that I like walking to the supermarket every week. It reminds me of my neighbor Agnes who used to walk to the grocery store almost every day. And I’m getting used to not getting what I want every time I go. Sometimes they’re out of onions, spinach or apples. Or they’ll be out of the beans in a box (like beans in a can, only in a box). Or they won’t have soymilk. I’ve had to adapt. I’ve had to drink milk. Buy the kind of beans you have to soak overnight. I’ve had to improvise. New culinary inventions have become a part of my diet from having to adapt.
3. When I first got to Santiago, I used to ask anyone I started conversation, “Hablas Ingles?” I prayed that they would, and they did, but not enough to understand my quick English. Deprived of my native language, every simple transaction has become an accomplishment. When I successfully asked to split a bill between a credit card and cash two weeks ago, I felt a sense of accomplishment and pride I never would have felt in America.
This has put an interesting new spin on the question of why we travel. Sure, we travel to learn something new. But maybe more importantly, we travel to be deprived of our normal environments so that when we return, our most valuable possessions and loved ones are valuable again, with a luster and sheen they didn’t have before.
But sometimes, despite how many times you see something, it still is amazing. This is how I feel about the sunset. Here’s the latest one from Chile, taken from my backyard.
So may you enjoy your possessions and accomplishments with a newfound sense of excitement--as if tomorrow you'll have to live in a hostel for three weeks. Good luck!
Que te vaya bien,
C in C
Monday, November 17, 2008
On Sunday, with my roommates gone for the day, I had the house to myself and proceeded to have the best of wallows—lots of reading, lots of sugary food, lots of writing. And then I was done.
I think the fact that I’m a quick wallower is one of my best traits. This is when the fact that I get bored easily works in my favor. I can’t tolerate a lot of low-energy-sitting-around wallowing. I love low-energy-sitting-around activities when I’m happy. But it’s just not a lot of fun when I’m sad. A little wallow is nice. It’s a break from the routine. It’s “new.” But eventually I get bored of the feeling, and going outside or doing something else seems like a much better idea.
So today, I chose to be done with wallowing. Instead, I worked. I ran. I went to yoga class. I think it’s clear: I prefer sweating to wallowing.
My style of wallowing has made me curious as to how others deal with the painful trials of their lives. So here’s a question for all of you: what’s your wallow style? Are there others out there preferring to sweat out their emotions rather than to marinate in them? Let me know. I’d love to hear!
Que te vaya bien!
C in C
Sunday, November 16, 2008
Two months ago, I had lunch with two Russian women who were in my Spanish classes with me. They were both married to Chileans; both were equally insistent that I would meet someone here. They told me, “No Gringa stays single for long here.”
I told them I had not come to Chile to fall in love. I had come to Chile, in fact, to finally tamp out the last burning embers of love from a relationship I had ended two and a half years ago (well that, and to have a rockin’ good time celebrating my 30th year of life on Earth). The rockin’ good time I knew from the start; the falling-out-of-love part I didn’t figure out till I got here.
So, right around the third month of my new life in Chile, I said a final goodbye to that old chapter in my life. Around the same time, I met A. He was a bass player, DJ, artist, ex-businessman. He was as diverse in his interests as I was in mine: guitar player, dancer, writer, ex-business owner.
It seemed the right time to consider how a pololo might fit with my Chile plans.
And for awhile, it seemed to great. I have to confess that I was one of those couples in the park. I was hypnotized by our little world full of butterflies and love.
But I was cautious. So while A offered his heart up, vulnerable and beating special songs for me, I did not. I waited. I wanted love, but I wanted it in my time.
My friend Mari says she will marry the man who makes her feel alone. I have decided I will marry the man who makes me feel free.
Essentially, I was asking A who had grown up in a culture that taught men to possess their women to love me without the stronghold. I knew it was a hard thing to ask of him. I had seen examples of possessive love all over Santiago:
A couple waiting for the train, the guy’s arms wrapped around his girl as if to say “she is mine.” The girl’s face blank, tired. She, an empty shell, her thoughts elsewhere. Ignoring him. He demands her love, grabbing her chin to steal a kiss from her. She lets him. She is passive. She is not really there.
Okay, so I am in no way that kind of girl. And I was worried that I was hurting A with being the kind of girl I am:
- I couldn’t stand to have his arm slung over my shoulder—no man needs me to carry his love like a weight.
- I didn’t want him to call me every day.
- I didn’t want things to be serious.
- I didn’t want to lie around and listen to music all the time.
- I didn’t want to always be in a lip lock.
- I definitely did not want to be kissed in the middle of me talking about something I felt was important—was he ever really listening?
John Mayer writes in Slow Dancing in a Burning Room “Can’t seem to hold you like I want to so I can feel you in my arms.” I imagine it must’ve felt that way for A.
And now that A has ended it, he will never know how, despite everything, I dreamed the silly dreams of love with him, of long-time love, of warm summer nights in the park and cold evenings in front of the stove, warmed by its heat and each other. I was sold on the fantasy he painted for me, slow strokes filled with respect and love, which quickly—and unfortunately—dried and peeled, leaving nothing but blank canvas.
He said he loved me. I said I knew the difference between infatuation and love.
I was not surprised when it ended, only surprised that it was by a cell phone text saying he never wanted to see me again. Never is a really long time. But a man can only take so many “no’s” before he begins to hate who he used to love.
