What we English speakers call sea lions Spanish speakers call lobos marinos. Lobo means wolf. For the last couple of days, I’ve been unsuccessfully trying to rationalize this in my sunburnt head. When they first saw those chubby mustachioed sea beasts, how did they settle on wolf? In all fairness, they don’t really look like lions either. If it were up to me I’d officially change their name to sea bears, or better yet sea puppy dogs.
The reason this sea wolf conundrum ever appeared to me is that lately, I’ve been spending a lot of time hanging out with them. I’ve been going to a very specific spot where Porteños (people from Valparaíso) gather every night around sundown to watch the sea lions dive off of their cement slab and bask in the last few rays of the day’s sunlight. It’s quite amazing. To get up onto the slab, which is a good 10 feet off the water, the sea lions dip under and gain a burst of speed before shooting out into the air. It usually takes a couple tries to make it up and when one gets close but doesn’t make it up you can hear the communal “you can do it!” from the onlookers. We often acknowledge how rushed our American lifestyle can be; there is always somewhere to be and always something to be done. Well, this spot has got to be the furthest thing from that I’ve come across studying abroad in Chile.
The ice cream vendor glides by on his bike. A group of restless youths play their guitars and percussively slap the rocks. This is my kind of place. Part of my love for Valparaíso comes from its lack of typical tourist attractions. I’m happy to say that I’ve spent close to no time inside of museums or staring at old buildings. That isn’t to say that I don’t love museums and old buildings, but those are not the types of experiences I wanted when I decided to study abroad. Though I could have never imaged myself hanging out in a place like this before, I am so happy to have stumbled across it. It’s the place to be. This little spot by the water is far from any tourist map or lonely planet guide. It is a window into the daily life and joy of the Porteños.
As my experience abroad comes to a close I am reflecting more and more. In this reflection, I am also deciding which memories to take along with me as I head back to Iowa. I’ll bring back the excitement of hiking up volcanoes in Patagonia. I’ll bring back memories of the architectural excellence of Buenos Aires. But oddly enough, maybe more than any other memory, I want to bring back with me the feeling of sitting amongst others with nowhere to go and nothing to do, just watching those sea puppies play around.
Jacob Levy is a Spanish major at the University of Iowa, spending his semester in Chile on the CIEE Valparaíso Liberal Arts Program.
Student blog entries posted to this International Accents page may not reflect the opinions and recommendations of UI Study Abroad and International Programs. The blog is intended to give students a forum for free expression of thoughts and experiences abroad in a respectful space.