Empty Pockets Again

I have now been home for approximately 24 days. 24 short/long, dark, occasionally very cold days. What’s always hard for me about coming home after time abroad isn’t exactly the sadness that comes from leaving a place, its the gradual readjustment back into life left.
I don’t know if you’ve ever read the book Bloomability  by Sharon Creech, If you haven’t, you should. Stop reading this, go click the link on over to Amazon (make sure its on Amazon smile and you’re donating to VSP) and buy that book! It’s fantastic.
Anyway, the main character Dinnie has this bubble. A metaphorical bubble that she has with her as she goes, full of her life;
“It was as if I were carrying around all the places I’d ever lived, and nothing I was seeing was just what it was – it was all of the places, all smooshed together. My bubble was fairly bursting by the time I got home, what with all that stuff crammed in there.” 
My bubble is also “fairly bursting”, and my experiences too have layers. Oceans overlapping oceans, people reminding me of other people, a constant ebb and flow of memories.
The best was when I reached a space where there were no memories to overlap. The expansion of the bubble to areas I have never been before, things never experienced. The things that changed.
I’ve become confident. I can navigate tiny streets in a manual van with children in the back seat, singing obnoxious pop songs (in English) and refusing to put their seat belts on. I’ve spoken (yelled) in front of classrooms of rowdy kids in Spanish (terrifying), and talked in front of politicians (only slightly more terrifying).  I’ve sang and played my ukulele in a bar full of strangers, something I’ve wanted to do for years but was always scared to, big shout out to Hotzi and Siobhan for helping me accomplish that goal.
I’ve also been humbled. Many times. A lot of the time by 15 year olds, calling me out on my Spanish speaking abilities, my terrible jokes, and constantly challenging me to view the world differently. But also by people who work hard for the people they care for and for the things they believe in, by landscapes, and small kindnesses.

I’ve screamed in absolute joy, swimming naked in the freezing Pacific on a beautiful sunny day.


None of these people were there, I swear.


I’ve cried through terrible sadness, suffering through loss and comforting those around me who had also lost. Separated from loved ones by miles and shitty wifi connections.

I’ve drank countless drinks with friends from places whose names used to just be dots on maps, but have now turned into memories of familiar faces when spoken. Rio de Janeiro, Germany, Rancagua, Australia, Istanbul.
Coming back to an old place, people that travel have a choice. For me that seems to be whether or not we want to fight to keep our bubble in its new shape, however uncomfortable that might be, in the space we have left for ourselves. Or, conversely, how much we’re willing to give up to fit back in, folding and hiding away new habits.  That’s the thing about traveling. Your bubble can be however you want it to be, you have all the space in the world to expand, to be you. No expectations.
Sometimes it’s necessary to view coming home as going to a new place, new customs and bits of life to be re-learned instead of old habits to fall back into; we DON’T kiss people on the cheek to say hello, we DO have central heating (wahoo!!). And though I’m going to adapt to my culture as I would adapt to any other country in which I’m living, I’m not going back to the old dimensions of my bubble. I’ve grown, and changed, and lived, and I can’t be in there comfortably anymore, I’m not the same.
And that’s good.
“Tan absurdo y fugaz es nuestro paso por el mundo, que solo me deja tranquila el saber que he sido auténtica, que he logrado ser lo mas parecido a mi misma que he podido.”// “So absurd and transient is our time in this world, the only thing that leaves me calm is the knowledge that I have managed to be the closest to myself that I can be.”
  – Frida Khalo.
Credit for featured photo goes to the beautiful and talented Kelly Bruett!

