A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: georgiaellen

Cordilleras con caballos

Hola amigos,

It's currently Tuesday morning after the long weekend and I just did something really stupid... I woke up an hour early and now I'm at school at 8am...durrrrrrrrpy durp. So I figured I'd use this time to write.

I think I last left off on Friday, and since then I've been very busy... On Saturday morning at 10am I met a group at the school, which included my friend Nina, a Canadian guy Christian, a German Katarin, the Korean couple in my class Ava and Lorenzo, and two other Koreans that I don't know. We got picked up in a van and stopped to buy supplies, so I bought some yoghurt for breakfast. However once we arrived at the horse ranch they told us we were having the asado (BBQ) right away. Nina and I were pretty annoyed because we'd just eaten and thought the asado was afterwards, but it was pretty delicious - chorizo, carne, lechuga, arroz - so we just sucked it up and ate again!

Eventually by about 1pm we got on our horses. I was kind of sick of waiting around but very quickly got in a great mood, as the ride was so much fun. We went down through small rivers, through lots of bush, and had the most beautiful views of the Cordillera mountains, both snowy and green. Eventually we stopped off in some shade and went for a walk through to a small waterfall, which had a beautiful view as well. We then rode back and went through some wide fields and we could see below a rodeo competition - our instructors looked like cowboys, and it was pretty funny. When we got back to the ranch our driver gave everyone massages and dropped people home, but dropped Nina and I in Larrastaria so that we could get ice cream. Emporio La Rosa was packed - the sun had come out around midday which we hadn't expected from the grey, unpromising morning, and so the ice cream shop was full, but I eventually got Miel y Canela (Honey and Cinnamon) - neither of which were amazing. I don't really see what's so special about it to be honest, but everyone else seems to go gaga about it.

Eventually we headed home, I hung out with a few people at Casa Loca, and then went to bed early.

The next morning I was up bright and early as I had an 8am bus to Valparaiso. I had thought the bus station was at Universidad de Chile which is near Santa Lucia (a 40 minute walk), but soon realised that it was much further, at Universidad de Santiago (there are so many bloody universities in this city!). After walking for about 20 minutes I got in a taxi, which cost me $10, double the amount of my actual bus ticket to Valpo, but whatever! I then eventually got to the bus station, found my stop, read Harry Potter and waited.

The bus was a double decker and amazingly nice - the seats turned into pretty much full beds, and a movie played (though in Spanish). And my ticket was only $5! Hopefully I get a bus so nice to La Serena and Atacama.

After a nice nap on the bus we arrived at Valparaiso at 9.30. It was pretty early, and a Sunday, so not much was happening, but there were some flea markets being set up which was cute. I got a map from the bus station and walked up to Pablo Neruda's house, as I'd heard it had good views. On the way I met two other nomads, a girl from Singapore named Ann and a guy named Fabio (I think, I never quite heard it right) from Chile, who was an employee of Ann's husband. We walked around together, but didn't go into La Sebastiana (Pablo Neruda's house - he has three, others in Santiago and Isla Negra), cos none of us were really interested. We then walked down through the lanes, but at one point Ann stopped because she smelt tear gas. I didn't know what she was talking about, and kept walking until I felt it too, stinging my nose and mouth. There were police and a large van nearby so I assume there was a riot of some sort - there was a festival on that day, and there's lots of political graffiti (as well as great street art) in Valpo. We then got some lunch, and went up the acensor concepcion (like an inclinator) and just walked around for a while, listening to the beats of the festival below. Eventually we headed down to the harbour, and then I convinced them to join me in Viña del Mar for the afternoon and together we stopped a bus and got on.

Viña was about 10 minutes away by bus along the coast, but seems like a completely different state. It's basically just a city with a nice beach, but not a particularly special beach. We saw the 'flower clock', walked along the promenade and got some beers at a pretty fancy restaurant (which charged me $5 for a water! Haha). After lazing by the beautiful view for a while we went for a walk to find the park La Quinta Vergura, which is apparently very beautiful. Unfortunately we arrived at 6.25 and we found out (at the gate) that it closed at 6!

We walked back to the beach and Ann and Fabio went back to Valpo, and I sat by the beach with an ice cream waiting for the sunset and reading Harry Potter. I got to see the start of the sunset but unfortunately had to leave for my bus at 8.30. On the way I bumped in to Lindsay and Sam from school (they're great!) and soon enough I was on the bus home, then on the metro and in bed.

Which brings us to yesterday - which ended up being quite an adventure! It's a long weekend so we had Monday off and Mariana and I decided to try to visit the hot springs in Cajon del Maipo. We were meant to go with Rosangela and Nina, but waited for 25 minutes and they didn't show (which I have now realised is because my phone screwed up something with daylight savings and hence I'm at school an hour early!).

Together Mariana and I headed to Bellavista de La Florida metro, which was waaaay out - but it was cool seeing out of the centre of the city. It was the sort of place they'd put an ikea (I wish!). That's where the main bus station is, and eventually we found one to take us to San Jose del Maipo, but the man at the station said the hot springs were closed or we couldn't get a bus or something. We were a bit disappointed but decided that we had a spare day and would just get on a bus and see what happens anyway.

After about an hour and a half we were engulfed in mountains and little road side shacks, which eventually turned into a large cluster of little shacks and small roads - the town of San Jose del Maipo.

We spoke to Claudia at the tourist office, who Irene had recommended me to, but figured that everything was a bit too expensive and not do-able, and eventually settled on drinking some beers in the plaza until we figured out what to do.

