Thursday, November 12, 2009

The desert is ALIVE!

I apologize for the month long hiatus! I have been teaching a lot, and as of today I only have one more week left at the Colegio. Although some of my students have been complete hellions and have absolutely no desire to learn english, there are many others who are so so so sweet and so eager to learn that I really am so sad to leave them. Sometimes I will just sit in the main campus area of my school and wait for students to come up to me and try so hard to form english sentences, and some of them blow me away with how much they have learned. It's amazing some of the life goals that my little middle schoolers are already working towards! Last week one of my students came in 4th place in the Antofagasta English Spelling Bee.... I was so proud! :)

One of my 8th grade classes on a field trip to the Airport:
Most of the volunteers stopped teaching about 2 weeks ago because all public school teachers are on strike since the chilean government hasn't paid them a promised a raise, but since my school is semi-private I am still teaching.

Besides teaching the young kids, I have also started going to another English course with my host-english teacher to talk to her classmates and help them with pronunciation. They are all older and mostly english teachers themselves, and the cool thing with them is that they have all pretty much taught themselves english. Only one of them has traveled to an english speaking country for experience. Its been very nice getting to know them, and this weekend we will all be having an asado (chilean BBQ) together.

As for my spanish, it has progressed amazingly in the past month. I have been working in some spanish textbooks that mom shipped to me (thank you thank you!!) and talking more with my host family and other chilean friends, special attention to Liz's host mom who is seriously a professional talker. She can go on for hours about nearly anything! haha. The other day I had a pretty long conversation with my host mom in spanish without even realizing, and she told me how much better my spanish had gotten. Yay me! I still feel like I am terrible at it, the dialect here being so fast, but we will see how I do on the Spanish proficiency test in a couple of weeks.

ALSO, update on my recovery!
I feel awesome. All of my energy is back and I am back to never taking the bus and walking all over this city. I have done some yoga and swam a few 500s in the local olympic pool, and I've also done some hiking! Sometimes my back will bother me if I've been stuck in a weird position for too long, or if I am waking up with a caña (hangover)... but thankfully that's only happened a few times. I think the day after Halloween was the worst. By the way, according to my students, halloween is 'fome' (lame). Not many celebrate it, but all of the gringos did! Volunteers from all surrounding cities all met up in Antofagasta for the weekend and had a lot of fun. I dressed up in a crazy Michael Jackson-esque outfit and added a sparkly left hand glove, and Liz went as a troll (we got her hair to stick right up and sprayed blue in it, she was awesome.) I was going to put ketchup on my outfit and go as a dead MJ but I figured that would be too much, too soon...

Anyway. On to the adventures that I'm sure you all REALLY want to hear about!

Atacama Desert Adventure weekend numero uno:
Tito and I went out to Calama for a day, which is the big mining city in the desert. The Calama Mine is close to the Chuquicamata Mine, which is the world's largest open cut mine. That day we went out to Chui Chui, which is the oldest town in Chile and the home of the oldest church in all of Chile. The town was teeny tiny and located in a small oasis in the middle of the desert. There is one school (that concludes with the 8th grade) and a few restaurants, a small church, and a center square in, well, the center of it all. Just one block away, sheep were grazing. It was extremely quiet and secluded out there, and Chui Chui isn't really a tourist spot. No shops or anything. I went wandering in the church and climbed the bell tower.

After Chui Chui, we went out to Inca Coya, which is a perfectly circular salt-water lagoon in the absolute middle of nowhere. From the Lagoon you see nothing but desert and mountain. No technology to date has been able to determine the depth of the lagoon, and scuba divers have discovered no bottom. There is a legend to the lagoon that if you swim in it, you add 100 years to your life. Upon hearing that, I jumped right in!!! The water was frigid so I lasted maybe a second. I better live a long time!

After Inca Coya, we drove along an ancient river, which is now about a foot and a half wide but enough to provide for some greenery and farm land. It was definitely beautiful scenery, and I got to see my first llama in the wild!

