I’m stuck here, struggling to start putting this experience into words. The first days in Chile have smacked me in the face with a mixture of beauty and chaos. Six days deep and I can already feel what an intense journey my eight weeks in Valparaíso will be.
My travels began with a ten-hour delay and a nice little sleepover at my gate in the Dallas airport, equipped with meal vouchers and the knowledge that I definitely wouldn’t have to worry about missing boarding. The plane went up, and when it descended into Santiago, we were greeted by a luminous, gorgeous sunset that lit up the peaks that the city is nestled in.
The four days that we spent in Santiago were packed full of orientation, sight-seeing and “cara gringa,” which is what Chileans call the deer-in-the-headlights look that was plastered across all of our faces. My group had roughly twenty people in it, and as we hit the streets of the city we attracted all the stares and attention of a bunch of animals parading through the crowd. I have never felt so blonde or tall or out of place. You know that middle-school desire to be exactly like everyone else? Since I got to this country, my most prominent emotion is that seventh grade eager desperation to conform.
For me, Santiago was a city of contrast. The intricate, old architecture of the Plaza de Armas is side by side with extremely modern skyscrapers, juxtaposing each other on the skyline. The streets and hills are filled with palm trees and tropical flowers, but there are snow covered peaks jutting upward on the horizon and stormy clouds throughout the day.
I was surprised by the stray dogs and the smoggy pollution, the graffiti that covers every building and the jugglers that hop out in front of cars in the intersection to perform for tips.
Every day is a roller coaster of successful interactions and completely failed conversations, moments when I feel like I have my feet under me, and situations where I am utterly confused.
What I do know, without confusion, is that the four days in Santiago were endlessly interesting. Each day here has become an expedition to understand the slang and the Chilean accent a little better, to know which stop to get off of on the metro, and to find some new treasure of beauty in the streets of the city.
This is the biggest adventure, and it has only just begun.