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Monthly Archives: September 2012

For starters and after giving it a lot of thought I’ve decided to make my blog more clear and concise by adding titles to each section of the blog post instead of having one big and confusing title.

Shenanigans in Argentina:

Despite not having a camera, my trip to Argentina was awesome! In all, we were ten. I went with Selia, a teacher at Colegio Mariaauxiliadora, and her husband Ricardo who was a bodyguard for Pinochet (fun fact). There was also Courtney and her billet family as well as Moncho and Flor who are friends of Courtney’s family. I think what made the trip especially great was the fact that just like in good South American fashion, nothing was planned. Ok, so reservations were made at a hostel, that probably was about it. Maps?, forget it. Making sure everyone’s on the same page with regards to where we are stopping before ultimately getting to Ushuaia, optional. Thinking about where we are going to eat and what we are going to do? Let’s let chance decide. Stopping at a visitor’s centre to figure out where our hostel is? Nah, we’ll just ask the locals. Getting back to the trip, it was amazing to see the change in scenery going from farmland and a little vegetation to forests and mountains. Basically it was as if we went from Alberta, though less flat, to British Columbia. However, it wasn’t exactly like BC, there definitely lingered some Argentinian panoramic twist that made  it distinctive. We also had to stop while heading to the Chilean border to let a huge flock of sheep pass by. I mean the size of the flock made me think I was in some sort of British Comedy which uses the crossing of a flock of sheep as a comedic tool because you know that’s British humor. I also had a scare as we crossed the Chilean border into Argentina thinking that this possibly might be the last time I see Chile despite the lawyer reassuring me that my visa request would allow me to cross into Argentina even though my visitor’s visa was expired. It didn’t end up being, thank god, or else I probably would not be here telling you how great the trip was. Our first stop in Argentina was Rio Grande, it looks a lot like Punta Arenas. Then we stopped in Tolhuin, a town full of cabins and really yummy chocolate, which was an hour from our final destination. Ushuaia itself is a port city, I would have to say it looks a lot like Edmunston, New Brunswick. There’s a harbor and the city is down by the sea. The city may be a bit smaller but it does have a casino, so that’s something and the houses and shops also have a very rustic look to them making it look a bit like Old Quebec. We stayed a hostel called Hostel Antarctica and for the price we paid which was something like 15 dollars a night it was well worth it. The receptionist was from Belgium but on the Flemish side so I thought that was pretty interesting. Despite speaking with an accent, her Spanish was impeccable. It was your typical hostel, five beds per room and a communal kitchen that could be used by all the guests. At this point you guys are probably wondering why is it  called ‘Shenanigans in Argentina’, so I’ll take a break from talking about scenery and move on to the shenanigans. If there’s one thing that Ushuaia lacks, it’s bars, Along with Jorge, Courtney and Daniel, Jorge’s younger brother, I went in search of good bar. All I came back with was disappointment. In the city, there are only two bars and they were both horrible for completely different reasons. The first bar we went to was called ‘Viejo Bar’. Now in French whenever anything has the word ‘vieux’ which means viejo in it, it’s bad. So maybe we should have taken that as being a clue foreshadowing just how bad the bar was. First of all, we were almost the only people there. Second of all, there were 2010 top forties music videos playing non-stop. Thirdly, they only had small cans of beer, no glasses and no pitchers. And that my friends is our cue to exit. The second bar was more interesting what with the whole Argentinian and Irish mix theme going on, but it was also more crowded as in I thought I was at a sold-out concert. Safe to say, we did most of our drinking at the hostel. I tried fernet which basically tastes like shoe polish, I like it though. In fact, I think it should replace Screech as the newfie initiation drink. I also tried Gancia which tastes like orange liquor as well as a local beer called Cape Horn which was pretty good, it was really smooth. I guess the second part of the night-time shenanigans would be me and the gang rediscovering our childhood by going to a park and swinging on swings, bouncing up and down on teeter-totters which resulted in me almost getting sacked and other childhood fun. Now to talk a bit about the sites around the city. Jorge, his mom, Courtney and I took a ferry ride and got to see the lighthouse called ‘El faro des éclaireurs’ apparently there was a French presence in the history of Argentina. On a side note, I would just like to say that Argentinian Spanish surprised me despite the fact that I had been told about some of the sound changes. To be honest, it sounds like drunken Spanish with slurring being a predominant feature. Now, since I’m a linguist, I kept my cool and told myself this is just the way they speak, no need to make a mountain out of a mole hill. Two interesting utterances that are used a lot in Argentinian Spanish are ‘ no por favor’ which is said in response to someone saying ‘thank you’ sort of like the ‘no, thank you’ I guess. They also say ‘bueno’ a lot every time someone makes a decision. Well that’s enough of the Argentinian Spanish lesson, getting back to the ferry excursion, we also saw cormorants, seals and sea lions. To distinguish sea lions, we learnt that you look at the flippers. We also visited the Tierra del Fuego National Park and more specifically Bahia Lapataia. That’s where the last part of the shenanigans took place. We actually took a dip in the freezing cold water of bay which was basically like doing a polar bear dip… In the famous words of Homer Simpson ‘So cold’. That’s concludes the trip to Argentina.