Desert Adventure Numero dos:
This adventure was a camping trip in Mejillones on the beach, among cliffs and mountains. A bunch of volunteers and chilean friends took a boat out to a faroff beach and we pitched tents and got a fire going and enjoyed a night camping. We had a traditional chilean asado, consisting primarily of cebolla (onion) and carne (meat). The gringos brought ingredients for s'mores, which, like always, was a huge hit! Tasted like home. The next day, we were picked up by the boat again and we went around the coast for some sightseeing. We found some sea lions and took a lot of pictures on a giant buoy/marker that we found.


Desert Weekend Adventure Numero 3:
This past weekend, Liz and I embarked on the ultimate desert exploration trip. Tito is the best for the inside scoop on where to go in the limitless desert. He took us out to San Pedro, and first we stopped to see 'The Hole' that he found one time when he was out mapping the area for a thesis project he had in university. He stopped the car on the side of the road and walked us toward the nearby mountains, walked us up a little bit, and right before I was going to say that there is no 'hole' out here, there it was. All of a sudden we were on the edge of a HUGE... hole! It was like one of the caverns that I've scuba dived in Gainesville but on a mountainside in the desert. When it was silent, you could hear the gypsum minerals in the rocks cracking. The desert is frigid cold at night, so all of the minerals shrink, and during the daytime its insanely hot so the minerals expand again, and its with this change in chemisty that we can hear all of these cracks, and with the cavern you can hear it echoing all the way down.

After the hole, we drove out to a small town for lunch and then visited Toconao, a small oasis, once again, in the middle of the desert. We were driving out through nothingness for so long until suddenly, there was a small stretch of trees! People had set up little areas for agriculture around the tiny 1 foot wide river. There were some beautiful flowers and greenery there, a huge contrast from its surroundings.

After Toconao, we continued out into the desert and started to get a lot higher in altitude. We finally made it to a gorgeous scene. 2 crystal clear and perfectly still freshwater lagoons laid out before us in between two giant volcanos. There were FLAMINGOs wading in one of the lagoons. The sight was enough to take your breath away. Amazing the things that you can find in the desert...

The next day, we packed a bunch of fruit and water and headed out to a ghost town that Tito knew about. On the way, we passed a few big mines and a bunch of sand twisters, one that came really close to the truck and one that actually came out of nowhere and went right over us!! Thankfully we were able to roll up our windows in time. On our way out there we marked our way by putting heavy rocks in plastic bags on the roadside so that we wouldn't get lost on the way back, and we had google earth up on his laptop inside the car. After a lot of driving, we finally made it to an area littered with abandoned mines. We got out to find a small cave hollowed out with 2 coffins inside and tons of gifts in it still... old shoes, cigarettes, dolls, pictures, anything and everything. The coffins were so old and broken that you could see the skeletons. The grave was of a woman and her baby son who used to bring food out to the miners who at one time worked these mines (from sometime in the 1800s). We then spelunked through a really deep mine that we found... it was so cold and dark in there!!

We then continued into the desert a bit further until we found the ghost town, or pueblo de fantasmas. There we found a still standing mining factory, and tons of broken down stone homes built into the mountain folds, with still recognizeable dirt roads outlining the town. We wandered the town for quite some time, discovering ridiculously old shoes made out of animal hyde and nails, TONS of animal bones, old fabric and china... and other things that we didn't even know what they were. A lot of the animal bones still had some skin, tendons and muscle attached, because the desert is so dry it takes things a LOT longer to decompose than normal. Remember that this town was bustling back in the 1800s and has been deserted for an extremely long time. We then found the eery graveyard... most of the graves were above ground and only haphazardly covered with stones, and a lot of the wooden coffins were broken, once again. Here we found skeletons of babies with hair on their heads still, and we found one coffin broken at the bottom to reveal a lower leg with skin and muscle on it still, even toe nails. We were totally freaking out!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Desert Adventure Numero cuatro:
On Tuesday Liz and I didn't have school, so we set out to explore the mountains of Antofagasta. We went to the south where there is rumored to be an abandoned mine somewhere in the mountains. We hiked one mountain and found a bunch of old small mines, hiked another mountain and found some more substantial ones. The cool thing about Antofagasta is that it is on the coast, so at the top of the mountain we found ourselves overlooking the ocean from way up high, as well as the city. From the top of the one mountain, we saw the old mine we were told about at the top of the OTHER mountain we had half climbed. We did a significant amount of butt sliding to get down, I now am in dire need of a new pair of jeans. Since it never rains here, the mountains are extremely sandy and require shoes with really good grip... good thing I have my crazy toe shoes for that :)

and think of you SIEMPRE!
we wish you could be here with us.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

We Love You Jamie!!!!!!
Please Get Better Soon!!!!!!!!

