When our bus took a right and we headed down a hill towards the city, I saw exactly what I expected: colorful little houses, one on top of the other, covering the hills surrounding the city. I saw these types of houses in the hills of Guayaquil, Ecuador, but there were 5 times as many of them in Valparaiso. The hills came up, emerging from the Pacific Ocean and were dotted with thousands of houses. Closer to the ocean there were a few taller buildings, and a plaza with restaurants and shops surrounding a water fountain in the center.

After we filed off the bus we followed Valentina towards the ocean. When we got to the harbor, where boats ranging from small motorboats to giant tankers from Liberia were docked, Valentina told us to stay put while she negotiated a price for us to take a boat ride around the harbor. “These people are dangerous” she told us. We assumed she was referring to the fishermen eating their lunches and not the children who were playing with toy butterflies next to them… Valentina thinks everything is dangerous in her city while to us it seems pretty peaceful. She justifies her claims of insecurity by saying that, “there are drunk people everywhere” and once told us that we shouldn’t hike the San Cristobal hill because there are people with guns who live on the hill and that drunk people frequently fall down the hill and die. It’s pretty humorous. I think some of it should be blamed on her english, which is confusing at times. I don’t think she really knows how to describe the dangers of Santiago so she scares us with stories of drunkards that have become hard to believe.

Anyways, she negotiated a price and we were given a tour of the bay. One of the “dangerous” men drove us around in a small motorboat and Anny told us different details about the city as we cruised along the coast. We passed two sea lions and a penguin, both of which I got video. I took pictures of the city but similar to the mountains, pictures do not do it justice.

After the boat ride we took the public transportation (a cart that rides up the hills on train tracks) up in the direction of the restaurant where we ate lunch. We had to walk up quite a few stairs to get to the restaurant but I didn’t mind at all because on either side of us, the walls were covered with inimitable art and graffiti. There were illustrations of everything from Haile Selassie to views of the ocean to Spongebob. It was really cool and it seemed really unique to Valparaiso.

The restaurant we went to was really nice. It specialized in seafood of course so I got swordfish with spinach. I tried a Chilean dish that was kind of like a bisque with some sort of snail in it… It was really good and I ended up eating the second half of Abby’s because she was too full.

When we came into the city Valentina noted that it is a UNESCO world heritage site, and because of that everything must be preserved. This means that instead of tearing down buildings to make more modern, efficient  buildings and offices, they must build on top of these old rustic buildings. Many of the buildings in the city are abandoned but they must be left as they are to preserve the beauty of the city. It is a really troublesome concept. Valparaiso will continue to be the key to the international trade that fuels Chile’s economic development, but the city itself will be forcibly stuck in its history, prohibited from developing. The people in the hills will someday trade their colorful shacks for more functional houses but for now, they are stuck living crammed together, on a hill, in one of the most earthquake-prone areas of the world. Valparaiso is on UNESCO’s list for a reason however. There is no arguing that it is a stunning city full of history and culture. If ever you travel to Chile, Valparaiso should be on the top of your list of places to visit.


Drought in East Africa

I’m taking a quick break from blogging about Chile to shed some light on the drought that is destroying the lives of MILLIONS of people in Kenya, Ethiopia, and Somalia.

When I was in Kenya, I was able to see the consequences of the drought firsthand. In the Maasai village that I went to, their water source was almost completely depleted. This was only the beginning, when the drought was first recognized in May. Now, more than two months later, the rains still have not come. This has left millions of people in Kenya, Somalia, and Ethiopia without water to drink, grow food, or give to their animals. In a society where the number of cows you have is everything, I’d imagine that the tribe I visited now has zero. I remember the chief telling us that he had hundreds of cows before the drought and was down to only 35 (in May). He just didn’t have enough water to keep them alive. He told us how his people were already suffering from a lack of water and how much help they needed. I am worried for the people of this tribe now. I know that they are too proud to leave their land to seek a refugee camp where they will be provided food and water. I also know that they are very isolated in the middle of the Rift Valley and therefore it is difficult for aid agencies and the government to help them.

