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?”

Bus

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.

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.

How to Travel Economically inside the United States

Aug 26
Posted by Cami Ostman Filed in Advice, Chile 2014, Travel log

In Bill’s presentation at the University of Concepcion on US history and culture, one of his audience members asked him about some economical ways to travel in the United States. He puzzled over the answer because the US is such a big, spread-out, car-dependent country. Most students who travel abroad won’t have access to a car. But when Bill got home, we started brainstorming answers to this question. Bill and I have traveled all over the world and through much of our own country after all and, aside from airfare, we’ve often managed to travel “on a shoestring.” I told him, I’d write a blog post to more fully answer the question of how to travel cheaply through the States.

I know some of you who wander over to my blog sometimes (particularly those of you who are Marathon Maniacs on a budget) may be able to add even more insight. Do comment below to add websites, ideas, and suggestions!

 

So… here are our thoughts.

 

Travel with Others

The very best way to cut costs when traveling is to go with other people. A hotel room or a rental car will cost the same in most cases no matter how many people sleep or ride in it. Traveling with friends also creates a buffer for safety. To travel cheaply, you’ll have to depend at times on strangers for tips or help getting around. There is always safety in numbers, especially in unfamiliar places!

 

imageChoose One Region to Visit

Since the United States is so very vast, most of its own citizens never see the whole thing. When Bill and I travel, we do it region by region. For example, last year we did a “Southwest” trip to Southern California, Arizona, Nevada, and Utah. It’s true that we had a car to travel between the national parks we wanted to see, but we were able to see some of America’s most beautiful Southwest sites in about three weeks. We visited Disneyland, Bryce Canyon, Zion National Park, Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, and still had time to attend a few of Major League Baseball’s spring training games in Peoria.

 

Travel in the Off-Season

The busy travel times in the US are between June 1 and September 1. As soon as school starts for most children (the first of September), airfares drop, hotel prices go down, and common tourist sites clear out. September and October are still warm in most places around the Continental Unites States. April and May are also good times to travel if you want to get outdoors. January, February, and March are great times to travel in the far southern regions where it stays warm year-round. Be sure to check weather reports before you make travel plans.

 

Join Couchsurfing.com

Do you know about couch surfing? Couch surfing is when you sleep in someone’s house for a few nights and then move on to sleep in another person’s house. There is a whole community of people who offer their couches or spare rooms for other people who need a place to stay. You have to be a member of the couchsurfing.com website community to participate. Sign up and check it out. The nice thing about this site is that people can post reviews of the places they have stayed so you can see if someone’s house is clean and safe. You have to be a good guest once you arrive. Couchsurfing.com is a relationship-oriented way to find lodging. But it’s usually free!

Contact Old friends

Informal couch surfing is another way to find free lodging. Have you ever met anyone who said, “Hey, when you come to my city, look me up?” Maybe it was 10 years ago. Don’t worry. Look that person up! Tell them you will be traveling to their town, and when they offer to let you stay at their house, say yes!! The best thing about travel is spending time with local people, right?!!

 

Utilize Youth Hostels

Bill and I often stay at hostels. Hostels are not hotels. They have no services; you usually share a bathroom with other people; and they are not always as new and tidy as you might wish. But, they are usually (not always) pretty cheap. When you know where you will be traveling, google “hostels in Seattle” for example, and read the reviews. We’ve stayed at some terrific hostels, but we’ve also found a few I would never recommend to others. Hosteling International will have suggestions for you, but always do your research and read reviews.

About reviews: We are not extremely picky about where we sleep. I have only two important criteria: cleanliness and safety. I don’t mind if a review says, “The staff was not responsive,” because I don’t need people to take care of me. I do mind if reviews say, “There were insects in my bed,” or “A guy with a tattoo on his face knocked on my door and asked to borrow a cigarette.” Decide what you need in a hostel or hotel and look for that in the reviews.

