Monday, August 19, 2013

A Weekend in Pucón

Hey everyone! I know that it's been a little bit, but I hadn't really done anything super exciting/worthy of an entirely new post... until this weekend! I finally did a bit of traveling through Chile, and now I have stories to tell you (: Just to warn you, though, this will be a semi-long post, considering that I have to cover the events of four days. But there are pictures to reward you for reading, I assure you!

The lake next to Pucón
We didn't have classes last week Thursday or Friday for the religious holiday Asunción de la Virgen, so my fellow Grand Valley study abroad students and I planned a long weekend trip to the touristy city of Pucón, Chile. On Wednesday afternoon we took a 6-hour bus ride from Chillán to Pucón, and arrived in the city around 10:30 pm. We had been planning to ask directions to the hostel --- El Hostal Wohlenberg, for anyone interested in staying in Pucón --- once we got to the bus terminal in Pucón, but to our dismay we discovered that there was no one around who knew where the hostel was. And none of us had had the foresight to look up directions from the bus station to the hostel prior to the trip. Whoops. Since it's not exactly the smartest thing for tourists to wander around an unfamiliar city in the dark whilst carrying luggage, we called the hostel owner, Eric, to ask for directions.
We can see the mountains! 

We discovered that he is a super nice person, as he came to pick us up from the terminal in his own car, and also brought us back to the station on Sunday. Upon our arrival to the hostel, we settled into our respective rooms (James was the only guy in the group, so he got a room all to himself) and relaxed a little, and we also began to plan the rest of our weekend.

It was gray and rainy on Thursday when we woke, so we went on a walk to explore the city a little, taking in everything from the volcano alert system to the street musicians. Despite the overcast sky, it was amazing to see the misty mountains so close to the town, and I was struck by the sheer beauty of the area. Joined by four stray dogs who temporarily adopted us, we walked down to a huge lake bordered by a black-sand beach and just enjoyed the scenery. Afterwards, we traveled to Los Polzones, a cluster of termas, or natural  outdoor hot springs, in the foothills of the Andes. The pools had a wide range of temperatures ranging from absolutely freezing to hot tub sans bubbles. Because it was drizzling and a little cool, the springs felt absolutely wonderful, and we had a blast testing them all out --- even the bone-chilling one.
This was the really cold one - no one's in it!
The termas were right next to a river. Beautiful
Gail, fearless mountaineer
Bright and early Friday morning we traveled to el Volcán Villarrica, the active volcano near Pucón that we could see from our hostel's deck. We planned to hike up the volcano with a guide. I will admit that I was very nervous about this; I'm not the outdoorsy type at all, and hiking is not exactly my idea of fun. Honestly, the whole climb was a significant struggle, and I'm very grateful for the wonderful ladies from GV who were with me and encouraged me the whole way, helping me to push myself farther than I ever thought I'd go. I'll spare you the details, but I was very glad when the other girls expressed similar sentiments to return down the volcano about a quarter of the way up. Our guide, Patricia, was absolutely wonderful to us and gave us a lot of patience and encouragement.

First we had to essentially walk down the snowy slopes with claw-like contraptions strapped to our feet; this was particularly scary as you're walking down an icy, 60-degree slope and one slip can cause you to tumble hundreds of feet before stopping in a relatively flat portion; I'm sure I was not the only one fervently praying to God for safety during the descent. This was very slow going, and we were all excited when Patricia showed us a new way to descend: using little circular sleds, we could slide down the volcano, which was extremely fun (much cooler than Minneapolis Hill could ever be, my Yooper friends)! Upon returning to the lodge where we waited for the rest of the group, we discovered that our companion James was one of the two people from the group to reach the top of the volcano --- yay James! He took my camera up with him, so we've got photos as proof of his amazing feat, and we're very proud of him (:
The view from the top of the volcano, courtesy of James

The volcano's top

After this extreme excursion, we were all extremely sore and tired, and fully expected to relax for all of Saturday. Wrong! We ended up meandering though the touristy shops in Pucón during the morning, and in the afternoon we went with a young couple from Colorado to Cañi National Park, which features nature trails up the side of a mountain... which meant more hiking. Surprisingly, the hiking wasn't quite as terrible as I'd thought it was (I think it actually loosened up my sore muscles from the previous day's trek), but while James headed up the mountain with the Coloradans, we ladies found a beautiful view about a quarter of the way up the mountain and just stayed there, enjoying the spectacular surroundings. Once we'd all returned to Pucón and had eaten, we went out for a final night on the town with fellow foreigners. I will say that one fantastic part of Pucón was that since it's a tourist town attracting visitors from all over the world, we were not the only gringos in the area, and therefore we received less stares than what we usually get here in Chillán.

