The magical world of Easter Island

I remember jumping up and down in the living room of the student house with one of my best friends here in Chile, M from Germany, when we found a cheap flight to Easter Island, aka. Isla de Pascua. I have to admit that I didn’t know much about the place…other than that it is the world’s most inhabited isolated island, there are statues with over-sized heads, or moai, that seem to be in the majority of tourism pictures, and finally, that the island has some sort of a mystical presence. Combined with my curiosity around the mystical presence, I was so excited to travel with my dear friend, as well as to celebrate the end of Spanish classes in an exotic place. The plan was to go to Easter Island for 2 weeks, and then meet one of my best friends from Canada for a 2-week backpacking trip through northern Chile (which will be my next post).

Now M is sort of like me with a lucky horseshoe, so combined, we basically had superpowers. Not only did we find a random cheap flight to Easter Island (pretty sure the price dropped after we yelled at the computer screen), but we ended up with accidental first class on the way there. We were so happy to start the adventure as ballerz, so clearly we had no shame in asking the flight attendant to take pictures of us all snuggled up in our seats (aka. beds).

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Cookie monsters to accidental ballerz

Upon arrival at the airport, we met our couch surfing host, K, with whom we would spend our 2 weeks on the island. Yes, couch surfing host. Being on this year-long adventure, I have been pushing myself to be more open to experiences. The whole idea of crashing with a stranger seemed a little odd to me, but M convinced me it would be a great way to get to know the island and culture. When we met K, I was a little shy because he seemed quite serious, sitting us down in his living room and going through the rules of his house. As I got to know him, I realized he is one of the kindest and most generous people I have met in my life. And I am certain that the experience of the island wouldn’t have been as special if we spent it in some hotel instead.

I loved Easter Island because I got to do a lot of cool stuff…

Horseback riding in the clouds

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Diving in the beautiful sea world

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Watching amazing sunsets behind the backdrop of the moai’s

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Photo credit: M

Having our breath taken away by view from the “windows” of the caves

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Being literally and figuratively blown away at the top of the volcano crater (top 3 of the most beautiful places I have seen in my life)

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Dancing on stage at the Kari Kari show

*no picture…trust me, I am doing you a favour*

Making friends with adorable and hilarious local dogs (yes, any one who knows me well, knows that chilling with dogs would make my list)

All these activities were AMAZING. But what I loved most about Easter Island were:

1)The eternal feeling of tranquility: Maybe it was the whole mystical presence I read about, but I felt at peace the entire time I was there. Every view and every moment felt beautiful. This is something I can’t really explain. You need to go for yourself to understand how the weight of life is lifted off your shoulders pretty much as soon as you arrive on the island.

2)The constant awe and gratitude: I could hardly believe the natural beauty of the island, and felt so grateful the whole time I was there to experience it. Even the colours of the island…yes, THE COLOURS, were unbelievable. The green of the grass, the orange of the sunset, and the blue of the ocean were all colours I have literally never seen in my life. Pantones that my own imagination hasn’t been able to make up in 30 years.

3)And finally, the life lesson I learned from our host who is now a dear friend. He opened up his home to 2 strangers, treated us like his family, and taught me a very important lesson on sharing and generosity. K used to raise an eyebrow if I asked for something in his house, because he 100% meant it when he told us to pretend we were in our own homes. He took time outside of his 2 jobs as a dancer and tour guide to be our personal tour guide, or as I prefer to call it, our friend. I really enjoyed learning about the island and culture through his eyes and unique perspective. I hope I become a better person and learn to be as giving and generous as him with friends, family, and complete strangers too.

Overall, it was an amazing trip, and I can easily say Easter Island was the most magical place I have been to (after Disneyland of course).

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Photo credit: M.

Stay tuned for adventures to northern Chile…

 

 

 

 

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The last 2 months of student life!

hey, remember that time I started a blog and then ignored it for 6 months. Oops! I guess I have been so busy experiencing the adventures, I haven’t made the time to document them. Better late than never I suppose 🙂

This post will cover my last 2 months of language classes at Ecela, which ended in September 2015.  During this time, I continued to meet incredible people from around the world, made amazing memories I will never forget, and discovered a lot about myself. Here are the highlights.

