Friday, 21 December 2012

Adios, y Gracias a Chile

Despite it seeming like I only arrived a short time ago, I've actually been here just over 5 months. In those months I've moved to the other side of the world, become "Mr Gabriel", met some incredible people, explored South America, and found out a huge amount about Chile and this incredible continent.

So here's a few conclusions before I board my flight.

1. Learn to peel and stone avocado. At some point, you will be required to do it.
Chileans adore avocado and eat it in large quantities. It's cheaper and tastier than in the UK, so I made the the most of it. However, people will judge you on your palta preparation skills. Learn.

2. Working with kids can be both maddening and insanely cool.
When they want to do what they're meant to be doing, the job is great. However, I absolutely hate dealing with kids who are misbehaving or are being difficult, and uncooperative classes can be more than a little stressful. Teaching can often be more crowd control than actual teaching.

3. Being old has it's advantages, but can be really boring.
My life over here is a bit as I imagined being 30. Working 9-5 (or 8-4 in my case) is a drain, and the weekends are amazing. I never before appreciated the true joy of a Friday night. However, old(er) people are actually quite a lot of fun, and it's nice having more money than a student. (Edit: I just realised I now have no money.)

4. South America is incredible.
What a continent. I only managed to see bits of three countries: Argentina, Chile and Perú. All three are so different, and have a huge amount to offer. Even in the developed Southern Cone, things are done very differently to the UK, and as you head North things get a lot more exciting. There's no way I'm not coming back.

5. Being British is good.
Whereas the general perception of Americans around here is of culturally insensitive idiots, the British have managed to keep up a sterling reputation. We're stereotyped by the Queen, being polite, gentlemanly, on-time, and drinking lots of tea. Aside from a few issues with Argentina, it's all good.

6. I love Chile(ans).
Whilst I've been here, the people I have had the pleasure and privilege to meet have been amazing, and the places I have had the chance to go to have been truly incredible. The hospitality and kindness that everyone has shown me was more than I could ever expect. As well as being filled with wonderful people, this country also has some of the most incredible cities, towns and landscapes I've seen.

Thank you Chile, thank you Redland, and thank you to the Prado family. It's been awesome.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Diez Soles Muchacho?

I'm now back in Chile after a whirlwind trip to Perú, where I visited the gastronomic capital of South America (allegedly) that is Lima, and the ancient Incan capital of Cusco. I spent over two days on buses, and a pleasant 8 hours on aircraft. I tried Cusqueño beer, Inka Cola, lomo saltado, peruvian pisco sour, guinea pig nuggets, alpaca meat, and lots of té manzanilla. So what's Perú like?

Cusco, where I spent most of my time, is a bizarre city in the central Andes. It's promoted by the Peruvians as a cultural and historical capital, chock a block with traditional Andean culture, ancient ruins and Incan history. This is sort of true, but it's also full of all the shops that pander to gringo needs: Irish pubs, international restaurants, and 5***** hotels. The whole "cultural journey" seems a bit silly when you're seeing it from the window of your pub quiz venue!

First it might be worth mentioning the insane journey I took to get here. Not insane as in 5 day truck ride through the Amazon, but insane as in 24 hours in bus-borne luxury.

The bus was run by Cruz del Sur, and I was going to ride in their first class service: cruzero suite. The crazyness started when I boarded from the VIP lounge onto the huge double decker to find my wide, reclining seat on the top floor. I was offered tea and coffee by the attendant, and we quickly got under way. We were shown a variety of decent films, and after a few hours the attendant then came round with our dinner. Unbelievably, it was hot, and significantly better than airline food: beef and potato stew with rice, a potato omlette, and cornet manjar to finish.

This was swiftly followed by a casual game of bingo (I was the only one who found this a bit weird) which I didn't win, then another film and finally bed. This all continued into the next afternoon when we arrived in Cusco. I would say though, however comfy the bus is, you're still spending 24 hours sat on a bus.

Back to topic - you can't really deny there is some amazing stuff in Cusco. The ruins of Sacsayhuaman and Qorikancha, both within the city limits, are breathtaking. Going some 30 minutes outside the city shows you how seriously poor peruvians live, many still holding on to the traditional ways of life. We did in fact drive through some of these villages on the bus, something that was strange to see from the tinted windows of my VIP ride.

