Punta Arenas, More Beautiful than Ever

Oct 10
Posted by Cami Ostman Filed in Chile 2014, Race Reports, Travel log

As some of you may know, this isn’t my first time in Chile. When I was in the midst of writing my first book in 2010 and trying to figure out how to get to Antarctica, Bill and I flew down to Bellingham’s Chilean sister city, Punta Arenas, which happens to sit at the very bottom of the continent.

Punta ArenasWe made some friends there and spent nearly two weeks getting to know the city (here’s a link to my old blog post about our visit there). When we got the news this year that we were going to come back to Chile, I hoped we would get down to Punta Arenas for a visit, but time didn’t look like it would permit us to go. Punta Arenas is 1600 miles away from where we are—about the same distance as Phoenix, Arizona is from Bellingham, Washington. And flights aren’t always cheep. But the closer we’ve been getting to the end of Bill’s Fulbright, the more we both kept feeling it would be a shame not to get down to see our sister city and our friends. Bill and I made a decision that I would go on my own. At least one of us should make the journey.

I’ve traveled alone plenty of times—even in foreign countries where I didn’t know the language—so while I wasn’t overly fearful, I did want to prepare. I sat down with Rodrigo, my tutor, and made a list of possible questions I might need to ask, and then off I went on a six hour bus ride to get to Santiago to take a plane to Punta Arenas.

When I got to Punta Arenas eleven hours after saying goodbye to Bill, my amigas, Mackarena and Maritza, were there to pick me up and whisk me away to lunch at a special restaurant in a gorgeous old building that belongs to the Airforce. Their sons, who are four years older, taller, and more handsome than the last time I saw them, came along and regaled me with their English. There’s nothing like growing children to mark the passing of time (and to make a person feel her age)!

From L to R: Maritza, Alvaro, moi, Sebastien, Mackarena

From L to R: Maritza, Alvaro, moi, Sebastien, Mackarena

I stayed with Mackarena the first two nights and Maritza the second two nights.  Mackarena, it turned out, had been training for her first road race—a 3K that was to happen the next morning! I was so excited to be able to do it with her.

Macka’s dad, Andres, joined us for the race too and we both had a good time cheering her on.

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Andres and his wife Aurora were key people in helping us plan a 42K run in Punta Arenas when we were there in 2010. And the moment I saw them, I felt like no time had passed. You know people like that, right? These two souls are people I must have known in another life, familiar and comfortable. Aurora and I can’t understand a word of what the other has to say, but it doesn’t matter. Friendship doesn’t always have to be based on language.

Aurora made lunch of seafood and rice after the race and we lingered at the table for a couple of hours catching up until I was stuffed and ready to roll into bed. In Chile, lunch is the solid meal of each day and dinner is only a bit of bread with jam or cold cuts (in fact, I’ve noticed that my Chilean friends are downright confused about what to do with me at dinner time—worried they aren’t feeding me properly in spite of the fact that I reassure them I ate enough at lunch to last me two days).

Monday I visited Colegio Miguel de Cervantes for a few hours. This is the colegio (a private elementary and high school) that Bellingham has a longstanding exchange with. Each year high school students from Miguel de Cervantes visit us, stay with host families, and visit our local high schools. In the picture below are the three who came last year (on the right) and the three who will come this year (on the left). In my opinion, the brilliance of the sister city program is in informal exchanges like this one. I say “informal” because there’s no profit made by anyone in a sister city exchange. Students don’t apply to an organization that runs like a business. These students have been chosen by their principal, Maria Angelica, and they will stay with Bellinghamsters who know of (and in some cases have traveled to) Punta Arenas and who share in a long-term citizen-to-citizen commitment.

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The next day (Tuesday) I had lunch with Silvana Camelio, a world class adventure athlete (check out her video below) who has participated in the Patagonia Expedition Race (Seriously? Look at the expedition race website—OMG!!!).

Silvana has participated twice in Bellingham’s Ski to Sea relay, so Bill and I met her back at home when she gave a slideshow of her 2013 expedition race at Back Country Essentials. Her husband Enrique and her 13-year-old daughter Sofia joined us at lunch for one of my HEALTHIEST and most delicious Chilean meals so far. Silvana is a rocking’ cook in addition to being one of the most inspirational humans on the planet. Some people can do everything…. I don’t envy, I just admire. ;)

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And then Silvana took me up to Club Andino, Punta Arenas’ ski club, which serves for hiking and running in the off season.

