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That Travel Bug

About four weeks ago I woke up on a Sunday morning around noon, and as I looked at myself in the mirror I said, “Austin, where did that first half of the day go?”  Living abroad can undoubtedly tire someone out, but my lazy half couldn’t come up with any acceptable excuse to appease my ambitious half.  That day I made a promise that I’d spend my weekends immersed in Chile, not sleep.  And with that I made a resolution to travel. 

                In my clase de turismo we’ve learned how to classify free time spent outside of the local setting.  According to this, once we leave our locale for recreational reasons (study abroad technically doesn’t count) we take part in regional, national, or international tourism.  Here’s what that looks like:

Isla Negra.

                Just south of Valparaíso lies Isla Negra, a small town—not actually an island—that was once home to the poet Pablo Neruda.  Some friends and I got up early that Saturday morning to spend the day exploring Neruda’s house-turned-museum.  I was amazed by his many quirky collections.  However, after browsing his assortment of colorful sea shells, ships in botellas, and wooden figureheads, the backdrop of the rolling waves made the marine collections seem like the natural extension of a poet’s backyard sea.  

Santiago de Chile.

                The following weekend I headed to Santiago to celebrate a friend’s cumpleaños and spend time catching up with him.  This trip was much less about sight-seeing, but I still had the chance to walk through La Moneda, experience the bustle of La Plaza de Armas, and explore La Catedral Metropolitana de Santiago, where I took a picture that really made me reflect on what I’ve seen in the past eight months.


I’m by no means a photographer, but I liked this foto because of its contrast.  América Latina is a place where the past is remembered because it forms the daily.  When possible, colonial buildings and historical sites are honored because they represent heritage and the collision of colonized and colonizer that defines el mestizaje.  This respect for history has been tested through recent globalization and the expansion of international corporations.  Whether the photo represents a contrast between Spanish and North American colonization or a clash between reminiscence and present development is up to the reader.  For me, it captures a reality of which I’ve been reminded constantly while living in Latin America: a fusion of tradition and modernity.

Mendoza, Argentina.

                Some of the best carne in the world, the infamous yerba mate, and a unique Argentine accent are all I expected as I hopped on a bus with my travel buddy, Gustavo.  We rode over the Andes, longing for adventure in the closest Argentine city, Mendoza.  We were not, however, prepared for the three hours after arriving in the city—we hadn’t made reservations in a hostel and initially found no lodging.  This normally wouldn’t have been a problem, but this particular weekend Argentina celebrated Día de la Raza.  This day was celebrated on Saturday in Chile and without time off work, but was celebrated on Monday with a day off of work in Argentina, making finding a cama much more difficult.  Thankfully, after five hostels and two hotels (and contemplating the comfort of the park benches) we found a place to rest.  

                The next day we enjoyed an educational tour of two vineyards and an olive oil plant, which took up most of the day.  Along the way we met Mendoza locals, Porteñas from Buenos Aires, and European exchange students who shared interesting stories and experiences.  I’m constantly amazed with how much young people have in common in spite of cultural or linguistic differences.

                Our second full day in Mendoza was complicated, since somehow Gustavo had lost his Chilean identification card.  You know, the one that’s used for just about everything in Chile.  We went on with our day, but not without the fear that we might have to return to Chile separately and, for him, much later than expected.  Making matters worse, we both got pooped on by pigeons.  Luckily, his passport allowed him to reenter Chile without a problem, and it was actually pretty funny that two disheartened backpackers got bird-bombed within a few hours of each other.  Despite the bad luck, I was able to visit various plazas and two museums and we both ended the day content and enthusiastic about the weekend in Argentina.  The spontaneity and travel complications tested our toughness, but also made for an unforgettable adventure. 

                Throughout my life, but particularly over the last eight months, the benefits of travel have shaped me in a fundamental way.  The perspective gained through unplanned encounters with people and situations provide a plethora of chances to grow.  I’ve found that the tests of perseverance, responsibility, and language ability found in traveling (backpacker-, not cruise-style) force one to think in a more flexible and tolerant way.  

                Thank you for reading, and I hope you too take advantage of traveling and sharing cultures.  Que nuestras botas viajeras nunca dejen de andar por caminos curiosos y experiencias escondidas.

                For anyone interested, here’s the link to a blurb I wrote for Whitworth University’s The Modern Linguist newsletter, which gives an overview of Valparaíso and a trip to another one of Neruda’s houses, La Sebastiana.

-Austin Vander Wel