A Theory of Liberation [Minneapolis, Minnesota]

To say I’m grateful for this past weekend in Minneapolis would be a huge understatement. I’ve never connected with so many fascinating, inspiring, and passionate people in such a short period of time.

Steve, a linebacker-sized special-ed teacher of fifteen years, is returning to Ghana this summer for the third time. Kathryn is a brilliant social studies teacher in North Carolina who has traveled to Cuba a dozen times to visit her boyfriend. We bonded over our love of Spanish and our burgeoning baking skills. Daniel is a public health advocate who met his girlfriend in the Dominican Republic while studying abroad. His girlfriend, Jessica, is going back to the Dominican Republic this summer, while he is leading a group of students to Mexico. Chrissy – my co-leader – is a kind, insightful Spanish teacher from Massachusetts who takes her students to the DR every year.

We will all be leading groups of students to various countries over the summer with the intention of facilitating cultural exchange, improving foreign language skills, and learning through service. I was nervous that the organization through which we’re going abroad would endorse a facile approach to service learning, since that seems to be the most pervasive. But my fears were immediately assuaged. The presenter began by sharing students’ application essays with us, which included such statements as “I want to go to Africa because it has always been a dream of mine to travel to an underdeveloped country and serve their communities.” I was initially discouraged, but after our group discussion, I left feeling hopeful. Right off the bat, fellow summer abroad leaders were commending the student’s best intentions, recognizing their thoughtfulness and sincerity. However, we also saw opportunities for the student to evolve their ideas – especially with regard to the monolithic portrayal of a diverse continent and the Otherizing language of “serving their communities.”

This led to a fruitful discussion of volun-tourism, privilege, and paternalistic attitudes towards “Third World” countries.

I wanted to take a minute and share some take-away points from the incredible discussion we had. If you have any additions, comments, or qualms with these, please let me know. The aim of this post is to share knowledge and promote healthy dialogue.

  1. How does privilege impact the way in which you move through the world? In what way will your privilege affect how you interact with a different culture?

Here’s one method that can be used to illustrate privilege to your students (or friends or family, for that matter): Write a list of your: ethnicity, nationality, gender, age, class, ability, religion, orientation, and education. Star the ones you think work to your advantage in your daily life; underline the ones you think present obstacles; circle the ones you think about the most; highlight the one you get the most pride from; and put a question mark by the ones you want to learn more about. Ask questions like, “Which is the most visible in your home country?” and “Which will be most salient in the country you’re going to?” Discuss with your students and/or peers.

Another way to talk about privilege is to play “Privilege Basketball.” Place a recycling bin at the front of the classroom. Arrange the desks such that they are in rows. Everyone crumples up a sheet of paper and throws it into the bin. The ones in the back row will invariably complain that it’s unfair because they are a seated a greater distance away from the target. The students in the front row may not even realize how advantageous their position in the classroom is – since they are only 10 feet away from their goal. Moreover, the students in the front of the room likely won’t look behind them to notice all the other students in disadvantageous positions. Discuss the analogy with your students.

  1. What are some problems with the mainstream model of international aid/service programs?

In the interest of brevity, I would sum up my thoughts on the paternalistic model of service – so perfectly portrayed in the video above – as deeply rooted in racism and imperialism. What happens when you mix an ignorance of local culture, an attitude of superiority, and a lack of knowledge of community needs? The result can only be disastrous.

“Charity alleviates the symptoms caused by an unjust system but doesn’t challenge the root problems, and it often puts those providing the charity in a position of power OVER those who it ‘helps’ with benevolence or feeling good for helping out. Solidarity, on the other hand, implies that our struggles are intertwined.” 

– Treasure City Thrift

This may be slightly tangential, but during this conversation about international aid, service projects, and privilege, I was reminded of traveling through Peru and Bolivia. In Copacabana, a couple of missionaries, my friend and I hitched a ride with some orange pickers. We all loaded into the back of their truck, with more oranges rolling around than I’ve ever seen in my life. When we had arrived at our destination, we bought kilos and kilos of oranges for about a dollar, with dozens of yapas or extra oranges given as gifts. Without their kindness we would have been lost. I hope to God that culture of helping, a culture so far removed from my Western paradigm that values competition and ambition above all else, is around ten, twenty, and a hundred years from now.

However, since my travels, I’ve heard from the missionaries in Copacabana that their community is out of potable water and is facing serious environmental issues as result of climate change that are threatening their livelihood.

All this leads me to wonder if we could learn to appreciate and preserve other cultures, not just “serve” them, what “service” would look like?

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Minneapolis, MN
  1. Who is serving whom?

This could be the topic of a lengthy blog post in and of itself, but I will provide an overview for now. When we talk of serving a community, who are we really serving? The crux of this issue lies in realizing the underpinning of activism, service, and aid should be a realization that our causes are interconnected. For that reason, we must beware of Otherizing members of those groups we are trying to help. Instead of an external “us” doling out aid to an amorphous “them,” let us recognize the importance of mutual learning. That is, from reciprocal relationships, both parties can come away from the interaction having gained something.

“If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time.

But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

— Aboriginal activists group, Queensland, 1970s  

We must acknowledge the interconnectedness of our struggles. That is, Black liberation is bound up with women’s liberation, which is bound up with queer liberation, which is bound up with Indigenous liberation, which is bound up with countless other liberations. These assertions are not metaphorical, they are based on historical facts. One example out of many is the leadership of transwomen of color such as Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson in the gay rights movement during the Stonewall era.

“Solidarity links us together across geography, economics, culture and power. It is more than a dressing wound; it allows all involved to be active participants,” writes scott crow, co-founder of the Common Ground Collective. Our NGO partners abroad and the folks with whom they work are already active participants in working to resolve the issues their communities face. What we need is for our students to become active participants in this conscious process of co-learning and co-liberation.

  1. Where do sustainable solutions to community issues come from?

All of this begs the question, “Where do sustainable solutions to community issues come from?” The answer to this query is quite simple. Sustainable solutions come from within the community itself. A sustained effort that accomplishes clear-cut goals is a long-term mission, not a three-week trip. The reality is students are not going to eradicate poverty in a month. By learning about the local culture and the community’s needs, by participating in the NGO or local organization, and by developing mutually-beneficial, reciprocal relationships with community members, something beautiful can happen, but only infrastructure and continued efforts by the community can produce long-term results.

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  1. What impact can the students realistically make or have?

If all the above is true, then what’s the point? What impact can these students actually have during their summer trip abroad? Why bother at all?

