Punta Arenas, Chile
Sometimes when I’m walking down the old sidewalk that leads out of my house, I get to thinking. Not about anything philosophical or theoretical; nothing complex and draining of valuable mind power, mind power I could be using to think about important things like breasts and what that old lady across the street with a carpetbag had for breakfast (my guess was oatmeal and indiscriminate disapproval). I begin to ponder the idea of exact present location.
I’ll keep walking for half a block while I to mull it over, dodge several maniacal, impetuous taxi drivers while I cross the street, and then suddenly feel the need to stop halfway across the bridge that goes over a dirty concrete canal with a river of piss and used bath water flowing through it (the same canal, by the way, that I used to squat in during my first days in Punta Arenas). For a moment, I’ll just stare ahead, absorbed with the concept of exact present location, and soon I’ll find myself getting pretty heavily into it. I’ll crane my neck and look straight up into the sky, and my eyes will sort of fall out of focus. I’ll picture myself from a viewpoint as if my eyes have left my body; they’ve turned around and are now staring back at me from a few feet above.
There I am: a skinny kid with a fresh haircut and a cheap, ill-fitting suit draped on my bony frame like a blanket set out to dry on a fencepost. The wind blows a little and ruffles around this gaudy blue striped tie that I hate; but it’s not me I’m focusing on. It’s where I am, my exact present location. My airborne eyeballs slowly begin to get further and further away from my body, and I start to notice where I’m standing; the rough old sidewalk, probably poured sometime in the sixties, has little bits of grass poking their tender shoots out of every tiny crack. The peeling blue paint on the guard rail, probably the twentieth-odd coat, rustles slightly as the wind begins to get stronger; a flake breaks off and flutters industriously down to the bottom of the canal, landing in the poignant brown water and sailing off towards the sea.
My eyeballs continue their skyward ascent; now I can see the street, as old as or older than the sidewalk, with creaky pickup trucks and crazed taxi drivers flitting by at odd intervals. The river flows slowly, sludging along over the slimy concrete of the canal.
The view widens, and now I can see entire streets; the intersection of Chiloé and Ignatio Carrera Pinto; the stiff, windblown trees that suck in as much grimy moisture as they can from the sides of the canal. I am smaller now; you can’t see my blue tie, or really tell that my suit doesn’t fit; I’m just a black and peach smudge, a mild contrast to the dull tan of the pavement. But I can still see the spot where my exact present location is, and I make sure not to lose it as my eyeballs float skyward like those black balloons they sometimes loose after funerals.
Now things are getting broader; I can see city blocks, people scurrying about on the sidewalks or crossing the streets without waiting for the little green man on the traffic signal to change from red and stationary to green and trotting happily. I notice all the red tin roofs; every house seems to have one, and every block is an irregular patchwork of red tin and neutral walkways.
I see the towering post office building, and start to distinguish the green of the trees in the Plaza sneaking in through the corner of my vision; it looks like an emerald blanket surrounded by a pile of blocks. I still keep note of my exact present location, there on the bridge over the river. I can still see myself, but I’m just a speck, and when another speck walks by the two specks seem to merge together and continue on. Still, my eyes float up…
Now the city blocks are getting smaller and smaller, and the Plaza starts to look more like an overlooked mistake than a blanket; a little patch of green, smaller than a postage stamp, forgotten amongst all those other patches of red tin roofs and grey lines that have become the streets.
The Strait of Magellan has long since come into view, looking more like a void than a sea; in contrast to the incongruity of the land it looks featureless and unnatural. I can see all of Punta Arenas now, all the way down to Rio Seco, but I still know my exact present location; I can’t see much of the streets or details of the buildings anymore, but I can see the concrete canal and the little flit of interruption that is the bridge I’m standing on. Higher I go…
A crooked coastline, that of the Brunswick Peninsula, cuts my line of sight in half; on one side, land, and on the other, sea. Punta Arenas has condensed into a dot of grey crisscrosses, jammed unnaturally like a splinter into the almost uniform light tan of the pampas. Tierra del Fuego creeps into view along the bottom of my vision, as well as a smaller dot of grey crisscrosses that compliments Punta Arenas and is the city of Porvenier. Promptly I begin to perceive the bulging shape of the widest part of the Strait as I soar into the stratosphere. Still I note my exact present location, though more roughly now; it’s somewhere on the west side of those crisscrosses, is all I can figure.
