“That was amazing! I’ve gotta write that one down…”.
“Ugh. Not again. I’ve gotta be documenting these things….”.
And so it has been said again and again throughout the whirlwind of the 3 months since our family relocated abroad. Three months today in fact. We have survived this exciting, sometimes painful, sometimes difficult, but always worthwhile, first trimester of our relocation. (Except, in this case, we are really here 2-3 years….but I digress). A celebration to mark appropriately I think with the first entry of the blog I’ve been meaning to get around to since, oh I don’t know, 4 months ago?
My wonderful, amazingly hard-working and dedicated husband Tom was given the opportunity of a lifetime several months ago when an offer to relocate to Valdivia, Chile was presented to him through his employer. Given Tom’s experience within the company, and his fluency in Spanish, this position was, and continues to be, a perfect fit for him. It is absolutely impossible to put into words the pride I feel in him. His dedication and work ethic lead him here in his career, but also his dedication to his family in helping to make this an enjoyable and as painless as is possible transition is beyond compare. I grow in my admiration each and every day. LOVE this man!
When the offer was presented, quite frankly it did not take a whole lot of consideration or debate on our end. I’d love to say we engaged in weeks of consideration and weighing of options, but the reality is this is something Tom and I have always hoped would be possible. Tom lived in Mexico for most of his childhood as a result of his father’s employment. Going back even further, Tom’s grandparents on both sides also moved to various Latin American countries for work, and therefore Tom’s parents were raised internationally as well. It has been something of a tradition, and one we both saw great benefit in for us and for our family. I look forward to the children and I being able to share the language with Tom, and to all of us experiencing a new, beautiful culture and country, together as a family. The kids are young. “If ever there is a good time for this, now is it” we decided. And in knowing that it was going to be for only 2-3 years, well… that sealed the deal. And so it was decided, we chose to have an adventure. Bon Voyage!
Now, I am a HUGE fan of House Hunters International. I assume this coincides with my long-held desire to actually live abroad. I mean, these people literally just decide one day, “I feel like living in Nicaragua/Panama/somewhere foreign but don’t know where yet. I am going to liquidate everything and use that to buy a place there and just figure it out.” How awesome is that?! And so you watch them experience the excitement that comes with looking at various homes that have PALM TREES, and COCONUTS, and some even access to a beach, or pool, or access road, or….well, you get the point. And you watch them grill out, and gorge on amazing local cuisine, and play in the waves with their kids with big old smiles on their faces and really just have the time of their lives because you know-they’ve figured it all out…how to live in a permanent vacation. Aaaaaaaah…what a life!
And then of course at the conclusion of the episode we have to go back and see how they are doing a few months later. During that last few minutes of the episode, I have always felt like something was missing. Sure, they knew a little of the language and met some friends, but what happened during that time really?
Yup, now I get it. The answer. Part of the story IS missing, and here I shall tell you all about it…hang on folks!
Now I completely and fully understand some, though certainly not all, of what comes with the move to a new culture…at least during the so-called first trimester. House Hunters unfortunately leaves out (and understandably as that part would be an entirely different type of show–probably more in the Dr. Phil arena) the TRANSITION to a new culture. And THAT, above all else, is the experience. It’s the journey. It’s the SUBSTANCE.
Our trip here took 24 hours. First and foremost, I absolutely do NOT want to deter anyone from coming who is in the slightest interested in a trip. I fretted for weeks about traveling this with 3 kids, age 6 and under. I mean, we are talking purchasing of tablets, candy, hand-held games, books, hand-held games, more books, more candy, and just when I thought I might have had enough in our 4 carry-ons…more games, books and candy…and snacks….and candy….and games. You get the picture…I was freaked!
And so we had an initial 2 hour car ride, 3 hour flight, 15 hour flight, 2 hour flight, and 2 hour car ride to finish it off….with a few breaks here and there. Granted, we had the company of my amazing mother-in-LOVE Donna, with whom I’m fairly certain we’d be living in a dirty house with cardboard boxes as furniture if not for her, but really and truly it was NOT that bad. The kids were amazing. At the end of the day, they really only needed a few pieces of gum, the movies provided BY THE AIRLINE, their tablets and a couple of books. Kids are resilient and easily adaptive…so I continue to learn every day. Ah well-lesson learned on that one.
