5 Things I Didn’t Know About High-Altitude Living

A little over two months into Cusco, I can say with certainty that life at 11,200 feet comes with its own set of peculiarities. This isn’t the highest up we’ve ever been – Jorge and I had the pleasure of visiting Potosi, Bolivia once, the highest inhabited city in the world at 13,400 feet. But that was just for a couple days, and we were happy to get out of there and to lower climes. Here are some of the biggest lessons I’ve learned at 11,000 feet:

1.) Cooking is a different experience. Have you guys ever noticed the separate cooking instructions for high-altitude locations on every box of pasta in history? I used to, and never thought much of it. I remember inquiring about this – why would the instructions differ at a higher elevation? – and was provided with the accurate scientific response that I have long since forgotten. (Doesn’t it all just boil down to ATOMS?) I conveniently forgot about this as Jorge and I settled into Cusco. The first several occasions we cooked pasta or rice, we spent an inordinate amount of time checking and re-checking the food. Why was it still so HARD? Hasn’t it been 7-9 minutes? Really it’s been almost 15 minutes…How can it not be ready yet? Oh yeah. HIGH-ALTITUDE.

See that arrow? It means something. 

2.) Hangovers reach a new level of raunchy. There must be some scientific explanation for this – dehydration occurs faster where there’s less oxygen because red blood cells need 1.5% of something and up here there’s only 0.1% and then oh yeah, MAGIC. Whatever the reason, I’m ashamed to admit that I once had a hangover once until 4PM after 3 (THREE) glasses of wine throughout the course of a very laid back—and LENGTHY–evening with friends. And it’s not because I’m almost thirty (even if it was strictly due to my age, it would still be an EMBARASSMENT). Be careful folks. Alcohol up here takes a different toll on the body. And you know why? It’s because of HIGH ALTITUDE.

3.) Moving around is more difficult. If your body is one of those randomly selected organisms that will be sensitive to high-altitude issues, surprise! Most things will suck. Unfortunately this has nothing to do with physical fitness, it’s just pure luck (or unluckiness). Visiting Potosi was by far the WORST – I got out of breath just brushing my teeth. In Cusco it’s not nearly as bad, especially since we’ve had ample time to acclimate, but a few aspects still stick out. If you’ll all remember, I used to live in Valparaiso which had comically steep streets that seemed, oftentimes, like a joke. Who would actually build a city so vertical, a city where most neighborhoods relied on ascensores just to get their groceries home? Well, Cusco has its fair share of inclines and hills, but it’s got nothing on Valpo. Which makes me feel particularly bad when I find myself out of breath here in Cusco after traversing a very minimal incline. And yes, that incline would be the equivalent of walking downhill in Valpo, but here? Steals your breath a little. Makes you feel pretty ridiculous until you remember OH YEAH…HIGH ALTITUDE.

4.) Thunderstorms aren’t just thunderstorms anymore. They are a full-body experience that gets you right into the middle of the storm cell, WITH NO FORGIVENESS. Plus, being this high up, you get the added benefit of strange snow-hail storms. In the middle of summer. Because it’s HIGH ALTITUDE!

5.) It’s pretty much always cold. I’ll go more into my geographic/weather pattern duncery in another post, but this high up, the extremes are more extreme. If the sun does come out in the middle of the day (which doesn’t always happen, not even in ‘summer’), it will be very hot, and you WILL get burnt. But then at night, you will need five blankets and a pair of alpaca booties and MAYBE THEN the only frozen item on your body will be your nose. For god’s sake, the alpacas here wear goggles and sometimes actual CLOTHING. That’s gotta tell you something…something like HIGH ALTITUDE!

Hey, Mr. Alpaca…can we borrow some of that fluff? Maybe for some traditional hats and sweaters?

There have been some other strange things going on around here too, though I can’t be sure if they’re related to the elevation or not. Either way, it seems safe to blame it on the altitude.

Is your boyfriend shedding chest hair at an unprecedented rate? Probably the altitude.  Does your tap water come out feeling like the literal refuse of a glacier? Might be the high altitude. Are people eating oven-roasted hamsters as a delicacy? Could also be the altitude. Are you suffering from painfully glorious mountain views nearly every moment of the day? The altitude may very well be the culprit. Have you recently scaled a mountain to reach a city that ancient people thought was a great idea to stick all the way up there? Now that one is DEFINITELY the altitude!

(Editor’s Note: I began writing this post when the sun was out in full force and I thought I might be able to take a trip to the market in my tank top, to get a little tanning in. It is now snow-hailing, and some of it is coming through our skylights, where it sits melting on our floor. A little message from the gods. High Altitude!)

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Just Call Me Resourceful Rhonda

For those of you that know me, you’ll know that I frequently talk about how when the apocalypse comes, I’ll be the first to die.