Sam Sturgis has been keeping everybody posted about the drought on Facebook  and when I watched this video ( ) that he posted the other day I felt compelled to donate and write about it. Everybody who reads this blog, should watch the video and donate to the International Rescue Committee (IRC), the organization that Sam is interning for this summer. It is a great organization that helps refugees and victims of disasters like the famine developing in the Horn of Africa. They are doing so much to provide food and water for the emaciated victims of the drought. When you watch this video please remember that it isn’t just a news story, it is really happening! These are real people (who I have met) and the suffering this video shows is what they have to deal with. Organizations like the IRC and Oxfam cannot provide relief to the people who have been devastated by the drought without donations from us so please be as generous as you can. It will save lives.


Drought in East Africa

Social Protests in Chile

Thursday is the most important day of the week these days for Chilean university students. This past Thursday, over 80,000 marched down one of the main avenues in Chile to demonstrate against the education system in the country. The students want education to be equal for all, not tipped in favor of the wealthy and well connected.

Chilean society is very class oriented. Who you are has a lot to do with how much money you have, what your last name is, where you are from, what you do, where you got your education, etc. The education system reflects this, keeping children from poorer families together in one school while the middle class students attend their own school, and the well-off study in another. Chilean college students are showing their displeasure with the current system by marching in the streets and the police are showing their displeasure with the students with tear gas and water cannons.

On Thursday we weren’t able to go to the march, but we did walk down the street afterwards and saw all of the debris left over. We could smell the lingering sting of tear gas stuck in the air from the morning. I picked up a handful of papers with supportive messages to the protesters written on them. I thought these were the only souvenir I would get from the protests but I was wrong.

A few hours later, we when we got off of the bus at estacion central, I saw a cloud of smoke and a bunch of people running to see over the fence of the station into the street. I immediately got so excited, hoping I would finally get a glimpse of the students fighting for their cause. I ran over to the fence and contorted myself through a crowd of people to get to the front where I could get video of what was happening. It was then that my nose started to burn like it had a few hours ago and I realized the smoke in the street was tear gas.

I watched for the next minute or so, with my camera on the few dozen riot police in the street and I couldn’t tell what they were doing. It looked like they might have been pulling a fellow police man away from the road as if he had been injured. Then under the smoke, the street lit up in flames. A molotov cocktail was thrown at the police from behind a building. I aimed my camera at it as fast as I could as more tear gas was set off by the police and people around me started to run away. I felt like I just snorted tobasco sauce and my eyes felt like they were on fire. Tears started to cloud my eyes but I knew if I left I might not see something like this again so I wanted to get as much footage as I could. Finally I gave in and ran after the rest of my group. I couldn’t open my eyes for a minute or so and had tears running down my face. I thought to myself that maybe it wasn’t worth staying the extra thirty seconds but after about five minutes I was back to normal and I was watching the videos on the next bus ride. For the first time ever, I felt like a real journalist, in the thick of the action; an awesome, riveting, and important international social movement. It was a thrill and I am so excited for next Thursday. I will convince Anny to let me go down to the protests so I can see the students gather and get a video of it. Last week I heard that the families of the students are coming on Thursday in an effort to make the demonstrations more subdued, and in hope of garnering more respect from the authorities.

It is amazing that in the last two weeks in Chile miners have been protesting, students are protesting, and Chileans of all types have been protesting about putting a hydroelectric dam in Patagonia (the pristine southern part of the country that Chileans don’t want to be disturbed with technology). This culture is inspiring and it is a blast to be around. I remember the feelings I got being in the crowd at SJ playoff games, rooting so hard for the team to win and feeling like the whole crowd was a team in itself. When I watch coverage of the social movements here in Chile or look back on the Arab Spring I feel like these people must feel those same feelings but a hundred times stronger. And the truly incredible part is that they are protesting for things that change so many lives! So many, its so inspiring. I know that the protesters here feel like a team, because they are so well organized in their movement, and they are fighting for one another. In the Middle East the protests didn’t seem as jovial but that sense of togetherness seemed apparent in the protesting population. I’m in the process of organizing some interviews so I can hear Chilean students’ feelings first hand. It should be interesting.

