When Things Don’t Go As Planned

Nov 16
Posted by Cami Ostman Filed in Chile 2014

1Cami with the continents

I’ve traveled to about 20 different countries on this planet so far in my life (most of those to pursue my love of running), and—although it seems rather like a miracle—I have never, ever missed a train, plane, or bus due to my own mistake. Oh sure, there have been delays due to weather or airline issues, but I’ve always been on time for my departures, waiting, ready to load my carry-on luggage and to climb aboard.

This week my record ended.

Bill and I were waiting in the living room of our hostel to take an overnight bus from the Lakes District in Chile up to Santiago, where we then planned to take a subway to the Brazilian consulate to pick up our passports and visas for the next leg of our travel adventures across the South American continent. It was 9:00pm. I was reading to stay occupied, unworried about anything because we had another hour before we needed to take the five-minute walk to the bus station.

Bill, always managing details and keeping us on track, said, “Hey Cami, you have the tickets, right?”


I did. I put my e-reader down to pull the tickets out of my bag and was disappointed to notice that we were to have been aboard that bus at 20:20. That’s 8:20pm, amigos. We had both mistakenly read the time as 10:20, an easy mistake since we don’t use the twenty-four hour clock in the United States very often.


There were a number of immediate consequences to our mistake.

  1. We lost more than $120 in bus fare/sleeping quarters that night.
  2. Because we couldn’t get another bus until the morning, we had to stay one more night at the hostel we’d been lodging at.
  3. We had to spend the next day on the bus and to get a room in Santiago the following night (bringing the extra money spent to over $200—in addition to the $120 in lost bus fare).
  4. The cap was that the day we ACTUALLY went to get our visas (as opposed to the day we were SUPPOSED to have gotten them), the metros malfunctioned in the whole city and we hot-footed eight miles through crowded streets to pick them up (and yes, it is a good thing we’re runners and can do eight miles without batting an eye).

IMG_1547Later that day, passports in hand, worn out and waiting for yet another bus, Bill and I, not surprisingly, got into a heated discussion. He contended that once we’d missed the bus, everything had subsequently gone wrong over the past two days. I contended, that everything had gone perfectly—that we’d had an exciting two days we would have missed out on if we’d caught our original bus on time. Two perspectives. Story of our lives.

My take on our events was more than just a Pollyanna outlook. The thing is, for a long time, I have had this sneaking suspicion that wrong turns, missed opportunities, screw-ups, accidents, even strike-outs, divorces, and mistakes of all kinds are really opportunities for me to grow up and rise to the best of who I can be. And when I show up as my best self, I feel pretty good—even in messy situations. Don’t mishear me. I’m not saying, “When God closes a door, S/He opens a window.” I don’t know that I necessarily believe every accident leads to a happy ending. I also don’t always have the energy or wherewithal to bring my best self to difficult scenarios, but it’s my goal.

A few weeks ago I was talking to my youngest brother about a difficult time he’s been going through in his life—a really, really hard time. My heart was breaking over the way life was slamming him, but I’d been thinking about this idea that struggles—small or big—are chances to grow, and I asked him about it. “What if this whole crazy hard time is your best chance to become everything you always hoped you could be?” I asked him.

Without missing a beat, he said. “I think it is.” And I was glad to hear him say so, because then I knew he would be okay.

Believing you can make something meaningful for yourself in a difficult situation is empowering. Victor Frankl said, “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” He’s right, right? We have to look at what we have power over: Sometimes only ourselves. Especially the older we get, as we realize we don’t have forever to grab hold of life and REALLY live it, we have to make the ecosystem of our inner life a healthy place to live.

I have to give Bill credit. He eventually agreed that “wrong” was the “wrong” word and that “not as planned” was an adequate description of our foibles. And I allowed that a bit of disappointment was certainly in order before we had to look at the bright side of things. Shifting perspectives. Story of our lives.

To the Top of Villarrica

Nov 12
Posted by Cami Ostman Filed in Chile 2014, Travel log

My senior class in high school voted me “friendliest” and “sunniest smile” the year we graduated. One thing they most certainly did not vote me was “most likely to participate in adventure/extreme sports.” And, although I think of myself as an extreme runner, I’ve never been interested in mountain sports. (Bellinghamsters forgive me for what I’m about to say.) For example, I’ve never skied, never snow-boarded or snow-shoed, never even gone sledding or inner-tubing down a mountain as an adult. The fact is, I’m not a big fan of snow, and where I live, that’s sort of a crime.

But when I saw Villarrica (Chile’s most active volcano whose steam you can see from a distance every day) here in Pucon, Chile, I said, “I’ve gotta climb that.”


