The City at Night

Sorry for the blurry camera quality, my phone does not have an adequate camera.

Valparaiso is like the Amazon rainforest, just with fewer trees, more people, and less rain. Also, Valparaiso is smellier, and has more stray dogs, and fewer animals, and barely any ants that I’ve seen; so not really like the jungle landscape that I so wanted to see.

Instead of a rich canvas of life, and a sprawling forest utopia, I see an angry city. Instead of the place that sparked the curiosity of the man who “invented” nature, I am in a place where the dockworkers don’t get paid enough. The thing about forests and jungles is that everything is interconnected, from the loudest cawing bird to the stealthiest jaguar Everything has a purpose, and every individual organism is important, vital, to the function of the whole.

The jungle never sleeps, as the animals of the day rest, nocturnal predators emerge from their dens and burrows. The night is crawling with activity. The cycle of interdependency does not care about rudimentary things like the position of the sun. It exists only to sustain itself and crawl forward inch by inch.

At points in the night, it seems like all the animals of the jungle awake, and reveal their opinion about a matter. This is similar to Valparaiso, wherein the middle of the night, the stray dogs unite to unanimously voice their disapproval. The city landscape of Valparaiso comes alive, like that of a jungle, the noise comes from all around — just noise, meaningless, like a stormy ocean, a wave of noise crashes over you, encompasses you, tosses you up, and then down. There is just noise, from above you, below you, around you. And then it’s over.

Like a rainforest, Valparaiso almost breathes, it’s connected, just with pigeons and dogs, instead of more interesting creatures. Like a rainforest, Valparaiso almost breathes, the feeling of being alive is in everything.


Let The Race Commence

A racer launching himself downhill during the Cerro Abajo in Valparaiso.

Let the bike race commence! Once a year in Valparaiso, there’s a large (and terrifying) bike race called Cerro Abajo. This year my family and I were lucky enough to go see it. The race takes place on one of the many hills of Valparaiso. The bikers go down the hill, through houses, over a bus, and along alleyways only a couple inches wider than the bike. The racers go down flights of stairs and off numerous jumps, all the while attempting to keep dogs and people out of their path.

This year, the race was longer than in past years, and it started further up the hill. My family and I only had time to be there for a couple hours, as I wanted to be back in time to facetime my friends. (something which went incredibly well and was very fun. GG Tobias) Upon arrival to the incredibly packed and ridiculously noisy (there was a DJ in an armored car), we became aware that the bike race hasn’t started yet. With the heat reaching us, we were desperate to find a spot to watch the bikers before I had to go back.

Eventually, we made our way to a somewhat less crowded area by the jump and waited, for an hour, in the full heat of the sun. With no water. I was ready to take a perfect slow-mo video of the bikers jumping off the ramp but got tired of holding my phone after 15 minutes. We had no idea when the bikers were coming down, but we were running out of time. After a while, the security guards came and made sure that there was no one on the race track, and closed the gates leading into it. “This was a good sign,” we thought. “This means that they’re almost ready.” Boy, were we wrong.

It turns out being another thirty minutes before the first racer comes down the mountain. To say the least, we are not prepared. A whistle from up the hill. The crowd goes wild. People bang cowbells against the fence. Another whistle, this time closer. The people all around start cheering. A movement on the ramp. I take out my phone, the bike launches into the air, I attempt to hit record. The biker lands on the other side of the ramp and disappears down the mountain. Everybody goes silent. Just like that, I miss him.

Then another whistle. I hit record, the racer launches himself off the platform and continues down the hill. I check the video; it’s awful, the bike isn’t even in focus. More time goes by, but eventually, another one comes down. This time I get a good slow-mo video. One after another racers come down, each time the crowd goes wild.

In conclusion, the day was fun but the way back to our apartment was blocked by the race. Despite this, I still managed to make it home to the facetime call. From what I saw, I think that this competition means a lot to the people of Valparaiso, and it was celebrated accordingly. It was really fun watching the crowd get excited whenever a person came down. It could have been a little sooner though.


¿Que son estas bolitas?

What kind of animal causes this? Scurrying around in your walls, nibbling at the foundations. The thought of these animals can bring shivers down the spine of any homeowner. They are, the termites.

Termites are a kind of insect that most people dread finding in their home. Often called “white ants”, termites, however, are not ants. Termites belong to the order Blattodea, along with another dreaded insect: cockroaches.

There are over 3,000 species of termites; only a small portion of them are found in people houses. Some species of termites actually have the ability to digest wood, and thus your house becomes their dinner. This can prove to be harmful to the structural soundness of your house, as termites will begin to munch away. The little pellets that you can see in the picture above are the waste of the termites eating away our house.

However, not all termites are bad. In fact, most termites are beneficial, if not vital, to their ecosystems. Termites aid in breaking down dead or decaying matter. In addition, termites also can make a meal for many animals (like ants!).

Did you know that there are no adult termites? How’s THAT for a society run by kids. Termite colonies can number in the millions. Like ants, there is only one queen laying all the eggs, unlike ants, however, termites never pupate into adults. They have what’s called an “incomplete metamorphosis.”

The life cycle of a termite is like this: termites start out as eggs and then they hatch into larvae. Here, the termites will molt a couple of times, and soon they will be a worker. They can then molt one more time to become a soldier, a type of termite that protects the nest from predators, or they can actually become a queen! That’s right, even the lowliest termite worker can become a queen.

