A Sad Farewell to Valparaiso (or, The Last Border Run)

On April 1st, 2013, I wrote a post called “Introducing Valparaiso” where I talked about my first impressions of Valpo and why I was so excited to be living there.

On May 2nd, 2014, my partner Jorge and I will officially leave this city, and the entire country of Chile, for a very, very long time.

Leaving Valparaiso is a mixed bag. On the one hand, it’s Valparaiso. There’s actually no better city in Chile for someone like me, and while I’ve lived here I’ve finished two novels, published two short non-fiction stories, maintained and/or started three blogs, and written a heck of a lot in my personal journal.

How’s that for an inspiring place to live? No wonder so many artists flock here!

Furthermore, I met my love Jorge here. Under the unblinking gaze of the cerros, our relationship sputtered to life and flourished.

March 2013
March 2014

Now, over a year after meeting each other in the dim lighting of a Mexican restaurant called Taco Tony’s, Jorge and I are leaving it all behind to begin anew.

We’re leaving Tony’s magical tacos behind, as well as the salty air, the humid winters, the perpetual roil of dogs barking in the distance, the grit of urine and trash in street corners, the breathtaking street art, the winding hills too vertical to be safe for cars, surely; the colorful dots of homes that sprawl on hillsides for eons, the Pacific Ocean, the fresh fish gutted and displayed at market, the green trolley’s, the lumbering buses to Vina del Mar, the constant asados, and perhaps most importantly….our home and our friends.

One of many lunches at Pasaje Chileno

The king of the house — and the grill!


Jorge and I not only began our relationship here, we began our home here. We found this vagabond house empty and quiet in August and 2013, and since then we have filled it with laughter, music, gatherings, art and more. We’ve had countless asados here, as well as art nights, wine clubs, dinner parties, Thanksgiving, Christmas, birthdays, farewell parties, welcome parties, housewarming parties and more. We’ve outfitted it to be our recycled, built-from-scratch haven: with found pieces from the street, upcycled washing machines turned asado grill and light fixture, a complete urban garden bearing vegetables and heavenly basil.

This bad boy bore 7 tomatoes! Best part is, I never
even planted tomato — came from compost, baby!

Here long enough to grow a spice cabinet, too!

Maybe you’re asking, Okay, so why the hell are you leaving?

That’s the other side of this extremely heavy and attractive coin. In moving on from Valpo, we are paving the way to new Valpos.

Not that we strive to recreate our exact experience, or only move to cities that resemble Valpo (if that were the case, our next and only stop would be San Francisco!). But rather, we plan to continue drifting together and settling for a time in new places. Cities where we feel a connection, can start a little home, make some friends and family, and then move on to see more of the world.

Luckily, both of us have work that can be easily taken with us. As a hair stylist, Jorge is in demand wherever we go. I can’t count how many people throw themselves at him once they find out he can cut or color their hair.

And me, well, the writing and non-profit gig pack up quite nicely into whatever backpack I’m using at the moment.

We are both extremely sad to leave Valparaiso, but extremely excited for the unknown adventures that await us!

During the month of May, we will be traveling through Argentina to see Jorge’s family. In June, we’ll hit Bolivia, and make our way up through Peru to catch a flight from Lima to the USA in mid-June. And once we take a month in the States, meeting my side of the family, then it’s back to Peru to continue to passive vagabonding…

And the first city on deck is Cusco.

Goodbye, Chile! We love you, Valparaiso!

Salud to so many amazing friendships, memories, good times, 
and learning experiences in this beautiful city. 
You will forever be in our hearts.

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Between Here And There: Part 2

In April of this year, I went to Mendoza on my first official border run, which I wrote about in the original post, Between Here And There. I spent only two days there — a perfunctory visit as opposed to a sight-seeing, money-spending, OMG-I’m-visiting-vineyards-and-drunk-at-3pm trip like I typically like to have — so when my next border run came up at the end of October, my boyfriend and I decided to make a vacation of it.

(Did I mention Jorge yet? I apologize, blog-o-fiends — I have an Argentinian boyfriend. He is lovely, and darling, and sweet, and supportive, and talented, and a total delight in my life. This month we will celebrate 8 months together. This is his face:)

I like his face a lot. Like, A LOT a lot.

