Friday, January 21, 2011

End of Chile, my Birthday, and Senior Spring

Current Location: 36,000 ft in the air, USA

I think these past few days might be some of the craziest yet! I’m just traveling all over the place!

Last I had posted, we were on our last day in Chillan. For that last night, we had a farewell party at the house of Florencia, the in country woman from Oregon State that organized all the homestays and trips. The party was so much fun! We had some delicious food (though lacking a bit in the vegetarian options), good music to dance to, and took TONS of pictures! I learned how to do some Chilean dancing, which was super fun – Sebastian was a great teacher! It was the perfect way to end the time in Chillan, and we returned to our house around 3. Unfortunately, the next morning my bus was leaving at 8 AM! Not much time for sleep.

After a late night of packing and maybe 2-3 ours of sleep, I woke up to catch a cab at 7 AM to the bus station. I had really wanted to see my host family one last time, but they were still asleep and I didn’t want to wake them up. They were so sweet though, so I left them a little note. I also bought a vase and Julie got some flowers, so we were able to show them how much we appreciated everything. Surprisingly, all 3 of us on the 8 AM bus (myself, Leah, and Kyle) made it on time – after the late night I wouldn’t have been surprised if one of us accidentally slept in! We have quite the journey ahead of us – we had a 5-hour bus ride to Santiago, and we were then catching a 2 hour bus to Valparaiso. If the buses weren’t so nice it would have been far more of an obnoxious trip, but when you have buses with movies and air conditioning and comfy seats, its not too bad. We arrived in Valparaiso around 4 PM and grabbed a cab to an area that we had heard was pretty good. We had no hostel booked, which is something unusual for me – I usually book my trips fairly carefully! We went to one hotel first but it was full – luckily there was another one nearby that the woman knew and she called over and there were beds for us.

Valparaiso was such an amazing city. It is built right on the coast of Chile. The area is very hilly, and the whole town is built on the slope. The architecture was so cute – there were all sorts of colors everywhere. There was also a ton of graffiti, but it was very nice graffiti – almost like art. It was all over the town, but things weren’t overlapping or trashy looking It gave the town a very cool feel. The first day we just wandered around – we went down by the water and walked around the hills stopping at cute little boutiques. I was able to do a bit more of my shopping for people, which was a good thing. We finally got hungry and after much searching (and a run in with the worst street performers/clowns I have EVER seen), we chose a little restaurant. We were apparently there very early because it was almost empty when we arrived, but by the time our food arrived, there was a live singer and tons of people singing along and clapping. It was such a fun atmosphere. After the night before, we were all really tired, and called it night around midnight. The net morning we got up bright and early so we could go and see the poet Pablo Nerulo’s house. The house was really cool – there were beautiful views from the windows. By entering we got a sort of walkie-talkie that gave an explanation of the whole house, room by room. He was really into ship things, so all over the walls were maps and other things. It was so fascinating to see everything.

However, all good things must come to an end, and that included my trip to Chile. After only one night in Valparaiso, Leah and I had to head back to Santiago to catch our flights back to the states. I really want to return to Chile again – I’ve only begun to scratch the surface on this amazing country, and there are so many things I still want to do! We caught a bus back to the city and then a transfer to the airport. After some interesting problems with check in not being open I finally got through. However, through all the waiting I met some really cool people, including a few older couples returning from a cruise and a returned Peace Corps volunteer from the Dominican Republic. Talk about small world! After a few hours in the airport, I boarded my plane and it was back to the USA. All flights went fine and I arrived back in NYC Monday morning safe and sound and ready for classes on Tuesday to start.

