Valpo Or Bust


Gracias por la Bienvenida, Chile

Filed under: Uncategorized — Christian @ 19:10

Obviously, going to any foreign country (especially for the first time) is an unbelievable experience that no amount of words on a page can truly capture.  As many of you know, this semester in Chile is the first time I’ve had the opportunity to leave the United States, and even after only three full days, I feel my world expanding in ways I hadn’t anticipated with each minute that passes.  The most memorable event, of course, is the welcoming gift Santiago gave us at about 3:30 local time this morning.  More on that in a minute.

Wednesday, 24/2/10:

My first flight from Philly to Dallas on an MD-80 was truly an awe-inspiring experience.  So inspried with awe was I that I’m sure I looked like a complete and total moron to everyone that surronded me.  As we gained speed on the runway and finally left the ground, I looked back and forth between windows, a childlike grin on my face, wondering why no one else was finding air travel so exhilirating.  But the newfound love I found for airplanes in the three-hour trip from Philly to Dallas quickly disappeared about 45 minutes into the international flight from Dallas to Santiago, Chile.

45 minutes is probably also about the amount of sleep I got on the long, grueling 10-hour flight.  Takeoff again was fun, watching Dallas at night – a grand web of multicolored lights – recede into the distance.  Unfortunately, our Messiah group was about as close to one of the engines as one could get, and paired with the cubic foot of space reserved for me in economy, it was, without question, the least comfortable place I’ve ever (not) slept.

Thursday, 25/2/10:

Despite the minimal sleep I got on the plane, arriving in Santiago gave me a long-lasting burst of energy.  To tell the truth, these first two days are and absolute whirlwind in my mind, a long stream of new places and people which is hard to remember in a continuous chronological reel.

I remember the relief of finding that both of my checked bags has arrived safely and on time in Santiago, and the relatively painless customs check before meeting the rest of the ISA group in the main hall of the airport.  I exchanged my American dollars for Chilean pesos – 510 pesos on the dollar – before briefly heading back to our hotel to freshen up.

After that, we went out to a nearby restaurant where I ordered a salad that, despite bearing the name Cesar, did not have dressing or croutons or anything else one might associate with a Caesar salad.  Still, it was good, and was enough to sustain me through our trek to the teleferico and San Cristobal, and epic mountain on the edge of the main metropolis of Santiago.

The teleferico we rode was essentially a very glorified version of an incline, like the one found in Pittsburgh, which slowly but surely took us up to the very top of the mountain.  Up there we found a downright magnificent view of the skyline of Santiago, a vista which is always watched over by a statue of la Virgen.  The statue was erected in the beginning of the twentieth century, if I’m not mistaken, as a Catholic symbol in a predominantly Catholic country.

That night, we ate out in an amazing Italian restaurant before coming back to our apartment to play Dutch Blitz out on the patio by the light of our bedroom lamp.  Good times.

Friday, 26/2/10

We had to wake up Friday morning at an irritating 8:00 to make it to breakfast before heading over to an hour-long ISA meeting about safety in Chile.  Sure, it was well worth our time, but after having spent two months of waking up whenever I choose, 8:00 is very painful.  I guess I can get used to it.

After the meeting, we went out to see la Palacia Presidencial de La Moneda – the Presidential Palace which was originally created by the Spanish as a mint (Moneda means money or currency in Spanish).  It has a rich history which was delineated to us in rapid-fire Spanish by a tour guide who showed us all around the place.

We went to a nearby market for lunch before returning to the hotel for a break.  I used the break to go out for a walk with some of the Messiah crew just to explore a park located a block away from out hotel.  I also went to the supermarket for the first time here in Chile, which was cool, before we had to return for yet another orientation meeting.

Two hours of more safety protocol later, a small group of us went for pizza and returned to Shaina and Karissa’s room to play some cards and just generally hang out.   More good times were had by all, and Josh (my roommate) and I decided to return to our room to try to get some sleep at around 12:45 or so.  After a long day walking around Santiago, a good night sleep was all I wanted, but it was rudely interrupted by…

Saturday, 27/02/10

3:30 A.M.

I’m sleeping relatively soundly when all of a sudden the entire city starts to shake.  My first thought was that this wasn’t too big of a deal – in one of the earlier orientation meetings, our leaders had told us that tremors were very common and that they’re not anything to be concerned about.  Very quickly, however, we realized that this was no small tremor – this was an 8.0 scale massive quake, the likes of which had not been seen by Chile since 1985.

My roommate Josh had jumped out of bed and was standing in the doorway, where we had been told it would be safest in the event of a major earthquake.  He ordered me to do the same, and I was more than happy to comply.

Honestly, this was the most intense thing I’ve ever experienced.  The quake probably only lasted 30-45 seconds, but it seemed like an eternity.  I’ve never felt such helplessness.  The lights went out right away, and as our building was shaking, all we could hear were the sounds of falling debris in our darkened main room and in the hallway.   We managed to keep our footing, but after the shaking ceased, the three of us in our room quickly got dressed and immediately left the building.

Outside we found darkness and all a small crowd standing in the street.  We found other ISA students and joined them, waiting for leaders to appear to tell us what to do.  They soon did, making sure we were okay and letting us know that this was no normal occurrence, even for Chile.  We must have been outside for an hour and a half or more before we were allowed back in, but we passed the time by playing spoons with pieces of rubble from the hotel.  Yeah, that’s how we roll.

In all seriousness, thought, the Chilean government has confirmed 708 casualties so far, three of which were in Santiago.  Please pray for their families – it’s only by the grace of God that we were in a safe structure in a modern city prepared for this type of disaster that this wasn’t a tragedy on the scale of Haiti.  An all-too-visceral reminder to be grateful for every moment you have.



  1. Holy carp. I can’t even imagine…

    Comment by Aunt Jen — 01/03/2010 @ 01:36

  2. Hi Hon,
    Wonderfully written blog, and such
    easy reading. Can’t even begin to
    know how terrifying the earthquake
    must have been You have a special, if dubious, distinction now,of a totally foreign experience
    to most people. Hoping your excursions aren’t cancelled. Chile seems to be such a beautiful
    country. Looking forward to you
    educating us and teaching us some
    Spanish along the way, too. Love and hugs, Grandma

    Comment by Grandma — 01/03/2010 @ 03:33

  3. Uncle Bill and I were really scared! Thanks so much for writing this blog- I know we will learn lots from it. What an education you’re getting – so much more than you ever expected.
    Love, Aunt Carol

    Comment by Carol Parker — 01/03/2010 @ 16:54

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