 

Try Camping

In most cities you can find someplace that rents out camping equipment. You can still camp in mid-September or early October. There are many kinds of campsites: KOAs have showers, flushing toilets, and even wifi sometimes. State Parks or National Parks vary in terms of what kind of amenities they offer. All camping sites will cost you something—usually between about $8 and $30USD depending on how popular they are. The local visitor center can tell you where to camp.

 

Contact the Visitor Center

Speaking of Visitor Centers, this is the first stop Bill and I make no matter where we go around the world (we’ve been to the one here in Concepcion several times already). They are sometimes called Tourist Information Centers or Welcome Centers and they usually have a big “i” on the outside of the building. In most places around the United States, these centers are staffed by local volunteers who know the area very well.

 

Create a Ridebuzz.org Account

Like with couchsurfing.com, ridebuzz.org requires that you have an account to participate. Ridebuzz is a network of people who are offering or looking for rides—across town or across the country. As a rider, you agree to help pay for gas in return for a spot in someone’s car. Common wisdom in the United States is NOT to ever ride in a stranger’s car. Ridebuzz.org is working to create a safe way to share transportation. As with everything I’ve talked about here, always look at reviews and comments of other people on the site AND travel with a friend if you share a ride in someone’s car.

 

Discount Airlines

There are a few airlines which do not list their fares on kayak.com or priceline.com (these are both travel sites that let you compare airplaneprices for airfare or hotels). Discount airlines may have cheap fares inside the US, but you have to go directly to their own sites to find them. Below is a list of some discount airlines we have used. NOTHING on these airlines is free. You will pay extra for water to drink, to check baggage, or even to reserve a seat next to your friend. In order to save money on discount airlines, you have to travel light, bring your own food on board, and be willing to sit anywhere on the airplane.

Allegiant Air

Southwest Air

West Jet

Jetblue Airways

 

Greyhound and Amtrak

In many places around the world, busses are more comfortable than trains. In the United States, Greyhound busses can be a good, inexpensive way to travel short distances (say 200 kilometers), but they are not always comfortable or safe for long distances. If you want long-distance ground travel, the Amtrak train will be more comfortable. And train travel can be quite fun. The problem is that Amtrak is not always cheaper than flying. If you want to travel across the country (from Los Angeles to New York, for example), trains and planes may be comparable in price, but the train will give you a better chance to see the countryside.

 

We hope this gets our students thinking about how they might come visit us someday. Anyone else have tips for US travel on a tight budget? Chime in!!

 

 

On Finding What You Need

Aug 21
Posted by Cami Ostman Filed in Chile 2014

When you move to a new town, for even a short while, everything you need must be re-established. I need a few things to really thrive in this world day by day. Love, time to think, deep friendships, and fresh air all go without saying. I also need dogs, decent wine, good coffee, cultural experiences, interesting running routes, and favorite haunts.

I don’t expect to create a perfect life here in Concepcion, but I do hope to embrace this place and find favorites–special moments that stand out. In the past week here is what I’ve explored…

This past weekend, Bill and I decided to finally brave the busses. First, we hoped on the bus in the direction of San Remo because we understood there was a lake there–Laguna Grande–that had some trails surrounding it. We hoped we might find a place to do a nice long run….

 

Laguna Grande, it turns out, is indeed a beautiful lake with some trails and pathways along the shore, but there isn’t a path encircling the whole lake. We went as far as we could in the direction I was walking in the above video, and then turned around to find the trail that traces the water’s edge out to the peninsula.

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While it looks dry and fairly clearly marked in the above photos, the trail turned muddy not far in–which of course didn’t stop us. We ran/mucked our way through about five miles of forest beside the shore before catching the bus back to Concepcion.

A quick turn around (you know, spit shower, change of clothes, and a little deodorant) saw us walking out the door to catch another bus to a coastal town north of us called Dichato. Apparently Dichato was completely wiped out by the 2010 earthquake/tsunami tragedy, so everything we encountered is a new version of what used to be there. We’d heard that Dichato was a good place to get some excellent seafood. This turned out to be true. OMG, we ate until we were completely stuffed.