View of Punta Arenas from Club Andino

View of Punta Arenas from Club Andino

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Taking a walk on Club Andino's trails

Taking a walk on Club Andino’s trails

When Silvana took me back to Maritza’s house, I had only one more wake-up before it was time to get on the plane to come “home” to Conce. There is a superstition that says if you kiss the toe on the statue in the town square you are certain to return to Punta Arenas:

It worked last time. Let's see if it works again!

It worked last time. Let’s see if it works again!

Notice I’m holding Macka’s little dog Bart in the picture? A special benefit of this trip was that I got some badly needed dog love.

Wednesday morning I hopped on the plane and started the journey back to Concepcion.  The view from the plane flooded me with awe. Even knowing that my pictures couldn’t do justice to the lonely land I saw below, I couldn’t help but snap picture after picture. So I leave you with some images from the bottom of the Americas. Love to my friends there. Until we meet again!!

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Up, Down, and Up Again

Oct 1
Posted by Cami Ostman Filed in Chile 2014, Travel log, Writing

Well, I suppose it’s inevitable that Bill and I would catch colds. You don’t leave summer and arrive to a blast of winter without a shock to the system. We had a first short bout with the flu/cold but tried not to let it keep us down.

Last week we visited Lenga, and then the mine in the town of Lota (where former miners lead tours 930 yards under the water), after taking a walk in that city’s lovely private park.

Getting ready to go underground

Getting ready to go underground

 

Not much air down here.

Not much air down here.

The next day we caught round two of what I call “this nasty, never-ending virus.” And while we definitely spent too much time watching CNN and fretting over the state of the world as we were recovering, we also managed to make the best of our low energy.

For one thing, we buckled down to read essays. Before we came to Concepcion, Bill and I both thought long and hard about whether or not to actually assign essays in the classes he was to teach about academic writing. I, for one, voted yes. How can you teach writing without actually asking students to write? As an author, writing is my passion, and while I’m well aware that not everyone loves the writing process, it’s sort of a personal mission of mine to spread the word that, “Hey, writing is fun. You should try it.” So we agreed that we would assign a seven-paragraph essay to be based on interviews students would conduct on topics of their choosing.

Although giving conscientious feedback on so many essays has been an arduous task, reading them has turned out to be the best possible way for US to learn about Chile through the eyes of her up-and-coming generation of educators.

We’ve read essays about the following topics (just to name a few):

  • Abortion (Chile, according to students, is one of only a handful of countries that has absolutely no legal provision for abortion of any kind, regardless of the health of the mother or the advent of a pregnancy due to rape—no matter how young the victim)
  • Why student protests are important
  • Chilean attitudes about gender, the legalization of marijuana, corporal punishment, and same-sex marriage
  • The centralization of culture, business, and government in Santiago
  • Gun ownership in Chile
  • High taxes on books and what people think should be done about such taxes

Of course we didn’t create our assignment to give ourselves an education about Chile’s social and political issues, but we’ve been delighted that this has been the outcome. We are absolutely impressed at how bright and thoughtful students at the Universidad de Concepcion are. So impressed, in fact, we feel sure that if they represent the quality of the world’s next generation, the future is much brighter than CNN would lead us to believe

These past few days we are gradually feeling better. We’ve been well enough to enjoy meals and get-togethers with new friends—in spite of continued nose-blowing and plenty of “productive coughing” and hacking.

Our new friend Karla had us over on Friday and let us spend the evening with her family (including her two golden retrievers). Then Saturday we enjoyed a gallery show with Cecilia.

With Cecilia and her friend, artists, Marcela Krause

Cecilia and her friend, artista, Marcela Krause, and another friend

 

Bill, art gazing

Bill, art gazing

And then later in the day, we drove up and down some steep winding hills with Lilian and her family to reach the fishing town of Tumbes, where we had an awesome lunch.

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On the ride home from Tumbes. L to R: Bill, moi, Ellie, Laura

On the ride home from Tumbes. L to R: Bill, moi, Ellie, Laura

Monday night we had the most BEAUTIFUL dinner with Maria Edith and Cecilia.