We were sitting and laughing at the fact we were in the middle of nowhere when a lady walked past us and we began speaking. She was a Peruvian lady named Lupe, and similarly had nothing to do today before she met her friend who was temporarily living her. We had a few beers together before her friend, Santos, joined us, and he showed us a restaurant for lunch.

Together we had some 'typical Chileno food' and mojitos, and some weird flavoured beers Lupe gave us (it was like Clara (solo and beer) but gross and we didn't finish it).

After lunch we convinced Santos, who had a car, to drive to the Colinas - the mountain range where the hot springs are. He had a sort of paddy wagon and Mariana and I shared the back like prisoners. It was pretty funny sliding around in a crappy car surrounded by mountains in the middle of nowhere in Chile. We drove for ages, stopping for photos, and eventually got to some beautiful snow-topped mountains. It was too late to keep going to the Baños Colina (hot springs) so after admiring the serenity for a while we turned around and drove back. In San Jose we stopped for snacks and planned to get the bus back to Santiago, but Santos was dropping Lupe to the city anyway so we got a free ride, and he dropped us at a bus stop which went straight to Providencia!

Soon enough we were home after a spontaneous and surprisingly awesome day in the middle of nowhere. When we got home there were a few newbies to Casa Loca from London, Southern California, Singapore and Germany - four awesome girls that I really like.

Anyway, class. Ciao !

Posted by georgiaellen 15:51 Comments (0)

Como estas

semi-overcast 18 °C

Hola bonitas y guapos,

So here's entry two! It's currently Friday night (I suppose early Saturday morning) and I have an action packed weekend ahead! It's a long weekend in Chile this weekend so I've decided to get out of the city and see some new things. Tomorrow I'm going to the Cordilleras (some of the most famous mountains in the Chilean Andes region) and going horse riding with a group from my Spanish school, on Sunday I'm going to Valparaiso and Vina del Mar, and on Monday I plan to go to Cajon del Maipo and relax in some hot springs. Hopefully all goes to plan and I can make use of this weekend!

Week one of Spanish classes are over and I'm really enjoying it. I got 90% this week, so I'm moving on next week to study pasado - past tense. Perhaps now my sentences to Elena won't sound like 'on Sunday I go to park and eat a sandwich, but tomorrow I go to mountain and take photo.' My teacher, Ximena, is great, and I really like my classmates. The other people in Casa Loca (our house) are pretty nice, some are warmer than others but it's pretty chilled out and easy to do what you want.

I'm a little pissed off as the holiday which is on Monday means there will be no class, and they're being pretty lazy about make up lessons. I'm getting a bit of my bitchy, or 'affirmative', tone on my emails, so hopefully that will be all fine!

I left off last time on Tuesday afternoon. After I left the school I met up with Mariana (my roommate) and we headed to Cerro San Cristobal - a huge hill with great views of the city and a giant Virgin Mary statue at the top. Dani had told me the best time to see the mountains was on a warm day right after a day of rain, which was exactly what happened on Tuesday. I bought a 'Bip!' card for the metro (like an oyster card, named so because of the name it makes when you swipe it..haha) and we walked past la Universided de San Sebastian and through Bellavista to the bottom of Parque Metropolitano. We got a taxi up for $2 and as we drove around the many bends I could see through the smog some nice silhouettes of mountains behind the buildings. As we got out of the taxi at the top of the mountain I turned around and all of a sudden saw a giant, lengthy snow topped peak sitting in the sky! It was still very smoggy, so you couldn't see where the edge of the city met the mountains, and it just looked like some strange snowy mountain peaks floating along the sky. It was hard to get nice photos, but it was still really exciting to be like 'whoa! There are the Andes!'. We climbed to where the Virgin Mary sits and Mariana and I just hung out - it was pretty funny for her trying to understand my poor attempts at Spanish. Being Brazilian, her Portugese vocabulary has quite a few similarities to Spanish, so she's doing well. As we were walking down to the taxi area I was asking about the word for an outdoor wall, which I'd learnt that day and remembered started with an 'm' - I said, 'you know, like the 'Grand Manuela de China'... Of course, forgetting that Manuela is a name. Mariana found this endlessly funny and from now on I will be more formally known as 'La Grand Georgia de Australia (the big Georgia of Australia). I think it has a nice ring to it.

After we made our way back down to Bellavista we decided to walk around for a big longer, and ended up getting some lunch/dinner at a cafe near Plaza de Armas. I noticed a woman near our table who I recognised from school, and Mariana invited her to join us. (That's one thing that's really nice about Mariana - I think we're quite different in our interests but she is as sweet as candy, and wants to be friends with everyone. It's really admirable). Her name is Claudette and she's from Austin, Texas, and her brother lives here in Santiago. We had a really nice chat and and number of beers, after she invited us to a dinner party on Thursday night, but unfortunately her roommate got sick so we couldn't go through with it. A nice sunset passed which we could see through the streets, and by 8pm we decided it was time to head home.

Eventually Mariana and I strolled home, taking a few photos on the way. By the time we were back at Casa Loca I was pretty pooped and I think I just did my homework and headed to bed.

Wednesday was the day of weather we'd all been hopeful for - the one day on my weather forcast that had a little 'sun' icon next to it, unlike its brothers and sisters with clouds and rain. I teared open the curtains and let the glory sink into my skin. What glorious weather it was! Crazy how much it can impact your mood.

I had class in the morning, and then went to lunch up the street with Lindsay (American in my class, who is here with his son, Sam - I really like them both), Stijn and Louz (a Belgian couple who are engaged and travelling around and seem really smart and interesting), and Mariana. We went to a cafe at the end of Roman Diaz and Mariana and I shared the strangest thing...it was like chips, covered in fried pork, cheese and sauce. It wasn't bad, just a combination I wouldn't have thought of. I don't think that's a cultural thing though...