Despite a couple years of being in Brownies, I just don’t have a terribly impressive amount of survival skills (though I CAN sew a mean sit-upon). This isn’t something I necessarily am looking to change — I’m just aware of it.
And for those of you that also know about Jorge, you’ll remember that I frequently tout him as my key to survival for when the apocalypse comes. The guy grew up in rural farmland, knows how to light fires, spent most of his childhood barefoot and pooping in the wild, and can ride a horse bareback. Furthermore, he has uncanny and ingenious solutions to common household problems. Whenever I need to fix something, I hand it to him — work your crazy magic, I tell him. And he does. 
Well, it appears Jorge’s resourcefulness has rubbed off in our 1.5 years together. Let me explain.
We recently moved into a new (mini)apartment in Lima. Though our landlord provided some basics, like a bed, and plates, and a toilet, there weren’t important things like knives or French Press coffee makers. 
Being that I am an American Coffee Drinker with a pound of hazelnut coffee burning a hole in my backpack, I had to remedy this situation quickly. However, the nearest supermarket only sells food — no household products, no sprawling aisles of coffee makers, not even cheese cloth, for god’s sake.
So, one our first morning in the new place arrived, I had a brilliant idea. 
I wear a lot of leggings (ahem, actually maybe only leggings), and some of my current pairs in rotation are about to die. On our way back to Lima, Jorge pointed out in the middle of the Miami airport that I was essentially walking around naked since my leggings had grown so threadbare. Oops. 
Time to throw them out — or is it? I decided to use these very same leggings for a couple different purposes. 
Purpose #1: CHEESECLOTH FOR COFFEE.
Purpose #2: Cloths for the sink area/cleaning the bathroom.
Okay, okay, hold your horses, you might be thinking. How can a self-respecting human being use leggings to make coffee? I’ll explain.
Step One: Snip off the bottom fourth of one of the legs.
Step Two: Sew the bottom of the snipped-leg-portion shut. 
Step Three: USE THIS AS A COLANDER FOR SEPARATING COFFEE GROUNDS FROM COFFEE.
Freaking. Genius.
However, our (mini) apartment, as I explained, came equipped with only the bare minimum of kitchen necessities. So on our first morning, this is what happened.
I sprinkled an appropriate amount of coffee grounds into a bowl (re: one of two bowls available in the house). Once my water was boiling, I poured this into the bowl. I let it sit for about five minutes. Then, having fastened my legging-colander to a mason jar ring using a hairband, we poured the coffee out of the bowl into the coffee cup via homemade colander.
Jorge pours bowlofcoffee into cup.

Coffee grounds remain securely in the homemade colander.

Final product: cup of coffee.

Over time, my coffee-making methods have varied. I went from strictly French Press/Keurig/locally bought to drip filter, to colander method…and now, to bowls. Some people might find this method unseemly or gross; I, however, pride myself on my big city survival skills. 
Let’s be honest, I might not be able to live very long once the apocalypse hits…but dangit, I know I’ll be able to fashion myself a good cup’a’joe when the time comes! Provided I can figure out how to boil some water, that is. 

A New Chapter Begins: Lima, Peru

We haven’t been here long, but man, have we gotten the ball rolling fast!

Here’s how our time in Lima has been spent so far:
Day One: Arrive to Lima at 5:30am after multiple delays stateside; notice that luggage doesn’t arrive; begin house hunting project; visit 5 possible rentals.
Day Two: Drink ample Starbucks; get one of two missing backpacks; confirm tiny apartment rental with landlords; visit their house and review terms and conditions; drink a juice made of purple corn; like it.
Day Three: Receive last piece of lost luggage; move into tiny apartment; sign contract; pay rent; begin arranging things on shelves and figuring out how to cover up the obscene white of the walls.
From Day Four and onward, it’s been a pretty rhythmic domestic process: figuring out how to make coffee without a coffee maker (more on this later), filling drawers, buying necessities (like the broom we bought and then promptly left at the store), etc. Jorge has set up appointments with several top salons to prove his prowess, I.E. get hired, and we’ve also papered the neighborhood with announcements about his services. 
I MADE THIS!
One of the notable thing about Lima so far is that, while in full winter, the temperature rarely drops below 66 F. Their winter is very gray, however — but for an average temperature of 70 degrees and never having to wear four layers, I’ll TAKE IT.
Lima at night — the lefthand side of this picture is OCEAN. 

Our apartment is actually a mini-apartment, which means that’s its smaller than a studio apartment in NYC and there’s no oven. We’re paying roughly 30% more than we did in Valparaiso, for about one-fifth of the space. *sigh* Big city living.
However, we’re in the coolest neighborhood (Barranco), in an extremely safe zone, one block from the ocean, and there is a Starbucks nearby and all sorts of trendy boutiques and gorgeous houses so like, I guess I’ll live.
Barranco…our neighborhood in Lima! I.E. could be a 
stand-alone city on its own. 
Here’s to a new, fun, and totally different chapter in Lima, Peru! 