The first few days back in class have been good. Instead of taking a really light load this semester, I’ve decided that my senior spring will include me doing two classes that I want to do rather than need to do or have to do. That means I’m dropping my minor one class short of finishing. I know it seems stupid, but I’d rather love my last semester than get a single sentence on my diploma for something I’ll be miserable in. The two classes that I am so excited to take are Comprehensive Beginning Spanish and African Dance. Comprehensive Beginning Spanish covers two college semesters of Spanish in one semester, or over 2 years of high school Spanish. Since I have such a strong background in Spanish, having taken 3 years of it, I thought this was the best class for me. I can improved my conjugations and grammar as well as expand my vocab. My Peace Corps placement is also contigent on me finishing this class with a C or higher. I am happy though, because having this skill gives me a better chance of getting to do what I want to do in the Peace Corps. I love the flexibility and I have also loved the language for a long time. Even though I will have the most homework in this class, I know it really won’t seem like work because I am so excited to learn. African Dance is something that I have thought was so much fun, but have never had an opportunity to take. It is such a lively dance and it makes me so happy. And what a work out! Taking this class twice a week is going to help me get in good shape! On top of these two classes, I have my Environmental Engineering classes (Hazardous Waste Management, Data Analysis, Water Management, and Groundwater) and my senior design project. I’ve been to three of the four classes so far, and I think I am going to like most of my classes.

Yesterday was also an exciting day – it was my 22nd birthday! I had a really great day thanks to my amazing friends. I had class all day, so I couldn’t sleep in. My girls made it a great night though. They cooked me a delicious diner, bought me a ridiculous hat and balloons, got me a cake, and miscellaneous presents. After that, we all went out to senior night and Campo. I should wear a birthday hat out more often – I didn’t have to pay for a thing all night! I am so lucky to have such amazing friends – On top of this I had many texts and over 70 facebook posts or messages. A special shout out to the lovely Meg Brodeur, who gave me a lovely blog happy birthday wish!

Now as I write this post from 36,000 feet (though technically will be posting it from New Orleans after landing), I am heading to New Orleans for the weekend with my senior design group. We are meeting with many different professors and engineers in the area to better understand how wetlands work and about traditional hurricane protection systems. We were very lucky and received a grant from the Earth Institute for this trip. It should be a busy few days, but I hope to at least have some time to explore the city. It’s actually my first ever visit! It should be a great time, and I can’t wait to tell you all about what I get to do while there.

Well that’s probably one of the longest blog posts I’ve written, and it’s probably fairly boring to most of you, so sorry! I just started writing, and next thing I knew, I was at 2.5 pages! Don’t worry though, after this weekend my life will be getting much more dull, so expect more spaced and boring blog posts! LOVE

Friday, January 14, 2011

Being Sick and Last Few Days

Current Location: Chillan, Chile

What’s a trip to another country without getting sick at least once? On Monday, it was my lucky day. I don’t think I could have gotten sick on a day I would have disliked more. But in the end it was okay.

Monday was the day that we were spending the morning taking streamflow measurements, and in the afternoon we were driving out to the beach to see the effects of the earthquake as well as have a more fun, relaxing afternoon. I woke up feeling fine – a little tired, but not sick. I grabbed an apple for breakfast and headed to school with Julie. I didn’t start feeling a bit sick until we were on the bus on the way to the field site. I had brought my computer and had been writing some stuff on it, so I thought maybe the screen was making me feel car sick – something that has never happened to me. Once we stopped the bus, I thought I would start feeling better, but little by little I started to feel worse, until I finally had to stop taking streamflow measurements and sit down. After a bit of resting and sipping water, I started to get sick. I had hoped that after throwing up once, I would be much better, but I continued to get sick. Eventually they made the decision to take me home. I was so sad to miss the beach, but my health was more important. Once getting back I continued getting sick and was quite miserable, so being in the field would have been much worse.