Don’t fret about me though. I know I’m destined for happier pairings, full of laughter, full of light. And yet, I also know I will forever be attracted to the wild fires of the musician and the darkest shadows cast by their brightest flames.
So…single yet again.
This new freedom feels sad. Perhaps it will fit better tomorrow.
Que te vaya bien,
C in C
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
This characteristic has actually led to several arguments with friends. My friend Jenn and I got into a fight in Sedona about this, because she is my opposite and is a very content shopper. We finally agreed that I would circle each store twice to make her feel less pressured, and she would cherish trinkets a little faster.
I recently had a similar experience with my friend Alfredo. The poor guy had no idea that I was not a shopper. He kept wanting to show me stores he liked (I think to make a really nice day last a little longer), but I was going crazy. I swear I had circled the same store three times. I just never know what I'm supposed to do. I just think, "They're nice things but if I'm not buying and you're not buying, why are we here?" This led to me behaving like a spoiled brat, and him wondering what the heck was wrong with me. I imagined him shaking his head and mumbling, "Women..."
I have tried to figure out why I feel this way about something that most women adore. Maybe I just don't want to look at something I can't have. Maybe it's because I don't feel the same urgency to possess things as I do to capture moments in words and photos. Maybe it's because I don't want to spend money on things that will collect dust.
Don't get me wrong. I shop. I window shop too when I see there's no way to avoid it. My purpose in these instances is merely to bond with my women friends, and try, desperately to enjoy shopping the way they do. I actually copy how they look at things, trying to imitate their rapture. When they touch something, so do I. When they point, I then point. "Oh it's so...beautiful...look, isn't this fabric...um...soft?"
And don't even get me started on clothes shopping. Can't a size be that size every time? I have always envied men who buy pants by measurments. I'm pretty sure that a 32 is always a 32.
But alas, that's not how it is for women. For example, in my closet right now, I have pants in three different sizes and they all fit. Same goes for tops. This pretty much means I have no clue where to begin when I shop, and by the time I narrow down the size, I'm too tired to care. I plan on never going to the beach this summer to avoid having to shop for a bikini.
This is why I was just kicking myself for not packing my shorts (how much room would a pair of shorts really have taken!). It kills me because I had thought about packing them, and I opted to leave them out. I actually thought, I'll just buy more when I get there. Who was I thinking would be going shopping?
This oversight meant that I would need to go shopping...in Spanish...with European sizes. I wasn't thrilled.
Luckily, Connie, my good friend, volunteered to come with me. Connie is one of my favorite Chilenas. She's only 21 but she's just got things figured out. I felt I could rely on her to help me wade through the Spanish/size challenge.
It turns out that Santiago sizes are very similar to the U.S., and I fit well in three different sized pants in different stores (I of course chose to believe that the smallest of sizes was the correct one).
But this shopping trip was different than most. Instead of a mall, we were in Barrio Patronato, well-known in the city for two things: really cheap clothes and getting robbed. Sweet! Now this is the kind of shopping I could get into--adventure shopping!
So, with a sense of purpose (yes!) and a tight grip on my purse, Connie and I shopped, and I successfully bought the summer clothes I needed.
Perhaps this will be the way to motivate me to shop in the future. Maybe I need to approach shopping as an adventure and pretend like I'm a spy on a mission to retrieve magic pants (this might also be a good way to get kicked out of a clothing store).
Or maybe it's time I accept and be proud of my non-shopper status. Next time my friends suggest shopping, I will offer some alternatives:
THEM: Let's go shop.
ME: How about white water rafting? Sky diving? Anyone up for swimming with sharks? Doesn't that sound fun?
THEM: Um, no. Let's go shopping.
ME: Okay. But let's pretend we're spies on a mission to capture the magic pants from evil goblin.
THEM: Are you feeling okay? Why don't you stay home on this trip?
Sounds perfect to me!
Que te vaya bien (y comprar bien tambien),
C in C
Monday, November 3, 2008
Below are pictures from the immigration station at the top. Doesn't it look like an entirely different planet?
1. I was suited for bus rides. Perhaps this was because of all the long car rides we took for family vacations. Perhaps it was because I love watching the scenery go by without having to drive. Plus, South American buses were pretty sweet. Videos, drinks, even a steward to make sure you didn't miss your stop.
When I first arrived, I did what I always do in a new place. I just laid back on my bed and stared at the ceiling. I find that 10 or 20 minutes of this is enough for me to push away my feelings of panic and lonliness and to motivate myself to explore (and by explore, I mean, wander around the hostel).
After lunch, I took a wine tour that included an olive oil factory and a family-owned liquor/chocolate factory and two wineries. The tour group was really wild, and half the guys were doing shots of absinthe which I believe is banned in Europe for turning artists crazy.
The next day, I went on a white water rafting adventure--the first class three river I had ever tried. When they gave me a wet suit, helmet, and life jacket, I knew this was going to be very different from the tame rivers from family rafting trips.
In the photos below, I'm in the back on the left side of the boat, next to the guide. I had the best time, and I can't wait to go again. It was the perfect mix of fear and excitement. I'm at the very edge of this photo. Others are not pictured because the front end is completely covered with water.
I made friends with the girl we're holding in this photo, along with the other women in this photo. They were German, but luckily, they spoke English and Spanish so we found a common language. After a beautiful drive back to the hostal (see below), we went out to dinner together.