I’m walking through the Miami Airport and I feel as though I have already completed the international leg of my flight. I didn’t think that the language barrier would begin even before I left the United States for my five month study abroad program in Viña del Mar, Chile. If Miami is supposed to be a melting pot, the airport is even more so if you only count the cheeses that speak Spanish.
And even though I knew how to ask for a vegetarian sandwich in Spanish at the airport’s Starbucks, surrounded as I was by travelers arriving from and departing for Cuba, Brazil, and other Latin American destinations, I still muttered the disgraceful words in English. I was rather depressed by the event; my last meal on US soil was a feta, egg-white and spinach breakfast wrap consumed at 10 o’clock at night.
I can already tell that I am going to do a lot of listening on this adventure. For those of you who know me well (or at all) you know that talking is definitely up there on my list of favorite activities. Only topped by eating. But as I haven’t had any formal Spanish training since my junior year of high school, and I have been remise in my off-the-clock practicing, the language is a bit rusty. In fact, I’m realizing now that I don’t remember how to say sandwich. Definitely never learned feta and spinach.
If I’m remembering correctly, my AP Spanish class was at about the intellectual level of third grade: one page country reports complete with a traced and colored map, mildly heated debates in which the word “no” is exchanged numerous times with a slight accent, simplistic passages about what Juan or Rosa or Maria ate/did/saw that day. But, the release one gets from completing tasks in another language is beyond cathartic; it’s part of why I decided to take Arabic in college. Languages are like puzzles. They’re tough and there are always missing pieces that emerge half-way through the game to make it that much more complicated, but the satisfaction is the same. My first completed sentence in Arabic was as orgasmic as the smooth surface of a 1000 piece puzzle.
So, I’m off to Chile. Not just to practice Spanish, (although if you asked my mother, that’s the main reason) but also to expose myself yet again to the rigors of entering a new country, a new culture and (as always) a new cuisine. Chile is a country of dramatic landscapes, rugged coasts, sleepy villages, a burgeoning capital city, and some of the best wine in the world. This is the land that gave life to Pablo Neruda and Gabriela Mistral. Artists and writers have long been inspired by the hardiness of the people, the painful political history and the beauty that lingers everywhere from the sands of the dry north to the clarity of glacier-fed waters in the south.
I enter Chile with an open heart. Ready to make friends and be surprised at every turn by what this often-forgotten country has to offer. Stay tuned everyone, this is going to be a big one.
I flew American Airlines for the first leg of my flight and although the check-in process was simple and efficient enough, the plane itself was nothing special. I spent the 2.5 hours to Miami cramped in a completely outdated, springs-up-your-butt seat that had been an invention of some cruel, profit-maximizing engineer. But I got there safe and sound so I guess that should be good enough for me. My flight from Miami to Chile, however, is a veritable luxury. As I boarded the plane, the roomy first-class boasting well-cushioned chairs with plenty of leg room, shoulder room, arm room, room for your dog, your best friend and a car, called to me. The entire aircraft was bathed in a trippy purple and orange glow and the fast-talking bilingual flight attendants in their modest, red, Hillary Clinton jackets marched up and down the aisles organizing the chaos which is a Latin American flight. My chair? Although not first-class (kicking myself for turning down the $100 upgrade) was also quite cushy with a blanket, eye-mask, pillow, headphones, ear plugs, personal TV, USB port, and double wide window wasn’t half-bad even though I got a cumulative 3 hours of sleep. I’m a fan of LAN. If you’re going to South America, it’s worth the splurge to arrive in relative comfort and 70’s style.
As for the Starbucks sandwich well…it was delicious.