I had several “pinch me so I know this is real” moments during this past weekend. With Oriana here now and us feeling so at home, it’s hard to believe we are in the southern hemisphere–a hemisphere in which I am pretty sure I only knew one person just 5 short weeks ago (An HMS Classmate in Buenos Aires for the year, in case you were curious). It’s hard to believe that I am here learning so much and earning two full months academic credit, and yet having so much fun at the same time. It is hard to grasp this now, as I sit in my apartment, and it was even harder to comprehend on Saturday as I was whitewater rafting my way down the River Maipo, south of Santiago. It’s also hard to know that I almost backed out of this trip at the last minute, out of concerns about the logistics not coming together. That would have been such a shame!
Anyway, after 5 weeks here in Chile, I finally left the smog behind and made my way out of Santiago for the first time this past Saturday. The trip wasn’t a long one–Ori and I went to nearby Cajon del Maipo, a trip of only 90 minutes to the south, and only 30 minutes beyond where I work every day in southern Santiago. In fact, Cajon del Maipo is so close you can get there by public transportation! All you need is a 1 dollar metro fare and 3 dollars for a shared taxi (collectivo) to drive you the last thirty minutes!
Cajon del Maipo (Canyon of Maipo) is a rural area just outside of Santiago, and a favorite weekend-escape for Santiaguenos hoping to get out for some cycling, hiking, boating, skiing, or just exploring small towns. We limited our experience to a rafting trip accompanied by lunch in the town of San Jose de Maipo, so we definitely still have an excuse to go back.
The morning started with us arriving at the rafting place a bit early, around 9:30 for our 10am trip, and we found all the people working there putting the equipment together while blaring the equivalent of Chilean MTV. They looked like a fun crowd, and were friendly and suggested we pop next door for a snack and then return. We entered the neighboring restaurant/supermarket/town center, basically one of two stores that seemed to be open on the tiny 1-block strip that constituted the heart of this town, and plopped down to a champions breakfast of a pino empanada (barbaqued beef, onion, hard-boiled egg and an olive inside). We were at one of four tables in the front of the restaurant and could see people coming and going, and it seemed like the business was mostly regulars–everyone seemed to know the septegenarian behind the counter, who had some good banter with the customers. It was a nice feeling to be in such a community, and certainly a far cry from the anonymity that comes with spending most of our time in a city of 6-7 million here.
When we returned to the rafting company at 10, we found two other couples there to join us, making six for the group. One was a couple in their 20s from Santiago, but they were “just friends”…there are many gradations of friendship here, and it takes a lot to call someone your boyfriend or girlfriend…first you are “andando” (literally ¨walking with¨, this is casual) then you are “pollolos” (this is the boyfriend/girlfriend equivalent) and then you are “novios” (which I learned meant boyfriend/girlfriend but here it is reserved for being engaged) . Anyway, apparently this young couple was still in an early stage of their relationship. The other two people were a couple from Ecuador who were in their 60’s. If they could do the rafting, so could we!
This was my first time rafting in about 10 years, and Ori’s first time ever. We suited up in our wetsuits (the water is 7 degrees celsius, about 45 fahrenheit), neoprene booties, windbreakers, helmets, and life jackets, and then we were ready to go!
We piled into the van with our guides and gear and drove 12km up the river to where we would start our trip. There we met another company, whose two boats worth of customers would be joining us, making us three rafts total. Each raft had a guide, and there were also 3 guides on kayaks who made there way down the rapids with us, one going ahead to scout out the route, and two trailing behind to pick up anyone who fell into the water.
Before we headed out on the river we had a 5 minute safety instruction. In Spanish. Perfect for Ori, with her 5 days of Spanish classes under her belt. Actually, the instructions were pretty self explanatory, and the guy giving them was funny, so there wasn’t a lot that was lost in translation. In fact, it was a great way for ori to lean more vocabulary, with words and phrases such as “forward,” “backward,” “weight to the left/right,” and so on.
Once out on the river we spent about an hour and twenty minutes making our way down the 12km section that we would raft. The river had mostly class I-II rapids for the first half, and several class III-III+ rapids in the second half, providing a nice warm-up followed by an exciting finish. What was most notable, I thought, was that even in the areas between rapids, there were no truly calm-parts of the river. Unlike the rafting I had previously done in Oregon and California, it felt like we were always moving along at a good pace.
The two rapid highlights came in quick succession about 2/3 of the way down the course, and our guide had us row to the shore to discuss them before we made our way down. The first rapid “Big Wave” was the most technical he explained, as we MUST enter to the right and quickly make our way to the opposite side of the river to avoid a large rock further downstream. If we were to hit that rock, he’d yell “peso izquierda” to have everyone dive to the left and keep the boat from tipping. Fortunately that wasn’t necessary.
