The GoGlobal Blog

Month: May 2014

Castles, Lessons, and Goodbyes

Castles, Lessons, and Goodbyes

Whelp. The semester is official over and what a wild ride it has been. Ultimately, I still can’t believe it’s over and that while I remain in Prague, most of everyone else has either gone home or off the explore Europe on their separate adventures. But we’ll save the sappiness for later, shall we?

I rounded off my travels on the European continent in Munich, Germany (sort of… I only went to see the Neuschwanstein Castle, which learning to spell I consider one of my greatest accomplishments the semester) and the city of my childhood, Strasbourg, France.

Anyone how knows me can attest to the fact that I don’t just “like” things, I obsess. Such things include, castles, dragons, Harry Potter, Benedict Cumberbatch, the color of the sky during a sunset, cheese ramen, British television… my list of infatuations is rather extensive. When I realized that the castle to end all castles was located within my reach, naturally it became mandatory that I be there. The Neuschwanstein Castle is mostly famous for being the inspiration for Disney’s Sleeping Beauty Castle, the center monument of any Disneyland theme park (another one of my numerous obsessions) and due to Ludwig II’s untimely death, has never been fully completed. However, the lack of completion did little to stem the awe pouring out of me the minute I looked up at it for the first time (second time according to my mum, curse the vapid memory of a six year old). To the say the castle was magnificent does not do it justice. The surrounding countryside full of snow- capped mountains and flowered hills reminded me of the opening scene from the Sound of Music and the entire landscape seemed to come alive with the sun. I decided on the train ride there that the German countryside is by far one of the most beautiful pieces of scenery upon which I’ve had the privilege to lay my eyes. But that castle, nestled in the mountains, appeared stoic and impervious to any element the winds of change may throw towards its walls. Such grandeur fit perfectly with the strong mountains and clear lakes residing in the area and the cute little village at the castle’s foot completes the fairytale- esque feel that rolls off the scenery. I’ll be back there. Hopefully to live. That’s the plan.

How can your breath not be taken away by this magnificent beauty?
How can your breath not be taken away by this magnificent beauty?


Or by this view?
Or by this view?

After the program officially ended, I decided to go back to my roots and revisit the part of France in which I lived 13 years ago. My memories of my time in Strasbourg and the little village, Reichstett, just outside the city are muddy to say the least. However, walking around my old house and elementary school managed to pull out some long forgotten details, such as when I tried to sleep in the backyard one night because I was upset with my parents or watching my purple- housed neighbor’s turtles from my bedroom window. The town itself felt much smaller than I remember, which probably is due to the fact I was only 4 feet tall during my last visit and therefore everything around me felt monstrous. Strasbourg’s Alsatian charm, however, proved just as beautiful, the bread still warm and delicious, and the weather as cold and rainy as when we were there. I’m a tad ashamed to say that my first thought on seeing the grandiose Strasbourg Cathedral was that it put the St. Vitus of Prague to shame, but only slightly. Another fact I came faced with was the horridness of my French. How sad it is to know that when I was 6, I could speak both French and English and now, at 19, I can hardly put a proper sentence together (I’m sorry Madame Shepard, do not think my forgetfulness is a reflection on your teaching but my own folly). Regardless, the houses and streets of Strasbourg charmed me more now that I could fully appreciate the uniqueness of their designs. I particularly enjoyed visiting the historical museum, mostly because they had various funny hats and Medieval knight helmets for me to try on and buttons to push (when it comes down to it, I really am still 6 years old). While sitting in the sun on the bank of the canal that encircles the center, I felt at peace with my decision to revisit France again at the end for it brought my European adventures full circle.

Screen Shot 2014-05-17 at 6.34.16 PM
The only building in Strasbourg that didn’t feel smaller than I remember.

The hardest part of the semester was not the initial arrival, adjusting to new teaching methods, or even learning to navigate a brand new, unknown city without any understanding of the language. Did all these things come with their own challenges? Of course, but they proved surmountable in the end. For me, the most difficult part of the semester has been the end, the goodbyes. Not just to the city (I’m actually still in Prague until Wednesday) but to the friends and memories that we made together. Parting with my roommates and our apartment has left me with an empty feeling; knowing that we all won’t be together again in the same way we were for the last 4 months. I miss them more than words can say. The last few days of the program can be summed up with this; cry cry cry tears tears tears, boat cruise, “this isn’t goodbye, just see you later”, paddle boat racing, last meal of goulash and dumplings, split second of karaoke, Sherlock slumber party, more tears, more crying. I’m not exaggerating this bit in the slightest. But, in the words of A. A. Milne, “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”

Now looking back on everything, I’ve come up with several notes for future reference as well as final lessons I’ve learned from the entirety of my experience:

Tips/ Final Lessons:

1. Write everything you do down. The biggest lie I’ve told myself is, “I don’t have to write this down, I’ll remember.” Ha, yeah. The brain can be a scumbag. Notes will prove incredibly beneficial when you’re telling your friends all your cool stories.

