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Monday, May 28, 2012

Let's Get Ready to Ramble

As most of you probably know, I came to Chile back in February of this year, once again heading into the unknown. This time, it was to another hemisphere. Another continent. Another direction in which the toilet flushes. I headed to a country which is the spine of the Andes Mountains, with the driest desert in the world in the north, and the lush forests, countless lakes, and majestic glaciers of Patagonia in the south. It’s the end of the world, but not in the Mayan Calendar sense.

Torres del Paine, Chile.

Santiago, Chile: my new home.

It was in the works for quite some time, actually. I first started planning a move around January 2011. After a lot of researching and reflecting, Chile struck me as a safe yet adventurous, culturally vibrant destination. However, before I start chronicling the next step in my life, I must wrap up my time in Mexico.

In another post, I mentioned albur (double entendres), with Mexican chorizo as an example. For the non-Mexicans and thus the innocent of the world chile” is normally a hot sauce or spicy salsa which you have with food, or could refer to plant from which the pepper comes, or lastly, could refer to the country itself. Well, as it so happens, “chile” is also an albur, referring to the male member again (for a change).

The following is an example of a typical conversation I would have with just about any paisano (compatriot) once they discovered I was leaving:

Paisano: “A dónde te vas a mudar?” (“Where are you moving to?”)
Me: “Me voy a Chile!” (“I’m going to move to Chile!”)
Paisano: “Al chile? Por qué tan lejos, cuando lo tienes aquí?” (“To the chile? Why so far, when you have it right here?”)
Me: “No, no, dije a Chile, no dije al chile!” (“No, no, I said to Chile, I didn’t say to the chile!!”)
Paisano: (laughter)
Me: “A parte, ya me enfadé del chile de aquí. Busco algo mas exótico.” (“Besides, I’m sick of of the chile here, I’m looking for something more exotic.”)
Paisano: “¿Oh sí? ¡¡Pues que te vaya bien al chile!!” (“Oh yeah? Well, have fun with the chile!”)

To illustrate the linguistic dissonance.

I stopped working for the Jalisco-based English school chain, United Languages (UL), at the end of January. It's cliché, but it was definitely the closing of one life chapter and the beginning of another. If it were not for all I had learned as a teacher and a director at UL, I would not have been as confident or prepared (professionally) to take the leap to South America. I started work at UL not even knowing how many tenses there were in English, nor what the difference between a subject and object was, and not even close to knowing what participial adjectives or intransitive verbs might have been. I was not able to give educational, dynamic, interesting, and fun classes; or a least, they were few and far between. If had arrived to Chile like that, I would not have been able to get the job I now have, and my work options would have been decisively more limited on the whole. I am very appreciative of my time at UL, for the coworkers who became friends, and for the students who enabled me to pursue my dream of being a teacher.

A last show with the old band at a despedida.

Some friends & coworkers at another of my despedidas.

So I quit my job January 31st, and my departure from Mexico City was February 9th; as you might well imagine those nine days were an emotional and geographic flurry of despedidas (good-byes), last tequilas, giving away/packing things, and little sleep. And of those nine, I decided to spend my last four days in the country in a new place: the capital, Mexico City.

(So before I start detailing the rest of my last week in Mexico, let me just interrupt and say I’m going to be narrating my last several months in parts: Mexico City [this post]; Panama, Chile [pt. I], Argentina, and Chile [pt. II] in posts to come. So now you have something to look forward to after this entry!)

Mexico City

Before I tell you anything else about the place, I’d just like to restate the fact that one of the things I love most about travel is that it necessarily shatters my ignorance about the rest of the world. We are all given a certain image of a place or a people by films, news, and the word of others, and we are unable to experience or understand completely a place by such means. Yes, Mexico City can be dangerous, and it has barrios that you would not want to enter at just about any hour of the day, but is that so different than the capital cities of other countries? I think not.