The whole Peninsula can be seen now, dominating everything with its odd, fig-like shape, intruding between the Strait and the Seno Otway; the pampas on the north side fade gradually to the forested southern end. Almost all the Chilean half of Tierra del Fuego is visible, with a few mountains to the south showing off their eternally snow-capped peaks.
The random splats of islands on the austral end of the Strait look like drops of that green slime I used to make as a kid out of corn starch, drops that have spattered into the neighboring Drake Passage while someone was sliming the continent, and then stuck there because nobody ever got around to cleaning them up. I can see the ribbons of waterways that twist and turn disconcertingly throughout the islands, always either leading to the Strait or to the Passage. Still I observe my exact present location, which is just generally in the same spot as the faint, off-color splotch that is Punta Arenas.
Most of Tierra del Fuego and the southern part of Magallanes is perceptible by now; I marvel at how the islands twist and turn, and at the distinct way the eastern tip of TDF protrudes out into the Atlantic Ocean, the very thing that gives South America it’s twisted, tornado-like form (I know this because I once tried using the Paint application to erase Tierra del Fuego and replace it with dispassionate blue sea; without it, South America looked like a top with scoliosis).
More slime-spatter islands dot the western coastline, and now I can observe both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans at the same time. I still see myself, or, more accurately, my exact present location, snuggled up on the northeastern side of the misshapen Peninsula.
The pampas of Argentina and Chile morph subtly into the Magellanic forests of the western coast; the dark green looks like shading, added by some cosmic artist to give the landmass depth and significance. The dark brown spurs of the Andes rise up above the green of the forests; their snow-capped peaks remind me of continental pimples, and that I need to pop some of my less epic ones.
Almost all of Patagonia lies in a swath of earth tones before me, surrounded on either side by the two mighty oceans of our world, vacant, smooth, and impassive. The splatter islands on the west coast have morphed together, and appear almost like part of the mainland and not like islands at all (I make a mental note to try erasing them on Paint, too). The Brunswick Peninsula, a focal and enormous blob from up close, now looks more like a chunk of bubblegum stuck to the shoe of the mastiff that is Patagonia. There I stood, in my exact present location, somewhere on the upper side of that piece of gum.
As my eyeballs begin to drift out into space, I can see the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula emerging from other side of the Drake Passage; like an eagle claw, it pokes its shining, spiky forefront into the picture. Up north I can make out the Rio de la Plata on the border of Argentina and Uruguay. The Andes have become a distinct line of white dividing the modest coastline of Chile from the vast open lands of its neighbor to the east. The subtropical lowlands of Paraguay, southeast Bolivia, and Brazil are evident, a sharp green contrast to the drab altiplano in the western sector of the mass. The green dies and stays dead as soon as it traverses the Andes from the east and arrives to the Atacama Desert, a place free of color and life; here the ground is bleached almost white by fourscore millennia of hot sun and zero cloud cover.
All of western Antarctica is now evident, and suddenly the planet ends on the southern limits of my line of sight and all I can see there is black, empty space. My eyes begin to recede faster, and soon I can see the entire mass of South America, from the jungles of Venezuela and Brazil all the way down to my isolated speck, my peninsula, which is barely perceptible in the blob of islands and practically invisible maze of channels. My exact present location looks to be somewhere on a twisted hangnail, stuck to the toe of a mighty continent that dominates the southern seas.
I picture myself and the clothes I’m wearing; the wrinkled dress pants with the mustard stain on the left pant leg, the dingy white button-up shirt, that awful tie. I’m still way out, and there’s no way I can even see the city of Punta Arenas, much less the smelly canal or that old bridge. So I do a split-screen, like that function they have on most new TV’s that nobody knows how to turn on. In one screen I see me, standing on my bridge next to the peeling railing and the cracked sidewalk, and in the other is the continent of South America, with its green jungles and Andean backbone. I shrink the shot of me on the bridge a little bit and move it to the spot where Punta Arenas is; slowly, I start zooming back in. The details of the land start to become more profound as I get closer and closer to myself. The splatter islands now look like islands again, and I can distinguish mountain peaks from one another; soon the Brunswick Peninsula looks large and rotund once more. Then I’m so close that the split screen of myself now fits into the other screen, and it just looks like one picture again; a picture of me on an old bridge next to a dirty little river, staring up at myself.