After lunch I headed back to the house to relax for a bit, and later decided to go for a walk, kicking myself for not taking advantage of the fleetingly beautiful weather. I found myself once again at Santa Lucia, which I still think is my favourite place in the city. I walked up and the sky was AMAZINGLY clear. You could see pretty much all the surrounding mountains (though of course there was a thick screen of smog in front of them). It was so exciting to see the Andes. I don't know what it is about mountains, but I just really love them! I compared two photos from identical angles; one from Sunday and one from Wednesday - given what I could see on Sunday (or lack thereof), it was really amazing to view these enormous mountains. While I was up there I met a Colombian guy named Donald (like the duck - his words, not mine). We spoke for a while about all sorts of stuff as I took a trillion photos of the sunset. Unfortunatley we were kicked out of the park at 8pm sharp - the time with the perfect lighting! Donald and I walked around for a while, I took a few photos of the city, and then got on the metro back home. Having not eaten for about 9 hours, I walked around the corner to a Chinese store Max (a nice German/Filipino guy from Casa Loca who always wears button up shirts and is going to be a diplomat) had told me about, and got a bit of food before eventually heading to bed.

On Thursday the weather was still glorious, which was a pleasant surprise, and after class Sam, Lindsay, Nina (a really lovely German girl with amazing skin - half Dominican!) and I (plus an American friend of Sam's who I forget the name of) got some empanadas and strange sugar/creme filled pastries and headed for Parque Forestral by the fountain to eat them. My empanada con queso y carne was a bit stale but not bad. I didn't finish my pastry because it was incredibly rich but I shared it with a friendly dog.

That's one crazy thing about Santiago - the dogs! It kind of reminds me of south east Asia, however these strays appear to be well fed and well mannered (the best way I can describe it). They're not skinny and dirty, I've only seen one bark at/attack someone, and they even wait at the traffic lights! It's pretty funny really.

Which is another thing - the traffic lights. The crossings here don't have any button or any sound for when the green man goes off - you just have to be watching the sign. And if you're even two steps away from the curb when the drivers light goes green, you are sure to be beeped at and possibly mowed down.

After lunch Sam, Lindsay and Nina went to Cerro San Cristobal, but I was in a study mood and decided to go home to make some flip cards. I did do a bit of study but soon a bunch of people from Casa Loca (Nico, Elliot, other Nina, Sandra, Lana and other Mariana) were leaving to walk up San Cristobal. It's about an hour walk, and I'd wanted to do it last time, but Mariana didn't seem keen. I wasn't going to go as I thought by now the dust would have settled and we couldn't see anything, but funnily enough as I was sitting on the toilet I happened to glance out the window and saw a giant peak of the Andes! Man that's a cool feeling. Thus - I decided to join them for the trip up!

The walk up was super steep but really nice and relaxing, and the scenery was nice - it felt good to do some exercise. The view from the top wasn't as clear as the day before at Santa Lucia, but it was still awesome. Plus the sunset was gorgeous.

After an hour or two as the sun had pretty much set we made our way back down, this time deciding to follow the road instead of the bush path so that we wouldn't get lost. Of course this backfired as the road was even more confusing, but we did have some really nice places to stop and take photos of the city with the lights. Now I just wish I knew how to actually use my camera! I've been playing with an editing program I downloaded for free a while ago (PhotoFiltre) which is nice, so I'm having fun getting back into photography.

We eventually found our way down the hill and trekked it back to Providencia, soon arriving at Casa Loca for a quick bite of Chinese leftovers and some shut-eye!

Which brings us to today! We had our last class with Ximena, and after class I went with Nina (German/Dominican) and Mariana (not my roommate) (man too many people have the same name!) to get some awesome sushi. Surprisingly, sushi is muy popular here! After lunch we met up with Max, Mike and Barbara and headed to the Museo de Memoria y Derechos Humanos (the Museum of Memory and Human Rights), which focused on the dictatorship of Pinochet from 1973-90. It was really interesting as I haven't had the chance to learn much about Chilean history before, but everything was in Spanish so I bought the audioguide. I thought the exhibition was arranged really tastefully - there was a particularly interesting display of a map made from photos which depicted various human rights crimes from modern history. There was also a mural drawn by children of the time, many TV displays of relevant footage, documents, etc. Thousands were killed under his regime or have 'disappeared', and many were tortured - including up to 2,000 children.

I've seen similar examples of this in my travels, particularly in Cambodia and Germany/Poland/Holland, but it never ceases to amaze and disgust. And make you fear humanity. There was one section which showed a few segments of footage about students - footage of a young girl being shot by a policeman (who was on traffic duty). Most alarmingly was the case of Carmen Gloria Quintana and Rodrigo Rojas DeNegro - two students who were beaten, doused in petrol and set on fire in the street (in front of Carmen Gloria's sister) by two uniformed soldiers. They then wrapped them in blankets, drove them 20km to the outskirts of the city and left them to die. On record, the story was released about how their own molotov cocktails had apparently set off, and another being that no soldiers were on duty in that area on that day and instead the whole scandal was arranged by the US government to devalue the military government. Rodrigo died four days later from an infection in hospital, and Carmen Gloria survived with 62% burns and broken teeth, but only one officer was held accountable for failing to get Rodrigo to a hospital and sentenced to 600 days in prison.

There are many memorials for the missing around the country, and I've been trying to look online for some, so hopefully I can check one out but I'm not sure. I'll at least try to get to Villa Grimaldi and General Cementero.