We climbed that volcano!
Once we'd said goodbye to Eric and his fantastic dog Mack, we boarded the bus and were homeward bound. The trip was made significantly less tedious than the first because immediately in front of me sat a little girl of about three years who needed entertainment. James made it his personal goal to become her friend, and we all had a great time watching his attempts and providing ideas on how to keep her entertained. Although this was all very well and good, I cannot express how happy I was to return to my house here in Chillán and see my host family once again. Even though it was an awesome weekend, it's good to be home. Thanks to everyone for reading! Sending my love and thanks to you all!


At the termas!
The view from our vantage point in Cañi

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Changes in My Life

It's hard to believe that I only arrived in Chile a just over a week ago; it feels like a lot longer than that. I guess that means that I'm settling in and getting used to life here. I mean, there're still a LOT of things to get used to: eating breakfast around 11 am, lunch between 2-4 pm, and dinner (called once here) between 8-10 pm;  the stray dogs wandering the streets (there have been two that I seriously wanted to ship back home for me... I feel like resisting their sweet eyes and wagging tails is going to be one of the most difficult parts of my time here); and of course being surrounded by the Spanish language every day and in every place, just to name a few differences between my life in the States and my life here.
My room!

I think one thing that really surprised me about here is the amount of English that I come into contact with during daily activities. A pet peeve that I've run into is that people here automatically try to talk to me in English while I'm here. Instead of trying to communicate with me or try to explain in Spanish, they instead try to speak to me in broken English --- which usually just confuses me more. Just because I'm not a native speaker doesn't mean that I can't understand Spanish; I may just need a little more explanation and/or time to process. Grr.

I've also encountered a lot of English in programs playing on TV. It seems like every day there's at least one American show or movie on the TV with a Spanish translation superimposed over the images that are obviously spoken in English. In fact, I was just joking with my family tonight that I might watch more English movies here than I do back home. In addition to the television, American music is also super popular here --- I've been hearing everything from Maroon 5 to Rihanna  to Queen. Sometimes it makes it hard to focus upon what's being said in Spanish around me and on the TV when I recognize the songs in the background and have the English lyrics flowing through my mind. I can't wait for the day that I won't have to focus hard and fight to tune everything else out in order to understand the Spanish shows.
Lots of storage for my treasures

But enough about that. Time to relate a little bit of what I've been up to and experiencing thus far. Last Sunday I got to move into MY room. It's extremely nice; I have my own queen-sized bed, a lot of storage space, a personal propane heater, and a bathroom --- all to myself! The only downside is that it's not on the same level as the rest of my family's rooms are, so I'm farther from them :( but this just forces me to leave my room more and be social... oh darn.

Also this past week, I was able to go to the local market twice with the other GV study abroad students. I really love the market --- so many colors, trinkets, and pretty things to admire. Pretty sure I'm going to be back there many times, and a lot of my purchases are probably going to be from there. I actually broke down and bought a scarf (thanks to Hayley) when there the first time, and I absolutely love it. Hayley and I actually got little handcrafted clay pigs as gifts from the scarf vendor. It's so adorable and currently has a place on my nightstand.

Clay pig!
Today I went with my family to Concepción for my Chilean sister Natalia's handbol games. It was a really interesting sport to watch, even though after two games I haven't quite figured out the rules. The game is played inside a big pavilion with a court larger than a basketball court, and there are soccer nets at each end. Each team has six player on the court at once, and the object is to make goals by throwing the cantaloupe-sized balls past the goalie. It almost seems like a game of soccer, except that you seem to be able to almost tackle people like football. I've never heard of this game being played in the States (it's obviously much different from what I'd considered to be handball, haha), but I definitely have a respect for the high school girls that I watched play for an hour straight in this grueling game.

Well, that's all for now! I have to head to bed because I have a long week of classes ahead of me, which I'm sure to write about soon! ¡Adios a todos!

Gail (:

Mi estufa... finally figured out how to work it!
My pretty scarf (=