Seen at a Chilean university

As I walked down the stone-ladden stairs from the road to campus, groups of students crowded a single doorway. peligroso tape blocked off its entryway and through it lay a complicated contraption of strings similar to a laser beam security trap. Above the doorway, a sign begged the question students to choose between the hard way or the easy way in life. I, for the moment, was choosing the objective way.



Upon completion of the “hard way,” students received sandwiches and juice from their peers.

“Excuse me, why is this going on? Is this a promotion for something?”

A Chilean student poured some more jugo into plastic cups. She smiled.

“No, we’re just doing it because we can.”

Just because they can.

As the day progressed, an inflatable rock climbing wall was set up in the middle of campus. Mats, blankets and pillows were spread in a large alcove for students to sleep. Triangular, colorful paper flags flew across the main building of campus: in between the labyrinth of walkways and staircases that is UAI.

A band of drummers came onto campus. A crowd surrounded the group and then dispersed as the music ended.

Giant banners hung from the ceiling in one of the buildings told students to follow sus sueños. 100 percent organized by the students and performed simply because they could. Viva Chile.


peligroso – dangerous (peligroso tape is the equivalent of caution tape)

jugo – juice

sus sueños – (their) dreams





pronounced: qua-tee-co.

Intense, crazy, exaggerated. Like most slang words, the meaning varies depending on the context. If someone was to go surfing during a storm and they then went missing in the sea, that could be cuático. But also, if someone is overreacting in a situation, they can also be cuático. ¿cachai? 



¿cachai? – get it?

More than la tierra: changing landscapes in Chile

When you hear the word landscape, what do you think? Perhaps you imagine a gaping pasture filled with cows. Or perhaps a famous painting such as Van Gough’s The Starry Night will pop into your head. Both are correct. Landscape, though, in this sense means more than just la vista that we look at our windows.

In Santiago, Chile there is currently an installation underneath el Palacio Moneda – in the Centro Cultural – with intent to educate both locals and extranjeros about Chile’s changing landscape. Welcome to Puro Chile: Paisaje y Territorio.


Two tour guides lead our group – my Culture and Identity class from UAI – in English. We started at the beginning, before the onset of European influence. At this time, there were only the perceptions which had been placed onto South America as a whole. For example, explorers had a belief that their wildest fantasies lived in South America, in Chile. There would exist a notion that perhaps animals the head of lions, horns of goats and wings of large birds lived aya. Laugh, but is not too far stretched of an exaggeration.


According to our guides, landscape is not just the land around us. It is the people that we interact with day by day. It is made up of the animals whom inhabit the land. It is the man-made mess that we have created: the buildings, the stuff and the cities – anything not found naturally. Landscape is also human interaction with la tierra, and the resulting effects.

Mapuche in Chile are not only important as a part of the country’s heritage and culture, but as well important for their landscape. At one point, our guides helped us to the understand a photographer’s interpretation of Mapuche gridlock: they are attempting to reclaim their sacred land.




The exhibit also featured pictures show architecture throughout Chile that has changed over the past decades, such as La Palacia Moneda when it was set on fire during the dictator takeover of Agosto Pinochet in 1973 with the military coup.


¡Hola! Soy una periodista: Journalism in Chile

periodico2It’s pretty safe to say that the United States is one of the meccas for news and journalism. It spawned the Associated Press, The New York Times, CNN, yellow journalism, muckrackers, and the creator of Twitter. But around the world are some incredible countries that hold the same amount of incredible journalism powers as well.

Gay Talese said that tape recorders hurt journalism. A lot:

“…number one the worst thing that ever happened to serious nonfiction writing, was the tape recorder. What this did was allow reporters or magazine writers to…take a tape recorder and then [in] rather not much time at all to get a lot of verbatim quotes from well-known people.”

While I do not completely agree with him, I do see his point. We stop listening when we know we have a failsafe in our fancy technology. iPhones, recorders have allowed us to become far too dependent on machines around us, and instead focus on the next question. We don’t even have to think about what the person is saying.

If we wanted, we could be browsing online shopping on our phones at the same time.

But here in Chile, I’ve done a bit of “dinosaur reporting” and gone shorthand— talking to people on the streets with only a notebook and pen. While this has been filete, asombroso, it has also been one of the biggest challenges I’ve expereinced in my life. I know have a new appreciation for the old days of journalism.

On Monday I went to the Cerros Altos to report on the victims, the volunteers, the scene.

Hola, soy Phoebe McPherson, una periodista de los EEUU. Esta bien si yo los estrevisto a ustedes. 

I am an outgoing person, I have confidence. Interviewing is one of my favorite parts about journalism, because I love hearing points of view.