My home stay mother practices a type of medicine called biomagnetism, which is similar to acupuncture. I don’t quite understand it, but it’s the belief that the body has certain energy pockets, and by using magnets, you can activate those pockets of energy. I think it also has something to do with oxygen in the blood, and by using magnets, you can kill bacteria by depriving them of an oxygen source? I’m not exactly sure, but she offered me a session of biomagnetism to help me feel better. It was really interesting. She had many different magnets of different sizes and would place them on various parts of my body – on my chest, my stomach, my head, my fingers. Then, she would take my ankles and shake them. Perhaps it’s mainly the placebo effect, but it actually helped me feel a bit better! I only got sick once more after the session, and was luckily able to make it back to the field the next day

While I missed a fun day, I luckily didn’t miss anything that was that significant field wise. Since what I am paying for is mainly the field portion, it’s nice that I’m not missing that part. The next two days were our last two in he field, and I was able to go and participate for both days. I still wasn’t feeling great and was rather weak from my inability to keep food or fluids down on Monday, but with resting, sitting in the shade, and continuously sipping water, I didn’t have any major issues. It’s weird to be done with the field – these two weeks have really been flying by! I’m sad to be leaving so soon, but I am also excited to get back and see all my friends again. It’s difficult not being able to talk to people as often as I am used to.

Yesterday was reserved for Data Analysis. We took everything we had collected, conducted our last experiments and tried to make rhyme or reason of it. We didn’t probably do the best job of that part, but we did our best! After finishing for the day, most people decided we had most definitely earned a drink, and we heading to a bar called “Saints and Sinners” for a few drinks. It started with 5 people, and eventually grew to I think 15 people! It was a lot of fun, and next thing I knew. It was 10:30 at night! I headed back to my families house – they had already eaten dinner, but my homestay mom heated me up some of dinner – a homemade pizza that was delicious – and stayed to talk to me while I ate. She is so sweet – I’m sad to have to go! I’ll have to start making my own dinners :(

Today we have our presentations, some free time in Chillan, and then a farewell party! I think for my extra day that a group of us are going to head to a town called Valparaiso on the coast. It’s supposed to be really fun and beautiful, and it is a lot close to Santiago. We still are figuring out the bus situation and our exact time of leaving and arrival. I’ll be sure to keep everyone updated!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Pucon Weekend

Current Location: Chillan, Chile

What an AMAZING weekend! Pucon was an absolutely beautiful place, and I had such a good time. I am already planning what I’m going to do next time I visit. We left the University around 4, and we had a stop 1 hour in – at this beautiful waterfall called Salto de Laja. I haven’t seen many waterfalls before, and this one was absolutely beautiful. It was in a lower flow than it could be because it is summer up here, but it was still absolutely great. It was a nice little side stop, and it helped break up the trip a little bit. Also note the pretty rainbow I saw there too!

Pucon is a really cool touristy town in Chile. It is about 5 hours south of Chillan, which is 10 hours south of Santiago. It’s known best for a volcano called Villarrica, which you can climb in the summer. During the winter months, it becomes a major ski location as well. It also has activities like natural hot springs, write water rafting, canopy and zip lining, and cave diving. There is also a huge lake with beaches to lay on and you can rent paddle boats or jet skis. You could spend a week there and not be bored!

We arrived in Pucon a bit later than expected and checked into our cabanas. The place we stayed was so nice! We have 4, 5, and 6 bed cabanas, and in my opinion, our cabin was totally the best. Our cabin was 2 stories, with a kitchen and living room. After dropping off our stuff, we headed to book our activities tomorrow and get some dinner. After a lot of thinking and deciding, I chose not to hike the volcano. I had been so excited for it before hand, but it was an all day activity and I was still pretty tired from my week in the field, so I decided not to do it. Next time I go, I am totally going to climb the volcano – it’s on my bucket list now! That night, we were all tired and ended up just passing out after a delicious dinner of pizza.

The next day was our busy day and our only full day in Pucon. I woke up rather earlier than I would have preferred – I guess I have been so used to getting up at 7 AM for heading to the field that sleeping until 11 or 12 was too hard for my body. Jenna also woke up early, and we decided to go find the grocery store to pick up some breakfast essentials – particularly coffee. After a delicious breakfast, which we cooked for everyone, it was time to explore Pucon for a bit before white water rafting. The rafting was so much fun! We were given wet suit pants like I have worn in scuba diving, wet suit booties, a windbreaker jacket, a life jacket, and a helmet. The rapids were class III and IV, which are pretty intense rapids and were a lot of fun. I ended up in the front of the boat, which meant I got extra wet! It was so much fun – I was just sad when it had to end. My arms were quite sore though once we were done – not the muscles that I am used to working hard.