This was not only our first vacation together, but a vacation that would allow me to meet every single important person in his life. I was going to meet the entire family.

Jorge’s family is big. They hail from rural Argentina, a total born-n’-bred-on-the-farm type family. Jorge is the youngest of 6 children, and his eldest sibling is over 45 years old. He has 17 nieces and nephews.

Let me repeat that. Jorge has 17 nieces and nephews. And the eldest nephew is ALMOST THE SAME AGE AS HIM. Jorge became an uncle for the first time when he was 6 years old.
When we first spoke of the trip, I had nightmares about it. Not because I didn’t want to meet the family (I did), but the thought of being surrounded by so many of his blood relatives who only speak deep-Argentina Spanish (i.e. mostly incomprehensible) and would be sizing me up as the novia kind of made me freak out.
Also, I’m an only child. I don’t have troubles remembering my family member’s names, because there aren’t a lot of us. My family can comfortably fit into a regular sized living room. We don’t have to opt for the warehouse for graduation parties, and instead can choose the picnic table option. I don’t have 17 nieces and nephews. I don’t actually have ANY nieces or nephews.
We spent the first leg of our trip with 2 of Jorge’s “brahs” in Mendoza, where I got to experience far more Mendoza than the first time in April. There were no pink fountains this time, though there was plenty of city-exploring and Andes mountain-visiting.

Me and Jorge, posing by mountains in Mendoza, ‘CAUSE WE BY THE ANDES, YA’LL.

The next leg of our trip featured Candelaria, the 4,500-resident pueblito where Jorge was born and raised. The majority of his family still lives there, minus two siblings who raise their families in the capital city of that province. This is where the cultural differences started to rack up. Let’s use a list, because I haven’t made one in awhile and am feeling twitchy:
More cultural differences between Argentina and Chile, and other things that are just bizarre:
1. Remember when I was horrified about chilled red wine, and *hard swallow* the use of ice cubes? Well, readers, things took a turn for the worse (for my palate, at least). There exists a phenomenon called vino cortado, which is red wine with soda water. Sometimes, they mix it with coca-cola. [lengthy pause] Needless to say, this was one cultural activity in which I did not participate. Most family members were horrified by the fact that I drank pure wine. COME ON, IT’S MALBEC!

Nothing to do with Malbec wine; this is part of the campo (farmland) where Jorge grew up and helped raise racehorses and generally ran around half-naked at all times.

2. City planning is…different. In both the USA and Chile, cities are cities and towns are towns and there you go. Not in Argentina. They get a bit grabby with the city planning, and what is called “Mendoza” is actually several cities lumped together but differentiated by different names but still…Mendoza. The same for other cities in Argentina as well. It’s kind of like how Brooklyn is still New York City but it’s also Brooklyn. For my Ohio peeps, it would be like if Huron, Castalia, Sandusky and Milan were all called their names but technically named and considered Sandusky. Whaaat??
3. News coverage is a little excessive. While it reminded me of news coverage back home at times, especially with a preference for celebrity happenings over legitimate world news coverage, the segments in general were long-winded and redundant. The Buenos Aires news channel devoted a lot of time to the fact that it was drizzling. They sent a reporter to cover the drizzle, and the segment featured voluminous quantities of live footage of people ambling on city sidewalks where no rain could be seen. The amount of time dedicated to this segment was like something I’d see back home where a tornado had touched down in Oklahoma and ruined 35 houses and maybe some animals were injured. But no — it was just raining. Invisibly. And not impacting anyone’s day in Buenos Aires. At all.
4. Meat, man. Meat. Meat meat meat meat. Meat meaty meatmeat MEAT!!! Argentina is famous for meat — I knew that before I ever went there — and while both Chile and Argentina are meat-centric cultures, Argentina wins the award on this one. Though my vegetarianism went out the window with my USA residency, I don’t eat a LOT of meat in Chile, despite our frequent asados. I knew that going to Argentina under the wing of an Argentinian would be a, well, intestinal shockventure, since I wouldn’t be cooking for myself at all. But I wasn’t prepared for how damn GOOD it was all going to taste! Jorge’s family killed and cooked a lamb for our arrival. That’t not even a joke. I was honored, in a way, but also not sure that I should feel honored, because it’s normal for them to raise and then kill lambs and then eat them in large group settings because all they can do is large group settings because there’s 17 nieces and nephews. (Editor’s note: my bowels went on strike after the third consecutive day of eating meat. My return to Chile — and return to majority vegetarian diet — has helped the situation, but there was a good week of alarming inactivity in my gut.)