To answer this, let me share a brief anecdote. When I studied abroad in Chile, I had the opportunity to volunteer at a girls’ orphanage in a rural community outside Valparaíso. We spent the time talking with the girls, helping with homework, and making some wicked cool string jewelry. Each time I went, I noticed this little girl would always shy away from me and refused to participate in any organized activities. One day, as I was getting ready to leave, she practically pushed me out the door. I assumed she didn’t like me, so I focused on interacting with the other girls.

On my last day, the director of the orphanage mentioned that the little girl had a speech impediment and generally avoided talking to anyone because she got made fun of a lot. But, the director said the little girl loved me and every time I visited she told the other girls her “sister” was coming. Apparently, she was deeply afraid of the dark and insisted I leave before the sunset because “bad things happen at night.” That’s why she had walked me to the door on multiple occasions at dusk, forcing me to leave. On my last day there, she presented me with a portrait she drew of me with a giant, pink heart around it.

I don’t know if I helped that little girl or her friends at the orphanage, although I hope I did. But I do know that even years later I look back and remember that girl’s face when I’m having a hard time. I have no idea how someone who was obviously dealing with severe trauma of her own could be so loving and selfless. In this instance, the little girl I was supposedly “serving” helped me much more than I helped her.

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Minneapolis Street Art

Still, if service is to be effectively theorized and enacted, we must address the mechanism(s) by which it creates positive change.

Firstly, student participants of service trips can make a difference by recognizing their privilege and how it affects them. In the example of the girls’ orphanage, a student participant may reflect on the privilege they enjoy by having parents as well as the financial resources to get an education, whereas the girls at the orphanage had no money for basic school supplies, let alone a college savings account.

This brings to the foreground the importance of reflection in service. If students are given the opportunity to process the diverse experiences they’ve had, they can challenge their preconceived notions of a given culture, religion, or other group of people.

By changing a student’s mindset, sustainable solutions can be fostered both abroad and at home. As previously discussed, mutual learning and reciprocal relationships are at the heart of this model. Ideally, these connections would be sustained beyond the short-term service trip. This would, obviously allow for more significant, long-term exchanges and collaboration. At home, the student will be armed with a fresh perspective to acknowledge issues within their own community. Their concrete experience working with NGOs abroad will provide them with tangible skills to address these issues creatively and effectively. For example, after returning to the U.S. from Chile, I began to think critically about the foster care system here and opened my eyes to the youth homelessness epidemic in the area where I attended school. Given my experience at the orphanage in Chile, I was better prepared to involve myself in local organizations. I eventually chose to focus my efforts on LGBTQ youth facing homelessness, once I learned that over half of youth experiencing homelessness identify as LGBTQ.

Ultimately, students who participate in service trips abroad make the most impact by reflecting on their own roles and positioning in society. Through completing service work in their host country, students are forced to examine their privilege (as well as marginalized identities), and to challenge their preconceived ideas of other countries and cultures. Students are encouraged to think systemically and uncover the root of inequities, not to simply put a Band-Aid on them to cover them up. Students are guided to understand that solidarity through mutual learning and reciprocal relationships is more effective than paternalism. Students gain practical, hands-on experience and insight from NGOs abroad so that they can take back home what they’ve learned and implement it in their own communities.

I was thrilled to learn that these crucial ideas are incorporated into the curriculum with which we’ll be working this summer abroad. That means we will be able to directly address these issues with the students. In fact, the students’ final project is to reflect on what they’ve learned from the NGO in their host country in order to address an issue facing the students’ local communities back home. This type of project is ideal because it truly reflects the principle of mutual learning.

One thing’s for sure: If we are going to distance ourselves from the “Waltz into this backwater country and fix everything with our superior ideas and culture” mentality that has been so prevalent historically, we need new models. Now that I’ve described some of my ideas, I would love to hear from you.

Here’s to continuously learning, growing, and supporting each other.

Fiercely,

J

Flying Solo: Enthusiastic Consent in Colombia

Santiago –> Lima –> Quito –> Cotopaxi –> Baños de Agua Santa –> Quito –> Bogotá –> Cartagena –> Santa Marta –> Cartagena –> Bogotá –> Mexico City –> DFW Texas

22 Jan. 2017
Guy: I don’t think I’ve ever had sex with a girl without her consent.

Me: You don’t think? You don’t think?

Guy: Well, I didn’t think so, but now I’m doubting it.

I made it to Santa Marta and this is the conversation I’m embroiled in right now. It’s made me reflect on my experiences as a woman traveling abroad. I had to take out money from the ATM a few hours ago, which meant walking to the supermarket at night alone. It was my first experience with Colombian street harassment, which is a very special brand of machismo. I got a lot of whistles and catcalls, but it was on a main road with lots of people, so it wasn’t too bad. I don’t see it as a direct threat to my personal safety, but I do feel more vulnerable here than I did in Ecuador.

I wonder what it’s like to walk alone in the dark and feel safe – in Chile or Ecuador or Colombia or the U.S. for that matter.

I’m grateful to be here, but for the first time in a while, I’m wishing I could be back in the U.S. Social media’s abuzz with the women’s march from yesterday and I wish I could have been there.

 

“Well, one time I was having sex with a girl and she said stop, but I didn’t. That’s okay, right? …I guess that’s a bad joke,” Canadian guy surmises.

“Anyway, porn stars aren’t acting. That’s totally real,” Other Canadian Guy adds.

“If you’re interested in porn made by women that depicts enthusiastic consent and actual female sexuality, I can recommend some sites,” I say.
Canadian Guy actually winces. “That’s disgusting. Why would I want that?”

Other Guy attempts to de-escalate the situation in what can only be described as effortless and suave: “Let’s talk about something else. Nice weather, huh? What’s it like in Texas?”

 

“It’s hot. Unlike your objectification of women.” I’m seething in my chair, under the (erroneous) impression that I have spouted the cleverest line of the century. I’m not actually mad at these guys, who likely just want to have fun on their vacation, not get lectured by the Angry Feminist Killjoy. I’m mostly upset at our inability to communicate – maybe a lack of empathy on their part (or mine), maybe it’s because we’ve been conditioned not to talk openly and directly about sexuality with folks who identify with a gender other than our own. In any case, I can’t break through the wall of bullshit separating us, so I give up.

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Angry Feminist Killjoy: A Portrait

23 Jan. 2017

Today I went to Tayrona National Park. I would have loved to have camped there, but I didn’t plan anything, so I just did a day trip. I only had a couple hours to swim in Cabo San Juan, but it was still really nice. Then I had to hike back to catch the return bus.

