Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Of Carrettes, Commies and Chileanese: These Are a Few of My Favorite Things

Carretear (pronounced carr-ay-tay-ar) is the Chilean word for partying—and not just partying but an all-nighter of drinking at some pubs until 2 or so, and then dancing at the discos until the wee hours (still earlier than on the other side of the Andes but whose counting.)  In my few months down here, my best carrete ended with a 3 hour sunrise walk that concluded with an early morning snooze on the beach and breakfast under a palm tree, not too shabby!   Commies are the eternal and mortal enemy of the free, capitalist-happy Western world—the Northern half, at least.  While the Occupy protests are a relatively new phenomenon for the USA, that kind of thing is old news down here—that is until you mess with the police and they round you up with high-powered water-cannons mounted on tanks that roam the capital and mass tear gas you, but hey, you threw the first rock, payback is a bitch.  The current fight for free education has been going on for well over 6 months and many students have not gone to school for an entire year because students have literally taken over their own schools and won’t let anyone in.  The political views of many of my Chilean friends would surely have prompted Richard Nixon to finance a coup ‘d’état.  Wait, that happened?!  Chileanese is what they attempt to pass off as Spanish down here (at best it's vaugly similar and then, only at times.)   My favorite word is bakan, which means cool and was the first Chilenisimo I learned because well, what's cooler than bacon?  Cachai?  Sipo.  Que bueno.  (Get it?  Got it.  Good)

Dream On

Ahh the Pacific Coast Highway…top down, hair blowing in the wind, pimped out hot rod, beautiful blonde riding shotgun, sun setting over the Pacific, sounds like the California Dream right? 

Let me introduce you, my esteemed reader, to the next big thing, I will call it simply, the Chilean Dream: We are speeding up a coastal section of the PanAmerican; the top is most definitely not down as I am lying in my seat-cum-bed on the first floor of a pimped out bright green double-decker TurBus; the only things blowing through my hair are the crumbs from the alfajor the guy in front of me is eating; there is a burly-looking-miner-type man snoring next to me (I am sure his wife thinks he is beautiful, I wonder if he was one of the famous 33?)  How exactly is this like the California Dream mentioned above?  Well, shit man, this is Chile for peets sake!  So what if I am not actually driving this oversized tricked-out gargantuan of a vehicle and would prefer it if (rather pray that) the man sitting to my right doesn’t proposition me for a quickie on the side of the road.  Even though I have been in the doldrums as of late, I am in Chile I tell myself, "live in the moment"; and so I go back to being in my dream of sorts: I am transfixed by an infinite mirror of beautiful yellows, pinks and reds over the normally deep-blue Pacific. 

The Pendulum

I've been pretty bad at this whole blog thing, with that said, I bet that 90% of people who start a blog probably say the same thing after only one post, so I succeeded in some sense....I have a whooping 3.  Naturally of course, I regret not writing more but sometimes I think experiences like this are best viewed in hindsight...you know, when you can gloss over all the low points and become nostalgic for all the others.  Wouldn't you be damned, that's already happened to me!  

As I begrudgingly told my family and friends that I was planning on leaving at the end of the week, it struck me as exceptionally odd that I could already be so nostalgic as frankly, I was absolutely miserable and bored down here on many (the majority?) of occasions.  As I was debating leaving numerous times, my friend Lauren put it to me quite simply, she told me to look at the ratio of good days to bad ones and then decide if it was worth it to stay. In the end, there is no exact numerical ratio or anything of the sort but I think she had a great point.  The majority of my days are spent in school or at home, doing well, not a whole lot of anything.  I spend my days surfing the web and watching NHL, NFL and Daily Show clips when the bandwidth is high enough.  The amount of time I spend on Facebook has become shameful.  I wish it had some sort of timer measuring how much time you waste on it; I think that number alone would be quite indicative of my boredom, loneliness and overall discontentment down here.  