Obviously, the concept of exact present location is something I just made up to feed a bored imagination; however, it really helps me remind myself of where I am in relation to…well, the world. All the places I’m near, the distance between me and such and such, what’s between me and such and such… it’s something I find very interesting to do, especially when I start to forget where I am. Not that I’m coming down with Alzheimer’s or anything, but sometimes I sort of fail to recall that even though I’m stationary and not in a constant state of movement like I have been for the past 18 months, life is still going extremely well for me. Thinking about where I am and what I’m around has always been the easiest way for me to put things into perspective.
I remember when I was little I used to obsess over the idea of going to South America because I knew there were anacondas and green tree pythons here; I would pour over maps, read the strange names of all those cities and places, and wonder what they looked like in real life. What kind of people would I see on the streets? What did the buildings look like? Did they have cars? Did they all eat piranhas? If so, how? Fried? In soup?
Now that I’ve been here, all those places that I spent years of my childhood thinking about have mental pictures to go with their names, names that aren’t so foreign anymore. I was there, I am there, and for this reason I like to think about exact present location, especially when I start to get bored or depressed because I’m at a standstill.
Here’s another way to do it if you don’t feel like staring off into space while thinking about maps for an hour. This only works if you can trace a direct route (by land or sea but never by air), to a familiar place; anywhere that you know well, physically, and with all the details filled in. Sometimes I would pick where I grew up in Texas. I would zoom out so far into space that I could see all of the Americas, and some of Europe and Africa, too. I would mentally trace out the route I took to get to my exact present location from that familiar place. I would think about all the things in between my exact present location and the bed where I spent my childhood, details I saw, details I might see, things people are doing, the smells, the temperature…anything. I would think about which direction, which wall in my room I would have to face to be facing my exact present location, and all of the things I was looking past, the things between that place and my exact present location…
The smell of frying papoosas and bird shit in San Salvador, rising up over a dirt patio occupied by two old men arguing about something irrelevant; a guy fixing a flat on his bicycle outside a banana plantation in Colombia, a working days’ worth of dirt and sweat on his brow. A poison dart frog snaps up a worm squirming next to a spiky, dew-laden leaf in eastern Peru, while a guanaco is munching on bunchgrass in Bolivia.
The sound of wooden wheels rolling on cobblestone pathway, voices shouting, parrots squaking, coins clinking together, at a market in Nicaragua; three women are hecking over the price of a strange, spiky yellow fruit while a child drops his popsicle in the dirt; he starts to cry when a stray dog materializes to slop up his ruined treat. In Panama, an iguana tries to cross the highway outside of Yaviza but is captured by a passing motorist, to be made into soup. Condors circle the carcass of a dead cow in the mountians of Ecuador, while turkey vultures circle the carcass of a dead sea lion on a beach in southern Peru. All the while the wind howls through the plains of Patagonia and frostbite kills off another 14 of the shephard’s sheep in southern Argentina.
All these things and innumerable more, between me and where I came from; it’s fodder for the imagination. Sometimes I don’t have to go out very far at all; I just look south and think of the wailing, ice-laden gusts of Antarctica that lay a mere 600 miles away, or look north and think of the sticky, tropical jungles full of snakes and giant flowers that smell like rotten meat that were between me, and where I came from.
Thinking about exact present location can be simplified even further. For example: I find myself doing some mindless, mundane task one day and start to feel bored or unhappy with my current state of non-travelling. The solution is simple: all you have to do is take your boring activity and add your exact present location to the end of it, and all of a sudden your life’s a lot more interesting! For instance, take this boring activity:
Walking to work.
Hugely unexciting, unless you see a fender-bender or any type of dancing midget. Let’s make it even more depressing by adding a subject…
I’m walking to work.
God, that gives me the chills. But wait! There’s hope still! Let’s see what happens when we add exact present location to the end of that horrific sentence…
I am walking to work…in Punta Arenas, Chile.
That already sounds a ton better! But you can do so much more with it!
I am walking to work…in southern Patagonia.
I am walking to work…on the tip of South America.
I am walking to work…near the border of Argentina.
I am walking to work…on the shores of the Strait of Magellan.
I am walking to work…in the world’s most southerly city.