Through my time here in Chile, I’m learning more and more about what it means to really be a journalist. I recently explained to a class of Chilean peers what the role of social media and online news platforms were to people in the United States. There has never been a time when I have felt more at grasp with my future career than in that moment.

With the rest of the semester, I can’t wait to see what I can further take in and learn.

A “very good” almuerzo

For my 20th birthday, my host parents took my to a restaurant in Viña del Mar that serves traditional Chilean food, la Guivontana. Inside, small tables seating 2-8 people are arranged closely together and a guitar player entertained guests with songs as he walked around the restaurant.

My host padre quickly informed me to the reason as to why this restaurant was so popular: the meat. Huge plates with an entire thigh or head can be ordered. Yes, if you order the head the tongue and eyeballs come included.

en serio? I wondered.

Es very good, My host padre joked. Every so often he speaks one of two words of English, very good being his favorite in my opinion.

He ordered exactly what he had been pointing out: a thigh of meat. He demolished it — except for the layer of fat around the outside. My host mother explained to me that Chilean men usually eat the fat off the meat anyways. I think I’m going to stick to my vegetables: according to my host pardre, la comida de una coneja. 


The before picture. Note the huge smile on my host dad’s face.


The after. Still incredibly happy and I am impressed. The white blob is the fat.

The after. Still incredibly happy and I am impressed. The white blob is the fat.

We all ordered our dishes — my host mamá ordered me el vegetariano – basically, a giant deconstructed salad. When I go to restaurants, I often order this. Two vegan thumbs up.

We all settled for red wine to drink and after the Gato I’m used to, it was marvelous. We cheers to my birthday (welcome to the twenties) and chatted about my night out, periodismo, and other things.

With our bread came aji picantea pepper native to Chile that is commonly used to make a salsa. It’s hot but not as hot as other hot sauces more renowned in the United States. I ate huge dollops with pieces of bread, feeling beads of sweat just reach the surface of my skin then disappear. Repeat.

My host padres were not as inclined.

El vegeteriano. Yes, I'm still vegan: the eggs went to mis padres.

El vegeteriano. Yes, I’m still vegan: the eggs went to mis padres.

My host mamá with her dish: beef and cheese with papa fritas -- french fries. I convinced her to try her fries British-style with vinegar.

My host mamá muy linda with her dish: beef and cheese with papa fritas — french fries. I convinced her to try her fries British-style with vinegar.

Towards the end of the meal, the rain started to pick up outside. My host padre looked over his shoulder and the sheets of water coming down onto the pavement. He was deciding whether or not to brave the rain: he needed to buy bread. Why? No hay pan para té. 

This is incredibly important to my host padre, I quickly discovered. Like my brother can’t go without his bacon, my host padre needed his bread for tea. I laughed.

Against my will, my host padre asked the guitarist in the restaurant to play Happy Birthday for me, and I was treated to both the Spanish and English version. My face went hot and my cheeks turned the color of tomatoes.

Un guitarrista canta “feliz cumple” en Español y Ingles from Phoebe Noel McPherson on Vimeo.

After the restaurant looked my way and wished me a happy birthday, the guitarist continued on with a love song — using my name! It was a popular song as my host madre could be heard singing along.

Afterwards, we enjoyed a shot of plant-based licorun araucano. It is thick like Aunt Jemimah’s maple syrup but sweet. It’s also apparently the traditional drink of Valparaiso.  We then headed for the taxi to go back home.

A “very good” almuerzo, indeed.


en serio – seriously?

la comida de una coneja – rabbit food

papas fritas – french fries

muy linda – beautiful

licor – liquor

no hay pan para té – There’s no bread for tea

aji picante – spicy spice

periodismo – journalism

vegeteriano – vegetarian

Practicing my spanish: passing out flyers in Viña del Mar

This past Saturday, I spent a few hours with my Chilean friend handing out flyers to promote a benefit concert this coming weekend in Viña del Mar. 100 percent of the proceeds go to those afectado by the Valparaiso fire.

After el reunion with the aunt of a friend for directions and t-shirts, we took to the streets. Macarena, my friend, and I spent our time at street corners, trying to attract teens and 20-somethings.


Killing it with my Spanish conversation skills: “¿Permiso, pero conoces sobre el concierto la próxima fin de semana? No, pues aquí es la información para ti. Solamente tres lucas si eres un estudiante. Ven! Ven! Ven!”

Unlike Macarena, my speeches often attracted many “very good” responses and laughs. A few sympathetic glances from older mothers screamed, “Aw, look at this poor gringa.”