The Three Terremotos

Since many of you back home and abroad were, very sweetly, concerned about me during the events last Wednesday evening I wanted to go over one of my shaky home’s defining characteristics; the terremoto.
In Chile, there are three kinds of terremotos;
The first kind is the one that everyone in the world besides Chileans classify as an earthquake. In Chile unless you can’t keep your balance, it’s not a real earthquake, which means they don’t get out of bed for anything less than a 7 on the richter scale. Freaking out is pretty much laughable from 1- 6 range here, those are temblores (tremors) and hardly noticed; unless they are particularly long in duration you won’t get surprise out of a Chilean, let alone any signs of fear. The slight rumbles that we experience on a daily basis here are equitable to the occasional heat lightening Maryland experiences on any given summer night.
The second kind of terremoto is the real one, Chileans and everyone else agree. That’s the scary kind, the falling down buildings, falling over objects, and tsunami warning deal.
That was last Wednesday for a lot of Chileans, when an 8.3 earthquake hit Illapel in the Coquimbo region of Chile, one above where I live in the Quinta Region in Valpo.
I’ve lived through a few temblores in Chile, during my first one I was in my bed when it started to shake, my immediate thought was (logically) that someone was underneath my bed trying to kill me. I quickly figured out what was actually happening and I felt awesome, I was the fresh veteran of a temblor! Look at me being Chilean and stuff!
Last Wednesday was a little bit of an exception to the norm here in Valpo temblor-wise. I was with my visiting friend Erica, my room mate Jessica, and her friend Rick on a beach in Viña del Mar, the town over. We paused the conversation to comment on the movement, it was a lot longer than usual and the lights on the hill across the water went out. Then all of our phones started beeping at once– warning us of tsunamis and earthquakes, alerting us to head to higher ground.
We headed home on a micro, as soon as we arrived to Valpo the sirens started to go off. The only way I can describe the feeling is kind of like when a tornado siren goes off back home, the bus slowed down and opened the doors to listen, “evacuar, evacuar, tsunami!” Silence came over the micro and Jess and I gathered our friends (on their fourth and first days in Chile, respectively) and kept calm as we walked up Avenida Francia.
As we walked a man walked by, “mira”, he said, look, “sigue temblando”, it’s still going. Eerily the doors of shops were shaking slowly along with the trees on the streets. Now, I’m told that you’re supposed to gauge turbulence by the reaction of the flight attendants. What I saw was hundreds of flight attendants running for the hills surrounded by creepy alarms and police sirens.
Luckily, we quickly got up to our safe little house on a hill where all of our neighbors (plus people evacuating in the streets) were waiting outside. It was incredibly comforting to see familiar faces, such as my neighbors and my boss waiting for us, making sure we were alright and assuring us that we were fine now.


Rooney and Lucho

Whatsapps flew back and forth and people were located, “estai bien, weon?” “you good, dude?”, “si, si, todo bien.” Cell service is virtually impossible during earthquakes, so texts replace phone calls. After everyone was accounted for we did the thing correctly and killed a bottle of wine, “pa’ los nervios” as they say, “for the nerves.”

My street

I normally enjoy temblores, as a gringa with almost no experience of earthquakes its easy to play down, but feeling a little shake is a lot different than the feeling that the world could come crashing down around you if it felt like it. It’s a feeling of powerlessness and uncertainty that I don’t often experience. It’s a very different side of a common thing for me, one that’s resulted in small bursts of anxiety, nightmares about earthquakes and tsunamis, as well as imagining tremors every five seconds.
We were also greeted by videos of places like our regular surf spot being hit by tsunamis,  a bizarre feeling. But as my host sister told me, Chileans are a group of people who pull together after disaster hits, they’ve had practice and they come together to help each other and do incredible things.
Following that, being Chilean, they won’t let anything stand in the way them and their independence festival.IMG_2937
Which brings us to our third type of terremoto.
Named such because the ground moves beneath you when you drink it, the terremoto is a hangover in a jar, mixed with pisco and topped off with pineapple ice cream. The terremoto is one of the official drinks of the fiestas patrias. A week-long celebration with kite flying, meat on a stick, general country-wide dancing of cueca, and alcohol consumption.
So independence day was rung in. Displaying the classic Chilean love of jokes with double meaning, signs everywhere proclaimed, “sin terremoto, no hay dieciocho” “without an earthquake, it’s not the eighteenth” or “without a terremoto (the drink), it’s not the eighteenth”.
I experienced all three terremotos during the last two weeks, (the temblores keep waking me up at night, I’m starting to get sick of them). This week has shown me a lot, but mostly I’m stuck with the feeling that I’m continually impressed by Chileans and their abilities to ride out all kinds of terremotos, and knowing that when the sun comes up they’ll still all be standing together.

Ode to Rio

Oh Rio. They told me it would happen, and I’m not quite sure I believed them, but it did.