Shenanigans during the Deciocho:

Chileans celebrate their day of independence on September 18th. I say celebrate since in fact the real date is February 12th, September 18th is the date of the forming of the first government. Basically the celebrations consist of eating lots of empanadas, having barbecues and dancing till 5 o’clock in the morning the next day. With six piscokes in my system I danced the night away to a mix of cueca, by the end of the night they were chanting my name because of my cueca dancing, I even danced with the potential future mayor as well as got invited for tea by a couple, cumbia, ranchera, wachiturro and meringue. The last four I still have trouble with. If you are wondering what is wachiturro, look it up, I seriously can’t explain it. Safe to say Chileans know how to throw a party.

A Visit from a Past Volunteer:

When I got back from Argentina, I found out that Elena, a past volunteer who stayed with my host family for a month before eventually living with another host family who I had the pleasure of meeting at a parade, was in town visiting.  I met her billet parents after I finished marching in a parade, that’s right I marched in a parade, no big deal really. Despite saying the contrary, I believe Elena would make a good English teacher. She knows how to teach and it shows. She managed to do something I’ve been an unable to do since I got here and that’s get the family to speak English. Mind you, it was through the use of games but I mean that is still something. She also made me discover a better chaser for pisco which is ginger ale, it’s amazing. I wonder if it would be any good with ginger beer. Only one way to find out I guess. I think one the greatest moments with Elena was playing games including Scrabble, Apples to Apples and this other game called In a Pickle which I had never heard of, with her, Courtney and Jorge as well as  students from the high school who are good at English. Overall, I am really happy we got to meet since she gave me some good tips for teaching as well as left me some games to use in my English workshops.D

Conclusion of the Public Speaking and Spelling Bee Regional Competitions in Punta Arenas:

My student did not win the regional Public Speaking Competition, but she did come in second. While many people believe she should have won, including her mother, I’m of the objective opinion that the girl from Punta Arenas who did her speech on Shakespeare rightfully won. It all came down to pronunciation and naturalness. While the winner did slip-up once and my girl didn’t, we lost a lot of points in the pronunciation department and maybe a few in naturalness as the body language while present was repetitive and not always complementing the actual speech. I also know that the girl from Punta Arenas gives our region the best chance at nationals so props to the judges for making the right but tough decision. That being said, next year Porvenir will win regionals for many reasons. The first being that Amanda, my student, will definitely be picked to represent the town next year seeing as the students coming up from sixth grade and the other students in her class are miles away from being at her level when it comes to English. She will also benefit from having gone through the process and also knowing what she needs to improve on. Last but not least, she will be taking an English course during the summer break and therefore this will make her leaps and bounds better next year. The spelling bee was also interesting with one team managing to correctly spell 14 out of the 15 words to win the regional competition. You could tell by the way the kids were spelling the words that some of them really like English. Whether it be the little girl from Punta Arenas who would smile every time before spelling a word or this other girl from Puerto Natales, I believe, who spelt the words super fast, like nobody’s business. As always, for me one of the best parts other than seeing students show-off their skills in English, is getting to meet-up with the other volunteers from Punta Arenas and Natales. I also met this other volunteer, also in Punta Arenas who is from Scotland. Apparently, at least in her opinion, her experience hasn’t been that great so far. She also doesn’t like the food. I also learnt that Anthony, the volunteer from Natales, is going to be doing his LSATS next week in Santiago. Good luck bro, I don’t know if I could do it.