In conclusion, having termites in your house is probably a bad thing, but that doesn’t mean that ALL 3,000 species of termites are bad. Once you get to know them, they can actually be kind of cool! (Ants are still better.) Termites are very important to the world, just not to your house.


Crime Without Punishment

We were warned about the dangers of living in the city of Valparaiso. At the fruit markets, they always tell us to protect our wallets and purses. At the soccer field, they say to always keep your bag close to you.

On Thursday I found out the hard way that the concern was warranted. As a part of my daily schedule, I had been walking up the hill to the local soccer field to play pickup soccer with some local kids. After three days in a row without any problem, I walked up the hill with my Dad and my brother on Thursday. We noticed that there were several other teenagers playing soccer, and the normal homeless characters.

We walked into the field and I set my bag down to put on my cleats. I began to play soccer while my Dad and brother were playing frisbee. I wasn’t thinking about where I had set down my bag and I drifted over towards the goal on one end of the field and started shooting. When my brother got tired of frisbee, my dad joined me in playing soccer. None of us were watching my bag.

By the time we were tired, I looked up and realized my bag was missing. Unfortunately, there was not much we could do. It could have been any number of people who come and go from this soccer field. Luckily, I hadn’t put my shoes and water bottle into my bag so they were still lying there. Then I remembered I had put my phone in the zipper of my bag. We looked and tried to ask around but eventually decided just to go home and try to use “Find my iPhone.”

My phone has a lock on it so they will not be able to get in; however, “Find my iPhone” only seems to work if the phone has service or wifi so that was no help. More importantly, I had a key to our apartment in my bag, so we decided to head down to the cops and ask for their advice as to whether it was necessary to change the locks or if criminals usually just steal in the heat of the moment.

We head down to the police station and they tell us they can’t do anything about the bag but that criminals usually don’t follow up by breaking into houses because they do not want to risk being caught. They asked us to file a police report. While filling out the paperwork they asked me to think about everything I had lost, and finally, I remembered.

On the back of my phone, I have a sticky wallet that I keep a debit card in. By this time I was panicking. We were only halfway through the police report paperwork, but somebody had my bank card and could be draining my account as I was talking to the police!

I wanted to run home right away, but we rushed through the rest of the paperwork and finally, we were able to return home. After a panicked call to Atlantic Federal Credit Union, and with the help of my parents, we were able to de-activate the card and confirm that no money had been stolen.

I feel very privileged to live in a place like Brunswick, Maine, where I feel so safe. However, I do feel like I learned a pretty important lesson–and probably will learn many more after five more months in this city. I learned to pay attention to the advice of friends and those looking out for you and to not get too comfortable. Because in this city, the field where I go to practice most days is also where some people sleep every night.


A picture’s worth a thousand words (Or so)

There are a lot of stray dogs here in Valparaiso; this is commonly due to the mistreatment of dogs. People buy puppies as gifts and then abandon the now bigger dogs a few years later. A result of this is that the streets of Valparaiso are now full of stray dogs, and by extension, their feces. Dog poop is everywhere, you have been warned! Some of these dogs possess injuries, such as limps, missing eyes, among other things. One of the worst things that can happen to you, is when a young dog with a limp begins to follow you, begging for food. It takes a will of iron to avoid adopting the most likely flea-ridden dogs.

As of Friday, February 1st, my family has not seen a dog get hit by a car, which is lucky, but we do not expect that luck to hold. Already we have seen some roadkill and a family that we suspected of eating some sort of dog-like animal (My dad believes it was a calf, but I’m not so sure).

The dogs here are like pandas, at least, during the day; all they do is lounge around and sleep. Once night falls, things change, however, as the once lethargic dogs begin vying for territory. The result: lots of barking. I mean, LOTS of barking. A ridiculous amount. Definitely keeps some people up.


A Picture is Worth One Thousand Words (or so)

Starting today we plan to post a picture each week and write a story that explains the picture.


This week’s picture is of my newfound friends on the soccer team, Selección Quinta Cordillera, I plan to train with. I met the boy in the red hat at a pickup soccer game. He turned out to be a goalkeeper and so I played with him after the game was finished. He was clearly very good so I got to talking to him about how or where I could play soccer here in Valparaiso.

With the help of my father, we were able to overcome the language barrier and understand that he was inviting me to practice with his select team. We were told to meet him at 4:00 back at the same field on Wednesday so that we could pick up a bus to Quilpué, a town nearly an hour away from Valparaíso. I got his contact information and he stressed to me that I should be there at 4:00.

So on Wednesday, my father and I walked up to the field at 3:55. We ended up waiting for twenty-five minutes until the boy and two of his friends finally strolled down the hill. Instead of catching a bus we followed them down the hills of Valparaíso for a few kilometers to the downtown area.

As we walked, their friends called and told them they were late so we had to run. We finally met up with the rest of the players from Valparaíso. There were seven including a Bolivian and a Colombian. We got on the bus and I learned all of their names. When we got off they said we were going to walk to the field. After about five minutes they waved down a truck and all of us (including my dad) hopped in the back to go to practice.

At practice, we did conditioning at the start of practice and even before we finished two laps people were falling on the ground and refusing to run. However, once we started playing a scrimmage something changed as they all became faster and sprinted around for the next hour of practice.

After practice, I got their contact information and one of the guys took me to get a haircut. They have been on summer vacation for the past few weeks but I am looking forward to connecting with them again. I have been very impressed with how nice and inclusive the Chileans I have met have been.