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Chile’s got it all 2

Time December 16th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

In my last post I promised pictures of the various places I have visited and showed a whopping 1 place. Here are the rest:

2. Norte Chico – Geographically beneath the Atacama Desert. This part of the country is still very dry and deserty, but valleys between the hills are green and filled with Pisco plants and other crops. It is also very rich in minerals.

3. 5th Region: Home sweet home. These pictures are from in and around Viña del Mar and Valparaíso where I live. Besides the ocean there are sand dunes, mountains, forests and lots more.

4. Pucon: the top of Patagonia. Unlike the Northern region, Pucon is lush, wet, and green with beautiful lakes, rivers, and waterfalls that provide for great views and lots of fun. Oh and there are volcanoes too.

5. Chiloé – Chile’s largest island located a little south of Pucon. It’s its own world with green, rolling hills; quaint cottages; and lots of sheep. The ocean also plays an important roll here as there’s a large fishing community and plenty of seafood to be eaten.

6. Patagonia: the deep south. This was my last big trip of the semester and I got to head down the Punto Arenas, the southern most continental city in the world, and hike for 4 days through Torres del Paine National Park. Patagonia is amazing; it’s wild and aggressive and awe-inspiring. You can see giant mountains, glaciers, trees that practically lay on the ground from the effect of high winds, and lakes of many different colors. I’d call it the definition of un-tamed.

So that is Chile. It of course isn’t a complete summary of everything you can see here, but I was very lucky to be able to see so much environmental diversity this semester along with experiencing a new culture. Chile is an unforgettable piece of the earth and has inspired me to keep traveling and see even more. It’s worth a visit!


P.S. – A good number of the pictures included are not ones I took personally since my camera broke at various points of the semester and I lost it towards the end. They’re pictures taken by various other friends in my program.


Chile’s got it all

Time November 12th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

People here are always asking me things like, “Why did you choose to study in Chile?” or “Why do you like it here so much?”

Well, there are a lot of answers to those questions and some more answers that I couldn’t even really express, but one of them has got to be the mind-blowing beauty and diversity of the landscape. This is unique because Chile is a funny looking country. It’s a long skinny sliver of land that’s about 24 times as long as it is wide and fits very awkwardly on maps, but because of that it’s got a little slice of almost every climate zone you could think of. I don’t know much about geography, but I’ve thought pretty hard about what type of climate/ landform doesn’t exist in Chile and I can’t think of a single thing. It’s got the world’s driest desert, the Andes mountains, the Pacific Ocean, lakes, rivers, glaciers, waterfalls, sand dunes, and the list goes on and on. The adventuring possibilities are literally endless. In this post, I’ll give a very brief overview of some of the things I’ve seen and done in the great outdoors, and there’ll be lots of pictures so YAY!

1. The Atacama Desert in Northern Chile: AKA the driest desert on Earth. Ya’ll excited yet? This place is dry. I visited for 5 days and when I came back it took about a week and a half for the moisture to return to my lips and hands. A small price to pay because the landscape there is absolutely stunning.

Valle de la Muerte

Valle de la Luna at sunset

Laguna Cejar – the saltiest lake on Earth. Everything white is salt! And clearly it’s pretty floatable.

Geisers at the top of an old volcano




How to Eat Like a Chilean

Time September 30th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

It’s pretty simple: bread, avocado, mayonnaise, repeat.