Upon arrival, we were taken to a local Hotel, Hotel Puerta del Sur, for what was the beginning of a 2 week stay, in one room, with 2 beds, and 5 of us. But thankfully the hotel staff was helpful and they had the 2 things that our children LIVE for…a pool and a playground. What else do you need? We were also provided a rental van immediately so that we could get a good start on things. At that point I’m not even sure I knew what things, but things.
The first weekend, we just explored. Valdivia, which is located in Central/Southern Chile, is positioned right at the confluence of 3 rivers-The Valdivia, Cau-Cau and Calle-Calle. It is roughly 15 km east of the coast. It is also a college town-containing 3 Universities within its borders, and in that way reminding me very much of Eau Claire as I watch students walk across the river bridge every day. Valdivia is also known for being the Epicenter to the largest earthquake ever recorded in the history of the world. The Great Earthquake of 1960-which registered in at a 9.5. While this fact was fairly intimidating to me prior to moving down here, I can assure you that in actuality it is not in the least bit frightening. It is really in no way different from tornadoes or snowstorms that we experience in the Midwest. Everywhere has its local climatic drama, right? And as an added comfort, they take great care in constructing buildings to handle an earthquake if it does occur.
Valdivia is also known for its local fish market and accompanying South American Sea Lions that surround it. This situation is unique in that the Sea Lions traveled up the river from the ocean and now have an urban colony in Valdivia next to the fish market. Needless to say they have become a focal point of entertainment for our family. Every morning, as we cross the bridge, the kids MUST roll down the windows and yell good morning to the sea lions!
As we moved here in late February, Valdivia’s summer was at its end. The weather was still sunny, and fairly warm…roughly mid-70’s Fahrenheit. (I’m still trying to adjust to the Celsius method). A perfect time to explore. The kids spent some time in the hotel pool, walked along the rivers, drove to the incredibly beautiful coast, and tried various restaurants and types of food. Let me just say right now, the food here is remarkable. It involves a mixture of German (the German influence is great in Valdivia) and Chilean cuisine. Particularly enjoyable for our family are the empanadas, sopapilla, salads and steaks. I will likely delve into this more in another post, but food is NOT a problem here!
Foreign driving: not quite as easy to become accustomed to. Initially, my thought was it’s crazy! And there is SO MUCH honking!!! I swear one hand is permanently positioned on the horn here. HONK! “I need you to turn here even though it violates the law.” HONK!!!! “ You can move another inch forward!” HONK!!! “No reason, just felt like it.” You get the picture. Between that and the narrow streets with unclear lanes, I was a tad bit intimidated to say the least. However, I am proud to say my confidence has increased, I’m gradually getting used to the honking, and am actually finding myself having a bit of fun zooming around in the little manual truck I drive here. However, our second weekend here we did have a bit of an incident. I don’t even particularly enjoy writing about it, but I want to be sure to document these things so that hopefully we can look back on it in 20 years and laugh. Perhaps even a lesson can be learned from our experience.
Upon returning from an enjoyable drive to a lake about 2 hours away, we came upon a lumber truck…or rather, it came upon us. Apparently, in Chile, and probably many countries, before turning left you must pull entirely to the right shoulder and let the cars behind you pass. Unfortunately for us, we did not know this, and quite frankly there really wasn’t anywhere to pull over on this road so I’m not sure that it was necessary. However, the lumber truck behind us certainly thought it was and while we were turning left it struck the side of our van, just below the window where Greyson was sitting.
Not a single one of us was hurt. THANK GOD! It was really not bad at all, and the kids haven’t seemed to experience any lingering consequences from it, but it was a GREAT lesson in the importance of understanding the local driving rules and culture…that could’ve been much worse on that or any other day.
