Thursday, August 26, 2010

Montevideo, Uruguay

Once again, I have confirmed my belief that travel is my own personal best educational tool.

When you are traveling, things that you tried to learn in school naturally have their turn:
1. Planning and organization - the most basic skill students try to master 
2. Geography and map reading- unless you have a GPS
3. Weather - The decision between an umbrella or sunglasses 
4. Math - especially word problems regarding distance, time, and money
5. History- taking tours and visiting monuments and museums

I hated studying history in school, so names, dates, and events (basically everything about history) never stuck. When I was studing in Spain, my friend Becky and I took a trip to Vienna, Austria. For no particular reason why, we just chose a place on the European map and booked our plane tickets. We passed a very large, elegant yellow palace that stood apart from the modern architecture that surrounded it. Reading a sign, I exclaimed "So THIS is where the Hapsburg's live!" A textbook could never have captured my attention the way this larger-than-life historical structure did. That day was a turning point in my travel life. 

Montevideo shares some of the same significance. If a year ago I had been asked the location of Montevideo, I might have said a small town outside of Las Vegas, Nevada. Nope! It's the capital of Uruguay. I also wouldn't have known where to put Uruguay on an empty map of South America. But everything about it fell into place this winter vacation.

So from the favored Calafate we flew to Montevideo, the capital city of Uruguay. We arrived at night, walked the streets with our massive backpacks and I made the mistake of asking a less than credible man selling hotdogs (se llama completos) how to get to our hostel. He responded, “walk up this street and to the plaza, then ask someone else.” I nodded my head with great thanks and appreciation for a few seconds until my mind could make the translation. Jerk. Montevideo is hard to describe. It has beautiful statues and bountiful fountains, old architecture aaaaaand palmtrees.  We decided that the cloudy skies and cold gusts of winter don’t do the city justice. Summertime must liven the vibe altogether. Lonely Planet directed us to an Arabian restaurant that didn’t exist (and must have never existed according to the reactions we got from local store owners). 

There was a small but eloquent museum for J Torres Garcia, an artist born in Montevideo. To broaden our cultural experiences, we visited the Estadio Centenario, the stadium which held the very first World Cup in 1930. I can thank Greg for this opportunity, because without him I would never have known it existed! Without a doubt the most excited thing about our trip to Montevideo was that we were able to attend  a city parade for the national futbol team as they arrived home from South Africa. Greg and I joined the crowd early and felt a little dismissive of the event. Unfortunately, we didn’t realize just how early we had joined. Four hours later, we could see the team hanging out of the windows and the roof of their tour bus as it creaked slowly down the main avenue toward the legislative building where a stage and a mass of hinchas were waiting. Watching the madness I realized that my lifetime wish to one day attend the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade was no longer necessary. From the night we arrived to the day we left, I slowly grew to appreciate this city that didn’t really seem to care what I thought in the first place. Montevideo “es lo que hay” as many would say. It is what it is and you can love it or leave it. For that reason, it has earned my respect very well and has it's place in my heart and mind - a place more valued than a textbook on my bookshelf. 

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

"...y, a veces enseñamos inglés."

I'm stealing this title from a friend. It made me laugh uncontrollably, and I couldn't stop repeating it to myself. It means, "... and sometimes we teach English." It's true, my friends. Everyday I wake with a different understanding of my responsibilities in this small town. Assistant? Intern? Role model? Practice for the teacher? A sounding board? Free labor? The one I always agree to is "giver and receiver of love." There's plenty of confusion, disagreement and negative energy flowing down here, so the only way to survive is by recognizing love when it's there. Kisses, hugs, the te quiero's from my little sister are a constant reminder that the world is a good place

I'm interrupting my series of travel posts to tell you a little bit about the new semester. It's different, thanks to God and a little ambition. I had made up my mind to change my schedule and my attitude, and it worked.

In addition to "teaching" at Maria Mazzarello, I am teaching 6 evening classes for a small academy and privately tutoring a lady that works in tourism. Before I returned from winter vacation, I had already had solicitations in my mailbox for help from a native English speaker. I replied with gusto, unlike last semester. 

