Jesus Rides the Metro

From the very start, traveling to Chile has been quite an adventure. For months, possibly even a year or two, I had build up an image in my mind of an epic arrival to Chile based on the movie The Motorcycle Diaries with its inspiring opening and even more energizing opening theme. However, this vision was quickly undermined with my flights into the country between a stuffy nose and unnecessarily nerve-wracking first leg between home and New York City. First, I’ve decided that propeller planes are not my thing, and the only time I will enjoy riding in one is in the event of sky diving, when you can jump out anyway. The first part of my trek was a flight from Philly International to LaGuardia, which was one of the more terrifying fifty minutes of my life. Normally I am a very calm flier, but we flew through “some really insane winds”, to quote the pilot. Basically, from my perspective, this was like a palm tree in a hurricane, but with a much longer fall. A few weeks prior, I had poked some fun at my cousin Taylor for her anxiety on a turbulent ride, but now I just empathize with her. Somehow, the guy in the seat next to me managed to stay asleep for the entire ride, but just to add to my white-knuckle nerves, he jolted (twitch would be a severe understatement) with every dip, rise and bump we experienced throughout the flight, augmenting my anxiety to an even more unreasonable level.

My flight from NYC to Santiago (Chile) proved to be much smoother, regarding turbulence. However, an eleven hour ride with blocked sinuses and changing air pressure makes for a miserable experience. As a result, I arrived in Chile not blasting my epic Motorcycle Diaries theme, but struggling to breathe and really just wanting to sleep forever. Not quite the entrance I had dreamed of, but it would do, considering the rest of my week here has been nothing short of extraordinary. From the very start, Chilean cariño is nothing that I have experienced before. Everybody here is welcoming and involved in the well-being of the gringos that come to live with them. Side note: gringo is not a derogatory term here, unlike other Latin American countries, but simply indicates an American or European foreigner. My host mother and all of her friends that I have met have been incredibly welcoming and eager to meet me from the day of my arrival. Apparently even my host mom’s colleagues tried persuading her to bring me in to her work so they could all meet me and hang out with me the day I arrived. Thankfully, I was allowed to rest instead.

Maggie, my host mom, is uncannily similar to my Mom-Mom (grandmother, for the few of you not familiar with the term), which made assimilating an incredibly easy feat. As a result, everything is spotless and organized, even though the family just moved into this apartment about three days before I showed up. I keep my door to my room closed, just to save Maggie the stress of dealing with my lack of tidiness (although I do make my bed now). I have two host brothers, who as of yet I have not met for more than the half hour ride from the airport to the apartment (I immediately fell asleep and they left for the weekend, and then some; as of Wednesday, they haven’t come back).

After spending Friday sleeping on the beautiful terraza (patio/porch/balcony; below), we left Saturday morning to introduce me to the TransSantiago metro system, so I could get to school the following Monday without a guide. It is just as simple to use as the DC metro, but significantly cleaner and actually runs on time. We found my school, Universidad Diego Portales, and then climbed the Cerro Santa Lucia, which is a colonial-era castle about 70m above the rest of the city (pictures will come at another time; it was too smoggy at the time to get good shots). The rest of the day was, yet again, rest and relaxation on the terraza, which quickly became my favorite spot.

La Terraza

On Sunday Maggie and I went to the Vega Central; a giant farmer’s market with fruits and vegetables everywhere. While the Chilean palette is generally pretty bland and unexciting, the country’s produce is infinitely better than at home (largely because a significant amount of our fruit actually comes from here). We got a backpack full of fruit, the most exciting of which is a new (for me) fruit, called tuna, which has nothing to do with tuna fish. Instead, it’s a cactus fruit (no spikes), about the size of a baseball with large seeds, but has the taste and texture of a kiwi. It’s delicious after you figure out how to deal with the abundance of un-chewable seeds that come with it. Also, avocado (palta) is everywhere here, and is fantastically cheap, unlike at home. This was the first point at which I broke out my awesome camera to take pictures of the fruit, much to Maggie’s dismay, as it would attract even more attention to my already noticeable self. However, instead of being robbed, everybody at the Vega wanted me to take their picture. Not sure why, but it seems that Chileans are significantly more outgoing than Americans based on this.

Lots of fruit and veggies at the Vega
The green fruit is the Tuna

All weekend I felt like I ate and slept. The Chilean eating schedule consists of:
·         Breakfast (morning): tea, bread, avocado
·         Lunch (early afternoon): this is the big meal of the day, so it can be anything
·         Onces (late afternoon): literally translated is “elevenses” but means a small snack between lunch and dinner
·         Dinner (9-10pm): usually bread and tea, with avocado or some other fruit

Almost every meal involves bread in some way. Turns out, Chile is the world’s second-largest consumer of bread after Germany. Also, it is the world’s top consumer of mayonnaise, an ingredient very popular on the infamous and delicious completo:

Palta, Mayo and Tomato on a Hot Dog


Finally, starting Monday, I’ve had to get up at 7:00 in the morning for my “intensive” Spanish class that lasts from 10:00-1:30 (or 13:30, since we operate in 24 hour time here). My group of AU students has proven to be a great mix of characters, and we have all explored Santiago together after class for the past three days. I have to say, there is so much to this city that it will take well over five months for me to really see what it is all about.

So far, our most interesting excursion has been the hike to the top of the Cerro San Cristobal, which is 826m above sea level, and one hell of a trek. Before even entering the trail we had already walked a healthy three or four miles around the city, but when we finally made it to the Virgin Mary, so high above the rest of Santiago, the view alone was worth it and the triumph over the climb made it even sweeter. Summer is a beautiful time in Chile, as you can see in the pictures, and seeing it from above is quite the reward.

La Virgen, greeting us at the top
Santiago sprawls this far in every direction; it’s big

The most interesting observation so far, though, has been Chileans’ fascination with the obnoxiously large group of gringos and, specifically, me. Maggie told me on Monday that I look like Jesus, who is a pretty big deal down here, and that it has attracted a lot of attention from just about everybody that sees me. She told me that even guys stare at me, which is quite the feat. Since then, I’ve paid attention to the attention that I get, and have realized that people do, in fact, think I look like Jesus. The metro has been the most interesting place for observing this, as I’ve heard everything from “he looks so familiar…” to “mira, Jesús está en el metro”  (“look, Jesus is riding the metro”). So, it looks like for the next semester Jesus is riding the Santiago metro, and I will have to get used to a cultural aspect that I could never have expected. While my entrance to Chile lacked the grandeur that I had envisioned, the thrill of discovery and exploration (and yes, some of the ego boost accompanying the rock star status) will more than make up for it, providing a level of excitement and enthusiasm that I have not felt for a long time. This week has represented the beginning of a long-awaited adventure that will continue far beyond the end of my AU program here.

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