Okay, so back to the move. (I apologize for the departure). There was one neighborhood in particular in Valdivia that I very much wanted to live in. Tom and I traveled to Chile in December and looked at a house in this “barrio”. It is safe, full of kids, and residence to another family of the same company as Tom’s. It is nestled outside of town in between a local, popular brewery, or cerveceria, and the coast, and sets along the river. The surrounding landscape is stunning. Unfortunately, the house we initially looked at did not pan out, but prior to our move another house came up for rent in that same neighborhood. So, without so much as looking at the place other than through the lens of a camera, and for better or worse, we agreed to rent it. Let the fun begin!
The Monday after our arrival, we were able to access it for the first time. Despite some VERY necessary TLC…cleaning, painting, yard work, repairs and child-proofing, the house is great and perfectly suited to our needs while we are here.
We were referred to a very kind and outgoing contractor to assist us with the painting, childproofing, and completion of some basic repairs. Now, I want to be clear when I write about this that I don’t categorize the following as bad. They are simply cultural differences that fall into that category of things that will require a bit of adapting to. (In fact, at present, we’ve LARGELY adapted to them). Essentially, we are still trying to get a few things done around here, and this tends to be a little trying when you have young children that need protecting from the various tools, chemicals, themselves, etc. And of course sometimes we just end up doing it ourselves. As an example, a water faucet piece needed replacement. When fixing it “mañana” turned into 14 mañanas…well, we took matters into our own hands. When it comes to safety issues, (broken gas stove, windows needing repair, broken door), our patience runs thin a little more quickly. But of course, our standard is based on what we’ve been used to, where service and expediency is high priority. Here, it is much more relaxed and acceptable to eventually get around to the work. If we are told something will be done on Monday, we should expect it’ll probably be either later in the week or early the following. That said, the people are wonderfully kind, welcoming, and seem to genuinely care about you and how you are doing. It’s not just strictly about the job, but also about the relationship they establish with you—the friendship. Living in this type of environment will be a great lesson in patience and embracing the moment. Learning to slow it down a little bit might be just what we need.
During our second week in the hotel, Maddie began her first week of school. This worked out so perfectly, as it was the beginning of the school year here. Maddie was able to start 1st grade fresh with everyone else. And thankfully she loves school, because the poor sweetie isn’t getting a summer break this year, but rather gets to enjoy 15 months of first grade! Very little English is spoken by her teacher or at her school, so for now, the focus is on learning the language, which seems to be happening remarkably quickly. Particularly with “kid slang”. I’ll never forget the first time I heard her yell “Oye Greyson! Pare!” (Hey Greyson! Stop!) KIDS ARE SPONGES. She is soaking the language right up. However, she continues to read here in English at night, so hopefully we will be able to avoid any confusion between the languages. Greyson not so much yet, though I’m sure it will come once he starts preschool.
Also that second week, we embarked on a shopping frenzy! Again, thank GOD Donna was here! Her taste and ability to put together a house in a short period of time are the stuff television shows are made of! As an added plus, she speaks fluent Spanish and my husband, for those of you that know him, is not a fan of the mall (-:
So off we go, and it was a race like no other. We lined up to the starting line on Monday, and literally through blood, sweat and tears….and I mean all three of those things really happened, we were able to purchase the appliances, furniture, decorations (for the most part), kitchen supplies, and all those little odds and ends that make up an entire house, in one week, while watching three children. On a side note, there was some debate before our move whether we were going to move all of our things down here, or purchase all anew. The latter was actually less expensive. And I am so incredibly glad we did that, as it allowed the children to play a significant role in the creation of their bedrooms and bathrooms. This in turn eased the transition…something that has been a great focus of ours during this move.