The second rapid, hardly separated from the first, was graded a class III-IV and was called ¨fu–ing wave.¨ Need I say more?
The entire rafting experience was a blast, and as I said at the outset, I had some introspective moments on the trip where I couldn’t help but reflect on how cool it was to be spending a Saturday morning whitewater rafting in South America, 5,000 miles from home. Sure beats my typical weekend in Boston!
After our day of rafting we enjoyed a lunch of turkey sandwiches with avocado that I had brought with us in the town square at San Jose del Maipo, and then made our way back to Santiago for a much-needed afternoon nap. That night, we had a dinner of typical chilean food (pastel de choclo and cazuela de pollo) and turned in early to be ready for our big day the following day.
Sunday we awoke, ate breakfast at home, and then headed to Parque O’Higgins for Lollapalooza Santiago. Santiago first hosted Lollapalooza in 2011, and is the only city other than Chicago to feature this festival. It was a two day festival with roughly 60 bands performing, but we only attended the second day.
The festival was simply a blast. We went with our friend Alex, who is here teaching English for a year and a half, and all of us had a great time. There were six stages total: two large stages for the big rock groups (mostly from the US), two smaller stages featuring local acts, a kids stage, and a large indoor arena that hosted all of the electronic music acts.
We started out by seeing Foster the People, and they were awesome. Given that they are so new (formed 2009) they have a limited repertoire and so they played every song off their album Torches, which Ori and I love to blast in our apartment in Boston. They gave a great performance, and while I like all their songs, I think they did best with Warrant, Miss you, and Pumped up Kicks. Pumped up Kicks was the last thing they played, and about four minutes in, at a point where the song normally ends, they broke it down into a more techno/trance version that they continued to play live. It was a perfect way to end a fun set–I’ll have to post the video I have somehow.
Following Foster the People, Ori, Alex and I had lunch and some much-needed liquid (it was blazingly hot in the direct sun, standing in a large crowd) and then made our way to see Band of Horses for a bit, before Ori and I broke off from Alex to see Crystal Method, the first electronic act we would see in the indoor arena. I have to say, this was probably the most amazing, adrenaline packed experience I have ever had at a concert. I love listening to electronic music, but had never been to a live show and mostly just listen at home (and to be honest, haven’t listened to as much recently as I used to.) Whatever experiences I had had prior to Sunday paled in comparison to the experience of being in a cement arena, partially underground, surrounded by roughly 10,000 fans listening to the Crystal Method as their beats were pumped out by an incredible sound system and would then echo off the walls of the arena. Oh, and did I mention the music was synchronized with an audiovisual display? Or that Foster the People came onstage with Crystal Method for yet another remix of Pumped up Kicks? (our second time hearing the song that day, but this version was very different, and very cool.)
The only thing that could have made our experience watching Crystal Method better was that Ori and I sat off to the side, rather than being in the pit where everyone was dancing, which meant the visuals were not aligned for us. Fortunately we would fix this later when we returned to that arena for the headlining group that night to see the British duo “Above and Beyond” who were just amazing. We quickly danced away the 90 minutes the played, with an energy and excitement that was just exhilarating. I’m definitely going to buy their album “Group Therapy,” which Ori and I both felt was a perfect name that summed up the experience of carelessly dancing the night away surrounded by a crowd of thousands. (It was also interesting to read today’s NYT piece about the increasing popularity of electronic dance music shows in the US, and their new profitability: (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/05/business/media/electronic-dance-genre-tempts-investors.html?hp)
Other shows at Lollapalooza were good, but didn’t measure up to Foster the People, Above and Beyond, or Crystal Method. MGMT gave what I thought was a somewhat lackluster performance, certainly a disappointment because I had really been looking forward to them, and the Foo Fighters just felt a bit too high school to really listen to anymore. Ori and I were certainly in the minority in having that opinion, as there were far more people watching the Foo Fighters than there were who joined us for Above and Beyond. Their loss.
Exhausted, after an incredible weekend, I returned to work in the Consultorio on Monday and Ori returned to her Spanish courses. It’s been a tiring week, given that we had scarcely a moment to rest this past weekend, but we are now very much looking forward to heading to Valparaiso tonight, where we will spend the next three nights in a bed and breakfast!
I’m about to bring this post to a close, but wanted to first share one last picture along with some advice: if you ever go to a foreign country where there is a popular national dish that rhymes with your name, order it. In our case, this meant ordering Chorillana (rhymes with Oriana) and it was an experience. Fries. Steak. Chorizo. 2 fried eggs. Onion. And, as a dish for two, of course it comes paired with a liter of Chilean beer to share.
We ate a salad the next day.