Some shots from my last couple trips to Pichilemu and Punta de Lobos for the Quicksilver Ceremonial Big Wave Tour. Love Santiago but can’t keep a Hawaii-raised girl away from the ocean for too long!
When I first left for Santiago I decided with every fiber of my being that I was not going to write a blog. For some reason I had it in my mind that it was cliche and honestly just too much work to keep up a blog while I was studying abroad buuuuttt…. I changed my mind.
I want to be able to share my stories of travels and embarrassing moments with all my closest family and friends. After my two week trip to the south of Chile I especially wanted to be able to share some of the funniest, happiest, most genuine, and sometimes, most horrible moments.
So here it goes.
This is probably going to be a fairly long blog post considering I haven’t blogged for the entire month and a half that I have been in Santiago. I apologize, but bear with me folks. There’s no way I have the time or patience to blog everything, but I’ll include a couple of anecdotes that have really made my study abroad experience thus far. The first anecdote is the story of where the title of my blog “Que Gringa” comes from. My host mom, Cecilia, used this phrase whenever I would misunderstand something, do something completely wrong, or have a moment that was incredibly characteristic of my United States upbringing. “Que Gringa” basically means “how white of you.” To some, this may seem a little offensive, but honestly, I found it hilarious (mostly because I am constantly misinterpreting or mis-communicating or doing something that is just flat out wrong). It’s all a part of the experience and the phrase “Que Gringa” has been and will continue to be an underlying theme throughout my journey.
My program began with an Intensive Language Program where we lived in “homestays,” or chilean homes with chilean families. Everyone in the program lived relatively close to each other in Nuñoa, a barrio of Santiago. Nuñoa is a super safe, family-oriented community and a really great transition into city life. So far I’ve learned how to take the bus and metro, when taking a taxi cab is actually worth the money spent, and that walking is often the most efficient means of transportation. I really enjoyed our three week ILP; my teacher was the nicest woman alive and we did a lot of activities to really help introduce us to chilean culture.
Fast forward 3 weeks to the end of our Intensive Language Program (ILP) and the beginning of one of the weirdest and most fantastic trips of my life. Our dream-team of a group consisted of:
LINDSAY APPERSON (me).
Que gringa am I right?
We arrived in Punta Arenas first, which is one of the biggest cities in the south of Chile. We quickly bought any remaining trekking gear before our bus the next day to Puerto Natales. Puerto Natales is a super cool town that has cultivated a very unique backpacking culture. Basically everyone there is either:
1. an avid backpacker dedicated to the life of endless Patagonia treks and the exploitation of the backpacking tourism industry
2. backpackers coming from all over the world drawn to the beauty of Torres del Paine National Park
3. chileans from near and far for both leisure and job prospects
We stayed at one of the coolest hostels in the world (ran by people in category #1) called
They put on an hour long seminar of everything you needed to know about Torres del Paine, and armed with our page worth of notes, canned tuna, pasta and rice dinners, and unwarrantedly expensive rented gear, we set out for our trek the next morning. We were doing the W trek, which is basically all the highlights in Torres del Paine done in half the distance as the O or Q circuits. Efficiency over totality has never felt so good. We did the circuit west to east, which meant we started at Paine Grande, went to Glacier Grey, made our way back down past Paine Grande to Campamento Italiano, did a day hike to Valle de Francés and pushed onto Los Cuernos, went to Campamento Torres, then finally hiked to Los Torres and then down to Hotel Los Torres where the bus picked us up. It was the most fulfilling and beautiful trip I had ever taken; partly due to the insane build up, partly to the endorphins, and partly to the immense amounts of sugar constantly pumping through my veins caused by my unhealthy intake of snickers bars. At the end of every day I felt the perfect combination of elation, exhaustion, and delirium.
We met a ton of interesting people from all over the world, but became particularly close to a group of Europeans that had the same route as we did. We also ran into some of the other people in our UCEAP program, who are all incredible humans. It was pretty weird because I came for the naturaleza, and while the trip consisted of breathtaking view after breathtaking view, it was far more touristy and crowded than I imagined it being. I don’t mean that as a bad thing by any means; the people we met were down to earth, genuinely good people that really helped shape my experience. It was just not what I originally expected.
