Wednesday, July 11, 2007

3 Stars on the Southern Cross

Santiago, Chile.

It seems like a long time since I've written anything about being here...I keep starting something up, get interrupted and then return to it and all my thoughts have changed. Time is moving really fast. I only spend 4 or 5 hours a day actually at the hogar with the kids, but spend an hour and a half commuting and many more going to meetings, buying groceries, and planning activities to do while I'm at work.
I miss my car! I miss being able to go to one store and get groceries, develop photos, buy office supplies and then drive it all home where I can quickly hop onto the internet to write e-mails while unpacking groceries and cleaning up the house. I feel like I never have nearly enough time here to get anything done—I hate feeling inefficient. That word keeps coming to me—efficiency. The US is so efficient. Rapid. Streamlined. Everything here requires at least 3 times as many steps to accomplish. Which means 3 times as much contact with different people. And ends up being at the very least interesting, if not downright fun—but means I'm generally late to everywhere. And I'm already a late person, so you can only imagine.

It's freezing in Santiago—yep, still Winter. My roommate Tyler and I cozy up with the gas heater every night and watch pirated movies and entire seasons of Rome. By the time morning comes, my bed is warm and it takes everything in me to voluntarily get out of it. I can't remember the last time I got to go somewhere barefoot—something I never thought of as a luxury.

I've started talking with the house moms at the hogar about my leaving and how to help prepare future volunteers for working with the girls—trying to maintain continuity in our activities and help them adjust to the comings and goings of so many people. In the middle of one conversation this last weekend, it hit me just how much I'm not prepared to say goodbye to them. The only significant goodbyes I've ever had to say were to people that I always intended to see again—maybe months later, but again. I'm not going to see these girls again, and I'm enforcing every message that they carry with them every day—that people leave them. Most of them let it slide right off their backs because they've learned how. And I doubt that any of them still pine over a departed volunteer. But to know how much it would make a difference if they had someone who actually was there consistently—to give them individual attention and support them as they went through the teenage years that are already a bit, well, rough, even without trying to go it alone.

I know I can't stay here longer. Not many of us can commit to longer than 6 months or so without any sort of financial support. And now that I'm nearly reaching that 6 month mark, I realize how short that time really is. Barely enough time to really learn their lives, their quirks, the system in which they live. What I could do with more time...Maybe it's irresponsible to come here like this, so abrupt, brusque. We think and talk about this a lot, the volunteers. The first times we start hearing them say I love you, and asking us not to leave. Wondering what the hell we were thinking it would be like for them? Or how much I really thought about them before I came—did I think much beyond what it would be like for me?

In the end, I think it's a good thing. Major flaws--as life always has, but the chance to know and learn and share between us makes it good, I think—on both sides. For those of us who come, we are all leaving changed in ways we couldn't have anticipated. And for the kids here, I don't know. I can't say certainly it's better for us to come and go rather than never come at all, but somehow I believe that it is. I need to hope that it is.


So when you enter Chile, you pay $100 US and you're given a 90 day tourist visa. After 90 days, you leave the country, come back again and get another 90 days. If you overstay that 90 days, you become an 'ilegal' and then have to go turn yourself in to the immigration office where you wait in line for 3 hours or so with a lot of Bolivians and Peruvians, and then wait some more for them to send you with various numbers in hand to various stamping authorities, and then you hope that they will think it was good of you to offer yourself up to the law and reluctantly pass over to you a letter of amnesty.
How do I know this? 105 days in Chile. Oops.

I was lucky—amnesty letter to leave the country (within 10 days, no more or the Carabineros are after me) and I didn't even have to pay a fine! So, ok, it's not as serious as I make it sound—I don't think? But you never really know around here what's going to be important. There's an entrance paper that you get when you cross a border—a little slip no bigger than your hand—and if you lose that, there's hell to pay when you try to leave. Can you imagine how many wandering backpackers have made it to the border barely able to find their passport, much less some random yellow slip?

So with letter in hand, I hopped on a TurBus trip up to Arica, a beach town on the border with Peru. 30 hours there and then another 17 hours beyond that, I should be in Cusco to meet up with some friends for the week. What a haul. 50 hours later I pulled into the hostal badly in need of a shower but happy and strangely refreshed by traveling. Not much to see in the northern desert of Chile, but the highlands of Peru were gorgeous—trees and mountains..I didn't realize how much I'd missed that.

