The Soundtrack of Experience

Nov 24
Posted by Cami Ostman Filed in Chile 2014, Reflections, Travel log

I’ve never been a very sophisticated music connoisseur. Just to give you an example, my high school boyfriend tried to introduce me to Peter Gabriel back in the day, but I eschewed his attempts to educate my taste and stubbornly continued to listen to Air Supply—until MANY years later when my life-long friend Jason made me a CD of his favorite Peter Gabriel songs and I finally understood what I had been missing. (Sorry I was so unreceptive, T.H., if you’re out there anywhere.)

Even as the simpleton I am, music is still important to me. Years ago I compiled a running play list that has been my steadfast companion through 25 (ish) marathons and God-only-knows how many other races and training runs. And I’ve used that same list for so long I can almost tell you what mile I’m on based on the song that’s playing. There is great security in knowing what comes next (in running and in life).

Just before coming to South America, I updated all my technology to Mac products and, because I didn’t have a ton of time to figure out how to use iTunes (which, by the way, I find decidedly NON-intuitive), I simply loaded my running list and a few of my favorite CDs onto my iPhone. This is what I’ve been listening to for four months. Partly because I already have all my old CDs on my old computer, I didn’t want to invest in buying much music digitally while I was traveling, so I made do with what I had for the most part—favorites to be sure, but not the music that I would have chosen as the soundtrack to my experience—in Concepcion, especially.

The music I brought with me was music for other times in my life:

Supertramp1.  Supertramp, Breakfast in America. This was the music for the first time a boy ever put his arm around me. I was eleven-years-old. Daniel was fourteen, and his family was visiting one of my neighbors. We had a campfire in the neighbor’s back yard one summer evening, and I distinctly remember The Logical Song coming on the radio at the same moment Daniel surreptitiously slipped his arm around my waist. I’ve loved Supertramp ever since!

 

 

David grey2.  David Grey, White Ladder. David Grey was the music of my divorce. I got White Ladder almost the same week I separated from my ex-husband. Grey’s mourning tone and deeply honest lyrics made me cry for what I was losing—both in terms of self and other. You’d think I might not love the CD because it evokes the memory of a difficult time in my life, but divorce for me was as revolutionary as it was sad. It upset the narrative of who I was to such a degree that it opened up possibilities I could have never foreseen.

 

 

DMB3.  Dave Matthews Band, Everyday. DMB originally came into my life at the same time as David Grey but called to a different something inside of me. The band, with Dave’s sexy voice, Boyd Tinsley’s violin (OMG!), and LeRoi Moore’s saxophone (RIP), evoked sensuality for me and in me, a sense that I could/should stop and let the breeze brush against my skin rather than bundling up tight to protect myself from the cold. DMB cracked me and opened me up.

But none of this music is fresh to me now. And as I listened to these three albums over and over for the past four months, I started longing for something new, but what? As I said, I’m not a refined music consumer. So as our travel time wraps up, I’m ready to expose my ears to something new. Looking forward to heading home, I can see that I have the chance to push a reset button on many aspects of my life. I’d like to have some background music for the next chapter. And I’m receptive to suggestions. What do you love right now? What is meaningful to you? You know my email (clostman@live.com) if you have ideas (or you can comment on this post).

 

And PS: I will buy a pitcher of beer for anyone who can teach me how to use iTunes more efficiently.

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.”

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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

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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.

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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,

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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.

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Looking back toward Pucon from the top.

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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.

Weeeee.

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

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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.

 

 

 

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.