Saturday, January 24, 2009

It's Time to Talk about Culture Shock

I have always considered culture shock as the panicky feeling you get when you first get to a new country--when all you can see is how different everything seems to be. I just figured it was something that lasted a couple of days, and with a couple of good nights' sleep you were cured.

I was wrong.

Recently, I was talking to a friend about culture shock and it is much more than a few days of discomfort. I just pulled this section from the Wikipedia entry on culture shock. Check it out:
  • Honeymoon Phase - During this period the differences between the old and new culture are seen in a romantic light, wonderful and new. For example, in moving to a new country, an individual might love the new foods, the pace of the life, the people's habits, the buildings and so on.

(I am past this phase--but remember when my blog celebrated how different Chile was! And I remember how scared I was to do the tiniest thing because of the language problem.)

  • Negotiation Phase - After some time (usually weeks), differences between the old and new culture become apparent and may create anxiety. One may long for food the way it is prepared in one's native country, may find the pace of life too fast or slow, may find the people's habits annoying, disgusting, and irritating etc. This phase is often marked by mood swings caused by minor issues or without apparent reason. Depression is not uncommon.

(oh, how I miss Baja Fresh! and how annoyed I can still get with the line cutters...and the disgusting habit of nose picking that seems to plight the men of this country. Has nobody heard of a kleenex?)

  • Adjustment Phase - Again, after some time (usually 6 - 12 months), one grows accustomed to the new culture and develops routines. One knows what to expect in most situations and the host country no longer feels all that new. One becomes concerned with basic living again, and things become more "normal".

(I think I'm slowly transitioning to this phase. My life here feels normal, though every once in a while, I regress to the Negotiation phase where I just get so tired of it being so "Chilean" here.).

I've been working out at the gym a lot and writing a lot and both of these things are making me really happy. But strangely (and most likely from the heat and working out so much and culture shock too), I'm just kind of tired too.

It's a time of transition here. January and February are the months when hardly anyone is around. Everything is at half pace, mainly because it's too darn hot to go any faster. Schedules for gym classes are reduced because not enough people are around. This is the thing I never liked about summer. I thrive on structure and routine. I know this. And summer just throws everything to the wind. Everything that I could count on has been rearranged. I feel caught unaware. Like everyone was part of a secret and I was not let in on it. Now I'm scrambling, trying to rearrange myself in such a way that I might mix better with this summertime Chile. To be chill. Unplanned. Unstructured. Thrown to the wind. (stop laughing Eric...I could be chill if I tried...)

Anyway, wish me luck...I believe I'm gonna need it, big time.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Jumbling Tumbling Out of My Head Much Like Mumbling

I was in a funk when I first got back, and I've been trying to find my way out of it. I think it was a combination of vacation blues, homesickness, and a cold which didn't make things any easier. Who gets a cold once a month? Sheesh!

As I started the year, my super awesome contract with Activant was cut which sent me into a tailspin of "what the heck am I to do with my life?" Some interesting things have happened because of this tailspin, all of them wonderful:
  • I stopped trying so hard to immerse myself in the Chilean culture. I'm tired of Spanish. I'm tired of connecting with new people that don't really "get" me. I summed it up with my best friend "J" that they're all nice...they're just not "my people." So the upside of this is that I've been hanging out with Caitlin and Mari, who I consider "my people." People who get me, who support my struggles, who ask me to support theirs. I feel far more uplifted from a day hanging with Mari and Caitlin than I do with my Chilean friends. So I'm just gonna continue doing so until I feel differently.
  • Because of the no money thing, I stopped Spanish lessons and Yoga at Bikram (which my parents dub military yoga). Instead I joined a gym where I could take dance, yoga, kickboxing and work out for about an eighth of the cost. I figured it would also help me out of my funk, which it has. It's a small, independent, rundown looking gym. But it's got charm. It also offered a free personal training program and even better, this program was accompanied by the very cute personal trainer Jaime who is just my type: Hispanic, fit, funny and bestill my heart, he can dance! Today I think he might have invited me out on a date to this lagoon an hour outside of Santiago for a barbeque and wind surfing lessons...but I'm not quite sure as always. I think what confused me was the totally calm and casual way in which he asked me. No one has EVER been that smooth. I was sort of just in awe and found myself agreeing in spite of recent swearing off of Chilean men.
  • I figured out what I'd like to do when I return: write...specifically journalism and essays. And in submitting queries and articles within the last two weeks, I got my first "yes" and will get a few articles published online for this publication called Matador Travel. I'll let you know when they come out. I also managed to find some work for companies that will support my magazine/newspaper freelancing habit. So I'm going to read a lot of journalism books, write a lot for now, and see what happens. But I'm really, really happy about the whole thing. It's like finding a lost part of myself. It just fits.
  • I'm realizing that with my newfound writing career, living in the Bay Area might not be the brightest idea in the world. Portland, Seattle, and Madison have all of sudden become ideas for places to live when I return. I am surprised by this revelation--why would ever think of not living in the Bay Area? And yet, I am. So I need your help. I'm looking for a city filled with young people where I could possibly take public transportation instead of driving and where I could live on a writer's salary and where my dog would have space--anyone with suggestions, let me know!