I’m enamored.

I am in love with you.

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I’m in love with your multicolored animal print money and your wobbly crowded metro. I love your rainy smells, and your dry smells, and your melodic language. Your people, your warm, warm, water (only God and my fellow VSP interns understand how badly I needed that warm ocean water). I’m so head over heels that I can’t even feel the twenty plus mosquito bites I have all over my body.
 Hopefully some of the abundant love and heat I’ve experienced here will soak  into my bones and wind its way over the Andes to my skinny home in Valpo. But even if it doesn’t, tonight I am so happy.
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They tell you that you know love right away when it happens, and I did. Brazil and I don’t always communicate well, but he speaks some English, and I try very hard in Portuguese. He also has some rough edges, but these are polished away by white sand, and new friends with hands open to pull me into samba dancing, up and down mountains. Through gardens, and art exhibits, and patterned streets.

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Anyone who has asked me what my travel plans were for Brazil was probably answered with, “well, I’m landing in Rio and leaving from Rio, so… That’s about all I know.” My friend suggested I look up a girl and her family that he had met in Rio a couple years back. I pulled up her Facebook. Nathalia. Star Wars banner photo, and she likes the Beatles? Sold.
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Now, I don’t necessarily recommend my method of travel. I’m of the opinion that the universe seems to either like me a lot, or I have a big storm of bad luck coming my way and it’s trying to say sorry in advance, because it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
I arrived in Rio de Janeiro at GIG international airport and quickly realized I had no idea what I was doing. What if they never came to pick me up? Why didn’t I ask her for her phone number? What if they didn’t like me? How was I supposed to travel around alone? Also, should I have looked this up before, but how the actual hell does one convert a real to a dollar? And if one does that, how does one convert that into Chilean pesos, because one has not used the dollar very often over these past 8 months.
Fortunately for me, they did arrive, they did like me, and one found out that converting reais wasn’t as hard as one thought. I still probably should have asked for her number before I arrived, that was kind of idiotic on my part.
As for finding my way around the city… A small army of highly trained Carioca natives assembled, with their metro cards in hand and varying levels of English on their tongues. Their mission, should they choose to accept it, was to help this extremely unprepared gringa navigate her way around the cidade maravilhosa. And navigate we did.

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We wound our way through gardens full of palm trees and waterfalls, up to giant deities, and mountains named after bread. We bowled, and ate burgers until we couldn’t even think about burgers anymore (or maybe that was just me). I got to give lovely informal English lessons in buses, on trains, and beaches, over pineapple juice and pão de queijo. And when our respective languages failed us we mixed together what I like to call Portuñolish. Emphasis on the ish.
Being honest, I am very good at Spanish. I damn well better be as I’ve been studying it for almost 10 years of my life and been living in Spanish speaking countries for a combined total of almost 2.
Brazil however, is a whole different being, Portuguese is a beautiful language, but it’s kind of a jerk. It is strange in its ability to come up to me in a very friendly way and almost –almost- be Spanish…. then run in the complete opposite direction while laughing hysterically as I fall flat on my face.

 I stretched out my rusty speaking muscles with daily lessons in the kitchen about fruits, soap operas, and foods and customs from around the world taught by Penha, Nathalia’s mom.

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I was often surprised when my Spanish mouth took over with very little consent from my Portuguese or English brain. Without my notice my r’s rolled all on their own and words invented themselves out of thin air.
The weird thing was that towards the third day I was rendered completely incapable of speech in Spanish. I was stuck, either by lack of experience in Portuguese or a short circuit in the part of my brain that was responsible for any Spanish words.
English it was for now.

Luckily Nathalia’s brother, Bruno, was quickly handed the position of my partner-in-crime/translator and went on adventures with me pretty much every other day. Which floored me.