I am walking to work…directly under the ozone hole.
I love it, this exact present location thing. It really is just a trick, like I said before, but I think that it’s the only way I’ll ever make it stationary long enough to achieve the goals I’ve set for myself.
I catch myself doing it all the time; I’ll be lying in bed, my mind wandering around topics like peanut butter and animated porn, when I’ll randomly think about this pine tree that’s growing outside my window; I wonder what what Punta Arenas would look like from the top of that tree. Then I think of what that tree might look like from the hill that’s over on the west side of town, and then what that hill maybe looks like from some mountain peak in the distance, and what that peak looks like from some other peak, and what that other peak looks like from a field Argentina, and what that field looks like from the glacier in the distance, until 3 hours later my mind is somewhere in Nicaragua and wondering why it never gets any sleep.
I don’t know. Maybe I’ve lost you; I don’t even know how clear all of that was. Anyways, the point is that, despite the fact that my life has been decidedly less adventurous than usual as of late, it’s still a far shot from the norm.
As I mentioned in the last post, I’m renting a room and have changed jobs, from tour guide to English teacher. The summer has definitely run out here in Magallanes, and every morning I get up for work the sky is darker and colder. It’s only a matter of weeks before it starts snowing, and even the stray dogs of the city are getting ready to bunker down for the 9 month winter that is knocking at our doors.
Let me tell you about where I live; I mean, the house. Of course when I first moved in, I was convinced that it was a steal; by American standards, it was. Just a tad bit over US$200 a month for an upstairs room, with shared access to the kitchen, bathroom, hot water; the lot. I felt pretty lucky to have come across the place, especially since it’s just a few minutes away from work. Still, there are a few issues…
First off, my downstairs roommate, Carlos. He’s an older man who apparently has some sort of neck problem that prevents him from ever leaving the house or doing anything except for watch excruciating soap operas and tennis matches all day long. He has a bit of a snappy temper; for example, when I accidentally slam some sort of door (house door, oven door, bathroom door, toilet lid, etc.), he unfailingly lets loose a string of swears that would make Eminim blush.
‘Oie conche tú madre! Cuidado con la puta puerta, gringo culiao! Mierda, hueaón…’
I mean, come on. It wasn’t even that loud, and anyways it was an accident. But there are lots of dirty old men like Carlos; swearing at delinquent door slammers like me and having constant tennis matches to watch on the T.V. are pretty much all they have. That, I can take. But there is another thing about Carlos that’s really starting to bug me.
The man is a cat fanatic. It’s actually frightening how much he loves the creatures. There are at least four that have the run of the downstairs, though I can’t be sure of the exact number (the other day I caught a gaunt-looking grey tabby lurking around the bathroom that I swear I’ve never seen before, though Carlos assures me it’s been here for years). They flit in and out of the living room, entering from the outside by way of a little window always kept cracked open by the kitchen. If I’m cooking, they’ll meow incessantly until I give them food or banish them to the sitting area. Whenever I do the latter they glare at me through the glass and stalk resentfully around on the couch, probably conspiring to chew my nose off during the night in revenge for this latest perceived indignity.
To be honest, sometimes cats creep me out. Something about the way they’re always slinking around the house, like they own it, and only tolerate us because we know how to turn on the heater. Not to mention the fact that if you keel over dead for some reason, they’ll eat you. I remember reading somewhere about this old lady who died in her house, and when the police finally found her body a few weeks later her 40 or so cats had picked her bones clean.
It makes me think; what if an old drifter cat comes in through that open window? What if he’s already sampled human meat? Are tomcats like bears; once they get a taste of manflesh, they’re killers for the rest of their lives?
Frequently I wonder if the cats in my house are planning on eating me while I sleep; really, there are enough so if they all banded together they might be able to take me down. Every time I kick them outside or refuse to share my dinner with them, they give me an icy look that says, ‘All right, go ahead; don’t feed me. Your time will come, human boy…’ I see them skulking around outside my door; listening, watching, just waiting for a chance to get inside. Chew out my eyeballs. Munch my aorta. I imagine the newspaper article, front page Wednesday morning in El Pengüino. Big red letters:
¡LA VENGANZA FELINA!
Gatos vengativos comieron a un gringo en Punta Arenas
Siete gatos salvajes devoraron a un jóven estadounidense en su cama durante la noche del domingo, en represalia por un “acto de falta de respeto.”