I’ve been thinking about responsible travel lately. There are three indigenous groups who live in and around the park and I’m fairly certain the government took the land from them in order to build the park. (Of course, the Spanish had already seized the land centuries earlier.) Additionally, there were wooden paths constructed throughout the park, which obviously prevents the flora from growing back. Anyway, I guess I haven’t figured out how to articulate my concerns yet, but I had the distinct feeling of trespassing when I was there.

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25 Jan. 2017
Writing this from the future, since I didn’t journal it then.

When I got back to Cartagena, I got food poisoning from the same restaurant where I ate tacos before. The next day, I had my flights from Cartagena to Bogotá, from Bogotá to Mexico City, and from Mexico City to DFW. I didn’t think I was going to make it, because I was so nauseated.

I completely passed out in the airport in Bogotá while waiting for my flight and I couldn’t eat anything for almost 24 hours, but other than that, everything was fine. As I was reaching for the barf bag on the flight from Bogotá to Mexico City, I met the Perfect Human. He was a Colombian salsa dancer and pianist who didn’t speak a word of English. We talked books and Latin American history from 3 am to 5 am. Then, when the plane landed, we got separated at customs and I never saw him again. But I think it’s almost better that way. Now we’ll both remember that interaction in its perfect brevity, untarnished by the daily realities of mundane existence and human foibles.

Or maybe that’s dumb and it would have been awesome to have exchanged info. I’m just stoked I didn’t puke on him.

Related image

 

Flying Solo: Caribbean Musings in Cartagena

Santiago –> Lima –> Quito –> Cotopaxi –> Baños de Agua Santa –> Quito –> Bogotá –> Cartagena –> Santa Marta –> Cartagena –> Bogotá –> Mexico City –> DFW Texas

19 Jan. 2017

Cartagena strikes me as a vibrant city, albeit a touristy one. It’s made me reflect on the nature of travel vs. tourism and why we seek out the experiences i.e. adventures that we do. Personal growth, fulfillment, excitement, surely. But I also think it can be a little like Audre Lorde’s “eating the other” – breaking off another person’s culture into bite-sized pieces made especially for your consumption. Or, more accurately, commodities packaged for a white, male buyer. How do we avoid this?

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As it turns out, I love travelling alone. I just met a Colombian guy at the airport who noticed I speak Spanish with a Chilean accent.

Just kidding. He said if I were his woman he’d give me 5 kids. So now I’m leaving. But still. There’s something empowering about navigating a new city entirely by myself.

This morning the taxi driver tried to overcharge me, so I told him no flat out and paid him the regular price.

Then, I spent more on food in the Bogota airport than I did during the entire time I was in Ecuador: $25. I was ravenous and at least I got my mango fix.

I met a young woman from New York here in Cartagena who works live music events with a bunch of different artists. She said it’s totally possible to do what you love for a living – “Just work for free for a second (internship), do your thing, and eventually, you’ll get money for it…The idea of working 40 hours at a job you hate equals adulthood is a lie.”

We got fruit (a must-have for me) at a fruteria – I showed her how to pick ripe passionfruit – and then we went for tacos – they had gluten-free, vegan ones I could eat! It was genuinely lovely walking around Cartagena. We made a good team – her direction skills and my Spanish. I loved talking with everyone on the street, appearing and disappearing from the paint-chipped door frames of colonial homes.

20 Jan. 2017

You meet so many nice people while travelling. First, Jackie (Australian) and Elise (New Yorker), and I tried to do a free walking tour of the historic district, but some other tour guides told us the wrong meeting place just so we would miss it and buy theirs. Instead, we walked around on our own and saw the city. I walked along the colonial-era fortress wall, bought mangoes from street vendors, and was stopped by dozens of people selling maracas, sunglasses, and jewelry. I’m in love with the colonial architecture and the cumbia that seems to come from everywhere and nowhere at once.

We walked along the wall to Boca Grande and took turns swimming in the ocean. The water was the perfect temperature. The girls had fish and chicken while I had rice and plantains. As she was de-boning her reineta, Jackie told us how she saw someone slip a white pill into her drink the night before. She called him out and nothing happened, but it served as a reminder that travelling as a woman is so much more challenging wherever you go in the world.

21 Jan. 2017

I’m writing this from Playa Blanca – definitely a Caribbean dream – white sand, crystal clear water. Except that everyone is selling something and it’s packed to the brim with sunbathing tourists (like myself). One lady trying to sell massages even grabbed me by the hand and tried to pull me away.

I’ve been reflecting a lot on the inherent solitude of being. Last night, some Chilean girls at my hostel got all dolled up with smoky eyes and sequins and miniskirts. They busted out the pisco and started taking shots with the German guys. The whole thing made me think about the paradox of loneliness. That’s really what we want – connection.  The problem is our inner worlds are just as impermeable as they are sacred to our person-hood, our individuality. To get inside the fortress of another human being is a feat.

I looked at the girls and saw myself years ago, searching desperately for attention and validation. Surely, most people want to come across as interesting, charismatic, desirable. I know I do. But maybe the thing that bothers me is exactly how we go about rubbing our cocooned psyches up against each other. The cultural robes we are forced to don – masculine and feminine, doctor and lawyer, sometimes get in the way. It’s all “What a pleasant day it is” instead of “Once I took a shit in a swimming pool when I was five and ever since then I’ve had a crippling fear of humiliation.” Dually separated by hierarchical and categorical distinctions like class, age, religion, and gendered archetypes as well as our own inner worlds, our interactions with each other are greatly limited. But here’s what I think – instead of meeting each other in that liminal space as glittery, rose-scented robots, couldn’t we meet meet as human beings?

Why are we so afraid of our humanity? We flail about, grasping for anything we can hold on to, hoping to pad the landing in the yawning crevasse between birth and death. But what if we accepted this inevitable falling – and the inevitable failures? What if I sat here on this beach and saw myself with all my flaws and my body that will invariably collapse, decompose, cease to exist in any recognizable form – as beautiful? And then what if I could see other humans the same way?

What if we could see each other as brilliantly flawed human beings instead of culturally-conditioned automatons?

While I’m indulging in this reverie, here’s yet another reason why I don’t like the woman as virgin/saint (or whore or mother, for that matter) archetype. As de Beauvoir said, women are neither angels nor demons nor sphinx: but human beings. Being put on a pedestal means we can’t see eye to eye; we can’t relate to one another as riotously beautiful conglomerations of atoms that taken together signify Human – individualized worlds of profound trauma, sadness, and joy. 