In addition to Donna’s AMAZING assistance in the shopping department, she was a saint at helping me learn to navigate the city. Learning such locations as the Post Office, grocery store, school, pharmacies, and such tasks as how to pay for gas, who to tip, how much and when, how to park, what roads are one ways, what the signs and lights mean, that a 16 point umbrella is necessary-anything less in Valdivia will be destroyed, what stores carry what, what things in the grocery store really were, (ex-this is laundry detergent, this is dish detergent) were undeniably life savers for me! And more over, during this exploration I realized that the city itself has an incredible sense of safety. I do not feel threatened in the slightest, ever. I don’t feel that my children are threatened in the slightest. The people are very nice, very willing to extend a hand if able, very willing to slow down their ridiculously fast Spanish, and MORE than happy to share their beautiful country with visitors.
And so, in 2 weeks, we learned a little about the area, got started on the house, shopped enough that I didn’t want to see a mall again for, I don’t know, years, and Maddie started school. And that was just the beginning!
To top off an excellent visit from Tom’s parents, we spent that weekend in Pucon. If ever you should visit Chile, put this on your list of must-sees. It’s a mountain town nestled next to a volcano, and has all sorts of outdoor excursions as well as shopping, lakes, beaches and so on. A perfect way to detox and just what the doctor ordered. Chile has the most exquisite scenery. In the south you have the Patagonian Rain Forest. In the north you have the Atacama Desert-the driest desert in the world with the best observatories. And in between, all sorts of marvelous cities, vineyards, national parks, beaches, and so on. With 3000 miles of coast and the Andes Mountains running along the border, Chileans take great pride and for good reason in the breathtaking landscape and diverse topography. They like to say that in the morning you can go downhill snow skiing, and make it to the beach by afternoon. Needless to say, all of this has increased our excitement about being here ten-fold!
Tom’s parents flew home on a Sunday. That night marked the beginning of our 3rd week here and was our first official night in the house, though without furniture. That Monday Tom began work, and what I call our “new real life” began. And so began a scattering of more personally difficult days. An example comes to mind about 3 days in to “new real life”. I had become quite used to having my adult companions with me and the children…conversation, extra hands and the finest of translators! But that third week, it all hit me….like a ton of bricks! We were sleeping on air mattresses, waiting for ANY of our furniture to arrive, and I was in the house with the kids all day, every day, with the painter and contractor, both of whom spoke no English at all. Moreover, it hit me how far I was from family, friends, and anyone other than my immediate family (which 13 hours a day is a 6 and 2-year-old and a baby) that spoke English. That week, we had various services stopping by…Internet, Cable, contractor, furniture and appliance deliveries, etc, and I found myself almost totally incapable of speaking to any of them. Alas, somehow it all worked out, and now looking back, it doesn’t seem like such a big deal, but at that moment for me, nothing was bigger. Particularly given the fact I’m usually fairly independent and capable (I’d like to think (-;). Thankfully, I was able to forge forward, taking it one day at a time, largely with the help of my incredible husband. Tom has shouldered the great load of accomplishing the tasks needed to get a household situated…school, bank accounts, cars, services, repairs, and so on and so on. He is masterful at multi-tasking! If only I had known this sooner, muah muah muah…
And from that point on, things have just seemed to progress and improve one day at a time. Every day, I learn more Spanish. Every day the kids become more settled in. Every day our house becomes more of a home. Every day we meet new, amazing people and discover new driving routes or places to check out. Every day I drink a glass of wine. Ha-no, but really-it’s tempting-the wine here is soooooooo good!
Granted, there have been some trials and tribulations….which are usually the times we say-“Write this Down!” Maddie performed some trick on her bike and landed herself overnight in the hospital with stitches. Then exactly 2 weeks later Greyson contracted some bacterial infection and landed himself in the same hospital overnight. In fact, when I arrived at the hospital, I was told he was in the same room that his sister had been in. I mean really, c’mon! We are already the gringos with the accident-prone children! But thankfully all is okay-they are both doing exceedingly well, other than asking if a doctor trip now means a hospitalization every time (-: And of course we have a few meals to laugh about as I learn what is what in the grocery store (i.e. Goose Stroganoff). And we also had a bit of a delay with the 1,000 pounds of necessary items we shipped from home. They were supposed to arrive 1week after we did. Therefore, I only packed one bag for each of us, which was comprised of mostly summer clothing. Unfortunately, there was a delay in our visas going through, which apparently meant our items could not be shipped. As a result, we just received them a couple of weeks ago-almost 3 months in! We lived out of our 1 bag each for 3 months! It was Christmas in Chile for all of us-particularly for the kids who have their bikes and toys now! I loved getting my things as much as anyone, of course. You can only where the same 6 outfits for so long. However, truthfully, one realizes when put in such a situation how little you really need to be happy. We have a ridiculous amount of toys, clothes, etc back in the US, and in reality we really missed very little of it!
