What To Expect When The Adventure Begins
With 5 years of planning, researching, and just wondering...will this work?!?, I’ve launched off to my 1st location; Chile. It takes a lot of farewell wine and food to prepare to move overseas...and I’m sportin' the extra 10 pounds to prove it! No worries, they’ll fall off.
With culture shock hitting you like a slap across the face, I want to share highlights from the first 7 days of my journey so you may be better prepared than I was:
After a most gracious send-off from friends at Reno airport, the adventure began.
Welcome to Chile; we will contact you as soon as we find your luggage. As a committed carry-on-only traveler, I decided at the final moment to check my pack...with my laptop. Dumb, I know. But I was thinking about streamlining the arrival process. Chile welcomed me with a heatwave. To save valuable space in my pack, I thoughtfully wore my motorcycle boots, socks, leggings, and a long sleeve bulky hooded top...not realizing I would be living in these clothes for 5 days in 95 degrees weather; well, that and a purple cocktail dress with motorcycle boots I added at the last minute...that was attractive?! Through complicated communication on the iPad and burning through 1 SIM card, it was communicated that I had to stay-at-the-apartment to show ID in case my bag was delivered.
So, for 5 days I sweltered in the heat, just going out to purchase bits of food and obsessively check my email for any news. Was my laptop in some dreary basement getting hacked? I cried, prayed (a lot), felt vulnerable, isolated, but NEW in my heart this was the right decision. There were moments of gratitude and kind people offering a smile. Top Ramen for dinner via microwave. Heart of Glass by Blondie plays repeatedly next door.
The apartment, via Airbnb, is located in Providencia, Santiago; a “nicer” neighborhood behind the historic Parroquia Nuestra Señora De La Divina Providencia church. Each day, this statuesque church stood as a reminder that I am never alone and brought peace of mind when I couldn’t figure out how to light the kitchen stove or as computer glitches starting rolling in. There is a large city park with high-rise apartment buildings dotted throughout, where gangs of rogue Parrots chatter during the day, families picnic and children dash around, squealing like little Piglets high on sugar. Travel Tip: When packing, make a COMPLETE inventory list of your contents, with photos. If your bag is lost or delayed, you may be required to present an inventory list for verification; a list that, once made, cannot be changed. Lesson learned. The apartment building is gated with a front desk attendant always ready with a kind “Buenos Dias” as I venture down the 75 stairs to check on my baggage. There’s a sketchy elevator and besides, I’ve got 10 pounds to burn off, so 6 stories of stairs it 'tis. One can feel self-pity, frustrated; or, one can take action and count your blessings. I had clothing, food, albeit Top Ramen, was in a safe location, and knew this would turn out alright. Went to mass, which is in Spanish and would find myself going 3 times in the first week. I’m Protestant; but there was something about being with other worshipers, with the commonality of God that soothed my “Damnit-where’s-my-backpack” soul; I cried. Dinner; more Top Ramen and a Banana.
The Landlord informed me, via WhatsApp, that a “boy” from Australia was coming to stay and study Spanish at the nearby language school. I've learned this area receives waves of foreign young adults attending language schools; often for a semester abroad to learn Spanish and get drunk. I’m in a 4 bedroom apartment, 3 rooms/1 baths upstairs, with my room/bath on the main level on the sixth floor. How wonderful it was for Liam to walk through the door, speaking English. Just to have a conversation with a young man who happens to be a seasoned traveler and responsible, was a breath of fresh air. Liam, I say thank you for your encouragement, and helping me with my Spanish...err...make that very limited Spanish! Travel Tip: when slow traveling to another country, you may feel overwhelmed at the language barrier; do you dive in and try to learn it all; no. Just focus on learning key phrases that will get you by; phrases such as greetings, how to ask for something, how much does something cost “cuánto cuesta,” how to buy a train ticket, and so on. This will provide you with quick freedom...especially when your translator app decides to go on vacation.
Check out my primitive Spanish flashcards. I cried...it’s hot. Banana and corn chips for dinner. Signs of Montezuma's Revenge💩
Once in a while, we have the opportunity to save a life. Check out Save The Gatito...
Today, after receiving mixed messages from the airport, I decided to go downstairs and see what more could be done. Dear Paola, an angel in disguise at the front desk, kindly lent me her cell phone so I could call the airport and clarify “if” my pack was being delivered. After much back and forth, I learned that my bag was at Santiago Airport.
Spring into action little Silver Oyster!
Uber; Check! Refuse to get out of the car 2x’s at the airport, knowing this was the wrong location; Check! Making the Uber driver get-out-and-ask-for-directions via bad Spanish; Check! Yes, I pulled the “Don’t Mess With Me” lady card. Reaching baggage claim and retrieving my pack with the help of a tall, jaw-dropping-drink-of-Pisco Sour, Chilean airport employee; Hubba, Hubba Check!
Returning home with a weight off my shoulder; Check! Everything was there...minus my backup battery and my razors...what’s up with that?1?
I cried, but this time tears of joy and felt gratitude for answered prayers.
With clothing and essentials, today marks Welcome To Chile-Take 2! A day to start exploring this city of 5.6 million with some of the friendliest people I have ever met. Top of the list, figure out the Metro Train system; I felt so accomplished after purchasing my ticket (it took 3 people to help the Gringa) but we got ‘er done. Check out the Plaza De Armas, a popular central square in Santiago, filled with tourists, the spectacular Santa Lucia where the extreme vertical steps rival the Great Wall of China and where they still shoot off the cannon every day at noon.
It was hysterical watching hundred of tourists jump at the same time; like startled fleas. Yes, I felt a little smug, having read the travel guide and knew the cannon fire was coming. Still, I jumped a little. The dense trees provided relief from the day's heat. Today, I had my “1st meal,” who knew it would be a delicious Pizza and beer at Plaza De Armas. After days of Empanadas, disinfected produce, and a “Gurgly tummy,” it was heaven to sit under an umbrella, drink a cold beer, and really EAT! I cried. Now, some of you may ask, “what's with all the tears?”....well, I’ve quickly learned that as you start a new life abroad, there's a grieving process for what is left behind. Plus, there's tension as you learn everything... I mean everything all over again. It’s healthy to let-it-out and makes embracing the new easier.
So, My First 7 Days Abroad? Well, I'm starting to feel like I’m “getting my feet on the ground.” The morning "Buenos Dias" to the front desk attendant is now familiar, learning new phrases in Spanish, boiling and drinking 3 pots of water a day, and learning how to rely on helpful strangers is new for this I-can-do-single-American-female. Taking time to celebrate these small accomplishments feed my soul, like diving into this little wonder of deliciousness called a "Negrito." Imagine sponge cake with a caramel Nutella in the middle, dunked in chocolate, then rolled in coconut. Yep, everything is going to be ok.
Reminders From The First Week
There are kind, helpful people everywhere who are willing to let you use their foreign cell phone (for a long phone call), that I am never alone, that I am divinely protected, that cold cereal for supper is just fine, that one can take pleasure in simple tasks such as boiling drinking water daily, washing out clothes in the bathroom sink because the washer doesn’t work (Mañana), and making new discoveries while letting go of your life back in the USA. Knowing that my blog posts will happen and will improve with time. Having faith that everything will work out. That each day, each step forward in a foreign country gets a little easier. Count your blessings.