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It’s amazing to me that complete strangers stopped their lives to make sure I made it to places safely, quickly, and relatively non-squished by Rio’s very crowded metro system (although if you know me you won’t be shocked learn that I enjoyed every second of my cramped ride, even though everyone around me was probably contemplating mass transit murder).
I am unable to find the words to say how grateful I am, and I am stunned by the amount of wholehearted generosity I felt in Rio. I received detailed personal tours of old libraries, Picasso exhibits, beautiful book stores, and got to surf on a beautiful beach without a wetsuit. I even somehow found people wonderful enough to lay on the ground to take fifty pictures of me and giant Jesus.Evernote Camera Roll 20150827 224912
I’m going to be emotional here for a change and quote Perks of Being a Wallflower; “we accept the love we think we deserve.” Usually I subscribe to that philosophy, but these past ten days I have accepted love that I not only didn’t deserve, but had absolutely no logical reason to imagine I would receive. I simply let myself be. Let myself be a tourist, let myself take selfies with monuments, let myself make silly mistakes without self-deprecation and speak in English when I needed to. I let myself be loved, and fed, and helped, which is something I struggle with on a consistent basis.

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If this trip has taught me anything it is that I need to start accepting love I don’t think I deserve, to stop being so hard on myself, to keep up with my “faint fantasies” as Bruno likes to call daydreams. I can start being okay being an extranjera gringa loca every now and then. Because being strange is often exactly where the fun is. But, if you can’t find it there, you can always try Rio.Evernote Camera Roll 20150827 183801
 Thank you Raphaela, Juliana, Little Felipe, Big Felipe, Jonatas, Gabriel, Penha, Luis, Nathalia, and Bruno for making this experience unforgettable, I love you guys, até pronto.


Of Surfing, Fishermen, and Holidays far from home

          I’ve been back and forth between the United States and other countries often enough to appreciate the reality check I usually get from a short visit home. When I went to Montana at the end of June, among my worries were; that so much English was going to overwhelm me, that I was going to have to go 2 weeks without a surf session, and facing realities that I’ve kept away as well as I could while I was gone.
          My worries really didn’t amount to much, which of course is standard operating procedure when it comes to my life.
I jumped back into English, although it was a little hard at times. I live in a Spanglish household in Chile so sentences like; “Weon, can you pasarme that cuchara?” Dude, can you pass me that spoon? are commonplace, and when one word doesn’t work in English it is easily substituted and understood.
That was the hardest part linguistically, not being able to express myself as I wanted to. However, on the flip side of this, I was able to speak like I haven’t been able to in months. Family communication is an extremely underrated and often forgotten luxury. To live with 4 other people and talk to them through inside jokes and stories that span over almost 22 years is very unique, the longer I spend away from my family the more I recognize how special this is.
My second worry, going 2 weeks without surfing, was another silly one. It wasn’t really a worry I would say, but more like a bummer. I’ve been going surfing a lot lately and I’ve really gotten into it, to the point that I drove about 3 hours to find a wave that was working with my friend Dean, (the search was in vain and we walked about 15 minutes to our last spot only to find that it was not even close to surf able). But I digress, and I have two words, fly fishing.
Now hear me out surfers and fishermen, there are days where we wake up before dawn and drive until the sun starts rising. Hopefully there’s a good spot with no one around, or there’s a secret spot that no one else knows about (the first rule of good spots is that they don’t exist). Peeing in unusual places is the norm, and a sandwich is equitable to a gourmet meal after a morning outside. Normal humans wouldn’t last very long in such icy water, but to just get so close, (either to catching the fish or a wave) leaves us with 3 options; 1) keep trying and be successful,  2) wear ourselves (and our arms) out trying, or 3) purple feet and hypothermia. These are not all mutually exclusive. So with my share of frozen water and dark wake-ups  I wasn’t missing much in that category either.