Weather Whining and Other Truffles, Part Two: The Cold

I frequently find evidence that I create my own reality without realizing it, and then become very confused when my expectations of this false reality don’t match the actual scientific facts of common reality.

The most recent example of this is when I heard the term “South America” a couple of years ago. An equation became apparent to me.

f(x) = South of the Equator + south * More South Than Ohio (near Brazil) / America of the South = WARM.

RIGHT?!

Wrong. I got to Puerto Varas in late October of 2012, (“Oh, THIS MUST BE LIKE THEIR SPRING”) and found myself shivering in my winter jacket throughout all of their spring and eventual (and very shortlived) summer.

Damnit.

And then came the move to Valparaiso, in March of 2013. “HEY,” I said to anyone who cared, “I’M GONNA BE SO MUCH HAPPIER UP THERE BECAUSE I WON’T HAVE TO WEAR A WINTER JACKET IN HIGH SUMMER AND CAN PROBABLY WEAR SHORTS AND HAVE AN OHIO SUMMER SORT OF.”

Wrong.

Valparaiso is ‘perpetually cool’. There are no extremes — though I’d be willing to go out on a limb and say that the carnivorous fog is extreme, and the cold humid rains are extreme because like, shouldn’t there be snow, and there’s not.

At the risk of sounding like a whiny weather baby (which I am), I have to confess, I am extremely ready for some freaking warmth. I’m talking, palm trees, white sands, shorts weather, warm breezes, people frolicking in the sun and rolling around in the grass.

You know, all the things I thought I’d find when I moved down here.

This oversight (or undersight?) is completely my fault. Prior to moving to Puerto Varas, which is technically, like, you know, PATAGONIA, I compared its latitude to Ohio’s on a map, did a quick and incorrect weather analysis, and actually concluded, ‘Hey, this will be really similar to Ohio summers.’

Ohio is in the northern equivalent of Chile’s latitude box thing…
So…based on prime meridians and cartography, we can conclude
Chile and Ohio have the same climate.

Where the HELL did I get that idea? It’s Patagonia, it’s not the Great Lakes. There is a different set of climactic elements operating here, which create entirely different earth phenomenons. Like the Andes mountain range, restless tectonic plates, and the Pacific Ocean, to name a few.

Again, totally a victim of my own belief-creation.

And prior to the move to Valparaiso, I assumed, ‘Hey, it’s more north than Puerto Varas, which we know is cold now, so Valparaiso will be a lot like Ohio summers finally.’

Totally and unforgivably wrong.

Like a trip to the therapist, it’s becoming very clear to me as I write this post what the main theme is. I’m pretty sure I just want to live in perpetual Ohio Summer. As does everyone else from Ohio, except those weirdos who like 10 months of cold and end up moving to Wisconsin, or Patagonia.

Chile is not the place for my warmth mission. While I have come to deeply appreciate the climates, topographies, and natural wonders of this country, I am extremely ready for a bit of weather that more closely approximates that which I was seeking in the first place.

On the plus side, come June time I’ll be back in Ohio, where I fully expect to find a little bit of Ohio Summer.

This blog may or may not completely turn into my quest to approximate Ohio summers in any place that is not Ohio. Stay tuned.

Fire Clean-up in Valparaiso

You know what I’ve been sucking at doing lately? UPDATING THIS BLOG.

I apologize folks, especially to those of you who were waiting with bated breath to see via my blog that I had survived the recent fire in Valparaiso.

OK, that was nobody at all, but in case there was any doubt, I’M ALIVE. But here’s the scoop: the fire broke out on April 12th due to a wild fire in the brushy areas at the top part of a hill. Around that date, we had been experiencing some extremely fierce winds for just a couple days or so. This fire, with that wind, quickly spread and began to engulf houses.

The houses up in those parts, however, are some of the poorest. Lacking access to water, there was no way for firefighters to connect to fight the flames, but that was only when the trucks could get up there.

Strong winds. Densely packed houses made of wood. A terribly hungry fire.

I snapped this photo of the fire on Saturday night. Haunting, eerie glow from the flames. We counted 8 focal points.

 

It raged until Monday, recruiting not only every fire fighter in the city of Valparaiso (who, I should add, are all volunteer firefighters), but also helicopters and airplanes dumping water from above from both Chile and Argentina.

All told, over 12,500 people have been affected by this fire which, according to anyone you ask here, is by far the worst fire to ever hit Valparaiso.

And while it affected several of the 42 hills here, the effects have been felt by everyone. The entire night of Saturday and the whole day of Sunday saw a steady stream of ash raining onto houses throughout the city, including our patio. Any visit to the city center on those days felt similar to a post-apocalyptic movie scene. On Sunday, we saw the inky cloud of the fire drifting toward sea against the brilliantly clear blue sky.