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And then took a lovely walk on the beach, partly along the newly constructed seaside walkway.

 

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Little by little, we’re finding what we love and making memories in our temporary home.

Why I Write

Aug 11
Posted by Cami Ostman Filed in Chile 2014, Conversations, Writing

My friend Leah Lax invited me to be a part of her blog tour by answering the questions below about my writing life. Leah is one of the authors in our book Beyond Belief who is currently shopping her own beautiful memoir. She’s a dog-lover, a writing teacher, and a musician. Leah lives in Houston.

Note: I have a sinking feeling that I was supposed to do the interview questions below and then send them on to three other bloggers. I never sent the questions on, so the chain-letter experience will end with me, but after the body of this post, I have listed three bloggers whose sites I go to almost every day. Check them out just for fun.

 

BLOG TOUR INTERVIEW:

  1. What are you working on?

Right now I have a few projects in the works. For one thing, because we are on this grand 5-month adventure to Chile, I’m BLOGGING as regularly as I can! I love blogging precisely because people read what you write almost instantly. Right now, blogging is a way for me to stay connected to community back home.

But I’m also working on a book (working title: Running Undercover—or something like that) which chronicles the history of women’s running. Before women comprised more than 50 percent of the runner population in North America, we were discouraged from running, told our wombs would fall out if we ran long distances, and prevented from signing up for races. We’ve largely overcome all of that in the west, but there are still populations/communities where running is rare, discouraged, or even illegal for women. This book explores the lives of women who buck their respective systems and find their way to running as a subversive activity that ultimately leads to life-changing freedom and self-authority.

  1. How does your work differ from other work in your genre?

I’m sure as a writer I share some qualities with others who write memoir or who write about women’s issues and/or running. Because of my background as a psychotherapist, what I think I bring to the table is a unique blend of story-telling and psychology. In every story I write, fiction or non-fiction, I’m looking for/listening for the metaphor that makes that story applicable to other people’s lives. Everything has a lesson for us if we pay attention. I’m not saying, “Everything happens for a reason.” The idea that everything which happens to us is pre-planned for a specific reason is a philosophy I don’t have much affection for. I don’t feel like I have any idea WHY things happen. What I’m saying is that we can choose to consider each thing that happens to us an opportunity to find a way to grow. WE construct the narratives of our lives. When I write about my own life or about the lives of others, I look for how to tell a meaningful story that has some generalizability. I want people to relate to what I write and to feel encouraged by it.

  1. Why do you write what you do?

Well, I alluded to this above. I want those who read what I write to walk away feeling like they can take hold of life and live it on their own terms. This passion to encourage others probably comes from my years of living inside of a small religious dogma that made me feel there wasn’t much wiggle room for self expression. Now I feel like creative expression is central to my sense of well-being.

  1. How does your writing process work?

Ah… Well, it starts with my calendar. I block out chunks of time and then I put my butt in the chair, open my computer, and place my hands on the keyboard. I always have at least one project going. If I can’t come up with anything to write on any of those projects, I open a blank document and listen to the voice of my deeper self. I write down whatever she tells me. Eventually, I settle down and feel I can get back to one of my projects at hand.

 

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So three blogs I go to very regularly:

A. Pam Helberg. Pam is runner as well as a memoirist, poet, and essayist who is currently studying to become a therapist. I’m watching her journey closely.

B. Wendy Welch. Wendy is my pal in Big Stone Gap. Her life couldn’t be more different than mine, and so I peer into it through her blog with fascination (and sometimes with befuddlement).

C. Dawn Landau. Her website, Tales from the Motherland, features such posts as “I May Be Lame, Clueless and Demanding… But You Still Came out of My Vagina (and other ugly truths).”