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From L to R: Bill, Cecilia, moi, Maria Edith

From L to R: Bill, Cecilia, moi, Maria Edith

And while I didn’t get pictures of it, yesterday we spent one sweet hour with another Cecilia’s class of life-long learners who ranged between ages 25 and 85!!

Whew! No time to be sick. What fun.

 

 

 

Running Ocean Tour–trail running in Tome

Sep 16
Posted by Cami Ostman Filed in Chile 2014, Race Reports

Well, I’ll be honest with you. Today I would have sold Bill for an hour at a Starbucks. I was feeling a little homesick sitting at our apartment, wishing I had a coffee haunt to hang out in and loiter unmolested with my computer open for a little while. And then I went up to the university to see Bill and I bumped into Pablo, one of my favorite teachers in the English department. I suddenly felt sad that we are half-way through our Fulbright time here in Concepcion. Can you belong to two places? I’m starting to feel that I could.

This last weekend Bill and I went with another Fulbright family to Punta de Parra to run a trail race. Every year at this time, we participate in the Fairhaven Waterfront 15 K in Bellingham, and this year we were sad to miss the event. So Bill found a 14 K by the water out near Tome (with an accent on the “e” but I don’t know how to do that on my keyboard) to fill our need to run in the sun along the coast. Scott (who is doing his Fulbright at U de C in geology) and his wife Tania and children (Dominick, 7, and Elena, 4) joined us so Tania could participate in the race too.

My foot is still bothering me (people, why??), so I only signed up for the 7 K trail run. We had a super gorgeous day.

Scott and Elena, Bill, Tania, and Dominick

Scott and Elena, Bill, Tania, and Dominick

 

Here we are before the race!

Here we are before the race!

 

I’m glad, to tell you the truth, that I only signed up for the 7 K because the course was a double lollipop with a monster one-mile long hill right in the middle. Those of you who know me know that I’ve never met a hill I loved, so once is always enough. The course started right on the sandy beach and then went along a trail for almost a mile before we hit a tunnel that required a headlamp to navigate. Then up the hill we went. For a mile. And then down the next hill—for a mile—and through some pretty serious mud. Here’s my video from the beginning of the race:

 

Bill and Tania finished their 14K.

Tania coming back across the sand--being met by her biggest fans

Tania coming back across the sand–being met by her biggest fans

 

Bill, racing till the end

Bill, racing till the end

 

Right after the grown-ups completed their races, there was a kids’ race that Dominick had signed up for—a 2.5K. I volunteered to run with him because Tania had just crossed the finish line and had hardly had five minutes to recover. The children’s race was **supposed to** turn around at the tunnel, but no one told us that (well, to be fair, they may have mentioned it, but since I don’t speak Spanish…). Dominick and I picked our way through the dark tunnel along with about 5 other adults and ten children and then kept running on the other side, all the while looking for a volunteer or a sign about where we should turn around. It wasn’t until we all reached the giant hill that we realized there was no way we were still on the children’s course and turned back en masse to braille our way through the tunnel again. Meanwhile, back at the starting line, everyone started to get concerned about what happened to the children.

There was a group of young police-in-training at the race (they are called Carabineros, but I call them Habaneros) who naturally volunteered to trek back out on the trail and save the children. Tania watched them sail by in their matching green shorts and tank tops at about the same time I received a text… “Are you lost?”

“We WERE lost, but we’re on our way now,” I wrote.

By this time, Dominick was convinced that he was in first place because we were in front of the group of kids behind us. I assured him that we were definitely in first place in our wave.

I’m pretty sure we ran closer to 5K, but we embraced a sense of adventure, and I shared my motto with Dominick: Every wrong turn is just a good story waiting to be told. We spent the rest of the race talking about the adventure stories we could tell when we crossed the finish line.

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After the race, the Habaneros stopped in their bus to pick us up as we were on our way to catch the public bus back to Concepcion and gave us a ride all the way home. Saved the day again!!

 

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Once we got home and showered off the mud, Bill and I went up to the university to hang out at an event they were throwing in honor of Fiestas Patrias (Independence).

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Quite a lot of fun. Now we are off to some more local adventures this week to take advantage of the holiday.