Great food with great friends…

Picnics and strolls in the Santiago’s lovely parks…

Fun school activities, like…

Futbol

Hiking

School trips with the besties

Asados and cooking classes

 

Simple joys, like…

Hot Chocolate: Best hot chocolate of my life at Xoco Por Ti (in Barrio Italia) – super cute spot as well, with fleece blankets provided at every table for those cooler Santiago nights.

Sweater shopping for homeless dogs: Chile has so many homeless dogs, but in the cities I have visited, they seem to be taken care of pretty well, and sort of adopted by the neighbourhoods. As such, they are fed (sometimes to a point where there a little on the gordito side), as well as given doggy sweaters to keep them warm in the winter. It is just the cutest thing to see all these dogs running around in their sweaters. My friend from South Africa and I decided to partake in the sweater-gifting. After selecting a sweater from a local market, we tried fitting it on a few homeless dogs without success. From the beginning of our journey to find a dog to give the sweater to, we avoided one dog who seemed too large for the sweater, and in the end, he was the one who practically slipped his head into the sweater and kept in on joyously (or so we will choose to believe!).

 

***OK! So I took you through some of the city exploring and day-to-day stuff…now here are some of the other highlights that happened over my last 2 months of school.***

Surviving my first major earthquake experience

Words cannot describe the fear I felt during the evening of September 16th, 2015 when an 8.3 magnitude earthquake hit Chile. I was on the 15th floor of a friend’s apartment by the beach, which meant enduring the sensation of a high-rise swaying back and forth for hours as well as wondering whether the tsunami warning for our exact area would actualize. With no previous earthquake experience, I was sure we were doomed and began leaving terrifying voicemails for my family (sorry mom and dad!). The experience really terrified me, but also made me appreciate life, family, friends that much more.

Partying at a fonda on September 18th for Fiestas Patrias

September 18th is Independence Day, or Fiestas Patrias in Chile. Many venues host all-day festivals called fonda’s, where you can drink terremotos, dance the traditional cueca (looks like a rooster courting a chicken, in other words, 100% awesomeness), eat empanada’s and other traditional Chilean foods, and enjoy the outdoors with family and friends. Of course we participated in all of this, but the highlight for me was dancing the cueca for myself. Such an amazing cultural experience unique to Chile!

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Birthday celebration – turning the big 3-0 in Chile!

The social organizer from our school, a dear friend of mine, organized a nice little surprise for my 30th birthday party which took place at the usual Wednesday night club we go to. Food, drinks, and VIP section to share with friends. I can’t say I would have imagined spending my 30th birthday this way, but dancing to Reggaeton with new friends from around the world in Chile was a pretty good end to my 20’s.

 

And finally, the MANY goodbyes:

Having about 5 months of Spanish studies at my school, I had the pleasure to experience all the great things for much longer than most students (some with only a week of studies), but I also developed the “revolving door syndrome”… with the recurring need to make new friends, say goodbye, make new friends again, repeat. I am pretty social and outgoing so the whole meeting-new-people-all-the-time part was was fine…but the goodbye thing…man, it was tough. But 100% worth it for the memories…

One of the hardest goodbyes was during my last day of school, when I wasn’t just saying goodbye to friends I made like all the times before, but I was also saying goodbye to life as a student studying Spanish in Chile. Because this period was not just a very important chapter in the story of my year living abroad, but also a significant chapter to story of my life (I realize how cheese that sounds, but I am keeping that comment in here anyways haha).

I had the privilege to meet amazing people from Germany, Switzerland, United States, France, Brazil, England, South Africa, Australia, with different ages, political views, religions, professions, dreams, challenges… but all in the same position of studying in a far place from home, away from family and friends, with the common goal of learning a new language and breaking down barriers of communication. What a beautiful thing.

I loved getting to know the staff and teachers from Chile too, who were so kind, friendly, funny, and welcoming. I will never forget everything they did to make not only my studies, but also my time in Chile memorable.

And finally, my time as a student was special to me, because I was able to learn a lot about myself. I have to admit I wasn’t expecting this when I left Canada. I thought with 30 years on earth, I had a pretty good understanding of who I was. So it was a pretty nice surprise to learn things about myself I didn’t know before.