Looking at the fire from Avenida Argentina

 

It has been a very painful and heartbreaking event to witness. Even though I am a foreigner, even though my house and hill were not affected, I consider Valparaiso my home. Watching the scene on Sunday brought tears to my eyes multiple times as I saw families fleeing the hills, all their belongings in duffel bags, as they sought refuge and the inevitable wait to find out just how much of everything they would lose.

Some people didn’t have time to pack. And others didn’t even have time to get out. This fire claimed the lives of 15 people.

Through the time since the fire, Jorge and I have been donating money, time, and possessions. We donated every extra bit of everything in this vagabond house last Sunday. Every time we go to a particular part of the center, we donate cleaning supplies to one of the many shelters set up for the people who lost their homes. And last Friday we went up into the hills with a friend to shovel out rubble from properties.

We went higher up into the hills than I’ve ever been before. I’ve never seen Valpo from these angles.

 

Assessing the damage.

 

Helping to dig out the burnt remains of a man’s house.

 

We didn’t know him, we just found them and offered to help.

I’m no delicate flower but I’m also not a burly woodsman. The shoveling was back breaking work. We were at it for three hours and my body hurt for days, not to mention the two shiny blisters I got from the shoveling. We made real progress there at the man’s house, starting with a deep, drifting pile of ash, dust, dirt, and broken remains of his belongings. By the time we left, we had hit the earthen floor of what used to be his kitchen. The ash entered our eyes and mouths despite the face masks and sunglasses. There was no way to escape it.

Participating in the volunteer efforts and being around to see the ways in which Valparaiso has responded to this crisis has been uplifting and wholly inspiring. The city has come together in the truest sense of the word. People sprang into action from day one, and thank god, because there are so many victims of this fire.

And not just people victims either. Here’s an area for wounded strays — they were adopting them out once they’d been cleaned and treated.

 

 

Jorge and I after shoveling rubble last Friday. We found soot in our nostrils and ears for at least the next two days.

 

Just seeing the solidarity of the portenos each and every time I leave my house is such an insanely beautiful sight. When we went on Friday, there was no lack of support among volunteers. It didn’t matter where we were from, who we were with: we were there to help. Formalities weren’t exchanged, only directions toward where to help and gentle questions of whether we needed water or food. Water was passed around freely as we worked, mandarin oranges and then actual packed lunches handed out by some lady, who knows where she came from or who she was with, just one of the many angels of the relief efforts.

By last Friday, reconstruction had already begun for some people. This is an effort that will continue for quite a long time. Thankfully, there are so many people to help, and so many individuals and companies alike that are giving time, money and efforts to help those affected by the catastrophe.

Valpo won’t only be fine, it will be stronger and better.

FUERZA VALPO!

2014, are you…are you actually here?

Chances are, most of the eyes on this blog have seen their fair share of New Years.

That’s not a thinly-veiled insult regarding everyone’s collective age — no, man. Come on. Back off.

But seriously, we’ve been around the block a couple times or decades, and we all know what’s up. People make resolutions, break them, sign up for expensive weight loss programs, ditch it a week later, and wait until the next year to set new goals.

WELL I SAY SCREW THAT.

While I believe that real goal acquisition can occur at any time of one’s life, no matter the date, no matter the calendar year, no matter the age, I also believe that goals should be realistic. Goals are just another way for us to try new patterns in life to see what works. We make resolutions to lose weight because whatever habits we have are not serving us and causing us to feel unfulfilled, or fat, or unhealthy, or bloated, or greasy, the list goes on — so the resolution is hopefully a jarring-enough effort to imprint a new pattern.

But that principle underneath it all? The idea of trying new patterns and approaches, to see what ultimately benefits us? I really like that.

So, in the spirit of New Year’s Resolutions, I offer to my readers my own attempt to shake up my own snow globe. I never make New Year’s Resolutions, but this year I will think about some areas where I want to direct my attention, because attention to our patterns and habits is always a good idea.

SHANNON’S 2014 LIST OF RESOLUTE IDEAS
1. Make a list of New Year’s Resolutions for the blog (ACED IT)
2. Use the tag “Ways to Explain That Unexpected Pregnancy” at least one more time in a legitimate context
3.Buy a laptop that doesn’t feel like the weight of a dead adult male after carrying it for five minutes
4. Drink less coffee………………maybe
5. Continue my dedicated Ashtanga Yoga practice
6. Enter another short story and/or travel writing contest
7. Move to another foreign country (might be goodbye to Chile soon!)
8. Complete an unaided yogic headstand
9. Actually read more, like things that aren’t being wildly passed around facebook. Although usually good reads from NYT or Slate or whatnot, I want to get back to books and magazines.
10. Write. And write. And write write write write!!