A Place to Jog:

I’ve been having trouble doing exercise on a regular basis. That was until I accompanied Courtney and Jorge for a light jog last Saturday. We took this path that is behind the cemetery and leads to this dirt road which goes on for miles, making it easy to do a 40 minute jog. Sorry guys, but this definitely means I will not be gaining weight while here.

Torres del Paine shall be conquered in December:

It’s official, I am going to go to Torres del Paine with my cousin and some of her friends and do the W trail, a four-day epic hike, from December 21st to the 25th. Not a bad way to celebrate Christmas Chile style if I do say so myself. With all the picture I’ve seen from other volunteers’ adventure at Torres, I can’t wait. It’s going to be legen(I hope you are not lactose intolerant) dary. (Reference from the sitcom ‘How I met your Mother’ for those of you scratching your heads.

Move aside Poker, Truco is where it’s at:

So, with the NHL lockout looking inevitable and with sports channels like TSN searching for content to replace hockey, I have a suggestion for them. So last time when the hockey lockout happened, people turned to poker, right. Well in Chile, while they don’t have poker, they have this awesome card game called Truco which is sort of like Uker. You are basically trying to score 30 points first. You score points by calling tricks such as truco (worth 1 point for calling and 2  points if successful) and envio (worth 1 point if called and 2 points if successful). I won’t get into all the rules but if you are interested by all means look it up. What makes it as exciting as poker is the bluffing element which can make or break a game. I know it doesn’t sound exciting, I mean it is a card game after all, but trust me guys Truco is Chile’s answer to poker.

Teaching is still Hit or Miss:

As for teaching, it is still hit or miss. Once in a while though, the students buy-in to the system and it just makes you feel great. Like when I taught them the English version of la estrellita also known as Twinkle Twinkle LIttle Star. They were just so happy to learn the song that they sang it all during class. These moments are why I love what I do.

The return of the King :

I know the title is a little cryptic. It has nothing to do with Lord of the Rings nor with Elvis or Michael Jackson. No, because this is my blog and well this is sort of how I roll, I decided that in this case the King refers to me (I’m such a humble person) and the return, well my return to Canada which will be at the end of December, the 30th to be exact, so prepare the welcome mat because I’m coming home, I’m coming home…

Well, it’s been a while guys and no it’s not because I was kidnapped or too depressed to write a blog post. The simple truth is that despite being at the end of the world, I’ve been really busy.  This will be a doozy of a blog post so I hope you guys are ready.

Science Fair:

A few weeks ago, at the high school where I’m teaching English, there was a science fair. I don’t know about you guys, but it’s been ages since I last went to a science fair let alone participated. What was my topic again…Oh right, Additives, a necessary poison? Yeah, I think I liked the topics here much more despite the fact that well, it was all in Spanish so at times I had trouble understanding such as when a girl was trying to explain to me her experiment on cell creation involving coffee and onions, and also that there was no baking soda volcano.  There were lots of animal topics including the flamingo, river rat, cormorant, dolphin and king crab just to name a few. I think the most interesting and surprising topic was moss while the worst was a comparison between a can and biodiversity. Still trying to figure that one out. What did surprise me was the amount of people who showed up for the science fair, seriously like hundreds. Now I’m starting to believe Porvenir is not a ghost town

Basketball Tournament:

While the two topics I’m about to talk about might not seem related, in one way they are. Last week there was a high school girls basketball tournament which Porvenir was hosting.  Seeing as this was a chance to watch a basketball game and the fact that Porvenir’s team is decent unlike the Raptors, sorry Toronto, couldn’t help it, I decided to go watch some basketball. Once I was inside the gym where the games were being played, it made me think of FROSH week all over again. Like I said in most ways these two things aren’t alike except for the fact that just like during the first week of university, I knew the moment I walked in that I was going to lose my voice. Yup, it definitely smelled like team spirit! Unlike, my high school basketball team, I think we were called the Tornadoes, Porvenir really really really cares about their basketball team. Supporters showed up in throngs with some bringing vuvuzelas, drums and a megaphone to cheer on the team. Once the game started, so did the cheers both for Porvenir and against the other team. I can guarantee you this was not a Sens game with some people cheering hardcore while others just sitting down and watching the game as if they were at home. If think if you did that here, the supporters would literally throw you out of the gym, either you’re with us or against us. Despite the fact that the girls came in fourth, props to them, I mean four out of fifteen is not bad. I wish I understood the cheers more, again that whole Spanish thing, because in the game against the team from Araucania, I wanted to let their supporters have it. I sort of wish I could have resorted to simplistic FROSH cheering which uses the F-word multiple times to get its point across. Overall, despite losing my voice night in and night out, I absolutely had a blast. I think if the support for the team had been like this when I was in high school, maybe more people would have showed up to the games.

Penguins!, por fin (finally):

So despite not having a camera, I still went to see some king penguins. I must say that once you leave Porvenir and head towards Argentina, the route becomes slightly scenic, almost like Cape Breton, Chile style so with less trees. I also discovered that there are ibises here called bandurrias, we saw three of them. When we got to the penguin park, I immediately noticed how cold it was and how much it looked like the Canadian north or the Arctic, very little vegetation, mostly moss and lichen and the like. The only thing that made it slightly surreal was the arctic background contrasting with the gigantic waves crashing along the beach, it was like Arisaig but with no jellyfish. I doubt that I would have been able to swim without suffering from Hypothermia or worse though. Yeah, the water was that cold. Did I forget to mention that the wind was so strong I thought I was going to get wind burn. I almost forgot the penguins. There were seventeen of them and while they are part of the second largest specie of penguins, we could not get very close to them and therefore were not able to truly see how tall they actually were. During my next penguin excursion, I would like to see the magallanic penguin, this time  with a camera of course.

Bingo:

Lets get one thing straight, out of all the activities I thought I might do here, bingo was definitely not one of them. In my time here, I have had the opportunity to play three times and win three times. Wow Jeff, you’re really good at bingo! The thing is, I won three times in the same game. Let me explain something first. To me bingo is a game of chance or in some instances say at a fancy dinner party called Pan y Vino which I decided to go to, it can be a drinking game, you drink every time a number you don’t have is called. For the most part though it’s based on chance so while people may think that buying more than one card increases your chances of winning, I’m of the mentality that you buy a bingo ticket and see what happens. But Jeff that still doesn’t explain how you won three times with only one bingo ticket. Well you see,  I ended up playing the two bingo cards of the person calling the numbers. I ended up winning a little girl’s dress and 10 000 pesos which is the equivalent of 20 dollars Canadian. I won a marriage, not a literal marriage of course, it’s what they call a bottle of wine paired with this rum based drink called a Primavera. It’s called a marriage for no other reason then there are two of them.

English Workshops:

I’ve done two English workshops so far and all I can say is that it’s been a blast. Imagine that, Chilean students wanting to learn English. I know, I know, sounds pretty farfetched. It’s also got me thinking, why is it that I can motivate a few students to learn English through the use of games while for others they wouldn’t even blink if I brought a circus into class? During the two English workshops, we’ve played What Time is it Mr. Wolf, a fun way to learn how to tell time, Duck, Duck,Goose, a class favorite, Red Light, Green Light, Yellow Light, a great way to learn colors and the function of the traffic lights, and Simon Says also a class favorite. While I may not be a hit with all the students, there will always be those few students who had the opportunity to participate in my workshops and had fun learning English. Now to think about what to do for the next one.