I learned that I have underestimated my courage. Courage because I quit my job to chase a dream. Courage because I moved to a different country with limited ability to communicate and with the need to make new friends. Courage because the part of me begging me to just TRY and play my first futbol game won over the part of me that insisted I was going to look dumb without experience. Courage because I tried the salsa class because my desire to dance was more important than my fear of  looking like a fool with my 2 left feet.

I learned that age is really just a number. There were times in a class full of new students in their early 20’s that a fear of fitting in developed. This silly fear disappeared as soon as we got to know each other, and I realized that friendship is about finding people with whom you can share memories, fun times, stomach-hurting laughs, and good talks with and that age is irrelevant to achieve this. On a side note, I was nicknamed abuela by more than one friend (USA and South Africa, I am looking at you…), but these guys were 2 very good friends so I will let it slide 🙂

I learned that I am happy with myself. I have always generally been a happy person and an optimist, but that doesn’t mean I have always been happy with myself. Sometimes, like most people, I think about what I could have, should have, would have done…and sometimes, I am too hard on myself for my faults, mistakes, and weaknesses. And that’s why I will never forget the day I was sitting in Vina del Mar, watching the sun set over the ocean, and I realized that in that moment, I was 100% happy with not just my surroundings, but with myself. In that special moment, every challenge I overcame and every goal I accomplished since I made the decision to move to Chile, had somehow outweighed all the challenges I didn’t overcome and all the goals I didn’t accomplish before the decision. I am so grateful to be on this journey, and am so excited for all the things I have yet to discover along the way. Closing this with a quote my friend sent me as I was writing this section and fits perfectly: “What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us” – Ralph Waldo Emerson.

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Copa America, Fantasilandia, & weekend getaways

Wow, I cannot believe I’m entering my 8th week in Chile…time has flown by! I know it’s been a while since my last post, so on this rainy Sunday night I’m going on overdrive with the highlights of the last month – cheering on the champions of Copa America, being kids at Fantasilandia, and fun weekends trips out of the city.

Starting with…Copa America! Being in Chile while it hosted Copa America was such a cool experience on its own. Even cooler, the fact that Chile won and that it was their first ever Copa America honour! I would have never pictured myself feeling so emotionally invested in another country’s potential win, as well as in a sport I haven’t followed before. I was proven otherwise – genuinely hoping, fearing, cheering, stressing (especially in that final shootout with Argentina), and finally, celebrating the victory, like I had Chile in my blood. C-H-I, Chi! L-E, Le! Chi Chi Chi, Le, Le, Le, Viva Chile!

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Vamos, vamos Chilenos, esta noche, tenemos que ganar!

Another hightlight was the fun world of Fantasilandia, an amusement park in Santiago. My silly friends from Brazil, England, and USA made the day muy divertido!

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The Fantasilandia gang

The rides were so much fun, but my favourite was one you won’t find in Canada’s amusement parks (probably because of all the personal injury lawsuits that would follow) – Tagada. You sit in a large circle facing each other, with no seat belt, while the ride rotates and pulses erratically. I was holding the bar behind me with both hands but still felt like I was going to fly off, and that was before the roughest part of the ride! I had to secure myself with both arms threaded through the bars, but my pretzel self didn’t make it through the ride without bruises. I can’t believe it’s a legitimate ride, but I loved it and can’t wait to return to Fantansilandia, just to experience it again!

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Funnest ride ever… Tagada

When we weren’t on rides, we were being kids – water gun attacks, tickle fests, yelling way too loud on cheesy rides, singing on the swing carousel, and indulging in double scoop ice creams 🙂

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Notice the difference between mi amigos and the kid in front…

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Swing carousel…before take off

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Good idea: ice cream. Bad idea: excessive ice cream right before a rollercoaster

I also ventured out of the city over the last two weekends, which was a nice break for my lungs. Santiago is prone to pollution since it’s a city that sits in a bowl surrounded by mountains that block contaminated air in. Normally rain helps clear the air, but with last month being the driest June in 50 years, the pollution has been worse than usual – so much so that Chile declared an environmental emergency.

So last weekend we escaped the pollution, and visited the coastal towns of Valparaiso and Vina Del Mar.