After the museum, Nina and I went to Manuel Montt to buy some bus tickets and get money out to pay for horse riding tomorrow (eee so excited!), I got some food near the station, and then headed home. When I arrived some people were playing Shithead - a card game I'd forgotten about since yoga in Nepal! I played a few games and had a glass of red, and before I knew it Max and Nico were serving us all pork medallions, potatoes, and lasagne! They both love to cook (and are great at it) and kindly made us an enormous feast.

After dinner I wasn't in a very social mood, so I came up here. A few people went out to a place which sounded cool, but I don't feel that I speak enough Spanish to be out on the town, and I don't feel like being drunk, so I am going to stay right here! It's quiet now so I assume people are out or in bed, but earlier they were playing some crazy drinking game which called Chicken Ready, which involves immitating chickens. I recorded what I could hear from my room, because out of context it sounds hilariously funny.

Anyway, big weekend ahead, so I'm off.
Buenos noches!

Posted by georgiaellen 22:58 Archived in Chile Comments (0)

Hola Sudamerica

overcast 17 °C

Hola amigos!

Greetings from Santiago. I haven't properly updated this since April, as I couldn't be bothered in Europe, but Uncle Brian urged me to keep it going - so here we go! It's currently Tuesday midday, and I've tried to write this first blog article about four times now and keep getting distracted by things, so let's see how we go this time.

After spending a lovely six weeks back in Sydney for my sisters wedding (so amazing - especially when we surprised them dancing Gangnam Style in our bridal party gettup), I headed to Sydney Kingsford Smith Airport on Saturday morning. The airport was a little stressful as my flights had been delayed and I had a surprise stopover in Auckland, but all in all it ended up okay and I got a free $10 airport voucher which was a bonus. I had a kind of uneasy/nervous feeling when driving to the airport, I think mainly because of fear of a language barrier, but since I've been here I've been nothing but happy and excited. After many delays I was on the flight which, despite saying economy on the ticket, felt like first class for me. Seeing as I've flown budget airlines the entire year, flying with LAN Chile which serves food and little personal TV monitors was so exciting. It still wasn't quite comfortable enough to sleep, but I watched literally 21 episodes of Modern Family, Moonrise Kingdom and read some Harry Potter. About 16 hours later (give or take), I arrived at Santiago Airport.

I was supposed to be staying at Dani's house (one of my friends from UTS Housing who now works in Chile) on Saturday night, however he had to go to Viña del Mar for a family event with his girlfriend, so I booked a hostel. It was pretty easy to get a $12 bus straight from the airport to my hostel, and soon enough I was checked in. As I was driving from the airport I had this really strange feeling of nostalgia, as the scenes on the way reminded me a little bit of Kathmandu, in the sense that the drive from the airport was along a rather long dirty river and the city seems very polluted. There were also some derelict small buildings that looked kind of like slums - I didn't think there was this level of poverty in Santiago and I haven't really seen any beggars so they're probably just old sheds or something, but it was still strange that it reminded me of such a different place. Given I was so tired, and it was grey and raining (I am kind of missing the 30° weather I left in Sydney), I just spent the evening inside, meeting people and getting travel advice from other nomads wandering South America. I met one girl from Byron, Sam, who's doing a pretty amazing trip around the continent, and I may meet up with her a bit later in Cusco or something. I also met an American guy named Nick and an older guy from Brisbane named Ian - the three of us stayed up until the wee hours discussing a matter of issues, and it was pretty interesting to compare cross-cultural and particularly cross-generational views on corporal punishment.

The next day I spent the morning doing a bit of research about what to do around town and also planning a route for the rest of my journey (I'm planning to go to Viña del Mar/Valpariaso, Colca de Maipo, La Serena, San Pedro de Atacama, Uyuni, La Paz, Copacabana and Puno around Lake Titicaca, Arequipa, Cusco and surrounds, Nazca, Ica/Hacachuana and Lima - but we'll see how we go). By midday I decided it was time for me to get outside, packed a precautionary umbrella, and set off for a stroll.

The main area in all Latin American and Spanish cities is called the Plaza de Armas, which is like a large main square with a church (iglesa), government area (I forget the Spanish word) and a post office (correo I think). I vaguely knew which direction this was in so I headed there through the Parque Forrestal, and found myself in a nice little strip called Lastarria (named after a poet or painter or someone that I'd never heard of until I read the information board nearby). It was a very small alley closed to vehicles with a few stalls on each side selling used books and antique tidbits. I'm not sure if that was just because it was Sunday or if this was every day, but it was so nice to just ponder at the little knick knacks while a busker played some acoustic latino tunes in the background.

I then wandered over to Cerro Santa Lucia. Cerro is 'hill' in Spanish, and there are two important ones in Santiago - Santa Lucia and San Cristobal. To enter I had to sign in and give my name and nationality, for what I do not know, but it was free so whatever. As I was walking up I had another strange nostalgic moment where I likened the area to a small park I'd visited in Phnom Penh, which went uphill through beautiful greenery and tall trees to a pagoda. Of course there wasn't a pagoda atop Cerra Santa Lucia but rather a nicely decorated area and viewing point. The views from the top were expansive, and I can't imagine what it will be like from San Cristobal (much taller), but it was disheartening to see that the Andes which surround the city are pretty much invisible through the thick pollution and fog. Perhaps after the rain has cleared I'll have more luck. There were some beautiful buildings around the park, and after meandering back down the hill I was back on the street.