Just yesterday I swore to myself that I would get out of here as quickly as I could as I was simply fed up with how ridiculous and sitcom-like my life is at times.  Surprise, surprise, Monday morning rolled around and I slept through my alarm at 7am (it should be noted that I didn't go to bed until 1pm on Saturday and 7am on Sunday so this was not exactly that surprising).  And so I missed the Orellana family wagon to school that leaves promptly at 8:10am (did I mention that school conveniently starts at 8am...what's the saying about following your own rules when you're the boss?).  Right.  Well, despite my best effort to hurry up, I didn't make it to school until 11 or so; nor however, did I sleep past 8am.  How exactly did I lose three hours?  Despite missing the O-Wagon (it’s actually a Kia), I was still on track to make it to my first class at 9:30 when I walked out the backdoor of the house at 8:30 yesterday morning.  I'm not sure if it was sleeping in or falling asleep on the beach super curado 24 hours earlier (perhaps my finest carrete in Chile, thanks Seba!)  but karma shat on me when I got to the paradero.  The paradero is the bus stop for both micros and colectivos that make the 10km journey from the ho-dunk rural farm area where I live to the ho-dunk, quasi-industrial town where I work.  

Here is a primer on my transportation options.  Colecitvos you'll remember are shared, fixed route taxis, and they usually ply the route with a relatively routine frequency and efficiency.  Micros on the other hand, are colorful, Soviet-era mini busses that belch ungodly colored smoke and rattle along at mind-blowingly slow speeds while the drivers zig-zag as far off the route as they can in search of passengers to boost their pay (see The Inefficiencies of the Bus System).  I have only taken the micro a few times as I find them incredibly frustrating but they take anywhere between 1 and 2 hours.  Just for a little comparison, to go 10 kilometers or 6 miles, it takes, 10 minutes by car, 30 minutes by colectivo and 1-2 hours by micro.  While colectivos are theoretically much quicker the problem is that they only go to the center of town, which leaves me having to take another colectivo to school thus the journey ends up being only slightly shorter than the micro.  That is of course, unless I manage to get into an empty colectivo whereby I can pay for a viaje especial (special trip) to go straight to school.  Sound complicated and frustrating?  My family drives everywhere (or hires someone to drive the kids); only the nanny and maid take the micro or colectivo, even then, only occasionally. 

So there I was yesterday morning at the paradero at 8:30am, a micro passed but I figured a colectivo couldn’t be far behind; 15 minutes later, another micro passed but since I live at the end of the line, I figured an empty colectivo would come by (as they usually do) and I would pay for the viaje especial and make up time by going straight to school—thus avoiding the dreaded micro.  At 9:15 or so, a scrubby looking high school kid came and joined me at the stop; finally we both spotted a colectivo coming down the road and flagged it down.  That is when I about lost it, the kid opened the door, jumped in, and then as I ducked into the car, I heard the driver and other passengers, “esta completo joven.” 

“It’s full dude.” 

I started shaking my fist at the little high school shit head, just about grabbed him by the head, blurted out every Chilean explicative I know while explaining to him that I waited a long time and he had to get out of the car.  He closed the door; I started punching the window, still cursing at him in Chilean, Argentine and English or some mix of the three and then flipped him the bird as they sputtered off.

I was so defeated, I wished that I had let more New Yorker/Argentine attitude through but it was too late and I have become way to Chilean (read complacent, laid back, like a Californian).  I contemplated what to do, I thought about just going back to bed but decided that I had to go to school.  Another colectivo came a while later, it was full; finally around 10am (an hour and a half after I got to the paradero), I managed to flag one down and get a seat.  I was the fourth passenger to get in so my hopes of going straight to school were dashed.  On top of that, or more precisely, in the middle of it, the large gentleman in the backseat decided to jump out and let me slide in rather than sitting bitch himself.  I swore to myself that I was done with this place and that I would immediately go to my boss and tell her of my plans to leave on Sunday. 

I strolled into school at the bell marking the beginning of recess for the elementary school kids still boiling with anger and defeat.  I walked in the front gate and nearly tumbled over as 40 2nd graders swarmed my legs screaming Tio Cheeeep.  All of the girls tugged at my shirt to give me a customary kiss on the cheek (albeit a fat wet one as opposed to the normal bumping of cheeks and making a kissy noise) and the boys all stuck out their fists to “pouwnd eet”. 

I am convinced at this point that kids are like puppies until they are 3rd graders, no matter if they are crying, wining, or obnoxiously loud, they absolutely melt me and make everything better.  