Cusco was 75 degrees and sunny, red-tiled roofs and cobbled streets. In just the taxi ride to the hostal I saw more gringos than in four months in Santiago. It was festival week in Cusco so there were more tourists than usual—being the starting off point for exploring Macchu Picchu and the Sacred Valley, Cusco is definitely a tourism hub. We got there just in time for the festival of Inti Raymi—parades, dancing, music and even a llama sacrifice as a reenactment of ancient Incan rituals. It was pretty amazing, and colorful and crazy...Kids wandering around the streets with lambs wrapped around their necks so that tourists could photograph them, troops of people dancing with masks and drums and huge floats made to look like 30 foot long insects, flutes and drums and then, more flutes and drums. A little bit different from Chile.

We spent 3 days there and then went to stay for the night in a little pueblo in the Valley—Pisac. The friend I was with, Christi, had two adopted siblings from Peru so she was really eager to see where they had been born. We went to their birth town and she was able to talk with the municipal hospitals and take photos of the town and countryside. We ate amazing food at cafes run by expat Germans (despite the fact that I spent one night vomiting up the mushroom and cheese sandwich which had been so 'amazing' a few hours earlier) (oh and by the way, apparently most stomach illnesses in Peru can be solved by drinking Coca-Cola—only the real thing, none of that diet crap), we went to markets and bought alpaca sweaters, earrings and puma carvings, and even tried to visit some of the Incan terraces, although after a cab ride there turned back when shocked by the $20 entrance—do you know how many puma carvings you could buy with that? (Admission: I was still dealing with the mushroom and cheese ordeal so I was stoked to take the taxi back). We also spent a good part of our time in Pisac playing with the 2 month-old Alpaca, Wykeyche, who lived in our hostal. We fed him milk from a bottle (he had been orphaned at birth) and let him watch while we practiced Tai Chi with one of the owners. Definitely different from Chile.

Back in Cusco for a night and then the next morning to Macchu Picchu. I can't really do justice to this part of our trip so I'm not going to try very hard. It was better than I expected by a long shot. If any of you have seen pictures, I'm sure you can imagine why...And then the whole sense of the place once you're actually there—incredibly spiritual. Even peaceful, regardless of the thousands of other people wandering about. We spent about 10 hours there, walking and soaking it all in.

I spent about 3 more days beyond that hanging out in Cusco—warm sunny days reading in the Plaza de Armas and cold nights at 9,000 ft altitude (or somewhere near that?) watching Copa America soccer games and eating sandwiches from street vendors (you'd think I'd be smarter after the mushrooms, right?). Finally hopped back on a bus to make my way to the Chilean border but was held up by strikes—in some random Peruvian pueblo the people had organized a sit-in and I was told I would have to get off and walk around it. Luckily there was no 3am trek through the Peruvian countryside, but we did hang out for 2 hours on some random dirt road—it was so cold at 12,000ft I watched the condensation on the window hardening into ice. I made it to the border and over, and por fin, onto a 30 hour bus back to Santiago. The whole trip in total? 65 hours back...but vale la pena—completely worth it--for the entire experience.


OK. So I know I'm not actually there yet. Just thought I'd give a little update for anyone who is actually still reading this ;)
I'll be back sometime mid to late August, completely broke and probably more than a little bit happy to see sun in August as it should be but isn't down here in the Southern half. It seems like everyone I know has either already moved, is getting ready to move, or wants to move—or else I haven't heard anything from you, which means you probably are already packing your boxes. So maybe when you come back through Seattle you can look me up because I actually plan on staying put for awhile.
I'm starting up classes at the Evans School at UW in September—I'm getting--well, starting--a degree in Environmental Policy and trying to tack on Latin American Studies as well...hoping that means I get to go south again at some point? But not for long—like I said, Seattle is homebase.


Grace said...

B. Congratulations on getting into UW! I didn't know! Well, I'm not one of those packing up boxes. At least not to move away from Seattle. I supposed I'll also be moving in a couple months, but will probably still have a 98103 at the end of my address. Curtis and I still haven't found our "spot" but we haven't been giving the search much of our energy lately. Curtis is up to his ears in album preparation for the big release concert on the 6th (Aug).
I loved this blog entry. You really write so beautifully. Thanks for sharing your very cool experiences with all of us.
Here's a brief update on me: I'll be done with my nanny job in just a few weeks. Potentially unemployed for a month before the wedding. (I don't know if I'll be able to find a job anywhere that will let me take off at least two weeks right at the beginning to get married.) I'm also looking into school and scholarship options... mostly along the lines of Comparative Lit, culture and language programs. UW has some great ones... who knows, maybe we'll be school-mates again?
I love you, and I'm glad to hear how well you're doing.

Tyler Sanchez said...

hey...that tyler character from your blog sounds like a sweet guy. You must feel lucky and proud to get to room with him!