I’m sure I’ll forget this in the future, but maybe this journal will help remind me. I just realized it’s the most precious item in my possession (inventory: cheap phone, failing laptop, clothes worn threadbare from travelling, journal) and I got a bit of satisfaction from that.

Here’s to accepting my humanity and that of others, our desperate need for connection, for meaning, for acceptance. Our never-ending growth, spiraling renaissances and catapulting deaths. The striking fluidity of existence bores into me like the sun.

 

Flying Solo: Muddy Asses and the Overwhelming Joy of Ephemeral Existence in Ecuador

Santiago –> Lima –> Quito –> Cotopaxi –> Baños de Agua Santa –> Quito –> Bogotá –> Cartagena –> Santa Marta –> Cartagena –> Bogotá –> Mexico City –> DFW Texas

12 Jan. 2017

Here’s something that can’t be Instagrammed or Facebooked: I feel so comfortable in my own skin. On this packed van chugging along the Ecuadorian countryside, next to an artist and an actuary from Cape Town, I’m happy. This is what I love about travelling – stripped of your own cultural clothing, you’re forced to look inward, to inhabit yourself fully. Here is where my home is. I think it’s something I think we all carry with us, but we can’t always tap into it. Moments like these are all the more precious for that reason.

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3:09 pm

Me: So what did you think of the waterfall?

Tom: It was a bit underwhelming, honestly. I’ve seen so many now it’s hard to be impressed. But it’s not really ever about the waterfall, is it? I like walking in the mountains and jungle and feeling the lichen and moss and everything.

Me: And getting your ass muddy.

Tom: And that. That’s it, isn’t it?

And that is it – getting outside, meeting new people, falling flat on your ass. What else is there?

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Travel tip: Secret Garden Cotopaxi is worth the extra money if you find yourself in Ecuador.

I just saw snow-covered Cotopaxi in the moonlight under the stars. I was awestruck. Struck dumb with awe. I tried to take a photo, which, of course, didn’t turn out well. Somehow, the inability to capture the moment on film felt right. To recognize the ephemeral nature of one’s own existence on this planet and to be filled with gratitude is a deeply personal experience that can’t be translated or shared with others.

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But I’m going to try anyway… [Cotopaxi in the early morning]
13 Jan. 2017

Hiked to Pasochoa (alt. over 4,200 mts above sea level). It was rainy and muddy and jungle-y at times, but a nice hike overall. We could see Cotopaxi from the summit. A dog who came with us from the hostel got lost, so some folks stayed up there to look for him.

A nice Canadian couple and I took turns carrying the other dog through the jungle part because he was scared.

I love people. I love how the Canadian guy spoke so humbly about his musical abilities and then played beautifully and effortlessly. I love how Tom and Patrik hiked back up a mountain to save a little dog. I love how Caitlin showed me how to play ukulele and was so happy when I got the chords right. I want to pick up some instrumental abilities, but I also want to do what they do with music, with words. If I could describe the feeling I had when I saw Cotopaxi – the neck of the moon – under the stars, it would be like finally touching the thing I’ve been grasping for for my whole life.

How do you craft accessible, poignant fiction? I don’t know yet, but I think it might be like singing in the car until you get better. I guess I’m okay with writing shit until that shit-to-decent ratio improves.

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14 Jan. 2017

Blissful harmony with humanity cut short. Misanthropic cloud has appeared.

On the way to our Cotopaxi hike, the Europeans said our local guide, Carlos, was too fat to climb the volcano. They said overweight people can’t hike. Fuck that. PEOPLE OF DIFFERENT SHAPES AND SIZES CAN DO ALL THE THINGS.

Turns out Carlos has been a tour guide for over 20 years and has summited the volcano countless times. He just had a bike accident and had to get 26 pins in his knee, which is why he’s slower walking at the moment. And yet he still goes to 4,800 mts altitude almost daily.

I asked Carlos what he thinks about tourism in Cotopaxi and how it affects the local community. He said it’s good to earn money and share Cotopaxi with people, but having a hostel or tour agency that belonged just to the community instead of being contracted by big businesses would be ideal. As of now, he only earns 25 % of the price the hostel charges us. This strikes me as largely unfair, given that he’s the expert. I wish I could do something to help, even as a backpacking tourist with no money.

15 Jan. 2017

“Psychology of the twenty-first century crowd: people like to capture the spectacle, own it. Call it a side effect of late capitalism, call it an attempt to stave off the ineffable transience of life.”

– Paul Murray, Skippy Dies

Is that what I am doing by taking pictures of my travels? Furthermore, is uploading photos, posting, and sharing on social media our collective attempt to stave off the transience of life? The inevitability of death?

Unrelated: Hice la wea más turistica de mi vida. I just did the most touristy thing of my life. I took one of those obnoxious tour buses blasting bachata and reggaeton that stops every 15 minutes to get people to buy things. I hated it. But I did get to see some waterfalls, like the Pailon del Diablo, the most famous one.

I hitched a ride down from La Casa del Arbol with some Ecuadorians who were super nice and we talked about everything from travel to family to work. It was nice to connect with people using Spanish. The woman’s niece, whom we met, was kidnapped and held for ransom in Venezuela. I am so fortunate to have always lived in countries where that isn’t commonplace. I feel incredibly grateful.

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16 Jan. 2017

I am constantly astounded and humbled by the beauty of nature. I am so sad to be missing out on rafting and canyoning today, but I’m resting my ankle (sprained it at La Casa del Arbol) so I can go full throttle in the jungle tomorrow.

Turns out reading in a hammock under the sun for hours and talking with Jimmy (works at the hostel) wasn’t half bad. It’s given me a chance to reflect on the important things. Jimmy is 30 but looks about 20. I asked him what his secret was and he said laughing a lot and enjoying every minute of life.

My new architect friend, David, also gave me some good life tips.

Me: Tell me something about architecture.

David: When people design their own homes, they always forget to include a place where happenstance is possible, where they can just be. When you get home and take a moment to decompress and take off your jacket. An interstitial space, it’s called – where you can run into someone you haven’t seen in a while. You always need a place to just be.

Me: That’s beautiful.

David: I guess it is.

I went to buy fruit with David and we made awesome fruit salads with dragon fruit and uvillas. Then we went to the hot springs at La Virgin de Agua Santa. I liked them – I met tons of people and there was a gorgeous waterfall. David and I made guacamole and now I’m having a great conversation with some Argentinians about sexism in music and its effect on society.

