Through the Looking Glass

Alzar School | 08.11.13
Elena and friends on the Río Teno
Elena and friends on the Río Teno

Traveling has always been something I look forward to: the excitement of exploring an unknown environment, the vastly different culture, and of course, the impeccable cuisine. As an avid adventurer I expected Chile to be another great place that I saw, but being with Alzar, Chile is so much more. I’ve stepped out beyond the garnished window curtains of hotels and into the dewy morning to run down a maze of local streets. It’s striking up a conversation with a Chilean woman and her family in the street. It’s eating fresh empanadas from a tiny shop and stopping to take pictures with locals that takes this experience to a whole new level, that makes it a real exchange of culture!

As I said “Hola!” to a man in a shop, he preceded to turn and walk away from me. Now I cannot quite say who was more mortified, but I can say with certainty that for as many Chileans that enthusiastically engage me in conversations, there are always moments when the situation is precisely the opposite. While I’m rather shy with using my Spanish in fear of poor grammar and articulation, the conversational challenges have taught me that it is not about how technically proficient I am, but that I make the effort to learn. So when a woman on our ferry trip to Argentina started talking to me, I didn’t turn and run, but listened intently and tried to communicate using what I knew. As we began to share snippets of our lives, I found that I didn’t need my sheet of paper scribbled with phrases and questions to use, but that I just needed confidence in my ability.

I can sit here on my cabaña porch and bask in the mid-day sun. In three hours I’ll be on my way to kayaking down the electric-blue water of the Fui River. They say that in Chile there’s no such thing as being on time. I’m usually inclined to cramped days and stressed-out nights, but being here has allowed to me to appreciate simplistic living. The people in the small towns we visit live with much less material possessions and technology use than I’m used to. I find that I can finally enjoy the sunset, instead of looking at it through my camera lens. I can organize weekends where I have abundant activities to do, all of which would be spectacular. I can eat as many “super ochos” as I want until I get sick. Now I wouldn’t, because I’m taking responsibility for myself and my wellbeing. There is nobody else to keep my passport, cook my meals, and tell me to do my homework; if I want to walk into town, I make it happen. So I would like to conclude by saying that even though I’m in a group of fifteen incredible gringos, I feel like quite the independent traveler. Parents, don’t be wary, fifteen year olds really can conduct themselves without your help!