2. Trains are probably the most entertaining way to travel. Buses are usually cheaper but…. trains. I understand Sheldon Cooper’s obsession with them, now.

3. At least attempt to systematize packing. My method is usually just “Oh hey, let’s stuff everything in the suitcase without rhyme or reason”, which results in me digging through it to find something like toothpaste at the bottom. And then repacking.

4. Food on your plate looks weird? Eat it. Seriously. “But.. but.. its a tiny squid.. it looks-” No. Try it.

5. Best non-Czech related cuisine? Kebab. Kebab kebab kebab. If you go to Europe and don’t eat a döner kebabwe can’t be friends.

6. USAC program directors are some of the best people on this planet. I mean, who else climbs up on a horse statue in the middle of Budapest to get a picture of the program? Or dances around the moving bus wearing a necklace of paprika holding a loaf of bread the size of a small child? Only the best, that’s who.

7. Going overseas in one the scariest adventures you can have, especially when you go without knowing anyone. You might wake up the first day thinking, “What on earth have I done?” But let me tell you, it’s worth it. All of it. The fear and anxiety are nothing compared to the exciting adventures you will have or the strength of the friendships you will make. If I can do it, you can too, trust me on that one.

Overall, my semester abroad has been the most terrifying, exhilarating, and challenging several months of my 19 years. The idea now of going back to the real world and real life fills me trepidation. Yet, all good things must come to an end. But it’s not the end, not really anyways. The memories and knowledge I have gained throughout this experience will stick with me, long after I’ve readjusted to life back on the other side of the ocean.

Ending remarks, the motto of our program:

Live, laugh, love. Never die, frown, hate.

Las Marchas

Las Marchas

During the past two weeks there have been two protests here in Santiago. They are called marchas and are basically a parade full of people that march in protest for some cause. On May 1 there is a march every year for the workers of Chile. Many workers gather with their coworkers, groups of friends, or people from their school and together they march down Alameda (the main street in downtown Santiago) with signs, shouts, and music. We had school off that day so I went to the march just to watch and take some pictures.

The first thing I noticed is how dead downtown was. There was hardly any activity besides the march. All of the stores were closed (probably due to the combination of the march and Labor Day) and the streets were blocked off with no cars. There were not nearly as many people walking on the sidewalks as usual, although there were some. The people were either meeting with their friends and going to the march or were like me and just taking pictures or filming it. There were lots of police officers in various parts of downtown. Some blocked off streets in riot gear, some patrolled the area on motorcycles, and others monitored the march, walking with the protesters in the very front and the very back.

I picked my spot in front of Universidad de Chile, which was about the halfway point of the march. The demonstrators started at metro Los Heroes (right next to my university) and would finish at Plaza Italia. I had no intention of going to Plaza Italia. Many Chileans warned me that there is often violence and problems there because the police and protesters always fight at the end. Most of the people marching wanted more rights for workers, such as pensions, less hours, things like that. A lot of them were communists – most people were wearing red and there were a decent number of communist flags being waved about. I also saw a lot of Mapuche flags (the main indigenous tribe of Chile).

It was cool to see the march but it was not anything mind-blowing. At one point I thought a gas grenade exploded. There was a loud noise and about 100 feet in front of me there was white gas all in the air. I prepared myself to run into the metro and leave, but turns out it was only white powder, and not gas. It dyed the ground white and the march continued on uninterrupted. At the end of the march, there were a group of anarchists marching, mostly young people. This really shocked me. They were dressed in all black and legitimately promote anarchy with the A symbol and everything. I didn’t notice it at the moment, but when I was leaving I saw they had spray painted graffiti on the walls of the buildings with their phrases and symbol. I am almost positive that they are the ones that cause trouble with the police at the end.

Fortunately, mi primera marcha passed without incident. The second one, however, was a different story. The student march happened a week later on this past Thursday. I was not going to go to this one, because the student marches are typically more dangerous and a lot bigger than the workers’ march. In Chile, students are fighting for free and quality education at the university level. The president, Michelle Bachelet, has promised to make college free for students during her second term, which she just began serving in March. Many students, however, do not believe her attempts are sincere and think that her plan is flawed as well. Thus they take to the streets to voice their discontent.

My history classes were canceled for the day. At Universidad Alberto Hurtado, the students of each major vote to see if they will go to the march or not. If the no’s win, they go to class instead of the march. If the yes’s win, they go to the march and send the professor an email telling them that nobody will be going to class. The history students voted yes, so naturally I didn’t have class. The march went well until the end, when some young bandits caused some trouble. These people are similar to the anarchists, they wear all black, have their hoods up, and place bandanas over their faces so only their eyes show. Apparently, they go to some marches just to fight with the police at the end.

At the end, they threw some molotov cocktails at the police, who threw back gas grenades, and the scuffle began. Many police officers were hurt and most of these bandits were detained. By this time, the students had filed into a park for a concert that marked the end of the march, so they were not involved in the fight. The conflict was all over the news and in the newspaper.