We arrived in Vina Del Mar where we planned to stay overnight, and spent way too much time looking for a hostel. We ended up finding a sweet bed and breakfast for a price that wasn’t much higher than what we would have paid for a night at a crummy hostel. Well worth the long search!

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Breakfast in the fancy dining room…the “sweet” find of Chocolate Manor House B&B in Vina Del Mar

We were craving fresh seafood for lunch, and our B&B host recommended we head to Valparaiso for the best seafood.

Just like the search for the hostel, our search for lunch was comically long. Every restaurant was packed and had a long wait list. After at least an hour of rejections, we reached the good ol’ “hangry” stage, and returned to the very first restaurant that rejected us. We were so happy when the host said “yes”, and I’ll never forget how our entire table was so quiet until the bread and pebre arrived, which we gobbled down in seconds. The food was delicious so at least the long wait was worth it!

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Fresh and delicious salmon…yum!

After lunch we explored the city. Valparaiso is sprawled over many cerros (hills), with parts that I absolutely loved – stunning views, colourful houses, impressive graffiti, as well as parts that were difficult to take in – slums, poverty, garbage, and street dogs.

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As we zig-zagged our way through the narrow streets, we encountered a little market where we tried some delicious desserts. I bought a few handmade natural soaps, as well as a tiny jar of manjar (dulche de leche).

We hiked our way up to one of the homes (now museum) of famous Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda, but it was closed. So we settled for wine on a patio with a view instead. Great weekend!

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Now that’s the life…

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Fun times

And finally, this past weekend we took a short and sweet day trip to Isla Negra, a coasted town that is less than a 2-hour bus ride from Santiago. After lunch (which was delicious ceviche for me), we visited one of the other homes of Pablo Neruda, which was absolutely incredible. His imagination helped him build a home that reflected his hobbies, passions, and love for the sea, that was decorated with crafts and underwater treasures, and that incorporated memories of his childhood, with a beautiful view of the ocean to top it all off. After the museum, we jumped rocks to get to calmer waters, where the bravest of our group swam in freezing water! I was not among the brave 🙂

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Isla Negra

Thanks for reading! Until next time…

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Watching futbol, eating, drinking, & dancing like a Chilean…but not speaking like one!

Week 3 in Chile was a lot of fun, with all the traditional food and drinks I tasted, as well as the cultural activities I engaged in.

I’m definitely not a sports fanatic, but it’s pretty cool that I’m in Chile while they are hosting Copa America, especially since Chileans are so passionate about futbol. This week, a large group from my school, both students and teachers, got together to watch the match between Chile and Ecuador. It was a pretty slow game (even with the delicious homemade pisco sours), but I’m glad I joined to witness the excitement in the room when Chile won. I hope to attend a match over the next couple weeks and feel that same excitement, except from an entire stadium of people.

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So many amazing facial expressions going on

My school also organized a trip to a dinner & show called Los Buenos Muchachos, which was perfectly timed because one of my Brazilian friends happened to be celebrating his birthday that night. I was warned the show was dorky and a tourist trap, but I’m glad I decided to check it out for myself because I loved it! We enjoyed a typical Chilean meal, with pebre (a delicious tomato & spice spread), steak, chorizo, papas fritas, pisco sours, and what seemed to be endless red wine. The show was fun as well, with traditional music and dancing, including the cueca. A fun pre-party before the usual Wednesday night outing.

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Los Buenos Muchachos with some victims from our group

I tried other traditional foods and drinks during the week too, thanks to a fun day over the weekend with my pals from the States and Brazil. We hiked up Cerro San Cristobal, and at the top of the hill (at my “spot”) we rewarded ourselves with mote con huesillos (a sweet drink with dried peaches and corn).

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Mote con huesillos – strange but delicious!

We decided it was also appropriate to reward ourselves after our descent, so we indulged in Chilean beer, the famous terremoto (pineapple icecream and fermented white wine), and the closest thing to my Canadian poutine in Chile…chorrillana (french fries, sliced meat, sausage, onions, and fried eggs). YUM!

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There is a reason it’s called “Terremoto” (earthquake)…

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Mmmmm…chorrillana… it’s not poutine but it’s close!