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17 Jan. 2017

Went to the jungle today. First we stopped at an animal rehabilitation center and saw pumas, toucans, monkeys, leopards and jaguars. Then we went in a canoe down the river into the jungle and hiked to a waterfall. Actually, before that, we went on a swing in a gorge very reminiscent of the Tarzan movie. Our guide, Gary, who is from Amazonia, gave us mud masks. The waterfall was breathtaking – and I caught a glimpse of a rainbow peeking through. I swam under it even though my ankle still hurts. After some lunch, we went to a kichwa community. A girl painted some symbols on my face (a boa) and we tried shooting traditional sedative blow darts. I was noticeably the worst – surely a sign from the universe that I’m not meant to be sedating or killing anything. I’ll stick to my plantains, thank you.

We drank the traditional chicha drink in a welcome ceremony and were encouraged to buy artisanal jewelry made from seeds collected in the jungle and beaded into necklaces and bracelets. It was fascinating (if somewhat sad) to see the effect capitalism has had on the Amazonian communities. I can only hope tourism (especially my visit) hasn’t had a negative impact on traditional cultures. But I’d be kidding myself to think otherwise. In any case, I loved hearing the kichwa language and seeing at least some traditions, even if they were only the ones sanctioned and commodified for tourists.

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18 Jan. 2017

I’m on the bus from Baños to Quito. I’m looking forward to having 3 and a half hours to read and reflect on my travels thus far. Before I left the hostel, the owner and staff hugged me and took photos with me, saying they would miss me. I appreciated that. Elba made the comment that I’m going back to the US, back to reality, soon. It dawned on me that I’ll be leaving Latin America. I’m not sure how I feel about that.

I’ve always been a planner, a long-term goal-oriented person. That’s worked to my advantage (academics, work), but it’s also caused me to sidestep/overlook/not take advantage of otherwise gratifying short-term opportunities that pop up on the road. What does failure look like to me? What does success look like? I think those are good starting points to work some of this out.

I went up Ichimbia and met a cool British guy and his husky on the way. Ichimbia was basically the San Cristobal of Quito. The views were nice, but paled in comparison to Cotopaxi. It made me realize I really like the campo.

Second Mercado Central run went well – red bell pepper, a ton of granadilla and pitahaya, and a weird alfalfa-guanabana juice acquired. Success.

Then I met a friendly veterinarian who lives near Vilcabamba. We navigated the public transportation together. That man sure seemed to have his shit together. Conversations like that and the one I had with Iralda from the hostel are what make traveling so worthwhile.

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Flying Solo: [Fake] Equator in Ecuador

Santiago –> Lima –> Quito –> Cotopaxi –> Baños de Agua Santa –> Quito –> Bogotá –> Cartagena –> Santa Marta –> Cartagena –> Bogotá –> Mexico City –> DFW Texas

9 Jan. 2017

Backpacking through Ecuador and Colombia alone since my friend backed out at the last minute. Looking forward to this trip as a rewarding challenge.

Let’s do this.

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  1. A photographer on the metro gave me a peach and told me about the fountain of youth in Peru.
  2. I was That Person at the baggage drop who had to take out all their things from their suitcases to reduce the weight. I left behind my travel yoga mat, some sweaters, and various tchotchkes.  Almost missed the flight as a result. I boarded at 8:05 pm. The plane took off at 8:10 pm.
  3. I’m about to spend the night in the Lima airport. The glamorous side of travel.

10 Jan. 2017

Sleeping in the Lima airport was okay besides the crying children and the recorded voice lady telling me over and over again that “it is recommended to complete the departure portion in order to speed up embarking.”

Travel tip: Stake out and claim your sleeping spot (ideally 3 connected seats at the quietest, most abandoned gate, i.e. Ghost town). If you are already covered in grime and sweat from your travels, this will help ward off potential seat-stealing vultures, thereby preserving your coveted spot for the night.

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3:00 pm

Made it to the hostel in Quito.

Torrential downpour.

In pursuit of fruits, veggies, and rice.

“There was nowhere to go but everywhere, keep rolling under the stars.” I’ve been thinking about that idea a lot. And reflecting on what “home” is to me. More thoughts on this later.

Nice vegan guy at the hostel and I bonded over our love of Greenpoint (life-changing restaurant in Cusco) and he gave me the scoop on Quito restaurants. Although, I’m keeping my budget for Quito low – supermarket and free walking tour low. Speaking of which, I’m stoked to try the pitahaya and papaya I picked up. I’m drinking chamomile tea and cooking lentils with cherry tomatoes. I’m completely alone in the hostel. What should one do in an empty hostel? Probably something more exciting than journaling and drinking tea. I have a hot shower to look forward to, though, so I’ll save all my excitement for the main event.

I made a daypack/picnic lunch so I can spend all day tomorrow in the historical district. Plus, I found a Billy Collins collection I can peruse. Life is good:

Bare branches in winter are a form of writing.

The unclothed body is autobiography.

Every lake is a vowel, every island a noun.

11 Jan. 2017

Today is #modoturista day. This morning I had my first pitahaya (delicious, cousin to the dragon fruit) and jugo de tomate del arbol (good, but tart), and oritos (don’t like, but will still eat). I talked with Carolina from the hostel about traveling – she’s from Quito, but lived in the US before. I navigated the public transportation system (cheap – 25 cents each way). Now I have a free walking tour. I’ve taken to Quito immediately with its hills and bright green foliage everywhere.

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Notes from the tour:

  1. Primary exports of Ecuador = oil found in the Amazon – controversial as oil extraction damages the Amazon jungle
  2. Plaza Grande – First place Spanish built when they conquered Ecuador in the early 1500s.
  3. Monument to Los Heroes de 1809, when the criollos launched a movement to overthrow the Spanish. 1822 – actual independence from Spain. Battle for independence fought on a volcano.
  4. 1830 – Independence from Gran Colombia. The lion in the statue represents Spain. Libertas is the Greek goddess of freedom.
  5. Quito = first revolution in Latin America
  6. Iglesia de la Compania de Jesus (1605-1765) – 7 tons of gold in church, Jesuits. Indigenous built all churches in Quito. It took them 150 years to build this church; the indigenous hauled rocks taken from volcanoes. The Jesuits were eventually expelled because they taught people involved in the revolution. The indigenous folks weren’t allowed in the churches – mass was given outside church.