Cusco also has a lot of conquistador history, where the invading Spanish tried to suppress the traditional ways in favour of their new European ideals. You can see how colonial buildings have been built on top of Inca foundations, and indigenous motifs have been absorbed into the new way of thinking: one of the most famous examples of this is a depiction of the last supper in Cusco's cathedral where the disciples are eating guinea pig.

Now heading back to Lima, the only site I really saw there of any importance was the Museo Larco, a huge collection (by Lima standards) of Peruvian artefacts, including some amazing pottery and jewellery. Sorry Martha, but it was actually quite interesting! The museum is really well done, with lots of information about the various artefacts of pre-Hispanic societies: quipus, human sacrifice, jewellery, and, Greg's favourite, hand axe thingys.

That evening I flew back to Santiago with TACA, after a slightly bizarre ride to the airport with an eccentric driver. Lima airport is big on security - only passengers are allowed into the terminal - and very modern and new. The country is clearly keen to shed the image of Shining Path that P&G probably still have in their minds. For me, they have!

Friday, 7 December 2012

Lima, Perú

So I arrived in Perú a few days ago, and am now sat in Maria's apartment in Cusco. To get here I flew from Santiago to Lima with Sky Airlines, who are apparently perfectly safe, and cheap. To their credit, they served me a massive lunch in flight, so it can't be too bad.

I arrived at Lima Airport, and got a taxi to Miraflores, the district where I would stay for a night before heading out of town the next afternoon. Seeing as I arrived late, I left Lima's sights til the next day, got some dinner, and went to bed. The next day I got up (relatively) early and headed into downtown, after an extended taxi bargaining session with multiple drivers.

It turns out, taxis in Perú are neither metered nor regulated in any way. I'm pretty sure that none of the taxis I took would have passed an MOT, and they can just be random cars with no outward markings on them. You also have to bargain a fare with the driver before getting in, which adds to the excitement.

Arriving into the centre of town alive, I walked around the city centre seeing two of the major sights in Lima: the presidential palace and the Congress. I was lucky enough to catch the changing of the guard at the former, and you can see a video of bits of it here and here. I then headed to the Congress, and got shown around the national congress by a random security guard on account of me being foreign and looking vaguely respectable.

Last stop was the Convento de Santa Rosa, where it turns out the oldest university in the Americas was founded in 16 something. Turns out it was actually in this room here.

With my time in Lima finished, I headed to the Terminal Cruz del Sur for a 24 hour ride of luxury into the Andes and towards the ancient Incan capital: Cusco.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Last Week at School

This week was my last week at school - not the first time I've ever done that! However, it was the first time I've done it as a "teacher", if that's what I can be described as. I wasn't really expecting to be at all sad about saying goodbye to the kids, but it really was quite difficult!

On Tuesday I was able to get a glimpse of the Santiago high life, when Ute invited us all to the Prince of Wales Country Club. The Senior English department was joined by Carolina, Edmund form Maths, and Leo from Music in a classy evening of Kunstmann and Churrascos Filetes. The PWCC is like a little haven of Britishness in the middle of Santiago, with great facilities, a pub, restaurants, a golf-club, and Twinings tea. Nice.

Also on Tuesday I said goodbye to the junior school kids who I've seen every Tuesday since I arrived. The class above is 1st básico, roughly the same as year 1/2, and because their English is pretty basic I spend lessons with them doing art, drawing pictures, running around, and generally having a great time! I also work with 3rd and 4th básico, and we did slightly more challenging activities - still a lot of fun though.

This class is 5th básico, who I've spent quite a lot of time with. They're one of my favourite classes, and with them we did loads of lessons about different places around the world, as well as random English-related things. I taught them about the Queen, British Police, and my chickens, and some more global topics like Hong Kong and the South China Seas.

This final class is 8th básico, who I saw several times a week! They're 13/14, but don't seem to have hit the annoying hormonal stage yet. Perhaps my finest moment with these guys was teaching a frankly inspiring lesson on Walt Whitman's "O Captain! My Captain!" which I prepped in the 5 minutes Lorena was talking to them in the beginning of class. They were a lot of fun, and as such got their own page in my scrapbook where they wrote down all the rude words they've been trying to teach me all term.

Leaving really was quite odd, but Mr Gabriel will be back for graduation and the final ceremonies in a weeks time!