This is Candelaria, by the way.

5. Americans aren’t the only ones struggling with geography. I met plenty of people in rural Argentina who weren’t really sure of USA’s whereabouts. In a way, this felt good: finally, people who don’t CARE that I’m American! In another way, this was shocking: how can you not know where America is? Or that we speak English? I suppose this revealed more of my latent egosim as an American, which is a good thing to get rid of while I can. Small towns are small towns anywhere, I suppose. And in some parts of the world, “America” is just a word you hear on the television.
We wrapped up the last leg of our trip visiting Jorge’s other siblings and their respective families in the capital of San Luis province (which also had an alarming amount of neighborhoods the size of cities grouped under the same city name but still called different names), and spent a lot of time eating meat, hanging out, playing with exorbitant amounts of nieces and nephews, and, well, eating more meat.

Jorge with Bauti, Alma and Tobias (you guessed it — nieces and nephews)

Jorge’s brother and sister-in-law with spawn, and us (not their spawn) during our daytrip to La Florida, a beautiful spot outside of San Luis with views of the Andes and a lot of gorgeous hues in the air.

We’re back in Chile now, happy to be home but a little salty that the vacation is over. It was fun meeting all 3,487 members of Jorge’s family — I remember all of their names, I swear — and it was great getting a tan that will soon wither in the penetrating gray chill of Valparaiso, but it’s also nice to be back home: to Valpo, to our house and its rhythms and its kitchen and the coffee, to frequent and consistent wifi connections, and to regular intestinal events.

One Year Down

I recently returned to civilization (I.E. regular internet use) after a week-and-a-half stint in Argentina, cavorting through countrysides as my boyfriend Jorge and I made the rounds to visit his extensive family. (More on this later!)

The first day of our voyage via bus through the rocky roads of the Andes led us through border control as we crossed in to Argentina. Once we were safely through customs, I paused to take a gander at my passport stamps, as these tend to excite the giddy traveler girl inside me (*ahem* all of them are Chile/Argentina) and I noticed something odd.

The entry stamp for my trip of October 24th, 2013 was right below another stamp into Chile, dated October 24th, 2012.

I unknowingly celebrated my one-year anniversary of Taking the Leap on the exact date itself, and my passport stamps are lovely evidence of this! I couldn’t have planned it better if I tried.

STAMPS N’ STUFF. 

Here’s to one full year of living my dream! I raise my internet glass of Argentinian Malbec wine (which I consumed heartily during my trip in Argentina, being that we visited Malbec Country in Mendoza, and somebody remind me again why I didn’t know about Malbec before??) to this, as I had no idea on October 24th, 2012 where I might be a year later on Ocftober 24th, 2013, but as it turns out, I’m right where I’m supposed to be: happy, healthy, and having a crapton of fun and transformative life experiences.

A year ago, my best friend Leslie, her sister and now-my-friend Amanda and I started out on this adventure not knowing where life would take us, and our paths have all taken surprising and positive turns. There’s something to be said for not having a plan and allowing the wind to take you where it may. In my case, it floated me right into a dream house in a beautiful, artistic city where I spend my days writing, working, learning and loving.

I am so grateful for this year, and for this life, and for all of the things that came before it to lead me to this moment and to who I am today.

Thank you to all of you that have played a part in my journey. I appreciate it so much.

(I’m raising the internet glass of Malbec again — everybody, lift yours too and say “Salud”!)

Between Here and There

Argentina and Chile are close neighbors: in the time it would take for me to travel by car between Sandusky and Cincinnati, I had moved from one country to another. Being such close neighbors I had assumed there would be small differences but not many.  I also had assumed that, generally speaking, they would be friends. I was wrong on both accounts.

