I never anticipated that while studying abroad in Chile, I would have ample opportunities to travel internationally. However, to my surprise, I did! As a result, I decided to take advantage of those opportunities. I realized that traveling to different countries neighboring Chile was a really great way to compare cultures and more fully both national cultures and South American culture as well.
The first neighboring country I traveled to was Argentina. This weekend trip was planned through my API program, meaning all expenses were covered except for food and drinks. We flew from Santiago to Mendoza on a Friday, and it was about the shortest flight I have ever taken (35 minutes). When we arrived, we dropped our stuff off at the hotel and then took a two hour tour of the city. Luckily, most of the tour was on a van, and we were not walking that entire time (because we were all tired from having to get up early).
The following morning we went to some hot springs that were located up in the Andes mountains. It was absolutely incredible! First of all, it was in a beautiful location. Next to the resort, there ran a river that, at its deepest part was a deep turquoise color. The rocky, mountainous terrain supported shrubbery and more desert-like wildlife. The sunlight peering over the mountain tops felt warm on my skin. The crisp air was very refreshing. The other reason this experience was so nice is that we were there for most of the day, which is just what I needed: a full day of relaxation. While I was there I tried a full-body mud therapy treatment, I relaxed in the different waters of each hot spring (the hottest of which was about 100 degrees Fahrenheit), and even sat in a natural, humid sauna. Although all of those things were very enjoyable and relaxing, my favorite part of the day was the feast we had for lunch. For lunch we had an all-you-can-eat buffet with a great variety of dishes. They had different types of meats (all of which were exquisite Argentinian quality), pastas, salads, grilled vegetables, potatoes, and just about anything else you could imagine. For dessert they had tiramisu, flan, fresh and candied fruits, and dulce de leche… lots and lots of ducle de leche (which is a staple in Argentina). For anyone who does not know what dulce de leche is, it is a latino equivalent of caramel, and it is absolutely delicious!
The last leg of our Argentine trip was a tour of a winery. We toured Trapiche, one of the largest winery in Latin America. It was very interesting to learn all about the wine-making process and seeing all of the different equipment used. After the tour we had a seven-course meal that revolved around a wine tasting. In other words, each course was prepared to best compliment or highlight the flavor of the wine that accompanied it. They had a wide variety of dishes, all of which were made from fresh, organic fruits, vegetables, and meat grown/raised on-site. One of the interesting parts about this particular vineyard was that they grow other crops and raise animals in order to create a natural environment that yields the healthiest products, in addition to just growing grapes. Anyway, each dish and wine were delicious, but my favorites were the later courses, which included pastas, steak, and red wines. Finally, the dessert was absolutely delicious!
The next country that I traveled to was probably my favorite because of everything I did there. That country was Peru. I went with a group of around ten people, which is a lot, however they were all great people so we had no complications really. It was a five-day trip. Two days were for travel and the other three encompassed a three-day Inca Jungle Trek, which is popular in Peru. During those three days we hiked quite a bit. Luckily we also took trains, buses, and bikes to different locations so we were not just hiking all day, every day. The sights in Peru were absolutely incredible though. The whole countryside was green with jungles that covered the mountains. My favorite thing to see was the clouds rolling over the mountains. Seeing that truly took my breath away. In addition to the sights, the people were really nice overall. They were very helpful with anything we needed and with the various activities we did. Also, the food was very delicious. I even got to try alpaca meat! I do not think there was a single Peruvian dish that I tried that I did not like.
This trip culminated in a visit to Machu Picchu, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. We had to wake up and leave the hostel by 4 am and walk down to the entrance of the park, which opened at 5 am. The reason we had to get there early is because the line gets long very quickly and we wanted to get to the top as quickly as possible. It took a little less than an hour to get to Machu Picchu. It was extremely tiring, but very much worth it as we got to see the sun rise over the mountains, and it was beautiful. Once we got to Machu Picchu we took a tour of the ruins, which were really cool! The whole time I was in disbelief that I was actually in the abandoned city of Machu Picchu. That had always been one of my dreams, and it finally came true. After the tour, we hiked up an additional trail we had paid for. There are two trails available: Huayna Picchu and Machu Picchu Mountain, which is the higher of the two, although both look down on the ancient city. We had chosen to hike Machu Picchu Mountain. That, was easily one of the hardest hikes I have ever done in my life. It took us an hour and a half to get up there. It was especially difficult because we were all already tired from the morning hike. Moreover, all of the paths (from both trails) entailed very steep steps. Although it was difficult to get to the top, the view was well worth it. We were at an altitude where we were above most of the clouds, and it was truly memorable. That was my favorite part of the trip.
Finally, the last South American country I travelled to was Uruguay. I went with my best friend Hannah is also studying abroad here in Chile. This trip was very relaxing and spontaneous. We really had no plans going into it; so on a day-to-day basis we decided what we were going to do that day. Most of the trip revolved around food, which was really enjoyable. However, we also learned a lot about Uruguayan culture from a walking tour we took as well as the locals we interacted with. Besides that, we also toured the Estadio Centenario, which is a historic national soccer stadium that hosted the 1930 World Cup. It was very interesting and enlightening.
All in all, traveling to other countries while studying abroad was one of the best experiences I have had. I was able to compare and contrast different countries and cultures. It is something I would highly recommend in order to make the most of any study abroad experience!