What resolutions, goals, inclinations and ideas do you have?

More Backstory….

This article gets at one of the main reasons why I fled the USA in order to live abroad: I Am Not My Job.

While I wasn’t coming from an area as ridiculously expensive as NYC, I find the USA to be expensive in general, and my life there included some necessary evils in order to maintain a functional, productive life. (cars, mainly).

I was in the camp that pursued the day job and relegated my passions to spare time. Which, as anyone with a semi-professional 9-5 can attest, means that you’re working far more than 40 hours per week, most likely commuting, and very little of that leftover energy typically goes toward passion-promoting activities. You just wanna sit the hell down when you have the chance.

Which is why my novels went untouched for years and my writing craft totally withered into a crusty shell of its former glory. My dreams were still there, but the time to accomplish them continued to evaporate as the years marched on. The majority of my available energy went into common domestic tasks, socializing with friends, and getting my yoga done (and not even religiously).

The move abroad was necessary for me to feel like I was finally getting a chance to focus. Ditch some of the responsibilities that felt, to me, like they were clogging my plumbing (insurance bills, car maintenance expenses, buying gas) instead of allowing safe passage of goals and inspiration. Some people can feel this way perfectly fine in their hometown or adult landscape. I, however, did not. I felt constantly “busy” and never “productive”, as the author mentions in her article. And I needed, desperately, to make a change to more productive and far less busy.

My move to Chile has afforded me this. In a huge way. Although it’s a relatively expensive Latin American country, my lifestyle costs are minimal, and I am for the first time living in a way that feels authentic to me. Now when someone asks me what I do, my answer is “I am a writer.” I still have a day job (though sometimes writing IS the day job), but the difference is that I feel confident and secure in responding this way because my passion has finally taken precedence in my daily life.

The author of the article says she doesn’t advocate that everyone move to the mountains like she did, but hopes that other young creatives can begin to consider different home bases as they seek to pursue their craft. And while I don’t think moving to the mountains (or the seaside…or South America…or Chile, for example) is hard and fast necessary, I DO recommend such a move. Move to the Catskills, or the Andes, or Costa Rica, or into a strange commune on the other side of the US, or into a distant uncle’s cabin in Oregon, or to the freakin’ Phillipines. Try it. See what happens. Because if such a move or adventure is possible, your creativity can only improve because of it. I did have to move my home base to be able to milk the sweet teat of creativity. And look at what has come sputtering forth: heinous analogies.

Now that I’ve got some of my creative goals underway and I know more of what it feels like to be living a creative life as opposed to waiting for the weekends to maybe re-visit that old story I stopped working on five years ago, I feel confident that I can someday come back to my home country and effectively be a creative writer.

Maybe not quite yet, though.

But someday.

Self-Employment Woes: The Battle of Productivity (and a brief trip to Mordor)

As some of you may know, I spend a lot of time attached to my computer.

Not physically, of course, though that might be an option to look into someday, but the bulk of my professional, creative and time-wasting endeavors revolve around this sexy white piece of plastic known as my Vaio.

My main lucrative activity, sometimes referred to as my ‘day job’ is only possible via computer and internet. My side gigs, mostly copy-editing and translation projects, also utilize the computer 100%. On top of that, my creative brain decided long ago that it was going to forsake the pen and paper and now functions best (and exclusively) in Microsoft Word.

My only non-computer yet crucial activities, outside of things like Having Friends, Regular Meals and Using the Bathroom, include the following: journaling and yoga.

Great. So I stare at a screen for the majority of my days, taking plenty of breaks for movement, exercise, eating and whatnot, but still, the fact remains — I spend a lot of freakin’ time with this computer. And do you know what happens when I’m in front of this computer, readers?

Do you?

Just look at this sun-drenched corner of Mild Productivity!

I waste time.

Anyone who primarily writes or uses their computer from home for a living can attest to the fact that time-wasters and distractions run rampant. Facebook itself is a vortex that swallows you whole before you even have a chance to realize you’re being sucked in — then you look at the time and 45 minutes have passed since you casually ambled over to take a gander at the latest status updates. What the hell???

I’ve taken various measures to control, thwart and otherwise avoid the negative consequences of being self-employed, self-directed and without anyone to moderate me whenever I open facebook thinking “Oh, I just need to send this message real quick then I’m done”. None have been very effective, which is why I was extremely interested to find Maneesh Sethi and his blog “Hack the System“.

He wrote an article called “Why I Hired A Girl On Craigslist to Slap Me In The Face  — And How It Quadrupled My Productivity” which speaks to his attempts to better focus while in front of the computer. Using a combination of friendly slaps when he was observed to be off-task and a program called Rescue Time, which monitors overall usage of programs and applications, he was able to quadruple his productivity according to numbers generated by the program.

My first thought was, “Holy god of crispy things, I need this”, followed by “Dear lord above, do I have the strength to face the evidence of my procrastination??”