If my childhood, elementary school experiences and general politics of the world have been any indicators at all, I would have realized that those living in close proximity are usually the fiercest of enemies. Maybe enemies is a strong word here, but it’s safe to say that there exists a certain tension between Argentines and Chileans. As a matter of public opinion, both Chileans and Argentines have choice words regarding the other. Most of the things they say are the same on both ends. Both claim to have invented the asado and perfected it. Both regard themselves as slightly if not indisputably superior. I’m speaking in general terms here, the overarching stereotype of public opinion, and don’t mean to proclaim any of these things as facts or even my own opinion. However, it exists, just as unsavory opinions and undercurrents run rampant in the U.S. and every other country of the world. I’ve met as many Chileans who talk down on Argentines as Chileans who don’t give a crap and have tons of Argentine friends

Argentina, however, has a different feel. Like the Portokalos family house in My Big Fat Greek Wedding serving as a painfully obvious physical tribute to Greece, Argentina almost feels like the beacon of Europe within a continent dominated by energies more associated with “typical Latin America”. The people have lighter skin, are taller, trendier. The order and energy of the city here remind me more of Italy and Spain. Distance between countries may not be great down here, but the differences in culture, language and customs can be as different as if they were on opposite ends of the world. Chile’s neighbors alone are the perfect example: third-world Latin America to the north with Peru and Bolivia; trendy, upscale Argentina to the east; and then Chile itself, a blend of Latin America and Europe with a booming economy and first-world standards of living.

Some Notes about Argentina:

  • They chill their red wine. I’m not kidding. Isn’t this the biggest no-no of wine connoisseurs everywhere? I had thought so, until I met Argentinians who put ice cubes in their red wine. And then I came to WINE COUNTRY in Argentina and am finding both regular and chilled red wine. My palate is appalled, but being the open-minded gal I am, I shall continue the wine-tasting until I acclimate.
What you can’t see in this picture is that 
THE WINE IS CHILLED.
  • The Spanish is more musical. Being that this was a haven for Italian immigrants at some point in the past, the Argentinian accent is as melodic and enchanting as Italian. Get a group of Argentinians together and sit back and enjoy. 
  • Argentinian Spanish has its own set of frustrating peculiarities. “Si po” is replaced by “Si che”; “Weon” gives way to “voludo”. The most confounding part? Argentinians utilize the vosotros verb tense. Anyone from Perkins High School’s Spanish Club will recall that we specifically did not learn that part of speech because “it doesn’t get used that much anymore”.  Sigh. Luckily I know enough Spanish to know what I’m being asked/told/shouted/repeated for the fifth time. 
  • Purchasing one, tiny item in a store does not require four different employees and four unnamed, unadvertised steps. Chile is famous for the Check-Out Hassle; most common stores (apart from the big name chain stores) utilize the four-step checkout, which entails the following: one employee to select your item from the wall of available items, another employee to hand you your ‘check-out ticket’ which you then take to the caja (register) where another employee will handle your money, who then gives you another receipt to take to a final counter where a fourth employee will re-find your items, package them, and hand them to you. The pattern of steps and shuffles this creates across the floor of the store would look like a drunk hectagon. Phew. Learning this was irritating and confusing, to say the least. Argentina’s system is less bureaucratic – I can just wak into a store and buy what I want from one employee –  but then again, less checks and balances might be the reason why their economy is suffering at the moment. Who knows. 
  • Argentinians are physically unable to consume a meal without bread. Also, there exists a vaguely unhealthy obsession with mayonnaise. 
Plaza de Independencia at dusk.
This has nothing to do with bread or mayonnaise.
Editor’s Note: For as long as I can remember, there have been discussions, disputes and full-on linguist wars about which term is more appropriate: Argentine or Argentinian. Do I have any idea which is technically correct? No. Have I used both terms wantonly and interchangeably throughout this post? Yes. For those who would like to opine, feel free to chime in. 

A Step-by-Step Guide to Border Runs

There comes a time during every ex-pat’s trip when the “maximum date” allowed on the visa approaches scarily close to the actual date staring back at you on the calendar. If you’ve already approached the Foreigner’s Department and paid $100 for a 90-day extension, have no plans to leave, in fact have already signed a contract for an apartment in an uber-cool part of an even uber-er-cool city, what do you do?