“No pedimos disculpa,” dicen los gatos, que fueron detenidos por los Carabineros la mañana del martes.
“Él nos hechó de la cocina y nos llevó a la sala cuándo estaba cocinando la trucha. El olor era súper rico, y teníamos mucha hambre; pero todavía, estabamos en el otro lado de la puerta!” explicó Voldemort, jefe del grupo de malvados gatitos. “¡Que injusto! Eso obviamente fue una acción imperdonable, una acción que debía ser castigada. Por lo tanto, matamos al gringo.”
Voldemort, quién fue el último en ser capturado, también tiene un abultado prontuario policial ; en 2001 fue condenado a cinco años de cárcel por tráfico de drogas. Fue detenido por la PDI cruzando la frontera chilena désde Bolivia llevando más que mil kilos de la hierba gatera.
El nombre de la víctima era Patrick Joseph Falterman, de solo 21 años. Él trabajó en un institúto de linguas local. Las únicas partes de su cuerpo que los paramédicos se encuentran intacto fueran tres dedos en un charco de sangre, y un ojo que estaba pegado al techo.
El crimen fue descubierto muy rápido gracias a una vecina, quién llamó a los Carabineros despúes de oír un rudio extraño.
“¡El rudio fue tan horríble! ¡Era como el grito del diablo!” dijo la vecina, una señora de 73 años. “Siempre sabía que los gatos eran malos, pero ¡nunca pensé que el Rey de los Malvados [Voldemort] estaría mi vecino!”
En este momento los culpables están en el centro de Carabineros de Punta Arenas a la espera de ser juzgados; los siete están detenidos bajo cargos de homicidio sin derecho a fianza en habitaciones fuertemente resguardadas. El Jefe de los Carabineros de Punta Arenas dice que están bajo de la guardia de viente de los mejores ofíciales caninos en Chile, de la famosa Unidad K-9. Hasta el momento, no se ha establecido una fecha de tribunal.
I still haven’t seen any sign of Voldemort, but trust me, I’m keeping my eyes peeled. He could come in through the window at any time…
The animals usually sleep on or at the base of the steep spiral staircase that I have to descend to reach the bathroom from my room; therefore, when I’m coming down to take a leak at three in the morning, I inevitably step on one, nearly fall down the stairs, and then get my legs opened up by civet claws in chainsaw mode.
Sometimes a rogue neighbour cat sneaks inside, and there are epic feline duels in the kitchen below my bedroom. Carlos apparently lost his hearing as well as his mind, and never seems to wake up during these daunting crusades by the local strays to steal food from the in-house residents. Despite valiant efforts by the fluffy female calico who likes to pee on my stacks of clean clothes, the stray usually seems to prevail after repeated blitzkrieg attacks from behind the stove.
As if there weren’t already enough cats in the house, last month the female calico gave birth to kittens, probably the result of a love-hate relationship with one of the maraudering ally cats after a food raid. So now there are two kittens, tiny little furballs, bouncing around all over the place at all hours of the day and night. I thought kittens were supposed to sleep a lot? These ones do not. They have an obsession with plastic trash bags and fake potted plants, and seem to have decided that the living area of the second floor right outside my room is their absolute favourite place in the world to play and make lots of noise during the night.
I believe they are actually mentally retarded; perhaps their father was also their uncle. Once, while I was trying to grade poorly written essays by a few of my students, I witnessed one of them playing with a plastic grocery bag. Pawing at it, rolling around on it, and then, going inside it. Upon getting inside, he apparently suffered a case of acute claustrophobia and promptly lost his mind. He writhed around in circles and got himself all tangled up inside the thing, yowling, and seemed quite unable to find his way out. What kind of stupid creature can’t find it’s way out of a small plastic bag designed for bagging things like watch batteries and chewing gum?
I watched the spectacle for several minutes until the kitten’s sibling decided that he, too, wanted in on the Plastic Bag Action, and tackled the mass of bag and fur, causing them both to roll down the spiral staircase and bump soundly into the bathroom door downstairs. Well, if they weren’t retarded before, they definitely were now…
So when I’m not rewashing urine-soaked sweaters or keeping maraudering kittens from raiding my stockpiles of moldy rice, I am dealing with a few other aspects of the house, namely, the temperature.