Yesterday Jamie went back to the hospital because her foot had gotten very infected and she had to go back into surgery because the doctors had to open her foot up again to clean out the infection. It has been very painful for her and the Antofagasta Regional Hospital isn't a very comfortable place... thank God that yesterday we could finally find a room for her in Clinica Antofagasta (where I stayed). Doctors will be operating again TODAY, and today her sister from the U.S. is flying in to be with Jamie. Depending how things go today, she may or may not have to have another operation in the next couple of days.

She is strong and we know will get through this beautifully!

Please Pray for Jamie!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Accident in San Pedro

So I'm urging everyone to not freak out about this, but we were in a serious car accident this past weekend while driving through the desert on our way to see the Geysers in San Pedro. I'll try and so the best to give everyone the details of what happened and how everyone is fairing, but everything is still a bit fuzzy...

Anyways, so what happened was, we all went to a town to the north for the weekend. It's called San Sedro and it is located in the middle of the Atacama Desert. Sena, Jamie, Levi, Me and our friend from Chile, Juan, were all the people that were in the car for the expedition. On Sunday morning we decided to go see the geysers in the mountain and Jaun new the way to get there... its a very popular destination and they have tours that leave every morning at 4 a.m. to get to the geysers by 7 a.m. (its around a 3 hour drive through shotty dirt trails that weave through the desert, apparently this is one of the most dangerous routes in chile... we didn't know.) Sena, Levi and I were in the back seat, Jamie in the front and Juan was driving. We started to follow one of the tour buses but lost them two hours into the drive, luckily we saw there head lights up ahead and sped up only a little to try and catch up to them. Juan lost control of the car and it started to swirve uncontrolably ( driving on these dirt road is similar to driving on a paved road that is covered with water... it's easy to hydroplane, or whatever the equivilant to that would be on dirt, there is no traction.) then we proceded to fly off the road at about 80 km an hour and the car flipped 3 times. Sena flew out of the car and the rest of us were stuck inside, thank God we are all alive because a similar accident happened about a year ago and two of the passengers died. Since we were so far away from the town center we had to lay in the desert in -16 degree weather for about two hours, with some pretty serious injuries, before any medical personell arrived. They finally got to where we were and carried us off in ambulances to the clinic in San Pedro. This is such a small twon that they don't have a hospital, so without knowing what was wrong with us - we had no x-rays or real medical attention besides painkillers so we didn't have to fell our broken bones - we were shipped off to a hospital about an hour to the south which is where we stayed for almost a day... there the doctors discovered that Sena had two fractured vertebrates in her lower back - don't worry though she is not paralysed and can move her lower body perfectly -although they do have to perform a surgery and put a few pins in her back so that the vertebrates heal faster. She will probably be in recovery for the next couple of weeks but they say in about three weeks she should be able to walk and do whatever she needs. Jamie has a compound fracture in her ankle and is also undergoing surgery, her foot was caught under the car during the accident so it crushed her bone in her ankle and fractured a few of her other bones in her right leg. After her surgery she will be in bed for a bit but will recieve crutches and she will be able to hobble around. Levi split open his head and had to have around 20 stitches... he had slight amnesia for a day, and suffered a a bad concusion, but is now completely recovered from the amnesia, is all bandaged up and is walking around like new. I only suffered a slight concusion a few fractured toes and a sprained ankle which is keeping me in my bed and will continue to keep me there for the next couple of days, but i'm supposed to get a new cast soon and a pair of crutches so that i can walk around and continue working. Juan lucked out the best out of us all and only has a case of whip lash... so no deadly or permanante injuries on anyones account!