Social Protests in Chile

Dancing All Over The World

One thing that is very different from Latin America and Africa, and the US is the prominence of dancing as a main part of culture. In Kenya, everywhere we went we were welcomed with a song and a dance and in Chile, going out drinking and dancing seems to be the most popular pastime.

A few nights ago we went to a restaurant called Chachafaz where they have free tango lessons every night. We didn’t eat dinner just got a few appetizers like chicken empenadas and some tomato bread which was kind of like a Chilean version of bruschetta. From 8-9 there were beginner lessons, in which we learned the basic 8 steps of tango… piece of cake. Lizette helped me a lot because she kind of knew how to tango already so it helped to have her to dance with. Then from 9-10 we learned a little bit more advanced moves but nothing to crazy… I was surprised how easy and simple it all seemed. Me and Kate had it mastered so we asked to learn another step that we saw the teacher teaching an older couple. She said no because we had learned too much for one class…. I took it as a compliment. From 10 on, lessons were over and the floor was free. I danced tango, learned a little salsa and mixed a little freestyle in there too. There was  a live band that wasn’t bad. I met two women, probably in their 40s who loved us all and told us we need to learn quaqua (spelling?), the traditional dance of Chile. So, I gave them my email and they are going to send me info bout where to go to learn.

On Wednesday night, Valentina took us to Maestra Vida, the best salsa club in the city according to her. It was a really cool place, small and dark with a pretty nice bar and tables and chairs tucked messily up against the walls. There was a stage where Valentina’s ex-boyfriend’s band played. They were awesome, something like a Chilean version of Sublime. I think I’m going to get their cd before I come home. When I first got there, I just wanted to watch. The way Chileans dance is unbelievable. The guys move their bodies like they are girls and everybody’s arms seem as though they are double-jointed. At one point later in the night, Allison and I were sitting watching this guy dance like Shakira and we both had our mouths wide open wondering how he was doing what he was. Salsa is cool to watch because it is really artistic, but that means it is harder for me too do. Its all about the guy leading so you just have to practice to get better. I have the basic steps down but my creativity is kind of lacking. Even after watching the Chilean guys do it, I still can’t seem to get some of their moves right. It was fun to learn though and the band was really great. I’m definitely looking forward to going back and trying to learn more.

It is interesting that dancing is so big in Latin America and Africa, but so culturally unimportant in the US. Maybe it is because we don’t have a single big native population that would keep “American” tradition alive. Even still, you might think that with the mix of people from all over the world that live in America, we might get a mix of the different traditional dances and adapt them to be part of “American” culture. Doesn’t seem to be the case in my mind but if you disagree please comment. After being in Kenya and Chile I’ve noticed that both countries have a culture that truly identifies them while America seems to be identified more by ideology than cultural practices.


Dancing All Over The World

Step 2 – getting to know Santiago

The balcony in my hotel has become my chill spot… I come out here to read, eat breakfast, write my blogs, and to hang with Karl and Desmond. It’s great because I’m outside and I get to feel the city.