The food was great, but it’s the memories with friends that stands out for me. I love that I’ve met other people who can let loose, not take life too seriously, and be silly. Whether it was singing and dancing to “Bailando – Enrique Iglesias” up the mountain, or playing on the seesaw, swings, and jungle gym, my amigos were game for it.

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Jungle gym fun!

Other dancing that occurred this week…I was walking through the park, and noticed an outdoor salsa class. I thought, “how cool”, and continued walking. And then I thought, “why not!” and returned to the area to join the class. It was actually a lot of fun, so I was happy to learn that they run these free classes every week. And let’s just say that based on the immobility of my hips compared to even the eldest of the class, I may need to make the class a routine for my self-improvement in salsa!

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Free salsa class in the park – I was lost for most of it, but glad I tried.

That same day, after the salsa class, I took a stroll nearby and am very excited to announce that I have found my “vegetable man”!!! It’s not easy to eat vegetables in Chile – there is a small selection of vegetables in grocery stores, and restaurants here seem to think that iceberg lettuce and a quarter of a tomato suffice as an ensalada. So yes, I am very happy to have found a vegetable man who spends 2 hours every single day selling a wide variety of raw or cooked vegetables (and pebre) for cheap! Proper ensaladas will now replace (or maybe just accompany) my usual daily empanada lunches!

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Move over iceberg lettuce!

So I enjoyed watching futbol, eating, drinking, & dancing like a Chilean this week…but I definitely did not enjoy trying to speak like one!

Over the weekend, after shopping in the outdoor market with my friend from the States, we tried to warm up at what seemed to be the only coffee shop open on a Saturday afternoon in the east end of Santiago – Dunkin Donuts.

I tried to order tea, which should have been easy given it’s just “te” in Spanish, but I could not get the message across to the employee. It was pretty frustrating to say “te” about 10 times, very clearly, and then have her call another employee over to help her out. I even busted out some miming! Finally, she gave up on me and told me that they didn’t have what I wanted, when suddenly, I spotted a package full of green tea behind her! I pointed to the package but she still rejected my request. Since my friend was standing behind me and a line up was starting to form, I finally gave up and ordered a coffee. My friend and I talked about it and concluded she was the one at fault, not me, because surely I could not have pronounced a one- syllable word incorrectly…

I later found out from a local friend, that people don’t order tea, they order a cup of a tea. Apparently she may have assumed that I was spelling out a word, since the way the word “Te” sounds, is also the way the letter “T” sounds. All I know, is that before I leave Chile, I am going back there and ordering a damn cup of tea successfully!! 🙂

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I’ll share my Dunkin’ story with you alright…**shakes fist**

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My first 2 weeks – learning and living in Chile!

It’s a strange feeling waking up on a Monday, and getting “ready for school”. Especially since I haven’t been a full-time student since 2007! The walk to school is very pleasant…a short 20-min walk with a view of the mountains.

My school!

My school!

I had a great first impression of the school for the following reasons: friendly staff, excellent teachers, a warm welcome (with empanadas), a foozball table (integral to my happiness), and a great avenue to meet new people and participate in activities.

Activities like…

Soccer Tuesdays

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My eyes are closed, but it’s a good shot of the soccer crew

Party Wednesdays

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With classmates from the States and Brazil

Me and my local girls

Me and my local girls

And my personal favourite, hiking the Andes. It was a gorgeous hike 2 weekends ago, and a great way to get to know my new friends from Brazil and Texas.

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The long hike up!

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We made it to the top, yay!

Other fun things I have been up to outside of school-organized activities:

Daily empanadas for lunch

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Freshly baked empanadas….yummmmm

 

Daily siestas after lunch

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My favourite part of my home, the courtyard and hammock

 

Exploring the parks in Santiago

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Pretty parks everywhere!

 

Hanging out with my local friends over pisco sours

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Old and new friends

As for this past weekend…it was great –  I spent the Saturday at the amazing Artisan market at Los Dominicos with my new friend from Boston. We enjoyed coffee on a cozy patio, and then explored the outdoor village of shops with unique crafts, clothes, and jewelry.

