Sunday, August 21, 2011

Just the Beginning

I've arrived in beautiful Santiago, Chile!

What an amazingly long, but exciting trip. I've met wonderful people along the way, including a man from Tacoma on his way to visit his grandmother in Miami. When deboarding the plane in Atlanta, both of us immediately noticed the heat and humidity. A welcome change from Seattle weather. About the humidity he said, "It's good for plants, bad for potato chips." That about sums it up, doesn't it? He was a wonderful person to sit next to because he eased my mind away from the typical travel worries of getting from here to there.

Boarding the plane in Atlanta to Santiago was my first taste of the culture awaiting me. Everyone was speaking Spanish. I have mastered the Spanish phrase, "Hablo un poco de Espanol" (I speak a little bit of Spanish), which I have already used numerous times. Luckily, I sat next to the sweetest old lady from Chile who only spoke a little bit of English, so we were able to practice communicating at an equal level and somehow still understand each other. I told her all about my work and she told me about her home country. She also gave me homemade chocolate chip cookies. Awe, just like home.

Flying into Santiago this morning was a real treat. The flight was overnight, so I was unable to see much out the window of the plane. But as the sun began to rise, I began to see the jagged layers of a blanket of snowy mountains towering over the horizon. The Andes! They are so very impressive. Santiago is nestled in right next to the slopes of the mountains. It is funny how you can go your whole life thinking about what far away things must look like, but it is pretty amazing to actually be here in South America seeing these things and discovering a whole new perspective of the world!

Going through customs was a cinch. It was helpful having a few snowboarders from Los Angeles in front of me. One was wearing a T-shirt that read, "No sleep till Death" and he said he was ready to slash the mountain slopes. After all, it is still cold and wintry here. It was 36 degrees this morning, but now it is a comfortable 70 degrees. Customs and immigration, which was such an easier process than I was expecting, was nothing compared to going from the US to Canada with their firing squad of questions. As I walked through the last set of doors out of the Santiago airport, I walked out to about a hundred people standing around waiting for their friends and family. Taxi drivers stood with signs with names from all around the world. I tried to look for mine, but it wasn't there. I looked and looked, but I was unable to find my arranged taxi driver anywhere. Another taxi driver looking for a job was trying to help me find my name and wanting me to ride with him. I told him I'd keep looking and I finally found my taxi driver holding a sign with my name. What a relief! Once on the taxi, heading toward Santiago, I felt I finally made it.

I've checked into my hotel and have settled in. I've also taken a walk around the neighborhood and it is quite nice. The city is not as modern as Seattle, but it still feels safe and walkable. There are stray dogs basking in the sun on sidewalks everywhere. As I walked the streets this morning I stumbled upon an old historic church and went to mass and listened to a beautiful choir. What a treat! Walking around Santiago, waiting to check into the hotel, reminded me that the first map I ever made was of Bolivia. It feels great to know that this professional opportunity in South America has taken me back to my cartographic roots. Next, work on my Spanish and find some delicious Chilean food.

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