There’s lots of meat and random other stuff mixed in there too, but those 3 things will get you far. The cuisine in Chile is definitely not what I expected it to be, even though I had very few expectations of it going in. I tried to avoid the typical habit of assuming all Latin American food is just like Mexican food, but I definitely still had that in the back of my mind, at least I was hoping it was true. OH MY GOSH that is so not true! I wish someone would have warned me, and I would have packed a couple of Moe’s burritos in my suitcase. Chilean food is nothing at all like Mexican food (even though it involves lots and lots of avocado) for many reasons but mainly this one:

Chileans do not like it hot. Why? I don’t know, but they don’t. Flavors in general are very very mild, except for some of the sweet stuff which could make your teeth fall out after the first bite. In general, food is cooked with very few seasonings. Aside from bread, avocado, and mayonnaise, meals (in my house) often consist of lettuce, tomato, and beets (which are actually super good) for the salad, some variety of really brothy soup, rice or mashed potatoes, and “chicken slab.” I’ll explain that last one because it’s not a Chilean term, it’s my own. “Chicken slab” is what you get when you take a chicken (but really any kind of meat), put it in the oven or the rotisserie, cook it up, and serve it on a plate. You don’t cut it up, you don’t season it, you don’t mix it with veggies or anything like that; you just cook it, break off a leg, and put it in you’re mouth. It gets the job done, but it’s lacks a little wow factor. The food here isn’t bad, I really like soup and some of the meals I’ve had have been pretty great, but I really miss the heat. If I can get my hands on anything remotely spicy, it’s better than desert.

That said, I have a few favorites that are suuuper good and deserve a special mention:

1. Manjar: In most other countries it’s called Dulce de Leche, but if you don’t know what that is, it’s a thick, creamy, caramel sauce that just adds a little magic to anything and everything. It’s very popular in Chile and is usually present in cakes, ice cream, candy, and jars that never last very long in the fridge. All of us gringos just go CRAZY for it.

2. Empanadas: This is another Chilean classic. It’s basically a little dough pocket that’s fried and filled with all sorts of different delicious things. The most popular types are cheese empanadas and empanadas de pino which are filled with ground beef, onions, half of a hard boiled egg, and an olive that must be avoided at all costs. Besides those there are infinite other types and flavors (including one that is filled with manjar) that you can get at any of the hundreds of little restaurants and empanada shops.

3. Pevre: <- I think that is how you spell it but I’m not positive. This is one of the only spicy Chilean foods out there and I LOVE it. It’s a lot like pico de gallo but chopped up more finely and served with bread before meals at restaurants. Sometimes after all the bread is gone I take a spoon and just eat all the pevre that’s left. It’s never enough.

4. Completos: These are super Chileno because they incorporate all 3 of the 3 basic ingredients of Chilean cuisine. It’s a hotdog in a bun topped with avocado, tomato, and mayonnaise, and if that doesn’t sound very good just trust me, it is. Of course I always order mine without mayonnaise because there are somethings I’ll just never get used to.

5. Pisco: Pisco is an alcoholic beverage made from grapes (I think) and is considered the national drink of Chile (once again, I think). The most popular pisco drinks are the pisco sour which is pisco mixed with citrusy stuff and sugar, and the piscola which is pisco mixed with coca-cola or sprite. Both are delicious! People in the US don’t know what they’re missing out on.

So that’s a brief summary of the food here. I’m loving trying new things and learning to like new things. I’ve learned you can learn to like just about anything if you come at it with the right mindset. For me that was meatloaf which has been one of my least favorite foods my entire life, but after looking at it with fresh eyes and eating it enough times for dinner I’ve grown to actually kind of enjoy it. I’m still avoiding the mayonnaise and the Chilean habit of bathing everything in oil, but that’s more for health reasons. I need to leave room on my waistline for all the manjar I’m eating ¿Cachaí?


Note: I got all of the images in this post from google images since I didn’t have any food pictures of my own. Not trying to get sued, you know what I’m sayin



Skiing in the Andes

Time August 23rd, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

A couple days ago marked my one month anniversary of arriving in Chile. Dang does time fly! This past month really did fly by, and I just wish it wasn’t true because it makes 5 months seem like such a short time. Also, this is only my third blog post, second since arriving in Chile which means I’ve been neglecting the MILLIONS of you out there waiting to hear from me. Sorry about that, I’m going to start posting more I promise. For now though I just want to tell one story from this past weekend and I’ll get to the more general stuff later. So here is my story:

Last Thursday, 6 of us from the IFSA-program decided to take a trip to Santiago to go skiing in the Andes. I could probably stop right there and it would be a great story. What a dream come true! Now don’t worry Mom, we didn’t miss any classes because Thursday was a national holiday in Chile and all the schools were closed. We left Wednesday night on a bus, stayed in a really cool little hostel in Santiago, and woke up at the crack of dawn the next morning to drive to the mountain. I was by far the least experienced skier in the group, and as usual drastically overestimated my own abilities. On one of my first runs I had a pretty embarrassing fall and bruised up my shoulder, but I pulled it together and by the middle of the day I was zooming down the steep, beautiful, treeless slopes fairly easily. I had never in my life skied on or even been on mountains that high or that beautiful, and it really takes your breath away, literally and figuratively because it’s also pretty hard to breath at such a high altitude.

Our magical day of skiing was all set up to end with a 4pm bus back to Santiago. We finished our lunch around 2:30 and decided to make a couple more big runs down the back-side of the mountain before leaving, and wouldn’t you know, we got ourselves a little lost. My friends and I found a cool little un-groomed slope that appeared to lead to the other side of the mountain and decided to explore. In hind-sight, it was a bad call. We ended up in the section of mountains that led to a completely different ski-resort, but we had no idea, and before we realized our predicament I decided to go back to the lodge on my own. My shoulder that I fell on in the beginning was in a good amount of pain at that point and I wasn’t feeling up to any kind of extreme off-roading, so I told my friends I would meet them back at the lodge and I took off. The extremely long, extremely fun trail that I then took in the completely wrong direction started the next adventure of the day: getting home. When I got the bottom and didn’t recognize anything around me, a trail map informed me just how far away and lost I was, and very nice man working the chair lift informed me that my ski pass wasn’t going to get me onto the chair lifts because they belonged to a completely different resort. And it was 3:30. Now I’ve never been one to panic, but in that moment, my heart was about to fall out of my chest. I was completely lost and everyone was still speaking Spanish.

Now obviously I made it home safely so nobody worry. It took a very stressful hour and a half of riding chair-lift after chair-lift and asking everybody and their mother for help in my sad gringa-Spanish. I got back to the lodge before my friends who had apparently done the exact same thing that I did, and found that our driver had waited for us which was such a relief. We all slept the whole way home. Looking back on that last hour and a half, I don’t think I could say that it was fun. I was exhausted and all alone, I was having trouble breathing because of the altitude, I was in pain and needed water, and I felt pretty helpless. I think I was probably on the verge of tears for most of it. In summary, it wasn’t exactly fun, but it was very memorable, and the interesting part is that when I look back on that experience I can only remember it fondly. Looking back, I don’t remember how much it hurt riding that tele-ski all the way up to the top of the mountain, I remember what it felt like to finally get back to the lodge, take off my helmet, shake my hair out, and take a long deep breath; and most of all I remember what it felt like to stand on top of the highest point in Valle Nevado surrounded by beautifulness, look down at the side of  it that I recognized, and realize that it was all down hill from there. In that moment, it was like I had just crossed the Pacific Ocean in a paddleboat and stepped off into an undiscovered island oasis full of coconuts and sunshine all the other good things in life. Worth it. And then of course I still got to ski all the way down which will just never get old.

Being in Chile is like that a lot of the time. It’s not alway that fun. It’s not that fun when you have to spend 3 hours sitting in your room just to read a 5 page story for class and you think, “why didn’t I just go somewhere where I could take classes in English like everybody else.” And sometimes you get lost, and sometimes you can’t communicate at all, and sometimes you feel like a total idiot, but when you get to the top of the mountain, literally or figuratively, you forget about all of that. All you can think is, “WOW! How on earth did I get here, and how could I ever leave?” It’s incredible. And for that reason, and because I love to ski, I think last Thursday was one of my favorite days I’ve had in Chile so far. One of many favorites for sure, but one that I’ll always remember, and the fun days are always more fun when you get to tell the story afterwards.