I just want to ask everyone to keep us in your prayers, especially Sena and Jamie! Sorry that I could not respond to each of you personally, but I have recieved quite a few e-mails concerning the accident and I decided that this was the best way to get back to you all in the most timely manner. W are in very good hands down here! All of the English Opens Doors Volunteers and Directors have been more than helpful and have been in the hospital with the girls every waking moment. They are taking care of our health insurance issues and helping us with communication issues. Thank you all so much for your support, everyone down here is so thankful to have people in the states that are thinking about us and praying for us. We love you all and can't wait to hear from you.

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Land of Dirt and Dogs

So today is my two and a half week mark in Antofagasta! My spanish has been improving rapidly and now I can manage to communicate with my host parents, the collectivos drivers, street vendors, and if I'm having a good day I can manage to make small talk with the students at my school. This is quite an accomplishment for me considering when I first arrived in this city all I could make out was mumbled spanishesque grunts when people attempted to talk to me.

I have officially started teaching at a small school that is a few blocks up the hill from my house. The neighborhood is covered in dirt, stray dogs, corner vendors, trash and graffiti... strangly enough, I find it quite charming. The kids in the school are all great, they are so shocked to see a gringa (white-girl) at their school! they are constantly walking up to me asking me questions about American celebrities, they are obsessed with Michael Jackson and one of my younger students memorized his song, 'We are the World,' and sang it for me in front of his whole class. Even though he didn't know what the words meant, he pronounced everything perfectly. I almost cried.

I am teaching 1st to 8th grade at two different schools, the one I mentioned above and another military school that is 30 minutes north of where I live. The carpool to work every morning is absolutely hillarious. I ride with 3 to 4 Chilean women who speak rapid fire, chilean español. They are really nice and I think they might be funny women because they're always making each other crack up. Sometimes I think they're laughing at my horrible attempts at communicating with them, I accidently told one of them that I wanted her when I was trying to say I liked the mountains... This has happend to me on a few occasions, but I shrug it off and keep telling myself that the frustration and embarasment is just part of the learning process.
One of my favorite parts of this city are my drives to the center with the collectivo drivers. I know 2 of them by name at this point and they think that I am absolutely insane. One, for wanting to come to Antofagsta, andTwo, because I never know where I want to go so I end up driving around aimlessly and spontaneouly yell at them to stop when I see a place that looks interesting enough to get out at. I think that I, along with the other 8 volunteers in this city, stick out like a sore thumb.

Yesterday, me and some volunteers took a break from the city and went exploring the outskirts of Antofagasta. We took drove an hour south of the city, went off roading in a toyota prius, and finally after about 4 wrong turns, found El Mano de Desierto. A huge sculpture in the middle of nowhere. Apparently it is supposed to be dereted but when we arrived, a whold bunch of people were there reconstructing the hand! it was really weird.

After we went to see the hand, we decided to drive two hours north to a ghost town. The place used to be a mining town back in the day when nitrate compounds were being mined out of the desert here, but now since they are no longer mining the compounds, the city was deserted.

We locked the keys in the car, and luckily enough there was a man at the ghost town (weird) that had the perfect tools in his car to unlock our door.
We still hadn't had enough adventuring so we went to one of Antofagasta's most prominent natural monuments 'La Portada'
The Crew! Paul, Rachel, Jamie and Katy. Paul, Rachel, Jamie and I are all teaching in Antofagasta, and Katy is from the WAY south of Chile, she came up to Antofagasta for a teaching debate that was held this past weekend.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Pre-departure Packing

Tomorrow is the big day. Liz and I are packing like crazy, and can't believe how quickly the summer has passed!! We are going to miss everybody so much, and we are going to miss the heat of Florida and the beautiful beaches. We had a great last weekend in Florida, a bunch of Gainesville friends came down to visit for a fun-filled farewell party, thanks to you all, you know who you are!!! Now we can't wait for our arrival in Santiago, and I am excited to go to some restaurants that I saw on Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations last week. White wine with pineapple ice cream and pork sandwiches smothered in avocado. Yum!!!