The mountains have been beautiful the last two days. On the first day we were here it was terribly smoggy so we weren’t able to get that great of a view of them but on Monday, when we walked up on to the street from Baquedano station the sky was clear for us to enjoy. I didn’t notice them right away but when I looked around and saw them I was stunned. They are gorgeous! Massive and snow-capped. Every time I look at them I pick out dream ski lines that I want to do. Me and Desmond walked down the street to get lunch, past a KFC and into a little diner type place. We both got chicken with empenadas (little ravioli kind  of things filled with cheese that you eat with your hands). It was good and really cheap; only 2,125 chilean pesos each (about USD$4). From there, we met up with the rest of the group and went to San Cristobal(? I’m not quite sure of the name of the place), a big hill in the middle of the city with a huge statue of St. Mary on top; a place where people go to pray and to take pictures of the city and the mountains. We went up in a big cart on train tracks and it kind of felt like we were going up a big roller coaster about to get to the big drop. The view from the top was great but it would’ve been even more incredible if the city wasn’t so polluted! Even still, we could see the mountains better than we had since arriving and we were able to look out over the whole city. I stopped at a shop and got Mote con Huesillo. It was delicious; tea with cut up peaches in it and grains like corn kernels at the bottom. I drank the tea but also used a spoon to eat the peaches and the grains.

That night we came back and made burgers and chorrizo sausages in our room and they turned out delicious mostly thanks to Karl. Everybody came over and we all hung out until maybe 2ish and then we went to bed to get some sleep for class.

I know this one was short, but I just wanted to post something quickly because I hadn’t in a few days. The next one will be more interesting; about our first classes and the tango lessons we took.

Step 2 – getting to know Santiago

First Impressions – Santiago

We walked out of the airport and to our surprise, the first thing we saw was a tall Holiday Inn, a telling sign that this country would be much different than Kenya.

After we piled in to our big gray bus, without our luggage, (which we were told was mistakenly sent to Lima, Peru and would arrive on the next flight to Santiago) we made our way towards our hotel in the city. The highway and the driving style was nearly identical to what we are used to in the United States. The earth by the side of the road looked burnt by the winter, barren and raw with only thin, decrepit looking trees scattered around. It felt like it was about 50 degrees outside, crisp and clean like a perfect New England spring skiing day. If we looked to our right we could see the outline of mountains through the fog that I learned is pretty consistent in Santiago because the mountains trap in the clouds and pollution from the city. As we drove closer to our hotel we could see snowcapped peaks of the Andes if we peered through the clouds and between the dozens of towering skyscrapers in the city.

At one point on our bus ride, our professor Anny reffered to Chile as a third world country. As we drove on beautifully paved roads, with actual speed limits and smooth traffic, then through a mile long tunnel that emerged at the foot of a city full of modern buildings and colossal skyscrapers, I couldn’t help but disagree. As I watched dozens of people running or walking their dogs in the park on my right I immediately thought and actually said under my breath, “There’s no way this is a third-world country.” So far I felt like I was driving from Shrewsbury to Boston, the only difference being the incredibly beautiful mountains all around.

The modernity and architecture of the skyscrapers was stunning. A few of them closely resembled the John Hancock building in Boston. The streets were quiet and peaceful and the financial capital of South America seemed surprisingly underpopulated. At one point when we were walking to lunch, it was eery how empty the streets were. After lunch we took the subway to a wealthy neighborhood of Santiago to take a tour of one of Pablo Neruda’s houses. The subway system made Boston’s T look awful. The trains here were cleaner, moved twice as fast, and offered a ride that was a million times smoother. It was something I completely unexpected from this “third-world country.” When we climbed the stairs and emerged on the streets downtown we became immersed in the culture of Santiago. Bright cafes and bars were filled with young people smoking and drinking, small, colorful houses lined the streets near Pablo Neruda’s house (an artistic delight in itself), and restaurants lured me to read their menus with patios full of customers. Even downtown, the city still seemed quiet and empty. There were friendly stray dogs roaming the street looking for food and attention that amazingly only crossed the street when the green walking sign flashed on the other side. It was like they were people themselves, intertwined into the culture of downtown Santiago. The city seemed so creative and unique.

However, I learned in Kenya, and Ecuador for that matter, that a country is much more than its big city. Actually, it is seems just the opposite, that the rural parts of the country make it what it is.

As I write from the balcony of my hotel room on my first night in Santiago, I know that as I travel around the country my perspective of Chile will be molded everyday. For now, I could definitely see myself getting used to this quiet, artistic city but I am excited too see what the rest of the country is like.



First Impressions – Santiago