I then set off to visit the Plaza de Armas. It was packed with people and was pretty cool - buskers, children, beggars, etc, and was surrounded by nice buildings. I wouldn't exactly call it picturesque but it had an interesting ambience. Some strange old man came up to me and tried to talk to me, and I had to be pretty obvious and rudely turn away and pretend I didn't like to drink or eat or have an email address, but eventually I got away. I wandered around for a little more, finally found a money exchange that was open on Sunday, and then it began to rain. I slowly started walking back to the hostel, with a quick stop for some Dulce de Leche and Chocolate Hazelnut at Emporio La Rosa (an ice cream shop recommended by Aunty Anne). Something that was strange here was that you had to go outside, buy a coupon for two scoops at the stall, and then go to the ice cream stand to choose your flavours. I was pretty confused but eventually got there and was soon strolling home with my umbrella and a cup of ice cream.

I got back at about 5pm, which meant I was able to check into my room at the Casa Loca (the name for our house at Ecela Spanish school). I got my stuff from the hostel, said goodbye to Ian and Nick (Sam had left in the morning), and walked to the apartment. By a stroke of luck the hostel I'd booked (which was the cheapest) was only a five minute walk from the house, so I found my way very easily. I was shown my room and met a few of the other housemates (I still am trying to figure it out - it's confusing who actually lives there and who are just students from school who come to hang out). It's a really nice house, and we even have a beautiful dog called Primavera (Spring in Spanish). I then found a small supermarket and bought some fruit and yoghurt for the morning, and waited for Dani and Carla (his girlfriend) to pick me up as we were meeting for dinner.

At 9.30 they came over and we went to Bellavista, the 'nice' area to go out to dinner, though also seen as touristy (even the prices were shown in USD!). I'd never met Carla before so it was really nice to meet her, she's lovely, and it was fun catching up with Spanish Romeo too. I think I'll see him a bit later in the week too.

When I got back I hung out with my roommate who had now arrived. Her name is Mariana and she's from Brazil. She's quite different to me but is very sweet. By about 1.30 we headed to sleep - it seems she goes to bed quite late and skypes her boyfriend then, which I haven't minded so far but I think I'll try to start sleeping earlier from now on.

On Monday morning I woke up bright and early to go sign in to Ecela. Mariana woke up with a stomach ache and had to miss the first day, but she's better now and came to class today. Conveniently, Ecela is on the same road as our apartment - about a five minute walk up the street. I was placed into A1, the beginners class, and met a few people that were hanging around before we started at 9. There are 6 other people in my class - Lindsay, Lorenzo, Eva, Stijn, Louz and Marc from the US, Korea, Belgium and Switzerland. They are all really nice, as is our teach, Ximena. We had a different teacher for our second class, Juan Francisco, as Ximena had a doctors appointment, but for the rest of the week we'll be with Ximena.

After class finished we were given some empanadas as a sort of 'cultural welcome', and then I headed home to try to write out some of my Spanish and make my third attempt at blog writing. Clearly that failed and I just hung out, and then at 5 we all headed to an Asada, which means BBQ - a very popular activity in Chile. It was cool to hang out, have a few beers and meet new people, and after it finished at 8 a lot of us came back to Casa Loca. Nothing too eventful happened except playing uno, which I haven't done in years, and eventually I made it to bed.

Which brings us to today. It's only 2pm so the only thing I've done is class - which was full on but interesting. I have a lot to practice but I'm thinking of getting some extra private lessons so I can really focus.

Anyway, I'm starving so I'm going to try to find something to eat and then do something with my day before the fortnight is over and I haven't seen anything.

Adios amigos,

Posted by georgiaellen 09:24 Archived in Chile Comments (0)

To the monastery...and back again

sunny 27 °C

So here I am in Roadhouse Café, Kathmandu, a new favourite of mine – it’s just like cafes at home, with stupid price tags to match, but I’ve been feeling down and sorry for myself for the past week due to food poisoning I got in India and have hence been indulging myself with food at the moments I’ve felt able to eat. Speaking of indulgence, I’m currently chowing down on a ‘sizzling brownie’ – basically the most amazing walnut brownie ever served on a sizzling hot plate, with ice cream and chocolate sauce, spitting at you like Mongolian lamb. It’s fantastic. I’d been eyeing this on the menu for a few days now but hadn’t been game enough to let my tummy handle desserts. Being my last afternoon here for a while, I thought I’d give in – though the accompanying vanilla milkshake was probably a bit excessive and I can see myself with my head in a toilet bowl later this evening.

Moving on… due to the aforementioned illness I’ve found myself in the pits in the last week, and been highly uninspired by travelling in general, feeling that I was a bit over Asia and lacking the thirst for travel that I’d had when I have first arrived at other countries. I’m not sure what it is, but I’ve just been feeling glum – being physically sick seemed to make me homesick as I had a lot of time to sit around doing not too much except looking at Facebook and becoming nostalgic for Sydney life. I’ve particularly been missing my family, especially with Rachel’s exciting wedding plans and new puppy that I want to steal, and the familiarity of friends, bars, streets, life, plus now I’m completely solo again. It’s strange for me as I’ve always seen myself as quite independent, and had preferred travelling solo, but parting with Elena and the girls made me realise how comfortable and easy it can be travelling in pairs – though of course that comes with hassles too. ANYWAY, basically all this led me to be feeling rather ‘bleh’ and tired all the time, hence no posts for the last week. Luckily not much has happened in the last few days, but there are a few things to mention from earlier in the week.