Oh and then there is the issue of the Brown Recluse Spider. I can assure you this will be its own individual post at some point, as it has not been a small issue for my Northern, arachnophobic self. In short Chile is bombarded with (those might be my words, but nevertheless…) poisonous, sometimes fatal, Brown Recluses, and a few of them found our house to be very cozy. Hey, a spider needs a home too, right? WRONG. And, we only learned about this a MONTH AFTER SLEEPING ON AIR MATTRESSES IN OUR HOUSE. But hey, all is good-we got the house fumigated, sprayed, caulked, I have my glue pads, and I engage in all sorts of preventative crap that I won’t bore you with. We haven’t seen any in a long while, and I’m just praying it stays that way! And again-one more example of a gradual adjustment. During the first month following this knowledge, I’m not even sure if I slept, knowing these little buggers lurk in the dark. And I couldn’t understand how people wouldn’t at least consider wrapping their kids in bubble wrap to play outside, be inside, or when they sleep for that matter. However, you adjust, worries fade, and now I can sort of, (but just sort of), understand why everyone looked at me like I was crazy for worrying about it–apparently, and thankfully, bites are not common at all. (Knock on Wood).
And on the subject of pesky creatures, more recently, we’ve learned we might have termites in our new dining room set-but you know what, at this point, it really is laughter inducing. It’ll get done. It’s not the end of the world. There are much more interesting things to focus on right now. And I’m actually totally comfortable with it. I can safely say that 2 months ago I would never have imagined that those words would be coming from me. And you know what else? Despite all this chaos, we still love it! We still love it! If we could have picked any country in the world to come to, hands down this would be the one for us. THAT says something about this remarkable place.
It’s quite amazing the change I can feel going on within me and see within my family-how we react to what some would view as set-backs, how adaptive we are to our surroundings, how Maddie and I are starting to think and dream in Spanish, and best of all the confidence that comes from conquering the little things on a day-to-day basis that are leading us on this path to assimilation.
I think about our cultural training before coming down here. The wonderful teacher first said, “It will be a roller coaster…you will have highs, and you will have lows.” Okay, yup, check. She also said, “Look, in the beginning, take pride in the small things. If you successfully get out of the house and make it home, or complete a trip to the Post Office, pat yourself on the back and call it a productive day.” At that time, I was like, “Uh huh, that would be real productive. No way. I’m going to be that gal that has the whole thing down in a week, 2 tops.” That was, until the day about 3 weeks in, when I made it to the McDonald’s drive thru, drove there by myself, and communicated to the worker in Spanish what I wanted without pointing at pictures. I swear, that night, I patted myself on the back, and celebrated with a glass of wine…or 2. And since then, I continue to embrace those little things, increased ability to communicate, meeting new friends, learning a new store, a new road, a new thing to do. And finally, I feel like we are in our groove! I am starting to feel like this is home. And my love for and excitement about this adventure grows daily. The most rewarding things are often the most difficult, and for me nothing holds this truer than this experience. When our 2-3 years is up, I know I will be amazed and proud of what we’ve done here. If I already feel it after 3 months, I can’t imagine what I will feel in 21-33 more! In fact, my guess is that the return might involve a difficult transition…can you imagine?
Thanks for reading. Thanks for joining this ride with me. And thank you for your support across the miles. I cannot express enough in words what that means to me. I can assure you future posts will not be this long, but I had A GREAT DEAL to catch up on!
Hasta Luego, and much LOVE from The Chilean Tritts!