I didn’t care, I needed to know. While the slapping aspect of Sethi’s experiment didn’t resonate so much with me, I DID need PROOF of my excessive time-wasting and/or moderately productive computer usage. I downloaded the free version of Rescue Time, which analyzes how much time you spend utilizing anything and everything on your computer, down to how much time spent on certain websites. You’re able to designate which activities are Very Productive, Neutral, or Very Distracting (and levels in between). Furthermore, it sets goals for you automatically, which you can tweak to your own liking — for instance, spend less than 90 minutes on social networking platforms overall, and 3+ hours on Very Productive activities.

Once the program was up and running, I felt a little spied on and a smidge of secret judgement from the quiet eye of Rescue Time, unblinking and watching all. I could practically feel the red numbers ticking upward as I flicked over to facebook to send an actual scheduling-oriented message to a friend for that day (RESCUE TIME, I NEEDED TO GO THERE), and noticed a pleasant hum of satisfaction as I stayed rooted in my work tab the rest of the morning.

The Eye of Sauron sees all in Mordor — similar to the way
Rescue Time quietly and unfailingly witnesses my computer activities.
This picture is an Eye of Sauron desk lamp, which I might need to purchase
as a way to keep myself on task as opposed to hiring someone to slap me.

Once enough hours had passed for the program to collect any meaningful data on my productivity (or lack thereof), I braved my way into the Dashboard to see what the results might be, knowing within myself that I had spent the day thusfar as probably ‘decently productive’.

The percentage of productivity that faced me was 32.

THIRTY-TWO.

WHAAAAAAT??!?

One the shock of judgement via arbitrary computer program had subsided, I looked further into my usage. 52 minutes facebook, fine. 4 minutes iTunes, great. But then came a surprising tidbit — it had categorized my 3.5 hours of Outlook, Gmail and other Legitimate Work-Based Activities as “Highly Distracting”.

Rescue Time, no! Bad Rescue Time! That’s my bacon, my dough, my fat cash, that’s not highly distracting! You’ve got me all wrong! Contact the database administrator, tell him I’ve been working, working HARD, for god’s sake! Alert Mordor, inform the orcs before they arrive to slap the shit out of me! HURRY!

After spending a solid 20 minutes trying to figure out how to re-categorize computer activities (which technically detracted from my time spent working but I went ahead and classified as ‘neutral’ because, I mean, this is important), I was able to re-brand certain computer activities and websites from “Very Distracting” to “Very Productive”. This changed the number around. It jumped from 32 to 68.

PHEW.

However, still not that productive.

To be honest, I’m not sure what number equates to “a good work day”. I don’t really care, either. I’m not going to force a number up against my life and expect it to have any meaningful value. But what Rescue Time has been doing for me is shedding light onto my time-wasting activities, allowing me to face the cold hard truth behind my less-productive days and see exactly where 46 minutes here and 37 minutes there was spent when my only real goal was “to work”.

I won’t beat myself up if I score an 83 versus a 96 one day, nor will I strive to make a certain number each day. I will, however, utilize this data to better inform myself about where most of these hours spent in front of the computer are really going. Knowing is half the battle, especially when engaged in the amorphous world of self-employment from home, and distractions lay a mouse-click or Google Chrome tab away.

So, in summary? I need to stop using Facebook.

(But don’t we all?)

Reports From the New Window (and Unexpected Cultural Commentary)

My bedroom window faces a house situated “across the street” (these phrases mean nothing in Valpo..it’s pure alleyways, terrifying staircases and precipitous streets) but up the hill a little further. I’ve spent the majority of my first week in the new house settling in, working, and gazing lovingly at the seafoam green walls and the plants in my windowsill. During my frequent PonderGazeFests, I noticed a couple boys hanging out on the balcony of this house, stringing what looked like wire from their balcony to some unknown location in the distance. 

The next day, the boys were back at it. Except this time, I noticed that the wire was in fact a string, which was attached to a kite. Which they were flying.

And then an hour late, still flying a kite.

And then for the next seven hours…still flying a kite.

Sheesh, I thought. Flying a kite is fun but not THAT fun.

Or is it? I must make mention of the last time I flew a kite. It was this summer in Tennessee. My mother suggested we take the kite with us on the boat, so we could fly it as we cruised the lake. Cool, I said, more in an effort to please her. Who flies kites, anyway? I’m not against activities that are deemed “childish” by any means — I spend a large part of my life trying to consciously incorporate play and childlike wonder into my days — but a kite? Pssh.

Once we got going on the boat, out came the kite — a bizarre purple octopus with plenty of tentacles to put on display in the airborne mating ritual. I stood toward the back, tasked with  getting it waytheheckupthere. The wispy, purple octopus that had lain quiet and neatly folded in its packaging only moments before was now a wild animal, tormented and struggling and whipping against the gusts and curls and updrafts as it fought its way higher.