When I first moved in, it wasn’t really a big deal because it wasn’t all that cold out. But as of late the temperature has been dropping and I have realized that the heater from downstaris does little to actually heat my room. Apparently the landlady is ‘working on it,’ and recommended that in the meantime, I should just leave my door open while I sleep!
Really? And let Voldemort come in to claw out my eyes and devour my liver? Don’t think so, honey. She informs me that if she installs a new gas heater upstaris then I will be the one responsible for paying the extra gas for it. This is pretty ridiculous, considering here in Punta Arenas, for $100.000 pesos a month, you should get a very nice room that is definitely heated, no extra payment required for the gas.
I’ve already realized that I’m paying more than normal for my room, but am reluctant to move since I’m a two minute walk from work. However, if the landlady starts gouging me for gas as well, I’m going to have to start looking for new quarters.
Finally, the last issue about where I live is that I’ve managed to make enemies with my immediate neighbours whom own an Internet café. I’ve recently come into sort-of possession of a laptop with wireless capabilities, (explanation to follow shortly) and after learning that I could hijack their Wi-Fi signal if I sat just behind the gate in front of my house next to the sidewalk, I, of course, began to take advantage of it. Several times I got stares whenever the neighbours would pass by on the sidewalk, and eventually they figured out that I was piggybacking on their wireless signal. They came out and told me to stop it, that if I wanted to use their Wi-Fi then I had to pay.
This is, of course, very silly, because it doesn’t cost them a cent extra and anyways, I could receive the signal from the private property where I lived. It’s their fault for making it so easy to pirate. They didn’t seem to know how to put a password on the network, but after a few days they figured it out.
I guessed it on the first try: it was the name of their establishment. And so, I continued to access their network. They continued to yell themselves hoarse from the sidewalk, whilst I continued to ignore them and send emails through their signal. The day I pay for Wi-Fi time will be a sad day indeed. Eventually they tried calling the police, who of course, laughed at them. Then one day there was no wireless signal at all; they had apparently disconnected it. Greedy bleeders; they would rather deprive themselves of Wi-Fi then see someone access it for free a few hours a day from a wet piece of concrete in their front yard. Well, it was fun while it lasted. They still hate me, though.
I’m seriously thinking about moving to different place; perhaps a spot with a private entrance, no moody roomates, and, most importantly, no cats.
Cats aside, things are pretty satisfactory around Punta Arenas these days; I’ve been working at Tronwell, a Chilean language institute based in Santiago, for about two months now. Like the job as a tour guide I actually enjoy this and usually look forward to getting to work every morning.
The Tronwell Institute (don’t ask me to explain the name; no-one seems to know where it came from. When I hear it, it always brings to mind a mental picture of a blue guy stuck in a well. For some reason.) in Punta Arenas is a relatively new establishment. It was inaugurated about a year ago, and occupies a strange building that apparently was some sort of auto mechanic shop in the past. In order to turn a place of grease and exhaust fumes into a place of learning, the obvious, well thought out solution was to add a second story and stick on some windows.
The front desk resides under a massive skylight which takes up the entire roof. This is both a good and a bad thing.; it’s good because it lets in sunlight and allows our cleaning lady to plant a sizable garden under the stairs (she planted a vine about a year ago; it is now huge and envelops the entire stairway, giving you the feeling of walking into a jungle when you go up the staris). Basically, it’s like a greenhouse. But for the same reason it’s bad, since in the afternoon the sun heats up the inside of the building to impressive temperatures, especially for Punta Arenas; I belive some of our local students have never felt air that hot in their entire lives.
The place is usually kept spotless by our cleaning lady, Rosa, who periodically comes into my room and sprays around indiscriminately with a very clean-smelling liquid of some sort. I belive she is a hypochondriac; she’s always talking about how all the students are apparently bringing to class, along with muddy shoes, terrifying microbes. She wages constant war on them (the microbes, not the students), spraying, sweeping, scrubbing, and wiping all day long. I’ll be spacing out between classes and then suddenly hear a little knock; a second later Rosa will come bustling in, fully loaded with sterile-smelling liquids and gels and prepared for a showdown with the invisible bactirium that were apparently beginning to breed next to my computer at an unacceptable rate.