I'm running from one classroom to another, sometimes prepared and others not. I sleep less, and I don't always make it home for lunch. But I'm getting back to being Marie again, the over-scheduled school girl. I don't dread classes anymore, and I pleasure the time I have with my students. I search for games and activities, and I create my own lessons. I get excited when my students ask questions and seem interested. I'm overcoming the little things. Teaching isn't so bad after all. 

Who knows what that conclusion will lead to... 

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

El Calafate, Argentina

 I told you. I warned you in my first entry about my blogging history and how my motivation wanes over time. Everything changes here in Chile, constantly, quickly, and often without notice. Keeping track of these changes can be difficult, but I will try to do much better. One change in my life, better described as an addition, is my boyfriend Greg. We met at orientation in Santiago during our first days in Chile. He might agree that I should be held responsible for this relationship, but it's not entirely my fault that he is so wonderful. He lives in Punta Arenas, a larger city three hours by bus. By Chilean geographical standards, we residents of Patagonia are lucky to be so close. Greg and I grew to know one another over the first few months of teaching and living, and we decided with great faith that traveling together for Winter Break might be possible. We were right. It was fantastic. I couldn't have asked for a better person to have by my side for three weeks straight, no exceptions. 


If you haven't already guessed, Winter Break is meant to divide the two semesters of the school year and allow the kids of Patagonia to either travel north of the rigid weather or at least eliminate their one reason for ever going outside. We chose to escape it. Greg and I visited eight locations, all possessing a different flavor.

To avoid jamming everything about our vacation into one single post, I prefer to recount each city on its own beginning with Calafate.

We headed our list with Calafate for a few attractive reasons. A solar eclipse was opportunely expected for the first day of our vacation, and we had been told that Calafate would host the best view. Secondly, we were planning to fly directly to Buenos Aires while somehow avoiding Argentina’s reciprocity fee of $131 for US citizens. After a bit of research we found that the fee is only charged to people arriving on international flights. There is only one international airport, and flying from within the country (from Calafate, for instance) wouldn’t require us to pay. We had crossed the border to Argentina by bus weeks before which proved to be uncomplicated and cheap. In the end, it didn't matter. We went all the way to Calafate only to fly directly into Uruguay.

So we decided to return to the adorable Calafate, a small town made famous by a gigantic glacier located in the nearest national park. Although it sorely disappoints Greg, I consider Calafate one of my favorite locations we visited during our break. Not because it was already familiar. Not because we missed the solar eclipse completely because we failed to research its exact time of passing. Not because we spent the better part of an afternon watching the final game of the World Cup. Instead, I will never forget the first time I was able to ice skate on a frozen lake.

We went for a walk along a long newly built brown boardwalk away from town’s center, and we could see in the distance an open white field with tiny black ants gliding along the surface. As we got closer, we passed parents and children full of exhaustion, hand in hand, skates tied and slung over their shoulders. One of us remarked how unfortunate we were not to own skates like most of the local kids obviously do. Interestingly, they all seemed to have the same color and design. Que raro. On the top of a hill, further away than one would have expected, we saw a building with a line that stretched down the exterior stairs and wrapped along the side. We walked to the building. There was a sign that notified all customers to return their skates by 5:00 pm. Bummer. It was almost… wait! They wanted everyone to return them so that they could prepare for Night Skating! We waited, drank coffee, and waited some more.

I was terrified. It was a lake, for crying out loud. Has there ever been a movie in history that involved someone skating on a frozen lake or pond and not falling through the ice? With every crack, I cringed and shrieked a little. Greg laughed and tried not to make me feel bad about my fear that I quickly overcame when I realized that had I fallen, at least one thousand people would be there to witness and help.

It was incredible. The ice was patchy and uneven. Someone had encircled a large area of the lake with tiki torches. There was a bond fire and a barbeque happening on the very edge of the shore. The sky was cloudless, and the stars made me forget all about the solar eclipse that I never saw. Cold feet, red noses, and all. Thank you Calafate for showing me just how beautiful winter can be.