And that's all folks for now. I think even though I'm a bit homesick, in my heart, I know my place is here for now. Even though I miss my family and friends, my dog and cats, this is where I need to be. For a second there, I had been thinking that maybe it was time to throw in the towel and go home, but now I know, the adventure in Chile has barely begun.

Chao Chicos,


Machu Pichu

I have so much to write, wow!, so I might be sending several blog entries tonight, if I am sufficiently motivated (and energized with a packet of Triton Vainilla cookies). Okay, first things first, I've gotta get those Machu Pichu pics to you.

I believe I left the story off at arriving in Cusco and having exactly two days to book a train to Machu Pichu and back to make my flight home early on the 31st. Piece of cake, right? I think God had a very big laugh upstairs with that presumption.

The day I arrived in Cusco, I checked out travel agent prices. It was going to cost $190 to take the train there and back and for a guide as well. I knew train tickets were only $80 so I figured I would forgo the travel agency and arrive early in the train station the next day and get tickets. The next day, I arrived at 6am with a large line in front of me. An hour later, I got to the front of the line (with no cash on hand...what was I thinking?) but it didn't matter anyway because they only had 1-way tickets available. I would have to stay two days in Machu Pichu city (Agua Calientes) and come home on the 1st. It sounded complicated. I had no money. I was defeated.

I went to the train cafeteria to regroup and that's where I talked with a travel agent who recommended I head to the other train station (wait...there's two here?) which would open at 7am. I raced over there and got into an even bigger line. Luckily they were more efficient with many windows open and a number system (which is key in Chile where everyone cuts and is probably key in Peru too). And this is where luck was on my side! When my number was called, at first the sales lady only had the same deal (going tomorrow, returning on the 1st), when all of sudden an ida y vuelta mismo dia (round trip same day) ticket was released and suddenly I was booked for the next day to Machu Pichu!

It was only later in the day that I realized that my train wasn't leaving Cusco, it was leaving from Ollantaitambo, two hours from Cusco. A taxi ride would have been fine going there in the morning, but I had the last train returning to Cusco which would have put me in a taxi in the middle of nowhere at 11:30pm to arrive in Cusco at 1am. This would not do.

I returned to the travel agency and they fixed me up with a guide and a tour bus to and from Ollantaitambo. I'd have safe transport.

Everything was set. And with all the energy I expended, I saved $10! Woo hoo!

But what an adventure! Check out these pics.

This is the vistadome train--the most expensive one apparently. Two hours later, we were in Aguas Calientes, the town below Machu Pichu, fully supported by the tourism to Machu Pichu (perhaps created because of the tourism to Machu Pichu). I purchased coca leaves for tea there.

A shuttle then drove us up the mountain where we met our English tour guide and began a tour of one of the wonders of the world...

This is the first view you get of Machu Pichu and it is spectacular. The site looks like it's balanced precariously on this mountain, reaching toward heaven.

This is the first time I felt like my camera failed was having such a hard time accounting for the fog and the dark rocks and was a tough situation. These are the few that came out.