1970s – started drilling oil

1990s – dip in oil prices –> economic crisis –> inflation (1 USD = 16,000 sucres) –> switched to USD as national currency

  1. Iglesia Francisco de Quito: Only church where indigenous could come inside. Sun motif present b/c Spanish wanted to incorporate indigenous symbols so that indigenous could say they were worshiping their gods in addition to Spanish God. Quiteña art – indigenous made art but couldn’t sign it, so they put their beliefs/symbols into their art.
    1. Ex: The Last Supper with a Guinea pig
    2. “Sincretismo” – mix of Catholic and indigenous beliefs
  2. Quitu-Cara (pre-Inca indigenous group) knew it was the middle of the world due to the equinox.

 

Met some nice folks from Peru, Argentina, Scotland, and Germany on the walking tour. Then, I met a lady who lives at the Mitad del Mundo (nearby town of San Antonio) and she helped us take various buses to the famous spot. So now I’m sitting on a packed bus with a dude’s crotch rubbing against my elbow. The overwhelming luxuriousness of backpacking is unrelenting.

Travel tip: The real middle of the world is not the tourist spot everyone goes to – it’s actually where the antenna is further up the hill. That’s where they conduct the scientific experiments. Locals say it’s worth the visit.

Wound up going to the touristic “mitad,” not the real one. I did a wheel pose on the [fake] equator,  went to a museum about the physics of the equator and the indigenous groups of Ecuador as well as a museum about chocolate production.

  1. Chocolate (cacao) was consumed as early as 3000 BC.
  2. The Quitu-Cara indigenous group knew it was the middle of the world long before the scientists arrived.
  3. Cotopaxi means “neck of the moon,” which I love.

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I bought more pitahaya and granadilla (all the appeal of passionfruit with none of the tartness) and talked with the micro and taxi drivers on the way home.

Then I got locked out of my hostel briefly, but after half an hour of struggling with the keys, taking a snack break, and eventually calling the owner, I was in. Tomorrow I head to Cotopaxi.

 

Social Media and Me

My friend recently deleted her Facebook and Instagram accounts, which she said was incredibly liberating for her. I got to thinking about my relationship with networking sites from Facebook to LinkedIn to TripAdvisor. And, more importantly, how I could improve this relationship. Here are a couple of “resolutions,” if you will, for my interfacing with social media in 2017:

  1. Be cognizant of how likes/shares/comments affect me and my mental health. Monitor my emotions and how they are influenced by the ego-boosting endorphins that pop up each time I open a social media app such as Facebook or Instagram.
  2. Be honest about my experiences. I am a beautifully flawed human being just like everyone else. Write about the reality of traveling – the piss-stained bus station floors, the creepy taxi drivers who make wildly inappropriate comments, the time I got stuck inside a bathroom in Bolivia. Life isn’t picture-perfect and it’s not a competition to see whose is the most likable and/or sharable.
  3. Analyze my motives. Am I sharing a post because I find it important, helpful, and relevant? Or am I doing so to show the world how in-the-loop I am?
  4. Do things because they interest me, not because they are “grammable” or likable moments. By the same token, I should write about what interests me, not the most trendy topics (sparkly vampires, anyone?).
  5. Take breaks from social media. Being constantly bombarded with stories, articles, photos and (often unwanted) political commentaries is simply unhealthy. Take time to reconnect with people outside the digital realm.

 

What do you think? Is social media the zenith of a highly interconnected web of fully self-actualized individuals releasing the best of their insights into the intellectual stratosphere? Or does the social media phenomenon represent the worst of a consumerist, materialist society obsessed with status and one-upping each other?

A punto de partir

Some very brief reflections on my year spent teaching in Chile:

As I prepare to leave Chile for Ecuador and Colombia and, eventually, the United States, I find myself thinking about the lessons I’ve learned during my time here. I tend to think of everything in life as a learning experience, so I’ve compiled a list of important take-aways. Some are more cliche than others. But all of them rang true for me, so I’m going to share them with you in the hopes that they may be helpful.

  1. Ask for help when you need it.
  2. Working relationships, friendships, and social ties are important. Build them and maintain them.
  3. Not everything goes according to plan. Sometimes that’s for the best, even if it’s not readily apparent.
  4. Be flexible.
  5. Be humble.
  6. Be inquisitive.
  7. Be the only gringa in the room when possible.
  8. Try new things – constantly.
  9. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes.
  10. Take time to get to know yourself. Step outside your comfort zone. Challenge yourself often.

Today I met with Tati and Nati to go ride the teleférico and also sort of as a despedida/farewell. But, the teleférico was closed for maintenance, so we walked around the park and then had juices at a vegan café. It was so nice to spend time with them. Nati gave me a graphic novel called A punto de partir, about a Chilean woman’s travels.

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I had a blast catching up with them. We reflected on my year here in Chile. We talked about relationships, social media, minimalism and documentaries we’ve seen. I think I have progressed with my Spanish even further during this year in Chile because I know I wouldn’t have been able to follow the conversation when I arrived here 10 months ago. Although I would have been able to understand the Spanish, the cultural elements and Chilean modismos would have been largely inaccessible to me. But, out of necessity, I have become more culturally literate since I got here.

My time spent with Tati and Nati made me realize that I’ll miss my friends and coworkers here in Chile un montón. (Shoutout to everyone at Plaza Oeste and un abrazo enorme.) But I know I will take the next step in life confidently, many thanks to you all, with the knowledge that I am resilient and capable.

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Adventures in Patagonia

I’m back in Santiago from a whirlwind trip to the end of the world. Some friends and I – including one friend I met while studying in Valparaiso and her boyfriend from Peru – hiked for a week in Torres del Paine, then we headed to El Calafate, Argentina for Christmas.

In the telling of this tale, I am relying on my makeshift journal of grimy, stapled-together paper that I toted in a Ziploc bag all throughout the trek. I could be seen squinting in the dark, scribbling each night in the hopes of preserving my observations for Future Me, who will undoubtedly benefit from such profound insights as, “My feet hurt.”

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During Christmas dinner in El Calafate, my friends and I went around in a circle, sharing our dream jobs. As it turned out, my answer – writer – paled in comparison to much more interesting responses such as “the person who comes up with nail polish names” and “professional cheese taster.” Even so, I’m sticking to my guns.

One of my friends, Chris, commented that I was on the right track, what with diligently writing every day and all, even during a trek. I’m not as convinced, since the aforementioned journal is full of gems like, “We walked a lot today.”

In that spirit, I decided to share with you verbatim what I wrote during the trip. No flowery prose or colorful diction (aside from some brazen profanity); just what I managed to scratch down in between pitching the tent and burning my beans and rice.