Disclaimer: This does not mean Chile is a dangerous country. I have felt extremely safe here and have had little to no problems with my personal safety. The marches typically only have conflict in the end, yet it does not affect the majority of the protesters nor the majority of the police. On Thursday, nobody was seriously injured.

To conclude, it has been very interesting and informative to see these marches. To me, these rarely happen in the U.S., and when they do they definitely don’t have this type of conflict. In Chile, the marches are fairly common. These marches happen at least once a month for various reasons, and in 2011 there were a great number of student marches. Because of this, they are in the news, people talk about them, and las marchas have become another part of Chilean culture.

Cajon de Maipo

Cajon de Maipo

Last weekend, Theo and I went camping in Cajon de Maipo, a valley in the Andes about an hour away from Santiago. We got there on Thursday afternoon after taking a bus from the end of the metro. Unfortunately for us, it was May 1, or Día del Trabajador, also known as Labor Day. Due to this, all of the main grocery stores were closed, forcing us to buy our food from an overpriced convenient store. A nice girl on the bus gave us some advice on where to go and what to do in the valley. She recommended going to El Morado, a glacier just off the border from Argentina.

The bus took us to San Jose de Maipo where we bought a little more food and went to check out the tourist center. As we expected, it was closed, leaving us with only the girl’s information on what to do. Like good travelers, Theo and I did hardly any research about Cajon de Maipo. We only knew how to arrive to San Jose and from there we were winging it. From my experience, traveling works out better this way. You never know what to expect and a lot of surprising and cool things end up happening.

We hitchhiked (which is perfectly legal, common, and safe in Chile) from San Jose heading deeper into the Andes and closer to the mountains. Along the way when we told people we were going to El Morado we got some strange responses. A woman in San Jose told us we were very brave men to be doing this, especially with the weather (it was raining all day). Later when we were deeper and higher up in the mountains a taxi driver stopped and asked us where we were going. After telling him, he asked if we were prepared, warning us that it’s dangerous and we should notify the police that we were going there in case something happens!

Wow! At this point we started to think what is El Morado? We definitely were not prepared for any intensely cold weather. We did not have winter hats or gloves and Theo’s tent is not made to camp in the snow. We started to have second thoughts but decided to keep going until Baños Morales, where the park entrance to El Morado is and where we could get more information. At around 6PM, we stopped at a man’s house who lets people camp in his yard. Fortunately, he let us spend the night in his house. His name was Josepe and he helped us out a bunch! He let us stay inside, gave us food, made us a fire, brought us mattresses, and then played guitar with us for two hours!

In the morning, I woke up and looked outside to an incredible view! Less than a kilometer away on each side of the house stood mountains with the top third covered in snow. Outside the house there was a flock of sheep, with sheep dogs and shepherds directing them, and a flock of goats fenced in. There were also pigs, horses, chickens, and dogs. It was pretty much a farm for animal husbandry. Josepe told us that another man owns the animals and uses them for milk (to make cheese) and wool mostly. On top of his generosity, Josepe made us breakfast and let us keep our backpacks in his house while we continued on our hike.

We walked the eight kilometers to Baños Morales on the dirt road surrounded by beautiful scenery. This was a Chile I had never seen before. It was very rural, with about a house every 400 meters that usually had some flock of animals. There were little to no cars, only big trucks passing us by that were working on construction up ahead. At one point, a man even passed us riding his horse and accompanied by two dogs. He greeted us in a very thick, mountain accent that was tough to understand, which we laughed about and imitated later. It was a beautiful morning, clear of rain, cloudy and with fresh, unpolluted air (unlike Santiago). We were also ascending deeper into the mountains and it was getting colder and colder because of the altitude.

We reached Baños Morales, a cute little town built on the summer tourism season from El Morado and las termas (the hot springs). Unfortunately, the park was closed due to the rain. Every time it rains there is a chance of rock and mud slides and they close the park for a few days. A little disappointed that we couldn’t get to El Morado, we went to las termas instead. That was even more disappointing. The hot springs were man-made pools with water running from pipes into the pools. Furthermore, the water wasn’t even hot – it was room temperature. With it being probably 40 degrees, starting to rain and no clothes to change into, we didn’t get in. A Chilean couple did though, although they did not stay in for long.

We hitchhiked back, stopped at Josepe’s to pick up our bags and said goodbye to him. He gave us a big, warm, circle loaf of bread as a gift (check my Facebook pictures) and told us to come back and stay there again. He was very nice and we thanked him many times for everything he did for us. For the day we hopped around the valley, checking out the small towns and trying to find a spot to camp. Finally we camped under some trying conditions (nighttime, no lighter, limited food and water) a little bit past San Jose. In the morning we tried to find a trail to hike but to no avail, so we hitchhiked back to Santiago.

Overall, I had a great time in Cajon de Maipo and am really glad I went. It was my first time in la Cordillera (the Andes) and I saw a part of Chile completely different from what I had already experienced. Once again, my travels have given me with many stories to tell and have introduced me to amazingly kind and wonderful people.