On Sunday I had my orientation with the NVC organisation – which I must say was one of the most strange, hilarious and awkward things I’ve encountered. Manoj picked me up at around 11 in the morning and we got a taxi to their office, which was about a ten minute drive away. When I arrived, I was taken upstairs to meet Keshab –who must be one of the cutest and happiest people I’ve ever met. I’d been excited to meet him as he sounded so sweet from his emails, always ‘thanking me so much for my kind words’ and saying he couldn’t wait to meet me. It’s difficult to describe an encounter with people so genuinely kind like Manoj and Keshab – I’m sure that there are people with as beautiful souls in Sydney, but due to cultural differences we really express things in a different way. Keshab has already told me that he considers me a great friend, that he loves me and that he cares for me deeply – and I truly believe it’s very sincere. In another context it may be creepy, but there’s a warmness in the eyes of Manoj and Keshab that make it clear how passionate they are about helping people and how firm they are in their belief that their actions will continue to bring them true happiness. And I believe it too. However, with this cultural difference in action it can make me feel a little awkward as I’m not used to it – when they look at you, they really look into your eyes, whereas in Sydney if you’ve just met someone you’ll chat, smile, and look away. I constantly found myself trying to hold his stare and then pretending to be intently interested in the wall or the carpet, as I felt I didn’t have anything interesting to say. Funny little cultural differences.

When we went to Keshab’s office, he explained to me how he’d fractured his elbow falling down a ladder, and was hence wearing a cast, and then Manoj went downstairs to his own office while Keshab talked with me a bit and showed me videos on his computer of past volunteers also doing the orientation and talking about their experience. We then went downstairs for the ‘formal orientation’ – which was the real kicker. There were three of us in the room – Keshab, Manoj and I, and Manoj went to the podium with an enormous sign behind it saying ‘you are heartily welcomed to Nepal Volunteers Council’. He then began his speech as if he were addressing fifty new volunteers, took a photo of Keshab presenting me with a flower necklace and tikka (the red powder smushed onto an honoured guests forehead) and then requested that the president of the council come forward to do a speech. Keshab continued the theme of formality and reiterated how happy and excited they were for my arrival, and then I was invited to respond. I went to the podium and presented the best speech I could while they took photos, and then had a photo with each of them shaking their hand. It was really quite hilarious – especially considering it was just me there. We then had some tea, though I skipped on the donut as my stomach still wasn’t quite right, and we chatted for a while about various aspects of Nepalese and Australian life. They then arranged to get a taxi to get me back to the hotel, and we waited on the roof which had a great view of the city within the mountains. Keshab seemed nervous about me having to wait for the taxi, which I assured him was fine, but instead he insisted that we go by public bus instead so I didn’t have to wait.

The bus was more like a minivan-cum-autorickshaw which you pretty much hitch-hiked on and got off where you liked, paying the driver when you got off. We all piled into the van, and stopped regularly to let more people pile in too, and eventually got off in the centre of town, near the Queens Lake. Keshab then walked me into Thamel where we then went our separate ways and I stopped at a Thai restaurant to see how I went with my first meal in a while. By about five I was back at the hotel with my Pad See Ew back on its way up and I soon fell into bed.

The next morning I woke up very early and felt quite a bit better after vomiting my guts up the night before. I tried some pastry for breakfast (not an awesome idea), packed my bags, and stocked up on supplies for what I then-thought would be two to three weeks spent in a rural monastery (chocolate, noodles, toilet paper, etc). There had been some question as to whether we’d be going on Monday or not as apparently there were strikes going on around Nepal, but Manoj’s wide smile was there to greet me at my hotel door right on time at 11 again. We got in a taxi and he pointed out a few political buildings in Kathmandu, but pretty soon I fell asleep again, my body still exhausted from the illness it’s been enduring. About an hour and a half into the drive I woke up to some beautiful scenery as we drove through towns engulfed by green fields and mountains, and soon we were on our way up the extremely bumpy mountain past the occasional small house to Namo Buddha, where the monastery was situated.

It was a really beautiful place, set right on top of a beautiful mountain. There was the main monastery, a truly majestic deep red building with gilted decoration, surrounded by less-impressive but beautiful buildings for the school, clinic, dining halls, residences and guesthouses. There was also a more fancy-looking guesthouse nearby, as what I hadn’t realised was that foreigners could also come here and stay to walk around, pray and relax by their own accord, rather than volunteer. As a result, there was a small café by the road which sold toilet paper, bottled water, chocolate etc – quite a relief.

When we arrived I hiked up the copious amounts of stairs, just about ready to pass out, to a small meeting point where we bumped into Brigitte – an older French woman who was the only other volunteer working there, who I was very excited to meet. We then found the principal too, and he sent me off with a monk to set up my room. It was a small, plain room with a desk and they put a bed in there for me, but it had beautiful views of the mountains. The main downfall was that construction was going on right outside the window, so I constantly had a source of Nepalese music playing off their phones, but still it was fine. Exhausted, I rested for an hour, playing FloodIt on my iPhone (it really got me through this sickness), until 2.30 when I was supposed to meet back for tea. My stomach still wasn’t ready for tea, but Brigitte was going for a walk and offered for me to join her, which I agreed to as I was really keen to see what was around. On my way to change my shoes I also met Maxim, a guy from Quebec (pretty cute actually) who was staying a few doors down from me.

I met Brigitte again and she showed me a bit around the monastery before we left – though as we were walking around the complex we passed a young monk, probably around 12, who I’m 90% sure tried to grab my butt. I didn’t say anything as I was more in shock that anything else – probably the most action I’ve had since I’ve been away was being groped by a prepubescent monk!