16 Dec. 2016

I met a nice lady named Kelly from Oregon who does wilderness therapy for troubled youth. She showed me how to pack my backpack for the trek. It’s funny, when I packed it before and wrote about how proud I was of myself for packing it well, I knew that would come back to bite me in the ass. She had me take everything out and repack it. Firstly, she said that a well-packed bag never has anything on the outside of it. Everything should go inside. The sleeping bag is the most important component and it needs to be kept dry. So, I wrapped it in a trash bag and shoved it into the bottom of the pack. Then, she threw out my towel, saying that I wouldn’t need it. It was such a pleasure to meet her and to have had her help. It was also cool to know there are interesting jobs like wilderness therapy out there.

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17 Dec. 2016
Today we hiked from the base to Campamento Chileno, then to Campamento Torres with our packs. We were full of enthusiasm and the hike was pleasant. There were horses grazing at the base of the mountains beside the welcome center where an attractive, man-bunned park ranger named Jaime gave us the Safety Talk. Then we hiked from Campamento Torres to Mirador Torres to see the towers themselves. I met a nice guy named Matias who works in the park. He talked with me the whole hike, which made it easier for me to bear the abrasive winds as we got closer to the summit. He told me he was going to close the Mirador and make everyone go back, since it was getting late, but he said that since I was nice he’d let us stay. So we wound up taking pictures together and telling jokes. We saw wild foxes on the way. When we got to the Torres, it was breathtaking. The lake was an otherworldly blue and the torres were dusted with snow like medialunas with sugar.

It was my first night sleeping in a tent. The tent is a two person tent, but we’re fitting three in it to save money – Bee, Al, and myself. It rained all night long and the tent door is broken, so the inside of the tent got wet and so did our sleeping bags. We didn’t sleep very much.

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18 Dec. 2016
Carrying my pack has gotten easier. I’m now carrying the stove, part of the tent, and my sleeping bag, in addition to my food and clothes. I made it to Campamento Central, pitched the tent, and cooked my rice and lentils in the pouring rain.

I’m sopping wet and our tent and sleeping bags are soaked.

But I had this moment of peace and clarity when the rain stopped on the trail and I just stood in awe of nature and my small life in connection with all of it.

 

It felt like it was all worth it.

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19 Dec. 2016
I managed to get my sleeping bag into my pack after 15 minutes of struggling (since it’s huge and defective). It was ORGASMIC. I feel like I could conquer the world.

I’m glad we saw the Torres when we did. Yesterday and today people went and said they couldn’t see anything due to the rain.

Hiked 10 hours today with the pack. It was really fucking difficult. Al stayed at a nice lodge at Camp Cuernos. I passed up on a room there because I wanted a challenge.

I fell and hit my head while hiking to camp. I was drafting my own obituary when Patrick and Sarah helped me up and stayed with me until we got to camp.

Tomorrow is another 10 hour hike. I don’t know how I’m going to do it.

20 Dec. 2016
Well, I did it.

I hiked up to Mirador Britanico. It was beautiful – a panoramic view of the mountains covered in snow with glaciers jutting out. I’m glad I went. We had a moment of sun at the top and we all sat on a rock and just laid there.

My feet hurt so much, though. Even my blisters have blisters.

On the way down, it rained, making the rocks slippery, so it was hard to walk. Allison came back from her lodge night. I missed her.

21 Dec. 2016

Back in Puerto Natales now.

Al and I hiked from Camp Italiano to Paine Grande, then to Glacier Grey, and back, in order to catch the catamaran into town by 6:00.

I think it was the hardest I’ve ever pushed myself physically because my feet hurt so much I could barely walk.

Glacier Grey was the first glacier I’d ever seen. It was cool to see. I guess that’s an understatement for the wonder of nature.

The others are camping tonight and doing what Al and I did today.

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22 Dec. 2016
Today Al and I returned our camping gear, did laundry, and bought tickets to El Calafate, Argentina. I talked with Andrés at the hostel we’re staying at about hiking, Patagonian history, and US politics – specifically the Trump phenomenon. He told me that long ago, the Chilean government had given parcels of land to different groups of people to farm – mostly sheep and llamas – and then gradually took the land grants away in order to form a nature reserve. But the one group they couldn’t take the land away from was a Croatian-Chilean family, who created this business called Fantastico Sur. Now the company has a monopoly on all the campsites and is essentially gouging tourists and making a fortune. Andrés felt this was, unfortunately, a catalyst of the commercialization of Torres del Paine.

Our conversation reminded me why I love speaking another language and connecting with people in that way.

23 Dec. 2016
Made it to El Calafate, Argentina, despite some trouble with the bus tickets. Meeting cool people at the hostel from Ireland, Italy, and Mexico. It inspires me to travel more.

Going to see a glacier tomorrow.

24 Dec. 2016
Today we visited the biggest glacier in South America – Perito Moreno. According to hearsay, it’s larger than the city of Buenos Aires in terms of surface area. I loved it.

We saw huge chunks fall off, but apparently that’s normal, according to a park ranger. However, climate change is making the glacier thinner, which means the ice will retreat eventually.

I met an engineer who lives in Seattle and a therapist from Hungary. They travel and hike and couchsurf constantly. I also filmed a little video for my grandmother to wish her a Merry Christmas at the glacier.

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25 Dec. 2016
Al and I went to a nature reserve by the lake called Laguna Nimez. I ate a calafate berry and we saw owls, flamingos, and other birds. We swung on swings in a wooden playground overlooking the lake. For some reason I loved that wooden playground. I saw a painting that said, “Donde vivas conserva la naturaleza. Protege tu planeta.”

After the fact, I found out that we walked 65 miles total in Torres del Paine. That’s pretty cool, since I had no idea.

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Lago Argentino
I’m on a rock on the shore of Lago Argentino right now. I went back to Laguna Nimez by myself and I decided to walk along the lake even though it’s really windy. I had this thought that if I could describe the taste of my calafate chocolate to someone who didn’t have taste buds, then I could really write. How would I even describe chocolate? Bitter? Musky? Undertones of bullshit adjectives? Anyway, I feel like there’s something there. If I could look at everything as a discovery, a shedding of shrouds. Then I read this book called Skippy Dies I found at the hostel by some flamingos at the lagoon across from the lake. I feel completely at peace.

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Chluepperli [Chiloe, Chile]

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“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” – Mark Twain

11 Nov. 2016

“How do you not overthink things?”