I’m not sure why. Bill has repeatedly asked me back home to climb Mount Baker with him and I’ve always said, “Naw, you go ahead.” This time, though, I felt compelled—partly because we’re here in Chile. Somehow in your own backyard you know you can take advantage of natural beauty anytime. But here in my temporary home, I’d better jump at my chances to live out loud while the jumping is good.

We started our day by being outfitted for the weather conditions


and then made our way to the base of the volcano by 8am where we began our climb to the summit (at 2860 meters/9,380 ft) with the help of three competent, good-natured guides who taught us how to use our equipment and watched out for our safety with diligence (thanks VolcAn Villarica!).

Our lead guide fastening my crampons.

Our lead guide fastening my crampons.















This was my first time, as I said, to spend the day on the snow and I was anxious—though confident that if making it to the top was a matter of endurance, I could do it. I’m nothing if not patient with my body’s ability to take me the distance.

The first part of the ascent was on soft snow that cooperated nicely with our slow-stepping up the incline. Our guides were patient and careful to make sure everyone was using his/her equipment properly, so my confidence grew that if the average tourist could make it to the top with such instruction, I could too.

On the way up, we trudged. This climb reminded me of marathon running in a way. For one thing, the whole climb would take more than five hours—my average marathon finishing time. For another thing, I was alone, even though I wasn’t. We all walked in one long single-file line,


so I didn’t have the chance to talk to anyone while we were picking our way to the summit. That meant that I was in my head with my thoughts.

I reflected on how much endurance activities are compact versions of big-scale life. First you decide to take something on, then you get started, then you get tired and consider quitting. Finally you decide to push to the end and you finish the task.

Four of the people who started with us chose to abort their climb at the last rest stop. I don’t have any judgment of people who give things a try and then quit them. I’ve done it myself and probably will do it again. You can’t always know when you start something if it’s for you (this is true for almost anything: a job, a new hobby, even love affairs). Yesterday, I thought about quitting too. “Yeah, there’s the top. I get the idea. No need to put in the last 45 minutes. I’ve proven my point,” I thought—for about 10 seconds. Then I pushed the idea of turning back out of my mind and pressed on.

At about 1:30, Bill and I summited along with five other people.




Looking back toward Pucon from the top.


Looking into the volcanic crater.



Getting down the volcano was the fun part. We trekked back over the hard packed snow and ice for less than an hour and then used plastic sleds to cruise down the wet snow for the better part of the distance.


I wish my senior class had the chance to vote again for who I would turn out to be!



What? Is it over??

Oct 26
Posted by Cami Ostman Filed in Chile 2014, Race Reports, Reflections

I can truly not believe that we are at the end of our time in Concepcion. Three months can shift a person’s perspective, change a mindset. I’m not even really sure how to reflect on this experience in a coherent way, but I’m going to give it shot. I’ll warn you now this’ll be a long blog post (longer than the recommended 800 words).


First, “our” students:

Bill and I have met something like 200 students in the English department at Universidad de Concepcion. Most of those whom we have met were in classes that Bill led through an essay-writing project (with me assisting). The assignment was to write a seven-paragraph opinion essay based on interviews students did with four interviewees. The topics were meant to be about issues that they were genuinely interested in, things they talk about with their friends over beer. We hope that students learned something from us, but we know we learned from them (see previous post for topics the students covered).

As important to me as the educational aspect of our time with students, however, is the time we had to get to know students on a personal level. Most recently, the Pedagogia Department put on an English Week Congress that really let students and instructors alike shine. I, for one, sat with a lot of warm feelings in my heart as I listened to instructors talk to students with genuine collegiality as they discussed their doctoral dissertations and/or successful projects they’ve done in classes. And students shared their gifts with faculty and classmates in the form of poster sessions and artistic performances. I’m only grateful that Bill’s Fulbright was granted during a time when we could have the opportunity to see the accomplishment of this congress.

Once the congress was over, so were Bill’s official duties. Students from third year threw us a party.



And now we’ve had a chance to hang out with a few students individually.


Smoothies with Remigio and Paulina.

Smoothies with Remigio and Paulina.


With (R to L): Bob, Camila, Soledad, Leiko, Bill, mio, Conny, & German. Thank you all for teaching us about the Huascar and for spending the day with us!!

With (R to L): Bob, Camila, Soledad, Leiko, Bill, moi, Conny, & German. Thank you all for teaching us about the Huascar and for spending the day with us!!