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Huaso this

I have a headache.  No, it's not because I have a cold.  Nor is it because I slept terribly last night after being jolted (literally) awake at 4am by a rather large (5.9) earthquake.  It's because the same three-minute long instrumental has been blaring at school for two weeks.  You do the damn math, I am at school for 10 hours per day, 4 days per week.  According to my rough calculations (that means the flawless duo of Google and an iPhone) that means I have heard the same song well over 3,000 times.  Yeah, my head hurts, it's Wednesday, and Independence Day is on Saturday.  FML

Apparently, Independence Day is not a singular day at all down here rather it is a whole month to commemorate the day when your Criollo Great-Great-Great-Great Grandpa Don Juan the Huaso (cowboy) helped to liberate Chile of those pesky, overbearing Spaniards.  What's the best way to commemorate your national heritage?  Well of course it's by dusting off your gramps' old wardrobe and dressing little Fernando, Fernanda, Camillo and Camilla like old Don Juan the Huaso or one of his many chinas (sweethearts) that he bravely fought the Spanish conquistadores for.   Maybe little Fernando and little Camilla can pretend like they are frustratingly lusting after each other and do the national dance, La Cueca.  Wouldn't that be cute?  Sure would—once, maybe twice, hell even a third time.

Nope, that's not enough though.  Over and over again, every day in gym class, they dance to the only Cueca song that seems to exist on CD.  Yeah, it's real f*ckin awesome.  Especially when you design your school around an outdoor patio that also happens to double as the gymnasium and put up walls that are thinner than the Motel 6 where you may or may not have been mistakenly conceived.  Yup, my head hurts.  A lot.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Super Disco Breakin'

Despite nearly falling asleep in my bowl of cazuela at lunch on Saturday, (really, f*cking cazuela again?) I pulled myself together and sent my sorry-hungover-ass packing out the back gate of the farm and trudged through the mud to the colectivo (shared, fixed route taxi).  I had committed to going to a fellow volunteer’s birthday carette in Valpo and decided that despite my lack of sleep, pounding headache, not-quite-right stomach and the sheer ridiculousness of the previous night’s antics, I wasn’t going to back out.  Getting to Valpo from the farm is no easy feat despite the fact that it’s only 40 miles.  In a car, it takes roughly 45 minutes to an hour but guess who doesn’t have a car and thus has become a defacto expert in rural public transportation.  The journey from the farm in Hijuelas is of epic proportions.  It involves said slog through muddy fields to the colectivo which then takes me to La Calera (where I teach), roughly 30 minutes.  From the colectivo stop, it is several blocks on foot through a city that will likely never appear in your Lonely Planet to where I hopefully find a bus waiting (theoretically it should be that seamless but somehow, never is). 
The busses, which range from relatively peaceful and efficient with a friendly and helpful asistente (flight—errrr bus attendant), to, raging rolling disco, to, “what exactly did I do to earn such bad karma that I have ended up in the mercy of this crazy, unlicensed, overly-aggressive, whack-job of a bus driver who is surely going to a. run us off the road or b. run over the pint-size-Chinese-made-clown-mobile in front of us thus killing: the driver, Ignacio; his 4 kids (all named Ignacio and Ignacia); each kid’s respective mother (who needs marriage…or contraception); his grandparents (Francisco and Francisca); two cousins (Fernando and Fernanda) and his neighbor’s friend’s uncle—did I mention it was a two-door? 
Speaking of bus attendants I have oft wondered what exactly motivates someone to become one—I mean is it like a hierarchy thing?  Maybe it’s some kind of apprenticeship; “well young Juan, first you have to be driver’s b*tch before you too are able to safely guide this over-sized double-decker pulling-a cargo-trailer up-and-down the only highway in our ridiculously long and skinnier than Lindsay Lohan before she went to rehab country.  Now, turn up the radio, clean my windshield and polish my God-damn shifter.”
I guess I was riding out some good karma on my trip to Valparaíso because I, without knowing it, had boarded a bus of the raging-rolling-disco variety.  In reality, there was (unfortunately) no groovy disco music; rather, I was serenaded (even with my headphones on) with various renditions of some American classics.  Now, I guess I have to give some credit where credit is due, and thus I will saludar (to salute) you señor bus musician—for having the pelotas to perform in front of 40 strangers—something I will never do.  My feelings towards street musicians are universal however, that is to say, if I wanted to hear you playing guitar, and you were talented enough to have an audience that wasn’t say, 40 people stuck inside of a metal tube also known as a bus, then I would happily listen to you, perhaps, even pay to see your concert— but you aren’t, so take a seat, and practice for American Idol on your own time.  