Ok, that’s it for now. I’ll finish up with some pictures from our trip (even though they are pretty disappointing if you’ve ever seen the real thing) and I’ll post again really soon. Chao!



My first week in Chile

Time August 5th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Buenos días! I’m here in Chile and have been for a week and a few days. I’ve been putting this blog off for the past couple days because I feel like I have so much to say and nowhere to start. I’ve already had what feels like a semestre’s worth of fun times and new experiences, and trying to condense and organize it all into a blog post is way harder than flipping on my tele for some good old Hollywood classics dubbed in Spanish. But alas, it’s time to bite the bullet so here is my best attempt at a summary:

CHILE IS FANTASTIC! Completely fantastic; the whole experience. The past week has been an exciting, challenging, beautiful, hilarious adventure and it just keeps getting better. The experience of getting to know a new country is something so cool and something I had never experienced before coming here. At the heart of it, life isn’t all that different. People are people and they go to work and school and live life together, but at the same time everything is a little bit different and you get the chance to encounter a different way of living and a different way of constructing a community or a town or a city. That is my very broad summary of my first week here, now lets start this over with some specifics:

First thing: Chilean Spanish. Definitely the most difficult thing about this past week has been learning Spanish and being able to understand the Chileans when they speak to you. Chileans speak really fast, slur their words together, eliminate all sorts of sounds, and use a lot of Chile-specific slang in their speech, and they are SO hard to understand. They know it too, one of my Chilean friends told me that in Mexico they put subtitles on Chilean movies because I guess even other Spanish speakers can’t understand what these Chileans are saying. But language immersion really does wonders. When I first got here my Spanish was embarrassingly rusty and if people were speaking Chinese to me it wouldn’t have made much difference in my level of understanding. Now, one week later, I can proudly say that I understand about 75% of the Chileans that I talk to and can pretty much communicate anything I need to say in Spanish accompanied by a good bit of stuttering and a handful of grammatical errors. I have a long way to go, but I’ll get there. As a language enthusiast this has been incredible because you really get to understand what a language is made of when you have to learn it and use it to communicate. You get to see how the rules play out in the way phrases are put together, but also how the language is added to and manipulated by its speakers to fit real life. The little factors of language like slang and greetings and filler-words are so creative and cool, and if you look at those sorts of things you can really see the intersection between the formal rules of language structure and the freedom that language has as a communicative tool that is constantly used and changed by its speakers. That kind of stuff just rocks my socks. Even though it’s tough I really love the accent and the Chilenismos they use here. Every time I hear someone say “Cachai?” or “Po” I just get a little bit of happy running through me.

Next thing: people. What would a new, exciting adventure be without people to share it with? I’ve met many wonderful people here in Chile and very few non-wonderful people so it’s a great ratio. The other students in my IFSA program are so awesome and so much fun. It’s going to be a real pleasure spending the next 5 months with them. My host-family is absolutely wonderful as well. My host parents are an older couple with a son and two grand-daughters who live in the apartment above ours. They have been so sweet and so patient with me as I struggle to communicate, and I’m positive that I will never be short of food or hugs while I’m here with them. Finally, the Chileans that I have met since being here have been such a blast to get to know and spend time with and so welcoming. I didn’t think I would be able to say that I made friends with the locals before classes even started, but the people here are just so friendly and relational. It makes it really easy to be a gringa.