Border Run.

Listen, it sounds shady and illegal and maybe it is in a 100% upstanding-law-abiding-citizen-of-the-world sort of way. But I’m not the only one who relies heavily on this legal loophole. The governments know that extranjeros (foreigners) frequently leave a country for a matter of days or weeks only to return to wherever it was they were staying just to get that extra 90 days. It can be done indefinitely, I suppose, until Immigration starts asking questions. Luckily, it can take years for that to happen. I don’t plan to raise any eyebrows down here, so once it gets suspicious I’ll apply for a different type of visa. Eventually.

This isn’t my first foray with the Border Run. My first experience was Guatemala-Belize when I had my internship with Cafe Yax-ha back in 2008. My friend Annie and I spent a glorious weekend among Mayan Ruins basking in the sun and the strange English of Belize, eating shrimp tacos and sleeping in hammocks outdoors. The Border Run is oftentimes a forced vacation. The level of enjoyment is determined by your attitude and your bank account. Luckily for me, the former is usually pretty good and the second one, well, I’ll make do.

Step One: Buy a ticket to the nearest foreign destination. In this case, it’s Mendoza, Argentina, right in the middle of wine country.  It’s only a 6 or 7 (or 8…or 9?) hour bus ride. The only option they had was the overnight bus. Onward to wine country!

Step Two: Pack very little. Unless your Border Run is a multi-week adventure, this is a chance to experience lightweight travel. Which, for me, is a rarity akin to arriving anywhere at the time I said I’d be there, or spotting Bigfoot. I came to Mendoza with a backpack – a regular school backpack, mind you – and my purse. Here are some of the things I left behind: my towel, my yoga mat (EGADS!), all shoes except the ones on my feet, all pants except the ones on my legs, and the variety of clothing that normally accompanies me and fills up the backpack and ipso facto weighs me down. INCREDIBLE. Editor’s Note: I did bring underwear.

Step Three: Go through Customs and Immigrations without any eyebrows being raised or questions asked. If you take the night bus, this will occur precisely at 4am, right during the deepest part of your profoundly-uncomfortable semi-cama bus ride. The night air will feel like Ohio on one of the coldest nights you can remember and you will wait in line for an hour. You will repeatedly thank the heavens that you brought your winter parka and eventually consume the walnuts you had reserved for food for the next day. However, you will successfully smuggle in the apple you really wanted to eat for breakfast because nobody on the Argentinian side actually checked anyone’s luggage, leading you to formulate an extensive list of all the things you could have smuggled in but didn’t.

Step Four: Witness the sunrise on your winding Andean bus trip that all the other passengers the next day said was nauseating and terrifying but surprisingly was the best sleep of your life…despite the profoundly-uncomfortable semi-cama seat.

HEY, NICE COLORS MOTHER NATURE.
THOSE ANDES AREN’T TOO BAD EITHER.
(Note: Andes Mountains not pictured here.)

Step Five: Arrive to said destination at 8am, buy your return ticket for either the next day or the day after, and wander the city. Locate pink-water-spurting fountain. Drink a coffee and do some work long-distance.

At 8:30am, this was a treat. The city was still waking up and I was able to have a quiet, solo walk around the center.

Step Six: Meander aimlessly, revel in the hot sun and the new sights and the distinct European feel of the streets despite the fact that Argentina is so close to Chile. Eavesdrop on grisly old Argentinian men discussing business. Locate a yoga studio. Converse with hostelmates once you make it over there.

Step Seven: Remember why you reserved the hostel (money! It’s so cheap! How could you NOT?) and remind yourself of this strongly when you find your bed.

Mine is the middle bed of the three-tiered bunk system.

Step Eight: Repeat steps 6 and 7 as necessary until the departure date. Make sure the wine tour falls in there somewhere as well.

I think this is a fairly comprehensive border run guide. I will update as necessary if I discover any missing crucial bits to the Border Run Guide. For now, though, I hope this can aid some of you as you seek to cross borders, renew visas, and otherwise enjoy life on the fringe.