My third worry was facing realities. That worry was more founded than the other two. I had been distancing myself from a lot over the past few months, my Nana passing away of course being the first thing I was going to have to deal with on arrival. I was terrified that I was going to land in Montana and a flood of repressed emotions was going to take over, cue the mental breakdown.  As it turns out, I’m not as good at repressing emotions as I like to think I am, so it wasn’t a lot different than how I’ve been dealing with it.
There was no awkwardness and stiffness about the subject, we all talked freely about her and made jokes about how we should put the urn facing forward because, “she would’ve been pissed if she couldn’t see where we’re going in the car”. From slightly morbid ‘selfies with Nana,’ to drinking honorary beers on the mountain, to stories about my grandmother that I had never heard before, it was perfect. I cried the most I have in a very long time, and it still hurts, but with my family it’s always good.
I also want to take a quick moment to thank my surrogate family here in Chile, those who brought me food, pastries, beer, etc. Who let me cry as much as I wanted, and talk about random memories, and wouldn’t let me eat lunch alone. I can’t explain how much I needed you, you guys rock, and I would have had a considerably harder time away from all of this without you.
                                                            .       .         .
After a short week and tiny vacation from reality, I was back in Chile celebrating an American holiday. Spending holidays in other countries usually brings me a combined sense of freedom, nostalgia, and homesickness. Its fun to make holiday celebrations your own, making your own food on Thanksgiving, organizing Easter egg hunts for your friends, and Fourth of July barbecues. But the absence of family and old friends can be obvious too, and although holidays are always fun, the deviation from tradition can bring on homesickness.
This Fourth of July was the second I’ve spent away from home, and it’s strange to celebrate a holiday that I normally associate with blazing heat and boats to winter time and cold.  To celebrate a typically American holiday halfway around the world is weird. To not be in the U.S. while everyone I know is celebrating and together was difficult. But we had a party, we cooked a million burgers (shout out to grill-master Claudio), sang the national anthem, flew our flag, and lucky for us we also got to share our day with the finals of the Copa America 2015.
Chanting, cheering, and general horn-blowing craziness was well under way in my house at 5:00 when the game started. This quickly escalated to jumping group hugs as the game finished on penalty kicks and Chile secured a win that has been eluding them for almost a century. Of course, this was against our rival, Argentina, along with one of the most historic victories in Chilean soccer, so we all took to the streets– and in normal fourth of July style immediately lost each other in the very crowded park.

My last and biggest fear about last month I didn’t even realize I was worried about until I got back. I was terrified that I would experience the intense difference of my two realities, and become disillusioned about home or about Chile. That I would miss my family way too much once I got back, that going home would throw me off the track I was on in Chile before I left, that I would feel completely out of place in my old life. Surrounded by red, white, and blue, people jumping, singing and laughing with fireworks in the background was everything I expected from my Fourth of July, and proved that, as usual, I have nothing to worry about.


Love you, Rosie.

Mid- internship Interview

Yesterday I was putting together exit interviews for our volunteers. While I was doing research I stumbled upon some awesome lists with great questions and even better answers. It got me thinking, so permit me a mid-internship self interview.
Project Assignment: Year-long internship with Valpo Surf Project
Responsibilities: Mentor, Surf Instructor, English teacher, Volunteer Coordinator, Environmental Coordinator, part-time jungle gym, and maker of beach sandwiches.

Me and Ale, one of our girls from Cerro Mariposa

If your time here was a story what would it be called: “Tiny Adventures and Minor Inconveniences”

Like the time I tried to change secretly into my wetsuit and put it on backwards. Also the fact that this time was last week. Photo cred to Deano Thompson.

Most useful thing brought into the country: Probably my backpack, the thing is a tank and I take it everywhere
Least useful thing: Heels and a black club dress, I don’t know what I was thinking, I live in flannels and my chucks 99% of the time.
I feel most integrated into Chilean culture when; I use the word “po” or “weon” correctly in a sentence (click here to discover the subtle nuances of “po” usage).
My favorite Chilenismo (chilean slang word): Cachai? Got it? Comes from the word to catch in English.
Most memorable injury: Being swept off of a bunch of very sharp rocks by my longboard wielding Chilean boss (the same board as my last post). We were at a break that has kind of a complicated process to come in from the water, the tide came in, took him out and he took me down with him. Meanwhile, my friend Kelly watched us helplessly out in the water as we bounced off of rocks like ping-pong balls trying to get our footing, my American boss Wiley shouting directions from above. I don’t think my shins have ever been that purple in my life, and I’m still not quite sure that either Claudio’s or my feet have recovered.