And now I’m feeling bereft that we haven’t had the chance to get to know each person in the English Teaching career in a personal way. Dear students, we will never forget you (and if you want to make certain of that, “friend” me on Facebook). I hope you know what a special group you are. Please don’t take for granted the effort your teachers put into helping you grow and learn. They have created an environment unlike any you’ll ever be a part of again, so be sure you truly take advantage of it. In fact, we know you are doing just that because we’ve watched you put yourselves into your studies and your relationships in the department with a whole-hearted commitment. Thank you for welcoming us into your community and for trusting us to be your teachers for a short time, too.


Next, our friends:

I know I speak for both Bill and me when I say that we’ve cherished our time with new friends. I plan to say thanks individually to those of you who have made this experience meaningful (partly because I’m not sure everyone in the world—especially the professors in the department—wants their name publicly put up on someone’s blog), but one thing I want to say here is that leaving is going to be painful. At the moment, I can barely think about the fact that we only have six days left in Concepcion. How can a place become your home so quickly? How can it climb into your heart so you know it will stay there your whole life? It can happen because people take the time to invite you to coffee or to have lunch with you. Because they take the time to let you sit in their offices and talk about the weekend. It can happen because people trust you with the tender things in their lives; they tell you about themselves and believe that you’ll be kind, that you’ll respect where they are on life’s journey.

During this time in Conce, we have been invited into the lives of those we now think of as friends. Thank you.


Now, the Running Community:

Bill ran his first race about three days after we arrived here in Conce. Before we came down here, we tried to find out if there was a running club we could connect with, but Google didn’t direct us to anything useful. Once we got down here however, we discovered Conce Running, Talcahuano Runners, Full Runners, Club Atlético Chiguayante, among other groups. In the last three weeks alone, I’ve done four races (Bill did the first three).

October 12—The Gran Concepcion Half Marathon.

Before the race with Juan, Tania, moi, and Bill

Before the race with Juan, Tania, moi, and Bill


October 19—The BioBio Half Marathon in Los Angeles.


Bill on the podium in Los Angeles, of course!

Bill on the podium in Los Angeles, of course!

Yesterday—The Desafio a la Reserva Nacional Nonguen (the National Reserve Challenge): A monster 10K that kicked my ass and took me two hours to complete. Straight UP. Straight DOWN. That is all.

Bill uphil climbCami in Chiguayante









Today—The Corrida Estadio Espanol Chiguayante, 5K (Bill did the 20K yesterday and had blisters too nasty to let him consider running today.)


Last race in Chile.  ;(

Last race in Chile. ;(


Bill's brother (Bob) and sister-in-law (Leiko) are visiting us in Chile. They are runners, too!!

Bill’s brother (Bob) and sister-in-law (Leiko) are visiting us in Chile. They are runners, too!!


What we have learned by doing these races is what we already knew. Runners rock. No matter that we could scarcely understand anything they said, the runners we saw over and over at each race greeted us like old friends with high fives and thumbs up. Runners, if you find your way to my blog, all I have to say is: “Bill y yo queremos agradecer a todos los corredores en el Gran Concepción por su apoyo y amistad. Salimos de Concepción el sábado después de tres meses maravillosos aquí . Si vienes a correr una carrera en el estado de Washington ( en los EE.UU.) , por favor llame a nosotros.”


Bill with his prime "competition" after the crazy 20K trail race.

Bill with Benjamin, his prime “competition” who fearlessly flies down hills, after the crazy 20K trail race.


With our new friend Hanss before the trail run.

With our new friend Hanss before the trail run.


Finally, the places we’ve visited:

Concepcion is not a tourist town. This is a place where people live and work and study (and run!). With the exception of three short trips (to Santiago, Punta Arenas, and Los Angeles/Temuco), I’ve stayed in the greater Concepcion area—and made the most of what Gran Concepcion has to offer. Bill and I regularly hopped on busses to get to nearby communities. Talcuahano is my favorite local town—maybe because this is where I ran my first Chilean race, did my first pre-race Zumba, and won my first third-place medal. We also visited Dichato, Tome, Penco, San Pedro, Nonguen, Chiguayante, Hualpen, Coronel, Lota, Lenga, and Tumbes (for pics of these places, you’ll have to come see my slide show when I get back).


And finally, finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my communication experts. Rodrigo met with me twice a week and tried indefatigably to teach me Spanish syntax and pronunciation. In the end, he says I have improved, though I can hardly see it.

My Spanish classmates and our teacher, Elena, have done their best to support me in the journey to be able to function.

But perhaps my best teacher has been Julio, the caretaker at our apartment house. Patiently, and with a lot of good humor, he has interacted with me without a stitch of frustration even when all I can say is, “Lo siento, Julio. No entiendo.”

Geez, is it really time to leave? Fortunately, I plan to come back at the beginning of December to say goodbye one more time.

Concepcion, I love you.

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.


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.


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. 😉


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



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!!





















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.




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.













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.