Brigitte took me on a beautiful walk, which highlighted some of the great scenery of the area, and I learnt that she was quite an interesting woman, just travelling to places she was interested in and staying for a few months, volunteering or working, and then moving on. She had a very peaceful and unique outlook on life, which I liked to think I could relate to – but I could already tell that I wasn’t going to fit in and enjoy the monastery as much as she seemed to be – she’s already been there a month and a half and is staying for three!

When we got back to the monastery I went back to my room, had some chocolate for dinner (I’m sure that was great for my current digestive issues) and feel asleep as soon as the workers stopped – probably around 4.30pm… Rock on…! Despite the relaxing surroundings, my sleep was far from peaceful and I kept waking up throughout the night. Something hadn’t quite felt right since arriving in Nepal, and I was feeling quite lonely and isolated – especially as there was no internet access and my phone wasn’t working. I was pretty sceptical about how I’d manage to get through two weeks (no surprise that I didn’t), but running through my head constantly was the reminder that I only had a limited amount of time in Nepal and at this monastery, and I really just had to grab it by the balls.

After a rough sleep I woke up at about five, still feeling pretty shitty, and played FloodIt until I reluctantly made my way to the dining hall to meet with Maxim and Brigitte. It was an enormous wood-panelled room lined with a few cabinets full of Buddhist statues. The floor was lined with long benches and lower benches beside them upon which hundreds of monkly butts were perched. I found my place with the other foreigners – hardly any of whom spoke to each other. For breakfast was beans, momo-type bread, and tea – I handled some beans which were actually pretty good, but still wasn’t really up for eating.

After breakfast I was off to go back to my room before meeting with Brigitte for class, and on my way stopped off at the squat toilet near my room to quickly relieve myself, and went to grab my room key from the window sill as I left – my finger slipped and hop, skip, jump – my key was down the squat toilet. All I could help thinking was that OF COURSE this would happen to me. I found Brigitte’s room, and she showed me where to find the principal, who soon informed me that there was no spare key and that we’d first try to fish out the key and otherwise we would break the door. The poor monk who had shown me to my room the day before (I think he must be the principal’s prized bitch or something) was called down, and entered the squat toilet with a rubber glove and a plastic bag, solemnly closing the door behind me. I was 95% certain it would not be discovered, as it is a heavy metal key and my understanding of squat toilets is that below the hole is simply a large deep pit, and I was beginning to feel terrible about the fact that they’d have to break the door down for me on my second day at their monastery. However, ten long minutes later, out came the proud young monk, worse for wear but with my shiny key in his hot little hand. Amazed, I gratefully took it (after it was thoroughly washed) and attached it to my wrist like an enormous Pandora charm – I can’t even begin to imagine the journey that key went on. And to be honest I never hope to know.

After the eventfulness of the morning, I quickly got ready in my room and then went to meet Brigitte and the Principal, who had offered to show us the exam hall before our class began, as the older monks were completing their final exams that week. The subjects they learn are English, Nepali, Tibetan, and Maths – no specific history/geography/science subjects, but one of the monk teachers suggested that parts of these are incorporated into the learning matter for the other courses. We took the ‘short cut’ to the exam hall which, when wearing havaianas like I was, could also be considered a death route, but lagging behind slightly I finally caught up and made it to the exam hall with them. We were shown the monks taking their exams, which was much less formal than our HSC – teachers walking in and out and chatting, but to be honest I felt a little awkward strolling through and didn’t really see the point of observing it. We then collected some resources Brigitte felt were needed for the class and made our way back up to the complex where our students were supposed to be waiting.

When we arrived the room was strangely quiet, and no students in sight – we were pretty late for class so I think they’d thought it was cancelled or something. So she just explained the classes to me and showed me some stuff, and then we had a break until 10, when the next class was supposed to arrive. This time three students showed up, very cute 10 (or so) year old monks named Tashi Lundhup, Pemba Tsering and Karma Tenzin. We did a few alphabet and word exercises, and I helped Brigitte make some worksheets, but mainly I just observed to get some ideas for my class the next day.

After class we had another break until lunch, where once again I really wasn’t up for eating, but I was encouraged by Maxim and Brigitte to have some rice. Man they eat a lot of rice – he must’ve tried to serve me eight portions worth, though I gave it all back and just ate one portion. Maxim then showed me a place where you could get wifi. It was on top of one of the guesthouses, where you had to stand on the corner of the roof and try. Thankfully I got a weak signal, and could email Keshab, asking if I would be able to just stay a week in the monastery and then volunteer at the orphanage – I really wasn’t enjoying my time there and wasn’t excited about it. I also spoke to Maxim a bit, who seems really cool, and he told me a bit about Europe adventures which I am now very excited about! Can’t wait to drink tap water and not carry toilet paper in my bag.

That afternoon I was too tired to really do anything so I just watched a bunch of movies and fell asleep…though peaceful slumber didn’t stay for long. Once again at about 9 I awoke, my stomach feeling very questionable, and I was sick the whole night again. Unfortunately the bathroom was a squat toilet up a dark path next to Maxim’s room – being ill isn’t fun at the best of times, let alone in a random monastery where you can’t contact any friends or have much privacy. The next morning I didn’t bother going to breakfast but rather decided that I wanted to go back to Kathmandu and endure the rest of the illness in the comfort of a hotel room, and Keshab arranged for Manoj to pick me up around 2pm. We then made the uncomfortable descent back to the city, which was even more bumpy than I remember, and soon enough I was back in my familiar hotel room at Visit Nepal Hotel, with the comforts of hot water and wifi, and surrounding restaurants that served Western food…not that I was planning to eat anything.