Allison shrugged. “Well, a lot of times people’s actions have nothing to do with you. Mostly it has to do with them.”

We’re sitting on a beach in Ancud, Chiloe, avoiding talking about the election in the U.S. Since we found out last week, we’ve both been stunned. We avoided picking at our festering wounds with imagined prognoses. Instead, we wandered off to the Fuerte San Antonio, one of the oldest Spanish forts in Latin America, built in 1770. It’s a bunch of cannons pointed toward the sea. We sit on the wall and talk.

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The hostel in Ancud is completely made out of blonde wood. There’s a cozy kitchen overlooking the ocean and a sunroom with giant windows facing the sea. I decided to do yoga there at sunset. The owner is Roberto; his parents built the cottage by hand and he attends to the daily goings-on of the hostel.

I’m sharing a room with a German guy, a Swiss girl, a French girl, and my friend, Allison. Allison found a clothespin in her bed, laughing as she plucked it out from under her. The Swiss girl taught me how to say “clothespin” in Swiss-German: clue-per-ly. She spelled it for me: chluepperli. But she made sure to point out that Swiss-German spelling almost entirely depends on the predilections of the writer, so it varies.

I practiced saying it out loud about a dozen times, the clipped vowels left a tangy taste in my mouth like Granny Smith apples.

It makes me think of why I love traveling so much. It’s the chluepperlis. Trying to explain Laffy Taffy in Spanish to a French woman, making exaggerated chewing movements until we’re both doubled over. Making the cheapest rice for dinner three nights in a row and passing it around the table until everyone’s full.

For anyone who has the privilege and the discretionary income, I think travelling isn’t just important, but necessary, especially in a world fueled with hatred of the Other. Trump’s America is, naturally, a paragon of this mentality. Maybe the most healing thing we can do in the face of continuous Otherization and fragmentation is to tear down walls and to stand skin-to-skin with our fellow humans. Science says that most matter is actually space and that some things that appear to be solid are types of permeable membrane with millions of atoms bouncing in and out freely. I like to think I’m a sort of permeable membrane, letting the good stuff in, letting it alter my molecular structure in an inherently owner-less, never-ending, branching-outward process.

12 Nov. 2016

We went to the Bahia de las Pinguineras with Delfin and Matthias. We semi-hitchhiked there, in that we stood by the side of the road with our thumbs up until a guy from a tour agency saw us and offered to give us a ride for 2 luka. Allison sat on my lap the whole way so we could all fit. Everyone was packed into the car – Chileans, gringas, French and German folks, with the lush, green scenery racing by the windows. Craning my neck to see the lamb blocking our path, then a horse a couple miles later, then a chicken.

We took a boat tour and saw dozens of penguins on little islands. They dove into the water and swam toward the boat. I translated the Chilean guide’s talk into English for a group of Israelis we met on the boat, which gave me the bubbly feeling of being useful.

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13 Nov. 2016

Allison and I went to Castro today. We saw the famous church, which is wooden and painted purple and yellow, but it was closed. We walked for about half an hour to get to the Costanera to see the palafitos, the famous houses on stilts. There was a huge mall right behind them, making it less picturesque, and I wondered how many Chilotes actually wanted that eyesore.

We also noticed a lot of political unrest in the city. Apparently there was some controversy over building a bridge connecting Puerto Montt (the mainland) to Chiloe. A lot of the palafitos had handmade signs in their windows saying how they opposed the bridge and preferred to have a hospital instead. They also had signs denouncing a maritime concession. We got to hear lots of folks’ perspectives on both issues. Some ladies at the bus terminal thought the bridge was just for big businesses to extract resources like gold, copper and ore from Chiloe and export it, obviously not for the benefit of the Chilotes. Others like the hostel owner think it’s an inevitable sign of modernization and progress. Still others like our taxi driver felt it would lead to an increase in crime and a loss of Chilote identity.

With regard to the maritime concession, Roberto explained to us that Western salmon exportation companies aren’t paying the Chilote salmon fishers a fair price for their work, which has led to protests for “un sueldo digno.” Also, four fishermen died recently because of unsafe work practices, so they are denouncing that as well.

I was glad to have heard a variety of perspectives on the issues to synthesize them.

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Then, we went to the Parque Nacional Chiloe in the more Southern part of the island. On the way there, this Argentinian guy wanted to talk to us. He was nice, but the road was so curvy that Allison and I were fighting to keep down our lunches. After the fact, we cracked up at the whole situation – of course we couldn’t have run into someone who wanted to practice his English on a leisurely stroll; it had to be on Death Road.

The park itself was stunning. Everything was an unimaginable green dotted with these bright yellow flowers called silvestres. We wandered down to this completely untouched beach with wild horses. It genuinely looked like the end of the world – or a completely different world all together. We also snuck onto a deserted pier overlooking a lake. Allison saw some animal that she initially believed to be a crocodile, but eventually settled on an otter. I told her it was one of the mythical Chilote creatures like El Trauco or La Sirena. In Castro, I didn’t really feel Chiloe’s magic, which is at the heart of Chileans’ love of the island. In the park, though, I felt utterly saturated with wonder.

We didn’t make it to the Muelle de las Almas, which is the primary thing I wanted to do. But we had no way of knowing there was only one bus there daily and that it was in the morning. Ultimately, I wasn’t that bummed. Allison and I told each other ghost stories by the lake, our faces almost entirely obscured by fog. Only a glint of tooth, a raised eyebrow, or the upturned folds of a smirk belied our presence to one another.

We got the bus schedule mixed up and had to wait until midnight to go back to Ancud. I called Roberto and he helped us navigate the Byzantine rural bus system. He even called his taxista friend to pick us up from the bus terminal, since we got in around 1:00 am. I’m still grateful to him for that.

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14 Nov. 2016

The next day, we headed back to Puerto Montt. 75 cents and 30 minutes later, we were in Puerto Varas. It’s a town with a ton of German influence due to the settlers there post-WWII. I bought souvenirs for my roommates, by boss, and my mom, even though I’m broke. We ate at an Indian restaurant since they had cheap, vegan food. There I was in an Indian restaurant in a German-style cottage in the South of Chile.

Life is endlessly amazing.

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I’m back in Santiago now, living off rice cakes until I get paid. I am completely confident every penny (or peso) spent travelling was well spent. I stayed until 8:00 tonight catching up and grading papers and I have to do the same tomorrow. Even so, I’m deeply appreciative for this incredible learning experience and I’m already hungry for more.

Thanks to everyone reading this for being a part of my journey.

Fiercely,

J

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