Ping Pong Tournament: Canada vs Chile:

It finally happened! I entered a ping-pong tournament, and while I didn’t win, I definitely showed Chile that Canada’s got game, fourth out of nine isn’t half bad. I must say I’m still slightly disappointed considering my brother probably could have wiped the floor with the competition. There were no loopers and the smashes people did lacked any real power or spin. Despite that, I think the fact that I managed to get fourth place is still an accomplishment since it allowed me to show the Chilean players that power and aggression aren’t everything as I sent back their smashes over and over and used my lull strategy effectively. If I’ve learned anything by participating in this tournament, it is that my positioning and my movement is horrible and so is my technique and that despite all this, I still gave the Chilean challengers a run for their money. You win this round Chile but Canada will be back.

Running 10 k against the wind, good idea or bad idea:

I’m still not sure if it was a good idea, I mean the longest I have ever ran was 5k and this was with little or no wind. Despite that, I decided to do it. At first, it looked like the worst decision of my life, I was barely out the gate and already I found myself in last place and gassing. I told myself that the only thing that matters is finishing strong. With that in mind I kept going. It got worse once I got near the seaside, the wind was so strong that I felt like I wasn’t advancing and that in fact the wind was pushing me back. To make matters worse, my eyes were watering and I had trouble swallowing. Despite all that, I managed to complete the race and while in everyone else’s eyes I cam ein last, I in fact came in third last since there were two other people ahead of me that turned around before completing the course. However, that’s not important, my goal was to test the limits of my endurance and my asthma and think I showed by completing this race that my only limitations are the ones I set myself. It was also great to see the crowd cheering me on as I crossed the finish line. I was even given props by a Chilean army guy. Mind you this in no way means that I’m going to do a half marathon or a marathon next. Maybe in the near future, but I will definitely need to train for that.

Upcoming Karate Workshop:

Despite the fact that my Spanish isn’t the greatest, I’ve decided based on all the interest this workshop is generating to go forward with it. I still need to think about what I want to teach them, I don’t want to teach them only white belt stuff, I want to mix in self-defense, break-falls, maybe a kata and of course blocks and kicks.

Dancing Cueca, Chile’s National Dance, and becoming an instant dancing star in Porvenir:

I would definitely have to say that I was born with two left feet and therefore I tend to struggle with any formal or organized dance. Take swing dancing for example. Despite this, I decided I was going to learn how to dance Cueca and also that was I was going to dance for an hour straight last night. I’ve been taking Cueca lessons for a month and a half now and while I’ve gotten the routine mostly down pat except for some technical elements, I still feel I’m lacking the most important element which is to be able to mimic the nuptial dance of the rooster and the chicken. Just like with swing dancing, my dancing comes out very mechanical and definitely does not reflect the spirit of the dance. However, for one night, last night in fact, that all changed. I don’t know if it was the fact that I was able to borrow a poncho and sort of find my inner huaso, the Chilean cowboy, but I felt really comfortable dancing Cueca. When the dancing which was taking place in the same gym they had the basketball tournament was over, I got a standing ovation from the crowd and also had an extensive photo taking session. If people of Porvenir didn’t know about me before, they do now. I felt like I was on Dancing with the Stars Chile edition. There’s one thing that has been bothering me and while it’s not a big thing, I would still like to share it. Last night, a lot of people  told me I did Chile proud with my dancing. However, whenever I receive a complement like that especially since I’m not Chilean, I always have to ask myself if a statement like that actually means something like ‘ Your dancing was good, for a foreigner’. If so, so be it, I guess it’s better than being told you’ve disgraced Chile with your dancing.

Heading to Argentina:

On a final note, I’m heading to Argentina for three days so don’t expect any blog posts at least until I get back.

Thanks guys for sticking with me, I know my consistency has been a bit lacking lately.