Cachái

When I got off the plane in Chile last Tuesday, this is what I heard: ¿holabuenosdíascomoestas? Debesponertuequipajeenelautobúsyentoncesvamosairalhotelparabajarlasmochilasyrelejarunpoquitoantesdeempezamoslaprogramaylaorientación.

This is what I thought:

¿Qué? (aka What?)

This is what I learned:

The Chileans in general are some of the fastest Spanish speakers in the Spanish-speaking world. And there are these things called chileísmos which are Chilean slang words which make up the majority of the Chilean Spanish Language. And they usually don’t pronounce the letter “s” at the ends of their words.

So when I FINALLY walked out of the Arican airport after 28 hours of travelling and was greeted by this and a kiss on the check from Choqui, the super wonderful Academic Director of my SIT program, I was a little overwhelmed. I was still wearing my wool socks under my hiking boots because when I left Minnesota Monday morning it was nine below zero, but stepping off the plane into the middle of the desert I was starting to regret this decision. Luckily the program directors (“el equipo SIT,” or the SIT team who will be teaching our classes and leading our orientation) brought us straight to our hotel and drop off our bags, and take a little nap so all was well.

Our hotel where we will have our 4 day orientation before meeting our host families
Our hotel where we will have our 4 day orientation before meeting our host families

Today is Thursday, so I’ve been here for three days now. I’m super excited because today is the day when I think my Spanish skills just clicked into place. My program has 23 students from all over the U.S., and today we all went to eat some pretty crazy food at this one restaurant. (This was back when I wasn’t catching all the Spanish and didn’t really have any idea what was going on, so I don’t remember the name.)

Chilean Food: Don’t ask me what it is because I don’t know, but it was pretty good!
Chilean Food: Don’t ask me what it is because I don’t know, but it was pretty good!
You can’t really see it, but this was dessert: a purple pudding made of corn that tasted different than anything I’ve ever experienced before: almost like how a candle store smells, but in the best way possible.
You can’t really see it, but this was dessert: a purple pudding made of corn that tasted different than anything I’ve ever experienced before: almost like how a candle store smells, but in the best way possible.

Anyways, after lunch, we had an hour to hang out before we went back to the hotel, and the beach just happened to be conveniently right across the street.

View of the restaurant (and other things) from the beach
View of the restaurant (and other things) from the beach

First of all, crossing the street is slightly terrifying because there aren’t many cross walks and I don’t really know how to do it yet. But once we got past that hurdle the 23 of us got to run through the waves and enjoy the sunny Arica weather. After a while, a lifeguard came up to us and started talking to a few of us about the turtles that live here, and how if you look closely at the tips of the waves you can see them jumping out as they try to eat the jellyfish. (Actually, now that I’m saying this in English, I’m realizing that it makes no sense, but it was something along those lines.) Being a lifeguard myself, I was super excited to talk to him about lifeguarding on the beach of the ocean, and three or four of us talked to him about lifeguarding and about Chile in general for a good half an hour. After a while, I suddenly realized that my head wasn’t hurting like it had been when people were talking to me in Spanish before, and I totally understood almost everything that this guy was saying. It was so great! So now that I’ve had my first conversation and have been talking only Spanish for two days, I finally am not translating everything into English in my head and it’s actually super fun to speak the other language. One of the chilenísmos I have learned is “cachaí,” which technically means to catch, but the Chileans use it to say – “got it?” It’s a word they use to see if you understand what they’re saying, from what I’ve gotten so far. I feel like it describes how I’m feeling right now about Spanish, which is super exciting.

Lifeguard patrolling the beach (he was so legit, equipped with not only a rescue tube, but also a walkie talkie, a jet ski nearby, and knowledge of how to swim through the undertoe)
Lifeguard patrolling the beach (he was so legit, equipped with not only a rescue tube, but also a walkie talkie, a jet ski nearby, and knowledge of how to swim through the undertoe)
Chasing the birds on the beach
Chasing the birds on the beach
A bird sanctuary nearby
A bird sanctuary nearby
A dead sea lion on the beach
A dead sea lion on the beach

On Tuesday and Wednesday, el equipo SIT brought us around Arica to show us around and to see the popular parts of the city, which was very interesting. Arica is very close to Perú and Bolivia and has many tourists, but most of them come from these countries and not the United States. Here are some pictures of my new city:

Our ridiculously corny but still awesome bus we took around the city
Our ridiculously corny but still awesome bus we took around the city
Exploring the beach
Exploring the beach
More beautiful Chilean coastline
More beautiful Chilean coastline
Representing Wisconsin
Representing Wisconsin
This dog was chasing crabs on the beach as his 17:00 snack
This dog was chasing crabs on the beach as his 17:00 snack
This one rock/mountain in the middle is full of bird poop – all the birds decide to poop on only one rock for some reason and people used to collect and sell it because it has lots of nitrogen and it’s really good to use as fertilizer. This isn’t allowed anymore, so the one rock just stays white all the time.
This one rock/mountain in the middle is full of bird poop – all the birds decide to poop on only one rock for some reason and people used to collect and sell it because it has lots of nitrogen and it’s really good to use as fertilizer. This isn’t allowed anymore, so the one rock just stays white all the time.
More coastline
More coastline
It’s a bit excessive, but I never see ocean and it’s super exciting.
It’s a bit excessive, but I never see ocean and it’s super exciting.
Arica is a port city, but almost all of its imports go to Bolivia since Bolivia doesn’t have access to the ocean.
Arica is a port city, but almost all of its imports go to Bolivia since Bolivia doesn’t have access to the ocean.
On top of “el moro” – a huge rock that overlooks the city of Arica and the port
On top of “el moro” – a huge rock that overlooks the city of Arica and the port

Tonight we get to meet our host “hermanos,” aka brothers and sisters and cousins if we don’t have brothers or sister, and then tomorrow we move in with our new families. I absolutely can’t wait! From what I can understand, we stay with our family for the first 8 weeks of the program while we take classes, and then for the last month all the students have to do a research project that goes along with the Public Health, Traditional Medicine and Community Empowerment theme. This kind of huge project would usually seem super terrible if I was doing it in the U.S., but since we get to talk to Chileans and learn all about a whole new culture, it’s a whole lot more exciting. For this, we can choose to live in Santiago, Valpareíso, Temuco, or to stay in Arica. If I do switch cities for this, I will have a new family, or I can live in an apartment. I definitely want to live in another city, but I’m not sure where I’ll end up yet.

Finally, when the Chileans are ending their e-mails and letters, they many times end with “un abrazo,” or “a hug.” In fact, many of the Chilean slang words have evolved to make many things cute and little. For example, many people’s nicknames end in “ita” or “ito” to show endearment, and lots of the words are super nice. It’s kind of like Minnesota nice, but all the way in Chile, and I love it.

Hasta luego y un abrazo,

Megan