But then, it clicked and after about 300 flyers handed out, I had my script down to a point and was rattling the information of as fast as possible. Speak about info, generate interest, get the flyer in their hand.

At one point, a cute chilean guy and his friend stopped and listened to my schpeal (is this a word?).

Que?” cute boy said, “Lentamiento.”

Eres chileno? Porque no hablo rapido. O bueno.” I laughed.

A few minutes later, Macarena had come over and the boys asked for her opinion on if I spoke fast. It was decided: I was speaking incredibly fast.

Other times, women would look at me and shake their heads. “No hablo ingles,” or “permiso, no cacho.” This became a pet-peeve for the day: am I being written off because I look or sound gringa?

We also went into a Sodimac to buy a flower for Macarena’s mom. It’s a mix between Home Depot and IKEA. I was in heaven.


The group and it’s organizers together for a quick selfie. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to keep the t-shirts.

afectado – affected

el reunion – meeting

Que? – what?

Lentamiento – slowly

eres chileno? – are you chilean?

no hablo ingles – I don’t speak English

no cacho – I don’t understand

rapido – fast, quickly

bueno – good, well

An island from the past: Chiloe

Reading about Chiloe, I was informed that I would enter an island that was in “deep defiance” of Santiago and much of the North. I would find an island plagued with rain, wind and an abundance of seafood.

“You’re going to Chiloe? It’s going to rain.”


Loving the wind and rain.

It was a 13-ish hour bus ride down to Puerto Montt, a shanty sea town on the edge of Chile’s coast. When I arrived, it was 10 a.m. and, as promised, there was rain. Getting to the actual island involved another bus ride, una barca (surprisingly clear of any precipitation), and yet again another bus ride.

The ferry over from the edge of the Chile's land to the island of Chiloe.

The ferry over from the edge of the Chile to the island of Chiloe.

The view from the ferry. Without rain, there is an incredible view of the coast of Chiloe.

The view from the ferry. Without rain, there is an incredible view of the coast of Chiloe.

In Ancud, I met a girl from France. She only spoke French and broken Spanish — I only spoke English and broken Spanish. We were the only two in a hostel room of six beds. We decided to try a bar said to be popular and famous. It was decidedly empty, small and crowded with vacant tables. But both of us bonded over having the same Lonely Planet book, the freedom of solo travel and our amor for Pisco Sours.

That next morning in the hostel’s cocina, an incredibly friendly woman was cooking a huge breakfast. Two girls from Spain popped downstairs, one had recently visited Viña del Mar.

Oh, fuiste a carrete?” I asked her.

Suddenly the cook bust out laughing. Glancing over, her hand quickly covered mouth and uttered several permiso‘s; the giggles wouldn’t stop. I began to chuckle and asked what was so funny, but I already knew. A gringa using chilenismos.

The Espanola hadn’t understood me, but the cook had and soon the two of us were splitting our sides over my chilean-sprinkled spanish. Am I Chilean yet?

As I bid goodbye to the girls, I moved south. To Castro.


Home-cooked breakfast at the hostel in Ancud. Coffee, bread, homemade jellies and jam, fruit, cheese and more.

It was as if the island had regressed into a previous era, refusing to succumb to globalization and mass production. Sure, people use their iPhones walking along the roads, and the infamous green “Cristal” sign is seen along many a road to advertise drinking and empanadas. But the culture, the life has not changed; it’s still about independent fishermen, the churches, the mystical legends surrounding the island and the never-ending rain.

Castro, Chiloe, the island’s main “city” features a mercado open 7-days-a-week. There fresh seafood, vegetables, bread and anything else you could imagine is for sale. The mercado is larger than a football field.


A woman sells pan — bread — inside the mercado. The display includes everything from potato and wheat buns filled with chicken to sopapillas to sugar-covered treats.


Vegetables for sale, daily. The irregular shape and array of colors in the potatoes (left) are the result of farming untouched by chemicals and synthetic pesticides.

At one end, a fisherman cracks open mussels to be prepared for soup. Further up, Chiloe tourist-trap gifts and trinckets are for sale.

Ofreta, aqui, para ti mi hija,un venedor tells me. I smile and thank him graciously. I snap pictures.

One woman sits in a booth with vegetables completely surrounded by her. She is selling everything from bagged celery and herbs to carrots, potatoes and dried fish.

I sit with her for a while and assist her with her selling, learning about the different vegetables, about fishermen in Chiloe. She will later introduce me to a woman at a pescado booth, who, in turn, introduces me to some fishermen who invite me onto their boat in that next morning.


A cloudy morning along the shore. A boat sits ready along a pier and the rolling hills atrás – behind – sit silently.