We finished our five day trek through Torres del Paine with an army of injured and smelly bodies to prove it. We returned to Puerto Natales where we stayed in a sketchy-er (for lack of more eloquent terminology) hostel that promised “hot” showers and “reliable” wifi. It turned out to have freezing cold showers, spotty wifi, and very loud social gatherings. The next day we quickly switched back to Erratic Rock where the owner, Bill, told us about his favorite trek:
CABO FROWARD aka EL FIN DEL MUNDO
A trek we would later find out that we were completely underprepared and way too out-of-shape to actually pursue, but we decided to do it anyway.
Cabo Froward is a trek along the coast of the most southern part of continental South America. Very unpopulated, beautiful, and the cheapest way we could get as far south as possible. We hastily made our plan, gathering together more food than necessary and consequently leaving behind more clothes than we should have. We took a bus back to Punta Arenas and the next day decided to hitchhike (o en español: hacer dedo) to the trailhead.
Now family, before you freak out, know that the south of Chile is rated one of the safest places in the WORLD to hitchhike and I only encountered the friendliest of people the entire time I hitched.
We decided to split up, so Kemmer, Elizabeth and I grouped together and started walking to the edge of Punta Arenas to find a ride. We ended up hitching with four different cars, and ended up on the wrong road. The park ranger pointed us in the direction of a shortcut, which ended up being two barbed wire fences we had to climb over, and then continued on towards Cabo Froward. We walked most of the time until we found Hunter and Claire at Rio Santa Maria. We then all walked even further to the trailhead and then even further to our first campsite. That made for a grand total of 20km for our first day. We were tired, cold and exhausted so we set up camp quickly, made food, and fell asleep promptly after.
I started out day 2 of the trek by falling out of a tree while trying to grab our bag of food and ended it by soaking almost every layer I brought from head to toe while trying to get water for our dinner at our next campsite. Needless to say, day 2 was probably the low point of my trip. But hey, we did get to camp near a very cool abandoned house that all the Froward trekkers camp by as one of their stops.
Day 3 we decided to cut our trip a day short. There was no way were were making it all the way to the end of the trek, we were too tired, too injured, and too cold to find the strength to finish. Instead, we started day 3 with a day hike to go as far down the rest of the path as we could before high tide.
(we needed to be careful of tides because of all the river crossings)
We ended up in this weird foresty area we dubbed “Dr. Seuss land.” The ground was almost spongy and would compress as we walked along the trail. It had vibrantly colored moss and strangely shaped trees everywhere. We were all delirious and dehydrated and felt as if we had accidentally done some sort of hallucinogenic drug.
We turned around and made it all the way to our very first campsite. It was comforting to be back so close to the starting point and at a side of the trek more protected from the harsh weather conditions. We made a feast of hot dogs, mexican rice, tomato soup, and onions (which tasted just as disgusting as it sounds) and passed out. Cabo Froward was such an oddly beautiful and contrasting place. It was calm and serene while violent and harsh, mentally stimulating while physically draining, and full of life and color and beauty hidden behind a mask of isolation and desolation. I can confidently say it the only place of its kind in the world.
Day 4 was absolutely beautiful. The ocean was calm, we saw dolphins within the first hour we set out and we all had a renewed sense of energy and relief. About an hour into our day, a boat of three fishermen (some of the only people we encountered the entire four days) passed by us. They waved, we waved back, and next thing we knew they were pulling into shore offering us a ride to the road where we could hitchhike from.
Yes people, it is possible to hitchhike on boats.
We got on the boat with Jose, Luis, and Isaiah, three of the nicest crab fishermen in the world. We conversed with them, although our understanding was severely undercut by their thick chilean accents. They ended up offering to cook us some of the crab they had just caught and make us coffee when we got to their boat dock. We arrived and ate THE BEST CRAB OF MY ENTIRE LIFE. It was unbelievable which means a lot because before this I thought I hated crab. Now I don’t think I can ever eat it again because it was just too delicious. We later found out that each crab was worth $50 US dollars…and they had cooked us three crabs. Such amazingly generous individuals and we felt so lucky to have met them.
We then hitched a ride in a red truck with a man named Matius who was also an incredibly nice man. He even pulled over to a gas station to buy us chocolates at one point because he said that we looked hungry.
Every part of the my time in the south showed me how beautiful people can be. I think I am coming out of this experience with a perspective of humanity that reflects more kindness and genuineness I can only see being reaffirmed throughout the rest of my experience.
Oh, and if you can’t tell, I love Chile!
That’s it for now! Thanks for sticking through to the end and look out for my next post!