Friendly Faces in Chile

Upon leaving New Zealand, I posted these two sentences online to sum up my thoughts: “About to board a 12 hour flight to South America and complete what I thought was just an unattainable dream: Travel to every populated continent by the age of 21. Still in disbelief.” Though I still had three more weeks left of journeying north, my arrival in Santiago meant that I had traveled all the way around the world.

A few months prior to my trip I had found out that five of my good friends would be on the Northwestern study abroad trip in Santiago at the same time I would be passing through Chile, so I changed what was originally a two-hour layover in the airport on my way to Arica in the North to a day and a half visit in the capital city. The morning after my arrival I spent over seven hours walking through Santiago trying to see everything I possibly could while my friends were busy with classes. That evening we all met up for dinner, which turned out to be one of my happiest nights of the summer. I had loved traveling by myself for the past two months, but it was so nice to be surrounded by good friends, even if it was just for a few hours. That night I packed my backpack for the tenth time and took a taxi to the airport to catch my 1:20am flight to Arica.

I spent the rest of my time in the country working and sightseeing in Chile’s northernmost city, just 12 miles from the Peruvian border. I conducted research at the Museo Arqueologico San Miguel de Azapa, famous for its collection of Chinchorro mummies (the oldest mummies in the world – dating back over 2,000 years before the Egyptian mummies). Since neither the museum director nor curator with whom I spoke knew English, one of my proudest achievements of the summer was being able to conduct an entire professional interview completely in Spanish. After the interview I spent the rest of the day touring the exhibits and taking pictures – the security guards practically had to kick me out when it came time for the museum to close.

The following day I took a trip out to Lauca National Park during which I was not just the only non-Latin American, but also the only non-Chilean on the tour. Every so often our guide would pause to repeat a phrase in English for me, after which I would have to remind him (again) that I understood everything he was saying. The day proved to be a wonderful adventure full of mountains, canyons, alpacas, lakes, and volcanoes.

I had a wonderful time exploring the coastal city of Arica with friends from my hostel and made sure to see all the local attractions, such as the San Marcos Cathedral designed by Gustave Eiffel before he worked in Paris and El Morro de Arica, a steep hill overlooking the entire city and surrounding ocean. Many times when walking by myself or talking briefly with shop vendors (before they had a chance to fully hear my accent), I was mistaken for being Chilean. It was quite comical that such an assumption was even made here, since throughout my travels I had been asked on every continent if I was South American. The people of Arica were unbelievably friendly, the weather was beautiful regardless of the fact that it was technically winter, and I was happy as a clam being able to practice my Spanish.