Independence Celebration and Beer Festival

Sep 7
Posted by Cami Ostman Filed in Chile 2014, Current Events, Travel log

Bill received an email on Thursday announcing that his Friday classes would be cancelled, as would all afternoon classes at Universidad de Concepcion, because the student union had decided to have its big annual “ramada” party to celebrate Chile’s independence day. Faculty members told us that university officials were concerned about safety and wanted all staff out of their buildings and off the campus by 12:30. Naturally, Bill and I wanted to see what kind of party could close down a big campus like U de C and require all adults to get out of Dodge, so we decided to walk up to campus and have a look around.

Since my Spanish instructor had told me that activities would commence at about 2pm and go on until around 9 or 10 in the evening, we thought that 3:00 would be a good time to wander through the party (after things got started but before complete debauchery ensued).

By the time we got up to the campus, students were still pouring in in droves. Apparently, though U de C hosts the event, people come from all of the other campuses in town. They set up tents to sell beer and a drink they call “teremoto” or “earthquake.” Bill bought a light beer from one of the stalls to start with… you know, to support the students…

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but we got curious about what the teremoto was and felt we simply had to try one—as a cultural experience.  The recipe calls for sweet white wine, Pisco (Chile’s special liquor), pineapple ice-cream, and sugar. Then it is served in a one liter glass.

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I tried to help with it, but it was SOOO, SOOO sweet, and I’m afraid Bill had to manage most of it on his own.

Students simply piled onto the campus until every inch of this area was filled.

And as you can hear in the video, they had a good quality sound system set up so that we could hear the music quite easily from inside of our house a few blocks away.

Before heading home to listen to the party from a distance, Bill and I went out to get pizza at The Deli House, one of my favorite restaurants close to the campus (because they have decent coffee and English on the menu). When the waiter brought the bill, Bill said, “I assume you have money to pay for this?” I felt my face flush red with panic, because… well… no, I didn’t have any cash. Bill ALWAYS has cash. ALWAYS.

Bill always has cash except when he’s been warned about pickpockets being plentiful at an event we weren’t really advised to go to in the first place. He’d left his wallet at home so it could’t get ripped off while we were walking amidst the crowds and sipping on a teremoto among the ramada tents. And he had spent what he had brought along on the teremoto.

He quickly explained to the restaurant staff that he was leaving me as collateral while he ran home (10 minutes away) to get some money. Geez! Good thing we both had a sense of humor about it, which is more than I can say about our waiter—who was punching out and clearly wanted to collect his tip and get to the par-tay. But anyway, Bill was back in about 20 minutes and we avoided having to pull a shameful “perro muerto” (literally: dead dog, or to stiff someone on what you owe them) only to slink back the next day to pay and explain what happened.

Yesterday:

We went to a beer tasting festival. I’m always astounded that my husband, who sometimes confuses the escape button on the keyboard with the power button, thus turning off his computer in the middle of whatever he’s doing, can find ANY event on the internet that involves running or beer. Today it was beer.

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While I’m not typically a huge fan of beer (I know… I can hear the boos), I always go with Bill to beer festivals because I can’t stand the idea that fun is being had without me. So I tagged along. And I’m so glad I did. I found a good stout (which I do like) and sat and sipped while Bill circulated and tasted everything there was to taste. He ended up buying a beer from the same fellow who sold me my stout, and then we settled in to watch the band and the dancing. Chile’s national dance is La Cueca. Check it out.

 

 

There was also bull-riding for the children and plenty of Antichocos (Chilean shish kabobs) for sale. We stayed for about three hours and left smelling of BBQ.

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We ended the day by attending the Sinfonica at the Teatro Universidad de Concepcion. Smelling of charcoal and beer, we sat in a full house of Chileans as they enjoyed their national classical music. The concert (called Grande Chilenos Sinfonica) featured 18 pieces by Chilean composers. The symphony was accompanied by vocalists Claudia Melgarejo, Miguel Angel Pellao, Ramiro Vera, and the Coro Universidad de Concepcion—all conducted by Carlos Traverso.