That night, we went to the hot springs. In Chile, because of the volcano, there are natural hot springs in several areas. We went to one of them – it’s actually like a natural hot tub. The water was so warm, which felt great on our sore muscles. We brought a few bottles of wine and stayed there for 3 hours on and off in the springs. They suggested getting out every 15 minutes to cool off, but I didn’t quite follow that. We tried to stay hydrated throughout the time, but I was still quite thirsty after we were done. The heat really makes you lose water, but its hard to tell. T was a great way to spend the night, and oh my god, the stars are ridiculous. I don’t think I had ever seen so many stars in my life – there were probably thousands I could see in the sky. Orion was so bright, and you could even see the Milky Way. Apparently there are more bright stars in the southern hemisphere. I’m not sure if it is from less ambient light or closer stars, but it is beautiful.

Sadly, all good things must come to an end, and Sunday was our day to leave. The morning we made breakfast again – this time French toast, and then headed to the lake to try to fix the lovely farmers tan that we have all been developing. I used sunscreen to try to prevent burning, but I completely failed in my application. Not sure if I didn’t shake it enough or the wind blew away the sunscreen, but there were many, many streaky spots all over my body by the night. I stayed out there for a few hours, and then it was back to pack and head to Chillan again. I wish we could have had a longer trip, but it was time for us to get back to Chillan for this last week in the field. I cannot believe that I only have a week left. Time has been flying and I am not ready to be leaving back to NYC. The weather here currently is much nicer than snow and cold!

P.S. I love comments!!! ;)

Friday, January 7, 2011

Field Work in Chile

Current Location: Chillan, Chile

Hello all! Chile has been absolutely FANTASTIC so far! I am completely in love with this country. However, I have been so busy since I got here that I haven't been able to experience it as much as I would like.

Tuesday was our first day in the field. It also was the day that it poured. When we arrived, everyone told us that it wouldn't rain, because it is summer and the dry season, so there is rarely rain. Well we got one of those rare days! Because of the rain, the bus was late to get us to go to the field site. By the time we got on the bus and going, we were over an hour later than we had planned. It turned out to be better because by the time we got to the site, it had mainly stopped raining, and wasn't too slippery. The site is in a place called Ninhua, a small town about an hour outside of Chillan. It used to be a vineyard and is really nice. It's a hilly countryside, with lots of cows and horses around. The first day, I tried to make friends with a horse... that was interesting. Pictures will soon follow!

I won't go into details on what all I'm doing in the field. We have a series of stations that we are working on - soil infiltration, irrigation and runoff, geophysics, and crack measurements in the ground. It's really interesting stuff, and I feel like I am learning a lot. The only down part is that we are busy form about 8 AM to 8 PM. That leads to looooooong and tiring days, especially since the day is spent doing physical things in the hot sun. It's been great so far.

Wednesday was an interesting day because it was the first day I tried to take the bus. Julie and I realized during the morning while getting ready that our host mom wasn't around. We had to get to the school somehow, so we took the bus. Well, the bus system in Chile is very different than the bus in America. First, there is no uptown or downtown buses - the buses always run the same path. Second, there can be a lot of time between buses - 15-20 minutes sometimes. So of course, we run into some problems and end up running a good amount of the way because our bus takes us no where near the university. And of course, the one day that we are running late, everyone else is on time and waiting on the bus for us. Ahhh, adventures in Chile.

I've gotten a bit burned so far, but it is in the process of turning into a tan. This weekend, we are going to a place in southern Chile called Pucon - it is a touristy area with a lot of outdoors activities - climbing a volcano, river rafting, and hot springs are some of the highlights. We will be spending 2 nights there to rest, relax and have fun. I've gotten lots of great pictures that I will try to upload soon! Love to all my friends - I miss you guys!