Since then, the past few days I’ve just been relaxing and watching movies, and eating at nice (safe!) restaurants, indulging in fancy salads and sandwiches. I have two particular favourites, Northfield Café and the Roadhouse Café, both of which are quite expensive (the latter exorbitantly so) but given I usually only eat one meal a day I don’t mind so much. In the past day or so I’ve begun to get my appetite back which is good, though my stomach is still not digesting food properly. Tomorrow Manoj will pick me up around 12 to go to the volunteer house, so for now I just plan to watch more movies and sort out travel ideas with the Lonely Planet I just bought at a second hand book store.

I’m excited to go to the house and have a bit more of a routine going, and I plan to do some sightseeing during the mornings that I’m there, as I understand that I only have to work in the late afternoons. Anyway, I guess all will be revealed once I’m actually in the house.

Until then, adios!


Posted by georgiaellen 18:29 Archived in Nepal Comments (0)

An un-warm welcome to Nepal

sunny 27 °C

Today was a terrible day! But I am now glad to have endured it and be resting nicely in a hotel in Kathmandu, safe and sound. The last time I wrote was only this morning since Amritsar airport, but much happened since then.
1) I got to Amritsar airport at 7.30, paranoid about missing my check in. Turns out the Jet Airways office doesn’t open until 8am and you can’t enter the airport itself until you have their printout, so I had to wait outside on the curb until 8am when some staff arrived.
2) I felt ridiculously crap the whole plane ride, as I’m still in recovery from yesterdays unexpected bout of illness. I was absolutely exhausted both plane rides, which kind of sucked for the whole day as I was hoping to be bright and bubbly to greet Nepal.
3) When I arrived at Delhi, my plane had been slightly late, but I thought I had plenty of time until I realised it was 12.20pm as I was going through security – my plane departed at 12.50 and boarding closes 25 minutes before departure, i.e. at 12.25! Stressed, some girls in the queue kindly let me pass them, and after being groped during the personal screening, the baggage security (who certainly aren’t very proactive) stopped to search my bag for nail clippers, but it through again, and then let me go.
4) No one was really keen to help me find where to go, and I walked into the wrong passenger lounge, but finally arrived at the correct port – thank god my flight was delayed!
5) When I got on the plane, my seat was in row 14, so I went four rows back from 10 – only to discover that the planes don’t actually have a row 13 and I was in the wrong seat!
6) As I flew down to Kathmandu over the amazing mountains, seeing them peeping through the clouds, all seemed well, until I arrived at the terminal and realised I had to get my visa on arrival. Turns out they only take cash in foreign currencies – which I didn’t have – and then the ATM wasn’t working, so I couldn’t get any cash out. An Aussie guy in the line offered to front me but I was very reluctant to take his kind offer – the security held my passport and let me go downstairs to another ATM, then come back upstairs, through security again, and change those Nepalese Rupees to USD.
7) I then had to pay $100 for the 90 day visa, instead of the $40 for the 30 day visa, as I am staying 33 days. Turns out the penalty for overstaying is $30 plus $3 /day, which would make mine $79 instead of $100, but the guy said that obviously he can’t willingly let me overstay my visa. Thus I paid the hundred – so annoying!
8) When I arrived, ridiculously late, I hunted out my baggage and went to look for the NVC representative. I couldn’t see my name anywhere, nor did I have a phone number, and there was no internet access in the airport. I contacted mum, Rachel and Susi to search my emails, but just as I messaged them I found my representative!

At once, I was at ease. I was greeted by Manoj, who told me a lot about Nepal and the NVC organisation on our way to the hotel. Turns out he was a journalist and teacher, but then decided to work in the field of aid. He is clearly so passionate about his cause and what he’s doing, and it makes him so happy – I love it.

He settled me into the hotel and we spoke for a while, but I was absolutely pooped and smelt like crap so I was happy to be left in isolation when he left. I’ll be seeing him again tomorrow for orientation though.

The hotel is in Thamel, the main tourist district of Kathmandu, which really isn’t all too nice. I went for a walk around and it’s just another tourist district with shops that sell the exact same tie dyed clothes and incense. I wasn’t too motivated to go very far, and eventually ended up in a decent-looking restaurant. The food seems a bit pricier here than in India but the restaurants seem to be of higher quality too.

At dinner a man asked to come sit and eat with me; his name was Amal and he was from Afghanistan. One of his first questions to me was ‘have you ever met someone from Afghanistan?’. Interestingly, I really don’t think I had, but I’m sure glad I have now. He was in Nepal on a trip with an education program he’d been selected for by Rotary in Bangkok, which sounded really interesting, as he works in peace and conflict resolution in Afghanistan – I imagine it to be a very interesting place to work in such a field. We spoke a lot about our cultural differences, and he was shocked when I mentioned Australia’s 50% divorce rate, and amazed when I tried to explain my family tree to him – when I mentioned ‘step-brother’ he asked if that meant he was my adopted brother, haha. He was lovely, but I’m pooped and was ready to go.

When I got to my hotel I could hear a guitarist and singer at the bar across the road, and 9 Crimes and Blowers Daughter came on – I kid you not I thought that my luck had turned around and Damien Rice was doing a show across the road, perhaps on holiday. I debated whether to put pants on and go, and ended up deciding affirmatively, but to my dismay it was actually just two young, skinny, long-haired Nepalese musicians. Well, not dismay – they were really great. Actually they are – they just started playing Fire by Jimi Hendrix! They’ve been doing some really great covers. I was listening for a while but decided to come back to bed because I can hear it just as loudly from here haha.

Anyway, I’m gonna listen some more until they stop and I can sleep 


Posted by georgiaellen 18:27 Archived in Nepal Comments (0)

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