Sick view, though

Most Chilean habit: My accent in my Spanish, I honestly don’t think I’ll ever shake it. I’ve tried. Putting an “s” at the end of words will never happen again, nor will I acknowledge a that there is a letter “d” in the middle of a word. It’s not good enough to be perfectly Chilean, but there’s no way it’ll ever be anything else either.
Songs that will remind me of this year: So far “Gypsy” by Fleetwood Mac is running in first place
Proudest moments:
Three come to mind;
1) When the button on the micro was broken and I had to two finger whistle to the driver to let me off at my stop. The fact that I managed to get a whistle out at all while maintaining stability was the coolest part.
2) Last week when a kid said “qué fome” how lame, when I told him class was over, and proceeded to tell me that he’d never wanted to stay in a class longer before. Cue the teacher in me dying of excitement.
3) Every time I stand up on a surf board, albeit in whitewater on a bright orange soft top, I still feel awesome.
Most beautiful place visited this time around: Punta de Lobos, but Valpo across the water at night is one of my favorite views in the world.

Punta de Lobos


Valpo from Concón

Books and podcasts that I’ve read/ listened to: 
The VSP house is seriously on the podcast game, my favorites include: Ta Falado, (a podcast for learning Portuguese for Spanish speakers) and Invisibilia.
I’ve been reading on and off, currently I’m into Sweetness and Blood, it’s awesome so far and I’m learning a lot about surf history.
What will I miss when I leave:  Speaking in a combination of English, Spanish, Chilean Slang, and made up words in the office. Surfing whenever I want (mostly). Early wake ups and playing pranks on my co-workers. My friends and my kids, walking everywhere, Cachitos, living close to the sea, the view from my bedroom window.

Valpo Sunset from my window in Casa VSP

What WON’T I miss: Cold hands, adobe walls, things being closed on Sundays, things being closed for no reason, mice.
How have I changed since being here/ what have I learned: 
 I learned that I love doing things alone, like walking or going to a park. That tea in the morning can be a life saver, and being in the ocean often is necessary to my mental health. That in certain moments my kids can make me want to explode with frustration, but also simultaneously with love, and the only acceptable reaction in those moments is to laugh. I’ve realized that just because I have a routine doesn’t mean my life is boring, in fact a routine with simple pleasures is great, like snack and caffeine breaks at work, surf sessions, and chess games at night.
What’s next: I kept this in here although I really have no idea, I’ve got a hundred different possibilities bouncing around at the moment. Right now I’m having a blast, I’m working a ton, surfing a lot, having deep and silly conversations with people who make me happy, and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
Peace, love, and tiny adventures

Here I go again!

For those of you who don’t know, or who have (understandably) lost track of my travels, I’m going to be  leaving Sunday (12/28) to work as an intern at the Valpo Surf Project for the upcoming year, teaching English and Environmental Awareness to at-risk youth in the Valparaíso area of Chile.

Being as travel obsessed as I am, I’ve spent more than my fair share of time reading travel blogs (like my favorite one by Matt Kepnes), so my friend Andrew  and I decided to give it a go. We have now had this travel blog in the conceptual stage for about six months, but after receiving some suggestions (mostly thinly-veiled commands from my mom) to record our travels, we’ve decided to get our site up and running for real.  I’ll be sharing this blog with him, so if you’d like to read about his Hawaiian adventures, feel free to click on his name or one of his spots on the map! Obviously, we’re still ironing some stuff out on the technical side of things, but we have degrees in Spanish and Education, have mercy on us.

But back on subject; this is my third trip to South America and looking back on last July, my nervousness is really at an all time low. The first time I went to Chile I was struggling hard; leaving my friends, moving to a new country, and grappling with the fact that I could be thousands of miles away from my family in the event of an emergency. You name it and I was probably freaking out about it internally. This time I’ve got a little bit of a handle on things; I know the language, I know my way around, I can drink pisco with the best of them, and I have a wonderful support system of friends and familia waiting for me.

So what am I worried about?

Right now it’s mostly got to do with driving a stick shift, which I am historically unable to figure out. Kidding. Slightly. I mean come on, can you blame me?

Just a normal street in Valpo

Just a normal street in Valpo

In reality, I’m nervous, but a good kind of nervous, the kind that comes from knowing what you are about to do will be challenging at times, but that it’ll be worth it. I know for a fact that this year isn’t going to always be easy, but participating in something as amazing as Valpo Surf, and in one of the cities I love most in the world, I really couldn’t ask for anything more.

I should probably start packing though… 🙂

– Paige