Let the Battle Commence!

The nerdiest (and best) store that I have ever been in. Seriously, this place is awesome.

Weeks ago my family and I discovered this: a small game store that sells Magic: The Gathering and Pokémon trading cards. Upon the first attempt to enter the store, I was literally paralyzed with fear at the idea of entering such a small store where everyone could see me. Stage fright take note, you’ve been outclassed by social anxiety.

By the fourth time visiting the same store, being locked out of our apartment and having been pushed to the entrance by my brother (I am just now realizing that the store owner was probably watching me for the entire thirty minutes that it took for me to enter) I finally just gave up and walked into the store. I immediately went for the table and sat down, as my brother walked around to sit on the other side of the table, a person began walking towards us. After a brief conversation in Spanish, fighting the urge to bolt out of there as fast as possible, and a few quick games of magic, we learn that they hold tournaments there every Monday, Thursday, and occasionally Saturday. We thank the person and leave as quickly as possible. (At least, I do, my brother was trying to drag it out as long as possible.)

Next Thursday, my family approaches the store. I have no idea if anyone speaks English. I have no idea what format they’re playing. Is it Brawl? Standard? Modern? Legacy? Commander?! I have no clue! No one besides me even knows what any of those are! It is going to be a disaster! AND I left all my good cards back home. Nice. All the while, we are getting closer and closer, I had no idea what was next.

I enter the store, it’s nice, there’s eight or so people there, but it feels like twenty. My father approaches the front desk and asks if his sons can play. The person running the store (his name is Victor and he’s a great guy) explained what format it was, how to play it and even lent my brother one of HIS OWN decks to play. Victor, you’re amazing!

Needless to say, I was nervous and didn’t want to play, so I just watched Everett lose horribly. (He got last place.) To my surprise, most of the expensive (aka good) cards were in English, and I already knew most of the cards in standard right now. Everett, on the other hand, had no clue what any of the cards did. It was entertaining and I vowed, next week, I would be back.

For the first time, I actually looked forward to going to this little card store. Victor presented us with different decks to play. It turns out that Victor was a professional Magic player (yes, that is a real thing) and has placed in multiple NATIONAL championships. I chose a really fun and aggressive Adeliz, the Cinderwind, which looks to kill my opponents before they can even dream to stop me, and it worked! I fought my way upwards, sword and cardboard in my hand, I managed to place 3rd, only losing once at the very end. It was fun and I got prizes from it! Everett managed to do better (compared to his first attempt) and placed 7th.

The next time I went, people began to recognize me. I placed 3rd again and got more prizes. So far, I have fought in the pits (figuratively, people there are really nice and civilized) three times, and have placed third in all three, somehow managing to best Victor, something which I have not seen before. I hope to back there again tonight. Wish me luck.

La Campana National Park

Image result for hiking near olmue chile

This weekend while my mother was away, my brother, my dad and I decided to take a trip to one of the national parks close to Valparaiso. With plans for an early start in the morning we went to bed on Friday night. However by 10:00 the following morning we were still searching for our hiking boots, filling water bottles, and researching the best way to travel the nearly 60 kilometers to the national park. Finally, after an hour or more of preparation we left around 11:00 with only a vague idea of how to get where we were headed.

We walked down to the metro and bought tickets to the very last station, Limache. After turning inland at the popular vacation destination next to Valparaíso, Viña del Mar, the metro emerged from the concrete urban tunnels to show us the dry and hilly Chilean landscape dotted with small villages. Inside the metro, there are always a busy few vendors who walk up and down the cars selling everything from fresh fruit to flash drives. Once we stepped off the metro at the last station in Limache we asked for directions to Olmué, the town closest to the base of La Campana. We hurried out with the crowd and entered the warm friendly city of Limache. We found the bus to Olmué easily enough, but we were unsure if La Campana was the final destination.

By the time we reached the center of Olmué we were faced with a decision, either stay on the bus despite not knowing its final destination or get off and walk the rest of the way. My father decided for us that we should get off of the bus, but after checking a map we saw that we still had more than five kilometers to go, and it was already well past noon. On my insistence we flagged down another bus and the driver asked where we were headed. We were informed that we must walk a short ways from where we were dropped off up the hill to the national park. An old lady who got off with us was helpful in pointing us in the right direction. No more than twenty minutes later we finally arrived at the entrance to the park.

Image result for la campana chile
Picture credit to Macca Sherifi, check out his blog for some great information.

The most popular hike led to the peak of Cerro la Campana which offers views of both the Andes Mountain Range and the Pacific Ocean. However we were much too late to attempt that hike as it is around four hours to the summit. Instead we decided to explore a loop through the woods with signs explaining the wildlife. Before the trek we stopped in a nice shaded picnic area to have our lunch. We wandered up to the loop and after a comfortable hour of walking we had seen enough of the lower parts of the park. One of the most entertaining parts of hiking in Chile for me has been watching and chasing after all of the various types of lizards that populate the rocks and trails.

As we headed down we stopped to wait at the bus stop. I was joking to my father about hitchhiking because we hadn’t seen a bus in a while when a car pulled up and a middle aged women offered us a ride down to the center of Olmué. After that act of kindness it was easy to catch the next bus back to Limache, hop on the next train and within an hour or two we were back in our apartment in Valparaiso. From the little we saw of the park it looked beautiful and provided a great day trip to get out of the busy city. We definitely plan to make a trip to the summit one of these upcoming weekends, and we recommend La Campana to anyone visiting Santiago or Valparaíso and looking to get out of the city for a day.

Soccer Game

Our section in the stands remained pretty calm, but the section behind the goal pictured here was constantly drumming, singing, dancing or even lighting flares.

I read in the newspaper that the Santiago Wanderers of Valparaíso were going to have a game on Saturday, February 9th. I had learned a little about the Wanderers as it seemed to be everyone’s favorite team. They are the oldest team still playing in Latin America, and many people take pride in that fact. In fact, it is difficult to walk in the city and not see a green Wanderer’s Jersey. I was impressed by the fan base the team had despite being relegated to the Second Chilean Division in 2017.

My family decided to visit their home stadium which holds upwards of 20,000 people. After the visit to the stadium, my family decided we definitely wanted to go and watch a game there.

However, getting tickets proved to be a challenge. The guards at the stadium explained to us that game tickets were only sold at the small Wanderers clothing store downtown. Luckily we had visited the store earlier so we knew where it was. When we arrived at the shop we were directed to a barred doorway where we were asked for identification. We had to go back to get our passports. We got the expensive tickets so that we would not be in danger.

We went to the game on a sunny Sunday afternoon. We saw many armed guards wearing full padding and ready with riot shields surrounding the stadium. As we entered they patted everyone down so that noisemakers or explosives wouldn’t be brought into the game. However even as the players were warming up some people had managed to smuggle flares and fireworks into the game and were lighting them on fire as they sang and danced. They had many loud drums which they played continuously for almost the whole game.

The Wanderers are not the best team as they got relegated in 2017 to the Second division in Chile. However, they are the oldest team in South America that is still playing and their fans take a lot of pride in that. The soccer game was extremely physical at some points looking like a wrestling match. The Wanderers scored a very nice goal on a free kick outside the box. The Wanderers goalie made several mistakes but the other team never scored even when the keeper rolled it out to the opposing teams striker.

In all 8,000 people attended the game and there were almost no fans from the opposing team so there were no problems as we exited the stadium and boarded the busses. It was a good experience. We hope to go to another game and this time sit in the real fan section, instead of the calm one that costs more money.


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.