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

At Home with the Chilean Frat Boys

Saturday morning started off way too early considering what had transpired the night before.  Even though I should have been tired seeing as how I went to bed at 5am— in what can only be described as one of life's cruelest ironies before turning 25— ever since becoming of that dubious, legal, drinking age, I have been unable to sleep past nine in the morning after a long night on the town.  It sucks; I am pretty sure it's your body's way of saying, "alright shithead, enough partying every night, your liver is actually going to shrivel if you keep this up after college."  Needless to say, I was tired and still feeling quite, well, drunk, from the excessive quantity of terremotos (white wine, pineapple ice cream and fernet) and piscolas (pisco and coke) we drank at the asado on Friday night.  People tell me that the name "terremoto" (literally, earthquake), comes from the fact that they leave you trembling at the knees after you drink one, let alone several.  When I awoke I also found that all that sugar from the ice cream (which by some stroke of luck for a lactard like me, was actually made from water and not milk) had left my head feeling like a terremoto as well.

Backtracking, the asado on Friday night cemented my opinion that Chileans do in fact know how to cook some damn good meat (I still love you Argentina).  It was at the house of a fellow Tio (teacher) not too far from the farm; naturally though, living on the side of the highway, it was very difficult for me to get there.  Luckily, one of the PE teachers (and basketball coach) volunteered to pick me up as he said that he was going to be dropping off my host sister anyway—or so I understood.   While it's true that he did in fact come by to pick me up, I didn't realize that he was going to be swinging by in the team van, with the rest of the team—my students—in it.  I ran out the front gate to the highway, bottle of pisco in-hand, my host sister jumped out and I jumped in; into a 15-passenger van full of sweaty 14- and 15 year-olds on their way home from a basketball tournament.  I'm not sure who was more surprised, me after seeing— and then smelling— all of them, or them after seeing me, "Tio Chip," holding a giant bottle of pisco and boarding their team van on the side of the highway.

After a little small-talk of, "so did you win?  That's great, congratulations" and "oh this bottle that I am holding, it's a gift, I won't be drinking all of it," we went our separate ways and the coach and I made our way to the asado.  We found the others out back, grill already going, and I set my bottle of pisco down on the table.  The next thing I knew, I turned around to see coach lugging what I thought was his basketball team's 5-liter water jug out in the backyard where we were.  He set it down next to my now puny-looking bottle of pisco and poured me a glass.  It was, as he explained, a bit like artesianal wine— grown at one of his friend's houses.  These were the last grapes of the harvest and thus the wine had a great sweet flavor, it was so good that I wouldn't have had a problem drinking it solo.

They emptied the whole thing into another, even bigger jar and mixed in a bottle of fernet and several tubs of pineapple ice cream.  It was super-sweet and completely over the top, but how can anything that combines wine, ice cream, and liquor not be?  It was already about 11 and the choripans were ready.  A steady stream of various cuts of beef and pork—filet, sirloin, ribs and flank—began to emerge from the low charcoal fire soon afterwards.  We stayed out there, circled around the grill—plucking a big steak from the embers on to the cutting board, cutting it, and passing it around between the five of us for several hours.  Around 2am, with all the meat gone, and the pitcher of terremotos drained, everyone started to head inside, I assumed, to call it a night.  Once again, I was wrong; I was the last one in and found everyone sitting on the couches, new glasses in hand, pouring piscolas while Pancho, whose house it was, prepared more snacks in the kitchen.  We stayed there until almost 4am, drinking, eating and chatting about everything from politics to porn (it was a gentleman's only event); my first Friday with the guys was truly awesome.

Eduardo dropped me off at home (he has a really cool old station wagon) and luckily for me, Sari (21 year old host sister) had just pulled up in her friend's car as well.  As if it wasn't enough that at 4am we both stepped out of our friends' cars on to the shoulder of the PanAmerican, neither of us had a key to the front gate (it is impossible to open the gate from the outside without a remote anyway).  Sari, who is quite petite, somehow managed to climb over the 15 foot high wall to let me in and I was off for a few hours of sleep.

Friday, August 12, 2011

If I Was Still In College, I'd be Wasted Right Now

Don't judge me, hear me out, I have my reasoning.  Today is Friday, I don't teach on Friday's, I normally eat lunch at school- but not on Fridays.  On Friday's I have lunch at home with Tia Marina and Suzy; but not today.  I'm not sure where they went because when I woke up they were gone.  But Tia Marina, being the fantastic grandmother that she is, cooked and left me a schmorgeshboard offering on the table.  Spaghetti with scrambled egg, some limp, oil-soaked potatoes (I'm sorry they don't qualify as french fries), a steak that was thinner than the beautiful new ultra-thin MacBook Air, a cut up tomato and some sandwich-ready shredded romaine.  Crunchy!