They said that over 70% of the structures were original, 30% had been reconstructed. What surprised me and I'm not sure why it did, but they explained that all the structures were built to support a thatched roof made from clay. I'm not sure why I figured the Incas were living in buildings without roofs but I just figured the roof wouldn't look so much like something I could find in England in the 1600s. Man, they were way ahead of their time.

There were wild llamas that stood sentry to the Machu Pichu site.

Here I am casually on top of the world!

Another awesome llama enjoying the view.

Now this was one of the coolest things I loved about Machu Pichu. What? The brown water? No, the fact that they had made provisions for the runoff from all the rain. They had gutters!
I wandered all around the site--this would never have been possible if America had a Machu Pichu. There would have been a set path. But nope, I was unsupervised and getting into all kinds of trouble.
Then, my luck seemed to hold and I managed to get on an earlier train back and an earlier shuttle back and made it to Cusco by 10pm. Safe and sound (and slightly wet from the rain).
The next day, I got on the plane to head home to Santiago. It was a fabulous trip that only made me want to travel more. Such a vicious cycle :)
I guess what I realized most about this trip is that Santiago has become my reality. Which is good and bad. It means I'm comfortable and feel settled in here. But it also means that I suffer the vacation blues here in Santiago after a vacation elsewhere.
The gist is: I want another vacation. Hmmm, where to next?
Chao Chicos,

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

1 am mutterings

I can’t sleep. Why can’t I sleep? It’s because I’m dreaming big awake dreams, dreams of what I want to do, what job would satisfy me for a lifetime, what would keep me entertained and on my toes and committed?

I believe that writing will. It’s the one activity I have been doing since I learned how to do it. The longest running entertaining activity. And to put a spin on this writing; I decided recently I wanted to be a journalist, or a magazine staff writer—something where I’d be learning about new things all the time, and I would be reaching a larger audience, and I wouldn’t always be selling something like I do when I write for companies. I want a byline. I want to make an impact. I want to contribute something to my community.

It’s strange how it took me coming all the way to Chile to realize, that for the first time, I want to feel like I am a part of a community. That I want to be part of the dialogue. That I want to finally hear the problems so I can be a part of a solution. I am so ashamed to be the poster girl for my ambivalent generation, but I’m it. Up until now, I’ve been super happy and only slightly guilty to have ignored current events, to have sat out on debate, to have watched events unfold from the sidelines as if I were merely a spectator and the outcome would never effect me, no matter who won.

I have never protested anything in my life. I have never civilly disobeyed. I was one of few people who showed up in my political geography class when the professor told us it would be okay to go out and protest. I’m not sure that it’s just because I’m a rule follower. I think it’s more than that. That I’m afraid. Afraid to take a side---for fear that it will create voices of opposition, more conflict, only this time, the conflict will be hurled at me. To get involved would mean I would have to believe wholeheartedly in my opinion…and I never felt I was ever really “right” about anything. I found it so hard to argue anything growing up because I would inevitably agree with both sides of a truly difficult match up.

So, because of this, I never saw journalism as a place where I would write, where I would want to get involved. I saw newspapers and the news as being incredibly negative with nothing ever good happening in the world but I was judging without really reading. What these reporters wrote, what any reporter writes, has a chance to reach and effect thousands of people; to start movements, to stop wars, to make a difference on a scale of community, region, as a nation, and maybe even as a world. I can’t imagine a life without being involved in this conversation. So I will converse.

It comes as such a big disappointment to hear from my parents that newspapers are a dying medium (perhaps), that the Internet is the way to go (also perhaps), and that maybe I can be the weather girl for a news channel instead (very funny guys). But I want to write. There must be someone making money out there writing. There’s so much more writing than ever before! It is online, it is still in newspapers, it is being set for the teleprompters. I don’t know how I’m going to do this. I don’t know what I’m going to do, but I’m going to make a comfortable living writing. I’m going to support myself, my dog and my two cats on this salary; I swear to it.

Now, I just have to figure out how. Chile will be my starting point. Though it is frustrating that I can't access millions of magazines like I can in the States, and researching in Spanish is always challenging, I am saving money by being here.