Blury selfie of the Chilote woman and myself as we bonded over selling fresh vegetables and a love of the rain. We both agree: it does have a smell.

Blury selfie of the Chilote woman and myself as we bonded over selling fresh vegetables and a love of the rain. We both agree: it does have a smell.

In the morning, you can see the clouds, the fog, rising up over la vista across the water. The hills are green and ancient, rolling; they remind me of England.

In New England, there’s a saying: if you don’t like the weather, wait an hour. That’s because it’s ever changing. Well, in Chiloe, if you haven’t seen the rain yet, wait an hour. In the course of a single day, I was impeded with at least four separate rain storms — the last stretching into the night and including gale-force winds.

From this peachy weather bore las leyendas and los mitos de la isla. For example: el Caleuche, a large ghostly ship that supposedly contains beautiful women and dancers, attracting ships and fishermen, then disappearing in the fog. It is said to be able to navigate underwater.


A statue of another leyenda sits in a plaza of Castro, Chiloe: The Invunche.

A majority of the cities and pueblos shutdown in the evening, especially in the off-season. The rain and wind will be your friendly companion along the waters edge as the fog hovers above the sea. It is then easy to understand some of the mythical legends, and why there presence is still so strong today.

But in the morning, el espiritu is restored.

My Sunday morning starts with a trip on a fishermen’s boat to watch them pull in the catch. Some are fishing with poles. I, though, am directed to pulling seaweed out of the water barehanded. Lo como. Is there anything fresher?


La palfitos – houses with wood shingles propped on stilts – below the hil of Castro. These houses are all colored in bright paints and attract tourists from around the world.

I am given a parting gift from the fishermen — a huge bag of alga. 

The churches open and the people — Chilotes and tourists — explore the island and, on Sundays, continue their Catholic faith.


The churches colors are still obnoxiously loud after centuries of wear and tear. It often stands as a central point when locals give directions.

Which, is perhaps one of the most fabulous elements of the Chiloe. The churches. There is one, built in 18th century that screams central point of town, originally painted a loud purple and yellow: La Iglesia San Francisco de Castro. Along with 15 other churches in Chiloe, it stands as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Hoy, after many years of weathering, the colors and wood have aged gracefully. La iglesia shows her wrinkles only to the critical, up-close eyes.


The iconic church. The sunshine. Not pictured: over three dozen tourists trying to get their perfect shot.


A class takes part inside the church, teaching children the Ten Commandments. Along the sides, tourists browse the to-scale models of the island’s churches, snap pictures and respect the all-wood interior house of worship.


This is Chiloe.


la barca – ferry

amor – love

(la) cocina – kitchen

fuiste a carrete – Did you party?

permiso – excuse me

mercado – market

Ofreta, aqui, para ti mi hija – My child, come here, I have an offer for you

un vendedor – seller, someone selling items at a mercado, store

pescado – fish

la vista – the view

las leyendas y los mitos – the legends and the myths

de la isla – of the island

el espiritu – spirit

Lo como – I eat it.

alga – seaweed

Hoy – Today

La iglesia – the church

Mi familia

This is my host family, my Chilean family. On Mother’s Day we sat down for Chinese food and red wine so that my host mom didn’t have to cook. Afterwards, we continued with una torta and hours of table-talk. Anyone who ever tries to tell you that Chilean mealtimes are short and void of conversation are liars.
Needless to say, they’re incredible.

una torta – cake

It happened in the streets

I’ve been stopped by at least 10 people in the last month to ask a question or for directions. The second I try to help, I get the same response, “Oh, you’re not Chilean? Excuse me.”

I’m both flattered and insulted. I’m stoked that I don’t stick out like a sore thumb, but at the same time, it pains me that my Spanish distracts people from wanting my help. Just because I stumble over syllables, doesn’t mean I don’t know that the Starbucks in San Martin is closer to the Casino than it is to Libertad.

Cerro Ramaditas: fuego, humo y unas manos amigas

The first thing I smelled was burnt. Burnt what? I don’t know. Not that it mattered — everything around me was scorched or steaming. The accessories of the day became gloves and surgical masks. What was yesterday a neighborhood, now sounded more like a construction site.
Throughout the morning, helicopters and planes flew overheard. They dumped water on us to extinguish any remaining flames, hot coals. Much of the areas were still too hot to clear and need to cool down.
Cerro Ramaditas, a neighborhood located high up in the Valparaiso hills, fell victim to the re-ignition of Saturday’s fire. Over 150 houses were destroyed.

fuego, humo y unas manos amigas – fire, smoke and helping hands