I put together a big-boy sized platter and seeing as it was a beautiful day, went outside to the nice little asado-gazebo-outdoor kitchen area (take that Bobby Flay).  I had a great little outdoor picnic in the sun but suddenly found myself thinking about the good ol' days at Colorado College; inevitably, causing a lot of mayhem, usually with a healthy amount of alcohol involved.  Now, there is no question that this area reminds me in many ways of Colorado, the climate, mountains and more, but it wasn't that.  "What," you might be asking, "does eating lunch in the sun at a beautiful outdoor kitchen have to do with college, or being wasted?"  "Surely, you didn't have a fully equipped outdoor asado shack in college, did you?"  Unfortunately, the answer is no, we didn't; but I tried damn hard!  So what about this experience reminded me of my glory years at Colorado College?  

You see, as I was sitting there eating, I couldn't help but watch the traffic speed by on the PanAmerican.
Even though the highway was less than 50 yards away from me, all I could make out was each car's color.  My two roomates and I also happened to live on a very busy street our last year at CC.  What did we do when we were bored?  We would crack open a beer and drink to our livers dismay!  Inevitably we quickly tired of just plain-old drinking and we always managed to invent some new drinking game to help boost the fun factor (you can really make any mindless activity into a drinking game): Wii Tennis, Playstation Baseball, even the song "Black Betty".  One of my favorites however, was traffic.  The premise of this simpleton game is so easy that only a drunk could enjoy it (are you sensing a trend?).  The rules are as follows: sit on the front stoop with a 30-rack, pick a color and any time a car of that color drives by, you drink.

Cheers to living on the side of the highway!

Avocados and Kids: Avocados

Avocados and Kids; for better or worse, that's basically what my life consists of.  Let's talk about the former.  There are avocados on everything- literally EVERYTHING.  Breakfast time?   How do you like your toast, margarine and avocado or just avocado?   Hungry before lunch (perhaps you didn't like your avocado toast this morning)?  How about a hot dog?  Oh don't worry, your lightly boiled tube of mystery meat (read: flaccid) is down there in the bun somewhere; buried deep beneath a few mashed up avocados, an ice cream sized scoop of mayo and don't forget the ketchup and mustard!  These things, known as completo italiano, put the Chicago Dog to shame!  And I am not talking about taste but the sheer size and impossibility of fitting the damn thing in your mouth.  The taste, in case you were wondering, is...well, as you would expect.  I like some strange combinations and am especially fond of sausage (you really can't go wrong with meat in tube form) but these just fall flat in every category and have an oddly gummy texture.  Not to mention avocado and ketchup, the Silverman in me is balking!  I digress.  Dinner time?  How about a ubiquitous ave palta con mayo?  Here comes your avocado and mayo sandwich, enjoy the side of turkey.

At this point, you are probably saying to yourself, "wow, Chilean food sounds terrible."  This however, is not the entire story!  I for one, am getting hungry while writing this and would happily devour a big f***ing completo right now, gummy or not.  I am lucky however in that I don't have to.  By some stroke of luck (especially considering my previous homestay experience), a fantastic family decided to take me in and play host to me for 6 months.  I swear, I like them more and more every day!  

We live on a farm, on the side of the PanAmericano, in the middle of Chile's Fruit Bowl (which is to say in many ways, the middle of nowhere).  It's rural, real rural; when I look out my window I can see: cows, horses, fruit trees, the smoke of wood-fired heaters in hastily constructed homes of corrugated steel, burning trash piles and of course, I can hear and feel the roar of trucks whizzing by on the PanAmerican.  But there are also some sweet mountains (La Campaña for one, summited by none other than Mr. Charles Darwin).  Sure, it has its downsides (and yes I will gripe about them at some point, most likely a lot) but at the end of the day the family rocks!  As far as food is concerned, I am really grateful that the back entryway to our house looks like the storeroom of the farm next door (maybe it is?)  Even though I eat a lot of Chilean grown fruit back in the US, it doesn't taste nearly this good.  Even the avocados, they are sweet, silky and incredible; I just can't believe that there is a freaking avocado on my hot dog.