Oh wasn’t I just a terrible post giver over the past three months? I am now back in the UK with far too much spare time on my hands (unemployment woopdedoo), so here’s a very very delayed update on what I got up to in the second month of my South American adventure – teaching English in northern Chile!
Ahh Chile, I liked you from the moment you made me sit for 4 hours at border control… Well, not quite, but despite the delay and caffeine induced headache I had a good feeling about the 6 weeks that lay ahead of me. Back to teaching, a bit of routine, and a chance to immerse myself in the day-to-day life of a little town called Taltal. I was also promised kayaking and beer – what could go wrong!?
After many hours driving through the Atacama desert, the first thing that struck me about Taltal were the COLOURS. All colours of the rainbow painted onto the thousands of box bungalows that made up the small city. Next I noticed the intense sun on my pale face beam from the clear blue sky and I apologised to my 30-year-old self for the inevitable skin damage it was about to endure.
It was soon brought to my attention that I wouldn’t have a lot to do during the week. A national strike meant classes weren’t running during the day, so I’d only be teaching for a few hours here and there during the evenings. For my first week I spent most of my time in the hostel, chatting to a lovely Chilean musician called Agnis and thinking long and hard about whether to go on to Colombia or not. I also binge watched Gilmore Girls in preparation for the revival, faced my fear of swimming in the ocean, and tasted my first Michelada at Thursday night drinks.
Although at this point I could barely understand them, Chileans definitely stood out from the other Latin Americans I’d met on my trip. I learnt later that they are considered the British of South America, and if banter is anything to go by I’d say they’re not far off. Fast paced, difficult to grasp, and often relentless: to learn Chileno you needed more than just a Urban Dictionary – a thick skin and a weapon of quick wit was vital to survival around a drinks table. After six weeks I could JUST about tell when they were kidding, but I’d say the art of speedy rebuttal [in Spanish] would take years more practice to fully master. Foreign enough to be interesting, familiar enough to feel comfortable around, and only ever up for a laugh. They’d made an impression, and I liked them.
By the second week I was joined by two other Gringos and to my delight they were more than just alright. For the most part our days looked something like: walking to the library at 10am to see if el paro continued, going to buy cheese and yoghurt, returning to Paposo inn to laze about, nap, and talk about our opinions of truth embellishers and other Chilean stereotypes. Chris would religiously go for a work out, making me and Jasmin feel like lazy bums so we went to free aero-boxing by the beach and an extremely light jog [once or twice]. At the weekend we got to go kayaking, or to asados, or La Puntilla. On numerous occasions we were also dragged along to several social events based around one of [what appeared to be] Chilean’s two greatest loves: football or karaoke. On one night I seemed to be the lucky charm in the group and each time I got up to go to the bathroom Chile scored a goal. Their adoration of Fútbol came as no surprise, but I could never have been prepared myself for the Karaoke mania…Watching the effort taltalinos would go to put on karaoke was inspiring: on one occasion they went as far as to get a wifi router from someone else’s house, speakers, and a microphone (on other occasions there was even a projector). I may not have made it to Patagonia, but that was a Chilean masterpiece that deserves greater recognition in the Lonely Planet guide.
As far as teaching English went – what teaching!? The classes were so laid back it did not feel like work. The project aims to create an inclusive environment where students from all backgrounds can come to practice their English with native and non-native speakers from across the globe. We weren’t there to test their grammar: we were there to chat, to play games, and to have a laugh. We laughed a lot – my two youngest princesses had unbelievably catty wit in both English and Spanish, and they soon became the highlight of my day (mood depending). There was a lot of “tiiiiisherpo” thrown around the classroom, and Dobble. So. Much. Dobble. As for the adults: in our last class we did beer tasting and ate homemade pizza together… As gringos we also seemed to be the spare hands of the town and were asked to help a local pre-school for a morning, blow up balloons for an event we didn’t go to, help set up for a food competition, and help serve Chinese food at a food fayre.
I’m a city girl at heart, but this small town gave me something to think about. I always say I need to be in a city because there is always something to do and new people to meet, but in reality I’m a total creature of habit and end up going to the same places with the same people week in, week out regardless of the wealth of options available in whatever metropolis I reside in. In the end what makes a great place to live has less to do with the surroundings and more to do with the community you find within it. I think really that was why I had such a great time in Madrid during my first year and then struggled so much in my second. In the tiny city of Taltal I felt a community spirit like I’d never experienced before: there was always something to do because there was always someone trying to organise some activity of sorts to bring everyone together. Even though we weren’t from there and they barely knew us, for the short time we spent there we were each invited to be a part of their circle – something I especially appreciated after 9 months struggling to receive that kind of hospitality in Madrid.
That said, by the fourth week I was feeling a little claustrophobic and was ready to pack my backpack and hit the road once more. I had cleared my head and made my mind up at last: I quit Colombia and decided to say HELL to the Budget and instead make the most out of one last month, rather than stress to spend another 3 half arsed ones on the continent. My experience in Taltal has changed how I travel from here on out. There really is so much more to travelling than crossing countries off a list, and although with everyone telling you “Oh but you have to go X” and “Oh but X is so much better that Y” it can be pretty tough to get over the FOMO – but I’ll write more about that in another post.
I would like to say thank you to the warm and hilarious taltalinos that made my month in their town so great, with special thanks to:
Ramon and Caty for putting me up in their hostel and going through all the effort to put on a despedida at their house.
Chris for the Pisco and endless youtube entertainment; Jasmin for your brutally honest opinions and for singing to Avril Lavigne with me.
Hector and the rest of the EFTG team & “Secret Friends” for inviting me to your town, your parties, and the Kayak club.
If you would like to volunteer for EFTG:
- Sign up for workaway and visit their profile here.
- OR contact them directly through their webiste: http://infoegtaltal.wixsite.com/eftgtaltal
Have any of you tried a workaway on your travels? Tell me about your experiences in the comments below!