The food was amazing, and completely different than the cuisine of more northern and central Jalisco, the state of my former residence. There were different ingredients and flavors to dishes I had had in other parts of the country, aside from there being entirely new fare as well! The traffic and bad drivers lived up to their respective reputations, but were not impossible to deal with. Additionally, I was not kidnapped or mugged, my pockets were not picked, I was not offered drugs, I did not get sick from the food; in short, I lived to tell about it. Maybe I was lucky, or maybe my experience was nothing out of the ordinary.

I took this one: the Aztec Stone of the Sun!

The city holds so many treasures that it was difficult to see even a fraction of them in four days. With around 160+ museums, 100+ art galleries, and 30+ concert halls, you could take a month and still not see and do everything. The Museum of Anthropology alone was worth the visit; being able to see immense collection of artifacts, murals, and sculptures of my pre-Columbian ancestors from long ago is an experience that I will never forget. Walking out of the museum, you enter Chapultepec Park, an enormous park in the middle of the city which is the biggest city park in Latin America, and is twice the size of Central Park in New York. Chapultepec Castle lies atop of Chapultepec Hill in Chapultepec park, just in case you started to forget the name of where you are. The site of the Castle has been witness to various important moments in Mexico’s history, from being a retreat of Aztec rulers to being a pivotal standoff in the Mexican-American war.

Ok, ok, enough with the LonelyPlanet and Travel Channel documentary babble, and back to expelling my own ignorance.

Happiness in Xochimilco.

On the outskirts of Mexico City lies what is “the last” of the lake on which Mexico City was built. Xochimilco is a haven of tall trees lining meandering waterways, and I would not have even known I was just a few miles from downtown of one of the biggest cities in the world were it not for the faint lull of cars on a highway in the distance. Birds flapped lazily through the air and geese nudged each other along the riverbank as the captain of our gondola-type boat pushed us down the canals with an oar, dare I say reminiscent of Venice? As I sat there on the little boat, staring off at the mountains in the distance, I realized that my time in Mexico had come to an end, and that I would very soon be looking at the Andes Mountains of South America.

I must say that it was only because of my family that I was only able to fully enjoy this final week that I spent in the capital city. Some cousins put me up at their house, and had their expert local driver take me around to see the sights during the day, and at night we’d go have dinner or coffee at some intriguing venue. The way I began my time in Mexico was also the perfect way to conclude it: in the company of family. In my two and a half years in Mexico, I grew close to many of my relatives—aunts, uncles, cousins, second cousins, cousins twice removed on an uncle’s brother’s side, etc.—so much so that my idea of “family” transformed altogether. My aunts and uncles had become my surrogate caretakers: with a loving smile they’d cook for me, give me advice, and make sure I left the house with a jacket. Of all my first cousins I am the youngest, and they were very much like older siblings: they’d give me a ride (and a hard time) when needed, invite me to their houses to spend the holidays, and meet up for an occasional drink or taco to discuss life. Becoming a part this familial social network was one of the best experiences of my time in Mexico; words cannot express my gratitude and love for those I share it with.

With my primo (cousin) César at Teotihuacán, just outside Mexico City.

With my sobrina ("niece"/daughter of my first cousin) Ale.

I am already acutely aware of the lack of family in my new environment, but alas, it reminds me of the cost of my travels. My friends and family back in the States have graduated, gotten married, passed away, had children, broken up, gotten divorced, or moved away in the time since I have left, and I regret not having been there with them (with you) through these milestones and misfortunes. However, that is the cost I must pay for leaving the nest to know the world. The flipside though, is that I regret that you haven’t shared with me the places I’ve been, the food I’ve eaten, the people I’ve met, the laughs I’ve had, the waters I’ve swum, the sights I’ve seen, the tears I’ve shed, the mischief I’ve escaped…in short, the adventures I’ve had since boarding that plane a few years ago.

So to those of you that accompany me here through my writings: thank you. I appreciate getting to share glimpses of my journey with you.

(Soon to come: Panama in Less than a Day)