And finally, one of the primary reasons I chose to study in Chile, the Pacific Ocean is in my backyard! Not literally, more like 5 block from my family’s apartment, but you get what I’m saying. I love the mountains as well and after my first ski trip you’ll hear all about that, but there is just something about the ocean and the waves that fills me with joy. There is a song I love by Galician artist named Xoel López and the first two lines go like this: “Yo soñaba cada día poder alcanzar la playa, y ahora está tan cerca casi  ya la puedo oler.” Which translates roughly to “I used to dream everyday that I could reach the beach, and now it’s so close I can almost smell it.” My first night in my host family’s house I played that song at least 5 times and I couldn’t believe that it was actually true. Now every day I can watch the sunset from the beach or jump in the water for a quick swim. I know it’s the middle of winter, but after a long jog it doesn’t feel so cold. That alone is a dream come true for me. I also love the way the ocean brings beauty into every part of the city. Where I live in Viña del Mar is absolutely gorgeous with big apartments and hotels were people from all over Latin America come to relax and enjoy the beach, but my favorite day since coming to Chile was spent in Valparaíso in a smaller, poorer neighborhood where I went with a community service group to paint a building full small, cheep apartments. Standing on the roof of one of the buildings I could see miles and miles of the ocean and coastline and when the sun went down it all lit up with brilliant pinks and purples. Up until then I had been used to seeing coastlines reserved for tourists and big hotels, but it was so beautiful to see people who didn’t have much money or big houses who could look out their windows and see miles of ocean.

And here are some pictures; this first set is from my long walks on the beach that I’m enjoying so much:

And this set is from the building that we painted in Valparaiso (it’s the pink one) and the surrounding neighborhood:

Well that’s it for now, and this post is so long! There is so much more that I could say, but it would take a novel. My classes start tomorrow so it’s time for me to sleep.

Chao y hasta luego!


The Week of Rachel

Time July 9th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

In one week I will be leaving Albany airport for a semester in Valparaíso, Chile, and good gracious am I excited. Ever since I decided on this program last October, I’ve been reading blogs and travel sites, and looking at tons of pictures of Chile which from what I can see is an incredibly, breathtakingly, beautiful country, and getting more and more excited by the day. I’m already a little in love with Chile, and I spend a good amount of my time day dreaming about hiking through Patagonia, swimming in the ocean, speaking Spanish all the time, and moving back after college to meet a nice Chilean boy and raise little soccer playing Chileano children. I know, I’m a little ahead of myself.

But I won’t spend this whole post telling you about my expectations about Chile because they’re probably mostly wrong and they don’t come with pictures so where’s the fun in that. Instead, I want to talk about my last week in Clifton Park, NY which I have narcissistically called “the week of Rachel.” The last two years of college have taught me to always love the place I’m in and not spend my time wishing I were somewhere else, so even though I’m beyond excited to be in Chile, I’m happy that I have this next week at home with my family and friends. Honestly, upstate New York is awesome, and my family and my friends are even more awesome. I know the hardest part about being in Chile will be leaving everyone from back home and missing out on time with them. If ya’ll are reading this, this is your shout out!

So here are my plans for the Week of Rachel, and lets start with the fun stuff: Some hiking and cliff jumping in the Adirondacks, hopefully some beach time at Lake George, game night with my friends, picnic with my church, a trip to the drive-ins to see some potentially terrible movies, and many many lunches at Moe’s Southwestern Grill. Seriously, if you have never been to Moe’s you need to make it a priority. I’m a little addicted.

And the less fun, but necessary stuff: packing, cleaning my room, picking my Visa up from NYC (kill me now), and preparing physically to leave my beloved summer behind and start winter all over again, only hopefully a much brighter and less bone-chilling winter than it would be here. I’m planning on packing everything up much earlier than 3am the night before I leave, but I can’t really think of another time in my life where that has happened. It is going to take some serious effort to pack lightly as the program suggested, but it will be good practice since I plan on doing a lot of traveling in the future.

All in all, I am just ecstatic to be going to Chile and I can’t believe it is only a week away. I’ve wanted to go to South America and speak Spanish for basically my entire life and I am so thankful for the opportunity to actually do it. I’m sorry if this post was a little boring; I promise in a week my life is going to get much more interesting. You can expect plenty of pictures, videos, and stories from my adventures in the posts to come, but for now I am just soaking up the summer and I hope you are too.

¡ Adios!


I love picture so here you go:

On the left is my awesome family, and on the right is the view from a mountain in the Adirondacks. It’s a beautiful state!