Monday, January 3, 2011

End of 2010 and 2011 in Chile

Current Location: Chillan, Chile

Hola!! I am writing this quick blog update from my bedroom at my host families house! It has been a crazy few weeks with the end of the semester, Christmas, New Years, and Chile!

Christmas with the family in NYC was really great. We did all sorts of fun things! Christmas Eve dinner was at a restaurant called DB Bistro, one of the families favorite. It was weird though - our family usually opened presents on Christmas Eve, but this year we did it differently (along with a few other things... like Christmas in NYC). We went to Brooklyn for Christmas presents and dinner on the 25th. It was so nice to have everyone (Dana, Nate, Mom, Dad, and Mama Doris, to be specific) there. It was a bit cramped in that little apartment though! I got some really nice things for Christmas - more than I was expecting. My favorite gift is probably my Kindle! I need to slow down on getting books or I'm going to be broke soon!

New Years I spent at Craig's apartment with Meghna, Dana, and Nate. It was really nice - as fun as Times Square could have been, its so ridiculously crowded there - I wouldn't have been able to stand being that cramped! It was a fun night, but I stayed a little bit too late - especially with my flight to Chile the next day! It all ended up fine. I woke up the next morning quite tired from the few hours, finished last minute packing, and headed to the airport. My first flight was at 1:30, and then I had a 5 hour layover in Miami before my second flight. I managed to met up with another guy from the program, William so I had someone to chat with, and then Leah and Mackenzie, two other girls in the program, met up with us shortly before we boarded. It was nice to know a few other people before landing and being overwhelmed. I managed 2 seats to myself for the overnight flight, and was able to curl up and sleep a decent amount.

Chile so far has been absolutely AMAZING. I am already completely in love with the country. After landing, We all hung out in the airport for a while until everyone else arrived. It was a bit annoying to be stuck there, but there were lots of people around that we could chat with so we wouldn't be too bored. It was also nice to be able to meet everyone before heading out on the trip. I've been able to learn about half the names already, if not more, and those few hours definitely helped. Once everyone got there, we got on a bus for 5 hours to get to our field site. I was expecting bumpy roads and a bus packed and falling apart - see my Ghana posts for more details - but I was blown away! The roads are all smooth and well paved, and the bus we were on was a double decker charter bus! It was fabulous! We had air conditioning and bathrooms and they even provided pillows and blankets. I couldn't really sleep much on the bus, but it was alright. As soon as we arrived in Chillan, our host family was there waiting for us. They are so sweet! They don't speak much English, but they are very patient with my limited Spanish skills, and help act things out if I don't understand the words. I am also lucky that I am staying with Julie - she speaks far more Spanish that I do and can help me find a word that I am missing. I definitely think my Spanish skills will improve while I am here - especially my vocab. It will definitely help when I start Spanish back up this fall.

You might have heard there was an earthquake in Chile the day I landed. I didn't feel a thing! Apparently they are fairly mild. The family I am staying with said it was just like a rocking boat or baby crib! Very mild in their opinion. It will be interesting to see if I feel any while I am here - I probably would be a bit less calm than they would be!

Today was a more relaxing day than we will be usually having. We got up this morning to head to lectures. They wanted to make sure they introduced us to the concepts and experiments before we went out into the field. It was fairly short - we were there from 9 to 1:30. Afterwards, I was going to go explore Chillan with some of the other students. Next thing I realized it was 3:00, when we were going to meet, and we had just started eating lunch. I realized I also had a lot of things I needed to do, plus we won't have much time for relaxation after today, so I should take advantage of it. Tonight we have a group dinner at a restaurant, which we will be leaving in just a few minutes for. Then starting tomorrow we are out in the field! That means 12 hour days, lots of mud and dirt, and lots of fun! I can't wait to get out there! Should have some great stories!

Since I have internet at my host families house, I hope to upload some pictures soon - too busy to do that now! I'll try to update every few days, which should be fairly easy with the reliable internet. I miss everyone back home, but I am having such an amazing time! My latest adventure is a good one!