Squirt. Squirt. A few globs of antibacterial gel, possibly mixed with bleach, on the table.
Scrub scrub scrub scrub. With an enthusiasm that suggested there were several trillion anthrax pathogens propagating right there next to my keyboard.
Spray spray spray spray. Out comes the bottle, applying what I could only assume to be pure bleach, to any exposed surface. On the walls, the carpet, the windows, the air around my head.
Spray spray. A few more for good measure.
Spray. Don’t forget the door hinges.
Spray. Missed a spot.
Then she would give a little nod, smile, and waltz on out in pursuit of more surfaces to wash, least the plague gain a foothold somewhere and cause a pandemic amongst the English-speaking population of Punta Arenas.
So; that’s where I work. My first month, February, was my ‘training month,’ and I only worked part-time; I would go in at five and leave at nine thirty. Apparently I did something right, because the next month they doubled my hours and started me teaching children’s classes on Saturdays. In comparison to most English teachers I don’t really make much money, but for me it’s quite a chunk of change. My monthly paycheck comes out to about CL$530.000 pesos a month, or around US$1.100. It’s quite strange having all this dough to throw around, but when I think about it, I’m still going have to pinch pennies if I want to get everything I need before I leave in my kayak in November (I know I said August last post, but November will be warmer and I will have time to get everything I need).
My responsibilities as an English teacher are rather limited; basically, I’m supposed to teach classes, be an available source of help for students in our computer lab, give new students evaluations, and give very new students a course presentation (in Spanish) of Tronwell’s system and policies.
The way the in-house classes at Tronwell work are a confusing system of topics, levels, and PowerPoint Presentations. Basically I’m supposed to teach students ages 15 and up in small classrooms lessons based off a pre-made PowerPoint that Santiago sends to us. I technically teach five 90 minute classes a day, but usually students only show up for two, maximum three. One day I had four, but I’ve never had students for all five sessions in one day.
In order to give it’s students more flexibility with class times, Tronwell teaches half of it’s levels about two or three times a day and the other half the following day, with every other level being taught every other day. Let me try to make it more clear by putting up the schedule…
Oh, that’s right; this just makes it more confusing because our schedule looks like a mutated periodic table. Let’s see…
After a student signs up for lessons, he takes an initial evaluation (given by me or one of my co-workers) to determine his level of English. We have 9 levels. From lowest to highest, BLM-1, BLM-2, BEM, BIM, BUM, GLM, GIM GUM, GPM. Usually, students test into the first level, BLM-1. So, each week, depending on your level, you have the opportunity to take your class either 2 or 3 times (depending on the week). If it’s three chances on one week, it’ll be two the second, and then back to three the next week. We teach 5 different levels every day; sometimes I teach the basic levels and sometimes I teach the upper levels.
I know, it seems very needlessly complicated; welcome to Chile. Remember, I get to explain this to new students several times a day, and in Spanish. It’s no wonder the new students are always lost; sometimes I don’t even understand myself.
So in my five sessions per day, sometimes I’ll teach three, maybe four classes. Sometimes I won’t teach a single one because I’ll have all upper levels, and since there are obviously less upper level students than lower level students, sometimes nobody shows up. When that happens, I do an evaluation or two, a few course presentations, and spend the rest of the day sitting on the Internet in the teacher’s lounge. Maybe I’ll plan a few lessons (since the children’s classes on Saturday are without PowerPoints), make a worksheet, and then read blogs for five hours. It’s really a pretty good deal, the money I make, in comparison to the actual amount of work I do each day.
When I do have classes, there are rarely more than two students. Sometimes there’s just one, which I think is good because then they get a more one-on-one experience with the professor. Most of the people I teach are in their twenties and thirties, though I have a few in their forties and fifties, two in their sixties, and one lady who is 74. Due to the variety of ages I teach, classes are usually interesting and fun. Since Tronwell has a reputation as being the best place to learn English in Punta Arenas, I have many students sent from corporate companies that require a basic understanding of English for their employees.
Our biggest contractor is actually the Chilean military; probably 40% of my students are naval officers, since Punta Arenas is the principal port for the southern region of Punta Arenas, but I also have a couple from the army and the air force. In fact, I just got a new student the other day who flies F-5 fighter planes (we had a few interesting conversations, because my Dad flew T-38s, the F-5’s training derivative, for a good while in the late 80’s). I really enjoy to teach the military guys because they usually have a lot of enthusiasm; plus, since I’m going to have to be politely asking the Navy to paddle my kayak through remote stretches of their sovereign waters before November, it doesn’t hurt to be teaching a few of their key commanders English.
