This is entry four of an ongoing travel journal. Click here to read the first.

February 26, 2017

Mi Familia

My host mother picked me up from the hostel in the morning. She speaks no English, but I was able to piece together enough broken Spanish to converse at a level that surprised me. After having spent just one day in Chile, my Spanish had improved tenfold.

We arrived at my new home, a beautiful ranch house in Vitacura, one of Santiago’s nicest neighborhoods. I spent about an hour unpacking and getting settled, when my host mother asked if I wanted to go to her mother’s house to eat lunch. The focal point of this trip for me is to immerse myself in the Chilean culture – eat, drink, speak, and live as the Chileans would. Of course I want to go to the home of my Chilean grandmother for lunch.

But I was unclear of what lunch with grandma consisted of. I was picturing slapping together a quick sandwich and getting on with the day. But I walked into the house and she and a few other relatives were sitting and visiting respectably in the living area, while her housekeeper, la ama de casa, cooked in the kitchen.

They were not necessarily dressed in their most formal attire, but they dressed with decency. I showed up wearing a deep tank top, sporting an old tattoo and a new scar from a recent shoulder surgery. I felt like an idiot.

I tried speaking Spanish to my abuela,Como está – estás?” but to my astonishment, she looked me in the eyes and said, “You can speak English with me, boy.” She is eighty-six years old and sharp as a tack. I wanted to ask how she knew English when none of her children speak it, but I already felt disrespectful enough in my outfit so decided to save it for another time.

We sat at the table and la ama de casa served us one of the best meals I’ve had in years. I’ve been living on my own as a broke student for a long time, so my day-to-day sustenance usually consists of rice, eggs, and hot sauce.

But these were hand rolled raviolis, half swimming in a thick, white cream garlic butter sauce, and the other half drizzled with a thinner, savory deep red beef chili, all sprinkled with fresh grated parmesan and chopped green onions grown from the soil of her backyard. I don’t necessarily know what authentic Chilean cuisine is, but I’d like to think that this was it, and I was blown away.

After the meal, we sat together for hours and talked, while drinking cups of espresso and eating soft and sweet fresh peaches. This is what they do every Saturday afternoon.

Late Night in Viña

The day before, my new Chileno amigo, Ignacio, had invited me to come with him to a festival in Viña del Mar, which translates to Vine of the Ocean. I hadn’t thought much about it until my host family asked me if I was going out that night, which is standard for the young in Chile. I thought, I am young; I am in Chile, why not?

I caught a bus from Santiago to Melipilla (which was muy difícil with my limited Spanish) and from Melipilla, Ignacio drove us another hour and a half through the mountains to Viña del Mar.

Someone had told me that the Chileans start late and end late, and it wasn’t until this night that I really understood. We arrived at the home of Ignacio’s amigos at midnight, and did not leave for the nightlife until 2 a.m. By then, the festival was already over, so in reality we were just going to a discotech.

I’m not much of a nightclub type of person even in the States where I understand the culture, so the madness of the Chileans was slightly… overwhelming.  

There were two levels of the club; one floor was blasting Latin remixes of American pop songs, and another dance floor on the rooftop overlooking the ocean was bouncing to deep, steady-bass techno. The club was packed shoulder-to-shoulder with Chileans dancing and sweating on each other.

I was still strung out from my flight the day before, and ready for bed before we even went out. By 4 a.m., I was praying that the epileptic strobe lights would give me a seizure so that we had a reason to leave, and even then I don’t think my amigos could have been pulled from the dance floor.

At 5 a.m., the lights came on and everyone flooded the streets. I praised all that was right and just in the world that we were finally going to bed, until someone spoke in broken English, “Af-ter par-tee.”

I’ve been trying to emulate the “anything goes” mentality of the Chileans since I got here, and plus my Spanish is so bad that I wouldn’t have been able to contest the after party either way.

Before I knew what happened, I was in some penthouse along with twenty or thirty Chileans, with another dance floor, another bar, and more techno. After the past four hours of dancing, I felt my legs would collapse out from under me, but I pressed forward.

It wasn’t until 7 a.m. that my amigos finally thought it was time for bed. As we were on the elevator ride down, I was under the impression that we had just shut down the city. But when we stepped out into the night, there were still hundreds upon hundreds of Chileans in the streets, as the first rays of sunshine were touching down on the ocean town. We had called it quits early.

It wasn’t until Viña del Mar perfectly lit at 8 a.m. when I was finally able to lay horizontal on some musty couch. Before my body completely shut down, I had a moment of reflection, where I realized I had experienced the broadest scope of Chilean culture that you could in one day. From an authentic and traditional meal and afternoon with my host family, to the never-ending nightlife of the restless youth – I had lived it all.

This is entry four of an ongoing traveler’s journal. Click here to read the next.