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I don’t know much about music in general. Those who are familiar with my tastes would call me a throwback to the disco age. But I thoroughly and completely enjoyed the concert as few others I’ve ever attended. Both Bill and I were awed. The music was surprising. Just when you felt like you were moving with it, the direction changed and the mood shifted. I wish I had the words to describe it, but I feel like I did when I first started tasting wine and didn’t know to describe a pinot noir as “earthy” or “full-bodied.” And I wish I could have a recording of the whole thing! My favorite piece was a long one called Fantasia Sinfonica that made us feel like we were watching a war. One side is winning, and then the opponent gains ground so our side restrategizes and gathers strength. They grow tired though, and need to take a rest. During furlough, a love affair breaks out between the general and a woman he met at a party one night, which gives him new inspiration. So he goes back into the fighting with renewed vigor and moves his troops to the right and then to the left and the right again. And finally, victory is gained and the whole country celebrates with a wedding.

Anyway… that’s what it felt like.

We came home and fell into bed with the sense that we had really experienced Chile.

Santiago and Talcahuano

Aug 31
Posted by Cami Ostman Filed in Chile 2014, Race Reports

Have a seat and grab a cup of joe. I have SO many updates. But I’ll post pics to keep you interested.

Last Thursday Bill and I flew up to Santiago for a Fulbright function. He needed to make a presentation about his project in front of the Fulbright staff and six other Fulbright grantees.

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And then the Fulbright staff wined and dined us all for a couple of days. Needless to day, Bill did a fabulous job and made special mention of Lilian Gomez, Maria Edith Larenas, and Marcela Cabrera, the three women who have been the backbone of his/our experience. One thing we learned from sitting in on other presentations is that in Chile, someone based at the local university really must champion the presence of a Fulbright scholar in order for the commission to approve him or her. We are so grateful to those who championed Bill’s application!

After Bill’s presentation, he and I walked to the Parque Metropolitano and took the funicular up to see the Virgen Cumbre (the Virgin’s Summit). The view was… what can I say? Mind-boggling! A city of over 6 million people must be big, of course, but down inside any given barrio, a person can never get a sense of the breadth such a number must mean to an area. Look at this city! If it weren’t for the Andes Mountains, it would spread out in every direction.

The day after the presentations, Fulbright took us all out to lunch and on a tour of the Palacio de Moneda where the president of Chile has her office (notice I said “her?” Did you know that Chile, Argentina, and Brazil all have female presidents? Let’s get with the program USA). The Palacio de Moneda was once Chile’s mint, and is also the place from which Salvador Allende was ousted on September 11, 1973. The Chileans feel that September 11th is a truly worrisome day, so most years the Palacio closes down on the date.

We flew home in a happy exhaustion, rested yesterday, and then got up early today to make our way by bus to a nearby town called Talcahuano for a race. Bill had tried for two weeks to get us registered for the 10K in Talcahuano, but the website seemingly wouldn’t accept foreign credit cards so each attempt failed. Finally, out of sheer defeat, he signed us up for the free 3K so we could at least have the experience of being at the race. When we went to the mall to pick up our numbers, we were told that the free race didn’t have any numbers; it was just a fun run. BUT, we could sign up for the 10K in person and pay cash for our numbers if we wanted to. So we did.

Talcahuano was leveled by the tsunami (they’re called “maremotos” here) after the 2010 earthquake, and much of the town is still in the process of being rebuilt.

The pier where the race started was new–fresh bricks on the ground and new buildings along the edge of the water–but across the street the buildings are still crumbling and some of the roads are broken to pieces.

You can see from my video that Talcahuano is a fishing town. Colorful houses and boats flank the shoreline. It is also the site of one of Chile’s major naval bases.

…where dogs and sea lions co-exist, if not co-mingle.

The race itself didn’t have a remarkably interesting course. An out-and-back entirely on the road, this was a pretty straightforward, flat 10K, but what WAS very cool was the energy of the event. Runners warmed up with 20 minutes of Zumba (which I love).

And then they cooled us down with more Zumba after the race.

Bill won first place in his division…

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…and I won THIRD place in my division (there might have only been three 47ish females in the race, but what the heck). You can see in the picture below that one of the military leaders (on the right) was present to present medals and the mayor (the man in the blue coat on the left) congratulated runners as well. What an honor!

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Some other random pics of our race day:

 

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Such fun….