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The market

At night, a bunch of us from the school attended a Brazilian party and I really enjoyed trying all the delicious food like pastel de queijo (sort of like a deep fried calzone with cheese), coxinha (deep fried chicken stuffed balls), churrasco com farinha (marinated beef cooked to perfection with fries), and the yummy vinho quente (similar to mulled wine).

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Selfie at the Brazilian party with my classmates

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Brazilian folk music

On Sunday, I had a nice little day to myself. I started the day with a hike up Cerro San Cristobal. 

I heard music coming from the church at the top of the hill, and decided to join the service. It was beautiful and peaceful. At one point, the priest said something, and everyone started shaking each others’ hands including mine and saying something, so I just sort of mumbled something under my breath and did the same. I also lip-synced my way through the songs that were sung. I wonder if anyone noticed? 🙂

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Church at the top of Cerro San Cristobal

After service, I sat on a bench in a garden at the top of the hill, and stared down at the city at the bottom of the hill. How strange to be looking down at a world so loud and busy, from a place so quiet and peaceful. I realized that this spot was my new “harbourfront”…a place to unwind, relax, find peace, reflect, and be grateful.

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My new spot, at the top of Cerro San Cristobal

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The view from the top of Cerro San Cristobal

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My first weekend in Chile and a tribute to home :-)

Hola friends! I’m excited to finally start sharing my experience in Chile with you all…starting with my first fin de semana.

In all honesty, the hardest part of moving to Chile was the loneliness and anxiety I felt the day I arrived. It was an unusually cold day in Santiago, I had no one to talk to, and I couldn’t even get errands done because my Spanish wasn’t working for me. I thought to myself, Why did I leave my favourite time of the year, in a city I love, with family and friends I adore, to come here? To a cold climate, no friends, and a language barrier…why!?”.

On a side note, I also arrived in Chile off of a total high in Canada. A month prior, I announced I was leaving and received the most amazing support and love from everyone. I enjoyed coffees, drinks, birthday cake cookies, brunches, lunches, dinners, champagne, sangria, bubble teas, and goodbye parties from family, friends, and colleagues that made my final weeks in Canada very special. To my pleasant surprise, I also received thoughtful gifts and cards from friends, the lovely gals of my lunch club, and my closest colleagues from my team, including a backpack I use every day 🙂  And last but not least, there was the positive support and encouragement from my mentor – which meant a lot to me given my fears of what this journey could compromise from a career perspective. All in all, a great farewell to Canada… I’ve included some of my fave pics as a tribute!

Goodbye party

Goodbye party

My girls

My girls

Cozy final harbourfront chats on “our bench”

Opening up the d-floor at Pravda

Opening up the d-floor at Pravda

Concerts, monocles, and

Concerts, monocles, and “sounding great live”

Bets that involve pie in the face...

Bets that involve pie in the face…

Fam jam :-)

Fam jam

So back to Chile! After a fail-of-a-day, I called it a night very early, slept for an epic 12 hours, and woke up to beautiful sunshine and a much more energetic and optimistic version of myself 🙂 I unpacked, organized my space, and set up the cards I received from friends which were full of encouraging, hilarious, and sweet words.

Reminder of home :-)

Reminder of home 🙂

I reviewed my Spanish handbook for key phrases, and then went for a stroll in my neighbourhood checking out all the cute restaurants and bars, adorable cafes, and bakeries. I found a cute cafe with real coffee (not the instant kind that is so popular in Chile) so I sat on the patio and just people-watched while sipping my delicious cafe con leche. I had no issues with ordering or asking for the bill, which increased my confidence in Spanish.  On the way home, I stopped by a panaderia to grab fresh bread with spices and tomato baked right in. So yummy!

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Variety of fresh breads and croissants…mmmm…

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Cafe with REAL coffee!

In the afternoon, my dear friend, Camilla, who is a local and was the translator for my volunteer group in February, came by my place with pisco sour and snacks in the afternoon. The next day, we also met with Orlando who volunteered with me in February but was returning to Mexico, as well as Andrea, one of Camilla’s friends. We had an awesome time with delicious food, wine, dancing, and goofing around. Although I just met Andrea, she told me I could call her for anything, and to think of her as a sister. That’s the thing I love about Chile…the people here are so warm and friendly, and after a weekend back, I was once again excited about the year ahead.

Goofin' around

Goofin’ around

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