I let out more string. I watched it fly higher. I let out more string. Higher still. And then came the point when I realized…holy crap, this is THRILLING.

I never wanted to stop flying that kite. I don’t know WHY flying a kite is so fun. But there is something entrancing, mesmerizing and otherwise holy about the endeavor.

Some of the thoughts that crossed my mind as Octokite roamed free: Oh my god, look at how high it is! This is so cool! Wow, it’s beautiful. It’s a dancing octopus in the sky. LOOK, IT’S EVEN HIGHER NOW!! This string is really tight, I wonder how high I can get it. What if it goes into outer space? What is the Octokite seeing up there? When it comes down, will it have PTSD? Can you use a kite more than once? Why is this so goddamn fun? SERIOUSLY LOOK HOW HIGH UP THIS THING IS.

Look at that freakin’ kite!

We took turns holding Octokite as it struggled to free itself from our grip. We held fast. It continued following us as we zoomed across the lake. Finally, we reeled it in, and the unwavering black smile of the octopus was still there, a silent witness to the joys and secrets of the stratospheric experience, tentacles weathered but accounted for.

So, back to the boys across the street. They’ve been flying kites everyday, for hours each day, without fail. Even as I reflected upon my newfound-but-forgotten appreciation for kite-flying, I continue to ask myself — What the hell with so much kite flying?

I mentioned the borderline obsessive past time of the Chilean youth to my boyfriend the other day. He responded casually–as though it were common knowledge, come on, you gringa–that September is Kite Month in Chile. Everyone flies kites, or volantines, during September. It’s classically breezy in September! Come on. Go fly a kite. Or volantin in this case.

September also coincides with another important tradition in Chile — the fiestas patrias, or patriotic holidays. Two important events occurs during September, apart from the historically-perfect kite flying weather: the anniversary of the famous coup of September 11th, 1973, in which former socialist president Salvador Allende was overthrown (giving way to the Pinochet regime), and September 18th, Independence Day (Chile broke from Spain on this day in 1810).

Between the breezes, the political history and the patriotism, the month of September is burbling with activity. Most Americans are familiar with stores decorating well in advance for the 4th of July, or Christmas, or Fall In General or what have you, but our celebrations tend to be limited to observing the day itself, and then perhaps additional celebrations the following weekend once work has ended for the week.

Not here. Daily operations came to a grinding halt at 7pm on Tuesday, September 17th. The majority of the city has been closed since. It’s Saturday, September 21st, as a reminder — that’s four days of public quiet, shuttered storefronts and very minimal pedestrians on the streets of Valparaiso. That’s some serious reverence.

But that’s not all. The public rest might have started on Tuesday at 7pm, but the celebrating started at the beginning of the month. There has been an unusual (almost worrying, really) amount  of asado scents wafting in the breeze, frequent gatherings overheard from neighbors, more dissonance than usual in public spaces, a huge amount of patriotic decorations littering the steeets, and plenty of excuses to get really drunk and really full.

Wait — did you think that was all? Not only does September herald important political and patriotic observances, it also means SPRING IS COMING! It’s the societal thaw; September is here, winter is over, let’s get this crap started right by celebrating for a full month.

Jorge and I were wandering the streets on the 18th, discovering new areas and views near our new neighborhood, and we crossed an uncountable number of asados taking place on the sidewalks. It’s probably not a surprise to anyone that during our walk we decided to go home and have our own asado because, like, we totally can do that whenever we want now, and as we headed back to the Homestead, we crossed what appeared to be a very heated kite-flying competition. It made us stop in our tracks — the kites were so, so, so high, just tiny squares of Chilean-flag decorated paper. One climbed higher, the other dipped sharply, then the first one lost its lead while the second soared upward on a fierce gust. Grown men hooted and hollered in the streets — one grandpa exited his house, wearing white socks in the gritty Valpo streets, carrying a grandbaby in his arms as he cheered on the unseen kite-fliers.

A poor representation of the kite excitement. (Kitecitement) The dog watches the spectacle, unamused.

As a foreign observer/peripheral participant in these happenings, I must say that I admire the dedication to patriotic celebrations. It’s no secret here that the Pinochet dictatorship left an indelible mark on Chilean history and society. What the older generations lived through – and those that are still around to talk about it — betray the fact that the wound is still there, healing but still aching. 40 years have passed since the coup, but this is a tender scar on the surface of daily life.. Conversations about living through the dictatorship with those of my parent’s age is always fascinating, educational and extremely sad.