I will not waste this moment. I have an opportunity to start something great. I will not quit. And in not quitting, I have already…eventually…succeeded.

Que te vaya bien (and sorry for the spelling errors or missing's 1am!)

C in C

Wednesday, January 7, 2009


The first thing I did when I landed in Lima, after I exchanged my money for soles, was barter for a taxi. Luckily, my Spanish professor had warned me of the unregulated taxis, and I was prepared to drive a hard bargain. When I finally got the price down to 40 soles (from 60), I decided it was probably good enough and headed out into the heart of the city.

We wound our way through the dusty streets, the poverty level more apparent here than in Santiago (or maybe I had merely gotten used to the poverty in Santiago). I began to quiz the taxi driver on the city. I had heard there were only two classes in Peru--no middle class--but the taxi driver insisted there were four: rich, middle, poor, and super poor. He placed himself in the poor category and said the super poor lived on the hills. I saw the hills later. They were overrun with shacks, some of which didn't even have the basic running water and electricity. What I decided later is that Peru is like a strange mix between South Beach, Miami and Tiajuana.

I was staying in Miraflores, the most upscale section of Lima (the South Beach side), the place filled with fancy restaurants and hip bars. After finding my hostel, I walked down to a plaza for dinner and just fell in love. Miraflores was beautiful.

However, the next day, I was not feeling the Lima love. Montezuma's revenge had struck! Oddly enough, all the pain I felt was in my back. I could barely stand. But it wasn't terrible enough to stay in my room all day. I decided to take a tour of the city in the hopes that the walking would be minimal.

That's where I found the vultures.

I don't exactly remember the details of this section of town since I was so captured by the images of the vultures on the roof of this church.

After the tour, I explored more of town (in between bouts of back pain).

This woman to me was quintessential Peru. Also part of quintessential Peru is the cab you can see behind the stand. I have never seen so many taxis in my life! And because I was a Gringa and they hoped I had money for a taxi ride, every single taxi that passed honked its horn at me. I'm not exaggerating. I think it averaged a honk every five seconds. It was one of the most annoying things ever and almost ruined the Lima glow for me. But the Lima greatness prevailed.

In the surf behind me are four or five surfers still riding waves. Off to my right, out of the picture were paragliders enjoying the wind.

So, even with the back pain and yuckiness, I really loved Lima. I was already having more fun in Lima than I had had in Cajon de Maipo. It made me laugh because it meant that I preferred traveler's diarhea and debilitating back pain over loneliness. I guess I really hate being lonely.

When I woke up the next day, I was as good as new! I decided I would see if I could swing a airplane ticket to Cusco. Everyone had told me it was a must-see. But when I checked there weren't any for the days I wanted. Of course, because now I couldn't easily go, I wanted to go even more.

Just as I decided to try going to the airport and seeing if Icould fly standby, I was waylaid by a sales woman advertising trips to Cusco. They were selling bus trips. Suddenly, the fates had stepped in. I weighed my options. Get on a bus today, save money not having to stay in a hostel since it would be traveling overnight, and guarantee arrival in Cusco the next day for very little money...or risk not getting there at all.

I got on the bus at 3pm that day. It was the best decision I made on the trip. The buses in South America are like airplanes in the States. There was a bus attendant (stewardess?) helping us with anything we needed, a dinner was provided, and I saw four pirated movies throughout the evening. I also got to see Peru. The coast was desert, dry, huge mountains of dirt.

As we wound our way up the mountains, it got foggy and wet.

And I actually slept, which was a miracle. 22 hours later, I arrived in Cusco.
Cusco reminded me of a European town with cobblestone streets and Spanish-tiled roofs. The people though, were all Peruvian.

A girl in the traditional Peruvian outfit.

This is the Plaza de Armas.

Plaza de Armas at night.

A market nearby offering all kinds of wares to tourists.

A boy and his donkey.

Now all I had to do was buy a train ticket to Machu Pichu. I only had two days of wiggle room before I was scheduled to head home. No problem!!!
To be continued...