But for every fun student, there are the ones who are excruciating. Usually those are the students who talk with barely a whisper, show up for classes at 8 in the morning, and don’t study. For example, I have one student in the BIM level (who apparently started in the BLM-1 level some months ago) that is always completely lost during my class. I am very confused as to how she managed to pass the oral evaluations at the end of BEM. She consistently makes the same mistakes in the present continuous, fluently places articles in the wrong place, and has no idea how to speak in the future tense. To boot, she comes in really early in the morning when we’re all tired and barely whispers her grammatically incorrect response when you ask her something. If you ask her a question she doesn’t know the answer to, she just stares at the screen and doesn’t say anything.
Despite this, I enjoy having class with most of my students. Since they are all adults, are paying for the course, and actually want to be where they are, you don’t have the problems a high school English teacher would have. Most of my students are very eager to learn, and when you have eager students, you have fun classes.
Now I spend six days a week at Tronwell; I get up at 6:45 in the morning to be there by 7:30, then work until 12:45. I have a break until 5, and then I go back until 9:30. Shit; I’m a real nine-to-fiver, aren’t I? I suppose it will be worth it if it allows me to start the kayak adventure, eventually.
Speaking of the kayak adventure, I’ll go ahead and give you a little update on how that’s going. There has been a few equipment changes over the past few weeks. I will no longer be using the Wier Cruz Diablo for the trip. I’ve decided that it’s just too unstable for me, and the cargo capacity leaves a lot to be desired. Now, I know I already paid $100.000 pesos on it, but the guy was nice enough to refund my money for that. My other options are limited here in Punta Arenas, but I’ve been communicating with a dealer in Valdivia (northern southern Chile, if that makes any sense), and have just about made another selection.
I have two options that are in my price range:
First, the P & H Capella 166 RM. It’s brand new, made in England, and is designed for long expeditions.
It has a minimal optimal load of 65 kg and a maximum optimal load of 120 kg; the length is 5.05 meters, maximum width is 56 cm, and it weighs 24 kilos. It’s a bit shorter and wider than the Cruz Diablo, which will make it a lot more stable. It was recommended to me by the dealer, though I don’t know if it really is optimal or he was just trying to sell it to me. The price is one million pesos (US $2.085), plus another CL$80.000 to ship it here.
Second option: The Current Design Storm GT. This one is three years old, and has what the dealer describes as ‘a few scratches,’ though it’s still apparently in good condition.
The optimal load is 180 kg, which is also the maximum load. This means if it’s not always fully loaded then it doesn’t work as well and becomes unstable (like the Cruz Diablo). Still, the capacity is a full 40 kilos higher than the el Capello. The length is 5.18 meters, the maximum width is 61 cm, and it weighs 27 kilos. It’s a little longer than the Capello but is a little more unstable. I think that this boat may be better for me due to its cargo capacity, but I don’t want to get it used and then find out there’s all sorts of problems with it. The price is CL$600.000 (US $ 1.254), with the same $80.000 shipping price as the Capello
If anyone reading this knows anything about either of these kayaks and has any suggestions, please don’t hesitate to contact me. I’d like to make a decision before the end of this week.
One more thing worth mentioning before I finish this post: over the past few weeks I’ve been making frequent trips to the local civil registry in an attempt to legalise myself as a documented worker in Chile. The process was less complicated than I imagined it would be; all I needed was a contract from the place I was going to be working, (made legal by several frustrating trips to the local notary, which reminds me strongly of the DMV in the States), and I was issued a 2-year working visa after a wait of about a week; I should have a Chilean ID card in a matter of weeks.
For the first time in my life, I have become a legal resident of a foriegn country; I guess it’s official now, and there’s no turning back from here. If I quit my job before my contract runs out in November, then both my work and my tourist visa will be suspended, and I may never be able to go back to Chile. So, for better or worse, I’ll be stationary here until November. Every traveller’s got his down time.
Here’s to a 2011 that zooms past, and a 2012 with with warm weather and calm seas…
The Modern Nomad