The volantines, at least to my wandering and dreamy eye, serve as a potent and visible reminder of the freedoms post-Pinochet. The citizens are able to soar free, at least compared to prior times, and there is now far more energy, far more breathless hopefulness, than in recent history. Just as children and grown men crowd around to see how high the kite might go, who might win, will the cord break, will it get caught in a tree, will the octopus suffer PTSD, I feel that Chileans are able to turn that breathless, hopeful eye toward the future when before that was only a wild, and potentially dangerous, fantasy. Armed with memory, respect and forward motion, Chile is a symbolic volantin that has the potential to soar high, higher than what was believed even 30 or 40 years ago.

Once again, I must remind you readers that I am by no means a political expert, nor an apt judge of economic/governmental/cultural conditions. I’m just a writer living in Valpo, inhaling culture and sights and experiences and exhaling personal perspective.

And beyond that, I’m sincerely curious to know how long it will be before these boys get sick of flying these kites everyday for multiple hours (seriously, don’t they go to school or something?!).

My beloved Valpo! You’re so picturesque n’ stuff. 

Read more about the Chilean 9/11 Anniversary here: Chile’s 9/11: Survivors recall horrors of Pinochet coup, 40 years on

An article highlighting the various current-day opinions on Pinochet’s reign: Chile still split over Gen Augusto Pinochet legacy

House Hunting in Valpo: An Update

Readers, as it turns out, putting up a post about the difficulty of finding a house in Valpo was all it took to seal the deal.

I must have offended the housing market on some level because the housing option #4 I mentioned in my last post turned out to be the One For Us. Not only did the deal seal easily, we didn’t have to fight, prod, poke, or otherwise manipulate to get it done. I’ll be the first to admit that I was a little surprised.

I live in this house with my boyfriend Jorge and two others (another couple) — Martin and Amanda. We are officially residents of Cerro Carcel (Jail Hill…it’s not as bad as it sounds, really — it’s only named that because the old city jail was here until the city grew so large they had to relocate it further up into the hills. Now the old jail is a cultural center), on a little winding (and sometimes vertical) street that has an abundance of street art, greenery, and ocean views.

I am happy. We are happy.

HERE ARE SOME PHOTOS!!

My bedroom. Seafoam green walls, ample sunlight, and lots of room for writing, yoga and happy pondering.

The enclosed patio. The house came with mandalas painted onto the walls. That’s a pretty good sign, right?

Jorge, looking out from out front door to the Valpo scene beyond.

Our landlord is beyond cool — he is considerate, “green”, friendly and communicative. Furthermore, not only did the house come with mandalas (something I’ve been harping on for Art Nights here in Valpo for over a month), but it also came with a butt-baring gnome painted on the bathroom wall and a fully-loaded compost bin on the patio. SAY WHAT???? Oh — you mean the compost bin I’ve been lamenting leaving in Ohio for almost a year now? It’s here in front of my face? Okay. Fine.

On another note, the house is unfurnished, which seems like a problem in both financial and backpacker terms, but I’ll explain why it isn’t. Here’s a list for our listicle-oriented eyes:

1. We are 4. There4(fore), we are splitting costs 4 ways. MATH, I KNOW! But when you break down the basics — some sofas, a fridge, stove, washer, and various household accessories — and split it between 4 people, the price is quite economical. Plus everything is used and found via the equivalent of craigslist here in Chile. What it adds up to, for my math-deficient readers, is: Quite The Deal.

2. We signed a 6 month lease. This means we’ll be renting and living here for 6 months (obviously), but the cost of investing in Objects For The House evens out over time. In renting and investing in Objects For This House, I am still saving money overall compared to what I was paying for a furnished ROOM before.

3. We are transients. This means that while we are renting a house and settling in, it’s “for a time”. We have not closed the doors to future moves, endeavors, ideas or adventures. The 6 month lease can be extended if we decide, or it ends there. All of the Objects For This House are being selected with this goal in mind — that they are for our use, for a time, until we decide that we no longer want to be here — in Valpo, in Chile, in South America, etc. They can be resold, gifted, or left on the side of a street.

This venture in fact has been part of my overarching goal of the Ex-Patriot Drift: to go forth, to discover, to settle in, and then move on. To continually cultivate that which nourishes me, to find this source in new places, new settings…and then to let it go. I have long suffered from an attachment to Objects, Places, Routines and More. Part of my work here involves cultivating sacred home spaces, pouring love and attention and work into them, and then…leaving them.

This doesn’t mean, however, that my time anywhere has a limit. While my Ex-Patriot Drift includes various countries and cities over time, I do not have a plan. I feel the need to stress this, because what ultimately guides me is what feels right. If I end up staying in Valpo three more months or three more years, then so be it — if I’m following my heart, the wind, good consciousness or whatever you want to call it, that’s all I can ask for in this life.

In several more months, I will know what the next step will be. But for now, I’m excited to upcycle, recycle, compost, and create new collaborative works within the walls of this delightful house in Cerro Carcel.

And, for those of you reading who feel like buying a plane ticket to Chile, your room is already waiting for you.